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Edward Willis

Fire Fight At Orguruna – The 2/2's Different War In New Guinea

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An earlier post provided an overview of the 2/2’s involvement in the Australian campaign against the Japanese in the Ramu Valley during 1943 as a member of Bena Force.  In Portuguese Timor the 2/2 had been the aggressors, using cover and deception to ambush the enemy and disappear.  The war in New Guinea was different in that the Australians were just as vulnerable to ambush as were the Japanese.  This was largely because of the density of the jungle which provided perfect cover, deadening sound and limiting visibility often to a few metres.

802719543_5SectionBTroopNG.png.410e888aaefd096d6ea4689c67ac0d40.png

[1]

Aggressive patrolling was a core part of the 2/2’s role in the campaign and this post is centred on a report written by Lt. Col Doig (CO no. 5 Section, B Troop) on a patrol he led from Bundi-Kri across the Ramu River into the Finisterre Ranges towards the village of Orguruna ‘to have a crack’ at Japanese troops who had been observed in the area.

Doig’s patrol approached a well defended Japanese defensive position, were fired upon with heavy and light machine guns, and in the subsequent fire fight two 2/2 men killed in action.  The Australian’s fought back well after the initial surprise and inflicted several casualties on the Japanese before withdrawing.  This action provides an illustrative example of the 2/2’s different war in New Guinea.

BACKGROUND TO THE PATROL

Doig recalled:

To carry out our role of denying the Bismarcks to the Japs it was essential to carry out constant patrols in depth to know just what the Jap was doing and where they were going to do it from; the answer was patrol, patrol and patrol. Now patrolling in New Guinea is a difficult business.  The war we were having there was very different to that of Timor.  The terrain was even more frightful; we had the Finisterres which were jungle clad and the nearly impassable Ramu River and its tributaries.  In the early stages the Japs had lined the far side of this river with small patrols which made it most difficult to get over and do anything effective. Initially the lads had to swim to get to the other side and then scout round the enemy - not a nice way to do business.  It was different to Timor in that we were walking into their ambushes and not the other way around.  Furthermore, the natives on the other side of the river were on the Jap's corner and very much against us.  The only intelligence we could rely on was what we gleaned ourselves from patrols. A lot of these patrols proved to be negative in that no Japs would be encountered; this was also important as it showed where the Jap was not.  When we ran in with a Jap position the only way we could decide the strength of it was to draw fire and estimate the strength from the response.  This was a hazardous way of gaining information as we did not want to lose men and our main role was the gathering of information and intelligence.

....

Eventually 6 Section did a patrol, having come forward and took up a position on the edge of the Ramu.  This patrol went to a place called Usini where Capt. Nisbet had taken a patrol of 4 Section much earlier when it was found deserted.  But 6 Section patrol discovered that Usini was most definitely occupied.  They looked it over at nightfall and then had another look before the Japs had breakfast in the morning, when they saw the Nips cleaning their teeth and having ablutions in a stream near the camp.  Lt. Mackintosh brought 6 Section home without having a go at them.  At this Coy. H.Q. were on the move and Major Laidlaw had come ahead and was at Capt. Nisbet's H.Q. at Bundi.  Lt. Mackintosh reported to Capt. Nisbet that they did not have a go because they lacked sufficient firepower to attack and then get away.  "The Bull" was not very happy about this report , but more of this anon.

….

It was the next day that 6 Section's message regarding the Usini patrol arrived.  On receipt of this message Major Laidlaw ("The Bull") took great umbrage and before Doig and his section could settle down and have more than one feed Laidlaw called Doig up.  "Get the whole of your mob", he said, then grabbed a map.  "Here you are.... cross the river and head up here to Mataloi III".  Nearly all these villages in New Guinea had offshoots with the same name and were numbered on the maps one, two and three etc.  Mataloi III was the furthest of these villages away.  It was thought that the area could or could not be enemy occupied; it was a case of go out and find out. [2]

249279351_Patrolarea22RamuValleyNG.png.c8a5d04e6de241768b17ba59a99929ba.png

[3]

DOIG’S PATROL REPORT

Doig submitted a formal report on the patrol sometime later that has been transcribed and reproduced here. [4]

 

PATROL REPORT BY Lt C. D. DOIG. 2/2 COMMANDO SQN.,

NO. 5 SECTION B. TROOP

Object:- To patrol by section to Mateloi No. 3 and attempt to discover enemy strength in this area and to inflict casualties upon the enemy by harassing tactics.

