Fire, Smoke and Steel
The Jungle-Fighting 82nd Chemical Mortar Battalion
A history based on memoirs of and research by Jack Butler, 2001
Combat in South & Southwest Pacific, 1943-1945
Occupation duty in Japan, 1945-1947
That 4.2 is the best weapon to come out of this war - Statement of an artillery officer at a 4.2 observation post watching Lt. Sidney Diamond demolish an 8" coastal gun in the battle for Clark Field near Bamban, Luzon, Philippine Islands, in late January, 1945, per Major Howard Carlisle, Battalion S-3, in Lines From Luzon later in this report.
Chapter 1 - Formation & training, 12 Mar 42 - 12 Dec 43
Lineage & honors
Preparing for overseas shipment
Departing San Francisco
The tropical cruise - all expenses paid
Training in New Caledonia
Up the slot to Guadalcanal
First combat use of 4.2-inch mortars in the Pacific
Hell's Point Ammunition Depot fire
Chronology of fire support by mortar units and supported troops, Sep 43 - Nov 44
Chapter 2 - On Bougainville with XIV U.S. Army Corps
Northern Solomons campaign 15 Dec 43 - 22 Nov 44
Battle of the Perimeter 15 Dec 43 - 31 Mar 44
Initial 4.2-inch combat on Bougainville
Company A supports 21st Marine Regiment
Supporting the Americal and/or 37th Divisions
Fiji jungle fighters beat the Japs
Intelligence coup in 37th Infantry Division
The law of the jungle
Death by "friendly" fire
Heavy expenditure of 4.2-inch ammunition
Closing comments on the Battle of the Perimeter
Results of activities ended 31 Mar 44
Battle of Extension of the Perimeter 1 Apr 44 - 30 Oct 44
Preparation for and movement to the Philippines
Establishing a base camp
Amphibious combat employment and training
Pictures of 1st and 2nd platoons - all of Company C
Hello Aussies, goodbye Bougainville
Chapter 3 - Luzon, Philippine Islands, 9 Jan 45 - 20 Jun 45
Central Plain Battle, 9 - 23 Jan 45
The view from the top
Lines from Luzon
Flashback - Kamikazes attack convoy
D-Day landing with 40th Infantry Division
Starting the long march
General MacArthur on the road
Bamban, Fort Stotsenburg-Clark Field, 27 Jan - 19 Mar 45
The sergeant who failed
There but for the grace of God
Mount Arayat - 4.2-inch mortars in the van
Chapter 4 - Manila (city and surrounding area, 4 Feb - 3 Mar 45)
Preliminary positioning of 37th Infantry and 1st Cavalry Divisions
Rangers and guerrillas to the rescue
Cavalry executes classic naval maneuver on dry land
Cavalry enters Manila and effects rescue
Infantry enters Manila and effects rescue
Limitations on firing
Tommy gun vs sniper
First 4.2-inch shell fired in Manila
4.2 OP party rings bell on sniper
4.2s rake Manila Hotel and MacArthur's penthouse
Intramuros - The Walled City
Intramuros ammunition expenditure
Manila-the final days
King of the Solomons also Liberator of Manila
Chapter 5 - The battles After Manila
Flashback - sealing off the Bataan Peninsula
Flashback - concurrent with the Manila battle
Shimbu Line - Sierra Madre Mountains (26 Feb - 20 Jun 45)
Flashback - 82nd CMB supporting 6th Infantry Division
Bartering security for food
The last six rounds
Side trip: clearing Manila Bay
Near miss by 4.2 in antiaircraft role
Back to Woodpecker Ridge
Reflecting on TOT
Capturing Wawa Dam
A View of Wawa Dam and Japanese artillery sniping
Seizing Ipo Dam
Relief at last - short lived
The loss of Sergeant Focht
The Loss of Technical Sergeant Mills
Chapter 6 - Recollections, the parting shot
Eating can be dangerous to your health
Knowing mortar position from OP
Grenades in perimeter defense
A Fiji awakening
The element of surprise, a principle of war
IQ and leadership
Chapter 7 - Occupation duty in Japan, 1945 to 1947
A. Chronology of 82nd CMB and its elements, 1942-1945
B. The 82nd Jungle-Fighting Chemical Mortar Battalion
C. Mortar gunboats
D. Rescue at Cabanatuan E. Selected general orders - awards F. Dedication G. Acknowledgements H. The author
Fire, Smoke and Steel were the products and by-products of Chemical Corps weapons used with great effectiveness in World War II and Korea.
Fire is used to describe mortar fire, flame throwers, and incendiaries ranging from thermite and white phosphorous (WP) hand grenades and WP mortar shells to napalm-filled aerial bombs, all of which were extremely effective weapons in all theaters of operation.
Smoke was a product of 4.2-inch chemical mortars and smoke generator units on land and aboard landing craft in amphibious operations, the U.S. Navy's use of smoke screens, and the then Army Air Corps' large-area screening smokes. Often on Luzon, aircraft were called upon to put down the initial screen to protect infantry assaulting a ridge line, after which 4.2-inch mortars maintained it by firing WP shells on the upwind side of the screen. The WP had physical and psychological impact on the Japanese troops in their "spider" holes covered and camouflaged with grass and brush. WP burned away their cover, and burning fragments fell into the holes onto them. WP cannot be extinguished with water, a factor that encouraged the victims to vacate their holes, exposing them to HE shrapnel.
Steel, in the form of a storm of shrapnel no larger than a small fingernail, resulted from 4.2-inch (approximately 105 millimeter) high explosive (HE) shells with instantaneous fuzes being triggered by impact on leaves or branches. The 25 lb. shell, containing 8.5 pounds of TNT and fired at high angle (1065 mils or approximately 60 degrees above horizontal), was superior to 105mm artillery in reaching defiladed positions on reverse slopes. Even in the densest jungle, there was little hope for survival by troops not well dug in and covered by tree trunks and sandbags. Alternating WP and HE proved effective against the enemy in spider holes or hiding in tall grass.
Unlike World War I when the Allies were unprepared for gas warfare and suffered thousands of casualties from the German use of it to break the stalemate of trench warfare on the western front, chemical troops of World War II were not called upon to use poison gas in combat. The principal factor deterring the United States from initiating gas warfare was clearly national policy (Brooks E. Kleber and Dale Birdsell, U.S. Army in World War II, The Technical Services: Vol. 3, Chemicals in Combat (Washington, D.C., U.S. Government Printing Office, 1966) p. 652. Further references to this source are indicated as K&B.) There is no doubt that our high level of preparedness and willingness to use gas in retaliation was an effective deterrent on all the Axis Powers.
A major objective of this writing is to correct some obvious errors and omissions in previously published works while acknowledging the overall contributions made by all cited. Errors and omissions, other than those cited above, will be dealt with at appropriate points in the following text. This is an historical essay based on the author's personal memories of what really happened, plus ongoing research relevant to the 82nd CMB and the operations in which it participated. Jack Butler kept no diary during World War II, in observance of regulations that required all material for publication to be submitted for clearance by the g2 (intelligence) staff, a requirement that Frankel deliberately violated (Stanley A. Frankel, Frankel-Y Speaking About World War II in the South Pacific (Scarsdale, NY, American-Stratford Graphics Services, Inc., 2nd Ed., 1994), Chapter 20: Afterthoughts, p. 2).
The author's memories survive the passage of 55 years. Real names of real people are used, living and dead, except in those few instances where actions described might cause embarrassment to the participants or their families. In those very rare instances, only a random title and initial, such as Sergeant D , are given.
In that this is an attempt to refute or correct previously written history regarding the 82nd Chemical Mortar Battalion, the author deems it desirable that he identify his background as qualification for such. That desire resulted in the sketch of Butler in Appendix H - The author. It is presented to establish that he had, for several years, been training in various capacities for a military career and was far from what one of the acknowledged authors describes himself: "a reluctant soldier." (Frankel, Chapter 1)
In 1964, following a career that included WWII and Korea combat time, Butler retired with a disability prior to the official date for Vietnam War service. He was then a lieutenant colonel, U.S. Army.
All dates shown as period, arrival, and departure, along with location and strength data, are taken from Department of the Army, The Adjutant General's Office (AGO), Departmental Records Branch. The Activity reports, from the AGO records and other sources, have been arranged into a Chronology of Continuing Activity by Mortar Units and Supported Troop, which covers the period from 23 December 1943 to 20 June 1945. That chronology is found at the end of Chapter 1. All previously classified data bear declassification notices.
Formation and training, 12 Mar 42 - 12 Dec 43
Lineage and honors
Constituted 12 March 1942 in the Army of the United States as the 82nd Chemical Battalion
Activated 25 April 1942 at Fort Bliss, Texas
Reorganized and redesignated 16 August 1944 as the 82nd Chemical Battalion, Motorized
Reorganized and redesignated 16 March 1945 as the 82nd Chemical Mortar Battalion
Inactivated 20 May 1947 in Japan
Redesignated 1 July 1988 as the 82nd Chemical Battalion and allotted to the Regular Army; Headquarters concurrently transferred to the United States Army Training and Doctrine Command and organized at Fort McClellan, Alabama
Campaign participation credit - World War II
Luzon (with arrowhead)
Philippine Presidential Unit Citation, Streamer embroidered 17 OCTOBER 1944 TO 4 JULY 1945.
