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Vella Lavella


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#1 Thurman

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Posted 25 March 2006 - 12:51 PM

Under enemy fire- 6th Special Seabees, Second Section's Echelon One at Vella La Vella - October 1, 1943 - November 22, 1943

Second Section's Echelon One was called upon to handle cargo for 1stMAC, (First Marine Amphibious Corps) at Vella La Vella. A thirty-day supply of rations, gasoline and oil was to be stocked there. A convoy of LST’s was shipping out from Guadalcanal on September 29, to deliver more supplies and troops to the new staging base, the Sixth would help load it up and discharge it. For the first time the men would be working on an unsecured island. The men were given K-Rations and ammunition. They would go in with full combat equipment. Although the Seabees did not know it, the Japanese ground troops were not a big worry even though they were stubbornly resisting the New Zealand's Third Division's efforts to pocket them in the northwest corner of the island. The major threat was Japanese air attack. Enemy flyers bombed the staging base everyday, clearly the base anti-aircraft defenses and the combat air patrol were inadequate. The Sixth's Echelon One was responsible for loading and unloading LST 460. The trucks and drivers of Company B, First Corps motor transport battalion, a Marine unit, would assist them. Knowing that every minute their LST remained on the beach it was at serious risk of air attack the officers of Echelon One plan loaded the ship so that it could be discharged in a minimum amount of time. They knew that no LST had yet been fully unloaded in the five hours time it was allowed to stay beached at the Vella La Vella staging base, and they were determined to show that it could be done.

In a driving rainstorm on September 29, the seven LST supply convoy left Guadalcanal for Vella La Vella with Echelon One and the Marine truck drivers aboard Large Slow Target 460. At one mile from the beach the LST crews completely un-dogged their doors and ramp and unclutched the ramp motor so that when the brake was released the ramp would fall of its own weight. The men on the deck watched for enemy planes. Navy gunners hung from the straps of their 20mm cannons, eyes skyward. To beef up their anti-aircraft defense, the Sixth men deck loaded the two New Zealand 40mm Bofors anti-aircraft cannons as well as all their own 50 caliber machine gun-equipped 6x6 trucks. A few hundred yards from shore the LST’s dropped their stern anchors and paid out the cables until seconds later they were crunching onto the beach. LST 460 grounded a little short of dry land, but Echelon One was prepared. As soon as their ramp splashed into the surf at 07:15, their bulldozer was disembarking immediately followed by their five-ton tractor crane. As their bulldozer pushed a coral road up to the ramp, the Marine truck drivers on the tank deck waited with their engines idling. After the first trucks rushed out the Seabees installed the LST’s elevator guides and lowered the 40mm cannons to the tank deck where they were attached to their prime movers and driven ashore. The Sixth men wasted no time in getting their own 20mm cannon and truck mounted 50 caliber anti-aircraft guns emplaced in positions ashore.

While their shipmates worked the ship the Seabee gunners stood by their weapons. Inside LST 460 tank deck 32 Stevedores worked at top speed to load the returning trucks. At 09:20, less than two hours after starting, Echelon One completed unloading their LST. The now empty LST 460 pumped out its ballast and prepared to haul in its stern anchor cable and retract from the beach. The Seabees began dispersing into the jungle, where they would dig their foxholes. LST 448, beached a half mile north of Echelon One, was still unloading. Marines had charge of the operation and it was not proceeding as quickly as it should have. Echelon One sent a work detail to assist discharging LST 448. At 09:30, a large force of Japanese fighters and dive-bombers raided the staging area. One veteran recalled how he was walking on the beach to retrieve his rifle and gear and saw a ‘V’ formation of about sixteen aircraft come out of the sun. He first thought they were allied planes, but the sudden cry "air raid" and the formation's nosing over into a dive convinced him otherwise. The Seabees and Marines ran for the cover of the jungle as the anti-aircraft guns on ship and shore sputtered to life. Some men fired their rifles at the incoming planes. Two Japanese dive-bombers swept down and released their payloads on LST 448. The men watched helplessly as the bombs fell into the beached ship. Their was a muffled explosion and the Sixth men could feel the ground tremble from the force of the blast though the exploding ship was half a mile away. Seconds after the impact of the bombs, the Sixth men took to their feet running down the beach toward LST 448. When Japanese fighters swept in and strafed the beach the 20 or so running Seabees dived into the jungle for cover, re-emerging to continue their dash as the enemy fighters passed. The Japanese planes bombed the dispersal areas too, wounding many among the work parties and gun crews. LST 448 was a twisted burning wreck when the Seabees got to her. Ammunition was exploding in her hold and magazines. Marines were helping the wounded, assisted by the Sixth's medical officer who stayed on board throughout the afternoon despite the fires, exploding ordinance and a second attack. Many men were wounded. Of the work detail the Sixth had dispatched before the raid, eight men were wounded by shrapnel, two seriously, and another could not be found at all. Though he was listed as missing in action, it was clear two days later, when 21 unidentified bodies were pulled out of the wreckage, that Echelon One had lost one of its own.

