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A desperate Japanese breakout on New Guinea

Troops (likely 32D Div.) ford a river as they move inland near Aitape, New Guinea, in spring or summer of 1944.
Troops (likely 32D Div.) ford a river as they move inland near Aitape, New Guinea, in spring or summer of 1944.

On the night of 10th/11th July the trapped Japanese 18th Army attempted to break through US lines. In what became known as the Battle of Driniumor River they attacked in a solid mass of around 10,000 men in a suicidal frontal assault. This was an attempt to ensure that some men would successfully break through – which they did – but it was achieved at appalling cost.

The Japanese were now aware of how strongly defended the US positions were. US machine gunners cut down hundreds of the Japanese, with some reports of so many bodies piled up in front of US positions that that they blocked the field of fire and men had to go forward to clear them away.

Shortly before midnight, after a short artillery preparation, which came as a surprise because no enemy artillery had been identified within range of the Driniumor, [10,000] enemy infantry in screaming waves began charging across the river against Companies E and G 128TH Infantry, in the south part of the sector of the 2D Battalion, 128TH Infantry.

The attack in the Company G sector was stopped, but another attack which hit Company E shortly after the first assault was more successful largely because of the physical impossibility of holding a position in the dark against an attacking force believed to have a ten to one superiority over the defenders. By dawn the Japanese held a good-sized area of wooded high ground to the left rear of Company G

Blakeley, H. W., Major General, Retired. The 32D Infantry Division in World War II.

Bill Garbo with his dog Teddy on New Guinea in 1944.
Bill Garbo with his dog Teddy on New Guinea in 1944.

The battle was fought in some of the most inhospitable conditions, as described by Bill Garbo, who was a member of a dog Platoon:

When first viewed from the ocean, you marvel at the beauty of this tropical paradise, the vegetation intermixed with coconut palms swaying in the breeze looks beautiful and inviting however after landing there this image changes.

The jungle is characterized by giant hardwoods, which tower two hundred feet into the air with trunks six and eight feet in diameter, flared out at the base by great buttress roots. Among and beneath the trees thrive a fantastic tangle of vines, creepers, ferns and brush, impenetrable even to the eye for more than a few feet. Kunei grass 6 to 10 feet tall grows in a thick maze along the open sand bars of the rivers with its host of mites (carriers of scrub typhus), lice and giant spiders; the blades of grass are sharp enough to slice your arms and legs if you try to walk through without using a machete to cut an opening.

Exotic birds inhabit the upper stories of the jungle growth while the Dodo bird walks the jungle floor and never flies because of useless wings, the result of an evolutionary change; its legs are powerful enough to kick a man to death when provoked; the insect world permeates the sluggish whole scene in extraordinary sizes and varieties: ants whose bite feels like a live cigarette against the flesh, improbable spiders, wasps three inches long, scorpions and centipedes that sting thrive in the undergrowth.

Insects fill the evening air just before dark with a chorus of sounds so loud you can hear nothing else. When darkness falls the noise of the insects continues for awhile then stops abruptly as though ordered by some hidden authority bringing on an eerie silence.

The animal kingdom is less numerous, represented by species of large marsupial rats, a distant relative of the opossum, giant frogs, snakes and lizards ranging in length from three inches to three feet and a few much larger snakes of the constrictor type. Leeches fill the streams and must be removed from your legs after wading through any water and some varieties are peculiar in that they live in trees and drop upon the unwary passerby from above sticking to the flesh, extracting blood in an instant. Anyone who has not experienced it. After a rain shower steam rises from every man’s wet mud [hole?].

No air stirs-here, and the hot humidity is beyond the imagination of soaked clothing as though you are on fire. Rot lies everywhere just under the exotic lushness and it’s foul smell fills your nostrils. The ground is porous with decaying vegetation, emitting a sour, unpleasant odor. Substantial-looking trees, rotten to the core, are likely to topple over when leaned against, and great giants crash down unpredictably in every rainstorm.

Freshly-killed flesh begins to decompose in a matter of a few hours with the aid of ever present maggots. Dampness, thick and heavy is everywhere the result of regular rains which give the forest its name; rain that is unbelievably torrential at times, never ceasing altogether for more than a few hours at a time.

For more of Bill Garbo’s story see Killroy was Here.

Staff Sergeant Gerald L. 'Sparrow' Endl,  Medal of Honor
Staff Sergeant Gerald L. ‘Sparrow’ Endl, awarded posthumous Medal of Honor , from Fort Atkinson, Wisconsin.

Amongst the many actions that day was the outstanding example of Staff Sergeant Gerald L. Endl of the 32nd Infantry Division, whose citation for the Medal of Honor records:

For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty near Anamo, New Guinea, on 11 July 1944.

S/Sgt. Endl was at the head of the leading platoon of his company advancing along a jungle trail when enemy troops were encountered and a fire fight developed. The enemy attacked in force under heavy rifle, machinegun, and grenade fire. His platoon leader wounded, S/Sgt. Endl immediately assumed command and deployed his platoon on a firing line at the fork in the trail toward which the enemy attack was directed.

The dense jungle terrain greatly restricted vision and movement, and he endeavored to penetrate down the trail toward an open clearing of Kunai grass. As he advanced, he detected the enemy, supported by at least 6 light and 2 heavy machineguns, attempting an enveloping movement around both flanks. His commanding officer sent a second platoon to move up on the left flank of the position, but the enemy closed in rapidly, placing our force in imminent danger of being isolated and annihilated.

Twelve members of his platoon were wounded, 7 being cut off by the enemy. Realizing that if his platoon were forced farther back, these 7 men would be hopelessly trapped and at the mercy of a vicious enemy, he resolved to advance at all cost, knowing it meant almost certain death, in an effort to rescue his comrades. In the face of extremely heavy fire he went forward alone and for a period of approximately 10 minutes engaged the enemy in a heroic close-range fight, holding them off while his men crawled forward under cover to evacuate the wounded and to withdraw.

Courageously refusing to abandon 4 more wounded men who were lying along the trail, 1 by 1 he brought them back to safety. As he was carrying the last man in his arms he was struck by a heavy burst of automatic fire and was killed.

By his persistent and daring self-sacrifice and on behalf of his comrades, S/Sgt. Endl made possible the successful evacuation of all but 1 man, and enabled the 2 platoons to withdraw with their wounded and to reorganize with the rest of the company.

Native litter bearers evacuate a casualty across the Driniumor River near Afua Village.
Native litter bearers evacuate a casualty across the Driniumor River near Afua Village.

3 thoughts on “A desperate Japanese breakout on New Guinea”

  1. Bill Garbo is my grandfather and passed away last January. I grew up hearing these stories. These men were truly heroes

  2. I was the new member of C Company and was there that day with Sgt.Endl
    sacrificed his life to save his men he will always be remembered for his heroic act

    thank you for the very nice article

  3. Is there any record of the men that were brought out by SSG Endl? My uncle was one of these men, Pvt Willie Frank Stephens, KIA 7-11-44. He was in Co. C. I have always wondered if he was the man that was left behind. Any answers would be helpful.

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