"OPERATIONS OF THE 503D PARACHUTE INFANTRY REGIMENT IN THE MARKHAM VALLEY, 1-7 SEPTEMBER 1943"
_________________
Eldon C. Campbell

Refer Editors' Caution

 

 

 

 

 

Staff Department
THE INFANTRY SCHOOL
Fort Benning, Georgia

 

 

 

 

ADVANCED INFANTRY OFFICERS COURSE
1949-1950

 

 

 

 

THE OPERATIONS OF THE 503D PARACHUTE INFANTRY
REGIMENT IN THE MARKHAM VALLEY, WEST OF
LAE, NEW GUINEA, 1-7 SEPTEMBER 1943
(NEW GUINEA CAMPAIGN)

(Personal Observation of a Regimental Parachute Officer)

 

 

 

 

Type of operation described: AERIAL SUPPLY OF A
PARACHUTE REGIMENT

 

 

 

Captain Elden C. Campbell, Infantry
ADVANCED INFANTRY OFFICERS CLASS NO II

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

ORIENTATION

INTRODUCTION

 This monograph covers the aerial supply of the 503d Parachute Infantry Regiment in the MARKHAM VALLEY operation, west of LAE, NEW GUINEA. Although the operation began on 5 September and terminated on 19 September 1943 the period covered herein is from 1 to 7 September 1943 inclusive, the dates in which the preparation for the aerial supply began and was effected.

To properly orient the reader, a brief review will be given on the events which paved the way in establishing the Allied foothold in southern NEW GUINEA leading up to the plan for the recapture of LAE.

The Japs had all but engulfed NEW GUINEA. All remaining was MILNE BAY and PORT MORESBY, both of which they wanted in order to extend their bases to facilitate launching their attack against the mainland of AUSTRALIA. The plan for the capture of these two important bases all but succeeded except for the timely arrival of troops dispatched by General MacArthur. The Japanese forces that landed at MILNE BAY on 25 August 1942 were repulsed by stubborn, hard-fighting Allies who, by their tenacity, were responsible for the first decisive land victory in the start of the Allied drive to the North. (See Map A) (1)

On 25 September 1942 the first elements of the 32d Division were flown into PORT MORESBY for the beginning of the fight for BUNA and GONA. Commanded by Lieutenant General Robert Eichelberger, they, along with the 7th Australian Division pushed the Japs back over the KOKODA TRAIL, on which they had advanced to within twenty (20) miles of PORT MORESBY through the jungles to the coast. The Allied objective was sealed on 22 January 1943--but not without heavy losses. (See Map A) (2)

This victory allowed General MacArthur to establish forward bases at PORT MORESBY and at MILNE and ORO BAYS to more effectively press the recapture of NEW GUINEA. Realizing the importance of the Allied foothold, the Japanese began moving troops and supplies to reinforce their garrisons at LAE and SALAMAUA in an effort to repel the advance. These convoys were heavily attacked by Allied bombers during the period 6-9 January 1943. Later, in the Battle of the Bismarck Sea 1-3 March 1943, Fortresses and Liberators trailed and bombed Japanese shipping for three days inflicting casualties estimated to be eighteen (18) enemy ships and fifteen thousand (15,000) troops also destined to reinforce LAE and SALAMAUA.

The Japanese Air Force, however, was relatively unhampered to the extent that it was estimated they outnumbered the 5th Air Force two to one. To neutralize this strength the 5th and 13th Air Forces, aided by carrier based planes, engaged in a constant offensive that lasted through the Spring of 1943 and succeeded in wearing down the Jap air strength based at RABAUL on NEW BRITAIN ISLAND. (See Map A) (3)

 

THE GENERAL SITUATION

WARNING ORDER

The Warning Order to alert one (1) Battalion of the 503d Parachute Infantry was received on 24 July 1943 from General Headquarters. Immediately after, the Regimental Commander, Assistant Executive Officer, Air Support Officer, and the 3d Battalion Communications Officer departed by air for PORT MORESBY to confer with the Commanding General, Fifth Air Force, and the General Officer commanding the 7th Australian Division (General Vasey). After conference with the 7th Division it was decided, that due to the type terrain the parachute troops were to operate in and the wide front to be covered, to request that the Regiment be employed in place of the one (1) Battalion. The request was immediately sent to General Headquarters and subsequently approved. (4)

 

PREPARATION

The preparation for the operation began by bringing all equipment shortages up to date. Items of equipment requiring special construction, i.e., individual containers not available through the normal supply facilities that were used by the jumper for carrying ammunition, weapons, and other individual combat equipment, were massed produced by the Parachute Maintenance Platoon and issued to the Companies. All personnel parachutes and aerial delivery parachutes necessary for the operation were inspected, packed, wrapped in water proofed paper, and placed in parachute kit bags or sealed boxes preparatory to shipment. Included in the preparation were the aerial delivery containers to be used for the dropping of heavy equipment and supplies. (5)

With such obvious activity existing throughout the Regiment the problem of secrecy arose. It was maintained, however, by information being released from Regimental Headquarters that the Regiment was preparing for large scale maneuvers with the 32d Division. This was so effective that when the troops landed at PORT MORESBY many had no realization of their location. (6)

 

