Story of the 34th
Chapter Eleven — Story of Soanotalu
Story of Soanotalu
The grimmest fighting of the Treasury engagement occurred in the Soanotalu district, on the northern side of Mono Island. Here it was that the special combat team known as 'Loganforce' was landed on the morning of 27 October. It was under command of Major Logan, formerly of 34th Battalion, but at this time officer commanding the 8th Brigade Machine-gun Company. There were men of various units in 'Loganforce', but they won't quibble at seeing the story of Soanotalu told in a 34th Battalion history; for the bulk of the troops were men from this battalion. Most of our casualties were suffered at Soanotalu, and all the awards given to the battalion, save one, arose out of exploits performed there. The story of 'Logan-force' is one of the finest in the history of the Third Division.
Major Logan had the following troops under his command: a small headquarters; D company of 34th Battalion (commanded by Captain I. Graham); a section of machine-guns from the 8th Brigade machine-gun company; a field-ambulance detachment; an artillery observation party; 20 Americans of a construction battalion; and 60 American technical troops. At 6.30 am on 27 October a landing was made at the mouth of the Soanotalu River. Cliffs and sheer ridges, densely wooded, crowded in on the little 40'yard beach. There was no opposition, no sign of enemy occupation, and within a few minutes D company had fanned out, and was shortly holding a perimeter of about 150 yards radius. Patrols searched an area of 400 yards out from the perimeter and reported it clear. The CBs (men of the construction battalion) thereupon sent for their bulldozer and had it working by midday, ripping out a road up the steep incline from the beach. At 11 am a Jap, rifle slung, and unsuspecting walked into the lines of No 14 platoon, D company. He page 74was shot. Later in the day, just before evening, half-a-dozen of the enemy were seen on the western flank; shots were exchanged, and some of the Japs were wounded. The men settled in to their foxholes for the night but they were left in peace.
With the coming of dawn next day patrols were soon out, to a depth of 1000 yards, but no Japs were seen. The day passed uneventfully and the night was quiet. At 4.30 pm on 29 October, an attack was launched on the western perimeter by a party of about 20 Japanese. This part of the line was held by No 14 platoon, commanded by Lieutenant R. M. Martin. Two sections of another platoon were sent across to reinforce him, and a strong 3-inch mortar barrage laid down in front of the positions. The engagement lasted until dusk, when the Japs withdrew leaving five dead. We had no casualties. During the night, all was quiet, save for the intermittent crashing of our artillery which shelled the area outside the western perimeter.
At this stage the indications were that the enemy was retreating across the island from Falamai to Ulapu—the area immediately westward of Soanotalu. With the prospect of greater activity developing in this sector, brigade headquarters reinforced Loganforce' with the carrier platoon, C company headquarters, and one platoon of C company, all from 34th Battalion on Stirling. These arrived at first light on the morning of 30 October, bringing with them welcome replenishments of mortar ammunition. There were ominous signs that day that the enemy was concentrating in some strength to the west. Japs were frequently seen outside the western perimeter. From captured enemy diaries, it appears that the enemy spent the day scouting our positions and, as it turned out, his reconnaissances were accurate and well executed. The carriers were sent off eastwards towards Malsi, to patrol that ground, and careful probes were made south of the perimeter by small patrols, who kept constant line communication with the mortars, in case they ran into trouble. Throughout the night, the Japs were very active on the western perimeter, endeavouring to draw fire but no attack developed.
There followed a day of increased tension. Patrols moved up the Soanotalu River valley without making contact. The carriers returned from Malsi. All was clear in that direction. Out on the western flank, cautious patrolling indicated that the enemy was building up strength for an assault on Soanotalu, and possessed possibly 200 men with which to do it. Further reinforcements were asked for, page 75but the position in other parts of the island did not permit the release of any more men. On the last night of October, the Japs were again active, many grenade clashes taking place, particularly around the western perimeter. Nevertheless, no concerted attack was made, but it was evident that the enemy was present in large numbers, and equipped with a variety of weapons.
On 1 November, the lack of sleep and mental strain were beginning to tell. Major Logan considered the advisability of relieving the two platoons on the western side, for they were obviously in the hottest spot; but as the situation was likely to get worse, he decided against this, as the men knew their ground and could be expected to hold on there at least another night. Working out towards Ulapu that morning, a patrol under Lieutenant J. A. H. Dowell ran into trouble some 1500 yards from Soanotalu. There was a brisk skirmish lasting half an hour, in the course of which the enemy sustained a number of casualties. In this engagement, Corporal R. H. Haresnape, of D company, lost his life. Our patrol, probably outnumbered, withdrew toward our lines, but it had seen enough to confirm the growing evidence of Japanese intentions in the Ulapu-Soanotalu area. The whole of the perimeter and a blockhouse that had been erected on the beach were now tightly ringed with booby-traps, which were set each night. The C company men (under Major J. C. Braithwaite) along with the carriers were holding a separate perimeter 600 yards further inland.
