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Right-Wing Economists Phone It in!: Live from The Roasterie CXX: March 17, 2014

Liveblogging World War II: March 17, 1944

182nd Infantry Regiment, Americal Division, on Bougainville:

The ocean voyage from Fiji took more than a week, and on December 28, 1943, the convoy bearing the men of Company G arrived at Bougainville, and disembarked at Empress Augusta Bay. Allied forces had established a semi-circular perimeter in the jungle protecting three precious airfields. The Japanese forces on the island were entrenched further inland, but more importantly, were cut off from resupply and reinforcement by strong Allied naval and air presence.

The island of Bougainville itself was primitive, remote, and rugged - an easy place for the Japanese to hide. It featured dense jungle, as well as a number of soaring volcanoes. Earthquakes were a frequent occurence, as were torrential downpours. The jungle was thick, overgrown, and as Jack Morton recalled, "spooky."

Defending the Bougainville Perimeter: The American mission on the island was not to aggressively hunt and destroy the enemy, but merely to defend the airfields, and keep the Japanese isolated....

Living Conditions: During their first few months on Bougainville, the men of Company G lived in a rugged, primitive campsite behind the lines... with a platform and canvas roof hanging over a deep hole for shelter. The shelter was nicknamed "Raider's Roost," with a wooden carved sign hanging on the front. The men of Roy's 2nd Platoon had given themselves the nickname "Roy's Raiders."...

An Observation Post in the Tree Tops: A key objective in the Bougainville campaign was quickly identified: a tall Banyan tree, atop Hill 260. American commanders were eager to establish an observation post atop this tree, which would grant a commanding view of the surrounding terrain for miles around....

Defensive Positions on Hill 260: Hill 260 was technically in the 182nd Infantry sector of defense, yet it lay out beyond the main perimeter, sticking out like a sore thumb in a hostile jungle. The hilltop was shaped like an hourglass, with the Observation Post Tree (OP Tree) on the South Knob of the hill....

The Japanese Counterattack: Japanese forces on Bougainville were still strong and organized in the first part of 1944. In March, they launched a massive counterattack against the American perimeter. Three separate assault groups threw themselves against the semicircular defensive line. Their objective was to drive the American forces back into the sea, and retake the airfields. But despite the heaviest concentration of artillery support that the Japanese would mount during the entire Solomons campaign, the offensive was doomed. Japanese intelligence estimates greatly underestimated the size of American forces on the island....

"Hold at All Costs": The Japanese offensive, while outnumbered on the whole, directed massive force at key positions in overwhelming numbers. The initial assault on Hill 260 consisted of perhaps 1300 Japanese soldiers. The defenders on top of the hill, composed primarily of men from Company G, had only 78 men to hold back the assault. They were quickly outmatched. The Japanese advanced up the southeast corner of the hill, throwing themselves across barbed wire when necessary. They quickly took the area around the OP Tree, while small forces of survivors from the original garrison held on desperately....

The Bloody First Few Days of Battle: Adhering to the orders to hold, officers of the 182nd threw wave after wave of attacks at the Japanese positions on Hill 260. Occasional success was met with Japanese counterattack. The fighting went on for days....

Artillery Support: As the battle settled into a routine of American counterattack and retreat, artillery support from behind the lines began to take a toll on the Japanese entrenched on top of the hill. Over the course of the battle, perhaps 10,000 rounds of artillery and mortar fire were dropped on the South Knob of the hill....

Casualties Mount: The insistence on head-on thrusts up the hill began to take a terrible toll on American units.... By the second week of the battle for Hill 260, the Japanese forces atop the hill were mostly isolated, but still firmly entrenched. The Americans had retaken the North Knob of the hill, and established a perimeter around the base of the hill. American units tried innovative methods to dislodge them. They rigged gas pipelines and improvised gasoline can launchers to try to burn the Japanese out, to no avail. Eventually, artillery and even anti-aircraft pieces were lugged into the jungle and mounted in positions that enabled them to fire almost point blank at the Japanese....

American forces continued to launch all-out attacks on the Japanese forces on the South Knob.... Company G advanced on March 20 with Company B of the 132nd Infantry. They fought their way to the top of the hill, suffering a number of casualties. At the top, they observed Japanese units signaling their surrender. As the Americans advanced to investigate, the Japanese dropped back in their hole, and mortar fire began to rain down on the Americans. It had been a trap. News of the fake surrender was reported in American newspapers, complete with an account from Lieutenant Richard Roy....

The Hill is Taken: On March 28, American forces advanced up the hill and discovered that the few remaining Japanese soldiers had abandoned the hill and disappeared back into the jungle. The Hill was at last back in American hands. Men scurried about preparing new defensive positions. In this photo at right, the toll of the American artillery fire over the previous three weeks is evident. Looking south from the North Knob, the blasted remnants of what was once a thick jungle were all that remained...

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