Note: At this writing, in July 2000, the newly reactivated 82nd Chemical Battalion is stationed at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri. It is no longer a mortar battalion. The 4.2-inch mortar is now found in Infantry regiments in Heavy Mortar companies, a tribute to the confidence the Infantry developed in the weapon during WWII and Korea experiences.
Training statesideArrived Fort Bliss, TX (permanent station), 25 Apr 42, 8 officers and 83 enlisted men, departed 8 Mar 43.
As of January 1942 there were two chemical mortar battalions on active duty, the 2nd and 3rd. Four more, the 81st, 82nd, 83rd and 84th were activated by mid-year. During the ten-month interval from June 1942 until May 1943 the number of mortar battalions remained at six (K&B, p. 422.)
By the time Butler joined the 82nd Chemical Mortar Battalion at Fort Bliss, Texas, in late November 1942, all officer positions had been filled except that of platoon executive officer, 2nd platoon, Company C. That was his slot and he was completely happy with it. The platoon leader was Vernon Gutman from New York City, the Company C executive officer was Lt. Walter McClelland from Walnut Grove, a suburb of Philadelphia, and the company commander was Lt. Howard Carlisle from Philadelphia. Because the battalion had been activated just seven months earlier, it was no surprise that all company officers were 2nd lieutenants graduated from OCS classes prior to Butler's or newly graduated from college with Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC) commissions.
The 2nd platoon sergeant was Sergeant First Class Felix (Pappy) Mills, an older man (42) who walked with a limp from an old automobile accident and probably could have been medically discharged. He was quite an asset to the platoon and one Butler could rely on at all times. We 2nd Lieutenants had all been advised, at one time or another, to listen to the sergeants. Definitely good advice. There are few secrets in the Army and it didn't take long for Sgt. Mills to learn that Butler had come up through the ranks. They hit it off real well, which made what happened after the Manila fighting very frustrating for the author. More later, after Manila.
Training at Fort Bliss was strenuous, particularly for those who had arrived from Edgewood Arsenal on Chesapeake Bay. Running three miles per day in combat boots at the much higher and dryer altitude took some getting used to. In a few weeks, it was done by most of the troops in the prescribed 27 minutes or less.
11 Mar 43 - 22 Apr 43, Camp Polk, LA (maneuver period)
Soon schedules involved rifle-firing trips to the range and 3-day problems in the Franklin Mountains above El Paso for 4.2-inch mortar training. After several weeks of that, the battalion loaded on trucks for movement to the Louisiana Maneuver Area near Camp Polk, Louisiana.
Those maneuvers revealed how little the rest of the Army knew about the 4.2-inch mortar. There were no situations where the 2nd platoon of Company C was called upon to support anyone. After lying in the rain all one night, the platoon was directed to cross the river (either the Sabine or Red) in the dark on a very shaky, narrow foot suspension bridge with no side rail and only a white tape to mark its edge. During that crossing, carrying the broken down mortars and the carts and when we were in midstream, an umpire popped out of the woods ringing a cowbell. Inquiring about his problem, it developed that the platoon was under artillery fire. Had that been a real situation, mortars and carts would have been in the river as the troops fled forward or backward, running and/or swimming to escape. Butler so informed the umpire, while suggesting where he might stuff his cowbell. The penalty: 2nd platoon had a long rest before being permitted to hit the road again. Later that morning, a general, who was later identified as Leslie McNair, was approaching head on in his jeep. Moving the column off the road, Butler reported to the general, who asked: "What are you people doing dragging all those rangefinders around?" The leather muzzle covers on the tubes made him think of rangefinders. The author's explanation of 4.2-inch mortars and their capabilities, types of ammunition available, and a bit of the battalion's history was a "sales pitch," in which the general showed interest. It was a slow day.
26 Apr 43 - 12 Jun 43, Area of Wake Island, Camp Swift, TX (temporary station)
Following the Louisiana Maneuvers in the spring of 1943, instead of returning to Fort Bliss, the battalion moved to Camp Swift near Bastrop, forty miles south of Austin, Texas. New wooden barracks and other cantonment facilities had been built in a remote portion of the camp known as "Wake Island." It was a very long hike to the road that ran into Bastrop, which contained a few beer joints and little else, and where a bus would take the troops into Austin in about an hour, stopping frequently to discharge or pick up the locals who lived between the camp and Austin.
While at Camp Swift, training continued and early morning 3-mile runs were routine. At one point, the Battalion Commander, Lt. Col. William Shimonek, directed that a 4.2-inch mortar be placed in the Bachelor Officers Quarters (BOQ) where all the lieutenants were quartered to ensure that all junior officers become very familiar with the weapon (the same mentality that had some officers require their troops to sleep with their rifles.)
By this time, having spent months with the mortars at Fort Bliss and on the Louisiana Maneuvers, all platoon leaders and platoon executive officers were well acquainted with the "4-Deuce" and its nomenclature, capabilities, and limitations. However, with little else to do for excitement, the lieutenants formed mortar crews from among themselves and went through the drill, "Gunner's Hop," rotating through the crew positions and simulating firing. Before long, they found it livened things up a bit by pushing the barrel down against the heavy spring and letting it go, so that the "recoil" generated caused all 333 pounds of steel to bounce on the wood floor. This "drill" was later expanded to include the use of fireworks picked up in Austin. The idea after that was to synchronize the explosion of a lit firecracker thrown down the tube with the bounce of the mortar on the wood floor. Needless to say, a few evenings of that noisy sport satisfied all concerned that the 82nd lieutenants were familiar with their weapon.
Preparing for overseas shipment
In June 1943, the battalion was alerted for overseas shipment from San Francisco. The 82nd Chemical Mortar Battalion was destined for the war in the Pacific against the Japanese. The U.S. 1st Marine Division struggled on Guadalcanal from 7 August to 9 December 1942, when they were relieved by the Americal (Army) Division (the 164th Infantry Regiment of the Americal went into action on Guadalcanal on October 13, 1942, as the first United States Army unit to conduct an offensive operation against the enemy in any theater.) That news was still fresh in memory as were the more recent and continuing battles in New Georgia and others of the Solomon Islands, as well as the desperate situations on New Guinea. All of this began to take on more personal connotations for members of the 82nd CMB who could not know that many of them would be attached to the Americal in combat within a few months.
17 Jun 43 - 27 Jun 43, Camp Stoneman, CA (permanent)
Training was replaced by the massive effort to load the battalion and all its supplies and equipment onto flat cars with coaches for troops and kitchen cars ahead of the flat cars. A favorite spot for riding was sitting in a jeep lashed to a flatcar just ahead of the caboose. Somewhere along the line, probably in the Texas Panhandle or farther west, we picked up another engine to push as the train started its great ascent into the Rockies. One stop well remembered was the station at Pikes Peak. Later, on the flats near Salt Lake City, the entire battalion detrained for calisthenics to get the kinks out of muscles cramping from lack of exercise.
A gorgeous sight, not visible to the usual tourist, was from the seat of the jeep on the flatcar as the train ascended into the Sierra Madres and made its plunge down the Feather River Canyon on the way to Camp Stoneman, Pittsburgh, California just a few miles south of San Francisco.
Camp Stoneman was a desolate sight, but not more so than Camp Swift, Texas, and the miles of wheat fields and desert in between. What made Stoneman look so bleak was the treeless expanse of the ridge behind the encampment area, covered with a yellowish-brown monotonous grass, that stretched left and right as far as the eye could see. Pittsburgh was Bastrop magnified - more joints, more troops, more booze. Fortunately, not too many days were spent there and six of the 2nd lieutenants were sent via bus to Fort Mason as an advance party. The official date of the battalion's arrival and departure at San Francisco Port of Embarkation (SFPE) is 27 June 1943. Passing through the tunnel from Oakland to San Francisco (Fort Mason) was a shock-a cold one! From the heat of Pittsburgh in late June, the advance party was unprepared for the sharp drop in temperature in the tunnel.
With two nights on board the ship before the arrival of the rest of the battalion, the party was free to visit San Francisco. Most bought sweatshirts to wear under the khaki shirts. That proved to be a good move for nights aboard ship as well.
Departing San Francisco
27 Jun 43 - Departed San Francisco Port of Embarkation (SFPOE)
The troop ship was the SS Munargo, an old banana boat of the Munson Line. Departure from San Francisco was uneventful and took place as soon as the troops were loaded, following the battalion's equipment and supplies. Included in the latter was a huge cargo of beer purchased by consolidating and "liquidating" the various unit funds. The date of departure was 27 June 1943 and the official date of arrival in New Caledonia is given as 19 July 1943.
