By Ervin Kaplan, MD
The Landing of The Second Marine Raider Battalion at Aola Bay Guadalcanal
As Private First Class Ervin Kaplan, I functioned as a radio man in the communication section of Company E, Second Marine Raider Battalion at the 4 November 1942 landing at Aola Bay, Guadalcanal. I enlisted in the United States Marine Corps in May of 1941. After completing Boot Camp at the San Diego Recruit Depot, I attended Marine Corps Radio School at San Diego for a period of ten weeks, was transferred to H&S Company Second Marines at Camp Elliot, California, where I served as a radio man until February of 1942. I was transferred to the Second Marine Raider Battalion, then forming at Camp Elliot, Jacques farm, under the command of Major Evans Fordyce Carlson, at the first call for volunteers. I served with the Marine Raiders until they were disbanded in February of 1944. My reason for volunteering for the Raiders, it was not that I had a death wish. I felt that if I were to go into combat, it should be in the best trained and led unit that was available. My feelings were gratified.
The functions of the Raiders was spearheading amphibious landings upon enemy held beaches, raiding enemy installations and raiding and reconnaissance behind enemy lines. The communication section consisted of a radio and a telephone group, which functioned at company and battalion level. These functions demanded light dependable radio equipment, which was asking a great deal of the relatively primitive pre transistor state of radio communication devices at that time. The radio equipment carried ashore at the Aola Bay landing was the “TBX” which consisted of four canvas encased units furnished with pack straps; a transceiver set, a receiver battery box each weighing about forty pounds; in addition, there was a hand cranked generator for transmission weighing in at about twenty five pounds and a 10 pound antennae in sections. The four company radio men were trained in combat techniques as well as in communication. In addition to side arms the radio station was armed with a twelve gage shotgun firing pea size “00” buckshot. At close range it would blow a four inch diameter hole in a man.
Company E under the command of Captain Richard T. Washburn, numbering 133 men boarded APD 1 the USS Manley at Espiritu Santo, New Hebrides on 31 October 1942 bound for Guadalcanal. APD 5 the USS Mc Keen carried 133 men of Company C under the command of Captain Harold K. Throneson. The APD’s were WWI destroyers assigned to the Raiders as fast transports. They were modified for carrying troops by removal of two of the original four boilers, which altered the center of gravity of the ships and did effect their stability. The troop sleeping quarters were equipped with fold back, pipe framed wire bunks, stacked four and five high. In the latter case if the man in the bottom bunked dared to turn over, he would signal his four superior bunkies to assume the pushup position so that he might complete his maneuver. The hull of these ships were crafted of 1/4 inch steel. The crew members claimed that they had been repainted so many times that only paint remained and chipping paint was a very precarious task. There were those that maintained that a large swell could be seen as a ripple down the interior of the hull. Heavy armament consisted of one three inch gun. Several of the APD’s hit by enemy weapons in the Guadalcanal campaign sunk within thirty seconds.
With these sturdy craft we made way for Guadalcanal through stormy seas, which caused the APDs to roll up to 60 degrees and kept the head occupied with upchucking Raiders. Our landing scheduled for 3 November was postponed for 24 hours. In the predawn blackness we stood by off the beach at Aola Bay. The APD’s Higgins boats were swung out from their davits and lowered into the sea. The Raiders of Company E went over the side and were preparing to land for the first time on a hostile shore. They appeared outwardly calm secure in their training and confident in their ability to use their arms. The nausea of the heaving decks had passed, the wan but determined Raiders crouched low as the cockswains drove their boats for the group of flashing lights on the beach. The beach was narrow and we were greeted by 1st Division scouts and by the Australian Major Mathers. We had achieved our first objective and had hit the beach at 4:00 AM.
Not ten feet away from me one of the E Company riflemen was grasping his head, hopping about in a most ungainly fashion and cursing under his breath. Always willing to help a fellow Raider and especially my friend Pvt. Loren “Kudge” Foster. I was finally able to ascertain that immediately after coming ashore a bug had crawled into his ear and defied all efforts to be dislodged. He pleaded with me, could I please help him. I made the decision to suffer a great sacrifice. We had each prior to the landing been issued a two ounce bottle of medicinal Hennessy brandy. I uncapped the bottle, instructed Kudge to tilt his head and I instilled two drops of the brandy into his ear. The insect exited with great dispatch, and was last seen heading for Mount Mambulo fifty miles away. To my knowledge that was the only casualty inflicted on the Raiders or any of the other military personnel at the Aola Bay assault landing. The marshy jungle beyond the beach at Aola Bay was soon to be occupied by our company and fellow Raiders of Company C and the others of Rear Admiral Richmond Kelly Turner’s Task Force 65, transported on the Neville, Heywood and the Fomalhaut. Turner’s objective was the construction of an alternate air strip to Henderson Field. The assignment of the Raiders was to secure the perimeter several hundred yards in from the beach, while the 147th US Army Infantry landed and prepared to pass through the Raider perimeter and establish a larger beachhead. The Raiders established a headquarters equipped with a TBX radio and C and E companies moved out to rapidly set up the perimeter. The four man radio crew of Company E under Staff Sergeant Morgan N. Davidson jr. soon had our TBX in communication with the Raider headquarters unit. We were instructed to report in at regular intervals and to report any change in status. A continuous watch was maintained throughout the night. The conditions remained uneventful.