The Sixth's first experience under fire was costly, but the men did not lose their sangfroid. They dug foxholes near their work area on the beach and waited for the next supply echelon to land. The Japanese attacked intermittently throughout the day and into the night, until about 22:30. The second Japanese air strike came at 10:00 at Ruravai about two miles up the beach from where the Sixth landed and LST 334 had still not finished discharging its cargo. It sat on the shore as an inviting target. The Japanese hit it with a bomb but fortunately the damage was light. As the enemy planes swarmed over the beachhead, one Val dive bomber came hurtling across the cove at a very low altitude only to find cannon fire from the Sixth's 20mm anti-aircraft gun slamming into its nose. As the crippled plane reached the far end of the cove it suddenly exploded into pieces and fell into the sea. Later in the day the airsols (air solomoms command), combat air patrol was on station above the staging base, and they helped deflect the worst of a 60-plane raid. Some enemy bombers still got through, and LST 448 was hit again. For the Japanese pilots there was no mistaking where the beachhead was as long as smoke belched out of the burning LST 448. In the last raid of the day the Japanese scored again, destroying 5 heavy trucks and two jeeps. The violence of the air attacks on Vella La Vella that continued, vividly illustrated for Echelon One the importance of anti-¬aircraft guns. While on the island the Sixth set about acquiring more 20mm cannon .50 caliber machine guns, and trained men in their operation when there was spare time. The corps staging area on Vella La Vella was considered secured by October 8. Air raids continued but the anti-aircraft defenses were by then beefed up. During Echelons One's seven and a half weeks on Vella, their gunners were part of the bases anti-aircraft defense.

#2 Walt's Daughter

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Posted 25 March 2006 - 01:34 PM

Tremendous depiction of several days in the life of a Seebee in the PTO.

QUOTE
Large Slow Target 460


Yes, the only thing that was missing was a big orange bulleye calling out, "Just aim here!"

QUOTE
They knew that no LST had yet been fully unloaded in the five hours time it was allowed to stay beached at the Vella La Vella staging base, and they were determined to show that it could be done.


QUOTE
The Sixth's first experience under fire was costly, but the men did not lose their sangfroid.


It's amazing what men can do when under pressure. No such thing as, "it can't be done". Just shows what tenacity and determination can do.

Would love to hear more about this theatre of operation and our great Seebees. Hats off! armata_PDT_34.gif
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 18 April 2006 - 11:26 AM

