A night on the beach in New Guinea

The US landings at Tanahmera Bay on 21 April.

The US landings at Tanahmera Bay on 21 April.

On the 22nd April 1944 U.S. forces landed at Hollandia, New Guinea, following some very difficult air operations in preparation for the assault. The U.S. landing achieved complete surprise and the Japanese fled into the jungle. It remained for the US forces to penetrate further and capture the nearby Japanese airfields, which were believed to be more strongly defended.

Sy M. Kahn arrived with one of the follow up waves of the U.S. Army on the 4th May. Strictly against orders he was keeping a highly descriptive diary of every day. Despite the fact that they spent most of the 4th May shifting supplies in the ‘murderous heat’, they were short of both food and water.

Their location on the beach was were a previous Japanese air attack had hit their own, abandoned, fuel dump, causing a massive explosion. Kahn and his fellow soldiers found body parts still on the beach. They then tried find a place to sleep:

We made our bed for the night by throwing down a shelter-half, blanket on top, poncho for cover. The hollow afforded some protection against shrapnel. We didn’t worry about the close ones because we’d never know it. We laid down, remarking what a beautiful night it was for bombing. The moon was extremely bright, making everything visible. All those new supplies on the beach made a perfect target.

It was not 15 minutes later that we heard an alert. I was willing to give 2:1 that the Japs would be over. We waited for a half-hour, and finally a green light shining from across the bay indicated an all—clear.

This method was used to foil the Jap trick of watching for the all-clear flare, while distantly gliding, and then dashing in for a quick surprise attack, which had been effective on New Britain. It was about 10:00 P.M. when we got to sleep.

Twice more during the night there were alerts. The warning gun was only 1/2 mile away, so it practically blew us out of bed. During that night I spent the most miserable four hours ever. The spatter of rain in my face woke me. Soon it was torrential and seeped into bed. When I was finally soaked and lying in a half-inch of water, I got up, threw my poncho over me, and leaned against the bank. It rained like the devil.

Pappy was alongside me a half-hour later, having stayed dry a little longer. He miraculously managed to light a cigarette, and we sat in the rain, improvising jokes. After an hour of this, I was chilled to the bone, so I wrapped the wet, woollen blanket around me, which helped.

After another hour I dropped off in spite of the rain, though the tide was coming in and lapping and wetting my already-soaked feet. Not being able to get wetter or feel colder or more miserable, I let it lap. I awoke to the rhythm of Milligan’s poking. Daylight was breaking, and I greeted it, stiff, wet, and with cynical humor.

Shouldering our soaked equipment and getting a kick out of watching the water run out the barrel of my rifle, we marched into camp. Everyone was stirring, and we got the horse-laugh for our sodden appearance, though everybody was as wet.

We were just the vanguard of our fellows straggling into camp during the next hour. Some had slept on the hill where we first stopped and were covered from helmet to leggings with thick, red clay. What a sight. We were dry by comparison.

We did not have a bad camping spot, a sandy, clean stretch of shore. Behind us, at the edge of the jungle, there lay the exploded drums of Jap gasoline. Beyond them, a swamp.

Pappy and I finished the can of beef and the remainder of our water. That was breakfast. Soon the day was scorching hot, and just what we needed to dry everything out.

See Sy M. Kahn: Between Tedium and Terror: A Soldier’s World War II Diary, 1943-45

US forces on the beach following the landings at Humboldt Bay.

US forces on the beach following the landings at Humboldt Bay.

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Chuck May 5, 2014 at 9:51 pm

Thanks for letting me know about my next possible book. Very enjoyable writing.

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