Operation Drake (i)

This was the Australian seizure of Goodenough island (22/27 October 1942).

Known by the US geographical designation 'Amoeba', later 'Ginger', Goodenough island is the most westerly element of the D’Entrecasteaux islands group to the north of the eastern tip of New Guinea, from which it is separated by the 15-mile (24-km) Ward Hunt Strait. The island is some 65 miles (105 km) by sea from Milne Bay and about 185 miles (300 km) from Port Moresby. Lying on the sea route between Buna and Milne Bay, the island possessed strategic importance from mid-1942. Some 24 miles (38.5 km) long and 16 miles (25.75 km) wide with an area of 265 sq miles (687 km˛) bounded by a coastline 72 miles (116 km) long, Goodenough island is believed to be the most mountainous island for its size in the world. The island is approximately oval in shape, with a small appendix on its south-east coast, and from a coastal belt varying in width from 1.2 to 6.2 miles (2 to 10 km), the island rises sharply to the summit of Mt Vineuo, 8,320 ft (2536 m) above sea level. The island’s high relief is further emphasised by the significant flat coastal plains which surround the central massif.

The island’s western side was covered with tropical rain forest, but there were grassy plains on the north-eastern side covered in kunai and kangaroo grass. These grassy areas were suitable for the creation of airfields, but the best anchorages were at Mud Bay on the south-eastern side, Taleba Bay on the south-western side, and Beli Beli Bay on the eastern side. Other sites could cope only with shallow-draught vessels drawing 12 ft (3.7 m) or less, were obstructed by coral reefs or were exposed to the weather, which rendered them unsuitable for development. The island had no roads, and there was neither motor nor animal transport. In 1942, the interior of the island was largely unmapped and the surrounding waters were only inadequately charted.

Aircraft and ships operating between Milne Bay and Buna had to pass close to Goodenough island, so an Allied presence on the island could provide warning of Japanese operations while denying the Japanese the opportunity to observe Allied ships and aircraft.

Early in August 1942, a part of a US fighter control squadron had been stationed on Goodenough island to provide advance warning for the Australian fighter force based at Milne Bay, and on 7 August five Curtiss Kittyhawk fighters of the RAAF’s No. 76 Squadron made forced landings on the grassy plain: makeshift airstrips were cut through the grass, and this allowed four of the aircraft to be flown out.

During the night of 24/25 August, seven barges carrying 353 naval troops of Commander Tsukioka Torashige’s 5th Sasebo Special Naval Landing Force, supplemented by a small number of engineers of the 14th and 15th Pioneer Units departed Cape Nelson on the north-east coast of Papua to take part in the 'Re' attack on the Allied forces at Milne Bay. Reaching Goodenough island, the Japanese could not find a hiding place suitable for their barges during the day, and therefore left them on the beach, where they were discovered by the Allies. Their movement had been reported by a coast watcher at Cape Nelson, and a report received at Milne Bay around 12.00 on 25 August indicated that the Japanese craft were on the west coast of Goodenough island. Nine Kittyhawk fighter-bombers of No. 75 Squadron were despatched to investigate, located the landing craft and destroyed all seven of them, together with the Japanese force’s radio and most of its stores. Eight Japanese were killed in the raid, and the survivors were stranded for lack of transport. The US detachment on Goodenough island had meanwhile destroyed its radios and left the island.

Information about the situation on Goodenough island reached the Japanese command on 9 September via an orderly who had made his way back to Buna in a canoe. The destroyers Yayoi and Isokaze were therefore despatched from Rabaul on New Britain island during 10 September to rescue the stranded men. The two Japanese warships were sighted by Allied aircraft on the following day, and the US destroyers Selfridge, Bagley, Henley and Helm were detached from Task Force 44 under the command of Captain Cornelius W. Flynn to effect an interception. The US destroyers did not find the Japanese destroyers, but five Boeing B-17 Flying Fortresses did locate and attack them. Isokaze escaped despite a near-miss, but Yayoi sank after catching fire following a direct hit on the ship’s stern. The destroyer’s survivors reached Normanby island, where they found themselves in a situation almost identical to that of the Japanese stranded on Goodenough island.

After the end of the US air attack, Isokaze returned to the area in which Yayoi had sunk, and found an oil slick but no survivors. On 22 August, Isokaze returned again, this time with the destroyer Mochizuki, and together they found 10 survivors in a boat. The two destroyers then searched the coast of Normanby island without success. However, on the next day another 10 survivors were spotted by a patrol aeroplane and were rescued on 26 August.