The Tropical Cruise - all expenses paid
The ship traveled without escort on what was later learned to be the Samoa route. That route took us between Christmas and Fanning Islands, which lie 400 miles south of Hawaii and about 3 degrees north of the Equator. American Samoa lies about 800 miles southwest of Honolulu at approximately 10 degrees south of the Equator. From there it was a relatively short trip to New Caledonia, the French possession 300 miles northwest of Brisbane, Australia and 20 degrees below the Equator. Supposedly, we would be going far enough south to avoid Japanese submarines, no escort needed. It evidently worked! Weather was good and morale was high, the benefit of traveling with a unit of well-trained troops.
This was to be reflected upon eight years later on another troopship (SS Aiken Victory - my Achin' Back - the civilian crew had a life boat drill one day before the troops were to board - boats hung up in one davit and spilled crews, oars, and all loose junk into the harbor). That miserable rust bucket would take us to Korea. It was loaded with replacements in what was referred to as the "pipeline." The pipeline was filled with individual soldiers just out of basic training who had no unit with which they could identify and no leaders to organize and direct their activities. This time Butler traveled as a "casual" Military Police captain, also without a unit, having just completed a one-year course in the Russian language at the Army Language School, Monterey, California. He was again assigned to the advance party, this time as Guard Officer, and given one of the troop-holds of over 60 men to use as guards throughout the ship. The brig was used only for one young fellow in a "protective custody" situation. He seemed to have "lost it" as evidenced by wandering around with only one boot, unable to find the other. The ship's doctor felt it best to keep him in the brig, which also was Butler's "office," where he would have the Guard Officer or Sergeant of the Guard for company until he could be turned over to the Army medics in Yokohama.
Back to the SS Munargo, the troopship was manned by the Merchant Marine with some US Navy supervision. Training on board was limited to disassembly and assembly and care and cleaning of the M1Rifle and the Browning Automatic Rifle (BAR), plus calisthenics. The latter was a great opportunity for the new 2nd lieutenants to develop a "command presence" with a large body of troops and for the troops to evaluate them.
Contrasting that voyage with the one to Korea, there was little resemblance. The "slow boat" to Korea did not take as long as the one to New Caledonia, it just seemed it took longer. Going to Korea there was no training, just guard duty, kitchen police (KP) and other chores. To add to the melancholy of a trip into the unknown, one hold had been equipped with several ping-pong tables for the "enjoyment" of the troops. Lining one bulkhead (wall), from deck to deck, were hundreds of olive drab wooden boxes intended for the return of the dead from Korea.
In many respects, the 82nd Chemical Mortar Battalion enjoyed a pleasant voyage and maintained a very high esprit de corps. It takes a long while to feed 1,000 or so men; without the discipline induced by a training schedule, the troops would finish one meal and stake out a place in line for the next one, as they did on the trip to Korea.
Crossing the international dateline was announced from the bridge and was marked by certificates presented to all the troops. A similar celebration marked crossing the equator. For the latter, all members of 82nd CMB were inducted into some order of Neptune, a touching bit to remember.
The Southern Cross was visible in the tropical sky at night. Later, the mortar men would support the Americal Division on Bougainville and learn the Division shoulder patch was the Southern Cross. The Americal is the only Army division not designated by number. The name is derived from the phrase, "Americans in New Caledonia."
Dropping anchor in the port of Noumea was an event marked by a series of lotteries throughout the ship. An announcement from the bridge informed all that the official time of anchoring would be announced.
19 Jul 43 - 21 Jul 43, Service Command, Casual Center, New Caledonia
21 Jul 43 - 29 Oct 43, Martin's Ranch, vic. Paita, New Caledonia
Training in New Caledonia
From 19 July 1943, until the battalion moved to Guadalcanal, training intensified. One unique feature was the requirement for all platoon officers to man an observation post (OP) and bracket that position with live high explosive 4.2" rounds. They were required to select a position overlooking a grove of mangrove trees in the tidal flat of the island. Each platoon leader and executive officer, on a schedule, was given a morning and the use of platoon labor and tools to dig in the OP, cover it with logs from the mangrove patch, sandbag, and camouflage it. The platoon guns were to be placed in defilade 1,500 yards behind the OP and telephone wire run from the OP to the firing position. From the OP to the target area (mangrove swamp) was roughly 500 yards with nothing beyond that but ocean. Ammunition allotted included two rounds of WP for ranging and five of HE. The idea was to have any specified mortar fire into the mangroves, bring the high-explosive firing to within 50 yards in front of the OP and have another HE round drop not more than 50 yards behind the observer. At that time there were two platoons in each of the four companies, so the battalion wound up that phase with eight well-constructed observation posts along a ridge overlooking the ocean.
Other training included the night compass march usually involving two platoons from two widely separated points converging on a third point. The kitchen truck would be waiting, after several hours of stumbling through jungle-covered hills at night, when they reached that third point. Other than one broken arm from a fall into a gully, there were no serious injuries and no one lost for more than the one night.
About four months were spent on New Caledonia, mostly involving platoon exercises directed from the OPs constructed for training the platoon officers. These exercises were as close as we could get to an actual combat situation without a live enemy. Squad leaders were trained to be observers and took their turns in the bunker observation posts, dropping HE 50 yards in front and within 50 yards behind. After several weeks of this, the mangrove swamp was an impassable tangle of broken trees. Definitely, that would not make a suitable landing beach for any would-be invader.
Up the Slot to Guadalcanal
Guadalcanal was secured by an all-out drive of Army and Marine units under XIV U.S. Army Corps commanded by Major General Alexander M. Patch. General Patch had relinquished command of the Americal Division 1 January 1943 to Brigadier General Edmund B. Seabree. On 9 February 1943, following a move by elements of the 132nd Infantry by sea, the drive around Cape Esperance culminated in joining American units at the Tenamba River. Organized resistance on Guadalcanal was finished.
7 Aug 43, Company B on Detached Service with XIV US Army Corps for Battle in New Georgia Group
3 Nov 43, 82nd CMB (- Co. B) arrived Guadalcanal
By early November 1943, the 82nd CMB, less Co. B, was on the 'Canal after a voyage by Landing Craft Tank (LCT) from Noumea, New Caledonia. The battalion set up camp in the Lever Brothers coconut plantation, which had its trees planted in neat rows and lent itself to our "tent city" with company streets laid out. Coconut trees destroyed in the previous fighting were salvaged and laid out as squares. Tons of loose coral were hauled in to fill those squares and serve as basis for pyramidal tents. At the end of each street was a latrine screen with a four-holer box dug in. Urinals were dug outside the latrine screens and consisted of pits filled with loose coral, from which a hollowed-out section of bamboo about three inches in diameter protruded. Troops scrounging in the jungle returned with skulls from the skeletons of enemy dead that had been there six months or more. Jap skulls were mounted atop the urinal bamboo tubes to express the hatred building against the enemy.
First combat use of 4.2-inch mortars in the PacificThe Solomon Islands, 992 in all, lie in a northwesterly pattern roughly parallel to and east of Papua New Guinea. New Georgia lies in the line northwest of Guadalcanal. Directly across (east) from Guadalcanal is the small Florida Island. Up "the slot" from there is Santa Isabel followed by Choiseul. At the head of "the slot" is the largest of the Solomons group, Bougainville. Continuing the northwesterly track leads to southeastern tip of the elongated New Ireland, separated from the much larger island of New Britain by St. George's Channel. The Solomons point like an arrow at Rabaul on New Britain in the Bismarck Archipelago, the Japanese bastion on the northeast tip. From Rabaul, Japanese naval and air forces sought to control all shipping to and from New Guinea, Australia, New Zealand and the entire region known as Oceana.
While Company B of the 82nd Chemical Mortar Battalion was gaining combat experience in the New Georgia group, Companies A, C, and D, along with the Headquarters and Headquarters Company, remained on Guadalcanal. These platoons continued training alternated with unloading ships. At that time, there were four firing companies in a 4.2-inch mortar battalion, but each company had only two platoons of six mortars each. This would be changed after the action on Bougainville to three platoons, each with four guns. The platoon was the smallest unit feasible of employment in support of an infantry battalion and, once the infantry experienced the very flexible fire support available, the "4-deuces" were in great demand.
Training on Guadalcanal consisted mainly of dragging the mortars and their ammunition on two-wheeled carts through the jungle with machete in hand to cut through the "wait-a-minute" vines. Arriving at the spot designated to support an imaginary infantry group against an imaginary Japanese force, mortars had to be dug in and sighted, wire was strung to an OP and "dry" firing exercises conducted. An occasional live round of smoke, "Willie Peter" (WP for white phosphorous), or high explosive (HE) served to keep interest fairly high. Nothing could help with unloading ships, unless the cargo was beer, a rare occasion.
