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.

Courage Under Fire: Growing up in the South Pacific of World War II. Pt 9

Buna Mission

On December 9, 1942, Company E of the 126th was a beat up force. The losses they had taken during the repeated attempts to take Buna village were significant. Relief forces arrived and Company E moved to the rear. Buna village fell to U.S. forces on December 14, 1942.

December 16, 1942

With the fall of Buna village, the tide appeared to be turning in favor of the Allied forces. Battles continued to rage as the fortified Japanese forces remained determined to keep a stranglehold on parts of the island. Company E would not remain long in the rear. On December 16, 1942, the 2/126th received orders sending it back into battle.

Buna mission remained an enemy stronghold. The 2/126th would be part of the push to take the mission. Battle plans sent the men of the 2/126th to the Coconut Grove above and below the triangle. The aim was to take the triangle. Japanese forces were dug in at Buna mission the area was a natural fortress. Few approaches were workable and well-placed enemy positions protected those.

December 18, 1942

Dec 18-28 1942

The plan was for 2 companies of the 126th to attack across the bridge from the Coconut Grove. Air support would pound the enemy but because of the contained area once the ground troops began moving they would be on their own. 100 men from Companies E and G, with a supporting weapons crew from Company H would lead the attack.

The troops crossed the bridge at Entrance Creek and moved into the bridgehead area at the mouth of the triangle at 2200.

Bridge over Entrance Creek
Bridge over Entrance Creek

December 19, 1942

0650 the Japanese forces saw the daybreak to a barrage of mortars, artillery, and bombs coming from the air. A final barrage of mortars rained down on the enemy at 0730.

0745 The men of Company E and G began to approach straight south. Enemy crossfire stopped the approach within yards. Hours passed as the men remained pinned down and losses mounted. They made a second push at 1415, again they were cut down by crossfire. The men tried a third futile attempt at 1600.

By nightfall, 40 of the 107 men who started the attack had been killed or wounded. The 127th was brought in to relieve the battered forces.

The jungles of Papua have taken a heavy toll on the men of the 32nd Division as of mid December 1942. An enemy that was supposed to be a pushover just keeps proving their fierce determination and resolve. The men of Company E, 126th regiment were still not done in the jungles of the Buna region.

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.

Courage Under Fire: Growing up in the South Pacific of World War II. Pt 7

Battle of Buna rages on

Fred Jacobs service photo WWII
PFC Fred Jacobs

In the last blog post, the men of Company E, 126th Regiment were outside the village of Buna. They had thrown attack after attack at the entrenched enemy, but each time the Japanese forces repelled the U.S. forces.

An impatient MacArthur changed command of all the forces. Gone was General Harding. General Eichelberger oversaw the operations in the region, and General Waldron was leading the 32nd.

General Eichelberger toured the front lines on December 2nd and returned a scathing report. His review of the men was less than flattering. On December 3rd, the troops got a hot meal, their first real meal in weeks.  The General reorganized the troops. He issued orders for a renewed attack for the 4th.

Warren and Urbana Fronts Battle of Buna Gona 1-16 December 1942
Battle lines Battle of Buna 1-16 December 1942

Leadership pushed the attack for the 4th back to give the troops and leaders more time to get prepared.

December 5, 1942

December 5, 1942 found the Japanese forces just as dug in and determined as ever. Battle started at 0830 on the Warren front. A 1000 attack followed on the Urbana front. The allied forces threw everything they had at the Japanese to end the stalemate.

On the Urbana front, the men had a little rest and food. They were ready to finish the job they had started on December 2. The plan of attack had the 2/126th attacking the perimeter of Buna Village.

Generals Eichelberger and Waldron were both at the command point on the morning of December 5th as the attack got started.

B 25. Image corrected to reflect more accurate version of plane used at the time

The renewed attack on Buna Village started with nine B-25’s raining bombs down on the enemy position. Artillery and mortars followed the B-25’s. At 1030 the infantry forces started to move in.

The Japanese had several hundred men in the area. Their forces were dug into elaborate bunkers and barricades. They would be a formidable opponent.

With each attempt to approach the village, the U.S. forces met with fierce resistance. Company E. under Captain Shultz battled an entrenched enemy. They pushed forward through heavy enemy fire until they reached an enemy line 50 yards from Buna Village where they had to dig in.

