Courage Under Fire: Growing up in the South Pacific of World War II. Pt 10

Courage Under Fire

In my last post about Fred L. Jacobs and the other men of Company E of the 126th the troops were in rough shape. They had launched 3 failed attempts on Buna Mission with catastrophic consequences. By the end of December 19, 1942, most of the men of the 32nd had suffered either combat injury or jungle sickness. The 127th came in to relieve the men of the 126th, the men of the 2/126th moved to the rear to recover.

Buna Mission

The 127th faced the same daunting challenge of merciless crossfire in the triangle. Leadership realized that the task required a new approach. On December 20, 1942, they abandoned attempts to cross the triangle.

Battles raged across the area while the men of Company E were getting recovered. Losses were significant, but they made progress. By December 28th, 1942, the Japanese forces, cut off from the attack on the new approach, could not hold the triangle. The Japanese forces abandoned their 14 bunkers before the Allied forces could take the area.

“I walked along there and found it terrifically strong. It is a mass of bunkers and entrenchments surrounded by swamp. It is easy to see how they held us off so long.”

General Eichelberger to 
General Sutherland After touring the triangle

December 29, 1942

Urbana force was now in the position to take Buna Mission. On December 29, 1942 they moved the men of 2/126th back into the line. They moved into the area of Government Gardens to join the push on Buna Mission. The final attack on Buna Mission would jump off on the morning of December 31, 1942.

Battle of Buna Mission map

While heavy fighting raged around Buna Mission, the men of the 2/126th including Company E, made gains that day. They cleared the Government Gardens of enemy forces and gained about 300 yards of territory. On the Japanese side, the forces were becoming desperate in the face of Allied advances.

January 1, 1943

The fall of Buna Mission was imminent as Allied forces approached from all directions. The Japanese started attempting to escape the advancing forces. On January 1, 1943, Japanese troops were spotting trying to swim away from Buna Mission. Leaders of the Japanese troops, Colonel Yamamoto and Captain Yasuda, met at a central point and killed themselves in the traditional Japanese manner of slitting their own bellies.

The remaining Japanese forces dug in at Buna Mission continued a fight to the death. By 1700, the battle for the mission was over. After six weeks of fighting, the battle for the Buna region was officially complete.

January 9, 1943

Elements of the 126th would see further fighting in the jungles of New Guinea. On January 9, 1943, the last of the 126th received relief. The toll had been heavy. When the 126th marched into the battle of Buna they had numbered 1400 fighting men. On January 9th, they were down to 165. Those 165 were in bad shape.

The Heavy Toll

The 126th evacuated for Port Moresby on January 22, 1943. The report on troop strength on January 20, 1943 showed Company E with 1 officer and 16 enlisted men in fighting shape.

32d Division troops departing for Port Moresby, 4 Feb 1943
DOBODURA AIRSTRIP. 32d Division troops departing for Port Moresby, 4 February 1943.

The Papuan Campaign was one of the costliest in terms of human life lost of the entire Pacific region. The men of the 126th were off for a heavy dose of rest and recuperation in Australia.

Fred L. Jacobs was awarded 3 purple hearts during his service in World War II. I don’t know the details of how he was injured but looking at the casualties experienced by Company E I suspect one of his purple hearts were earned around Buna.

Follow my blog to continue the journey of Company E. 126th Infantry Regiment, 32d Division through the South Pacific of World War II.

3 replies »

    • Both sides suffered such heavy losses in Buna it really is just horrifying. Company E was pulled from what was and still is a very rural area in Michigan. It is so hard to fathom the losses of even a few hundred in that area.

      Liked by 1 person

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