The presence of marooned Japanese sailors on Normanby island was not a threat to the Allied forces at Milne Bay, but Captain A. T. Timperley, the Australian and New Guinea Administrative Unit officer responsible for the D’Entrecasteaux and Trobriand island groups, argued that they posed a threat to the local population and thus Australia’s reputation as this population’s protector.

As a result, C Company of the 2/10th Infantry Battalion, under the command of Captain J. Brocksopp, was ordered to land on Normanby island. Departing Gili Gili on the Australian destroyer Stuart on 21 September, Brocksopp’s company landed at Nadi Nadi on 22 September, encountered no opposition and took prisoner eight Japanese before returning to Milne Bay on 23 September.

Messages and food had been dropped from the air by the Japanese to the men on Goodenough island on 10 and 12 September. On 3 October, the submarine I-1 delivered food, ammunition, medical supplies, a radio and one small landing craft. The submarine evacuated 71 sick or wounded men, all it could carry, to Rabaul, along with the bodies of 13 dead. This left on the island 285 Japanese troops, most of them suffering from malaria. I-1 returned on 13 October with more rations and medical supplies, together with a second landing craft, but was driven off by an Allied aeroplane. On 15 October the stranded Japanese received a radio message warning that the Allies were showing considerable interest in Goodenough island and were likely to make a landing.

The Allied Supreme Commander of the South-West Pacific Area, General Douglas MacArthur, issued new orders on 1 October, ordering that

'Our Forces in the Southwest Pacific Area [will] attack with the immediate objective of driving the Japanese to the northward of the Kumusi River line. The New Guinea Force will:
'1. Advance along the axes Nauro-Kokoda-Wairopi and Rigo-Dorobisolo-Jaure-Wairopi and/or Abau-Namudi-Jaure-Wairopi Trail, both inclusive, with the objective of securing the line of the Kumusi River from Awalama Divide to the crossing of the Kokoda-Buna Trail, both inclusive.
'2. Occupy and hold Goodenough Island and the north coast of Southeastern New Guinea south of Cape Nelson in such force as to deny these areas to the Japanese forces.
'3. Upon securing these objectives, all land forces will prepare for further advance to secure the area Buna–Gona upon further orders of this Headquarters.'

As part of 'Drake' (i), the 2/12th Battalion, a unit of Brigadier G. F. Wootten’s Australian 18th Brigade of the 2nd Australian Imperial Force, which comprised men mostly from Queensland and Tasmania, was selected for the Goodenough island undertaking. The battalion commander was Lieutenant Colonel Arthur Arnold, who was ordered to destroy the Japanese force on the island, re-establish the coast watcher and radar warning posts, and reconnoitre the island for airfield sites. Intelligence reports indicated that there were approximately 300 Japanese troops on the island, mainly concentrated in the area of Galaiwau Bay and Kilia Mission in the south-eastern part of the island. The Japanese were believed to be short of food and ammunition, and suffering from malnutrition and disease.

The attack force boarded the Australian destroyers Stuart and Arunta on 22 October, and was transported to Goodenough island under escort of TF44. Arriving on the night of 22/23 October, the battalion disembarked on both sides of the island’s southern tip. Arnold planned to trap the Japanese between the main force of 520 men, under his own command, which came ashore at Mud Bay, and a smaller force of 120 men, mostly from C Company, commanded by Major Keith Gatewood, which landed at Taleba Bay, about 6 miles (9.7 km) away. In the absence of Australian landing craft, the 2/12th Infantry Battalion used three ketches (Matoma, Maclaren King and Tieryo), three Japanese landing craft which had been captured in the Battle of Milne Bay, and two powered whaleboats. Rations for seven days were carried on these craft, and for another seven days on the destroyers. Each man carried rations for three days.

'Drake' Force had radio equipments with which to maintain contact with Milne Force. One was taken to Mud Bay while the other remained on Arunta. Two other equipments enabled battalion headquarters to communicate with Mud Bay. In addition, each company had a single equipment with which to talk to battalion headquarters.

