Just days after the Japanese raid on Pearl Harbor,
Tonga declared war on Japan, and the Tongan Defense Force prepared to
defend its' native homeland against a possible invasion. Civilians were
evacuated from Nuku'alofa while the military hastily littered the beaches
of Tongatapu with barbed wire and trenches. Tension and insecurity marked
the early days of World War II. No one knew how far into the South Pacific
the Japanese juggernaut would penetrate and it was not very reassuring
when Tonga received word of a Japanese submarine shelling Pago Pago Harbor in American Samoa January 16, 1942.
Planning for the American occupation of Tonga, code
named BLEACHER, officially began in mid-February. Unofficially, the occupation
of Tonga: Samoa; Fiji; and New Caledonia was discussed in early 1939
by members of the then super-secret Pacific War Council. The members
of this council were Franklin D. Roosevelt of the United States; Winston
Churchill of Great Britain; and the Prime Ministers of Australia and
Chairman of America's Joint
Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Ernest J. King's stated strategy was to safeguard
the communication lines between America, Hawaii, and Australia by creating
a "series of strong points" along
the route. According to the operation order, signed for by General George
C. Marshall by his aide Brigadier General Dwight D. Eisenhower, the mission
of the forces assigned to BLEACHER was "to occupy and hold Tongatabu
as an air and advanced naval base." The plan acknowledged:
"As long as Samoa-Fiji and New Caledonia are
held, it is improbable that major enemy forces will attack Tongatabu.
However, the Army and Navy Force at Tongatabu should be strong enough
to protect the harbor facilities and fueling base at Nuku'alofa and the
airbase against raids, and to deny the Tonga Islands to enemy forces
attempting to attack Fiji or Samoa from the south."
Just one problem and a major one at that...what troops and ships were
ready or available? Most of the well trained and equipped regular Army,
front line troops were besieged on Bataan in the Phillippines. The Navy's
great battleship fleet was in smouldering ruins at Pearl Harbor. The
immediate future looked very bleak indeed!
Fearing total war in Europe, America began calling up her National Guard
units for training beginning in October 1940. The first of these was
Ohio's 37th (Buckeye) Division, which the War Department sent to Camp
Shelby, a sprawling military two hundred square mile military reservation
in the southern State of Mississippi. The 147th Infantry Regiment and
134th Field Artillery were two components of this famous division. They
were the best selection that Washington could provide.
These troops were moved to Indiantown Gap, Pennsylvania in February
to complete their training and prepare equipment for shipment. After
weeks of calisthenics, close-order drill, and forced seven to twelve
mile marches; they were ready for a fight. The hourglass sand, measuring
Stateside time, was running out and the men sensed it. They fidgeted,
paced, unpacked, and repacked. Preparations for departing were feverish;
inspections of clothing and equipment were held daily and the troops
were completely equipped prior to leaving. The old, British style steel
helmets were replaced with the new model, which, in addition to providing
more protection for the head, created other novel uses, including: washbasin;
bathtub; seat; bucket; stove; plate; and shovel. The Medical Detachment
sadistically inoculated the men for yellow fever, cholera, tetanus, and
typhoid. Inoculations which required a series of shots were completed
later on shipboard.
Army Day and Easter Sunday both fell on 6 April 1942. A general alert
electrified the regiment at 0015 on the 7th. This was it! The final,
frantic rush was on! Within minutes, tremors of the news shook the most
remote latrine orderly and kitchen policeman. Dinner of calf liver and
lima beans began sitting heavily on squeamish stomachs. The night was
interminable. The early breakfast meal of eggs, thin steak, and potatoes
was pushed about; some of it was eaten, but little digested. Near 0400,
the troops were called out of the darkened barracks and loaded on trucks,
with their gear, forever departing their frozen training camp at Indiantown
Gap, Pennsylvania. Under complete secrecy, they traveled five miles to
Lickdale, Pennsylvania, where they boarded a train and traveled 160 miles
to Bayonne, New Jersey. Around midday, the troops boarded ferries and
traveled five miles to the Port of Embarkation in Brooklyn, New York.
In the harbor, ships rolled
gently with the changing tides while waiting patiently to carry the
anxious troops across the great Pacific. Brooklyn was a port of embarkation
and the ships in the harbor menacingly beckoned the somewhat reluctant
troopers. Men wondered, "Are they going to
put us on those ships or send us somewhere for more training?" Many
of the eager beavers and curiosity kids wanted the ships; others were
not so sure.
Almost all of the equipment was quickly loaded and, as soon as the human
cargo could be put aboard, the voyage was ready to get under way. Enlisted
men were allowed to carry individual equipment and two barracks bags;
officers were permitted one musette bag, one piece of hand luggage, a
bedding roll, and a footlocker.
Virtually all 147th personnel of Task Force #0051 struggled aboard two
ancient and honorable vessels, then under control of the United States
Army Transport Service, by noon of the following day. The 147th Infantry
Regimental Combat Team, less Company B of the 1st Battalion, boarded
the transport U.S.A.T. Hunter Liggett, with special units attached. Included
was Tuttle and his staff, along with General Lockwood and his immediate
staff. The 3rd Battalion, along with Company B of the I st Battalion,
and the 134th Field Artillery boarded the U.S.A.T. American Legion.
Life belts were issued to all troops however, departure was postponed
for twenty-four hours because unseasonably clear weather heightened the
threat of enemy submarines; thought to be lurking offshore.
The morning of the 9th snowed and sleeted, temperatures dropped rapidly
and the weather became very cold. Instead of the usual clear skies associated
with a cold front, dark masses of hazy fog developed. Visibility was
soon reduced to only a few hundred yards. Under this protective cover,
vessels began drawing in their mooring lines and easing into the channel
at 1600. The throbbing, churning noise of the propellers made the silence
of the men inconspicuous. A few spectators stood along the wharves and
waved leisurely as the convoy pulled out, with all Army personnel at
General Quarters, the ships departed New York Harbor and headed south,
down the channel.
A Catalina flying boat, the antisubmarine safeguard, droned overhead.
After leaving the protected area, heavy ground swells of the coastal
waters tossed the ships about as the transports formed up with other
ships of the convoy. Blackout rules were immediately put into action
and instructional schools were established to teach combat tactics and
ships' tactics to the landlubbers. A multi-graphed letter of confidence
from President Roosevelt was handed each man, but the soldiers did not
appreciate the confidence just then.
Tender, land born stomachs received no basic training for sea travel,
and pale, bewildered countenances of the seasick soldiers appeared at
the rails. Bunks were stacked five or six tall in the small, hot, and
cramped berthing areas. Even junior officers were placed in twenty-man
sleeping areas. Many soldiers soon experienced their first encounter
with sea sickness. After the first man became nauseated, hundreds followed.
Very few men could find enough strength to get out of the stacked bunks.
Decks sloshed with stomach acids and half digested food; the smell was
overpowering. Even the strongest men wished for a quick death. Few men
stood in the evening chow line and those who did ate little and cared
By dark, the ships were in their convoy positions and, at an unvarying
eleven knots, glided on a long zig-zag path to the south. Land became
an outline against the sky and slowly dissolved into the horizon. Blackout
regulations were enforced the first night and every night thereafter.
Portholes were closed; no smoking on deck; no lights anywhere, which
would be visible from the sea. The following morning all was water. The
great swells disappeared, but the sea was still choppy and at the morning
sick call medics were deluged with green-tinted, weak, and shaken G.I.s.
Once completed, the convoy consisted of ninety-six ships and was the
largest, at the time, to leave the United States. Fifteen transports
were in formation, guarded by a battleship with four destroyers, and
augmented by smaller escorts.
The convoy was far enough south to begin passing through rough waters
in the Cape Hatteras area by the next day. As the ships prodded southerly
along the eastern United States coast, never-ending rocking was produced
by miles of deep, rolling, ocean waves.
Less than a month after the
publication of an operation order, hastily assembled American Army
units assigned to BLEACHER set sail from New York. The intended landing
site was anyone's guess. Soldier's imaginations were completely unhindered
by any concrete facts. New Zealand was the favorite destination guessed
by G.I. speculators, with Australia running a close second, although
virtually every island in the South Pacific acquired some adherents.
