Courage under Fire: Growing up in the South Pacific of WWII. Pt 4

The Battle of Buna Gona

It was a savage journey over the Owen Stanley Mountains for the men of the 2/126th. They finished their march and filed into the Natunga area on November 2, 1942. The arduous ordeal they experienced had taken its toll on the unit. The men wore ripped uniforms, most of them had missing underwear and socks. Their shoes were falling from their feet. Men, bearded and muddy, emerged after 42 days in the mountains. They were hungry, sick, and exhausted. They would get a few scant days to recover.

“before the 32d Division had its baptism of fire, the troops were covered with jungle ulcers and riddled with malaria, dengue fever, and tropical dysentery.”

Commander of the 2/126th General Eichelberger

Suck it up and soldier on

The men of company E. spent a week getting resupplied and fed in the Natunga region. The battle of Buna Gona was set to begin. Allied forces had orders to take the beach region of the island from the Japanese forces. Despite the hard journey across the mountains, spirits remained high. The troops remained cocky. Notes of the time show a fighting force eager to get their feet wet.

Allied forces remained convinced that Buna would be a pushover. Leaders speculated that the Japanese had withdrawn many of their troops. Natives who surveyed the area and made reports back to allied forces suggested there were few enemy forces in the region. The allies expected little resistance as they made the final push to the beach.

“I think it is quite possible that the Japanese may have pulled out some of their Buna forces.”

General Harding October 14, 1942

General Harding continued to underestimate the strength of the enemy forces. Allied forces didn’t suspect the strength of Japanese fortifications. As October progressed, Harding expressed confidence in a quick victory. The allied forces continued to suspect that the Japanese had withdrawn most of their forces. These were serious miscalculations. The Japanese were dug in and they had not withdrawn their forces.

When the war plans were drawn up the allied forces began to make the final push toward the Buna-Gona beachhead. The Americans were on the right and the Australians on the left. The Girua River divided the two forces. The forces began to move on November 16, 1942. The 126th would be on the east side of the river moving from Bofu toward Buna Village by way of Inonda, Horanda, and Dobodura.

Unexpected Orders From the Rear

As the troops advanced the decision was made in Fort Moresby to transfer the 126th from the command of the 32nd infantry division to the Australian General Vasey. On the ground leadership questioned the decision. None the less, orders were followed. On November 19th Colonel Tomlinson of the 126th was ordered to report to the 7th Division.


November 21, 1942 Colonel Tomlinson worked to work up the plan of attack for the 126th. Fred, and the rest of 2nd battalion would remain in reserve at Soputa to be called when needed. The 2nd battalion’s recovery period would be short. On Novmeber 22 orders came in for the 2/126th to report back to the 32nd. The 2/128th had run into trouble and needed back up. It was back across the now flooded Girua River for the men of the 2nd battalion. November 23 at 9:30 am the regiment regained Harding’s forces.

126TH INFANTRYMEN PASSING THROUGH HARIKO on their way to the front lines.

Under Enemy Fire

On November 23, 1942 Company E, 126th infantry regiment began its mission by swinging wide near Entrance Creek. It moved 400 yards, then turned northeast. The company moved another 400 yards and was approaching a crossing to the creek when heavy enemy machine gunfire erupted. The men dug in. Their foxholes filled with water. They dug in and waited for further orders.

Battle of Buna-Gona November 16, 1942 to January 22, 1943

Company E of the 2/126th, 32nd Infantry Divison shipped around the world and slogged through one of the most miserable military marches in history. Enemy fire drove the men into water filled fox holes as the battle of Buna Gona started to get underway. Follow my series on Fred’s experience in World War II to continue his journey through the Pacific southwest.

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7 replies »

      • I most certainly wish you luck, Carrie. I did some posts for the Korean War myself. I can’t believe they dared to call it a “police action” back then! Hold on to your hat when you get to the Chosin Reservoir.

        Liked by 1 person

  1. The men who fought in New Guinea were real heroes. Here in Australia, it is not unususual for people to literally follow their footsteps. I was talking to a neighbour who has done the arduous Kakoda Track a few weeks back. It is almost a right of passage for many Australians. There was a time when some in the Australian government had considered ceding the north of Australia to the Japanese. The brave efforts of those fighting in New Guinea, helped save Australia.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I read a lot about the Australian forces on Kakoda Track while researching the U.S. forces in the region to learn about Fred’s movement. It was all such a brutal battlefield. I know I am glossing over the bigger details to focus on Fred but the tales out of New Guinea… brave men indeed. I hope to come check out the area for myself someday in the future. Thank you for adding some perspective from down under to this story. From here it’s easy to focus on the fact that is was young men sent to fight in a strange land. In reality, as you stated, they were fighting to help preserve Australia from the Japanese.

      Like

  2. I am originally from the UK. I have learned that many Australians feel that they nearly lost their homeland while their men were overseas fighting. It is good to remember that brave men came from all over the world to help fight for the Australian homeland. I loved your blog post. 😁

    Liked by 1 person

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