The following morning, at approximately 9:00 to 10:00 AM while I was on radio watch the 147th Infantry moved up to our perimeter and prepared to pass through to the extended position. This constituting a change in status a message was initiated to be transmitted to the Raider CP—
“Army passing through our lines.”
I was on watch and transmitted the message. A receipt for the message was received from HQ and all was quiet as the Army moved foreword from the Raider perimeter. Within about five minutes a breathless squad and Lt. Colonel Carlson came up to the perimeter on the double. An inquiry was immediately made:
” Where’s the enemy?”
“The enemy in your message!”
Copies of the message were exchanged. The message received at HQ read—
“Enemy passing through our lines”
Who made the mistake? A difference of a single dash,
army .- .-. — -.–
enemy . -. . — -.–
The first time on a hostile shore, what is uppermost in the minds of two Raider radio operators. The original task of securing a perimeter, for the construction of an intended but never built, alternate airstrip for Henderson Field, had been accomplished. The swampy terrane at Aola negated Admiral Turner’s plan for such an air strip.
The Long Patrol From Aola Bay to Henderson Field
On 5 November an air dropped message from Major General Vandegrift snatched control of the Second Marine Raider Battalion from Rear Admiral Turner. The 36 hour assignment had been converted into a thirty day, 150 mile reconnaissance in force, with the Second Marine Raiders playing a major roll in securing Guadalcanal east of the Henderson Field beachhead. The Raider radiomen played a most significant roll by communications within the Battalion and with the First Marine Division. The, “Long patrol” of the Second Raiders was concluded on 4 December 1942 at the Lunga Point perimeter. Of the 266 men of C and E companies who made the 4 November landing at Aola Bay, 57 endured to the finish at the Henderson Field Beach Head, I was one of the 57. The Raider training must have trained me well for the long patrol. I completed the patrol, I performed my designated functions and I was never wounded.
The most memorable event for me was the was the battle at Asamana. On 10 November the day preceding the battle I went on a patrol to the beach from Binu, the battalion command post, to replenish our spartan diet of rice, raisins and salt pork. We rendezvoused with Navy small boats at the mouth of the Metapona River. Contact was made with the 7th Marines. They along with the 164th Army Regiment had contained 3,000 Japanese, who had escaped inland through the 164th, to rejoin their colleagues to the west of Henderson. The site of the escape was littered with gear of the 164th . Our native porters carried the supplies back to Binu. On the same day C and E companies were reinforced by B, D and F companies who landed at Tasimboko.
The day following our food gathering patrol with four companies out on patrol from Binu, we radio men were kept busy communicating between companies by TBX radios. The radio consisted as previously stated of four units in canvas carrying case, a transceiver unit, a battery power supply unit, a hand cranked generator and an antennae unit, for protection a twelve gauge shotgun and for ammunition, double aught buckshot. The radio gear was fortunately carried by four very cooperative Solomon Islanders. Our communication team could set up and be operative in thirty seconds. Consequently we could hike with a light load. My pack was a gas mask case which held my food, matches, a good supply of dry socks and a bottle of tincture of merthiolate. We received the message that C Company had been ambushed by a group of escaping Japanese.
