MEMORIES OF A 6TH SPECIAL "CB" VETERAN.
We left Guadalcanal on an LCI - Landing Craft Infantry - along with a flotilla of ships. After two days at sea we went into Empress Augusta Bay at Bougainville, just as it was getting daylight. This was planned so as to enable us to unload and give the ships time to get back out on the high seas before dark. The Jap's planes would be there with their bombs as soon as it was dark. They waited until then in order to avoid our fighter planes. Bougainville, another one of the Solomon Islands group, about 50 miles wide, 150 miles long and 6 degrees south of the equator, was well fortified by the enemy.
We landed on Puruata, a very small island in the bay which was about one half mile in diameter and one half mile offshore, as the water was too shallow for the LCI to go into Torokina Beach which was located on the main island of Bougainville..Puruata Island was nicknamed "Suicide Isand" or "Life on a Bullseye" because of all the mortar and artillery fire it drew from the Japanese batteries on neighboring Margine island.
While the ships were being unloaded all guns were manned as a precautionary measure. I was assigned to a 50 caliber machine gun on the bow, that I had target practice on the first day out. About the time we sat down to eat breakfast the PA system blared out, "A plane has been picked up on radar; all gunners man your guns on the double." Shortly another message - "Hold your fire - this is a friendly plane - repeat: hold your fire - this is a friendly plane." This turned out to be a damaged carrier-based plane diverted to land at our air strip rather than to attempt a landing on the carrier.
Just before dark we were able to obtain an LST landing craft to take us over to the the main island, where we slept in the jungles and ate K rations until we cleared a spot for our tent and had the mess hall operating. The tent location we (Morris, Sloan, Rice and I) were assigned happened to have a small stream running through it. I wrote home we were living in class as we had running water in our tent. This was soon corrected by a ditch back of the tent and also a board floor.
When the United States - went into Bougainville, our intentions were not to take the whole island but to gain a beachhead. This was accomplished. This horseshoe-shaped area was about 5 miles deep and 15 miles around which included two airfields taken from the enemy. This was secured and a three-stage defense line built around it.
For several months the Japanese planes came over every night just after dark and this meant a total blackout. They did not do a lot of damage - it was more of a nuisance raid that kept us in our foxholes for about half of the night. They did hit one of our gasoline storage dumps which caused a terrific explosion and fire. They had a big airbase 300 miles west of us on Rabaul, plus a huge naval base 900 miles north of us at Truk Lagoon.
One real danger was from flak or shrapnel falling from the exploding 90 millimeter shells being thrown at the planes. To protect ourselves we built bunk-size shelves over our bunks and stored our sea bags, duffle bags and all our gear there to protect us in case we were not able to make it to the foxhole in time. This flak would come down about the speed of a bullet which would go right through the tent and floor into the ground.
Both Guadalcanal and Bougainville are very mountainous, the latter had two active volcanoes. One of those, Mt. Bagona, over a mile high, was only about ten miles from our camp. It steamed and smoked continually; a number of times at night we were awakened by its rumbling and shaking the ground.
The 3rd Marine Division - 2nd Raider Reg. placed this sign on Bougainville in honor to the Seabees of which I have a picture:
When we reach the isle of Japan
With our caps at a jaunty tilt
We'll enter the city of Tokyo
On the roads the Seabees built.
In March 1944, the Japs made an assault to drive us off the island, which they almost accomplished. They over-ran the two outer defense lines in places but were stopped by the third line, with the exception of a few that managed to slip through. Previously the Marines had secured the beachhead area and had already moved on, and the area had been turned over to the army.
A call was made for re-enforcement and in a few days the harbor was full of troop, cargo and combat ships. As it turned out the troops were not used at that time, but we did unload the badly needed ammo, bombs, and gasoline. We were put on an 18-hour day - 6 on and 12 off. We had to go to work 6 hours earlier each day when you think in terms of a 24 hour day. It was impossible to get your system adjusted to this, (18 hour day), but we lived through it with very little complaining at a time like this.
On one occasion at the height of the push we were unloading 500 pound bombs onto Ducks (a 2 1/2 ton amphibious truck nicknamed "DUCK"), which would take their loads to the beach and right on to the fighter strip. The planes (Douglas dive bombers) would load up and head for the enemy line. The enemy was so close we could see the planes from the ship dive to drop their bombs. The planes would come out over the harbor from the air strip and one plane accidently dropped her bombs not far from the ship we were working on. The pilot immediately turned around and went back for another load.
With the use of these Ducks we were able to save time since we did not have to transfer the cargo onto a truck at the beach. Still it was difficult to load these ducks by the ship, as the water there was never very calm. They were about the size of a heavy truck and almost impossible to set the load down in the cargo area, as they were continually bobbing up and down and sideways like a cork. On one occasion we had a load come down on one side of the duck as it was coming up caused the vehicle to turn over and sink. The driver managed to swim to the Jacobs ladder and climb aboard the ship safely.
To better understand the above you should know the procedure of this type of unloading a ship. One of the booms is rigged to hold the cable approximately over the center of the ship's Hatch and the other one is set to hang out over the side over the barge. The winch operator who sits in the center of the ship by the controls right near the ship's hatch, cannot see the load once he lets it over the outside of the ship, where the average deck is 30 or 40 feet above the water. He must take orders from a signalman by the rail where he can see both the load and the barge. Thus, it is obvious that the margin of error and danger is great, with the ship rolling and the duck or barge moving.