It was during one of those unloading assignments that the battalion suffered its first fatality overseas. A member of C Company, last name Pratt, whose father it was learned was in Canada, fell from the step of a 2½-ton truck that the driver was desperately trying to drive across muddy ruts into the dump where he was to unload. Pratt fell under the rear wheels. Others were to die in months to come, but his was the only military funeral that Butler witnessed overseas, probably because there had been a military cemetery established on Guadalcanal at that time. Rows of wooden crosses marked the first United States military cemetery in the Solomon Islands. There, on December 31, 1942, memorial services had been held for the Americal soldiers who had given their lives on that island. Pratt was in good company.
Hell's Point Ammunition Depot fireFrankel reports (Chapter 9) "Meanwhile, back at Guadalcanal, I ran into more action... and more danger... than our whole regiment had experienced in Bougainville, the ammunition dump on Guadalcanal, which supplies the entire South Pacific with bullets, shells, hand grenades, mortar, rockets, flame throwers and gasoline suddenly caught fire and blew up." He states that incident occurred "about noon, November 26, 1943."
At that time, his "whole regiment," the 148th Infantry, 37th Division, had been on Bougainville since 1 November (25 days), where it backed up the 3d Marine Division in the first phase of securing a beachhead. The real battle for Bougainville, which was an entirely army affair, was to take place in the second phase when the Japanese, finally reacting to the invasion, shifted a large portion of their southern garrison northward and struck the American perimeter in a three-pronged attack in March 1944. (Harry A. Gailey, Bougainville The Forgotten Campaign 1943 - 1945 (Lexington, KY: The University Press of Kentucky, 1991), p.150-further references to this source are indicated by G.)
The 82nd Chemical Mortar Battalion, minus Company B, could see and hear the conflagration in what became known as Hell's Point Ammunition Depot. Some fragments flew threw the coconut trees in the battalion camp area. The fire burned and ammunition exploded for about three days. Then came the clean up. Butler was detailed to take 2nd platoon, Co. C, to clear a path though the area so the Signal Corps could restore telephone lines. Under the supervision of one Ordnance bomb disposal lieutenant, wearing the red bomb on his fatigue jacket, the platoon cleared about a hundred yards some 25 yards wide. The work consisted of picking up debris, much of it unexploded but ruptured hand grenades, artillery and mortar shells, bangalore torpedoes, etc. and placing it in large piles for future destruction. As tough as coconut trees are, one had been pierced by an undetonated bangalore torpedo about three feet long, protruding unexploded through both sides of the tree.
Each item, if it had not been ruptured, was picked up and moved to a pile.The bomb disposal lieutenant was called for an evaluation of ruptured but unexploded ordnance. He would not touch it, but looked and expressed his opinion that it was OK to move, after which he disappeared behind a tree until called again. That long day was completed, thank God, without casualties.
Chronology of fire support by mortar units and supported troops, Sep 43 to Nov 44
10 Sep 43 - 24 Feb 44, Supported 43d and 25th Infantry Divisions
The initial combat employment of chemical mortar units in the war against Japan took place in September 1943 during the fight for New Georgia in the South Pacific Area. The CWS did not receive authorization for the high explosive mission for 4.2-inch mortars until 19 March 1943, nearly seven months after U.S. forces first landed on Guadalcanal (B&K, p. 492)
The 82nd Mortar Battalion was the first and only battalion in the South Pacific Area. Under command of Lt. Col. William H. Shimonek, the unit arrived at New Caledonia on 19 July 1943, too late to see action in the Munda (New Georgia) operation. After a few weeks of training on Guadalcanal, elements of the 82nd Bn entered the mopping-up operation on Arundel and Kolombungara Islands in the New Georgia group. Assigned to XIV Corps and attached to the 43d Infantry Division, a platoon of B Company landed on what was to be known as Mortar Island in the Stima Lagoon area. This platoon fired its first combat rounds on the morning of 10 September 1943 when, under control of the division artillery, it delivered harassing and interdictory fire against the enemy, some of it on enemy barges operating between Kolombungara and Sagekarasa Islands.
Meanwhile, in close support of the 27th Infantry, 25th Division, another platoon of Co. B of the mortar battalion moved up to Bamboe Peninsula on Arundel Island. The men used jeeps, hand carry, and a variety of boats to negotiate the difficult terrain. Once in position, the mortars fired on enemy barges and troops. See photo at right (click to enlarge). Despite the extreme range, mortar fire destroyed three barges causing loss of enemy troops and supplies. From 25 September to 4 October, the mortars placed cross-channel fire on the airfield at Kolombungara Island and on enemy shipping in the narrow waters between the islands (B&K, p.493.)
Company B continued in support of the infantry in the New Georgia group until it returned to Guadalcanal on 3 March 1944. The company rejoined 82nd CMB 26 April 1944 on Bougainville.
The Jungle-Fighting 82nd on Bougainville with XIV U.S. Army Corps
Northern Solomons Campaign, 15 Dec 43 - 22 Nov 44
The 82nd Chemical Mortar Battalion had been a cohesive unit and enjoyed a high degree of solidarity and esprit de corps from its inception in March 1942 through Louisiana Maneuvers and the long voyage to New Caledonia, where it arrived in July 1943. That cohesive identification as a battalion began to split with the departure of Company B in August to New Georgia and Company A to Bougainville in December 1943 while the rest of the battalion remained on Guadalcanal.
Battle of the Perimeter 15 Dec 43 - 31 Mar 44As Gailey (p. 35) points out, the terrain in the west was a major reason the Japanese discounted an invasion there and concentrated their forces in the south. Empress Augusta Bay, in the west, was where the invasion occurred. General MacArthur in Brisbane, Australia, and Admiral Halsey in Noumea, New Caledonia, had cooperated in a two-pronged series of attacks in New Guinea and the central Solomons during the spring and summer of 1943. Both had by then adopted the practice of bypassing large Japanese forces whenever possible and allowing them to "wither on the vine." They could not, however, always do so. The planning for, and operations against, New Georgia in July provide a good example of the difficulty involved in a large-scale offensive against a clever commander with dedicated troops operating in a jungle environment.
Nevertheless, despite a brilliant defense by the Japanese, New Georgia and its important airfield, Munda, were captured, and in the same month Vella Lavella was occupied without incident. Thus all the preliminaries for action against the last of the major Solomon Islands had been completed. Bougainville, with its six airfields, could not be bypassed, especially in view of its proximity to Rabaul, on New Britain. Fighters and bombers operating from airstrips on Bougainville could bring Rabaul under constant attack (G, p. 2).
After considerable discussion and the abandonment of a number of plans, Admiral Halsey, with MacArthur's concurrence, decided to forgo (sic) attacking the main Japanese bases on Bougainville. Rather, after a feint by a marine landing party on Choiseul Island and a strike to negate the Japanese airfields in the south, Halsey would send the 3rd Marine Division into Empress Augusta Bay against lightly held positions at Cape Torokina. The mission of the marines, backed up by the army's 37th Division, was at first to seize and hold a lodgment and then expand it outward to permit the construction of airfields from which Air Solomon planes could strike at Rabaul (G., pp.2-3).
The XIV Army Corps, composed of the 37th and Americal Divisions, took over from the marines on 15 December 1943. The corps commander, Maj. Gen. Oscar W. Griswold, indicated his desire to employ chemical mortar units in place of corps artillery in situations where the use of artillery was impracticable (B&K, p. 494).
Control of the weapons varied. In the Americal Division, mortar units operated directly under the supported infantry organization, while in the 37th Division the mortarmen received firing instructions through the fire direction center of the artillery battalion to which they were attached. Both methods were satisfactory, but direct contact with the supported infantry seemed preferable since it allowed greater responsiveness during changing situations and provided closer liaison with responsible commanders. Heavy barrages were normally coordinated with corps and division artillery (B&K, pp 494-95).
Initial 4.2-inch combat on Bougainville
Company A supports 21st Marine Regt.
19 Dec 43 - Empress Augusta Bay, Bougainville. The 37th Division had gone in on D-Day, 1 November 1943, to back up the Marines. Company A (Capt. Maurice K. Green, commanding) of the 82nd CMB arrived with XIV US Army Corps on 15 December and initially supported the 21st Marine Regiment.
In this initial use of 4.2s on Bougainville, marine units remaining prior to complete relief by the Army were supported. As recorded under Activity of Co A, 82nd Cml Bn (Mtz): The 1st platoon, under Lt. John C. Saylor, supported the 21st Marine Regiment from a position North of Evansville. (Reference FMAC, Hasty Terrain Map, Second Edition) Heavy concentrations to neutralize strong points of resistance prior to localized attacks were fired on the east slope of Hill #260. During the period of this activity, 19 Dec 43 to 25 Dec 43, a total of 875 rounds of HE and WP were expended (Department of the Army, AGO, Departmental Records Branch, Historical Records Section, History of Eighty Second Chemical Battalion (MTZ) (AR 345-105 and C-1, C-2, C-3) 9 Jan 45 - 5 Nov 45).