These guessing games went on day and night and men who knew someone
whose cousin's uncle's brother-in-law knew a friend who was "in" at
Washington were always adding new twists to the old story.
Untrained and untried troops, quickly placed aboard
worn-out transports and aging warships, were the best show of force America
could offer her Allies in early 1942. This hastily arraigned Task Force
was assembled on the eastern seaboard of the United States with orders
to sail into the remote South Pacific as quickly as possible. The soldiers
and sailors possessed little knowledge of what to expect and neither
did the general populace of Tonga; whom no one seems to have consulted
about the occupation of their country.
Task Force #0051 was formed
under the overall command of Brigadier General Benjamin C. Lockwood,
Jr., a career soldier nick-named "Old Frosty" by
his troops. The ground force consisted of the 147th Infantry. less the
2nd Battalion, with the 134th Field Artillery, attached; these units
were under the able command of Colonel William B. Tuttle, a tall, authoritative,
and imposing Texan.
The healthy minority investigated the ships on the second day out and
by the fourth day everyone was oriented. Conversion of some ships from
peacetime magnificence to wartime utility was not yet complete, and in
several of the ships men were quartered in holds. Crowding was more pronounced
on sun decks, but this was compensated for by the continuous breeze which
wafted through the three-deep bunks. The blackout enigma, at about 1800
each evening, complicated both the fresh air and the card playing. The
card players circumvented the orders by utilizing indoor hallways, candles,
flashlights, and blue blackout lights.
While aboard ship, in addition
to fire, air, gas, and boat drills, daily classes were conducted to
keep the soldier's minds active. Subjects stressed were "Schooling of the Soldier," "Jungle Warfare," and "First-Aid."
The Hunter Liggett, which
was having boiler trouble, was forced to fall behind the main convoy
twice, but caught up each time. Those on the Liggett became genuinely
concerned when a submarine contact "General Alarm" was
sounded, but the escorts made no solid contacts. During this alarm, soldiers
tried to help sailors by augmenting guard and lookout duty. These personnel
put on chinos to cut the freezing wind-blown salt-spray on the weather
decks. The first few days of sea travel proved to be a nightmare for
most of the unseasoned troops.
The convoy picked up the battleship USS Texas and the cruiser USS Brooklyn,
which had scout planes, as escorts during the night of the 10th. The
Brooklyn would later, for practice, launch a plane pulling a tow target
and soldiers and sailors together, manning the machine guns and antiaircraft
guns, would set up an unholy chattering with tracers, incendiaries, and
plain hot lead.
The ships entered the Caribbean Sea passing north of Puerto Rico and
sighting Hispaniola during the afternoon of the l 5th and sailed through
Mona Passage, the official entry to the Caribbean at 1800 hours. The
Dominican Republic was seen to starboard and Mona Island was visible
to port. Land-based patrol planes now added strength to the convoy's
Destroyers dropped four depth
charges on suspected enemy submarines during the night of 15-16 April
and the next morning "General Quarters" was
sounded; moments of anxiety gripped the troops for fear of submarine
attack. The tension passed as "ALL-CLEAR" was finally sounded.
A relieved sigh was heard from all as lookouts finally sighted their
destination, the Isthmus of Panama, on the morning of 18 April. Within
a few minutes, the convoy began passing through protective wall breakers
and anchors were dropped into the crystal clear waters off Colon, Panama
Canal Zone at 1100. The convoy had completed its first eighteen-hundred
miles of travel from Brooklyn on the way to war.
Liberty was granted to go
ashore. Both officers and enlisted men took full advantage of this
time away from ship. For most of the troops, this was the first time
to visit a foreign country. Bartenders soon depleted stockpiles of
beer and local rum and, as troops re-boarded their transports, many
a man stumbled back to his bunk and swore off drinking forever. Two
days later, these same men wished for another day to "blow off
a little steam."
The Hunter Liggett, which continued to have boiler trouble, could not
keep up with the convoy, so General Lockwood and his staff, with Colonel
Tuttle and his staff, decided to transfer to the American Legion before
proceeding; because the Hunter Liggett would remain in Panama until repairs
The American Legion was moved through the Panama Canal during the early
morning hours of the 20th. Barrage balloons were seen suspended over
the locks to reduce the possibility of enemy aircraft attack. The convoy
entered the Pacific Ocean at the Bay of Panama, after passing through
the Miraflorea locks.
The capital warships, which originally escorted the south bound convoy,
were now gone and escort/protection of the convoy was now the primary
responsibility of many small Patrol-Torpedo (P.T.) boats. These seventy-eight
foot craft were basically diesel powered plywood hulls capable of thirty-five
plus knots and were later used extensively in the South Pacific for scouting
and night-time attacks. Although lightly-armed and protected, they quickly
proved their worth in many future encounters against the Imperial Japanese
After leaving the bay, the convoy, without much visible protection,
turned southerly; traveling down the South American coastline. The Hunter
Liggett left Christobal, Panama Canal Zone; traveled through three locks
and arrived in Balboa at 1730 on the 21st. The troops entrained and left
Balboa two hours later, arriving at Fort Amador by 2000; where they were
assigned to normal camp duties and received well-needed liberty.
At sea, a continual watch
was kept against enemy submarines and Army personnel manned the .50-caliber
antiaircraft guns and the 3" and
4" naval guns on the vessels.
Two meals a day were served, enlisted men eating in the main dining
salons of most of the ships and the officers in the tourist dining rooms.
The food was edible, but the half-converted ships lacked equipment to
feed the enormous number of men; chow lines were long and complaining
was loud. All illusions of pleasure cruising vanished.
A regular one-hour-a-day calisthenics period kept leg, arm, and neck
muscles as loose as the stomach fibers and, on the ships having swimming
pools, each unit received its allotted dip. The first abandon-ship drill
was muddled through and, after the first bedlam, drills became more precise
and the men soon acted automatically at the General Quarters signal.
As the convoy zigzagged into the tropical waters the weather became
warmer, and the wool uniform was changed to cottons and men were permitted
to sleep on deck. Post-exchange canteens were opened on all ships and
a five dollar partial pay was given each soldier for cigarettes, candy,
Coca-Cola, cigars, and chewing gum. Seasickness disappeared and the ocean
Talk aboard the American Legion
on the 22nd, was of crossing the "...
much fabled line that cloth gird the Earth about it's middle" and
what the "Polliwogs" (those who never crossed the Equator)
should expect from the "Shell-Backs" (those who had). The American
Legion crossed the Equator at Latitude 00-00' and Longitude 95-46' on
the 23rd and the Polliwogs were soon initiated into the mysteries of
the "Ancient Order of the Deep." A King Neptune's court was
organized on all of the ships. Everyone gathered to see justice-at-sea
under the heralded aquatic gavel of Neptunus Rex. Reminiscent of peacetime
cruises were the certificates of qualification as members of Neptune's
court (sold to neophytes of the deep). Charges for "crimes committed" were
formally brought against the lowly Polliwogs. Such major offenses as
arrogance and insubordination manifested by a master sergeant toward
several very noble buck privates were briefly considered and speedily
disposed of. The most approved method of punishment was to shave the
guilty individual with an immense wooden razor after a liberal quantity
of shaving cream, concocted from broken eggs, was applied by the manual
smearing method and administered brusquely by eager court attendants.
At the first protest of the defense counsel, the counsel was doused with
water or ducked in the pool around which the ritual was taking place.
Meanwhile, the inductee was receiving a mouthwash, a shave, or a haircut,
each service delivered with additional flourishes, and ending at all
times in a complete ducking with clothes.