Mention ought to be made at this stage of the enthusiasm and efficiency of the American CBs. Apart from the fine work they did in putting through the roads, they showed great zeal for getting, out on patrols, which greatly helped to relieve our own infantry, who naturally were expected to bear the brunt of the defence and patrolling work. The main battle for Soanotalu developed on the western perimeter shortly after dark on 1 November. Lieutenant Martin rang through to D company headquarters to report the presence of large numbers of the enemy. Sporadic fighting then broke out. The phone went dead shortly afterwards. Grenades, machine-gun and mortar fire were used by the enemy in this opening attack. It became an intermittent affair, with periods of quietness interspersed throughout the night, with fighting then flaring up from time to time. This sustained attempt to break the western defences reached a peak soon after midnight. All the expected Japanese ruses were tried, some succeeding, most failing.page 76
Soon after 7 pm enemy troops were also reported on the eastern flank and in the headquarters area. It became clear during the early 'hours of the night that some of the enemy were infiltrating through the lines. By 1.30 am a substantial enemy force had come through the perimeter in this manner, and was more or less at large within the defence. Most of the Japanese were on the western side, assembled on the steep slopes just above the shoreline, and some 50 yards westward of the beach. That this was part of a concerted plan is clear. At other parts of the sector, isolated Japs made attacks, but it was apparent that the assault on the beach, which now started to develop, was the main show. All communication within the perimeter had now gone. The phone from the blockhouse up to D company headquarters went out at midnight. The landing barge that was lying on the beach represented one of the few surviving chances for the enemy to escape from the island, and for this reason he made a most determined effort to obtain control of the beach. Apparently he considered it necessary to subdue the blockhouse before attempting a break-away in the barge. While it is difficult to estimate the strength employed by the enemy for the attack on the beach, the most reliable opinions are that between 70 and 100 Japanese were engaged.
From the early hours of the morning, until almost dawn, heavy fighting occurred all around the blockhouse. This post was commanded by the second-in-command of D company, Captain L. J. Kirk who had with him six New Zealanders and three Americans. The armament of the post comprised rifles, grenades, one tommy-gun, one 50 calibre machine-gun, and one .300 machine-gun, these latter two having been brought ashore off the barge. In the first Jap assault, at about 1.30 am Staff-Sergeant D. O. Hannafin was killed, and a little later Captain Kirk was knocked unconscious by a slight wound on the head. However, he soon recovered. Grenade splinters then put both machine-guns out of action, and the subsequent defence was conducted principally with grenades at ranges of 10 to 15 yards. Undoubtedly, heavier casualties would have been suffered by the little garrison but for a gadget they erected over the dug-out to deflect enemy grenades. When sounds indicated that a Jap was approaching, the shelter could be raised to enable our own men to throw grenades.
Embarking on LCIs at Guadalcanal for the assault on the Treasury Islands. Stores and unit equipment are piled high on the decks
Looking from the heights of Mono Island across Blanche Harbour to Stirling Island where the blinding coral surface of the airstrip may be seen among the remaining trees. The to large islands in the harbour are Watson (left) and Wilson
LSTs bring forward from Guadalcanal rations, equipment, machines and petrol which are quickly unloaded on the beaches. Part of the return cargo consists of sick and wounded men, some of whom are seen below
At 8 am contact was re-established with the western perimeter, where Nos 14 and 16 platoons had had a hard night. There was only one casualty up there—Private G. D. Clarke, who was wounded. On the other perimeter inland, the night had been disturbed by Japs setting off booby traps. This caused them several casualties, but there was no fixed engagement similar to that on the beach, or on the western flank. All told, 50 Japanese were counted killed as a result of the night's operations—26 on the beach, 15 on the west perimeter, and nine on the east perimeter and in the headquarters area. No wounded were found. Captured equipment included five knee-mortars, four light machine-guns, several dozen rifles, two pairs of binoculars, and one sword. After this night, the two platoons on the west flank had to be spelled, and Major Logan moved in the carrier platoon, and Lieutenant W. M. Maxwell's platoon from C company, who had hitherto been on the inland perimeter.page 78
The night of 2 November saw these comparatively fresh platoons on the western perimeter, and not long after dark an attack with grenades was launched by the enemy. Spasmodic exchanges continued until dawn, but no break-through was made. We lost two killed—Corporal R. S. Dimery, of the carriers, and Private G. W. Hanson of C company. There was one wounded. On the following two nights depleted Japanese forces made half-hearted sorties against our line, but each night their strength was less and attacks were completely unsuccessful. Our patrols fanned out during daylight, picking up enemy stragglers here and there, and ascertaining beyond doubt that Soanotalu was now safe from any large scale attack. The enemy force which, more clearly now than before had made Ulapu its rendezvous, was either destroyed or completely dispersed.
The merit of the stand put up by the outnumbered garrison of Soanotalu, and of the personal part played by some of those taking part, was recognised by the award of the Military Medal to Private Smith, while Major Logan, Captain Kirk and Private Sherson received a Mention in Dispatches. Major Logan was also decorated with the American Legion of Merit. There are many other tales of individual courage and resourcefulness, which are impossible to chronicle, but which you may sometimes still hear from the men who fought on those jungle perimeters.