Supporting the Americal and/or 37th Divisions
By the end of the year, 1943, the Americal had been alerted for movement to Bougainville Island. Although the rugged days of Guadalcanal were gone, the year ahead would offer combat under some of the most difficult conditions yet encountered in the Pacific. The Americal Division was now stepping back into the fight.
With the Army having replaced the Marines in the beachhead, it was sometimes necessary for a 4.2-inch mortar company to support two regiments of different divisions simultaneously. Such was the case in the following chronology, wherein Co. A supported the 164th and 182nd Regiments of the Americal Division, while doing the same for 145th Infantry, 37th Division during the 25 Feb 44 to 24 Mar 44 period.
15 Jan 44 - Empress Augusta Bay, Bougainville, Hq. Co, Co D and Med Det, 82nd Cml Bn (Mtz) arr.
Co. D with Americal
23 Jan 44 - 8 Feb 44. Company D, commanded by Capt. Charles H. Saunders, from positions west of the Torokina River, supported the 2nd Bn, 132nd Inf. Missions of HE and WP were fired in support of localized attacks by tank and infantry Units. In addition, concentrations for harassing purposes on targets east of the Torokina were fired.
24 Jan 44 - (1) On January 24, 132nd Infantry patrols operating out of the Company G beachhead across the Torokina River ran into a series of concealed Japanese positions some distance to the east. On the following morning, preceded by a heavy thirty-minute artillery preparation, fire from attached mortars of Company D, 82nd Chemical Mortar Battalion, and a shelling by 3-inch guns on two LCI gunboats, Company G advanced some 350 yards in the face of the most determined resistance yet encountered on the beaches in this area. Strongly emplaced enemy troops employed small arms, machine guns, and potent 90mm mortars in an effort to stall the 132nd Infantry drive. By evening of January 25, a number of the positions had been overrun and an undetermined number of Japanese had been killed or wounded (Captain Francis D. Cronin, Under the Southern Cross: The Saga of the Americal Division, Association of the United States Army (Washington, D.C.: Combat Forces Press, 1951), p.135-further references to this source are indicated by C., page(s) number (s).)
29 Jan 44 - (2) On January 29, plans were made for an all-out attack eastward from the Illinois regiment's extended beachhead across the Torokina's mouth. The attack on the following morning was to feature the first appearance of Army tanks in the Solomons as the 754th Tank Battalion, with the Americal on New Caledonia, attached a number of its armored vehicles to the 132d. All available howitzers from division artillery were to be pointed toward the objective to lay down a merciless barrage. The 4.2-inch mortars of the 82nd Chemical Mortar Battalion's Company D were to add their power to the preparatory fires. In being assigned to make the assault, Company C of the 132nd was given instructions to clean out an area three hundred yards square to the east of the bridgehead lines (C., pp. 135-36.)
4 Feb 44 - Empress Augusta Bay, Bougainville, 1st platoon and Co HQ of Co C, 82nd Cml Bn (Mtz) arr.
5 Feb 44 - Empress Augusta Bay, Bougainville, 2nd platoon, Co C, 82nd Cml Bn (Mtz) arr.
Co. C with Americal
12 Feb 44 - 18 Feb44. (1) Company C under Capt. Howard Carlisle relieved Company D in support of the 2nd Bn, 132 Inf. The company fired harassing schedule fires and interdictory missions on numerous enemy installations along the beach East of the Torokina River.
18 Feb 44 - 27 Feb 44. (2) The 2nd platoon under Lt. Vernon Gutman fired small harassing missions on point targets during this later period.
Co. A with Americal and 37th
25 Feb 44 - 24 Mar 44. The Company, commanded by Capt. Maurice Green, moved into positions west and south of Hill #608 for the support of the 164th Inf., 182nd Inf. (Americal Div.) and the 145th Inf. (37th Div.) Heavy concentrations and barrages were fired on Hill #700 by the 2nd platoon under the command of Lt. Blackburn and Hill #260 by the 1st platoon. From positions along the Pendleton Trail and others east of Hill #307, on the Longfellow Trail, interdictory fire was placed on attacking enemy forces. Smoke screens to cover withdrawals as well as numerous intermittent harassing missions were fired in the same area.
Co. D with 37th
25 Feb 44 -31 Mar 44. From positions on the left flank of the 145th Inf., Company D under Capt. Saunders fired concentrations, barrages, and numerous harassing missions in support of that regiment, which was defending the north part of the perimeter. The targets were generally west of Hill #700 and in the vicinity of Lake Kathleen.
3 Mar 44 - Guadalcanal. Co B, 82nd Cml Bn (Mtz), arrived Guadalcanal from New Georgia. Co B, on detached service with the 40th Div, did not participate in any of the action on Bougainville Island during the period ending 31 March 44.
Co. C with 37th
11 Mar 44 - 31 Mar 44. 2nd platoon, Co. C under Lt. Vernon Gutman moved suddenly after dark behind 2nd Bn., 129th Inf. and fired missions in support of that regiment. Heavy fire was placed along the battalion front to repel enemy penetration of our positions held by F and G Companies during three successive attacks. Strong concentrations, barrages, and heavy continuous harassing missions were fired along the Old Logging Trail.
Co. C with Americal
11 Mar 44 - 23 Mar 44. The 1st platoon, Co. C, under Lt. Theodore Bockstahler, fired several small HE and WP missions in support of the 2nd Bn. and 3rd Bn., 132nd Inf. from positions on the flanks of the regiment. (1st platoon was able to move into the position vacated so abruptly by the 2nd platoon when it made the sudden night move described above.)
Co. A with Americal
15 Mar 44 - Reviewing the toll of casualties... General Hodge, the Americal's commander, now felt that further assaults could not be made without dangerously weakening the defenses on the vital main line of resistance. He noted that the attacks of both the 182nd and 132nd Infantry Regiments had forced the enemy to abandon any offensive plans... in favor of a strong defense on the ground he had taken (C., p. 158.)
... the enemy garrison was to be contained through continual harassing and neutralization fires by the 246th Field Artillery and by supporting mortars (81mm) of Companies D and H of the 182d, and Company A, 82nd Chemical Mortar Battalion (4.2").
Co. C with 37th
23 Mar 44 - 31 Mar 44. Company C under Capt. Carlisle fired heavy harassing missions in support of the 129th Inf. on targets along the Old Logging Trail from positions in the 2nd Bn. Sector.
Activity of Hq. Co., 82nd Cml. Bn. (Mtz)
1 Jan 44 - 31 Mar 44. The Battalion ammunition section of Hq. Co. handled the supply of ammunition to the weapons companies during this period.
Ammunition expenditure for the period was:
HE - 51,978 rounds
WP - 1,445 rounds
Total - 53,423 rounds
Losses in action: Officers and enlisted men during the engagement, from 23 January 1944 to 31 March 1944:
Enlisted men (10):
Bradbury, Ivor R., T/5 35308985 (2nd platoon, Co. C)
Davis, James A. PFC., 34286306
Hill, Otto T. PFC., 38121544
Hobbs, Walter L. Cpl., 34450417
Kirkland, Kenneth O., PFC., 35383620
Luquire, Harvey T., Sgt., 34450830
Martin, John S., PFC., 34422036
Pigula, Wm. H., PFC., 32141608
Scott, Merle E., PFC., 37424090
Ware, Paul C., Pvt., 34242099 (1st platoon, Co. C)
Enlisted men (6):
Bradbury, Ivor R., T/5, 35308985 (2nd platoon, Co. C)
Davis, James A. PFC., 34286306
Hill, Otto T. PFC., 38121544
Martin, John S., PFC., 34422036
Scott, Merle E., PFC., 37424090
Ware, Paul C., Pvt., 34242099 (1st platoon, Co. C)
Foster, Joel L., 2nd Lt., O-1036525 (Co. C)
Saylor, John C.,1st Lt., O-1035096 (Co. A)
Enlisted men (16):
Beers, Howard N., Pvt., 37280039
Bonelli, Sam NMI, Pvt., 37270659
Cooper, Howard J., Pvt., 34422030
Harris, Kenneth E., Pvt., 34125104
Hobbs, Walter L. Cpl., 34450417
Kirkland, Kenneth O., PFC., 35383620
Luquire, Harvey T., Sgt., 34450830
Muckinhaupt, Albert D., Pvt., 33271837
Pigula, Wm. H., PFC., 32141608
Reeves, William C., PFC., 39830664
Sweat, Oscar H., Pvt., 34440240
Teitelbaum, Gustave L. PFC., 32343133
Wagner, Gerald L., Pvt.,
Wellons, Winford R., PFC., 34450652
Williams, Hawley D., PFC., 38174047
Williamson, Rube NMI, PFC., 34421888
Names of commanding officers in important engagement:
Lt. Col. William H. Shimonek, CO, 82nd Cml. Bn. (Mtz)
Capt. M. G. Green, CO, Co. A, 82nd Cml. Bn. (Mtz)
Capt. H. Carlisle, CO, Co. C, 82nd Cml. Bn. (Mtz)
Capt. C. H. Saunders, CO, Co. D, 82nd Cml. Bn. (Mtz)
In mid-December 1943, when the 37th and Americal Divisions arrived on Bougainville Island to relieve its Marine conquerors, Company A of the 82nd (Chemical Mortar Battalion), came with them (unidentified newsletter forwarded 29 July by CSM P. Hiltner, 82nd Chemical Battalion, Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri, pp.23-24. Further references to this source are indicated as H.) The remainder of the battalion, less Co. B on New Georgia, moved by LST and joined those two divisions in January and February 1944. The Americal occupied the right half of the beachhead perimeter and the 37th Division occupied the left. Both divisions, with the departure of the Marines, further expanded the beachhead and fortified its positions with pillboxes, cleared fields of fire for automatic weapons, and strung double aprons of barbed wire particularly in front of the pillboxes.