Strength of Patrol:- 1 officer, 17 O.R.s. Armament 1 Bren Gun, 6 Owen Sub Machine Guns, 1 Grenade Discharger, 9 Rifles.

Patrol departed from Bundi-Kri approximately 17th November 1943 and proceeded to a position West of the Ramu River occupied by No. 6 section, “B” Troop under Lt Mackintosh. [5] Here supplies of tinned meat and biscuits were obtained from a cache which had been made from a previous aerial drop.  Five native carriers were also procured to assist with carriage of supplies.

On 18th November, patrol proceeded to Ramu River and crossed same by use of native dugout and by swimming.  The stream was in full flood and flowing at about 10 knots per hour.  The method of crossing used was to pole the dugout up the bank side of stream, which was more or less dead water, for about a mile, switch over into stream and paddle madly across current until the opposite bank was reached.  This process occupied most of the mile which had previously been made up stream.  The swimmers adopted similar tactics to this and allowed themselves to be carried forward by the current at the same time striking across the current and eventually gaining sanctuary on the opposite bank this usually took about one mile of river.  The crossing occupied approximately 2 to 3 hours. [6]

Next stage was to move in a North-Easterly direction and cross a tributary of the Ramu about two miles away.  This crossing was affected in a dugout canoe which was pulled over the river hand over hand on an overhead “Cunda” Rope.  This stage was affected quite rapidly although only five men at a time could be carried in the canoe.  The crossing of these two streams occupied most of the day.

The following day patrol struck off in a North-easterly Direction meeting the foot hills of the Finisterres about midday.  Tracks up to the foot hills were mostly slushy mud and at times men sunk up to their knees in mud holes especially in Pandanus areas.  From the foot hills tracks were up and down razor back spurs as it was just a case of climb up one ridge drop down the other side cross a stream and climb the next spur on and on ad nauseum.  This went on for approximately 1½ days and no sign of enemy occupation of area was made.  No natives had been sighted to this point.

Late on the evening of 20th November a small party of natives were sighted, and they attempted to make off into the jungle.  One man was captured and told us that a small party of Japs were encamped at Orguruna a place about two miles distant.  The native estimated the strength of enemy to be only 4 or 5 (a very rough estimate!).  As the hour was late it was decided to camp on the ridge for the night and investigate Orguruna the following morning.

It rained steadily all night and much native activity was noted in the way of yelling and yodelling.

Before dawn on 21st, patrol set out along track for Orguruna.  This small native hutment was sighted about 0900 hrs.  At this point the Sigs. Were dropped off with Sig. J Stafford to operate with Sig. Studdy.  The patrol then moved off with L/Cpl. Harrison in charge of small scout group comprising Tprs, Peattie, Smith and McLaughlan.  Then Lt Doig at the head of main body.  On approaching the camp proper, it was noticed that it bore a most deserted look with high rank grass and rotting coconut logs which appeared to be fronting deserted slit trenches, no footprints could be seen in front of the position and it appeared as if the enemy had decamped from the area.

126841970_AlliedLandForcesSWPacifc-Junglewarfare-NotesforPlatoonSectionleaders1943.thumb.jpg.23a77091cb8c302026f05b15b00f3309.jpg

Diagrammatic representation of Section patrol formation along a jungle trail [7]

L/Cpl. Harrison noting a small barbed wire fence around the area called Lt. Doig forward and suggested shedding the haversacks to get through the wire.  This suggestion was promptly vetoed as our only food was in the haversacks.  Harrison and Smith moved forward cautiously to investigate the wire and attempt to get through it.  Meantime the main body of the patrol had gone to ground and took up covering positions for the scout party.

As the two scouts attempted to get through the wire all hell broke loose.  Bullets and mortars whizzed madly in all directions indicating at least a platoon strength of enemy entrenchments and possibly two platoons.  With the scout group and Lt. Doig irrevocably compromised and forced to withdraw rapidly (and how!).  As Orgoruna was on a crest of a ridge it was a simple matter for scout group and the Commander to drop out of sight under the ridge and thus become defilade to the enemy fire.  During this rapid movement one of the patrol was heard to remark that the kitchen sink and piano had just flown over his head.

Meanwhile the main body of the patrol under Sgt. Tapper and Cpl. Lewis opened fire on the enemy position.  Tpr. Keith Craig who had been able to establish an excellent sniping position along the enemy position and as the enemy exposed themselves over the parapet in their evident desire to pump more lead into the patrol, Craig picked off at least six with his sniper rifle.  Tpr. Merrett with his Owen gun accounted for at least two as did Tpr. Thomson.  Tpr. Hugh Brown with the Bren Gun got off at least three magazines.