The green waters of the more northerly Pacific slowly gave way to the
deep cobalt of the south seas. Schools of flying fish maneuvered about
the ships and a brassy sun beat down from the cloudless sky. Ships decks
swarmed with soldiers sunning themselves, playing cards, reading, or
dozing in the shade of lifeboats. Only nightfall and the rigidly enforced
blackout brought war close to the troopers, particularly when, in the
half-light between sunset and darkness, the huge ships were etched against
the crimson western sky and silence apprehension cloaked men as they
leaned on the rails and peered into the looming murkiness. At night,
the decks were littered with vague shapes of recumbent soldiers, sleeping
or silently reveling in the home sickening beauty of the star-filled
sky, the soft, clean swish of the ship's steel hull slicing through the
ocean, the eerie light of the phosphorescent wake, the Southern Cross
discernible to the south.
A few days after crossing
the Equator, officers on all ships were assembled and Colonel Tuttle
informed his men that the U.S.A.T. ships would proceed directly to
Tonga, while the rest of the convoy would proceed to Auckland, New
Zealand. The 147th's mission would be to establish a base for air and
naval operations in the Southwest Pacific. They infantry would be charged
with defense of the base on Tongatabu; which the Allies needed for
anchorage and an air base to protect supply lines and ships traveling
from America to Australia. As the news was passed on mutterings of "Well,
I'll be d----!" "I told you so," and "Where is Tonga?" echoed
around the ships.
Excitement reverberated through
the convoy when it was announced port was to be made during the next
day. The orientation lectures enlightened the men somewhat, but most
of them expected to find a completely uncivilized country inhabited
by head-hunting natives. In fact, the American Army troops were only
given a minimal amount of pre-landing information and it was released
to all in a shipboard memorandum dated 30 April 1942. These mimeographed
radio bulletins were passed out as news for the now bored and "salty,
This news included frightful information about the fall of the Philippines.
The Tonga or Friendly Islands consists of more than 100 islands and
islets, lying between latitudes 18?01' and 21?28'S., and longitudes 173?54'
and 175?33'W. They are divided into five groups as follows: Tongatabu,
Nomusa, Kotu, Ha'apai, and Vava'u groups. Tongatabu in the southern most
and the others stretch in a northerly direction nearly two hundred miles
away. The total area is 385 square miles.
These islands are all included in the Kingdom of Tonga with the capital
at Nuku'alofa, on the island of Tongatabu. The ruler is a Queen, but
she rules under a mandate from New Zealand. The royal palace is a wooden
structure located in the capital.
Nuku'alofa has a population of about three thousand.
There are four churches and a hotel on the chart. One church is of a wooden
structure and known as the Royal Chapel. Government offices, Post Office,
etcetera, are also wooden structures located along the coast eastward from
the Palace. A radio station is located here and also a well equipped hospital.
Beef and bread are reported to be plentiful, but vegetables are scarce.
The islands are volcanic in origin, with coral formations concealing most
evidence of volcanic matter.
Tongatabu is triangular in shape, the base being to the southeastward,
the apex terminating in a curved narrow horn to the northwest. It is about
eighteen (18) miles long, nine (9) miles wide, and for the most part level
on the north coast to a height of over two hundred feet in the southeast.
The interior is broken up by a large shallow lagoon, available only to
small boats, and entered from the north.
Vegetation is plentiful, with some trees reaching a height of seventy
(70) feet. Coconut and other trees abound.
There are many caves on the east coast, some with entrances forty (40)
to sixty (60) feet above the sea. About thirty-three (33) miles northeast
is a submarine volcano, active in 1912 and again in 1937.
The distance to Nukualofa from Panama is 5953 miles. It is necessary to
cross the equator and the International Date Line, but not the 180th Meridian.
The Date Line jogs to the east to include these islands, and returns to
the 180th Meridian further south. When the ship crosses the International
Date Line, we will drop one (1) day from our calendar. For example, if
the Date Line is crossed at Midnight of a Wednesday, the next day is Friday.
The lost day is recovered when crossing back from east to west.
South of the equator the seasons are reversed, and the shortest day of
the year is June 21, while the longest day is 21 December.
Aboard the Hunter Liggett, personnel were informed their initial mission
would be the defense of the Tongan Islands. The aging transport crossed
the Equator at Longitude 102-00', during the mid-morning hours of 1 May
1942 and the Court of Neptune was held.
The P.T. boat escort left the Hunter Liggett during the morning hours
and now its' only escort was the Dutch ship Wilhelemenia. This continued
until the next day; when the two ships picked up another destroyer as escort.
The American Legion, crossed the International
Date Line on 3 May. To speed up unloading of the American Legion, personal
supplies consisting of head nets and mosquito bars along with "C" and "D" rations
As 147th Regimental units approached Tongatabu, their spirits rose with
anticipation of finally walking on solid ground again. For many, it was
the first of many stops on foreign soil. The men knew a hard job lay ahead
for them, but they were trained, equipped, and ready to do whatever the
When United States forces entered the isolated South Pacific kingdom of
Tonga in 1942, many European and indigenous residents of the islands worried
about the impact of this large scale cultural contact.
Of all the South Pacific territories occupied by the
United States during the war, the Kingdom of Tonga was one of the most
remote. The Tongan Islands are located thirty-two hundred miles southwest
of Honolulu and eleven hundred miles northeast of New Zealand. Although
the kingdom consists of nearly two hundred islands, most of the population
lived on the largest island, Tongatabu,A where the nation's capital, Nuku'alofa,
The island was less than nineteen miles long and
ten miles wide. It is located just inside the "torrid zone," with
the Tropic of Capricorn just two hundred-fifty miles south. Removed from
major shipping lanes, lacking major exploitable natural resources, and
possessing only limited airport facilities, Tonga attracted only a modicum
of European contact and even less attention in the 1930's and 40's. Although
Europeans resided in the kingdom since 1796, they were only a small minority
of the total population and, at the onset of World War-II, westerners
comprised hardly more than one percent of the 34,130 residents of Tonga.
Despite small numbers, Europeans exerted a significant
influence on the kingdom. Arrival of Wesleyan missionaries in 1826 and
succeeding waves of Methodist and Catholic proselytizers during the early
nineteenth century marked a move away from idolism. During the first half
of the 19th century there were frequent wars, which finally stopped when
Taufa Ahau Tupou, afterwards King George Tupou I, became king of all Tonga
in 1845. Most Tongans enthusiastically embraced Christianity by mid-century
and the church emerged as the center of village life. In 1862, King Tupou
established a constitutional monarchy. Moreover, by the turn of the century,
Tongans also accepted other trappings of western civilization; including
the regalia of European monarchy, English titles of nobility, a constitution,
flag, national anthem, parliament, judicial system, civil service, schools
(with a western curriculum), and money.
When King Topou I died in 1893, the kingdom was inherited by his great-grandson,
King George Topou II, who made a treaty with the British to become a protectorate
in 1900, Topou II was seceded by his daughter, Queen Salote Topou III in
1918 and she was in power at the outbreak of World War II. During Queen
Salote's forty-seven year reign, illiteracy and national debt were eliminated.
After her death in 1965, the throne passed to her son, King Topou IV, the
When Britain declared war on Germany in early September
1939, London received the enthusiastic and unreserved support of the Kingdom
of Tonga. Almost immediately, the government of Tonga issued a declaration
placing all of its resources at the disposal of the British and formally
declaring war against the German Reich. Despite a decline in national income
because of a fall in world copra prices, Queen Salote offered to donate
approximately 160 acres for the construction of an air field and to establish
a national militia, the Tongan Defense Force.
By November 1941, the Tongan Defense Force consisted
of thirteen New Zealand officers and non-commissioned officers and 442
Tongans, organized on a battalion basis into four small companies, with
a headquarters in Nuku'alofa. Except for Coastwatchers established on the
outlying islands of the group, all military activity was centered on the
largest island, Tongatapu which also contained the seat of Government;
the port; and the residence of Queen Salote --constitutional monarch of
the only remaining native kingdom in the Pacific. New Zealand instructors,
though short of essential equipment in any quantity, did what they could
to mold the raw but enthusiastic Tongans into a force to serve the needs
of the moment; which at that time envisaged possible bombardment or attack
by landing parties from German raiders. The force was made as mobile as
possible and concerned itself with defending port installations; guarding
vital points; and an airfield; which were constructed some miles from the
town.C Thirteen coastwatching stations throughout the three groups of islands
relayed their information to a central station at Nuku'alofa for onward
despatch to Suva and Wellington. Their value and work increased with the
outbreak of war with Japan.
