Article by: Neal Ulen
The Battle of Cape Gloucester was fought in the Pacific theater of World War II between Japanese and Allied forces on the island of New Britain, Territory of New Guinea, between 26 December 1943 and 16 January 1944. Codenamed Operation Backhander, the US landing formed part of the wider Operation Cartwheel, the main Allied strategy in the South West Pacific Area and Pacific Ocean Areas during 1943–1944. It was the second landing the US 1st Marine Division had conducted during the war thus far, after Guadalcanal. The objective of the operation was to capture the two Japanese airfields near Cape Gloucester that were defended by elements of the Japanese 17th Division.
Suicide Creek Map
This map and historical action can be found in ASL Journal #9 published by Multi-Man Publishing.
The Suicide Creek map (SC) should be built into the default map package of VASL. There’s no need to download it separately.
The main landing came on 26 December 1943, when US Marines landed on either side of the peninsula. The western landing force acted as a diversion and cut the coastal road near Tauali to restrict Japanese freedom of movement, while the main force, landing on the eastern side, advanced north towards the airfields. The advance met light resistance at first, but was slowed by the swampy terrain which channeled the US troops onto a narrow coastal trail. A Japanese counterattack briefly slowed the advance but by the end of December, the airfields had been captured and consolidated by the Marines. Fighting continued into early January 1944 as the US troops extended their perimeter south from the airfields towards Borgen Bay. Organized resistance ceased on 16 January 1944 when US troops captured Hill 660; however, mopping up operations in the vicinity continued into April 1944 until the Marines were relieved by US Army forces.
Advance to Borgen Bay
In the weeks that followed the capture of the airfield, US troops pushed south towards Borgen Bay to extend the perimeter beyond Japanese artillery range. In this time, further actions were fought by the 5th and 7th Marines against the remnants of the 53rd Infantry Regiment and the 141st Infantry Regiment, which had undertaken a march north across difficult terrain from Cape Bushing, following the initial landings. On 2 January, there was a sharp engagement around Suicide Creek, when the advancing Marines came up against a heavily entrenched defending force from the 53rd Infantry. Held up by strong defenses that were well concealed amongst the dense jungle, the Marines were halted and dug-in temporarily around Suicide Creek. The following day, a reinforced company from the Japanese 141st Infantry Regiment launched an unsuccessful counterattack on the US troops around Target Hill. This was followed by renewed fighting around Suicide Creek, as the Japanese put up a stubborn defense, which was eventually overcome with the assistance of tanks and artillery on 4 January.
After reorganizing on 5 January, US troops secured Aogiri Ridge and Hill 150 on 6 January. This was followed by an action towards the high ground around Hill 660. Slowed by bad weather, rugged terrain and Japanese resistance, progress for the Marines around Hill 660 was slow. The position was finally secured on 16 January 1944 following three days of fighting in which 50 Marines and over 200 Japanese were killed. The capture of this position represented the end of Japanese defensive operations in the Cape Gloucester and Borgen Bay areas. Following this, Matsuda withdrew with around 1,100 troops, ceding the area to the Americans, who captured his command post intact.
Casualties during operations to secure Cape Gloucester amounted to 310 killed and 1,083 wounded for the Americans. Japanese losses exceeded 2,000 killed in the December 1943 to January 1944 period. Ultimately, according to historian John Miller, Cape Gloucester “never became an important air base”. Plans to move Thirteenth Air Force units there were cancelled in August 1944. In assessing the operation, historians such as Miller and Samuel Eliot Morison have argued that it was of limited strategic importance in achieving the Allied objectives of Operation Cartwheel. Morison called it a “waste of time and effort”. Nevertheless, the airstrip played a vital role in supporting the Admiralty Islands operation commencing in February 1944 and as an emergency landing field for aircraft damaged in raids on Kavieng and Rabaul; it remained in use until April 1945.
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ASL Map Spotlights are meant to be quick history lessons on available historical Advanced Squad Leader actions. These short articles are meant to highlight both a short history of the battle portrayed for players unfamiliar with the setting, as well as show the ASL map on which it plays out.Citation: Wikipedia contributors. “Battle of Cape Gloucester.” Wikipedia, 4 Oct. 2022, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_of_Cape_Gloucester.
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