The veterans of the Solomons who pass through this replacement center in the South Pacific, on their way back and forth from combat areas, give out plenty of interesting details about the fine art of Jap fighting.

By Cpl. Barrett McGurn

YANK Staff Correspondent

NEW CALDONIA—This replacement-center camp, snug at the foot of about 1,000-foot heights that remind you of Wyoming until you see the grass-roofed houses and barefoot natives,  is a good place to get your first inside tips on what to expect when you go into action against the Japanese.

Through these gates pass veterans of all the Solomons campaigns, most of them bound back to the jungle front after rest or recuperation at the rear. Through here also come fresh troops from the States who have a chance, at the PX or the Red Cross service club, to preview the island fighting in bull sessions with those who have experienced it.

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Soldiers ferry supplies to the 25th Division on Guadalcanal, January 1943.

“Japs,” observed Cpl. Andrew Czajikioski of Bridgewater, Mass., a member of the 89th Field Artillery, “are the cleverest fighters, and yet they’re the stupidest.”

Others, sprawled along the walls of the pyramidal-tent CP, agreed. Czajikioski fought the Japanese two months on the ‘Canal and for six weeks this past summer at Munda, New Georgia.

“They do the most foolish things,” he said. They’ll sacrifice a lot of men to find where your positions are, and then they’ll try to take them with a small force. The Jap figures one Jap is better than 10 Americans.”

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Insignia of the 25th Infantry Division. The 25th Division saw extensive action in the Solomon Islands and the Philippines.

One Jap group seemed to think it could take the cavalrymen in the 25th Reconnaissance Troop on the ‘Canal by filling the air with horrible yells, Pvt. Norman Jennings of Evansville, Ind., said. Starting at 0430 one morning with a murmured pow-wow in a hollow below the Americans positions, the Japanese began letting out blood-curling screams in an increasing tempo. Finally, uttering a steady stream of cries, the Japanese started shooting and running up toward the 25th. The outfit’s machine guns took care of them.

“But sometimes they’re crafty, too,” insisted Cpl. Harold Hannum of Cheswold, Del. He has the Purple Heart for a mortar-shrapnel wound that he received in his head after four tough weeks at Arundel and New Georgia in August and September with the 27th Infantry of the 25th Division.

“We were sitting on the beach at Arundel, 13 of us in two machine-gun positions,” Hannum said. “An antitank outfit got pinned down on a little island offshore so we tried to release them by opening fire. They got out all right with some wounded, but when we opened fire the Japs discovered our positions. Next morning they opened up on us with heavy mortars.”

The first shell from the Japanese mortars fell 10 yards from his positions, and the next two were only seven yards away.

“You felt the concussion raise you off the ground,” Hannum said.

The enemy took full advantage of the peculiar jungle trees on New Georgia, Hannum added. These forest giants have roots that leave the trunk above ground level and reach out like arms. The Japanese would crawl beneath the big roots with a machine gun and pile a foot-thick roof of coral over the top. “One Jap looked like he had a castle in there,” Hannum said.

These emplacements resisted small-arms and mortar fire, but they couldn’t resist flame-throwing tanks. The major handicap of these root guts from the Japanese point of view was that large machine guns could not traverse well inside of them. They had to use a narrow lane of fire.

Seconding Hannum’s words was Sgt. Lester Goldstein of Collinsville, Conn., who saw round-the-clock fighting on Rendova and New Georgia for two weeks in July as a member of the 169th Infantry of the 43rd Division.

“In some pillboxes they were really dug in—eight or 10 feet deep,” Goldstein said. “They had three or four layers of coconut trees over the positions and coral on top of that.”

Goldstein suffered contusions and fractured ligaments of the neck, and a slight shrapnel wound in the leg.

“The first night on New Georgia, the Japs got into our battalion area and threw hand grenades around,” he said. “They used machine guns, too. They killed three of our men. We had orders not to fire back because it would give away our positions and we might hit our own men. We were curled up in our foxholes with a machete in one hand and a bayonet in the other. The second night we slot three or four men and on the third night we lost nine.”

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“We had orders not to fire back because it would give away our positions. We were curled up in our foxholes with a machete in one hand and a bayonet in the other.”

On the third night some Japanese crept too close to foxholes and the Americans dragged them in. Finally, after two weeks of this guessing game, orders went out to open an attack. The Japanese were allowed to filter through the perimeter defense, then the battalion let them have it with all guns. More than 200 Japanese were killed.

When a Jap digs a foxhole he will carry the dirt as much as 200 or 300 yards so that the excavated earth will not give him way, said Pvt. Seth Beeker of Huntington Woods, Mich. Beeker fought four weeks on Vella Lavella in August and September as a member of the 35th Infantry of the 25th Division and was hospitalized when a Japanese mortar shell pitched him through a patch of vines. He suffered concussion and back injuries.