In the historic Battle of the Perimeter, the mortars had their share. The unprecedented scale of Japanese night fighting on Bougainville compelled American forces to establish a solid 13-mile defense around Empress Augusta Bay. Night after night Japanese patrols probed for weak spots in this defense line, infiltrated through our lines and around our flanks, and planted scouts and snipers to the rear of our troops. Full-scale counterattacks from enemy forces concealed behind ridges or in the jungle undergrowth often followed this reconnaissance of our positions (H).
To meet these tactics, defenses were established each day before sunset. Barbed wire encircled the bivouac area. Land mines rigged with trip wires dotted the area 200 to 300 yards in front of our positions. Rifles, BARs, machine guns, infantry mortars and 4.2-inch chemical mortars were manned behind these barricades. Almost half of all mortar ammunition expended went into fighting at night. Registration was made during the day on known or suspected enemy strongpoints and avenues of attack and the mission was fired that night when the attack came ... It was on Bougainville that the mortars began firing great quantities of white phosphorous after dark, for it lit up the ugly blackness and the Japanese screamed from its bone-burning flame when it came near (H).
By day the battalion was engaged in neutralizing enemy positions on hills and along jungle trails, defending friendly roadblocks and engaging targets on reverse slopes that were inaccessible to the 105s and 155s. Nowhere was the accuracy of the mortar so well valued as in the jungle warfare. Visual observation of where a mortar shell landed was impossible; sound-sensing methods alone were possible. Yet, even with this hazardous method of fire direction, mortarmen were able to "walk" their fire safely to within 25 yards of our own outposts. Most of the 4.2 jungle firing was nerve-racking close-in support of infantry. And the closer the better! The infantry knew what it was to be hit by shells from their own supporting weapons and when the mortar began bringing its shells in toward them they were a little leary. It required extreme accuracy of firing guided by expert sound perception to bring mortar fire as close as 25 to 30 yards to troops we were supporting. But with Japanese just yards away, pinning our forces to the ground, it had to be done. The infantry just dug a little deeper, kept their heads down and let it come (H).
Butler's 2nd platoon, Co. C, manned the 4.2-inch mortars supporting the 132nd Infantry Regiment of the Americal on the far right of the perimeter, anchored on the beach. The six mortars of the platoon went into position just off the beach within the jungle in January and fired several missions in support of patrols and interdictory fires. Our training on New Caledonia paid off when we had to build a pillbox on the beach at the edge of the jungle for an OP. It was across the Torokina River from the gun position.
The jungle foliage was so thick that forward observers, compelled to use sound-sensing methods of observation, were often located only 30 yards from the enemy and directed fire to within 20 yards of their own observation post and of the front lines (K&B, p. 495). Again, the value of the training of forward observers on New Caledonia was proved. At times, registering smoke rounds were fired onto the beach where they could be seen and then shifted into the jungle. During the height of one enemy attack, the mortars placed smoke shells directly in front of enemy forward elements while troops of the 182nd Infantry, only 30 yards away, withdrew without casualties. This was one of the few daylight uses of WP on Bougainville, since smoke further reduced the jungle's limited visibility (K&B, p. 258).
During those first few weeks on Bougainville, the battalion suffered its first death due to enemy action. Sgt. Paul Ware, until entering the Army a police officer from a Chicago suburb (Forest Park) was killed by a sniper. Ware, a member of 1st platoon, Co. C, was a tall, impressive man. That probably was why he was selected to escort a group of high-ranking officers along the Numa Numa Trail who were on a junket to "see the battlefield." As a rule, Japanese snipers waited for someone in a column who seemed to be in charge - that was Ware. The bullet penetrated the relatively flat side of his steel helmet.
One hundred yards behind the guns of the 2nd platoon, Co. C, was a 155mm rifle (Long Tom) installed in the jungle's edge. The Long Tom crew was in radio contact with PT boats and coast watchers across Empress Augusta Bay on some smaller islands and south of the Bay on Bougainville. The gun was quiet all day and only came to life after dark, in response to reports of Japanese shipping in the area. Then the cannon threw a 155mm. (6-inch) shell flat across the water for up to 15 miles. The first time we heard it, we thought a huge Japanese shell had landed behind us. Later we knew to look for Tom's flash and bark any time after dark.
Notes: 1. For a description of the terrain and the difficulties encountered in clearing fields of fire for 4.2-inch mortars in the jungle, see Appendix B, The 82nd Jungle Fighting Chemical Mortar Battalion.
2. The Americal Division Order of Battle for Bougainville lists attachments: Cos. A, C, D, 82 Chemical Mortar Battalion (Company B was still in New Georgia).
Fiji Jungle Fighters beat Japs
In late December 1943, the 1st Battalion of the Fiji Infantry Regiment, consisting of 777 enlisted men and 34 officers, commanded by Lieutenant Colonel J.B.K. Taylor of the New Zealand Army, arrived at Bougainville. Taylor was wounded the first night ashore and was replaced by Major Gregory Upton, who was in charge of the battalion during its long-range patrols. Almost immediately after their arrival, plans were under way to use their unique abilities as jungle fighters to establish a combat outpost far to the east of the mountain range, most of which was controlled by the Japanese. On 28 December, a reinforced company of the Fiji Battalion moved out along the Numa Numa Trail with its first objective the village of Ibu more than twenty miles north of Cape Torokina. Once there, they were to report enemy movements along the east coast to corps headquarters and disrupt Japanese lines of communication whenever possible (G, p. 137).
In February 1944, the Fiji troops were bivouacked close to the 82nd Chemical Mortar Battalion's base camp in a clearing near XIV Corps Headquarters. They put on a very impressive display for the 82nd personnel in which the Fijians, in their native dress, performed a series of war dances. Those troops were unlike the indigenous natives of Bougainville and Guadalcanal. They were much taller and had English features.
In one of the several firing positions the 2nd platoon, Co. C was to occupy, this one in tall grass along the Torokina River, the platoon had a platoon of Fiji soldiers providing perimeter security. One machine gunner displayed how he cut fields of fire through the tall grass with his razor-sharp machete. Meticulously, he cut very narrow lanes from his gun radiating out to points to his left and right front and drove stakes near the gun to mark those lanes. The idea was to avoid disturbing the natural look of the grass, while being able to detect anyone crossing a lane.
That same Fijian, speaking excellent English, described a long-range patrol in which he took part wherein he could hear the Japanese "like monkeys in the trees" crying out: "Fiji! Fiji! Fiji!" He went on to describe that his patrol had gone as far as the Japanese bivouac on Mount Bagana, surprised and killed a large number of the enemy and returned with no casualties to the patrol. Gailey (p. 138) relates a similar Fijian attack on a Japanese strongpoint at Pipipaia earlier in January, in which forty-seven Japanese were killed without the loss of a single Fijian.
Intelligence coup in 37th Division
Japanese POW Interrogation
Roy T. Uyehata, one of over 100 Japanese American (Nikkei) troops in Army Military Intelligence Service (MIS) units, Pacific Ocean Area (POA), describes an account of his interrogation of a Japanese POW, the results of which enabled the XIV US Army Corps to destroy the Japanese attempt to retake the beachhead:
In February of 1944, the U.S. 37th Division and the Americal Division under XIV Corps were engaged in combat against the Japanese 6th Division from Kuamoto on Bougainville Island, northernmost of the Solomons group. We were capturing an unusually high number of Japanese POWs.
On the morning of March 8 as I was interrogating a private first class, the POW interrupted by asking how he could get off the island. The question surprised me. I knew that most POWs lied in giving their surnames and I also knew through experience that no POW ever wished to be recaptured by Japanese units. He was apparently fearful of being retaken in a counterattack. I told him that it would take approximately one week to interrogate him and another three or four days to cut orders for shipment to the rear. Moreover; it would take several more days to assemble enough POWs to warrant their shipment to the rear.