After being at sea for thirty days, the American Legion
finally arrived at Tongatabu -A.P.O. 930 at 1823 on 9 May. Beginning at
the Panama Canal, the sea travel of Task Force 0051 was recorded as 6,189
miles.10 Task Force #0051, now consisting of thirty ships and a landing
force of seven thousand-eight hundred soldiers and 862 sailors entered
the harbor at Nuku'alofa. All of these troops were weary of the cramped
quarters of the ship and listless from extended days and nights at sea.
With the advent of American forces into the Pacific and the acceptance
of American responsibility for the defense of certain selected islands
and island groups, Tongatapu became one of a chain of interlocking bases
beginning in the New Hebrides and extending to the rear through New Caledonia,
Fiji, and Samoa. These bases were organized to provide each other with
land, sea and air support for, if the Japanese drove farther south from
the Solomons, they would become blocks in an extended defense line and
springboards for offensive action--once the Allies built up sufficient
strength to attack.
Although Tonga was farthest from the actual combat zone,
a great quantity of vital Allied shipping pasted within range of the group,
which lay on the long lines of communication between the United States
and the principal Pacific bases in New Zealand and Australia.
Shaped like a warped triangle, the flat coral island
presented a lovely sight. The rich tropical greens presented a sharp contrast
to the fringing white sands and the wavering silver edges where the waves
broke over the seas. Troops could see natives, with flowers in their hair,
and two wheel carts promenading along the concrete causeway. Coconut palms
were silhouetted in the sunset and the whole picture murmured of quite
and peace and beauty. It was a far cry from the bristling military activity
the men observed when last they looked upon land. Tongatapu was where the
147th Infantry Regiment, less the 2nd Battalion, would set up their first
The Japanese octopus still was stretching out its tentacles, and Force
#0051, with 7,650 officers and men, including seven hundred members of
the Tongan Defense Force, was placed to obstruct the expansion. The Task
Force Debarkation Table listed the available forces as:
Unit Officers Enlisted Men
147th Infantry 94 2,359
134th Field Artillery 30 574
77th Coast Artillery 76 1,788
50th Coast Artillery 6 215
20th Coast Artillery 4 153
404th Engineer Company 6 196
Quartermaster Detachment 5 152
Force Headquarters Detachment 16 45
7th Evacuation Hospital 50 318
Chemical Warfare Detachment 5
Ordinance Detachment 3 85
Finance Department 1 11
TOTAL (less Nurses) 293 5,937
Navy Detachment 2 717
TOTAL DEFENSE 295 6,65414
In an attempt to maintain friendly relations with the Tongans, Lockwood
instructed his men to:
Buy fruit only through the government market.
pick growing fruit or vegetables. It is all private property.
Do not disturb
or injure the flying foxes [bats]. They are harmless and reverenced by
the native Tongans.
Be courteous to the native Tongans.
Treat grave yards with respect.
Sunday recreation will be conducted away
from the churches. Tongans will not be invited to play on Sunday. The golf
course is not open on Sunday.
Walk and drive on the left of the road.
Friendliness and generosity of the Tongans and their government continually
impressed the Americans in the months to follow.
Colonel Tuttle, Lt. Colonel Glore and seven enlisted
men of the various regimental staff sections went ashore via the causeway
early Sunday morning, 10 May 1942. This small group established a temporary
headquarters at the swank Nuku'alofa Club in less than an hour. This new
command center was the former social center of the British on the island.
The 147th soon became the tactical and administrative
headquarters of the island's ground forces, by directions of Lockwood.
This disposition placed Colonel Tuttle also in command of the 134th Field
Artillery Battalion, a unit of the 147th Infantry's parent 37th Division;
three separate Coast Artillery batteries, the 77th,E 50th, 20th and the
404th Engineer Company.
Troops aboard the American Legion began off-loading
at 0900 and unloading of supplies followed the troops. The supply detail
was under the command of Lieutenant Lakin Bowman of Company B and Lieutenant
Braden of the 3rd Battalion. Company B, under command of Captain J.W. McGuffin,
landed at 10 A.M., bivouacked near the causeway and was used extensively
as a working group. Lt. Colonel Norman O. Whiting's 3rd. Battalion disembarked
from the American Legion marched to an assembly area four miles west of
Nuku'alofa on the Hihifo road. Unloading of supplies was finally completed
on the 14th.
As masses of soldiers and sailors with tons of
equipment poured ashore, they received an enthusiastic welcome. The Tongans
turned out en masse to greet the Americans. Tongans never saw so much
equipment, but were generally pleased to see troops assigned to their
defense. Thus, a contemporary observer later remarked, "the days
of danger were over. When those ships put into the bay, morale on this
island went up 1000%."
As the unloading proceeded, the Hunter Liggett
was prodding very slowly through the South Pacific with the balance of
the regiment aboard. To the west, the "Battle of the Coral Sea" was
in progress. The battle was fought by American and Japanese air units.
Tactically, the United States forces won this engagement because the
Japanese Navy was forced to cancel its intended invasion of Port Moresby,
During the second day at Tonga, the cruiser U.S.S. Richmond, in the harbor
at Nuku'alofa, fired her guns at raiding Japanese aircraft. Troops heard
their first combat action but, being so far away from the harbor, the men
could see little.
As a major port in the South Pacific, the natural
harbor of Nuku'alofa was used by hundreds of vessels during the military
build-up. In the harbor at Tongatabu on the 15th was Admiral Jack Fletcher's
Task Force 17 which included the war-damaged, aircraft carrier U.S.S.
Yorktown, two heavy cruisers, and a destroyer, all of which were licking
their wounds. These veteran ships were flying the colors at half-mast
to commemorate and honor the victims of the "Battle of the Coral
Task Force was scheduled to immediately leave for Hawaii and participated
in the decisive early June carrier battle at Midway.
General B.C. Lockwood was uncertain of the Tongan water
supply - both quality and quantity. He was not sure whether or not more
supplies of any kind would be arriving from the United States. With all
of these factors against him, the general ordered all radiators, all water
containers, and canteens filled from the ships' water supply. Following
this policy of strictest economy, all lumber --even old packing crates
would be salvaged. Gasoline was restricted to two and one half gallons
a day for any single vehicle.
From the beginning, the Ruler of Tonga, Queen
Salote followed a policy of friendly cooperation with the Americans and
often offered General Lockwood more food than his men could consume.
Often the Queen presided at ceremonies honoring the Americans and insured
the graves of United States military personnel killed in the "Battle
of the Coral Sea" were
always decorated with fresh flowers.
The Queen maintained the dignity of her position
by remaining generally aloof from the occupation force and she dealt
with the foreigners almost exclusively through General Lockwood and British
Consul A. L. Armstrong.24 To avoid possible problems from developing,
she instructed her subjects, especially the young women, to withdraw
to the interior of Tongatabu or to outlying islands for the duration
of the occupation.25 For their part, the American high command in the
Pacific greatly respected Queen Salote. The historian of the naval station
in Nuku'alofa described her as "a
tall magnificent woman...[who] has given Tonga an administration which
almost everyone admits has been wise and productive."
The small native Tongan Defense Force, which was, at the time, organized
and commanded by New Zealand officers, was relieved of its' total responsibility
for the defense of Tongatabu. The T.D.F. was assigned a beach defense sector
along the southwest coast beginning just east of Veitogo and extending
northwesterly almost to Ha'atafu. All units on Tongatabu were placed under
the tactical control of Colonel Tuttle. The 147th Infantry established
the remainder of the perimeter defense for the island, creating several
defensive sectors, building and manning a system of wired-in beach positions,
and maintaining a network of observation posts.