Company E would take heavy losses that day. 1st Sgt. Lutgens who kept a journal of the trek across the Stanley Owens received severe injuries along with 1st Lt. Thomas Knode. One man who lost his life that day was Sgt. Harold Graber who jumped up and fired his weapon into the enemy strongpoint holding up the advance.

General Eichelberger, unhappy with the progress of the attack, took control of the operations himself. He ordered Company F, which was in reserve because of heavy losses from the previous battle to pass through Company E’s line and take the village. Other leaders questioned the order, but they followed it.

“Bob, I want you to take Buna, or not come back alive”

General MacArthur to General Eichelberger

The stakes couldn’t be higher for any of the men at the Battle of Buna as it raged into its second month. General MacArthur still had pie on his face after being run out of the Philippines by the Japanese. Ego and pride seem to be massive motivators in many of his decisions. He forced poor choices and hasty actions that added hardship to the hell of war.

It is only safe to assume that the mission statement that General Eichelberger left Port Moresby with was a factor in his decisions in December 1942 when he ordered Company F to push past Company E and take Buna Village. He had a do or die mission.

1st LT Odell had recently taken leadership of Company F. He described the results of the mission in his own words.

“The Lieutenant General explained what he wanted, and after a brief delay, I brought up the company and deployed accordingly. Pravda [1st Sgt. George Pravda] was to take half the company up one side of the trail, and I the other half on the other side. We were given ten minutes to make our reconnaissance and to gather information from the most forward troops which we were to pass. It was intended that we finish the job–actually take the Village–and [it was thought] that we needed little more than our bayonets to do it. Well, off we went, and within a few minutes our rush forward had been definitely and completely halted. Of the 40 men who started with me, 4 had been (known) killed, and 18 were lying wounded. We were within a few yards of the village, but with . . . no chance of going a step further. . . . [Pravda] was among the wounded, and casualties were about as heavy on his side”

1st LT Robert H. Odell

Company E had failed to breach the enemy line. The Japanese repulsed company F. One unit, a platoon of Company H, gained ground by pushing to the north. Under SSGT. Herman Bottcher the unit knocked out several enemy positions, crossed the creek, and dug in on the beach.

The unit, 18 men and 1 machine gun, fought off enemy attacks from both Buna Village and Buna Mission. Bodies piled up on the beach with neither side able to retrieve the dead. With Bottcher and his men holding the beach, it cut the village off from reinforcement. Buna was still in enemy hands but for the first time in days, there was progress.

Follow my blog as I continue to trace the steps of PFC Fred L. Jacobs and the unit he served with during WWII

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Courage Under Fire: Growing Up in the South Pacific of WWII Pt 6

It has been a few weeks since the start of my blog on Fred Jacobs and his experiences during WWII. My goal when I began was to see what details I could dig up, and I expected to finish before Veteran’s Day. It didn’t work out that way. I didn’t expect the wealth of information I would turn up on the day-to-day movements of Fred’s company through the war. Nor did I expect the vivid details. Silly I suppose but it is what it is. With that being said I will work to continue the story of Fred L. Jacobs and the rest of the men of the Red Arrow Division through World War II despite the passing of my original self-imposed deadline and the growing length of the series.

On the outskirts of Buna

November 30, 1942 found the men of Co. E a few hundred yards from Buna Village. The Japanese had a heavily fortified force in the area. Back in Port Moresby, General MacArthur sacked General Harding. Leadership of the 32nd Infantry Division passed to General Waldron from General Harding.

General Albert W. Waldron (center, facing forward) commanding general, 32nd Division Artillery, discusses plans for the impending battle on 15 November 1942. He was appointed by Maj. Gen. Robert Eichelberger as commanding officer of the 32nd Infantry Division on 3 December 1942, but was wounded by a Japanese sniper on 5 December 1942.
General Albert W. Waldron (center, facing forward) commanding general, 32nd Division Artillery, discusses plans for the impending battle on 15 November 1942. He was appointed by Maj. Gen. Robert Eichelberger as commanding officer of the 32nd Infantry Division on 3 December 1942, but was wounded by a Japanese sniper on 5 December 1942.

Away from the politics of Generals, the men of the 32nd Infantry Division faced more immediate issues. Bad intel had underestimated the enemy forces. The night of November 30th into December 1st was a restless night. The troops expected a counterattack, but it never came. 