The enemy fire was mostly high, and it appeared that their machine guns were all sighted too high.  During the engagement Tpr. Merrett who was lying in a slight depression in the ground had a deep creasing wound inflicted in his head and promptly got away from the spot.  Tpr. Percy Mitchell moved into the position vacated by Merrett and was shot through the head obviously from a sniper who had a position in a look-out up a tree.  Sgt. Tapper gave the order to withdraw and the whole patrol moved off except Tpr. Brown who continued to slog it out with the enemy with his Bren gun.  Tapper called to Brown to withdraw but at the moment his Bren ceased to fire but Brown did not come out.  The obvious conclusion being that he was killed at the moment his gun ceased firing.  The patrol withdrew in orderly fashion to where the Sigs. were stationed and then continued the withdrawal in the direction of the Ramu.  The whole action had taken about half an hour.

The scout group during this action had got completely out of touch with the main patrol and had covered two re-entrants before getting away from enemy fire.  This small group followed down a creek for a considerable distance and then struck back in the general direction of the track which they had followed in the morning.  This track was found late in the evening and it was noted that the main body had already passed by.

The patrol made its way back to camp in two parties.  The main body reached Lt. Mackintosh’s camp on the 24th November and scout group on 25th November.

Sgt. Tapper had previously reported the action by wireless to Troop H.Q.

Estimated casualties – Enemy – 12 killed and others wounded.

Own Casualties – 2 killed and 1 wounded.

Conclusions drawn:- Orguruna which was astride the Mateloi track was occupied in strength by the enemy possibly 2 platoons certainly one platoon.  Position on the razor back ridge a very strong one which gave the enemy a great view of any attacking force from any direction.  Would require at least a Company attack to dislodge the enemy from this position. 

(Signed)C.D. DOIG. [8]

 

HUGH BROWN’S AND PERCY MITCHELL’S BODIES NOT RECOVERED

Hugh Brown’s and Percy Mitchell’s bodies were not recovered.  Fellow B Troop member Jim Smith reported that he visited Lae War Cemetery in late 1956 and took photos of the graves of the 2/2 men buried there.  He noted that the following names are shown on a plaque at the Cemetery ‘as their bodies were not recovered’:

NX57432, Hugh Brown, Tpr, died 25/10/43, aged 29

VX117978 Percy Robert Mitchell, Tpr, died 27/10/43, aged 20 [9]

758982467_HughBrownmemorialplaqueKP.jpg.ab063cb740154d7307fe3b2cf1eb45b7.jpg

Hugh Brown’s memorial plaque, Lovekin Drive, Kings Park [10]

1795268828_PercyMitchellmemorialplaqueKP.jpg.b04f070fe700d83721d24322d9e223cf.jpg

Percy Mitchell’s memorial plaque, Lovekin Drive, Kings Park [11]

 