United States armed forces respected the authority of
the Tongan Government, and their superiors required naval officers to wear
dress uniforms with gloves at official Tongan functions. This etiquette
contrasted sharply with the New Zealand troops; who caused a brief mutiny
in the Tongan Defense Force by refusing to salute Tongan officers.27 Members
of the Tongan Defense Force served with distinction as a unit of the First
Fiji Guerillas at Munda in the Solomon Islands during April, 1943. Here
2nd Lieutenant Henry Taliai became the first Tongan killed in action during
World War II.
After coming ashore, American Army forces took up positions
at various locations throughout Tongatabu to make preparations to repel
a possible invasion.29 To accomplish their mission, American soldiers improved
the forty miles of existing roads and constructed an additional sixty miles
of coral surfaced highway. To insure the health and welfare of the troops,
the United States Army also began such public health measures as mosquito
and rat controls, venereal disease treatment, health inspection, garbage
collection, water treatment, and sewage disposal. Meanwhile, Army Medics
offered instruction in first aid and sanitation for Tongans. They designed
this project to extend medical care to outlying villages; thereby preventing
the overcrowding of American medical facilities. Such improvements and
the construction of a 750-bed field hospital at Houma benefited Americans
and Tongans alike and was a very positive aspect of the occupation.
The days immediately after landing were busy indeed. In the various headquarters,
staff personnel were preparing and revising their tactical plans. On the
beach and in the dumps, details tossed and stacked the supplies. Reconnaissance
parties, with New Zealand or native guides, moved from one end of the island
to the other to check the visibility from tentatively selected observation
points. Medical officers sent out runners for samples of drinking water
from every possible source.
For the purpose of ground combat in the event of an invasion, still other
units were placed under the tactical control of the infantry commander.
The troops were under provisions of defense and attack plans which were
a part of an all-inclusive series of Standard Operating Procedures drafted
by the ground force leader, Colonel Tuttle.
In the bivouacs the troops began their initiation
into what would soon develop into standard regimental operating procedure:
armed with bayonets and machetes, they attacked the mosquito harboring
under growth in the palm groves for the first of the countless "147th Infantry Parks" scattered
across the far-flung South Pacific isles. The troops were be selective
in their chopping because maintenance of natural camouflage was the keynote
of defense against aerial attack.
Other troops of the 147th were being introduced to some salient features
of service overseas, perhaps peculiar in certain respects to duty on tropical
islands of the South Pacific. These included the operations of winches
to load and empty the holds of cargo ships and transports, stevedoring,
clearing jungles for bivouacs, putting together Quonset huts and pre-fabricated
tropical buildings, and many other jobs intended to be done by service
troops. These jobs were left as requirements to be met by a separate regiment
which found itself always in the advance echelon as far as other Army units
The inevitable training program rolled off the
mimeograph machines almost before the first echelon of troops got the
salt out of their lungs. On the first Wednesday, after debarking on Monday,
Ground Force Training Memorandum Number 1 ordered "All men not on detail would spend the next three
mornings training, an hour apiece on the manual of arms, close order drill,
interior guard duty, and nomenclature of the rifle." This was combined
with six hours of road marches during the week days, and five hours on
Saturday preparing for inspection.
Thus, the 3rd Battalion and Company B in their first
week went through an almost complete miniature program of what their future
life in the South Pacific was to be, even before the U.S.A.T. Hunter Liggett
and its' passengers, special units, and the 1st Battalion, reached the
The transport Hunter Liggett finally arrived at
Tongatabu during the late evening hours of 16 May. Unloading began the
next morning and the 1st Battalion disembarked and hiked six and one-half
miles to their new bivouac area. As the 1st Battalion moved from the
beach to the bivouac area, they moved in battalion formation, Headquarters
Company followed by Companies A, B, C, D., Special Troops, etcetera.
1st Lieutenant Stoecker and Sergeant Charles Kerber headed the battalion
formation and the route took them thou the center of town. As they approached
the edge of town, it appeared to be empty except for one native some
distance away, coming towards them. He was a big man, dressed in a white
calf length skirt, white shirt, black tie, and a black suit coat. Soldiers
noticed he was not wearing any shoes as he came closer but, was carrying
an open umbrella and it was not raining. As they came nearer, the men
behind Sergeant Kerber suggested the sergeant say something to the native
Tongan and see what he would do. When within speaking distance, Kerber
called out a loud "HELLO" in his States
accent. All were very much surprised when a broad smile appeared on the
islander's face and he replied "GOOD MORNING" in perfect English.
The American forces soon found out most of the natives spoke excellent
With the arrival of Lieutenant Colonel Robert Hanes' 1st Battalion, the
Ground Force organization was ready to dispose its' units for full defense
of the island. The initial American move to the South Seas was now completed
and the 147th Infantry's first overseas assignment was begun. The 1st Battalion
was located near the 3rd Battalion and was placed on a fifteen minute ready-alert
after reconnoitering and planning.
The 3rd Battalion, with Batteries A and C of the 134th Field Artillery,
was ordered to occupy and defend Nuku'alofa and the central and eastern
defensive sections of Tongatabu. The Tongan Defense Force, which until
then covered the entire island, was allotted the eastern sector with other
field artillery units attached. The 1st Battalion became the primary unit
of the general reserve.
Company L (reinforced) constituted the east support, establishing a base
camp on the northeastern edge of the village of Mu'a, on the south-eastern
side of Faga-Uta lagoon. Attached units included the 1st platoons of both
Companies I and K, a section of .30 caliber heavy machine guns and another
section of .50 caliber machine guns from Company M, a 37-MM. anti-tank
platoon, and Battery C of the 134th Field Artillery.
The I Company platoon and the .50 caliber machine gun section were ordered
to Kologa, on the coast road at the northern edge of the east peninsula.
Their job was to defend the coast artillery installations in that vicinity.
The northeastern sector of the peninsula was assigned to an L Company
platoon, plus a squad of three Browning Automatic Rifles (BAR's) and the
.30 caliber machine gun section. This sector extended between Talafo'ou
village and the road junction two miles east of Manuka. The coastwatching
station east of Niutoua, on the eastern side of the peninsula, was garrisoned
by men from this same platoon.
In addition, a half-squad with one BAR was sent to each of the south coast
watch stations at Hufagalube Point and Nakolo Point on the south flanks
of the airport sector. A squad was sent to Fatuma coast watch station,
east of the airport. The remainder of Company L was held in readiness to
reinforce beach defenses and to protect the rear of the general reserve
from any threat from the east.
Two motorized daylight patrols were established. The first was along the
coast road from Hufangalupa through Nakolo and Fatumu to Haveluliku, half
way up the east coast. The second was from Haveluliku southwest to Miutoua
and north through Kologa and Manuka to Talafo'ou.At night, two motorized
units covered the Hufangalupa - Nakolo - Haveluliku route, while the Haveluliku
-Talafo'ou patrol was divided in half at Kologa.
Company I, less its first platoon, constituted the Nuku'alofa sector.
The company established its base camp south of the town. One rifle squad
and a .30 caliber machine gun section from Company M was placed in defense
of coast artillery installations immediately west of Nuku'alofa. Another
rifle squad and a BAR squad guarded the village harbor and waterfront.
One motorized patrol operated along the shoreline.
The remainder of the 3rd Battalion, with a company of the Tongan Defense
Force and Battery A of the 134th attached, became the central support.
Base camp was set up in the area west of Tokomololo and about one mile
northeast of the northern edge of the lagoon. Half-squads were sent to
defend the road junctions east of 'Atale, west of Tokomololo, and east
of Ha'akame. Another was sent to the shoreline south of the agricultural
college near Vietoga. A section of .50 caliber machine guns from Company
K was sent to Ha'atafu Point on the northwest tip of the island. This section
was to protect the 50th Coast Artillery installation in the Tongan Defense
Patrols operated from 'Utulau to Hufangalupa in daylight. During the night,
two patrols went in opposite directions between Hufangalupa and Ha'akame
along the southern coast.
Slender watch towers, ninety feet high, and looking
like flimsy wireless masts, with a small platform at the top, were built
and used by the 147th Infantry to provided easy observation of the beaches
and far out to sea from the uniformly flat island.
