Today in History: Battle of Wakde Island

77 years ago, May 18th 1944, the Battle of Wakde Island began. A short sharp battle of the north coast of New Guinea involving the 163rd RCT of the 41st ID.

[From Wikipedia]
The first US troops landed on the Island at 9:10 on the 18th, coming ashore from their LCVPs on the south western side of the island near the jetty; they were followed at five minute intervals by the other five waves. Shortly after landing, the U.S. troops came under heavy fire from concealed positions. The fire, however, was predominantly aimed at the LCI gunboats and ultimately the Americans reached the beach with only light casualties. By 9:25, the invasion force was ashore with two tanks (one of the others had been lost at sea, while the other had damaged during loading) which the Americans used to secure the beachhead, despite heavy fire from Japanese defenders which killed one of the company commanders. Close air support was provided by a squadron of A-20 attack aircraft, under the direction of a controller in a B-25.

The American companies then split up. Companies B and F took the tanks and headed west along the coast whilst Company A were sent south-west to clear out machine gun nests. Company C was then sent north towards the airfield where they endured heavy fighting coming up against well defended Japanese positions. Even so, the advance north went well for the Allies and by noon they reached the airfield. By 13:30, the Americans reached the northern part of the airfield but failed to take the eastern side where the majority of the remaining Japanese forces were located. Despite the delay in securing the island, throughout the afternoon stores and construction equipment were unloaded at the landing beach so that work could begin on the airfield. Meanwhile, fighting continued throughout the day until the attackers dug-in for the evening at 18:00.

Throughout the night, a small group of Japanese attacked the U.S. battalion’s command post, but this was eventually repelled by elements of Company D after a firefight that resulted in 12 Japanese being killed and three Americans wounded. The following day, the U.S. attack continued at 9:15. Eventually, the rest of the airfield was captured despite strong resistance from well entrenched Japanese defenders. Following the capture of the airfield, the surviving Japanese made their way to coral caves on the coast, delaying the Americans for several hours before finally being overcome. The third day of the battle consisted mainly of mopping up operations by American forces who cleared up the last pockets of Japanese resistance in north-eastern corner of the island. The Japanese undertook several suicidal Banzai charges over the course of the day but the U.S. troops were able to overcome the remaining Japanese resistance by nightfall.

Airfield construction troops from the 836th Engineer Aviation Battalion arrived on 18 May, even while the fighting continued. The following day, they began construction work to repair and extend the airfield while fighting off attacking Japanese troops. The same day, the Kumamba Islands, to the northeast, were also occupied by Allied troops to install search radars to offer early warning to the base at Wakde. After a three-day battle, the island was declared captured on 20 May. Several Japanese snipers still remained on the island; they were eventually cleared out by Company L, which had been detached from the 3rd Battalion, 163rd Infantry to assist with mopping up operations between 22 and 26 May. The capture of Wakde cost the Americans 40 killed, and 107 wounded, while the Japanese lost 759 killed and 4 captured.

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