Presidential Unit Citation
By October 1943, Allied strategists in the Pacific knew that it was no longer necessary to take the key Japanese base at Rabaul by storm. Their purpose would be served just as well, and far more cheaply, by making sure of New Britain to the west and the Admiralty Islands to the north, thus sealing off Rabaul. As Halsey’s troops battled their way through the Solomons and approached Rabaul from the east, MacArthur’s forces attacked from New Guinea, and by May 1944 the ‘cork was in the bottle’ – Rabaul had been isolated from the Japanese Empire.The control of western New Britain was a vital factor in the allied advance north-westwards across the Solomon Sea towards the Philippines. As forces under General MacArthur and Admiral Halsey struck in twin spearheads along the coast of New Guinea and through the Solomon Islands, they faced the prospect of continual harassment from Japanese bases in New Britain, New Ireland, and the Admiralty
The key Japanese base in the region was Rabaul, with its complex of five airfields, the finest natural harbour in the whole area, and a garrison of some 100,000 troops. At first the plan had been to concentrate the two pronged assault on the capture of Rabaul. With the base in allied hands, the Japanese in the Solomons would be cut off and the threat to Australia virtually eliminated. Later it emerged that these conditions could be as easily fulfilled not by taking Rabaul, but simply by isolating it and keeping it in check with a steady bombardment. By October 1943 Rabaul had ceased to figure in any plans. The Japanese at Rabaul and Kavieng were rapidly being reduced to the point of twiddling their thumbs and waiting for supplies which could never arrive.
As Kavieng and Rabaul were being taken care of, the Allies were already engaged in their next objective – the taking of the Admiralty Islands. So long as these islands gave the Japanese an air base, they were a staging post through which supplies might just reach Rabaul. Their capture would eliminate even this scintilla of danger.
The US Army’s lst Cavalry Division was scheduled for the Los Negros Campaign. MacArthur set D-Day for the Admiralties at February 29, 1944. A force of 880 men was assigned the task of going ashore for a reconnaissance in strength, and if engaged, reinforcements would be sent and an invasion mounted.
After the customary initial shelling, the first wave of 4 boats went ashore in Hyane Harbour on Los Negros, the smaller of the two main Admiralty islands. Sporadic fire from shore batteries was silenced by the destroyer transports, and the first wave raced ashore. By the time the second wave started the Japanese had recovered from the shock of the shelling, and were spraying the landing craft with machine-gun fire from each side of the harbour entrance. The boats turned back until the destroyers had a second, and successful shot at the opposition. The second wave landed and by 0900 hours they were firmly established at the edge of the Momote airstrip, and by noon had occupied the whole airfield, finding it derelict.
For night defence, the landing party was pulled back in behind the airstrip, where they dug in to await the inevitable counterattack. It was not long in coming. Soon after dark the Japanese struck. Generally the adversaries could not see each other, except by flash of grenades.
Defending the perimeter against determined attempts at infiltration proved a considerable strain on the original landing force, and they welcomed the arrival, on March 2, of 1500 combat troops and over 500 engineers. It was however, hand-to-hand fighting around the perimeter on the night of the March 3. At daybreak no less than 750 Japanese bodies were counted around the front lines and within the perimeter itself. Some 61 Allied troops died in defending the perimeter, and the 2nd Squadron, 5th US Cavalry Unit and attached Australian Units (Brewer Force, which included members of NGVR attached to ANGAU) received a Presidential Distinguished Unit Citation for successfully securing and holding the beach-head. The campaign on the Admiralties came to an official end on May 18, 1944. By then construction work was well underway on a naval base on Los Negros, plus an 8,000 foot strip there and a 7,000 foot one at Momote, were in use.
The casualties on the Admiralties, 326 allies killed and 1189 wounded, compared with 3280 Japanese killed. The cork was in the bottle: the isolation of the powerful Rabaul and Kavieng garrisons was complete.
(Excerpted from David Mason’s -”History of the Second World
War”, published by Purnell & Sons. UK 1967 Vol 4 No 15)
On the 14 June 1952, Colonel Rufus S Ramsey, senior United States Military Attache in Australia, presented a Distinguished Unit Citation on behalf of the United States Department of the Army to LTCOL J K McCarthy, MBE., who commanded the Brewer Force Detachment. Brewer Force was comprised of ex-NGVR soldiers attached to ANGAU and ANGAU members and participated with U.S. Forces in the Los Negros campaign in 1944. The citation was later passed on to B Coy PNGVR Rabaul. It was for exceptional and outstanding performance of duty on Los Negros Island, Admiralty Group, during the period 29 February – 4 March 1944.
The Citation reads: “Battery A, 211th Anti aircraft Artillery Battalion, 12th Air Liaison Party, Fifth Airforce, and the 30th Portable Surgical Hospital are cited for exceptionally outstanding performance of duty in action on Los Negros Island, Admiralty Group during the period 29 February – 4 March 1944. On 29 February elements of the 5th Cavalry Regiment landed on Los Negros Island for a reconnaissance in force of this Japanese held base. The rapid and aggressive movements of the assault overwhelmed the defenders and enabled the landing force to seize a portion of Momote airstrip and establish a beachhead. For 3 days and 2 nights this small force held the beachhead, repaired the airstrip, and repulsed several strong enemy attacks. On 2 March, the remainder of the 5th Cavalry Regiment and supporting forces landed, expanded the beachhead and secured the entire airstrip, thereby permitting reconstruction of this essential aerodrome. However, the Japanese Commander assembled his forces and launched an all-out attack on the night of the 3-4 March. Wave after wave of screaming fanatical Japanese supported by artillery and mortar fire, charged the thinly held perimeter of the 5th Cavalry Regiment. Infiltrating parties cut all communication lines and attacked command posts, artillery and automatic weapons positions. Many hand to hand fights took place within the perimeter.
Every attack was repulsed with heavy loss to the enemy and by dawn the shattered remnants of the Japanese forces withdrew into the Jungle. When a new outpost line was established over 750 enemy dead were counted. The indomitable fighting spirit and outstanding achievement of the 5th Cavalry Regiment and attached Units were major contributions to the success of the Admiralty campaign and are in keeping with the highest traditions of the Army of the United States.
By Order of the Secretary of the Army,
Omar N. Bradley,
Chief of Staff, United States Army.
The insignia of the Distinguished Unit Citation was handed over for safe-keeping by Lt. Colonel McCarthy to the Rabaul detachment of the Papua New Guinea Volunteer Rifles which will have the responsibility of carrying on the fine record of inspired service set by Brewer Force.
Approval was given by the U.S. authorities in Canberra, for members of the NGVR and PNGVR Ex-Members Association Inc., to wear the US Presidential Unit Citation in recognition of the dedication and outstanding service of members of the NGVR attached to Brewer Force.
Members of our Association may wear this U.S.Citation at official Association functions, provided they are wearing our official “Anzac Day” dress, as stipulated by the Committee. Anzac Day Dress includes beret, with PNGVR badge over the blue colour patch, white long sleeved
shirt, the Association’s tie, blue/black sports jacket with Association pocket badge, trousers of fawn/grey and black shoes.
From HTT: Vol 6/1996 and Vol 12/1998