The Gunners: an intimate record of units of the 3rd New Zealand Divisional Artillery in the Pacific from 1940 until 1945
IV — Opposed Landing
Adventuring in enemy seas in small ships, the behaviour of the said ships in the slightest sea, a diet of cold C ration, and watching a densely forested enemy island diraw inexorably nearer, all cause the same leaden feeling in the pit of the stomach. It remains for someone to find a relationship between love and 'spam.' It is not within the scope of this unofficial history to give any detailed account of operations, but a brief outline of what was after all the unit's most important activity is necessary in any record of its doings. The story of the landing on Treasury has of course been told—the initial shelling by destroyers and the main attack going ashore early on the morning of 27 October 1943, at Falamai, the only cleared area in the group and the Japanese garrison's chief centre.
The regiment's forward observation parties went ashore with the second wave of infantry to meet opposition from strong points by-passed in the initial landing, chiefly in fox-holes and page 163native huts. Captain F. J. Mitchell assisted in the destruction of a pill-box by engaging the occupants with his tommy gun while a bulldozer was run over the emplacement. As the LSTs with the guns on board came nosing in toward the beach they came under sudden heavy fire from enemy mortars, Warrant-Officer 2nd Class L. W. Woods being wounded. Meanwhile the LCIs had set down regimental headquarters, the 49th Battery rear headquarters and a reconnaissance party from the 50th Battery on Stirling Island, at a spot different from that originally planned. Nevertheless a gun area was found and clearing commenced. Colonel Bryden arrived at Falamai from Stirling to find three guns ashore and took charge of the task of finding barges, ferrying the guns to Stirling and getting them manhandled ashore.
After the first gun left, Falamai came under heavy mortar and mountain gun fire and on returning again from Stirling, the Colonel found that Second-Lieutenant G. G. Sandeman had been killed, several wounded including Sergeant F. J. Oram (fatally as it proved) and Major Watson, one gun hit and set on fire, and a loaded jeep and a 30-cwt truck with much of the technical equipment destroyed. Captain H. J. Greig had collected a party and set out to seek the Jap mortar post. Throughout the day Sergeant E. J. Brown had been doing sterling work obtaining barges and collecting men to load them and ferry guns and equipment and for his work on the beach on this and subsequent days was subsequently mentioned in despatches Major Menzies, who had been engaged in reconnaissance and clearing of gun sites on Stirling, transferred to Falamai to take charge of forward headquarters on Mono in place of Major Watson. The work of transferring the guns and laying submarine cable was pushed on to such good effect that both troops of the 49th Battery were in action and had registered tasks for the infantry battalions by nightfall. It was an uncomfortable night in the extreme. Bombs fell within 100 yards of the gun positions as well as near the parties at Falamai, who also had to contend with Jap infiltration, small arms, grenade and mortar fire.
The regiment had landed an unusual type of organisation in this first echelon. Apart from the skeleton regimental headquarters and the 50th Battery recce party, it was, from a unit point of view, a 49th Battery show, though all parts of the unit were represented. The 49th Battery provided the firing end, and in addition to its own two observation parties, headed by Captain page 164Mitchell and Captain Greig, there were two from the 50th Battery under Captain N. L. Norman and Captain J. C. Pawson to enable the infantry battalions to detach companies and still have artillery support. In addition Captain D. J. S. Millar (52nd Battery) had taken part in an entirely separate landing at Soanatalu on the northern coast of Mono with a group known as Loganforce. During the second day Lieutenant A. Manson (52nd Battery) who had been sent to Munda, New Georgia, as one of the regiment's air observers, registered the guns on Malsi and Toaloko Point from an aircraft, and Lieutenant P. F. Hewitt (49th Battery) engaged a suspected mountain gun site by observation from a barge. The one battery had seven sources of calls for fire, and indeed, B troop at one stage was registering three different tasks simultaneously.
There is no space to detail all the targets engaged in the following days and nights—SOS, defensive and harassing fire tasks called for by the battalions, concentrations and predicted fire on enemy positions—but it is a record of a heavy task well done. The guns were sited so that fire could be brought down at call on any part of Mono Island. Indeed harassing fire brought down was of much help to Loganforce, more than 60 miles away at Soanatalu, which was defending its perimeter in some of the hardest fighting of the campaign against determined attacks by Japanese survivors from the Falamai fighting. Second-Lieutenant W. N. Vautier, the survey officer, after preparing gun positions on the first day and surveying the troops in, had taken over command post officer's duties from Lieutenant Hewitt, who had been injured, and he had an arduous job as so many of the tasks involved predicted shooting. All the officers were working under pressure as casualties and injuries did not permit reliefs, and night firing allowed the gun crews little rest. Snipers remained a constant danger to advanced headquarters and forward observation parties. For the signallers it was a time of heart-breaking toil in keeping communications open, of constant maintenance of lines, both under-water and on land, damaged by the continued frequent bombing attacks, broken by bulldozers or cut by Japs, all the time with a sniper's bullet likely from every tree; of lugging radio sets and wire through jungle mud and slush and trying to keep equipment dry and serviceable in spite of heavy rain. How well they did their work is shown by the fact that artillery communications proved a vital link in the page 165operation and were heavily loaded at all times with traffic from other units. For the forward observation parties it was a story of long exhausting treks through atrocious country to Ulapu, Malsi and Soanatalu with the infantry patrols. Laden like pack-horses they yet managed to take forward communications as they went, ready to bring down artillery support as required, to report progress of the patrol, or to call for smoke rounds to check positions.
The 50th Battery landed on 1 November and at once began registration. Major Menzies returned to his own battery, and Captain J. G. R. Morley took over the 49th until a replacement for Major Watson could arrive. The 52nd Battery arrived on 6 November and the balance of equipment, including vehicles, tents and bedcots on 11 November. From first to last the operation called for unusual skill and stamina. The rapid improvisations necessary to meet the host of unusual circumstances not encountered in normal operations would have fully tested a unit with long experience in all branches of artillery work. The various types of fire called for, the many observing officers engaged, and consequent abnormal signal layout, all called for a high technical standard. The job was accomplished by a unit formed less than six months before from men mostly inexperienced in field gunnery, which had in that time been involved in three major moves and had had to learn amphibious operations from scratch.