Courage Under Fire: Growing up in the South Pacific of World War II. Pt 8

Battle of Buna Continues

December 5, 1942 saw the first gains of the 32nd Division forces on Buna village. A platoon of 18 men and a machine gun had managed to push past the line to dig in on the beach between Buna village and Buna mission. Japanese reinforcements could no longer reach the village. The U.S. forces were finally in an advantageous position. Buna Village looked sure to fall.

Battle of Buna Dec 1-16, 1942

The toll for the day was high and the progress came with a high cost. Among those injured during the fighting was General Waldron. He was shot in the shoulder while commanding troops near the front. General Byers replaced General Waldron as commander of the 32nd Division.

It was 1800 that evening when General Eichelberger and the rest of his group of officers left the command point for the rear. The troops had still not taken Buna but General Eichelberger had seen enough to change his opinion about the lack of fighting spirit in the men of the 32nd. On December 6, 1942 Eichelberger noted that the troops had fought hard and had high morale.

December 6, 1942

December 6, 1942 the troops reorganized after the fighting of the previous day. The troops at Bottcher’s Corner were still holding off the Japanese forces trying to reinforce the forces in Buna village. Leadership drew up plans for an attack on the village on the following day.

Herman Bottcher at Buna Gona
Herman Bottcher STROK Time/Life

The attack was led by 2nd Battalion, 126th Infantry. Companies E and G would attack on the right and left. Company H would offer support fire. The troops at Bottcher’s Corner would hold their position and Company F were set to be reinforcements.

The plan was for the attack on the village to begin in the early afternoon. The Japanese had other ideas. They attacked the men at Bottcher’s Corner at 0600 from both the village and the mission. Reinforced with a fresh platoon from H company, one of the men at Bottcher’s Corner noticed the enemy attack as it was approaching under the cover of the jungle. Cpl. Harold L. Mitchell of Company H. was a forward observer when he saw the Japanese creeping toward Bottcher’s forces. As the enemy was about to attack, in an act of foolish bravery that saved the day, Cpl. Mitchell charged the Japanese with a yell and a bayonet. The Japanese forces were bewildered by his actions and they hesitated their attack and fell back. With his actions Cpl. Mitchell alerted the rest of the forces of the impending attack which allowed the U.S. forces to cut down the enemy approach. Cpl. Mitchell escaped his one-man charge without a scratch.

Companies E and G began their attack at 1335. The approach followed a barrage of artillery and mortars. Once again, they met a heavy determined and fortified enemy. Headway was hard to find.

Japanese Bunker
Reinforced Japanese Bunker.

An hour later things were at a stalemate. Company F came up to support Company E and G. The line still did not manage to make significant headway.

December 8, 1942

December 8, 1942 the U.S. forces attacked again. The troops began moving forward at 1415. Once again, they hit the enemy with a barrage of mortars, artillery, and machine gun fire. Once again, the enemy stood against the attack.

The Japanese had fortified bunker systems. Taking the enemy forces often came a high human cost. One by one the Japanese strongholds fell as men whose names history has forgotten exhibited feats of insane bravery. Japanese leaders made one last attempt to break the U.S. approach on Buna Village that evening. An enemy force of less than 150 men attacked from both Buna village and Buna mission. The attack failed. The tide of the battle had turned in the favor of the allied forces.

Repulsed a Dozen Times

By December 9, 1942, the 2nd Battalion, 126th Infantry had attacked Buna village a dozen times without taking the objective. Company E had heavy losses, it had less than 50 effectives left. The entire battalion was only 250 men. They were so understrength that it was becoming a challenge to hold the ground they had gained. Relief arrived by way of the 3rd Battalion, 127th Infantry. Company E was relieved and moved to the reserve area.

The battle for Buna village would only continue for a few more days. After the heavy fighting and extreme losses of the 2/126th the village was in U.S. hands on December 14th, 1942.

Tides finally seem to be turning in favor of allied forces with the fall of Buna village. Much work remained. The 2/126th moved to the rear to catch their breath but it would be a short reprieve. Follow my blog to trace the steps of Fred L. Jacobs and the rest of the men of Company E, 126th Regiment, 32nd Division through the battles of the South Pacific during World War II.

6 replies »

    • I think it just threw them off for a moment because it was unexpected. Both sides were mostly 20 something kids who didn’t really want to die on that island.

      The village was important because as long as the Japanese had a stronghold there they were in position to invade Australia which was a very real threat and concern at the time. At least that is my understanding of it…I have to admit to not being a war buff.

      Liked by 1 person

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