Worried about the dilemma in which he seemed to find himself, he blurted out that he guessed we knew that we were going to be attacked at dawn on March 23 - a very auspicious day to mount an attack since it is a holiday special to the Japanese Emperor, Shunki Koreisai (Spring All Imperial Ancestors Day.) I knew that this top-secret information had not been given to our Army commanders. I misled the POW and told him that the attack was not "new" information since a number of other prisoners had provided the same news to me previously.
I continued the interrogation for approximately thirty more minutes, then, feigning a headache, told the POW that my headache was so bad that I had to go back to my office and get some aspirin. When I returned to my office and relayed the advance warning of the impending attack to Captain William Fisher, he was astounded and wondered aloud whether any Japanese soldier would ever reveal such a thing. I insisted that the information was reliable and if he did not believe me should send someone else to the POW compound to verify it.
Shortly after supper (March 8,) T/Sgt. Hiroshi Matsuda went to the POW compound and returned-confirming the attack plan. Matsuda had interrogated a sergeant POW. Captain Fisher then passed this top-secret information on to Colonel Edgar J. Treacy, Assistant Chief of Staff, G-2, who in turn passed it to General Oscar Griswold commander of XIV Corps. That evening General Griswold canceled the showing of all movies by Army units until further notice in order to prepare for the anticipated attack on March 23.
Several probing attacks were made by Japanese frontline units during the period from March 8 to March 20, they were not taken too seriously since we knew their main attack was scheduled for March 23.
In order to launch their attack at dawn on March 23, all Japanese units cautiously approached the defense perimeter, massing their forces along three avenues of approach -- the Piva trail and the Numa Numa trail in the 37th sector and an unnamed trail in the Americal Division sector.
At precisely 7:45 p.m. on March 22 we launched our counterattack with artillery and naval gunfire from six destroyers anchored in Torokina (Empress Augusta) Bay. The combined artillery and naval gunfire barrages were so thunderous that the ground under XIV Corps headquarters , which was located two and a half miles from the front, shook with the rolling motion of an earthquake. The front lines were brilliantly lit with thousands of illuminating flares. The barrages continued for more than an hour.
Our victory was decisive. The Japanese soldiers were totally unprepared for the artillery barrages that caught them without cover of foxholes and bunkers.
When the casualties were counted after the battle, there were more than five thousand enemy dead and more than three thousand wounded. Some of the enemy wounded were captured and taken to the division Mobile Army Surgical Hospital, where I conducted POW interrogations. U.S. casualties were reported to be two hundred and sixty three.
T/Sgt Hiroshi Matsuda and I received Bronze Star medals for providing advance warning that saved more than one thousand American lives.
Several weeks later, Colonel Kai Rasmussen, Commandant of the Military Intelligence Service Language School at Camp Savage, Minnesota came to Bougainville to congratulate me for what I had done. I was the only MISer (Military Intelligence Service person) to have been honored with a personal visit by Colonel Rasmussen. Captain Fisher sent his parents, Mr. and Mrs. Fisher, to the Poston Relocation Center in Arizona where my parents were interned to tell them that I had performed a very patriotic deed for our country - even though they were not permitted to describe the nature of the deed.
NOTE: Because the following URL could not be opened, the above text of Uyehata's account is presented in full. If the URL still does not work and the reader desires to visit this interesting website, which contains much more about the 442nd RCT (Regimental Combat Team) and Nikkei Heritage, search for "In Action in the Pacific Ocean Areas Introduction."
March 1944 the Second Battle of Bougainville
The Japanese counterattack to drive the Americans into the sea and eliminate the beachhead was planned with three task forces to attack strongpoints in the American perimeter. Japanese task forces were named for their respective commanders. The Iwasa force, approximately 4,150 men, consisting of infantry, engineers, artillery and a mortar battalion were to seize Hill 700 (Cannon Hill) on the right (east) flank of the 37th Division (held by 145th Infantry Regiment). (G., pp. 144-46)
The Magata force of similar composition and approximately 4,300 men strong had as its objective the low ground west of Hill 700 and occupied by the 129th Infantry Regiment, also of the 37th Division. (Note: Gailey erroneously refers to that regiment as the Americal 129th Regiment; his Map 9 (at right, click to enlarge), clearly shows the 129th in the 37th sector). (G., pp. 144-46)
The smallest task force, the Muda, consisted of two infantry battalions and an engineer company a total of 1,350 men. This prong was aimed at the 182nd Infantry Regiment in the Americal Division sector and was to secure the left flank of the Iwasa force as it drove south. Its objectives were Hill 260 and Hill 309 (not shown on map) and, in conjunction with a battalion from the Iwasa group, capture the strategically important Hill 600. (G., pp. 144-46)
The foregoing discussion of the three-pronged attack is based on Gailey's work and indicates that the major thrust was directed at 37th Division positions (Map 9 - above, right) helps to visualize the situation in early March 1944 and confirms that the 129th Infantry was a 37th Division regiment. As the map also establishes, the three prongs of attack were not synchronized for simultaneous launch dates indicate the center (Iwasa) attack was on 9 March, one day later the east (Muda) and smallest attack jumped off 10 March. Finally the largest force (Magata) joined the battle on 11 March against 129th Infantry west of center.
Uyehata's account, above, is based on interrogations by him and T/Sgt Matsuda of two different Japanese POWs and establishes the big push by the Japanese to have been intended for dawn, 23 March. Uyehata is specific as to dates and time when he states: "At precisely 7:45 p.m. on March 22 we launched our counterattack with artillery fire... and naval gunfire..." The fact that he fails to mention 4.2-inch mortar fire is understandable - it all sounded like artillery fire. He does establish that the barrages of the night of 22-23 March disrupted the Japanese plan for a coordinated attack at dawn on the 23d.
The author remembers a reflection at the time - the 17th of March, being St. Patrick's Day, turned out to be the Ides of March for the Japanese. It was in support of the 129th Infantry Regiment that 2nd platoon, Company C, 82nd Chemical Mortar Battalion, was to be abruptly cast.
The Law of the Jungle
Gailey quotes a passage from A Ribbon and a Star by Monks attributed to the feelings of one marine at the close of the first day on Bougainville:
By six o'clock that night it was dark and every officer and man on the line and in the many CPs (command posts) was in his foxhole. For these were trained men and they knew the law of the jungle: each man must be in his foxhole at dark and there he must stay until dawn. Anyone out of a foxhole during the hours of darkness was a Jap. Sudden death for the careless! From seven o'clock in the evening till (sic) dawn, with only centipedes and lizards and scorpions and mosquitoes begging to get acquainted - wet, cold, exhausted, but unable to sleep - you lay there and shivered and thought and hated and prayed. But you stayed there. You didn't cough, you didn't snore, you changed your position with the least amount of noise. For it was still great to be alive. (G., p. 144-46)
The 2nd platoon, Co. C, of the 82nd CMB had been firing in support of the Americal Division for several weeks and missions were coming more frequently in early March. Days and dates had little meaning at the time. The mortarmen of 2nd platoon, C Company, were abruptly summoned after dark on the 11th to move from the beach on the right of the perimeter to a position behind Company F, 2nd Battalion, 129th Infantry Regiment, 37th Division, in the center. Evidently, the needs of the 37th were more critical than those of the Americal. As Gailey's map shows, we were moving to blunt the Magata prong, the largest and last of the three - desperation had to have built to a flaming peak, expressed in the exhortations of Japanese Generals Hyakutake and Kanda "...to erase the mortification of our brothers at Guadalcanal..." and "...brighten with the blood of the American devils the color of the renowned insignia on our arms." (G, p.147 quoted from John A. Monks, Jr., A Ribbon and a Star (New York: Henry Holt, 1945.) The "Law of the Jungle" was about to be repealed with deadly consequence.
Sometime after dark, Lt. Gutman, platoon Leader, was summoned to the 82nd CMB CP and Butler was instructed to load the platoon and be ready move as soon as he was able to tell him where to go. Considering what had been said about anyone moving at night was a Jap, and given the urgency of the move, there was little to be gained by any attempted stealth. About an hour after Gutman left, the word came to move with all haste to a point behind Fox Company, 129th. With headlights blazing the six 2½-ton trucks, each with a 4.2-inch mortar on a cart, an ammo cart, the basic load of ammo, and a mortar squad, led by Butler's jeep with Phillips driving, took off. By that time, the engineers and Seabees had established a good network of roads within the perimeter.
Death by Friendly Fire
Gutman, in his jeep, met the convoy in a clearing that was well lit by a bright moon. He stated that his driver, Bradbury, had been killed by carbine fire from one of the interior bunkers occupied by medical troops near the battalion aid bunker. He, Gutman, evidently had been met in the clearing by someone from the 2nd Battalion, had left Bradbury with the jeep and walked to the battalion CP. Sometime later, Bradbury - perhaps a bit scared out there all alone - started on foot to join the lieutenant. Once out of the immediate clearing, the night and the jungle closed in. Bradbury may have gotten too close to a bunker and scared hell out of the soldier who shot him - in keeping with the "Law of the Jungle." The report of several carbine rounds hitting him on an upward trajectory in the lower abdomen suggests that the semi-automatic carbine had been modified to fire full automatic. That was a common procedure that simply required filing down the seer.