The above method of unloading cargo is limited to the weight per load, depending on the size of the ship and its structure, and is used mostly on loose cargo that requires a net. On heavier loads such as trucks, guns and tanks it is necessary to use the "Jumbo Boom" which is more complicated and slower. This single wooden boom (being 15 or 18 inches in diameter and about 40 feet long) carries the load from the ship's hatch to the barge (or whatever) on a heavy cable and moving the load sideways by heavy lines being controlled from two powered capstans, one near each side of the ship.
On one occasion in using the Jumbo Boom we worked ourselves into an embarrassing situation, as we were unloading a 5 Inch Gun weighing 5 or 6 tons. As usual the men on the two capstans were taking orders from the signalman when one of them failed to release his line (controlling the side movement of the load) as the other man was taking his side in. This broke the 1 1/2 inch line - allowing the load to swing out over the water, ahead and beyond the barge. No one volunteered to crawl out on the boom to attach a line, but someone came up with the idea of lassoing it. This soon relieved us of this predicament.
The heaviest piece of equipment we unloaded was a 60 ton floating target, used for Naval gun practice.
During the push a few of the enemy broke through the lines into our territory, hiding out during the day and coming out at night to find something to eat in our mess halls. Several were captured or killed. One of our men - a cook - was killed with a knife as he went into the mess hall early one morning.
If for any reason we left the camp other than work (and sometimes then), we had better have the M1 with us. When we went to bed that rifle and my knife were ready and within reach. The latter was an eleven inch bowie knife that my brother had made for me.
Guard duty was one job I did not especially care for but all of us took our turn at it. At night we always had 6 or 8 guards placed around the camp at equal intervals. As corporal of the guards, it was my duty to make a round every hour to see that everything was secure. There was a 45-Colt in the O.D.'s office that I could carry, but preferred my knife, since the enemy would slip up behind you and put one are around your neck and cut your throat with the other, without making any noise.
Prisoners were a very valuable source to learn information from about their strategy, but it was extremely difficult to capture them, as the majority would fight until death or commit harikari before being taken prisoner. There was a bounty at one time of a hundred dollars on each one brought in alive. The Fijian soldiers were great Scouts, as they had a way of sneaking up and taking them alive.
The Marines didn't collect many rewards on prisoners, as they usually eliminated them on the spot. They did bring in one that spoke English tied onto the hood of a jeep. On questioning him, the prisoner made some smart remark to the Marine that had captured him. Without batting an eye the Marine raised his BAR (Browning Automatic Rifle) and filled him full of holes.
After this enemy assault was over we received a letter of commendation from Admiral Chester W. Nimitz, Commander in Chief of the United States Pacific Fleet for a job well-done in stopping the Japanese. Later this became known as the "Second Battle of Bougainville."
While unloading 5-inch shells (projectile) weighing nearly 100 lbs. apiece from the ship's hole just forward of the bridge, we placed the shells in a cradle made for this purpose, holding about 75 or 80. We set this load down on the steel deck of the barge; the men there would disconnect the slings from one side of the cradle and have the winch operator raise the cradle spilling the shells rather than removing them by hand one by one. This made a lot of noise and the sparks did fly, but it did save valuable time. The skipper of the ship came out on the deck above all excited and said harshly, "You can't do that, you will blow up my ship." I replied, "Skipper, there's a war going on right over there and those people need this ammunition." We continued right on. The shells, minus the fuse, were loaded with explosive powder.
At the time the Japanese were making their big push - some nights we would go to sleep with the five inch guns and the 105MM Howitzer going continuously and we would wake up next morning with them still going. We had learned to sleep with the noise. One of the 105MM was not far back of us; the concussion would shake our tent when the gun was fired.
After the enemy had been pushed back into their area, Rice and I went up on a high ridge at the most forward defense line overlooking the enemy territory. The army men told us about two of our men being stationed as lookouts in a huge tree nearby before the Japs made their push. and the last thing that was heard from them (by phone) was that one had been killed.
On re-taking this ridge the enemy who had dug in under this lookout tree had to be burned out by flame throwers. While standing there talking and surveying out into enemy territory, we turned around and to our surprise we were looking directly into the muzzle of a 105 gun, camouflaged in the edge of the bushes.
The LST landing-ship-tanks was an ideal craft for moving cargo. It had a load capacity of 125 tons which we could load up to 650 four hundred pound oil drums, or four 32-ton tanks and take this load onto just about any sandy beach area. It was necessary to go in at a speed of about 5 knots to position the barge far enough onto the beach that a truck could go in or out after lowering the ramp.
To aid the motors in pulling the craft back off of the beach into deep water, the Skipper would winch in the cable onto an anchor that had been dropped several hundred feet while going in.
After being there three or four months supervising men in handling cargo, my trade rating was changed from Machinist to Boatswain Mate. Shortly thereafter I was promoted to Chief Boatswain Mate.
After things quieted down somewhat, the Army transported us by ducks to and from the ships in the harbor. On one accasion at the end of our shift at midnight, a driver picked up our gang of 20 men from the ship. As there were no crews following us as usual all lights were cut off on the ship and beach. I knew how to reach the beach area in the dark by heading for a V-shaped gap in the mountain that was visible at night. Thinking the driver knew where he was going, I didn't notice until the wheels of the vehicle began hitting coral reefs and the breakers began coming over the stern, that we were off course. I immediately ordered the driver to reverse his screw and not to move the steering wheel. This kept the vehicle across the breakers and brought us back out into deeper water that enabled us to get on the right course to the beach.
He had been heading for the outer side of Puruata Island where the breakers were always rough. If we had been caught in the trough of one of those breakers we would have never made it back to shore.
1. Seabees and Marines - Famous Sign
2. Puruata "Suicide Island"
3. Mount Bagana, Volcano on Bougainville
- Volcano Bougainville.bmp (3.6 MiB)