The Battle at Asamana
Now it was E Company under command of Captain Richard T. Washburn, which moved across the Metapona River to reach the ambushing enemy rear. Walking along a path beside the river and entering the deserted village of Asamana, gun fire came from forward, I hit the deck between the path and the river and the platoon sergeant of weapons platoon dove into a bush some twenty feet in front of me. This drew enemy fire, it went through the bush and all around me, except for a generous spraying with dirt and twigs I was unharmed. The initial firing subsided, our crew under Staff Sgt., Morgan N. Davidson, with fellow radioman PFC Jesse L. Vanlandingham and one other whose name escapes me after 62 years, established our radio station. The weapons platoon set up their machine guns on the river bank. This was a fortuitous choice, as it provided an excellent view of Japanese soldiers fording the river, holding their clothing and weapon aloft. A TBX message from down stream inquired of the source of Japanese bodies floating past in the river. The fire fight persisted for several hours. It waxed intense after that and we were receiving fire from three directions. Captain Washburn wisely, as discretion was the better part of valor, made the decision to withdraw to Binu. Our withdrawal was covered by Pvt. Joseph M. Auman who manned his machine gun until he was killed. For this he was awarded the NAVY CROSS. In those troubled times the need to recognize this event resonated to the pinnacle of the bureaucracy, as is evident in this citation:
app S of N 5-3-43
Signed JUL 17 1943 Serial 0478
The President the United States takes pleasure in presenting the NAVY CROSS to PRIVATE JOSEPH M. AUMAN. USMC for service as set forth in the following:
“For extraordinary heroism while serving with the Second Marine Raider Battalion during an engagement with the enemy Japanese forces at Asamana, Guadalcanal, Solomon Islands on November 11, 1942. When his company was forced by overwhelming enemy fire to make a temporary withdrawal, Private Auman, with utter disregard for his own personal safety, manned a machine gunand covered the retirement. Steadfastly remaining at his exposed position, he continued to fire his gun until killed by the enemy. His dauntless courage and outstanding devotion to duty were in keeping with the highest traditions of the United States Naval Service. He gallantly gave his life in the service of his country.”
For the President
Secretary of the Navy.
As the company withdrew late in the afternoon, Captain Washburn indicated that since we are carrying a wounded man we cannot be in Binu until dark. Who will go back and deliver that message? At that instant and with a lighter load than most, I made one of my less than considered decisions. Captain Washburn sent a rifleman Pvt. Wilson to protect me from the enemy. We set off at a reasonable gait on the trail to Binu, through the six foot tall kunei grass, interspersed at frequent streams with strips of jungle. It was my opinion that entering those strips at the trail, which were excellent site for ambush; so Wilson and I went several hundred yards off the trail; crossed the strip of jungle and picked up the trail on the other side. We did this across several streams until sunset. I did not consider entering the Binu camp after dark to be indicated or the least bit wise. We went off the trail and slept through the night in the kunei grass. We entered camp in the morning and the first man I met was Captain Washburn. his greeting was, “Kaplan, glad your back, I had you missing in action.” A survivors decision, twenty five Japanese stragglers not knowing the area was occupied, were killed trying to enter.
The Long Patrol Was not A Rose Garden
A bit about our diet. The first several days I subsisted on D rations, an unappetizing chocolate bar fortified with God knows what. This was replaced with the diet of the Chinese 8th Route Army, rice raisins and salt pork. A wise choice under the humid, tropical conditions. It was dry, light in weight and of high caloric value and it withstood the heat and humidity. At the end of day one would build a small fire, I still have the small tightly sealable cylinder containing matches. The liner was removed from my helmet and in the metal portion the salt pork was rendered, then the rice was added, cooked in river water and kicked up with a hand full of raisins. We had the blackest helmets in the entire Corps. On the patrol to replenish supplies, a kindly soul gave this hungry Raider a one kilogram can of Uruguayan corned beef. After wolfing it down my unaccustomed stomach gave it all back. Although never verified, fellow Raiders dined on a mongoose and an unfortunate cat. Water was always available from the many rivers and streams. As learned from our Solomon Islanders, a very clean drink could be obtained, by hacking into a segment of a large bamboo plant. No one gained weight on the Long Patrol.
Aside from the inadequate diet and being under constant stress, the long patrol was complicated by climatic conditions. The high temperature, frequent rain and daily crossing of rivers and streams never allowed one to be completely dry. These were obvious conditions for the almost universal incidence of fungus infections. The most frequent site of the expanding ring like lesions were the crotch and arm pits. I was fortunate in recognizing the condition early and bathed thoroughly in a river, rubbed the lesions raw and doused them with merthiolate. This ended the infection for me. Untreated the lesions became painful, coalescing and oozing patches which were highly disabling. Toilets were made with your entrenching tool and diarrhea was the order of the day. Water was taken directly from streams and was a probable vector for hepatitis which was common after the patrol. There was virtually no protection from mosquitos. I recall one day counting 60 mosquito bites on my right forearm. This was directly related to the very high incidence of vivax and falciprum malaria. Vivax is recurrent and disabling, while falciprum or cerebral malaria does not recur, but was 90 percent fatal. After the patrol I was afflicted with the falciprum variety, treated with atabrin, quinine and plasmaquin in a sick bay tent and obviously recovered. This was followed by hepatitis from which I recovered without benefit of any therapy. Sixteen raiders were killed in action, the ranks were thinned by the above conditions plus wounds, dengue fever and more than a few that were functionally stressed out.
