Courage Under Fire: Growing up in the South Pacific of World War II. Pt 11

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.

Recovery

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.

New Guinea Lines 1943-1944

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.

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.

32d Division Troops Saidor
Troops of the 32d Division near Saidor.
(DA photograph)

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

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 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
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 2


The Louisiana Maneuvers

Fred Jacobs spent his 18th birthday in Louisiana. Camp Beauregard was a case of embrace the suck. The troops grew to refer to the place as Camp Dis-regard. The camp was equipped to handle a single regiment. The entire 32nd Division was sent there anyway. The troops set about training for whatever the future would bring.

On August 12, 1941 congress passed legislation extending the federalized service of the National Guard units from 12 months to 18 months. At the same time congress approved the use of National Guard units outside of the Western Hemisphere. The 32nd Infantry Division was destined for overseas service.

Soldiers conducting daily exercise in a bivouac area during the Louisiana Maneuvers in September 1941.

During August and September of 1941 the state of Louisiana became the mock combat zone for massive war games meant to prepare the troops for war. The exercises included over half a million troops and covered nearly 16 million acres of territory.

in a series of the most grandiose field exercises and full maneuvers ever staged any time, anywhere, before or since, by American troops

then Col. Jim Dan Hill, CO of the 120TH Field Artillery Regiment regarding the Louisiana Maneuvers

December 7, 1941

The Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor altered the United States’ approach to the war rampaging across the world. The sleeping giant was awake. The United States officially joined World War II on December 11, 1941. Fred turned 19 the next day.

Australia bound.

On March 25, 1942 the 32nd Infantry Division received orders shipping the division to Australia.

April 10, 1942 troops of the 32nd Infantry Division boarded trains for San Francisco. The last train carrying troops arrived in San Francisco on April 14, 1942. The troops were loaded up on ships in San Francisco. They set sail for Australia on April 22, 1942.

Fred had been in the military less than 2 years. He was 19 years old. Fred and his fellow soldiers of Company E set sail from San Francisco for Australia on the converted luxury ship USAT Lurline. The entire 32nd Infantry Division sailed from San Francisco. 10 ships were required for the trip. The convoy marks the first time in history an entire division was sent overseas in one convoy. On May 14, 1942 the division arrived in Adelaide, Australia.

Photograph of the SS Lurline in the 1930’s. Fred rode the Lurline to Australia.

Interesting Fact: For the men of the 32nd Infantry Division the day of May 7, 1942 never existed. Their convoy crossed the International Day Line on May 6, 1942. On the other side of the line the date was May 8, 1942.

Japanese Domination

The Japanese forces dominated the Pacific in the fall of 1942. There was concern some concern that the Japanese might set sights on invading Australia. The Japanese were running amok in the south Pacific. The United States forces were tasked with the job of harassing the enemy. The 32nd was ordered to help put the Japanese on the defensive.

“I shall return.”

General Douglas MacArthur’s promise to the Philippines in March 1942.

General MacArthur was still blistering from the Japanese victory on the Philippines in March of 1942. He and his family had been forced to flee the island by boat. The famed general had a standing promise to return. It was the 32nd Infantry Divisions job to help make that promise a reality.

General MacArthur ordered the Red Arrow Infantry Division to New Guinea on September 13, 1942. The initial deployment to New Guinea included Fred’s 126th regiment. On September 15, Fred and the rest of the men of Company E, were the first unit to take off from Amberly Field in Brisbane, Australia. It was a 1000 mile flight to Port Moresby.

The Three Spearheads

Once can only imagine the mood on that flight. Excitement? Fear? A strange combination of both? The men were woefully unprepared for the struggle they were about to face. They had trained for service in Europe, and even that training had been disrupted as the division moved from place to place.

“In the rush of getting ready on short notice, there was not time to get the fatigue uniforms which had been sprayed with green camouflage dye thoroughly dried, and they were dried out on the men’s backs as they flew north”

-Blakeley

The men of Company E must have had some sense of pride as they headed into New Guinea. General Harding had addressed the men before they left on their mission. He explained to them that as the leading element of the 126th, which was in turn the leading unit of the Division they were “the spearhead of the spearhead of the spearhead”. From that point on Company E proudly began to call itself the Three Sprearheads.