The Mud Bay force travelled in Arunta and came ashore at 23.00 in Maclaren King, two of the ship’s launches, the three Japanese landing craft and the two powered whaleboats.On landing, the men established a base of operations at Mud Bay, where a dressing station was prepared and heavy equipment, including all but one 2-in (50.8-mm) mortar per company, was cached. The Australians then set out on a gruelling march to Kilia. As they did so, there began a violent thunderstorm accompanied by heavy rain. The force pushed on toward Kilia, but made slow progress that night as a result of the steep terrain and heavy rain, and was still about 0.5 miles (0.8 km) from Kilia at 08.30 on 23 October when it met the Japanese.

The Australians were crossing a creek in front of a steep hill. The Japanese waited until the Australians were almost on their position before opening fire with machine guns and mortars. The troops who had crossed the creek were tackled with hand grenades rolled down the hill at them, and those on the other side of the creek were pinned down by heavy and accurate fire. Arnold decided to pull back, and during the night established a defensive position which beat back a small Japanese attack.

Meanwhile, the Taleba Bay force, landed from Stuart in Tieryo, a ship’s launch and a ship’s whaleboat, and was ashore by 03.30 on 23 October. Here the Australians captured a Japanese machine gun position at about 06.00. Two platoons were sent to the south, and were engaged by the Japanese. The Japanese were driven beyond Niubulu Creek, but a Japanese counterattack from the north at 09.00 inflicted casualties on the Australians and forced them to withdraw from the area.

Gatewood broke radio silence and attempted to contact Arnold, but without success. After this, the Taleba Bay force came under heavy mortar and machine gun fire, which inflicted casualties. Having lost six men killed and 10 wounded, with three more posted as missing, the Australians were forced to fall back under pressure from the pursuing Japanese. Faced with the possibility of being overrun, Gatewood withdrew his force even farther, initially back to Taleba Bay, and then to Mud Bay aboard Stuart, where his force arrived on 24 October.

Arnold launched an attack on Kilia at 09.10, supported by two 3-in (76.2-mm) mortars and 100 bombs which had been brought up from Mud Bay, but an an attack which had been promised failed to arrive. Instead, Japanese aircraft strafed the Australian positions, as well as the ketch McLaren King in Mud Bay. This was carrying some wounded men, and further casualties were caused. Arnold attempted a flanking movement with A Company, but this became lost in the jungle. The attack then became a frontal assault against the main Japanese defences, which Arnold chose not to press.

With the Australian forces unable to advance, the Japanese were able to withdraw during the night. They were transported, along with their equipment and supplies, by the two landing craft to Fergusson island, which they reached at first light on 25 October. From there, 261 men were evacuated by the light cruiser Tenryu during the following day. The 2/12th Battalion then pressed on from Kilia to Galaiwai Bay, meeting no resistance and finding well-prepared but unmanned defences.

The bombing and strafing of villages by the Allied air forces caused some 600 Goodenough islanders to flee to Fergusson island, where Timperley’s ANGAU detachment had set up a refugee camp, and cared for them until the fighting was over and they could return. Australian losses on Goodenough island were 13 killed in action or died of wounds, and 19 wounded. The Japanese were believed to have suffered 20 killed and 15 wounded during the battle, along with another 19 killed before the Australian landing. This was only an estimate, however, as the Japanese had been able to retrieve and bury their dead, which had made it difficult for the Australians to accurately determine their casualties. Despite the evacuation, a number of Japanese were left behind. One was captured by islanders on 30 October and handed over to Timperley. There was also a group of three: two of these died of malaria in November 1942, and the last was taken prisoner in July 1943.

Single US officers from the USAAF and Corps of Engineers had accompanied the 2/12th Battalion’s landing with the task of locating sites suitable for development as air bases and air warning facilities. They found good sites around Vivigani and Wataluma. The Vivigani site was cleared by local labourers, who established an emergency fighter landing strip 4,000 ft (1220 m) long by 100 ft (30.5 m) wide. The 1/91st Engineer General Service Regiment was then assigned the task of developing Vivigani into a major airbase capable of handling heavy bombers.

The 2/12th Battalion remained on the island until the end of December, eventually being shipped to Oro Bay on the night of 28/29 December to join the attack on Buna on 31 December, leaving 75 men behind. The US engineers were withdrawn to Port Moresby.

