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Segi Point and Viru Harbor

(1-pp27-30)

Things did not go entirely according to plan. During June the Japanese used some of their reinforcements to extend their coverage of New Georgia. They ordered a battalion to Viru with instructions to clean out native forces operating in the vicinity of Segi. The Solomon Islanders, under command of Coastwatcher Donald G. Kennedy, had repeatedly attacked enemy outposts and patrols in the area. As the Japanese battalion advanced units closer to Segi Point, Kennedy requested support. On 20 June Admiral Turner ordered Lieutenant Colonel Currin and half of his 4th Raiders to move immediately from Guadalcanal to Segi. Companies O and P loaded on board APDs that day and made an unopposed landing the next morning. On 22 June two Army infantry companies and the advance party of the airfield construction unit arrived to strengthen the position.

viru

Viru presented a tougher problem. The narrow entrance to the harbor was flanked by high cliffs and covered by a 3-inch coast defense gun. Numerous enemy machine guns, including .50-caliber models, occupied supporting positions. Most of the defenses were oriented toward an attack from the sea, so American leaders quickly decided to conduct an overland approach. But that was not easy either, given the difficulty of the trails. After reconnaissance and consultation with higher headquarters, Currin decided to take his raiders by rubber boat to Regi, where they would begin their trek. The assault on Viru would be a double envelopment. Lieutenant Devillo W. Brown’s 3d Platoon, designated Task Force B, would take the lightly defended village of Tombe on the eastern side of the harbor. The remainder of the force would attack the main enemy defenses at Tetemara on the opposite shore. The simultaneous assaults were to take place on the originally scheduled D-day. Once the approaches were secured, APDs would land two Army infantry companies.

The Marines departed Segi the evening of 27 June and landed at Regi just after midnight. They rested a few hours and then moved out single file on the narrow trail. Company O took the lead with Company P bringing up the rear. Native scouts served as guides and the point. The small force had not gone very far when the path disappeared into a swamp. After three hours of tough movement, firing erupted at the end of the column. One of the Japanese patrols known to be in the area had stumbled upon the rear guard. The raiders killed four of the enemy and suffered no casualties. About an hour later a Japanese force of about 20 men, possibly the same force, came up from a side trail and hit the rear guard in the flank. After an hour of firing the enemy broke off the action. There were no known casualties on either side, but the five-man rear point failed to rejoin the Marine column. (They later turned up back at Segi.)

The raiders crossed the Mohi River late in the afternoon and set up a perimeter defense for the night. The wicked terrain and the two forced halts convinced Currin that he would not make it to Viru in time for D-day. Since he no longer had any working radios, he sent two native runners to Kennedy asking him to relay a message to higher command that the 4th Raiders would be a day late in making its attack.

After a miserable rainy night, the Marines moved out. They reached the Choi River late in the morning. As the rear elements crossed, an enemy force on a hill 300 yards to the battalion’s flank opened up with heavy fire from machine guns and rifles. The battalion halted again as Currin tried to determine what was transpiring. After about three hours he knew that his rear had successfully engaged a small unit, probably another enemy patrol, so the remainder of the force proceeded on its way. The raiders crossed the snake-like Choi River twice more before halting for the night at 1800. The 3d Platoon reached the perimeter at 2100. They had lost five killed and another man was wounded, but they had counted 18 enemy dead.

It seemed likely that the enemy at Viru was now aware of the Marine presence. Since the native scouts indicated that the area north of the harbor was considered impassable, Currin suspected that the Japanese would reinforce Tombe against an attack from the east. In view of that and the losses to Brown’s unit, the colonel decided to strengthen that wing of his assault. Captain Anthony “Cold Steel” Walker would now lead two platoons of his Company P against Tombe. Given the difficulties with the terrain and communications, there would be no attempt to coordinate the two arms of the envelopment; Walker was free to attack whenever he chose after dawn on 1 July. With the plans finalized, the raiders settled in for another night of rain.

The battalion resumed the march early the next morning, but Walker’s unit soon branched off on the shorter route to Toinbe. During the course of the day the main force crossed several ridges and the Viru and Tita rivers. Everyone, to include the native bearers carrying the heavy weapons ammunition, felt exhausted. But the worst was yet to come. In twilight the Marines had to ford the Mango, a wide, swift river that was at least six feet deep. They formed a human chain and somehow managed to get everyone across without incident. The tough hills now disappeared, but in their place was a mangrove swamp waist deep. In the pitch darkness the men stumbled forward through the mess of water, roots, and mud. Finally the natives brought forward bits of rotting jungle vegetation from the banks of the Mango. With this luminescent material on their backs,each raider could at least follow the man in front. At the end of the swamp was a half mile climb to the top of a ridge where the unit could rest and prepare for the attack. The nightly rain and the struggles of hundreds of men soon made the steep slope nearly impassable. Several hours after nightfall the battalion finally reached level ground and the Marines huddled on the sides of the trail until dawn.

Unbeknownst to the raiders, the amphibious portion of the assault against Viru had taken place as previously scheduled. Although the Navy commander in charge was aware of Currin’s message altering the date of the land attack, he chose to order his APDs to approach the harbor on 30 June. The Japanese 3-inch gun quickly drove them off. Unable to contact Currin, higher headquarters then decided to land the Army force embarked in the APDs near the same spot where the raiders had begun their trek. The new mission was to move overland and support the Marines, who were apparently experiencing difficulties. The Japanese commander at Viru reported that he had repulsed an American landing.

Both wings of the raider assault force moved out early on the morning of I July. By 0845 Walker’s detachment reached the outskirts of Tombe without being discovered. The men deployed, opened fire on the tiny village, and then rushed forward. Most of the defenders apparently died in the initial burst of fire. The two Marine platoons secured the village without a single casualty and counted 13 enemy bodies. Just as that engagement came to a close, six American aircraft appeared over the harbor. These were not part of the original plan, but headquarters had sent them to soften up the objective when it realized that the raider attack would be delayed. Although this uncoordinated air support could have resulted in disaster, it worked out well in practice. The planes ignored Tombe and concentrated their efforts on Tetemara. The Japanese abandoned some of their fixed defenses and moved inland, directly into the path of the oncoming raiders.

Currin’s point made contact with the enemy shortly after the bombing ceased. Company O, leading the battalion column, quickly deployed two platoons on line astride the trail. The raiders continued forward and destroyed Japanese outposts, but then ran into the enemy main body, which was bolstered by several machine guns. Progress then was painfully slow as intermittent heavy rains swept the battlefield. Company O’s reserve platoon went into line to the left as noise indicated that the enemy might be gathering there for a counterattack. As the day wore on the raiders pushed the Japanese back, until the Marine right flank rested on high ground overlooking the harbor. Currin fed some of Company P’s machine guns into the line, then put his remaining platoon (also from Company P) on his right flank. Demolitions men moved forward to deal with the enemy machine guns.

In mid-afternoon a handful of Japanese launched a brief banzai attack against the Marine left. Not long after this effort dissolved, Currin launched Lieutenant Malcolm N. McCarthy’s Company P platoon against the enemy’s left flank, while Company O provided a base of fire. McCarthy’s men quickly overran the 3-inch gun and soon rolled up the enemy line, as the remainder of the Japanese defenders withdrew toward the northwest. The raiders had suffered 8 dead and 15 wounded, while killing 48 of the enemy and capturing 16 machine guns and a handful of heavier weapons.

The 4th Raiders consolidated its hold on Viru and conducted numerous patrols over the next several days. The two Army companies landed near Regi finally reached Tombe on 4 July. The Navy brought in more Army units on 9 July and the Marines boarded the LCIs for Guadalcanal.

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