One Japanese was “from here to across the tent away from me,” Beeker said, indicating the 15 feet to the other side of the tent in which we were talking. The first that Beeker knew of the sniper was “a crack right by my ear as if someone took a newspaper and slapped me over the ear.” Beeker tried to locate him but, hidden in a cylindrical three-foot foxhole under natural foliage, the sniper was invisible.

“But then I heard a crack as he opened his rifle bolt,” Beeker said. “I took the top of his head right off.”

Beeker said his company “could have done a hell of a lot more” if it had not been handicapped in night fighting by ammunition that “flared like a flame thrower.” One Japanese force that “we could have gone right through in daytime fled all day and then made a stand at dusk,” he related.

“They threw everything but their chow at us,” he said, and finally it was necessary “to make that strategic retreat known as getting the hell out of there.”

Pfc. John Manocchio of Cleveland, Ohio, made a comment that should interest GIs in basic who complain they need the full-size shovels and picks from the trucks instead of the small pack shovels to dig their foxholes. He spent July and August in the jungle war on New Georgia.

“When we reached the so-called village of Lambetti,” he said, “we bivouacked 200 yards from the Japs. We got there about 1700 hours. When we dug in that night we used our hands, and we were very quiet about it. Can you dig with your hands? And how—when you have to.”

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“When we dug in that night, we used our hands. Can you use your hands to dig? And how–when you have to.”

Manocchio said the Japanese like to get on American nerves. By eavesdropping in the daytime, they pick up names of the men and then call them all night.

Jennings told of another Japanese trick: “In your foxhole at night you’ll hear a voice ‘Got a match?’ You’re apt to answer without thinking, ‘No, I haven’t. You’re not supposed to smoke anyway.’ Then you’re liable to have a grenade drop in on you.”

The proper thing to do, Jennings said, is to lie quietly. “Then, if they come up to you, put a couple of grenades in their pockets.”

Despite the difficulty of spotting camouflaged Japs, they are not too dangerous, Cpl. John Dorem of Brockton, Mass., commented.  “The foliage is too thick in the jungle for them to draw a good bead,” he said.

He had 23 days of combat at Munda with the 27th Infantry, 25th Division. His outfit made an unsuccessful attempt to throw a road block across the main Jap casualty-evacuation trail.

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A casualty from the 35th Infantry Regiment, 25th Division, is prepared for evacuation on Guadalcanal.

The one medic in the crowd was 1st Sgt. Joseph Lodge of Columbus, Ohio, a member of Headquarters Detachment, 112th Medical Battalion. He spent seven weeks on New Georgia, July to September.

“We were working under some very rugged conditions up there—rain, mud, roads hardly passable,” he reported. “We evacuated some casualties two or three miles by litter before they got to a jeep trail.”

Our artillery drew top praise from the veterans.

“At Munda,” said Cpl. Aaron Drucker of Glendale, N.Y., “the artillery really had the Japs running.” Drucker, a member of the 27th Infantry was in action five weeks there in August and September.

At Vella Lavella the story was the same, agreed T-4 Donald Altheide of Detroit. “The artillery opened up, and the Japs took off. They left the rice in their mess kits. They even left their packs. They’re relly afraid of the artillery. That 64th Field Artillery really did some shooting for us.”

Altheide was in Company D, 35th Infantry, 25th Division. All in all, he said, Company D “didn’t have too much trouble with the Japs: they ran too fast.”

“One thing happened that shows the Japs aren’t always willing to die,” Altheide continued. “We captured a Jap, and our captain went to paint PW on his back. When he smoothed the Jap’s back and put the brush against it, the Jap screamed. He thought it was a knife. He knew what would have happened to one of us in that position. We gave him some cigarettes and the captain got a fatigue hat and put it on the Jap’s head and then he stopped crying.”

The Jap was a sailor from a barge sunk off Vella Lavella.

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“Our captain went to paint PW on his back. When he put the brush against it, the Jap screamed. He thought it was a knife.”

Czajikioski, as the only artilleryman present, recalled proudly the Japanese prisoners asked to see “the automatic artillery” after his outfit got off 39 rounds in three minutes.

Pfc. John Faulla of Ridgefield, Conn., a member of the 35th Infantry, 25th Division, who saw two months’ action on the ‘Canal in its final states, had what amounted to the last word.

“Don’t take too many chances on them playing possum,” he advised. “if you shoot them, you gotta go up and stick a knife in them to make sure they’re dead. One of the fellows in our company shot a Jap officer and when he went up to the Jap to take his saber, the Jap officer reached and grabbed him by the throat. It was a close call, but he pulled the Jap’s saber out and stuck it in his belly. After that we didn’t give them a chance. We just put enough bullets in them to make sure they were dead.”

For More About the 25th Division and the Solomon Island Battles in WWII Check Out:

Guadalcanal: The Definitive Account of the Landmark Battle

Bloody Ridge and Beyond: A World War II Marine’s Memoir of Edson’s Raiders in the Pacific

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