NEW GEORGIA: Segi Point and Viru Harbor
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 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
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.