Marines land on Cape Gloucester

Cape Gloucester

The Island of New Britain is a long sort of fish shaped island with the head pointing east with heavy jungle, much like New Guinea or Guadalcanal or any of the islands in that general area of the Pacific.   The head contained Rabau Harbor that was probably the second largest Japanese naval base in the Pacific.

We were to attack the tail end of the island (which was the western end) close to New Guinea and the army was supposed to attack on the south end of that tail while we were to land on the north end.  We were told that our Navy task force was pretty well assembled and ready to go.  We were also told that the submarines had landed frogmen who went into the Japanese landing sight at night and checked for water sea mines and gun emplacements and to generally check out the land sight.   It was rumored that another landing party had landed at night from a submarine and one of our officers, at least from the battalion, had been on this landing party of about ten men who had stayed overnight to check out the number of enemy troops and where they were.  This was a terrifically courageous act and very dangerous.  It was thought that there would be at least a division of Japanese troops. Even with all this information we were not quite sure what was going to happen on the landing on the South.

Our LST 226, along with all the others assembled, were out in the harbor waiting to be loaded   (LST is the designation for Landing Ship Tanks).  They are fairly large and they can carry tanks and trucks and our guns.  They were wide of beam with the top deck fairly empty for loading but; not heavily armed.  The deck below the top deck was for as many troops as could get on.  There was not enough room, so a lot of our guys would sleep on the top deck in the open air.

The main portion of the ship, the bottom deck, was built for the accommodation of vehicles of all kinds and the most unique feature of an LST was that the entire bow opened up like two huge gates and a ramp flopped down so that the vehicles could roll out on a ramp directly on to the beach.

Preparations were starting to go into high gear and we were told to check all of our equipment.  Anything missing we could request replacements for.  Things like canteens, broken parts, worn out shoes any of that kind of thing so that we would be fully outfitted when we made the landing.  Generally, what we were equipped with was a belt full of ammunition (100 rounds), an M1 rifle, a double pack with all our gear including two or three days of C rations.  The belt around the waist had in the center on the back a first aid pack, two canteens full of water, the left side had a bayonet hanging off it and the right side had a K-Bar Jungle knife with a rawhide handle. 

Normally, our guns were pulled by two and a half ton trucks,  we would hook the gun up to the truck by the trails and everybody would hop on the truck and off we would go.   Well, this was not going to be the case in a jungle terrain because a truck could not maneuver in this obstacle course  so all of our guns were going to be pulled by tractors with winches in the front end .  We had done a lot of practicing using this method also digging in and all of that kind of thing.  We finally were loaded and all the LST’s were ready to go and we embarked.  We were aboard ship and that was the last we saw of New Guinea as we pulled out.
 
As we got a little further out at sea we were joined accompanied by our Navy War Ships, some of pretty good size.  We were headed northeast for Cape Gloucester. I think we were aboard ship about two days and were scheduled to land on Christmas Day 1943.
 
On the evening before landing we started to hear naval gunfire, fairly heavy, and it grew heavier as we got closer to the island. Later in the evening it was quite exciting.  We tried to sleep that night but at about 4 o’clock in the morning General Quarters sounded and there were sailors running around all over the place.  Horns were going off and hatches being battened so we knew that this was it.