Australia-Japan Research Project

AustraliaJapan Research Project at the Australian War Memorial
Australian and Japanese attitudes to the war
Southern Cross: XV Nakano Group

So I had not been worrying needlessly, as events showed. But what notion should be taken by 20th and 51st Divisions, who would be encircled as a result? And how would the G.O.C. or the Army Commander return? And what of Nakai Detachment? And what about the enemy’s strike towards Madang? These were the thoughts that came into my mind.

Perhaps the enemy who landed at Gunbi were accompanied by tanks; and he would attack east and west with land, sea and air co-operation. 20th and 51st Divisions would have to take the enemy on the front and rear, be pushed into a narrow coastal area and be gradually decimated.

The enemy was striking towards the Madang area. Acting in concert with this the Australians on the Nakai Detachment front would probably also strike at the Bogadjim valley. In any case it was just a matter of time before Madang fell into enemy hands. So as this would be a bad thing, it was necessary to devise a counter plan. And whatever was done, it would have to be quick. The promptness of the G.O.C’s return to Madang was a matter that claimed prior settlement.

I immediately telegraphed Rabaul and requested a submarine for the G.O.C’s return. This request was complied with, fortunately.

The next thing was the arrangements for Nakai Detachment. I have already explained that Nakai Detachment were receiving continuous fierce attacks from the Australians; but thanks to their positions and the steep nature of the terrain, even though the Australian attacks were fierce, they would be able to hold out for a considerable time. Therefore, believing that in such a case it was urgently necessary to make preparations to transfer the attack elsewhere by moving out part of their strength, I made dispositions to this effect. As for the defence of Madang, the Okuta Regiment from 41st Division had been called up to take part; with the request for the Division Commander to advance to Madang, I also pushed ahead preparations for 238th Infantry Regt. (Commander Colonel NARA) to advance to Madang.

During this time the various units, started on their movements in accordance with previous arrangements and two days later Lt Gen SANENO, at Wewak, advanced to Madang and took command of all units at Madang. The above dispositions were confirmed immediately in an order from the G.O.C. and I took steps to carry out all the arrangements. Now everything was completed and henceforth it was a matter for desperate fighting.

The Army Commander, knowing about the enemy landing, at once assembled the commanders of 20th and 51st Divisions; he announced to them the arrangements for the Madang area and ordered them to break through the enemy line and converge on Madang. For both divisions Lt Gen NAKANO co-ordinated this; after they had received by submarine the supplies of food necessary for the transfer, they broke through the enemy in several places and headed for the Madang area.

After completing these arrangements the G.O.C. boarded a submarine and arrived safely in Madang to take command of the whole of the forces.

The 4th Air Army increased its attacks against the enemy convoy in an effort to shatter it at the landing front but unfortunately the weather was bad and they were only able to shower their fire on two or three ships, not achieving any major results.

The Allied forces completed their unloading after two or three days and the number of ships thronging the coast diminished.

The Morinaga Battalion of 239th Infantry Regiment, which was under the command of Nakai Detachment made a sudden advance along the coastal road and advanced westward to the Aua River line, east of Aua. They encountered a small number of the enemy and dealt them a thorough blow. The enemy increased his strength and came to the attack. Morinaga Battalion engaged them closely and the firing was intense; the majority of the enemy were killed.

Perhaps because of this decisive blow, henceforth they did not come out with any positive movements. Morinaga prevented any penetration from them and their troops and ours merely exchanged fire.

No-one had imagined that the enemy would land at a place like Gunbi; it had been estimated that if he made a landing, it would probably be in an area west of Madang, so Karkar Island, Mugiru and Hansa were heavily guarded. The area west of Kiari was only lightly guarded. There were no forces allotted with this object; there were only some duty units in a few hidden shipping positions, and so there was really no fighting strength. So there was no resistance strength and what there was blown away by violent shelling from the ships.

Hitherto the landings had been made at weakly defended places. Even if we temporarily had a considerable strength of troops and stationed them along the 400 miles or so of coast where the enemy might intend to land, what would the result be? The dream would be to destroy on the sea, by means of the land forces, the enemy who were landing at different places at different times. In any case, we had very few troops.

It was impossible to obstruct the landing with our land units. The way to stop the landing was to show an attacking force in different places at different times and to have 100% effective activity from the air units. If this air power were weak it was quite impossible to stop the landing. It was pre-destination that our air power was so weak.

Well, how did this Nakano Group, cramped into a narrow area, afterwards advance to the Madang area? As I have mentioned before, the Finisterre Range is like the eel’s bed in literature; the only road through it is the coastal road that runs like a dog along the shore, and the only plain is near Gunbi. There was only enough level space to build one airfield. From the coast there rose immediately a precipitous slope, and if you looked at the Finisterres from Madang it was exactly as if there was a folding screen before you. It struck one with horror to think of a big movement here, with the enemy gazing across. From a commonsense point of view, it seemed completely impossible. Nevertheless, they did not capitulate. They had to break through. What about supplies on the way? The Navy at Rabaul also, having a similar sentiments in a similar situation, with the few submarines they had might be able to make efforts to supply them quickly? Supply was a matter of life or death for the moving troops.