Vella Lavella - 58th Naval Construction Battalion
On August 11, 1943, the 58th prepared to embark from Guadalcanal for the landing on Vella Lavella. An advance party went ahead to survey the site for the air strip and mark the beach for the landing. This party was composed of the Skipper, CDR. Lewis, Lt. Reynolds, Lt. Currie, W.O. Smith, W. Moss, and F.J. Dowling. CCM. The scouting party boarded PT Boats at Guadalcanal on the afternoon of August 11 for the overnight run up to Vella Lavella. It was a rough trip and not only did the party suffer PT sickness but were spotted by Jap planes who bombed and strafed them for nearly two hours. Lt. Reynolds said afterwards, there was nothing else for us to do but lie under the torpedo tubes and pray. After awhile of praying that the bombs would not hit us, we thought better of it and decided that the bombs were not as bad as the sea sickness. The party sneaked ashore just before daylight on August 12. The island was alive with Japanese patrols but they evaded them and began surveying the landing and air-strip sites. However, they did encounter some Japanese, who were wiped out to the man. The men were looking forward to the 15th, when the first detachment of the battalion was due to land, because the Japanese patrols were becoming larger. Well, if the advance party were having trouble with the Japanese patrols, so was the main landing party. The first detachment to embark boarded two LCI's and two LST's at Koli Point on August 13th. On the night of the 13th, the craft were lying off Lunga Point when Japanese planes attacked them. The attack lasted three hours and during it, The John Penn was sunk, the ship we had come to Guadalcanal from the Fiji's. On the morning of the 14th, the convoy shoved off and, at dawn of the 15th, it approached the beach at Vella Lavella. We began to unload the cargo from the ships at Barakoma Village. The boys with the "BAR's" were acting as guards, and the unloading proceeded very swiftly as we had practiced it many times back on the "Canal". As the ramps of the LST's came down, men and vehicles rolled out, as most of our equipment was on six wheelers, and bumped into the jungles. Bulldozers were sent ashore and soon coconut and palm trees came crashing down and pushed over with yards of coral to form ramps to the ships. Meanwhile, long lines of men waistdeep in water passed boxes of supplies and equipment, for on LCI's all cargo must be man-handled. We all worked feverishly because we knew it was only a matter of a shorter space of time before the Japanese planes would be on us as the whole landing operation could be observed from enemy lookouts on Kolombangara only thirteen miles across the water. Quite suddenly, the alarm was sounded and all hell broke loose. Every one took off for the boomddocks or the ships. High in the sky, planese zoomed and droaned, their machine guns spitting leaden death. The first attack lasted five minutes and seemed hours, then it began again, through some miracle, none of the gan were hurt. When the attack was over, we completed the unloading and moved up a hill to dig in for the night as best we could in foxholes. There were so many attacks during all of the day and the night that it was a continual "Condition Red". The second echelon landed on august 17 at 1800 and this landing was a mistake, since their was no air coverage from Munda at this late hour in the day. The only defense we had was the few anti-aircraft guns that had been set up. Attempts were made to unload the ships but the constant air attacks made this impossible. The LST's pulled off the beach and one of them was hit and had to be sunk. We lost considerable equipment on this ship. The next day, the remaining two were beached and were unloaded. The third wave landed on August 22nd. This bunch really got the business for, by now, the Japanese really had us spotted and knew what we were about to do. In the early morning about 1000, they came over and bombed us at about 800 feet. At top speed, screaming eerily over the jungle, the Jap bombers flew to the attack. The ships gunners returned their fire, but still the planes came in and released their loads of destruction. In a formation of six, one suddenly wavers and to the cheers of the gang, it bursts into a bright pyre of flames as the gunners found their mark. The other five however, broke through and plastered us. They didn't miss the target at this range and of the fifteen bombs that fell, not one was less than a hundred yards from the ships. It was a literal rain of death, when the bombers pulled out of their shrieking plunge, not a man on the ships deck was left standing. The guns were either blasted to scrap or choked with coral dust. While the smoke and dust of the explosions still blanketed the ships, the gang on the beach and below the decks swarmed aboard to clean up. They found the decks littered with coral boulders, wounded and dead shipmates. Many men of the battalion had manned guns during this raid and Roger Poulin, Sam Barker and Steve Pavlick of Company "D" were badly wounded. On the beach lay Bob Neumann, CM3C, our first fatal casualty of the enemy. The fourth wave arrived on August 26th and the fifth on Agust 31st and by this time raids were lessened due to the Marine Defense Battalion being set up in action. During the first few days of the landings over 34 Japanese planes were shot down with only a loss of two of hours. After the landings, we set about to build a campsite and establish an airfield previously surveyed by the advance party. Slow progress was made because we were constantly under "Condition Red" because of the lack of air protection in the first few days. Vella Lavella was captured by by-passing other islands fortified by the Japanese, such as Kolombangara,Ganongga,Gizo and several other smaller islands north of Munda in the New Georgia group. The Munda airfield was still subject to night attacks which were quite frequent and, of course, Vella being North of Munda, they had us coming or going. Major General, Twining, Commander of aircraft in the Solomons at that time said, it was the toughest, densest jungle in all the South Pacific, and the 58th Seabees have constructed a modern field set up for bomber fighter transport craft, whipped the field in shape in record time making it the best in the Solomons although the "hardest to construct.