Defense of the airport, in the southeastern section
of the island, against "hostile
ground penetration and parachute attacks" went to the first platoon
of Company K. The Army Air Force's 68th Pursuit Squadron moved onto the
airfield on 16 May, using it as a base from which patrols kept watch over
the sea lanes in and around the Tongan Islands. They worked in conjunction
with similar air patrols based in Fiji.
The 68th was commanded by First Lieutenant Robert M.
Caldwell and consisted of fifty-four officers and 483 enlisted men, with
all detachments included, and was among the first Army Air Force units
to be sent to the South Pacific. While defending Tonga, the 68th lost three
pilots: Joseph L. Gordon, 27 May 1942, crash at sea; Reynald E. Nash, 27
June 1942, crash into jungle; and Roy E. Carlson, 1 July 1942, lost at
This squadron was alerted for possible combat duty immediately after the
Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. As soon an the squadron was cleared
and packing was finished, it shifted to San Francisco, arriving there on
2 January 1941, the move bogged down and the men and officers settled down
in an Oakland warehouse to wait for shipment overseas.
The 68th boarded the S.S. Matsonia on 17 February and sailed out under
the Golden gate, joined convoy headed for Brisbane, Australia. The squadron
arrived in Brisbane on 8 March and went directly to a temporary camp, a
converted race track in the heart of the city. Ten day later they shifted
to Amberly Field on the outskirts of Ipswich, Australia, thirty miles from
Brisbane. Here the ground crew gained experience working on the assembly
line erecting P-39's and P-40's.
On 8 May, the 68th sailed for Tonga aboard the Dutch ship, M.S. Maetsuycker.
The 68th disembarked at Tonga 17 May and just seventy-two hours later the
ship was unloaded, a camp at the airfield was set up, and work was begun
on the assembly of the squadron's planes.
Training of both pilots and ground crews began immediately
and for the next five months patrols were flown and gunnery and dive bombing
was practiced. By the end of their stay on Tongatabu, the officers and
men created for themselves one of the finest camps and highest standards
of living in the islands. After leaving Tonga, the 68th revered itself
in actions on and around Guadalcanal.
The Hunter Liggett carried six very large and very old six inch coastal
defense guns; with their powder and shells; and the myriad of supplies
and equipment required to install them. SeaBees were sent to set up these
huge weapons to protect the main port of the islands, in the capitol city
Any big gun was a prime target for any attacking force and required protection
from infantry type assaults. A section of Company D, with a platoon from
Company B. was given the duty of guarding these weapons. The supporting
units job was to place two .30 caliber, heavy, water-cooled, machine guns
in well dug-in and camouflaged positions to protect the big guns from enemy
air or ground troops. This was a very demanding job, requiring the Army
guards to provide utmost cooperation to the SeaBees and they worked together
on the special project for several long weeks. The guns, because of their
tremendous recoil, required a very heavy reinforced concrete base which
took considerable time to construct and required around-the-clock work
for the infantry and the SeaBees.
The men were amazed when the huge weapons were test fired for the first
time and, never before, did any of them witnessed such a spectacular sight.
The tremendous sound waves of the initial muzzle-blast destroyed every
bit of the painstakingly assembled camouflaging vegetation which the SeaBees
had labored so long and diligently to install. This camouflage was blown
hundreds of yards into the shallow lagoon water, almost to the coral reef.
The netting needed to be cleaned up and new camouflage installed because
the island commander was coming to inspect the positions during the next
Information available on 22 May presented elements of enemy dispositions
to the troops: No known enemy force was within striking distance of the
island, but forces were known to be assembling in the Solomon and Caroline
No less than four Japanese transports, two cruisers, and four destroyers
were sighted in the vicinity of New Ireland, but the full composition of
the Japanese forces was unknown. They were reported capable of making a
strong landing and moving to the south and southeast under strong escort
to secure naval and air bases. The enemy was capable of offensive action
against Tongatabu, by air or sea, at any time.37
The newly arrived 147th Infantry's 1st Battalion marched
seven and one-half miles from their temporary area to a permanent position
on the 26th. 147th Infantry units then received the following garrison
assignments: Headquarters was placed near Tokomololo; Company C, 147th
Infantry, Mu'a; Headquarters, Battery A, of the 50th Coastal Artillery,
Ha'atafu; and 77th Coastal Artillery, Vaini.
White American military units in Tonga, in keeping with army procedure,
observed a policy of racial segregation, maintaining separate bases, recreational
facilities, and duties.39 Under these circumstances it was not difficult
for the Tongans to discern that the white Americans regarded the black
Americans as inferior human beings.
The only black unit assigned to Tongatabu was the 77th
Coast Artillery which initially consisted of seventy six white officers
and 1,793 black enlisted men. The 77th arrived in Tonga with the original
landing force and remained until April 1943. Following the first major
withdrawal of American troops in October 1942, the men of the 77th comprised
47.6 percent of the remaining United States military contingent in Tongatabu,
yet they were kept segregated from white troops and their morale plummeted.
Like many black soldiers, most of the men of the 77th came from an environment
in which they were systematically denied exposure to the basic skills needed
to survive in a modern society. Although they came from one of the world's
most advanced industrial societies, approximately eighty percent of the
soldiers of the 77th were either illiterate or barely literate.
Nor was the army's white command structure in
Tonga overly sympathetic to the plight of the 77th. The regiment's high
rate of court martials was attributed to "an unduly large proportion of low grade intelligence
ratings" and to "low mentality."41 According to a contemporary
British resident of Tonga, breaches in discipline by black troops were
followed by "swift retribution."42 Similarly, in October 1942,
General Lockwood requested permission to transfer "several hundred" enlisted
men of the 77th to "colored quartermaster or engineering organizations." Concerned
with "continuous breaches of discipline," Lockwood reported some
of the incidents were serious because they involved the civilian population.
Accordingly, he strongly recommended: "troublemakers" in the
77th be transferred to another area of the Pacific because "returning
these men to the United States even as prisoners, plays directly into their
hands as that status is not distasteful to such personnel."43
Despite General Lockwood's' fears, however, the
relations between the Tongans and the vast majority of the soldiers of
the 77th were quite good; they got on "unusually well." On
several occasions they were invited to dances which "palace girls" held
on "palace grounds" as
well as in Queen Salote's own village. Unlike the Americans, the Tongans
did not practice or accept racial segregation. While many governments including
those of Australia and British dependencies in the West Indies initially
informed Washington they would not accept black American troops, Tonga
did its best to make all U.S. servicemen feel welcome.
During the initial phase of their occupation of
Tonga, the Americans brought their paradoxical racial outlook to the
South Pacific. They were much impressed by the harmonious relations between
races in Tonga, and whenever disagreements between Tongans and Europeans
occurred, United States soldiers and sailors inevitably sided with the
Tongans. In so doing they won popularity with the Tongans and the contempt
of Europeans. The exclusion of Tongans from Nuku'alofa gentlemen's clubs
annoyed the Americans who generally resented what they considered to
be the "colonialist" mentality of the
British and New Zealanders.
The defense of Tonga was the first priority and work was to be accomplished
- slit trenches for personnel
- emplacements for weapons.
- development of a detailed fire plan for defense.
- Laying of tactical barbed wire was ordered in this sequence:
- landing beaches.
- primary positions of crew-served weapons.
- all minor tactical localities.
- Observation posts opposite most probable landing areas.
- main defensive positions.
- command posts.
- emergency ammunition dumps.46
The troops knew their work was cut out for them and training, for the
moment, stopped while everyone tackled the main job. Camouflage discipline
was maintained and minor tactical localities were so organized as to place
living quarters for personnel at a safe distance from alert positions and
entirely concealed them.
Although the nearest known enemy troop was some twelve hundred miles away,
Tongatabu's security precautions for the military included a daily forty-five
minute dawn stand to at all tactical positions and headquarters; a total
blackout throughout the island during hours of darkness; and continuous
jeep patrols at night over all perimeter and interior roads.
