Weekly Review no. 140 - Easter Action on Bougainville
National Film Unit, 1944
On Bougainville Island a patrol is coming down a jungle track back to the area held by American troops, Fijian scouts and New Zealand airmen.
For 17 days in a jungle outpost this patrol has been holding out against persistent Jap attacks. Now it's almost Easter and they've been relieved. But for them there's no prospect of a few days off. This is no holiday spot, this is no scene on a Hollywood set. Here trees smolder from the raining fire of shells and the stench of dead bodies fills the air.
Last November against fierce resistance American troops forced a beach head on Empress Augusta Bay below this hill. Since then Jap garrison's with their supplies cut off have been frantically hanging on back in the jungle. Thousands have been wiped out, thousands still remain.
With artillery on both sides blasting away across this area American coloured troops, the first of their kind to move up to a pacific front line, dig in and settle down unconcerned.
A few hundred yards away men of the Royal New Zealand Air Force are also digging in. Continual shell fire overhead makes this no easy station. Despite conditions planes must be kept tuned up to fighting pitch. To hold on to advanced places like this our air force needs as many men as an army division.
For safety's sake every man turns to digging fox holes and filling sandbags. No man here is too proud to go to work on the end of a shovel. In control of land sea and air fighting on Bougainville is General Griswold. In consultation here he plans fresh attacks.
A battery goes into action as night approaches.
Inside the gun post men are busy. For them one day or night is much the same as any other on Bougainville. It's just a matter of keeping on pounding away at Jap positions.
This is mathematics in the jungle, plotting on maps and charts with a precision that kills.
The morning after, an artillery barrage 5,000 rounds has smashed up a Jap infantry concentration on the banks of this river. Now there's a little cleaning up to be done.
We've seen more horrible pictures than these, pictures of men, women and children of Nanking [Nanjing] slaughtered by the very same men whose bodies lie here this morning. Men of the 6th Japanese Imperial Division.
Strung out along the edge of the battle area are Fijians. Pacific Islanders who are supreme experts in the art of pacific war.
Facing them at the moment a few hundred yards away is a Jap outpost. Their bullets flying overhead at any sign of movement. In charge of troop distribution here is a New Zealander, Lieutenant Colonel Upton of Auckland.
Back at the perimeter some of the FIjian boys are taking it easy waiting for chal. These are the jungle fighters whose exploits have become legend throughout the pacific. In two months on this island they've lost only one man and killed 125 Japanese. At the moment a mortar bomb carrier serves as a card table. It's a way they've learnt of passing the time.
Fighting alongside these boys are several New Zealanders. Sergeant Wilson, Captain Chivers, Lieutenant Bendel. For these men and for all others here Easter means no change, no rest, no overtime, no profits, and the same two meals a day.
With others coming in from a patrol comes one badly wounded. A Fijian injured by a Jap grenade. American doctors are ready with temporary dressings but he's in need of more urgent treatment. And they give him a blood transfusion on the spot. Blood serum from an American donor goes to save a Fijian ally. He is rapidly transferred to a waiting ambulance. All this is happening in a battle area with the enemy only a mile away.
Now Fijian patrols, among them some Tongan boys, are getting ready to move on and there are no absentees when they take on....
With them went our cameraman and the next sequence is his uncut record of their advance filmed on the constant small arms fire from the Jap snipers. Object of their advance is to wipe out a pocket of Japs keeping allied troops pinned to the edge of the area. Two days ago this was thick jungle. Shellfire has blasted it out and now there's little cover. These Fijians, seasoned fighters, perfectly fit and beautifully trained, have no rules for playing Jojo's jungle games. They're ruthless fighting men. Jap snipers and mortars lick the ground about them as they try to work around behind.
Three miles in grenades and rifle fire stops them. Leaving five with our cameraman cut off from the rest. With ammunition running short, they're in a tough spot. A patrol behind attempts to reach them.
The wounded man receives first aid, and with more ammunition now they start pitching it into the Japs again. Jap grenades and mortar bombs are landing in front of them, and Jap rifles keep on cracking away.
For two hours they stick this out, once again they run short of ammunition.
Under cover of grenades the wounded are shifted out and the patrol also prepares to move back after giving the Japs a final pasting.
Still under fire the wounded get away and behind them go the rest of the patrol. This is all in a days work, Easter or no Easter.
Later our cameraman went into action again, this time with the American current troops. For five miles they've been on the heals of a bunch of retreating Japs. Now they've cornered them across the Narooma [?] River. They get into the position to watch the far bank closely.
An American officer, Captain Eddy has crossed the river and single handed is working along the bank hearing the Japs out of pill boxes with hand grenades. Watch closely on the right and in a moment you'll see him signal. He's waving now it's his signal for the rest to come on over.
While some cross the river others keep them covered. These boys have learnt well the tricks of jungle fighting and this is proof of a job well done. But it's a job that will have to be done again and again before it's finally finished.
Planes of every kind are in use on the island. Little planes, Piper Cubs, spotting planes for the artillery and the ground forces. With a cruising speed of a light car they come in low over the jungle. Pictures taken from one of these planes show clearly the country where actions are being fought.
This is the jungle where our Fijians were fighting. No longer a tropical jungle, it resembles more a burnt out bush on a New Zealand farm. Below us now is the Narooma [?] River, where the Japs were cornered. And this is Blue Ridge, Jap land yet and still waiting to be cleared.
Continuous pounding from naval guns was the prelude to the landing on Empress Augusta Bay. This shot shows the area now in allied hands.
To clean out the entire island is no easy task. The Japs have gone to ground in the jungle and though their supplies are cut off they're still fighting on. It comes down to the man on the ground who must finally wipe them out. An American patrol is moving off for another Easter action. The day before this destroyers and artillery heavily shelled the jungle ahead of them. Now they're off for another crack at the little yellow men.
Walkie talkie radios keep men in touch and provide a means of calling out more men, equipment, or special weapons. In the clean air above, planes too are in contact with the ground troops, spotting the enemies positions, tagging his movements and keeping the boys below well informed.
They've got the Japs in their concealed pill boxes well cornered now and they've something ready to drive him out - flamethrowers.
With flamethrowers in action they can burn him out or drive him into the open to be finished off with rifles or grenades. Using everything they've got they can start to move forward again. Flamethrowers and Bangalore torpedoes can wipe out the Jap, where shelling has only left him sitting tight. But to use these weapons takes men sweating and struggling through the foul and stinking jungle fighting men face to face with the enemy.
We knew some of these men for a time in New Zealand. This is how they spent the Easter holidays.
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