The 1st Raider Battalion and the raider regimental headquarters joined in on the New Georgia operation in the early hours of 5 July. They spearheaded the night landing of the Northern Group at Rice Anchorage, a spot selected because previous reconnaissance showed it to be undefended. Coastal guns from Enogai and the island of Kolombangara fired on the APDs during the landing, but their accuracy was poor in the driving rain. The only serious interference came from enemy destroyers; a long-range torpedo sunk one of the American transports. Nevertheless, the troops and most of their equipment and supplies made it ashore, and the amphibious group was able to withdraw before daylight left them vulnerable to further enemy counteraction.
From Rice Anchorage the 1st Raider Battalion was to advance overland to seize Dragons Peninsula and the enemy’s barge bases at Enogai and Bairoko. The Army’s 3d Battalion, 148th Infantry, would head deeper into the interior and establish a blocking position on the trail connecting Enogai-Bairoko with Munda. Another Army unit – 3d Battalion, 145th Infantry would divide itself, with half securing the beachhead and the remainder serving as the reserve force. Intelligence reports indicated 500 Japanese troops were in place on Dragons Peninsula. Liversedge and the regimental headquarters accompanied the 1st Raiders.
A reconnaissance patrol headed by raider Captain Clay A. Boyd had already been on the island for some time when the American force landed on 5 July. His small detachment, a coastwatcher, and the ever-present native scouts helped guide the initial waves of Marines to shore. The natives had also cut fresh trails leading to the Giza River at the head of Enogai Inlet. With this advance preparation, the units covered the seven miles of rough terrain to the Giza Giza before nightfall. With darkness came heavy rain. There were no trails through the swamp on the far side of the Giza Giza, and the rain rendered the Tamoko River unfordable, so it took all of the next day for the force to move less than a mile and cross the Tamoko. There they halted and endured another night of rain.
Late in the morning on 7 July the raider advance guard met up with the enemy for the first time. In a brief fight it killed two men and captured the remaining five members of a small Japanese patrol near the village of Maranusa. From there the trail followed the steep sides of a coral ridge for a mile. In the village of Triri, at the western end of the ridge, the advance guard encountered a second patrol. The raiders killed 11 Japanese here, but lost three dead and four wounded. The attackers set up around Triri for the night and arranged ambushes along the trails entering the village. At dawn on 8 July a strong enemy force bumped into the platoon of raiders from Company D blocking the trail to Bairoko. The fight lasted all morning and the Japanese did not break off till Company C arrived on the scene. The enemy left behind 50 dead.
While the Army companies held Triri, the raider battalion moved out in the afternoon for Enogai. That trail entered yet another swamp along the southern edge of the inlet. This one was so bad that Griffith decided to return to Triri and try a new route the next day. It was just as well, for the Japanese had renewed their counterattack on the Bairoko trail and were pressing hard on the soldiers. A raider platoon from Company B slipped around the enemy flank and soon caused the Japanese to withdraw again.
On the morning of 9 July the 1st Raider Battalion headed down a different trail toward Enogai. It crossed the swamp by an easier route and led onto the high ground that dominated the objective. At 1500 Company C made contact with the Japanese defenses. Company A went into line on the left of Company C, anchoring its left flank on Leland Lagoon. Company B took the right flank. Thick jungle canopy prevented the use of mortars, but the lack of light also kept undergrowth to a minimum, leaving good fields of fire for small arms. Companies A and C were soon pinned down, though Company B reported no contact to its front. As night fell the firing slacked off.
Early the next morning Company B patrols moved forward and discovered their portion of the front unoccupied. Griffith then ordered his right flank to attack through the open terrain near the inlet. Mortars provided valuable support and Company B advanced quickly. With their flank turned, the Japanese began to pull out and cross to the spit of land on the north side of Leland Lagoon. Company A’s machine guns turned that into a bloody retreat, but its infantry platoons still could not crack the tough resistance in their immediate front. By evening, however, the raiders had surrounded these final holdouts. At first light the following day (11 July), Company D attacked with hand grenades and cleaned out the area.
American losses in the campaign against Enogai were 54 dead and 91 wounded. But the Marines and soldiers had killed 350 Japanese and seized 23 machine guns and four 140mm coastal defense guns. These results were remarkable given the handicaps which the American forces faced. The rough terrain had made it impossible for the troops to carry all the rations and ammunition they needed. (The 1st Raiders had gone without food for more than a day when supplies air-dropped to Triri finally reached them on the front lines at Enogai the evening of 10 July.) With the exception of one air strike, fire support had come entirely from the raiders’ handful of 60mm mortars.
There was also no way to quickly evacuate wounded to adequate hospitals until the Marines had taken Enogai. Then, on July 11, three PBYs flew in to carry the casualties to the rear. That mission almost had an unhappy ending when two Japanese planes appeared and strafed the PBYs as they sat on the water boarding the wounded. Luckily damage was slight and the amphibian planes were able to take off after the attack. When the PBYs departed they carried two of Liversedge’s staff officers with a plea for better aerial resupply and for the 4th Raider Battalion.
As the fighting on Guadalcanal drew to a close in early 1943, American commanders intensified their planning for the eventual seizure of Rabaul, the primary Japanese stronghold in the Southwest Pacific. This major air and naval base on the eastern end of New Britain was centrally located between New Guinea and the northwestern terminus of the Solomons. That allowed the Japanese to shift their air and naval support from one front to the other on short notice. Conversely, simultaneous American advances through New Guinea and the Solomons would threaten Rabaul from two directions. With that in mind, Admiral William F. Halsey’s South Pacific command prepared to drive farther up the Solomons chain, while MacArthur continued his operations along the New Guinea coast.
- Russell Islands
- The War Canoe Patrol
- Segi Point and Viru Harbor
- Wickham Anchorage (Vangunu)
- Enogai Inlet