The rest of the 32nd Infantry Division would arrive in Port Moresby on September 29, 1942.

The men of the Red Arrow Division were about to get battle tested. Stay tuned for the next installment in my series on Fred Jacobs during the South Pacific of World War II.

Courage Under Fire: Growing up in the South Pacific of World War II. Pt 1

History remembers the celebrated. Genealogy remembers them all.

Fred L. Jacobs service photo

Frederick L Jacobs has been a topic of genealogical curiosity for me. Like most my research subjects I never met him. He has been the topic of many stories, most of which are long on vagueness and short on detail. Fred was my husband’s grandfather.

Fred Jacobs spent a fair portion of his life haunting a bar stool at the bar in a small Michigan town by the name of Paris. His wife tended that same bar. Every day he could be found wearing blue jeans, a pocket t-shirt, suspenders, and his highly decorated American Legion hat. Fred was a popular relic in the small town farming community where he spent most of his life.

This blog series is my attempt at trying to trace his life during World War II.

Just a small town boy

I had all the genealogical vital stats on him. Fred Jacobs was born to Joseph Jacobs and his wife Eula Payton. Fred was the third son. He was born in Michigan on December 12, 1922. His family had recently made the move to the region from Cabell County, West Virginia in the months before he was born. His father, Joe, worked in the road construction industry.

Fred Jacobs grave

In the Army now.

Fred was just shy of his 18th birthday when he enlisted in Big Rapids, Michigan on 15 October, 1940. He lied about his date of birth by a year when he signed paperwork to join the Army. He would spend the next 5 years experiencing some of the most brutal jungle warfare of World War II.

During his time in combat Fred Jacobs would be awarded the purple heart three times. With the passing of time, information about the circumstances of those awards is undoubtedly lost to time. The medals remain a token to his sacrifice while the sacrifice has been lost to history.

Purple heart medal

Like so many soldiers who served during World War II, Fred’s service record was destroyed. The disastrous fire in 1973 of the National Personnel Records Center in St. Louis, Missouri resulted in near total destruction of a majority of the Army records held there. A request to the National Archives turned up one of the disappointing form letters and the offer of a scant scrap in the form of a last pay statement. So much valuable information up in a puff of smoke.

It would be easy to admit defeat and stop the search there. Call it a day and a lost cause. For years I did just that as I avoided devoting any precious research hours to the cause. I wasn’t motivated to dig deeper. Time and again conversations would turn to that old box of medals and those three purple hearts. Like a book unread it was time to crack the cover on this tale.

I turned my attention to the box of medals and military memorabilia. Inside was a red arrow patch. I had an enlistment card transcription. A mystery….and this series…was born with the effort to sleuth out details about Fred Jacobs and his service during World War II.

red arrow patch

Dig Deeper

I started by learning more about the unit patch. He kept that red arrow, it had significance. The Red Arrow Division, a nickname for the 32nd Infantry Division, is a military division with a long and storied history. One of the units in the 32nd was 126th regiment. Company E was the National Guard unit called up from Big Rapids, Michigan on October 15, 1940. Big Rapids, Michigan was the station where Fred enlisted on October 15, 1940. Using this information I have tried my best to retrace what were his possible steps over the next 6 years.

In the fall of 1940 the United States was not officially at war. Tensions in the world were growing more strained and it seemed inevitable that the U.S. would be pulled into the world’s conflicts. That was the circumstance which led to President Roosevelt ordering over thirty-five thousand men to active duty on September 15, 1940 with a report date of October 15, 1940. The United States was preparing for war. Fred Jacobs enlisted in the Army.

Training

During the last week of 1940 the 32nd Infantry Division was ordered to Louisiana for training. The division would participate in a training action known as the Louisiana Maneuvers. The units traveled by train to Camp Beauregaurd in Louisiana for the first step in what would be a long journey around the world.

Infantry Soldiers of the 32D Division stand at attention in a company street at Camp Beauregard, LA.

Stay tuned for more about Fred Jacobs in my next post in this series.