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Los Negros Island


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#1 Thurman

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Posted 23 March 2006 - 03:49 PM

In May 1944, on Los Negros Island in the Admiralties, just north of eastern New Guinea, the 40th Seabee Battalion was assigned to the 1st Calvary Division. Its objective was to put the unused and much bombed Japanese airstrip at Momote into operation. The Army captured the airfield, all right, but while the Seabees were at work on it, the Japanese counter-attacked in greater force than anyone suspected was present. Two seabee officers and 100 men took over a sector of the perimeter and occupied a trench that they dug with the battalion's ditch digger.

They armed themselves with automatic rifles and knives, and set up a truck mounted 20mm gun behind them. Meanwhile other Seabees landed and started to grade and clear the runways and taxiways in the midst of battle. Others drove bulldozers into the jungle to clear fire lanes for Army guns, using blades now to clear a lane and again raised as a shield behind which they fired at the enemy.

In the Japanese assault, the Seabees distinguished themselves by capturing two machine-gun positions and a Bofors-gun. They took 47 casualties, with nine Killed. General Macarthur awarded them the Army's Distinguished Unit Badge, and President Roosevelt gave them the Presidential Unit Citation.

#2 Walt's Daughter

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Posted 24 March 2006 - 02:44 AM

That is quite the story. I'm glad that you posted it here, because it's just one fine example how navy and army engineers had to work under fire and duress. Often they were right there on the front line with deadlines for their jobs, while the enemy is pursuing their hind-ends. Not only did they have to build a bridge or runway, but have to do while Germans and Japanese were throwing everything they could to impede them.
Marion J Chard
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540th Engineer Combat Regiment, 2833rd Bn, H&S Co, 4th Platoon

There's "No Bridge Too Far"
Marion Chard

#3 Thurman

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Posted 03 October 2006 - 11:01 AM

The Admiralty Islands
Last Stages


Capture of Outlying Islands

Overwater assaults on the lesser islands of the Admiralties, along with mopping-up actions on Manus, comprised the last phase of combat operations. In light of the losses on Hauwei and with the expectation that landings would be opposed, attacks on the outlying islands would be made in considerable force. Pityilu Island, 3 miles north of Lugos Mission, was the first scheduled for attack on 30 March by the 1st Squadron, 7th Cavalry, reinforced (Map No. 3, pages 8-9). The other islands were objectives of the 12th Cavalry; the 1st Squadron, reinforced, would seize and mop up Koruniat

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and Ndrilo Islands on 1 April and two days later the 2d Squadron, reinforced, would attack Rambutyo.

Pityilu Island, thought to be defended by 60 Japanese, is nearly 3 miles long and varies in width from 250 to 650 yards. The beach chosen for the assault is the only one suitable for landing; it is of white, hard sand and is located about the center of the southern shore. Six waves transported in LVT's, LCM's, and LCV's would make up the assaulting force, which would move inland through the coconut plantation covering the western two-thirds of the island.


Construction Activities

Service troops and construction equipment had come ashore along with combat troops immediately after the reconnaissance in force had seized its beachhead, when every man was needed to defend the initial hold against counteroffensives. The Brewer Operation was conceived with the prime objective of developing an advance naval and air base to neutralize Japanese power in the Bismarck area. Therefore the planned immediate establishment of two airdromes and light naval facilities called for a high priority on service troops who were to be employed at these tasks as soon as practicable. In addition to their use for strategic objectives, service troops also had aided tactical operations in the Admiralties immeasurably. After accounting well for themselves in their emergency combat role, helping to defend the early perimeter, the first service units ashore took up the varied tasks of building air and naval facilities as well as performing the indispensable services for the combat troops. The quick repair of the Momote air strip brought fighter planes almost to the front lines. Engineers directly helped in the destruction of the enemy; without the bulldozer, combat operations inland on muddy roads, especially with armor, would have been impossible. As the fighting reached the mopping-up stage and more service units came ashore, the activities of building a more habitable base involved more men than did services for troops engaged in combat.

After the initial stages of operations, signal communications between Army, Air Corps, and Naval forces were greatly improved by the arrival of the 99th Signal Battalion at Salami on 16 March. This unit took over the switchboards and was responsible for all wire communications on Los Negros until 20 April. On 9 April a radio station and message center was set up at Salami Plantation by a scction from the 832d Signal Service Company.

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In transforming the devastated island into a naval and air base, health precautions were as essential as construction. Early in the operations the 52d Malaria Control Unit began searching for mosquito breeding places and carried on an extensive oiling program. This work was also kept up by the 28th Malaria Survey Unit which on 22 March made the first blood survey of natives in Mokerang village.

Natives were of great use in both tactical operations and construction work. The Angau Detachment recruited them for pack trains, for scouting, for police work, and for actually hunting and killing the enemy. By 11 May the. entire population of 17,000 was under the control of Angau and 5,000 were being rationed and cared for. In 5 camps, 1,231 native laborers (a few of whom were women and children) were employed on various projects. Many were assigned to cavalry units and to the air forces. The 58th Evacuation Hospital used a large number in malaria control, and the greatest part were engaged in various overhead duties, including improvement of the villages.

The 40th (Fighting Forty ! ) Naval Construction Battalion, which had defended the air strip with the cavalrymen on 3-4 March, was joined by other Seabees of the 17th, 46th, 78th, and 104th Naval Construction Battalions. The Seabees were to work on the Momote air strip as well as on dock and road construction. Other sections working on roads and maintenance were taken from the 8th Engineer Squadron and the 592d Engineer Shore Battalion. On 16 March the Momote air strip was in use and the airdrome well on its way to completion; however, the captured Lorengau airdrome was discovered not to meet the requirements for the second airdrome planned for the Admiralties. Therefore, at Mokerang Plantation, a coral-surfaced modern airdrome 100 by 8,000 feet was put under construction. By 18 May the Momote airdrome was extended to 7,000 feet and surfaced with coral, completely equipped with taxiways, hardstandings, and storage areas.

Many naval facilities, begun soon after the landings, were finished by the end of the official campaign. A floating Liberty dock, a fixed Liberty dock, and a pile dock at Mokerang were ready for use. An LST pile dock was almost complete and a pipeline jetty had been built at Porlaka. Facilities for a full-fledged base were begun: storage for 7,000 barrels of bulk petroleum was ready at Momote

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and space was being built for 30,000 barrels at Mokerang. Channels into the harbor were also improved and buoyed and a crib dock constructed.

Areas around the air strips were becoming more habitable. Camps had been built for the RAAF and AAF, and more living quarters could be constructed from the lumber turned out by a sawmill operated by the engineers. Drainage was the biggest obstacle to providing healthful living conditions. Tropical rains kept troops busy and often made them repeat their agonizing efforts. just as the engineers had nearly filled a swamp about 100 yards wide on Hauwei Island, the rains came and the swamp spread to three times its original size. Nevertheless, by 18 May, eastern Los Negros and the Lorengau area of Manus as well as some of the outlying islands looked very little like the lush and dangerous territory invaded by the 1st Cavalry Division a month and a half before.