Although the emergency supplies were not very great, three large submarines were necessary. It would be necessary for them to make a daring effort under the noses of the enemy. This was another difficulty in the midst of difficulties.

A report came from Rabaul about the submarine transport plan. And while the troops were watching and listening to know whether it would be a success or a failure, the first submarine was discovered by enemy aircraft and failed to reach its objective. The second was discovered and sunk by enemy aircraft, but the third fortunately succeeded with its supply. Unfortunately it was a small type and was only able to carry five tons of supplies.

The front group of the transferring troops, 51st Division, thought that to wait for the submarines to succeed would only mean that their already deficient food would be completely exhausted. Having had experience in crossing the Sarawaged Pass, they were optimistic about the transfer and they advanced without waiting for supplies. So that on the morning when the submarine was successful, this present of supplies for the 20th Division, which had had no experience in marches was a comradely gesture on the battlefield.

So 20th Division, short of food, showed the submarines that they were grateful; then, distributing the meagre supplies they set off courageously.

Food supplies at Gari depended entirely on land and sea co-operation, and at this display of friendly sentiments between the Divisions it was impossible not to weep with admiration.

At last the transferring Group began its movement. Those who had left earlier did not receive any supplies from the submarine but lived off the land from the native gardens wherever they were and, because they were experienced, made the move successfully. But severe were the difficulties of 20th Division, who moved after the others. In particular, local resources were exhausted because the others had passed through ahead of them. It had been estimated that this journey would be easier than the Sarawaged crossing, sick and wounded had to make their way through trackless regions. The most wearing part was that with these ranges, when they climbed to the craggy summit they had to descend and then climb again, and the mountains seemed to continue indefinitely, until they were at the extreme of exhaustion. Especially when they trod the frost of Nokobo Peak they were overwhelmed by cold and hunger. At times they had to make ropes out of vines and rattan and adopt "rock-climbing" methods; or they crawled and slipped on the steep slopes; or on the waterless mountain roads they cut moss in their potatoes and steamed them. In this manner, for three months, looking down at the enemy beneath their feet, they continued their move. Another thing which made the journey difficult was the valley streams, which were not usually very dangerous. At times, however, there was a violent squall, for which the Finisterres are famous during the rainy season; then these valley streams for the time being flowed swiftly and became cataracts. Then there were many people drowned.

My readers, not being children, will ask: "Surely if they had waited, they would have been able to cross these rivers in safely?" However, even if the quantity of water were not great, heaps of round stones were washed down in the water, and once you put your foot in the stream, you were pushed over by the water and were not able to regain your footing, but were swept away. It was natural to wait until the flow was at its lowest but even so it was possible to begin the crossing in calm water lapping round your knees, then when you reached the middle of the stream there might come a sudden torrent which would overpower you. It was impossible for either sick people or healthy people to go forward or to return, and eventually they were carried away by the stream. These evil rivers of New Guinea and the Finisterres defy the imagination. They caused the death of Colonel SENDO, head of the Intendance Section of 51st Division. Lt Gen SHOGE was swept away by one of these streams on one occasion but fortunately managed to grasp the branch of a tree which was near the bank and was able to save one of his nine lives.

The transfer route was a coastal road as far as Gali, east of the Gunbi landing spot, but in order to make a detour round Gunbi there were two roads into the hills, and it was decided to use these even though there were two. These roads were reconnoitred by Lt KITAMOTO, the mountain god of the Finisterres, and two exceptional officers specially despatched to Nakai detachment – Captains NARIAI and SATO.

These, undaunted by difficulties, made a reconnaissance of the best road for the transferring units, and cutting their way, led them on. These leading troops sent ahead emergency supplies and transport for the sick, showing an affection for their fellow troops which was truly admirable.

The activity of the enemy army units at Gunbi was rather strange. At first, with numerous aircraft, they bombed the area which had been chosen for their airfield, until there was not a tree or a blade of grass left. They flattened the jungle and made their airfield. With great concentration they hastened to complete this task, and against the transferring troops who passed before their eyes they only loosed an occasional artillery volley. Then later, when the transfer was almost ended, at Nokobo and Yogayoga the fire became more intense. Why these troops, and the paratroops who landed at Nadzab, were said to be awesome, is inexplicable. They attacked the transferring troops assiduously with their aircraft, but all the land units did was, at the beginning of the landing, to attack frontally the Morinaga Battalion at the Aufua River line. From beginning to end, the American forces in New Guinea were only serving with their aircraft. In fact, throughout the whole of the Pacific area, the American Navy and Army was transferring the main body of the national forces to the Air Force.