Intensive training was carried on at all times,
including conditioning exercises, field problems, small-scale maneuvers,
command-post exercises and practice alerts. Members of the band became
real combat troops as they manned six armored half-track reconnaissance
vehicles which were surprisingly deposited upon the island along with
the occupation forces. Training one class after another, schools were
instituted within the regiment as part of the training program, these
including "Tonga Tech," a leadership
course for selected junior officers and non-coms, and "Camouflage
Ground Force and Regimental Headquarters along with the 1st Battalion
installations were set up in the general reserve area near the center of
the island at Tokomololo. Company B continued working and living in Nuku'alofa.
Work was not all work, not with soft-voiced Tongans always around and
men on night patrol soon discovered it was not difficult to make acquaintances
in the blackout; for the silvery moon, glistening through the palms, cast
filigreed shadows on the beaches.G Outpost duty wasn't bad either and new
freedom, from all but one or two echelons of supervision, gave the men
liberty to live in small groups again. With definite jobs to do, on definite
schedules, and a fairly certain knowledge when the job was done the inevitable
details were not absolutely inevitable after all. What if the food did
come in marmite cans from the unit kitchens, sometimes a little cold? The
native's fruits and vegetables were available in profusion with seafood
and an occasional chicken.47
After settling into the routine, movies were set
up as moral-builders and passed from unit to unit. Tongans were invited
to watch these movies and, for some, it was a first time experience. "Woman of the Year," with
Katherine Hepburn, and "A Yank on the Burma Road" were shown
so many times -- almost everyone could close his eyes and visualize the
Hepburn picture from the credits to the final blackout.48
A Naval Station for Operation BLEACHER, was established
in May, 1942 and consisted of twenty-seven officers and 835 men with
headquarters in the Ma'ufanga section of Nuku'alofa.49 The most active
group of American sailors was the Naval Construction (SeaBee) units which
worked to develop Nuku'alofa as a fuel storage facility and a seaplane
base. In rapid succession, the SeaBees built twenty, 10,000 barrel naval
fuel tanks; twenty-six, 500 barrel gasoline tanks; two, 10,000 barrel
diesel tanks; two, naval magazines; and a small boat station on the offshore
island of Pangaimotu. Seaplane facilities included "a coral ramp, three mooring buoys, a nose hangar,
and storage and camp facilities." In addition, the SeaBees erected
numerous quonset huts and an army hospital. Navy headquarters in Ma'ufanga
contained baseball fields, basketball courts, and a boxing ring; it was
considered "one of the finest enlisted men's quarters in the South
Finding the pre-existing two hundred foot concrete
pier inadequate for handling all the large quantity of supplies assigned
to BLEACHER, the SeaBees constructed a coral pier at naval headquarters.
The yellow or American Pier was constructed and a narrow gage railroad
was installed on "Railroad
Street" to facilitate movement of supplies from ships to inland Quonset
hut storage buildings. Forty-Two pier was built in 1942 and was initially
used as a base for mine laying ships. Although some naval construction
units remained on Tongatapu until 1945, most of the SeaBees left in February
1943 for Efate, dismantling the vast fuel tank farm, many quonset huts,
and the ammunition magazines before they departed.
The first of June, 1942 brought the beginning of shorter
days in the Southern Hemisphere. Daylight was now breaking around 0630
and darkness was by 1730 hours, but shortened days presented no bearing
to military standards. To prove this point, General B.C. Lockwood inspected
the 3rd Battalion; and a British Naval Captain inspected the 1st Battalion.
Admiral Richard E. Byrd, the renowned polar explorer,
arrived at Tonga in June on an inspection tour of South Pacific bases,
and like nearly everyone else, Queen Salote of Tonga impressed him. He
described her as an "extremely
well educated and intelligent woman...[whose] subjects have a pronounced
horror of being invaded by the Japanese." Byrd also observed, "The
Roman Catholic Bishop of Tonga was so loyal to the Allied cause that he
considered renouncing his French citizenship to become a British subject."52
Admiral Byrd and Colonel Tuttle inspected the island's defenses on 8 June
and found them to be in exceptional order.
The troops learned more and more why the Tongan
Group was originally called the "Friendly Islands" when they
were visited by Captain Cook in 1773.238 At first a tourist, then as
welcome guest, and finally as part of the cosmopolitan population, the
soldiers wandered over the island of "Sacred
Tonga." They got around on foot, horseback, in native carts, and unofficially
in jeeps and trucks. The soldiers saw the famed "Blowholes" near
Houma where rolling waves, breaking on the reef, sent up waterspouts fifty
to sixty feet in the air. Men visited the "Wood of the Bats," a
grove inhabited by the silky flying foxes; sleeping, up-side-down in the
daytime. Ranging over the island at night, the bats reminding everyone
to "Thank God cows don't fly." In Ma'u, soldiers observed the
taboos and viewed the burial grounds of the "Sacred Kings"--
from the proper distance.53 Located along the north shoreline was a rugged
line of low cliffs, fifty to sixty feet high. At high tide, the giant waves,
covering the seaward edge of the coral reef, broke in a thundering roar
against these cliffs.
For the first time in Tongan history, vast quantities
of beer and cigarettes became available. The United States Navy used
an old Burns-Philip/Shell Oil warehouse primarily to store these "morale
For many Tongans, a taste of these fruits of western civilization only
whetted their appetites for more. When beer supplies ran low, the Americans
concocted home brew and Tongans soon mastered the process.54 The first "non-authorized" distillery
on Tonga was fabricated in 1942. It was designed by a 147th Infantry Service
Company truck driver, who hailed from Kentucky. Roy Vaccariello and Chris
Seibert built the unit according to the blueprint and, once constructed
and put into operation, Arnold Nortman was the head operator. Mash was
fermented from excess sugar and raisins, supplied by the truck drivers.
The mash barrel, sugar, and raisins fermented for four weeks.
Traveling post exchange trucks began circulating to
the bivouacs and outposts of the island as soon as the troops landed. The
first store opened for business at 1300 on 11 June, under supervision of
Major Henry A. Ratterman, who combined the jobs of special service and
post exchange officer for all ground forces and the regiment.
To familiarize all personnel and all units with the complete defensive
setup for the island, a systematic transfer of 147th units was periodically
made. 3rd Battalion-elements began exchanging places with their 1st Battalion
counterparts in July.
Captain Walter Davies was assigned as Eastern Sub-Sector Commanding Officer.
This Sub-Sector, in Mu'a, included all of Company C; with necessary communications
and personnel from Anti-Tank Company who took over Company L's east support
position; two platoons from A took over the south sub-sector from K units.
The entire 1st Battalion relieved the 3rd Battalion
in defense of Nuku'alofa and the central and eastern sectors of Tongatabu
on 2 July and the 3rd Battalion then went into general reserve. Thus, Company
I elements in Nuku'alofa were relieved by corresponding elements from Company
B; the M Company machine gun section was replaced by a section of Company
D; and the remainder of the battalion, as the central support, moved to
the Tokomololo area. Regimental intelligence personnel were assigned to
observation towers at Ha'akame and Ha'atafu and observers in the line companies
received special instruction in intelligence observation.
Lieutenant Marvin Ayers completing a count of Tongan
carts and horses in early August; his report showed 560 carts with horses,
312 extra horses, and twenty-seven spare carts.
Lieutenant Ayers was sent him over a rough sea
to Makahaa Island. There he picked up containers from the 134th Field
Artillery. While there, the lieutenant was told an allied task force
attacked three islands in the Solomon Islands to the northwest. These
units were reported as fighting a fierce battle for five days and controlling
a "foothold." News
soon circulated which indicated the 1st Marine Division landed on Guadalcanal.
This landing was the first offensive move for United States troops in the
In a reversal of the earlier July exchanges of battalions,
the 1st and 3rd changed back to their original duties. 1st Battalion then
went into general reserve; when the 3rd Battalion took over defense of
the eastern and central sectors and Nuku'alofa.
