NEW GEORGIA: Bairoko Harbor
Things were worse for the 3d Battalion, 148th Infantry. After breaking
off from the line of march of the 1st Raiders on 6 July, the soldiers
had moved over equally difficult terrain to assume their blocking position
on the Munda-Bairoko Trail on 8 July. After initial success against surprised
Japanese patrols, the Army battalion fought a bloody action against an
enemy force of similar strength that pushed the American soldiers off
high ground and away from the important trail. Heavy jungle and poor maps
prevented aerial resupply of their position, while illness and casualties
sapped manpower. Liversedge led a reinforcing company from the 3d Battalion,
145th Infantry, to the scene on 13 July. Disappointed at the results of
this portion of the operation, and unable to reinforce or resupply this
outpost adequately, the raider colonel decided to withdraw the force to
Triri. There the soldiers would recuperate for the upcoming move on Bairoko
and disrupt enemy movement on the Munda-Bairoko Trail with occasional
Prior to dawn on 18 July four APDs brought the 4th Raider
Battalion and fresh supplies to Enogai. Most
of the Rice Anchorage garrison had also moved up to join the main force.
This gave Liversedge four battalions, but all of them were significantly
understrength due to losses already suffered in the New Georgia campaign.
The 4th Raider Battalion was short more than 200 men. The 1st Raiders
reorganized into two full companies (B and D), with A and C becoming skeleton
units. A detachment of the 3d Battalion, 145th Infantry, remained at Rice
Anchorage. More important, the enemy at Bairoko was now aware of the threat
to its position. Marine patrols in mid-July noted that the Japanese were
busily fortifying the landward approaches to their last harbor on the
north coast of the island.
Liversedge issued his order for the attack. It would commence the morning
of 20 July with two companies of the 1st Raider Battalion and all of the
4th advancing from Enogai while the 3d Battalion, 148th Infantry, moved
out along the Triri-Bairoko Trail. The American forces would converge
on the Japanese from two directions. The remaining Army battalion guarded
Triri; Companies A and C of the raiders defended Enogai. These units also
served as the reserve. Liversedge requested an air-strike on Bairoko timed
to coincide with the attack, but it never materialized.
The movement toward Bairoko kicked off at 0800 and the 1st Raider Battalion
made contact with enemy outposts two hours later. Companies B and D deployed
into line and pushed through a series of Japanese outguards. By noon Griffith's
men had reached the main defenses, which consisted of four fortified lines
on parallel coral ridges just a few hundred yards from the harbor. The
bunkers were mutually supporting and well protected by coconut logs and
coral. Each held a machine gun or automatic weapon. Here the 1st Battalion's
attack ground to a halt. Liversedge, accompanying the northern prong of
his offensive, committed the 4th Battalion in an attempt to turn the enemy
flank, but it met the same heavy resistance. The raider companies slowly
worked their way forward, and by late afternoon they had seized the first
two enemy lines. However, throughout this advance enemy 90mm mortar fire
swept the Marine units and inflicted numerous casualties.
The southern prong of the attack was faring less well. The Army battalion
made its first contact with the enemy just 1,000 yards from Bairoko, but
the Japanese held a vital piece of high ground that blocked the trail.
With the lagoon on one side and a deep swamp on the other, there was no
room for the soldiers to maneuver to the flanks of the enemy position.
With the approval of the executive officer of the raider regiment, the
commander of the Army battalion pulled back his lead units and used his
two 81mm mortars to soften the defenses. When news of the halt in the
southern attack made it to Liversedge at 1600, he asked the commanders
of the raider battalions for their input. Griffith and Currin checked
their lines. They were running out of water and ammunition, casualties
had been heavy, and there was no friendly fire support. Neither battalion
had any fresh reserves to commit to the fight. Moreover, a large number
of men would be needed to hand-carry the many wounded to the rear. The
4th Raiders alone had 90 litter cases. From their current positions on
high ground the Marine commanders could see the harbor just a few hundred
yards away, but continued attacks against a well entrenched enemy with
fire superiority seemed wasteful. Not long after 1700 Liversedge issued
orders for all battalions to pull back into defensive positions for the
night in preparation for a withdrawal to Enogai and Triri the next day.
He requested air strikes to cover the latter movement.
The move back across Dragons Peninsula on 21 July went smoothly from
a tactical point of view. After failing to provide air support for the
attack, higher echelons sent 250 sorties against Bairoko to cover the
withdrawal. The Japanese did not pursue, but even so it was tough going
on the ground. Water was in short supply and everyone had to take turns
carrying litters. The column moved slowly and halted every few hundred
yards. In the afternoon rubber boats picked up most of the wounded and
ferried them to the rear. By that evening the entire force was back in
its enclaves at Enogai and Triri. PBYs made another trip to evacuate wounded,
though this time two Zero fighters damaged one of the amphibian planes
after takeoff and forced it to return to Enogai Inlet. Total American
casualties were 49 killed, 200 wounded, and two missing-the vast majority
of them suffered by the raider battalions.
The failure to seize the objective and the severe American losses were
plainly the result of poor logistics and a lack of firepower. A Joint
Chiefs of Staff post-mortem on the operation noted that "lightly
armed troops cannot be expected to attack fixed positions defended by
heavy automatic weapons, mortars, and heavy artillery." Another factor
of significance, however, was the absence of surprise. The raiders had
taken Enogai against similar odds because the enemy had not expected an
attack from anywhere but the sea. Victory at Enogai provided ample warning
to the garrison at Bairoko, and the Japanese there made themselves ready
for an overland assault. The raiders might still have won with a suicidal
effort, but Bairoko was not worth it.
The 1st Raider Regiment and its assorted battalions
settled into defensive positions for the rest of July. The sole action
consisted of patrols toward Bairoko and nuisance raids from Japanese aircraft.
In early August elements of the force took up new blocking positions on
the Munda-Bairoko Trail. On 9 August they made contact with Army troops
from the Southern Landing Group. (Munda Airfield had fallen four days
earlier.) Later in the month two Army battalions moved cautiously against
Bairoko and found their way barred by only an occasional small outpost.
The main enemy force had escaped by sea and the soldiers took control
of the harbor on 24 August.
The raider headquarters and both Marine battalions embarked in transports
on 28 August and sailed for Guadalcanal. The New Georgia campaign had
been a costly one. Each raider battalion had suffered battle casualties
of more than 25 percent. In addition, sickness had claimed an even greater
number. The 1st Raiders now had just 245 effectives; the 4th Raiders only