On the morning of December 1, the troops tried to take Buna a second time. Colonel Mott sent troops up to reinforce the men of Co. E, 126th for the attack. They knocked Japanese bunkers out with mortar fire from Company H, and the rest of the forces could advance. The troops were on the verge of taking the village when battle field confusion led to a halt in the advance. Another restless night peppered with machine gunfire and very little rest passed for the men.

Battle Lines of Urbana and Warren Fronts

December 2, the men again made a push on Buna. Once again, the enemy withstood the assault. The men of Company E were showing signs of extreme battle fatigue. Fever ran rampant in the units. They suffered from a lack of rations and other supplies.

On the evening of December 2, after Company E attacked without success for a fifth time, Colonel Mott made a note in his diary about the state of things on the front line outside of Buna.

“The troops that we have left are weak and tired and need rest and reinforcement.”

Colonel Mott December 2, 1942

As part of a bigger shaking up in leadership, they removed Colonel Mott from his position on December 4. Leadership of the forces Urbana forces passed to Col. John E. Grouse.

“Scrambled like eggs”.

General Eichelberger describing troops on the front on December 2

Conditions on the front dismayed General Eichelberger when he toured the front lines on December 2. He ordered the men regrouped and reorganized. They fed the men who had been surviving on starvation rations their first full meal in a week on December 3. Battle plans for an attack the next day were underway.

Updated Battle Lines

Follow my blog to trace the steps of PFC Fred L. Jacobs through the hell of World War II with the Red Arrow Division.

Courage Under Fire: Growing Up in the South Pacific of WWII. Part 5

On November 23, 1942 the men of company E were engaged by the enemy in combat for the first time. Japanese forces opened fire on the men. The men were forced to dig into foxholes.

While the men of Company E, 126th were patrolling and engaging with enemy forces west of the bridge over Entrance creek bigger plans were underway for the full assault on Japanese forces at Buna. The battle was scheduled for November 30, 1942.

The forces set to take Buna had been divided into two forces, Warren and Urbana. They were set to approach the enemy within hours of each other.

Situation on Approaches to Buna
Evening, 30 November 1942

The men of Companies E and F, 126th Infantry, were ordered to attack in a northeasterly direction. They would occupy the main strip and secure the small coconut plantation north of the Entrance Creek bridge as they moved through the area.

Things did not go as planned from early on. There were delays. Enemy fire, rising tides in the swamp, and overall confusion were issues that plagued the mission.

“As soon as it was dark, preparations began. When these were completed, we each grasped the shoulder of the man in front, and slowly shuffled forward in the pitch black of the night. Our only guide was the telephone wire leading to the jump-off point, and the troops in the foxholes along the way who had been holding the ground recently captured. There was no trail and consequently several hours were required to travel as many hundreds of yards. We all had bayonets. Rifle fire was forbidden until after the attack was well under way. Japs encountered along the way were to be dealt with silently.”

Robert H. Odell, Lieutenant and platoon leader in Company F, 126th of that night.

At 0400 the attack began. Companies E, F, and G, 126th made contact with the enemy. Darkness still blanketed the men as they reached a line of Japanese machine guns posts.

All hell broke loose. There was more lead flying through the air . . . than it’s possible to estimate. Machine gun tracers lit the entire area, and our own rifle fir made a solid sheet of flame. Everywhere men cursed, shouted, or screamed. Order followed on order….Brave men led and other followed. Cowards crouched in the grass literally frightened out of their skins.”

Lt Odell

As the battle raged the allied forces gained the momentum. Companies E and F, 126th overran the enemy outpost and gained the ground at the eastern end of the main strip. Once again the men encountered enemy forces which they dispatched.


Colonel Mott tasked Company E, 126th infantry with the task of taking the village. The men moved on Buna Village via the main track. It was 0600 when they attacked the village. 300 yards from the village they discovered an enemy force dug into heavily manned bunker lines. The men of Company E were stopped in their tracks by enemy crossfire.

Changing Leadership

Behind the front lines of Buna, MacArthur was growing inpatient with the time it was taking to take over the island. The powers that be wanted results and quick. Instead, the men on the front lines were tired and sick. They were ill equipped and poorly trained for the mission they found themselves on. MacArthur ignored the logistical hell of the situation on the ground and instead axed General Harding in hopes that new leadership could take the island.

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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