In the absence of the engineers, the plan to develop Goodenough island had to be postponed. Given the strategic importance of the island for the forthcoming operations against the Japanese forces in the South-West Pacific Area, the small Australian occupation force used deception and camouflage to make the Japanese believe that a brigade-sized force was occupying the island. The force therefore fabricated dummy structures including a hospital, anti-aircraft guns constructed of simple logs pointed at the sky, and barricades of jungle vines which looked like barbed wire. They also lit fires to simulate cooking fires for large numbers of soldiers, and sent messages in easily broken codes consistent with a force of brigade strength.

A new garrison, the 47th Battalion, a militia unit under the command of Lieutenant Colonel Henry Tasker, arrived from Milne Bay on 4 March 1943. This became the major component of 'Drake' Force, which now also included a company of the 4th Field Ambulance, C Troop of the 2/10th Field Battery, B Troop of the 2/17th Light Anti-Aircraft Battery, a section of the 11th Field Company, and detachments of signals, workshop and camouflage units. In all, 'Drake' Force thus reached a strength of about 720 men. On 5 and 6 March, Japanese bombers attacked ships in the anchorage, and the airstrip and village at Vivigani, but caused no damage and wounded only two men.

In the aftermath of the Battle of the Bismarck Sea (2/4 March 1943), Japanese troops and sailors were again shipwrecked on Goodenough island and, in response to reports from ANGAU, the police and civilian informants, patrols searched the island for these survivors. In the 8/14 March period, the 47th Battalion located and killed 72 Japanese, captured 42, and found another nine dead on a raft. A remarkable coup was achieved by a patrol under Captain Joseph Pascoe, which killed eight Japanese who had landed in two flat-bottomed boats. In the boats they found some documents in sealed tins. On translation, one of the documents was found to be a copy of the Japanese army list, with the names and postings of every Japanese army officer. It therefore provided a complete order of battle of the Japanese army, including many units not hitherto reported. Moreover, a mention of any Japanese officer could now be correlated with his unit. Copies were made available to intelligence units in every theatre of war against Japan.

Meanwhile, a four-man survey party from the RAAF’s No. 5 Mobile Works Squadron arrived on 3 January 1943. This party selected Beli Beli Bay as a site suitable for an anchorage. Here a 5,000-ton ship could anchor 0.5 miles (0.8 km) offshore with a some degree of shelter from the south-east and north-west. A member of the survey team and 100 local workers recruited by ANGAU began work on the construction of a jetty at Beli Beli Bay and the improvement of the track to Vivigani. A 54-man advance party of No. 5 Mobile Works Squadron arrived on 27 February 1943.

Plans for 'Chronicle', the invasion of Woodlark and Kiriwina islands, called for the provision of fighter cover from Goodenough island. With this undertaking scheduled for June 1943, the pace of construction work was lifted. The rest of No. 5 Airfield Construction Squadron arrived late in March, followed by No. 7 Mobile Works Squadron in April. A 5,100-ft (1555-m) fighter strip was completed and sealed with a mixture of gravel and bitumen, and Kittyhawk fighter-bombers of the RAAF’s No. 77 Squadron arrived on 12 June. This squadron was joined by Nos 76 and 79 Squadrons on 16 June, and the RAAF’s No. 73 Wing assumed control of the three squadrons on the island. A bomber runway, measuring 6,000 ft (1830 m) in length and 100 ft (30.5 m) in width, was completed on 20 October, although the RAAF’s No. 30 Squadron had already begun operations from the strip on 10 October. Work on the air base at Vivigani continued until November, by which time there were taxiways and dispersal areas for 24 heavy bombers, 60 medium bombers and 115 fighters. No. 7 Mobile Works Squadron also built two wharves for 'Liberty' ships.

Goodenough island became a staging point and supply base for operations in New Guinea and New Britain, and US Army Services of Supply sub-base was established on the island on 27 April 1943, but was disestablished in July when responsibility for Goodenough island passed to 'Alamo' Force (Lieutenant General Walter C. Krueger’s US 6th Army), whose headquarters opened on Goodenough island on 15 August. From there, the army controlled the 'Backhander', 'Dexterity' and 'Director' landings at Cape Gloucester, Saidor and Arawe.

During August 1943 Goodenough island was selected as the location for a number of hospitals for the treatment of casualties as the Allied forces advanced through the South-West Pacific Area. Work on the 750-bed 360th Station Hospital began on 15 September, followed by the 1,000-bed 9th General Hospital on 4 November. A staging area for 60,000 troops was also established on the island, and many thousands of US troops later passed through Goodenough island before the base was closed at the end of 1944.