2/2 COMMANDO SQUADRON MEN INVOLVED IN THIS STORY

Major Geoffrey Gosford (The Bull) Laidlaw

NX70537

Officer Commanding, 2/2 Commando Squadron

Lt Kenneth Granville Mackintosh

WX9169

Officer Commanding, No 6 Section, “B” Troop

Lt Colin (Col) Douglas Doig

WX11054

Officer Commanding, No 5 Section, “B” Troop

Sgt Dudley Lawrence Tapper

WX10512

No 5 Section, “B” Troop

Cpl George Roy Lewis

WX11482

No 5 Section, “B” Troop

L/Cpl Percy John (Kiwi) Harrison

NX53272

No 5 Section, “B” Troop

L/Cpl Godfrey Merritt

WX11604

No 5 Section, “B” Troop

L/Cpl John (Jack) Campbell Peattie

NX97345

No 5 Section, “B” Troop

Tpr Harold Thomas Brooker

WX13748

No 5 Section, “B” Troop

Tpr Hugh Brown

NX57432

Killed In Action

No 5 Section, “B” Troop

Tpr Thomas Edward Cholerton

NX69311

No 5 Section, “B” Troop

Tpr Archibald George Claney

VX84174

No 5 Section, “B” Troop

Tpr Keith Craig

NX130057

No 5 Section, “B” Troop

Tpr James Richard McLaughlin

WX29873

No 5 Section, “B” Troop

Tpr Percy Robert Mitchell

VX117978

Killed In Action

No 5 Section, “B” Troop

Tpr Murvin Llewellyn (Spud) Murphy

QX35321

No 5 Section, “B” Troop

Tpr Raymond (Ray) Norman Parry

WX12415

No 5 Section, “B” Troop

Tpr William Wallace Rogers-Davidson

VX87043

No 5 Section, “B” Troop

Tpr Edgar George Rowe

NX96052

No 5 Section, “B” Troop

Tpr Ross Martin Shenn

WX31061

No 5 Section, “B” Troop

Tpr Ross Smith

NX123061

No 5 Section, “B” Troop

Tpr James Relton Smith

NX15613

No 5 Section, “B” Troop

Sig John Henry Stafford

VX18894

Signaller – not permanent member of No 5 Section

Tpr Allan Samuel Stewart

NX23857

No 5 Section, “B” Troop

Sig Robert Andrew (Dusty) Studdy

WX10110

Signaller – not permanent member of No 5 Section

Tpr Alexander Thomson

WX9508

No 5 Section, “B” Troop

Tpr Herbert (Bert) Ernest Harold Tobin

VX70645

No 5 Section, “B” Troop

Tpr James Henry Wall

VX85278

No 5 Section, “B” Troop

Tpr Donald Claude Young

WX13749

No 5 Section, “B” Troop

 

REFERENCES

[1] Unfortunately the men in the photo are not identified.  From C.D. Doig.  The history of the Second Independent Company.  C. Doig [Perth, W.A.], 1986: following 189.

[2] Doig: 203 -204.

[3] Doig: following 189.

[4] Thank you to Peter Epps for transcribing Doig’s report from an original copy in his possession.

[5] The report must have been written sometime later because the date Doig gives for the beginning of the patrol, 17th November 1943, is incorrect.  The correct date as stated by Dexter in the Official History was 23rd October 1943. This is confirmed by entries in both the 2/2 and Bena Force war diaries.  It can be assumed given the detail in the report that Doig had prepared notes soon after the event on which the report is based but failed to record the actual date.

[6] For movie footage of men from the 2/2 crossing the Ramu River using this method, see https://www.awm.gov.au/collection/C190199

[7] Allied Land Forces in the South-West Pacific Area. – Notes for Platoon & Section leaders: XX Jungle warfare (Provisional). – Melbourne: F.J. Hilton & Co., 1943: 32. https://www.army.gov.au/sites/g/files/net1846/f/allied_land_forces_in_southwest_pacific_area-operations_1943_0.pdf

[8] Doig also wrote two other versions of what happened on this patrol; see also C.D. Doig.  The history of the Second Independent Company.  C. Doig [Perth, W.A.], 1986: 207-208 and C.D. Doig.  The ramblings of a ratbag.  C. Doig [Perth, W.A.], 1989: 117-118.

Tpr James Relton (Jim) Smith who was also a member of this patrol had different memories from Doig of some critical incidents over its course; see letter from Jim Smith to Jack Carey 19 July 2002

Ray Parry was also a member of this patrol and his recollection of what happened is recorded in ‘All the Bull’s Men’; see Cyril Ayris.  All the Bull’s Men.  Perth, W.A.: 2/2 Commando Association of Australia, 2006: 430-432.

See also former 2/2 officer David Dexter’s account of the patrol based on Doig’s report in David Dexter.  The New Guinea Offensives (Australia in the War of 1939 - 1945, Series One, Army, Vol VI).  Canberra: Australian War Memorial, 1961: 592-593.

[9] [Letter from Jim Smith] 2/2 Commando Courier vol. 11 no. 117 Christmas 1957: 11-12. https://doublereds.org.au/couriers/1957/1957-12%20-%20Courier%20Christmas%201957.pdf; to view the Commonwealth War Graves Commission records for the two men, see: https://www.cwgc.org/find-war-dead/casualty/2801429/mitchell,-percy-robert/#&gid=null&pid=1https://www.cwgc.org/find-war-dead/casualty/2801236/brown,-hugh/#&gid=null&pid=1

[10] https://www.bgpa.wa.gov.au/honour-avenues-plaques/1437-pte-hugh-brown

[11] https://www.bgpa.wa.gov.au/honour-avenues-plaques/1432-pte-percy-mitchell

 

 

Doig patrol report page 1.jpg

Doig patrol report page 2.jpg

Doig patrol report page 3.jpg

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Well done Ed, you may wish to add this extract from page 746 of the Official History of the Second World War – the Guinea Offensive (By |David Dexter)

Extract VI Of the Official History of the Second World War - the New Guinea Offensive.pdf

Faita patrol.jpg

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Hi John, I am preparing at least one other post on the 2/2's NG campaign about their base at Faita and I'll use this photo in that story.  Regards Ed

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