#4 Walt's Daughter

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Posted 18 April 2006 - 11:52 AM

Just reading it scares the hell out of me. Sounds like Anzio with the the constant shelling, bombing, strafing. Difficult to live, let alone try and work under those circumstances. Once again it amazes me that more men weren't killed outright.

I am grateful that you are sharing these with us. Most people aren't very well versed on Pacific battles and campaigns, especially the "little" ones. Well they weren't so little to the guys that were there. Virtually everyone knows about Guadacanal, but few know about Vella and places like Tinnian.

armata_PDT_34.gif
Marion J Chard
Proud Daughter of Walter (Monday) Poniedzialek
540th Engineer Combat Regiment, 2833rd Bn, H&S Co, 4th Platoon

There's "No Bridge Too Far"
Marion Chard

#5 Thurman

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Posted 18 January 2007 - 10:44 PM



Vella Lavella - Seabee built bridge across the Juno River to allow for crossing of four 90mm AA guns placed at Naravai. September 25, 1943.

#6 Walt's Daughter

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Posted 19 January 2007 - 04:02 PM

Ah, a never seen before photo, well at least by me. Thank you! cool.gif
Marion J Chard
Proud Daughter of Walter (Monday) Poniedzialek
540th Engineer Combat Regiment, 2833rd Bn, H&S Co, 4th Platoon

There's "No Bridge Too Far"
Marion Chard

#7 DBurgess

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Posted 30 June 2011 - 05:43 AM

My father was a trcuk driver with Company B motor transport. he never talked much about his service except to tell me his unit swiped some officers whiskey while unloading in new caledonia. He also talked about building a still on one of the islands. I found out from one of his buddies that he was on the end of the Lst that was hit and thrown along ways away by the force of the blast. He then went back and helped many of the injured men out without regards to his own safety. When iasked him about it he siad he did what he had to do and end of story. he did tell me the worse was one one of the men asked him to shoot him because he was missing an arm and a leg. My father was a quiet man by all accounts but never thought he would come home alive. He is gone now and I miss him and I honor his memory and service through this post. I would love to know if anyone rmembers him. His name was Harvey Burgess USMC PFC.
He was about 6 1 and had auburn to brown hair. He was from Arkansas. Semper Fi and a great praise for the SeeBees

#8 DBurgess

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Posted 30 June 2011 - 05:46 AM

I am wondering if anyone knows where else my fathers Company B served at. He earned four bronze stars. I know he was on Okinawa and Guam. If any one else remembers this company I would love to hear from them.
Thanks
DAvid Burgess

#9 Walt's Daughter

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Posted 03 July 2011 - 12:14 PM

I hope you hear from someone too. Wouldn't that be wonderful?

The best in your search efforts...

Marion J Chard
Proud Daughter of Walter (Monday) Poniedzialek
540th Engineer Combat Regiment, 2833rd Bn, H&S Co, 4th Platoon

There's "No Bridge Too Far"
Marion Chard

#10 Dogdaddy

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Posted 04 July 2011 - 05:56 PM

Good Luck with your search. Your description of your Father reminded me so much of my own Dad and how much I miss him. It's never too late to search and you might find some info about him that's hiding right under your nose, as did my sister and I when we were going through some old boxes and found all the letters home he had written to his Mom while serving in the Navy during WWII. This forum is a great place to begin. Again...I wish you success and welcome to the forum!

:wave: :woof:
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