MOVEMENT TO CAMP BASE SUPPLY PORT MORESBY NEW GUINEA

The movement to the Camp Base Supply at PORT MORESBY, NEW GUINEA was accomplished by plane and ship. The 2d Battalion, commanded by Lieutenant Colonel George M. Jones, began moving by air on 18 August 1943. The remainder of the Regiment, less the Rear Base Detachment, embarked by ship on 20 August 1943. By 23 August 1943 the Regiment had arrived at PORT MORESBY. (See Map A) (7)

Personnel of the Parachute Maintenance Platoon accompanied the 2d Battalion by air in order to begin preparation of parachute storage to be ready to receive the parachutes and parachute equipment that would arrive on 23 August 1943. The only protection available were squad tents into which a make-shift floor was placed, constructed of logs, for the purpose of keeping the parachutes protected from ground moisture. This proved satisfactory as an expedient; and in spite of the high humidity and heavy, unpredictable rains typical of the tropics, ample protection was afforded with no loss of parachutes. After the arrival, and when the storage was completed, the Parachute Maintenance Platoon began the inspection of all personnel and aerial delivery parachutes and aerial delivery containers in preparation for the issue to the Regiment. Although it would have been desirable to have inspected all parachutes internally, the facilities and time available allowed only an external inspection. This, however, was adequate and, except for a few parachutes that had suffered broken lacing on the pack covers during shipment, all parachutes were in prime condition for the jump. (8)

Upon receipt of the Regimental order to issue the para­chutes and parachute equipment, parachute riggers were assigned by teams to each Battalion for the purpose of fitting and adjusting the parachutes to the combat equipped jumpers.

Aerial delivery containers, with the accompanying aerial delivery parachutes, were issued to each unit of the Regiment into which would be packed the specified weapons, ammunition, and supplies to accompany them into combat. (9)

Being concurrently conducted at this time by First Lieutenant Robert Armstrong was the training of thirty-one (31) officers and men from the 2/4th Australian Field Regiment who would jump with the Regiment on D-Day to provide artillery support. The interesting part of this was that these men were selected two weeks prior to the operation and bluntly told of their mission. Of further interest was the fact that the 2/4th, when asked for volunteers to accompany the 503d on the jump, stepped forward almost to a man. They would take in with them two "cut down" twenty-five pounders--the first parachute Field Artillery to be used in the Pacific War. {10) The guns were prepared for the drop by the Parachute Maintenance Platoon employing essentially the same procedure as used for dropping the 75-mm pack howitzer, i.e., separate containers for the principal parts, each attached one to the other with webbing (known as the ground control pattern) in order to facilitate recovery and expedite assembly on the ground. (11)

 

CO-ORDINATED PLAN OF ATTACK

The first step in the plan for the capture of NADZAB was the building of an air strip at TSILI-TSILI (South of NADZAB) which' was to be used as a forward supply base by the 503d Parachute Infantry Regiment, and at which the 7th Australian Division Engineers and the 2/2d Australian Pioneer Battalion would stage for the attack.

The 2/2d Pioneers would leave TSILI-TSILI and march over-land to the MARKHAM RIVER to arrive just prior to the 503d attack. Their mission was to prepare the emergency landing strip at NADZAB to allow the air landing of the 7th Australian Division. The Engineers would leave from TSILI-TSILI via the WATUT RIVER using engineers' boats and would arrive at the MARKHAM RIVER prior to the parachute drop. The Pioneers would bridge the MARKHAM with the engineers' boats, cross over and contact the 503d.

The 7th, after air landing, would drive to the East down the MARKHAM VALLEY to LAE. The 9th Australian Division was assigned the mission of attacking LAE from the East and establishing a beach head fifteen {15) miles East of LAE on D minus 1. The Jap garrison at SALAMAUA would be by-passed according to plan--which was to deceive the enemy into thinking that the attack would be against that area. (See Map B) (12)

 

MISSION OF THE 503D PARACHUTE INFANTRY REGIMENT

The mission of the 503d Parachute Infantry Regiment was: to capture the area NADZAB-GABMATZUNG-GABSONKEK with the object of covering the NADZAB Emergency Landing Field; to establish a road block across the MARKHAM VALLEY road in order to deny to the enemy the use of the road as a means of movement into the NADZAB area; and, to begin the preparation of the landing field prior to the arrival of the 2/2d Pioneer Battalion. (See Map C) (13)

To accomplish this the 1st Battalion (less one Rifle Platoon), commanded by Major (now Lieutenant Colonel) John W. Brittan (Britten-Ed.), would jump on Field "A" with the mission of capturing the area of the NADZAB Emergency Landing Strip and to establish a close perimeter defense around the area to prevent the enemy from infiltrating. In addition the Battalion was responsible for beginning preparation of the strip until relieved upon arrival of the 2/2d Pioneers. One Rifle Platoon of the Battalion was designated to jump on Field "D" with the mission of covering the assembly of the Battalion. (See Map C) (14)

The 2d Battalion, commanded by Lieutenant Colonel George M. Jones, would jump on Field "A" with the mission of capturing the area of GABSONKEK and preventing enemy infiltration from the North and Northwest. (See Map C) (15)

The 3d Battalion (less one Rifle Company and one Rifle Platoon) commanded by Lieutenant Colonel John J. Tolson, III would jump on Field "C" with the mission of capturing GABMATZUNG and preventing enemy infiltration from the East. (See Map C) (16)

CLICK TO TURN PAGE