In any event, the transferring units, suffering air attacks, and afflicted greatly by natural enemies such as the topography and the climate, effected the crab like sideways movement. Against the enemy, who showed no land attacking strength, they probably could have dealt a severe blow at Gunbi if they had had the equipment and the strength. It was a great disappointment that we did not have the strength to attack the enemy, who were intent only on building an air base.

The Army had anticipated that even if the transferring units reached Madang, they would probably be naked and would have lost their equipment. So all sorts of things had been gathered together from distant Wewak and Hansa, and stacked together near Madang. In addition emergency articles such as some food, shoes, socks, etc, were collected near the mouth of Minderi River, supplied for their needs by Nakai Detachment.

As in the best books, this was no idle fancy and the transferring troops did arrive almost naked. Thanks to the activity of the various army supply depots and the comradely action of Nakai Detachment in welcoming them, they were able to have all their requirements met and to gather their strength for the next action.

The Army were particularly anxious about the situation of troops who had been left behind. In the long march there had been many who because of sickness could not keep up with the advance and had rested in the mountain valleys to cure their ailing bodies; the leading units, whom I have mentioned before, for a long time widened the scope of their reconnoitrings and made efforts to save every troop possible.

In spite of the fact that these reconnoitrings involved penetrating the enemy’s lines, they demonstrated their affection for their comrades-in-arms by carrying out searches for those left behind and more than a month after the transfer came back.

Even then, hearing from the natives that there were people left in the Finisterre range, they did not know where they were but wanted to look for them. However, because they could not remain in the Madang area where the Army main strength was, they were unable to carry out the reconnaissance.

What of the Matsumoto Detachment in the Bogadjim River valley area? I have already described the state of affairs before the transfer of Nakai Detachment to the Afua area. The Australian 7th Division was building an airfield in the Ramu River plain near Dumpu; from about October they opened their attack an offensive and defensive campaign between both sides see-sawed in the Finisterre mountains. The desperate fighting continued and on 2nd January the American 32nd Division landed at Gunbi; as a result of this the violence of the attacks increased. There were also fierce air attacks. The enemy quickly passed along the Bogadjim valley, heading for strategic points on our motor road. If he broke through our positions, he would be able to advance down the Bogadjim valley at full speed, and it was clear that he intended to cut off the route of 51st and 20th Divisions who were on the move.

The Yano Battalion of 78th Infantry Regiment faced this move frontally. Yano Battalion was occupying a position in front of Kanki Mountain, with Bald Mountain and Byobu Mountain on either flank and held the saddle of the main road.

About mid-January 1944 the enemy fiercely attacked Yano Battalion with heavy artillery fire. Although the Battalion was not numerically strong it did not yield a step, and gradually broke the enemy’s attack. Particularly splendid was the defence of Byobu Mountain. As its name suggests, Byobu Mountain (T.N. :- byobu is a folding screen in Japanese) was just like a folding screen, with sheer cliffs on either side, on the left side of the enemy’s advance route. It was almost unscalable, and only a few tens of men could be stationed along it; it was narrow like a snake’s tongue.

Katayama Company was defending this spot. The company had made a threefold position, and no matter how fierce the attack, they resisted stubbornly, and under bombs as heavy as rain were completely undaunted. The enemy unsuccessfully made a third and fourth attack, then, finally dropping a hail of bombs, tried to shatter the position. The first time they used 15 the second time, 25 aircraft, but the company stubbornly defended to the death. The third time the enemy bombed with close on a hundred planes.

As a result of the third attack all the defensive troops in the third part of the position were killed and the enemy were able to occupy this corner. The company commander, while shooting it out by rifle with the enemy, was shot through the head and killed. When they saw that he was dead, his troops thought of his wishes and resisted stubbornly until finally all of them on Byobu Mountain had died a hero’s death.

Along with the bravery shown by Sugino Company of 79th Infantry Regiment in the counter landing at Finschhafen, this was one of the two greatest achievements of the New Guinea war. The long-protracted bravery of Katayama Company, and their stubborn resistance, must go down in the history of the whole Japanese-Chinese and Great East Asia war, and the names of these men will live for a thousand year.

After the deaths of Katayama Company, the strength of Yano Battalion was considerably decreased, the total strength of the Battalion being less than 300; in addition, over a front stretching for 4 kilometres they were suffering attacks from the enemy’s main strength. Their exploits were beyond praise.

Nakai Detachment’s fierce struggle in the Finisterres lasted for five months, and against all the strong enemy attacks they continued their stubborn resistance until ordered by the Army to retreat. They had really accomplished their duty.


Printed on 04/24/2018 02:45:41 PM