Flushing out the Japs in the jungle of New Britain

Retreating at first into the jungle of Cape Gloucester, Japanese soldiers finally gathered strength and counterattacked their Marine pursuers.  These machine gunners pushed them back.

Retreating at first into the jungle of Cape Gloucester, Japanese soldiers finally gathered strength and counterattacked their Marine pursuers. These machine gunners pushed them back.

The campaign on New Britain continued. The thick tropical jungle was almost as much of an enemy as the Japanese. The veterans of the US First Marine Division had jungle fighting experience from their time on Guadalcanal. This did not stop the Fifth Marine Regiment getting into a fire fight with the Seventh Marine Regiment as both units probed into the dense vegetation.

Here it was rarely possible to see the enemy that was firing at you. Romus Burgin had joined the 1st Marine Division as a replacement but he had picked up a few ideas from the Guadalcanal veterans:

We all finally caught up with a large body of Japs dug in along the far side of a stream we came to call Suicide Creek. They were screened behind brush, and every time we tried to wade across, they just cut us to pieces. We lost a lot of good men there.

Jim Burke and I were holed up some distance to the right of where the Seventh Marines were trying to cross. There was a small break in the trees, hardly big enough to call a clearing, and we’d set up a five-gallon water can with a canteen cup on top. I got thirsty and walked over to get a drink, all the time watching out for myself.

After I put the cup back on top of the water can and ducked back, Jim went over for a drink. He was just reaching for that cup when there was a shot and the cup flew off into the brush. I felt something hit my sock just in front of my ankle. I looked down and there was a fragment of bullet stuck there, still hot.

Jim took three steps straight back and turned to me and grinned.

“I don’t think I’m that thirsty,” he said.

We knew whoever had fired at us was above our heads, somewhere in the trees, most likely tied in, as we’d learned from the Guadalcanal veterans. We crouched there for a while scanning the branches but all we could see was a green wall of foliage.

So I went off to find K Company’s .30-cal machine gunner. “There’s a Jap sniper up there somewhere, Norman,” I told him. “He’s well camouaged, but we know he’s there’

Norman set up his tripod and swiveled his gun upward and cut loose, raking the trees back and forth. Bits of leaf and falling branches showered down. There was a sudden crack and a body dropped out of the canopy and jerked to a stop about twenty feet above the ground. When we left he was swinging there upside down with his rifle dangling beneath him.

See R.V. Burgin: Islands of the Damned: A Marine at War in the Pacific

Part of a contemporary US Signal Corps documentary on the invasion of New Britain:


Men of the US First Marines Division at Cape Gloucester, New Britain, Bismarck Archipelago, circa late Dec 1943; note jeep being used to haul supplies

Men of the US First Marines Division at Cape Gloucester, New Britain, Bismarck Archipelago, circa late Dec 1943; note jeep being used to haul supplies

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

William Quinn January 6, 2014 at 7:24 am

I have been wondering if anyone is doing daily blog of WWI aka the Great War, anything similar to this? We are at the centennial, would be interesting.

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