Thanksgiving Day And Action at Mambulo
Another memorable event occurred on Thanksgiving Day of 1942. Unlike the Holiday event of November 11 this was not an engagement with the enemy, it was a patrol up the Tenaru River to find the trail between the Tenaru and the Lunga River, which the Japanese used to move between the east and west sides of the Henderson Beach Head. There was no trail up the Tenaru, the seven or eight mile hike and return was a wade, we crossed the Tenaru 110 times by my count. We found the east – west trail, and in addition found “Pistol Pete” an artillery piece or one of them, that the Japanese used to shell Henderson field. The next day the trail led another Raider company to a telephone wire communicating to a Japanese bivouac area, where Corporal John Yancy and his group found 100 Japanese who had conveniently stacked their weapons. They apparently considered themselves to be in a secure area. The ensuing engagement resulted in killing 75 of the enemy. Yancy was awarded the Navy Cross. We returned and the Navy had sent ashore a Thanksgiving dinner, all secure in Stainless steel cylinders. Refrigeration not being one of the Guadalcanal conveniences, when opening the containers, we found our dinner in an advance state of decomposition. There is always salt pork and rice!!
The Raiders were operating independently of 1st Division; however, each days activities were reported to division headquarters at the end of each day. We were resupplied by Division through use of small boats and native bearers. The Solomon Islanders were a tremendous asset in scouting out enemy positions and movement; in addition, their detailed knowledge of island geography was invaluable. This advantage the Japanese did not possess. In combat the use of fire teams, a 2nd battalion innovation, the superior fire power and fire team tactics was devastating to the enemy. The use of separate companies on patrols which fanned out, was a significant factor in finding and clearing the Japanese from east of the beach head.
Most of the enemy encountered had escaped from being surrounded by the 7th Marines and 164th Army Regiment. Their goal was to escape to the Japanese positions west of the beach head. They were probably disorganized, dispirited and hungry. It has been stated that of those who reached the Japanese positions to the west, only twenty were still militarily effective. There were numerous stragglers.
There were many natives working with the Battalion on the long patrol. They were recruited by Vouza from various villages. He would inspect them in the morning, as he walked down the ranks his presence elicited a shiver as he passed. He was highly respected and I assume feared. They worked as bearers, scouts and guides, their detailed knowledge of the island was invaluable. Their contribution was a very significant factor in the success of the patrol. We had frequent contact with Vouza, as he conscientiously supervised the natives. The cooperation of the natives may be attributed to the Australian Coast watcher Martin Clemens who been the District Officer of Guadalcanal for the British Colonial Service. The Japanese did not have this advantage.
Carlson was an exemplary leader; a highly innovative person, he knew the enemy better than their own leaders. His combat experience fitted him ideally for the actions he led. His ability to communicate with his command and motivate and indoctrinate them was without parallel. This is exemplified by his frequent “Gung Ho” sessions which he used for this purpose. Despite these superlative qualities I believe he was poorly understood by his superiors, who were critical of his innovations and feared or were jealous of his relationship with President Roosevelt.
Gung Ho was the motto of the Chinese 8th Route Army and is literally translated to mean “Work Harmony” or cooperation, in Marine parlance, take care of your buddy and he will take care of you. It was picked up by other marine units after WW II and was a common motto of these units during the Korean war, as it probably was for the opposing Chinese troops they encountered in North Korea. Its meaning has deteriorated in the passing years to mean the personal characteristic of being excessively avid to a noxious degree. If searched on Google, there are a quarter of a million hits for the term giving it a wide range of definitions. Though it is no longer a Chinese phrase, it is a generalized American one.
Unit citation from Major General Vandegrift USMC, 1st Marine Division
FIRST MARINE DIVISION
In the Field
07 DECEMBER 1942
“From the operational records of this division it appears that the SECOND RAIDER BATTALION while attached to this division, took the field against the enemy at AOLA BAY on 04 November, 1942. For a period of thirty days this battalion, moving through difficult terrain, pursued, harried and by repeated attacks, destroyed an.enemy force of equal or greater size and drove the remnants from the area of operations. During this period, the battalion, as a whole or by detachments, attacked the enemy whenever and wherever he could be found in a series of carefully planned and well executed surpass attacks. In the latter phase of these operations, the battalion destroyed the remnants of enemy forces and bases on the upper Lunga River and secured valuable information of the terrain and enemy line of operations. In these battles, the enemy suffered 400 killed and the loss of his artillery, weapons, ammunition and supplies, whereas the battalion losses were limited to sixteen killed. For the consummate skill displayed in the conduct of operations, for the training, stamina and fortitude displayed by all members of the battalion and for it’s commendable aggressive spirit and high morale, the Commanding General cites to the First Marine Division, the Commanding Officer, officers and men of the SECOND RAIDER BATTALION.”
MAJOR GENERAL A. A. VANDEGRIFT
Commanding General, First Marine Division,