When I last left Fred L. Jacobs and the rest of the men of Company E, 126th Regiment, 32d Division the rages of battle had taken their toll. Six weeks of savage fighting to reclaim the area around Buna left the entire division on the brink of extinction.
The remaining elements of the 32d Division went to Australia to recover over the first few months of 1943. It would take until April before all the men of the 32d could fully be evacuated back to Australia.
With the first stage of the Papuan campaign finished, I have turned to The 32d Infantry Division in World War II by Major General H.W. Blakeley as my primary source document for this section of my research. I pulled additional information from HyperWar: New Guinea.
The 32d Division spent months in Australia at Camp Cable getting recovered, retrained, and resupplied. The unit made a miraculous recovery.
Back to New Guinea
December 22, 1943 the 32d Division again returned to the battle plans. They would return to New Guinea.
The Japanese forces had taken a bloodied nose in the first stage of the fighting for the 2nd largest island in the world. Both sides suffered major losses, but the Japanese took the defeat at Buna. Despite that fact, they were still a formidable foe. The Japanese held the strategic advantage in the South Pacific. They had plans to make for Port Moresby.
The Allied forces were pushing back against Japanese strongholds across the Pacific realm. Operation Cartwheel was the name of the Allied offensive. One by one, the operation claimed places the Japanese had inhabited. The 32d Division would join the larger efforts by taking part in Operation Dexterity.
The 32d Division would take part in efforts to neutralize enemy forces at Saidor. The move would help to sever the Japanese supply lines. Assigned to the Michaelmas Task Force, the division would take part in a beach landing. Battle plans, drawn up with only the aid of aerial photographs, split the force into 3 groups, each with an assigned beach for landing. They called the landing points red, white, or blue. They would split the second battalion of the 126th up with one company landing on the white beach and one on blue. Leadership set D-day for January 2, 1944.
The beach landing near Saidor went smoothly. Few enemy troops were in the area and they killed most of those in the first push. American casualties of the landing were small, 1 killed, 5 wounded and 2 drowned. Over 6700 troops successfully made the landing. The Saidor area was home to a prewar air field. Getting the air field operational was a key part of the Saidor mission.
For the next several months, elements of the 32d Division patrolled and protected the area of operations around Saidor. The Japanese forces withdrew from the area east of the line, bypassing the men at Saidor, and engaging in a brutal march through the mountainous terrain to reach other Japanese forces at Madang.
The reports from the days as they passed detail small pockets of enemy resistance around the Saidor area. Information on the 2nd Battalion of the 126th puts the men near Sel on January 5, 1944. The forces faced off with a contingent of enemy forces the same day. Days passed with little enemy activity. January 8th saw another small attack by the Japanese.
Beyond the enemy, the terrain of New Guinea once again proved to be punishing. Rain fall totals during the time range during some days in the double digit range. Monsoons battered the island.
In March, the 2/126th accepted a new mission. The battalion moved to Yalua Plantation. They received the task of cleaning up straggling enemy forces. The men of the 126th landed on March 5. On April 14, they contacted the Australian forces. Operation Dexterity was a success.
The mission to take Saidor was a huge improvement over the missteps of the battle of Buna. The Allied forces were turning the tide.
Follow my blog to continue my mission to retrace the steps of Fred L. Jacobs and the rest of the men of Company E, 126th Regiment, 32d Division during their service in the southwest Pacific of World War II