Heavy expenditure of 4.2-inch ammunition
Butler's job was to get the six mortars dug in and set to fire. The chosen position required passing several bunkers inside a tree line to another small clearing that had its left flank on a stream. To make sure all within hearing understood that we were coming through, the platoon was loudly ordered: xxxx the Japs - get those xxxxxxxxx guns in here and the next sonofabitch that fires a shot is gonna get a grenade in his xxxxxxx teeth! Within an hour we were firing at minimum range (643 yards) and getting some return fire that appeared to be from the Jap 37mm guns they had been pulling through the jungle. It was impacting to our right rear and every time they fired a round, we answered with three rapid from each tube (18 rounds).
Our basic load of ammunition was rapidly being expended. It is not possible to say what plans the Japs had for launching their last desperate attack, or whether this would be the last. The Magata Force had been observed massing for two days, during which time the Muda and Iwasa strikes were going on to the east.
Company C Commander, by this time Captain Howard Carlisle, arrived within a few hours of the start of our firing mission with trucks loaded with HE shells and all the kitchen and other personnel he could muster. The ammo, fresh out of the depot was boxed with two rounds per wooden box. Each round was in its individual heavy black cardboard tube and had been covered with cosmoline before being packed. The kitchen crew brought along 5-gallon cans, from which they had cut the tops and dumped the dehydrated potatoes. These cans, filled with gasoline, were placed next to the mortars. Shells were dipped and given a cursory wipe with hands dripping gasoline before going down the tubes. The gasoline and cosmoline may have added a bit to the range and gave the firing line an appearance of a battery of some weird flame-belching instruments.
At some later date, which ties in with the "Big Shootout" of 22 March, with Gutman at the CP of 2nd Battalion, 129th Infantry, Carlisle came to the 2nd platoon, Co. C, mortar position and announced that we were too close to the front. The enemy had penetrated the forward positions and Butler was to find a suitable position to the rear. Leaving platoon Sgt. "Pappy" Mills in charge to continue firing as directed by Gutman from the 2nd Bn. CP, Butler dashed out in his jeep with Philips driving. About 1,000 yards to the rear was one of the recently constructed roads paralleling the perimeter in 129th sector. Along that road was discovered a clearing about 25 yards deep and 100 yards wide, an ideal location. As it was described to Carlisle, he asked if it would accommodate another platoon. When told it would, he radioed that information to Major Green, the Bn. S3, who directed a platoon from Co. A to join 2nd of C.
Mortars were displaced two squads at a time, while the remainder continued firing until all six were in the new location. As each section of two completed their new installations, Gutman was able to commence their firing at the more effective range. Soon the 1st platoon of Co. A, lined up on our left, was also pounding the area in front of and within the lines of Company F, 129th Infantry. Later in the day, an antiaircraft battery of 90mm guns took positions directly behind the 4.2s to fire flat trajectory over our heads.
The 129th Infantry had organized bunkers in depth and, with the outposts pulled in, were protected from the deadly hail of steel from the 4.2-inch HE shells with instantaneous fuze impacting on leaves and branches of the jungle canopy. In effect, the results were those of an airburst barrage.
Tanks were backing the infantry in bunkers and slaughtering those enemy who had penetrated. Japs were trying to climb onto the tanks and some of their officers were beating on the steel hulls with their sabers. The tanks kept buttoned up and sprayed each other with their .30 cal. machine guns. Also, they had adopted a tactic used by the Marines in the first days of the beachhead. The Marines used "buckshot" antipersonnel rounds fired from tanks. Medium tanks closing on known Japanese positions, acted as bait; as the Japanese swarmed over the tank to emplace a charge (magnetic mine), a companion light tank would fire the "buckshot" round directly at the heavier one. The thumbnail-size projectiles would slaughter the attackers but could not penetrate the armor of the vehicle (G., p. 147). Fire from the 4.2 mortars was taking its toll as well, as the tree bursts rained steel down on the tanks and all surrounding areas. See the Weapons section of the website Bougainville: The Amphibious Assault Enters Maturity.
Firing from all weapons was almost constant throughout the night of the 22nd and the day of the 23rd. In our position in front of the 90mm AAA guns, the bark of those 90s with their muzzle brakes caused the author's teeth to ache. When Capt. Butterfield, battalion surgeon, visited us the next day, he was told about the aching teeth. Doc examined them and diagnosed it as nerves from the noise. Fortunately, he had a can of medicinal alcohol (100 proof) in his jeep - it made a great mouth wash!
The 3-pronged attack by the Japanese, indicated on Gailey's Map 9 (at right, click to enlarge), consisted of the three probing attacks (8-20 March) reported by Uyehata. As an aside, one may question Uyehata's assessment that those attacks "were not taken seriously." Gailey's map has the legend: Japanese Counterattack 9-17 March 1944. Uyehata establishes the fact that the fighting was far from over on March 17, much as Butler would like to credit that victory to St. Paddy.
Let's see how the Office of the Chief of Military History, Department of the Army has recorded this significant battle and the role of the 82nd CMB in the same. Brooks and Kleber report:
Infantry commanders soon recognized that the mortars could engage, with a weight of shell comparable to that of 105mm artillery, many targets that could not be reached by the 105s and 155s. To insure adequate fire coverage of the entire 13-mile perimeter, thirty mortar positions were established, which were linked together by more than 150 miles of communication wire. The necessity for this unusual number of gun positions was well demonstrated during one 4-day period in March by simultaneous requests from the 129th, 145th, and 182nd Infantry for supporting fire from the platoons of Company A (B&K, p.495.)
Daily expenditures of mortar shell on Bougainville during March was extremely heavy; during the last three weeks (9th - 30th) of March, Company A alone expended 20,250 rounds in defense of a hill (hill 600 on Gailey's Map 9) held by elements of the Americal Division. In an 11 March mission Companies A and D massed fire with 75-mm and 105-mm howitzers and with 60-mm and 81-mm mortars in a preparation which helped repel an enemy attack. Twelve days later (23 March), Companies C and A joined with seven artillery battalions (including one 90mm AAA battery) and two cannon companies in the heaviest general supporting fire laid down in the South Pacific fighting (B&K. p. 495). NOTE: The 23 March bombardment is the fire support reported by Uyehata, which included naval gunfire from six destroyers.
Field artillery officers were impressed by the amount of effective fire produced by a chemical mortar company as compared to that of an artillery unit. Maj. John Tolman, who commanded the 82nd Chemical Mortar Battalion from 26 April until the close of the Luzon Campaign (Lt. Col. William Shimonek had moved up to XIV Corp Chemical Officer and been promoted to Colonel), disclosed that infantry commanders felt they could not properly accomplish (their) mission without 4.2-inch mortar support. The 37th Division considered the 4.2-inch mortar a powerful and devastating supplement to the division's artillery and mortar fires, and commanders of the Americal Division, while recommending reduction of the minimum range to increase the weapon's flexibility, commented on the effectiveness of the chemical mortar in perimeter defense and for fire on reverse slopes; enemy artillery was instructed to concentrate on American mortars (B&K, pp. 495-96.)
The Americal Division's recommendation that the 4.2's minimum range be reduced is seconded. In the above report of action against an enemy penetration of F Company, 129th Infantry, the mortars of 2nd platoon, Co. C were too close to effectively engage the penetrators. TM 3-320 C5 12 April 1944, which is Change 5 to the Technical Manual 4.2-inch Chemical Mortar and would have been effective after the March 1944 actions described herein, contains a range table that includes ranges from 643 yards to 3,369 yards. The minimum range (.36 mile) is achieved at elevation of 1,065 mils (approximately 60 degrees above horizontal) with a charge of 4½ propellant rings. There is no logical reason why the elevation should not be increased to shorten the minimum range to 200 yards. The higher the angle of fire, the closer targets on reverse slopes can be engaged and the more effective is the fire on steep back slopes. We know 200 yards is well within safety, from the rifled-tube 4.2-inch accurate mortar, for supported troops-even in the open.
Brooks and Kleber make a statement that requires a challenge. They state: Beginning at Bougainville securing mortar crews against enemy infiltration became a serious problem, particularly during night missions. Because of the absence of infantry perimeter guards and the frequency of enemy infiltrations, the battalion provided for day and night shifts both at the gun positions and at forward observation posts. (italics and bold added) (B&K, p. 496.) Question: Did they confuse 82nd CMB with some 82nd Mess Kit Repair Battalion? Except for the one instance of a Fiji platoon mentioned above, that never happened!
To paraphrase Winston Churchill, this is the kind of CRAP up with which I will not put! Where would the battalion get the resources to provide day and night shifts? This was no civil service operation we were conducting - 'nuf said!
The photo at right (click to enlarge) is of Jack Butler when he was in the area of the 129th Infantry in August 1944. Prior to March, sunlight couldn't reach the jungle floor.
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