In the midst of the execution of Cleanslate Halsey continued preparations for subsequent operations in the Central Solomons. This included repeated use of the scouting capability demonstrated in the Russells. At the end of February a Navy lieutenant and six raiders landed at New Georgia’s Roviana Lagoon. With the aid of coastwatchers and natives, they spent the next three weeks collecting information on the terrain, hydrographic conditions, and Japanese defenses. On 21 March Consolidated Catalina PBYs landed four raider patrols at New Georgia’s Segi Point. From there they fanned out with native guides and canoes to scout Kolombangara, Vangunu, and New Georgia. Other groups visited these areas and Rendova over the course of the next three months. The patrols provided valuable information that helped shape landing plans, and the final groups emplaced small detachments near designated beaches to act as guides for the assault forces.
During May and June the Japanese reinforced their garrisons in the central Solomons to 11,000 men, but this number was grossly insufficient to cover all potential landing sites on the numerous large islands in the region. That gave Halsey’s force great flexibility. The final plan called for several assaults, all against lightly defended or undefended targets. On D-day the Eastern Landing Force, consisting of the 103d Infantry, an Army regiment, and the 4th Raider Battalion, would occupy Wickham Anchorage, Segi Point, and Viru Harbor. Naval construction units would immediately build a fighter strip at Segi and a base for torpedo boats at Viru. The Northern Landing Group (the 1st Raider Regiment headquarters, the 1st Raider Battalion, and two army battalions) would simultaneously go ashore at Rice Anchorage, then attack overland to take Enogai Inlet and Bairoko Harbor. This would cut off the Japanese barge traffic that supplied reinforcements and logistics. The last D-day operation would be the Southern Landing Group’s seizure of the northern end of Rendova and its outlying islands. On D plus 4 many of these same units from the 43d Infantry Division would conduct a shore-to-shore assault against the undefended beaches at Zanana and Piraka on New Georgia. Planes from Segi Point and artillery from the Rendova beachhead would render support as the Army regiments advanced overland to capture Munda airfield. D-day was 30 June.
A 350 MILE RECONNAISSANCE TRIP BY NATIVE WAR CANOES – MARCH 1943
by George B. LEWIS Jr. ID
We, 1st Raider Bn., had completed our Christmas in New Zealand and returned to New Caledonia for the necessary preparations for the next objective. At roll call one morning it was announced that all personnel that could swim one mile remain after roll call and give their names to the company 1st Sgt. Temporarily forgetting the old adage “never volunteer” I stepped forward. Time passed and one day I was ordered to report to Captain Wheeler. At this time Captain Wheeler told Lt. Oldham, and myself that we would receive some special training and if we qualified then we would be considered for a special reconnaissance mission. For a few weeks we reported only to Captain Wheeler and followed his training program of weapons firing, swimming, diving, signaling and night and day time scouting.
In March we boarded a transport plane and flew to the “Canal”. We remained there about one week while captain wheeler was briefed on the mission and transportation was arranged.
We flew by PBY, with fighter escort, from the canal to Segi Point on New Georgia where we met coastwatcher Kennedy. He had native canoes meet the plane and transport people and supplies to shore.
In transferring from plane to canoe I lost my balance and £ell into the water. No need to worry. by the time I hit bottom there was a native on each side of me and they propelled me and all my gear to the surface and into the canoe. Very embarrassing to Captain Wheeler, Lt. Oldham. and myself.
We spent a day or two at 5egi while plans were fine tuned and transportation arranged. Other Raider patrols were also coming and going at Segi Point on a regular basis.
Late one afternoon Captain Wheeler told us that we would be leaving that night and our destination was the Island of Kolombangara where the estimated enemy strength was 10,000 total, but located primarily in the vicinity of Vila.
We were to travel by two native war canoes, and only at night, with one English speaking native for translation. Estimated travel distance each night was approximately fifty miles depending on weather and enemy activity.
Before day light we were to go ashore, hide the canoes, make short reconnaissance trips and remain concealed from enemy observation at a11 times. We were under strict orders not to engage the enemy except under Life or death threats.
Our native translator (Susu) had trained in local Missionary and English schools, but the crews for the canoes including the senior chief or headman, had been only two years away from cannibalism and spoke only native languages.
Our general plan of approach to Kolombangara from 5egi Point was northwest up the Blanche Channel, between Munda and Rendova, across the Kula Gulf and land on the western shore of Kolombangara.
I must recognize the knowledge and the skills of the native people on this trip. They or the headman used the stars and the sound of the waves on the hulls to guide the canoes at night. There was never a sound from the men during the night except an occasional tap of an oar on the side of the canoe. We did not get separated the entire trip. They could recognize the potential danger from increased wave and wind activity. Their hearing was miraculous and their bravery unyielding. Their plan in case of immanent danger was night was to lay the canoes on their side with the hull facing the enemy boats or barges with everyone in the water holding on to the underside of the canoe until the danger passed. Fortunately, we didn’t need any of these maneuvers until we passed between Munda and Rendova.
The barge and boat traffic was so heavy that night Captain Wheeler decided to seek shelter on some out of the way island until the next night and try again. The headman knew of one and we made shelter before dawn and hid the canoes as well as brushing out our tracks or any visual evidence that we were there.
Shortly after the break of day a native spotted an enemy barge headed for our island. We checked all canoes and hid all personnel from view with a plan toward combat if necessary. The barge came up on the beach loaded with armed personnel with a machine gun mounted fore and aft. One person mounted the bow of the barge with binoculars and searched the island with them for approximately fifteen minutes. (Or was it. fifteen years?), Scared to death. However, he cased the field glasses, gave the order to cast off and they left. None of us moved from our concealed places until they were over the horizon.
The remaining canoe trip to the West side of Kolombangara was uneventful. Landed, then trekked through the jungle to the highest peak on the island to meet with Lt. Evans, of the Coastwatchers. He and Captain Wheeler discussed our mission, exchanged information and planned the remainder of our mission and the trip back to Segi Point.
We said our good-byes to Lt. Evans, trekked back down the mountain, retrieved our canoes and continued to inspect designated areas on the island.
There was a native village and coconut grove with an inlet which was our last objective. We had scouted and determined it to be empty with reasonable access to deep water when a native on watch reported an enemy patrol headed our way.
We had hid the canoes in some reeds where a stream ran into the Gulf waters. We had established our assembly point along this stream. Captain Wheeler asked me to stay with Susu and observe the enemy activity while the remainder or the natives and he and Lt. Oldham recovered the canoes and moved everyone to a safer place. At which time he would send a native back to us or if the enemy crossed the stream that separated us then we were to withdraw along the coast, until we joined again. This withdrawal was accomplished very quietly, and Susu and I took up observation positions. Shortly the enemy patrol arrived at the stream, which was about thirty feet wide at the point where they arrived. They filled their canteens, bathed their faces, arms, and hands and ate some food. After a short rest period two of the enemy had a BM rinsed their handkerchiefs in the stream, cleaned themselves and rinsed their handkerchiefs again and placed them in their pockets. After a short period of conversation the patrol moved off away from the stream and Susu and 1 made plans to withdraw. Just as we felt it safe to leave there appeared the headman of our native crew to lead us to the canoes.
Within a week we were back at Seqi Point waiting for a plane to us up. An adventure in my life worth recalling.
MUST REMEMBER “NOT TO VOLUNTEER”
George B Lewis, Jr. ID
For further details of the War Canoe Patrol, see:
Colonel Joseph H. Alexander, USMC (Ret.), Edson,s Raiders, Edson Raiders Association. The 1st Marine Raider Battalion in World War II