Regimental headquarters put all troops on their first
actual major alert beginning at 2200 hours on the 26th. Kitchens were moved
into the field, following a report hostile forces left Rabaul for Fiji
and Samoa during mid-August. All personnel were on full alert with full
equipment, however training continued. Troops stood formation in the morning
and then were sent back to their foxholes for forty-five minutes. A partial
alert continued through the 29th and transpired during the period tactical
reorganization was completed between the 1st and 3rd Battalions. The alert
was finally called off at 0645, 1 September 1942.
The problem of feeding the: troops on outposts, with
frequent changes of personnel from one job to another, finally was solved
on 2 September. The Ground Force was permitted to draw the organization's
entire ration and break it down to individual units and kitchen by its
The officer's club, with about a hundred members from
all army organizations, held it's opening dance on 5 September. The committee
managed to borrow forty-eight drink glasses, which were rare, after visiting
seven different ships. Members and their guests drank in shifts and, after
the party, the club found only thirty-five glasses, two of them broken.
Enlisted men's recreation centers were operating at
Nuku'alofa and Kologo through the cooperation of Services of Supply, Special
Services, and the Red Cross, which was headed by Mr. Edwin Holmes. The
centers included branches of the post exchange and cafeteria.
The Tongan flea situation became a matter of official
record on Sunday, 6 September when the Daily Bulletin, issued by Force
Command, reported a considerable number of patients being admitted to the
hospital at Houma for infected flea bites. Sunning of bedding was recommended,
but did not seem to help and, in early October, napthaline crystals were
issued to be sprinkled in the bunks. It was officially suggested a small
package of the crystals also be worn inside the waist band of the trousers.
During the first week of September more ships were in
harbor; anchored were two naval auxiliaries, one mine sweeper, one destroyer,
one light aircraft carrier, and one freighter; by the afternoon of the
4th, three more destroyers and two cruisers were added. The forty-five
thousand ton battleship U.S.S. South Dakota, carrier -Saratoga, transports
-Hunter Liggett, American Legion, and Barnett were added to the in port
list on the 6th and during the same afternoon, the battleship South Dakota,
six transports, four auxiliaries, nine destroyers, four cruisers, another
aircraft carrier, and two large auxiliaries departed. The South Dakota
returned with the cruiser New Orleans on the 7th. There were many ships
in harbor and large numbers of sailors and Marines were in Nuku'alofa as
ships of all sizes and descriptions continued to come and go. The carrier
Saratoga, several cruisers, four transports, and thirteen other ships arrived
in port on the 9th and on the 14th, were joined by the battleship U.S.S.
Washington, one freighter, three destroyers, and the transport ships -American
Legion, Hunter Leggett, and Burnett. Naval supply tug, one mine sweeper,
and three freighters, battleship -North Carolina, and Naval auxiliary -Vestal
joined this fleet on the 18th.
Colonel Tuttle, speaking in a "closed-door" officers meeting
at Regimental Headquarters, on 6 September, announced the 1st Battalion
would soon leave Tonga for some unknown destination. The first official
hint of movement appeared in the official files in a letter from USAFISPAI
Headquarters dated 5 October 1942. The communication stated: "When
necessity arises to direct the movement of personnel from non-malarial
area to malarial areas, such personnel should be advised to avoid taking
guanine or Atabrine prior to arrival in the malarial area."
Force Field Order #9, of 8 October, ordered the 147th's 1st Battalion
to move to Nuku'alofa by 15 October to load supplies and embark 17 October
for an unannounced destination. The 1st Battalion, with attached supporting
units and SeaBees, were to form a new force of some two-thousand men. In
preparation for this move, the regiment, which received no replacements
since leaving the United States, suffered its first appreciable losses
in personnel. Six officers, including Lt. Colonels Glore; Lockhart; and
Major Heilman; and some eighty enlisted men, chiefly drivers and mechanics;
but including other men of assorted talents and specialties, were transferred
to SOS and other island installations by order of the Force Commander.
An intensive training program was instituted during the interval between
notification and the actual move.67 Junior Leadership School held its graduation
during the afternoon of the 8th and on the 13th Colonel Tuttle addressed
members of the 1st Battalion concerning troop movement and, in preparation
of leaving Tonga, the men policed their area and practice-fired on the
one-thousand yard range.
Six months after the entry of United States troops into
the Pacific Theater of Operations, American forces assumed the offensive
in the Solomon Islands. By the end of August 1942, United States Marines
landed at Guadalcanal and the Navy won important victories at both the
Coral Sea and Midway. After these crucial battles, the base at Tongatapu
diminished in importance and what was one of the most strategic locations
in the South Pacific now became an isolated backwater whose raison d'etre
was far from clear. As the war moved further northwestward, Admiral Halsey
gradually transferred American troops from Tonga to other areas of the
The 1st Battalion was ready and standing by for
orders to leave Tonga and it was then WHEN and not If. One must remember
the fact, "No one
is less informed than a soldier at a Navy base; unless it's a sailor at
an Army base." The 1st Battalion was no exception but by 0430, on
19 October, the 1st Battalions gear was combat loaded in preparation for
sailing. The actual embarkation, involving thirty-two officers and 937
men, occurred at 1400, 20 October; when they marched aboard the United
States Army Transport Neville (APA-9). Command, at that hour, passed to
COMANPHORSOPAC and the 1st Battalion was officially relieved from Regimental
Overall commander of the expedition was Colonel W.B.
Tuttle, who remained in Tonga .236 All Army Units were under the direct
control of Colonel Robert C. Hanes with Major Henry A. Ratterman serving
as Executive Officer; Adjutant was 1st Lieutenant Delmar Carroll; and Detachment
Commander was 1st Lieutenant Charles O. Stoecker. Company Commanders were:
A, Captain Robert A. Ibold; B. Captain John W. Rosskopf; C, Captain James
Shopshire; and D, 1st Lieutenant Prentiss R. McLeod.
When the 1st Battalion of the 147th Infantry (with
attached units) sailed from Tonga aboard the U.S.A.T. Neville, they formed
a part of Task Force #0065. Both passengers and crew fought the "Battle
of the Tongan Fleas," in
the early stages of the trip. After several crew members reported to sick
bay with "skin inflammations suggestive of insect bites," the
gear of all personnel was sprayed and orders were given to immediately
delouse the one canine passenger aboard the Neville.
Admiral William F. Halsey, Commander of all United States Naval Forces
in the South Pacific, suggested Tonga should no longer be considered a
forward base and garrisoning of Tongatabu should be the responsibility
of New Zealand. The #34 Battalion, from New Zealand's 8th Brigade was selected
and dispatched aboard the transport U.S.S. President Jackson, after advanced
parties were recalled from Waikato; where they were preparing to billet
the battalion at Te Awamutu. Therefore, on 22 October, a New Zealand Advance
Detachment arrived on Tonga with the balance of the 34th New Zealand Battalion
to follow. The remaining 34th New Zealanders arrived at Tonga on 27 October
and disembarked at Nuku'alofa, moving first into the vacated 147th's 1st
Battalion reserve area for a brief period before taking over the eastern
sector of the island and establishing headquarters at Mu'a. Remaining 147th
Infantry Regiment units provided trucks to assist in unloading.
During their five-months stay on Tongatapu, 34 Battalion remained under
American command and in conformity with the American forces each battalion
was organized as a mobile striking force consisting of rifle; carrier;
mortar; and machine-gun companies. Officers and non-commissioned officers,
from the 147th's 3rd Battalion, were sent to the New Zealand units to acquaint
them with the standard operating procedures of the base.72 In a general
shuffle of units from Tonga, the 68th Fighter Squadron left Tonga, en route
to Guadalcanal aboard the U.S.S. President Jackson, on 23 October and were
replaced by New Zealand's Royal Air Force #15 Fighter Squadron.
With the 1st Battalion gone from Tonga and the subsequent arrival of the
New Zealanders, the rest of the regiment was certain they would be moving
soon. Colonel Tuttle was notified at 0842 on 10 November to order his regiment,
what remained of it, to prepare for embarkation; to sail within forty-eight
hours. Fourteen minutes later, the 34th New Zealand Battalion received
orders relative to relieving the 3rd Battalion outposts and, from then
on, everyone on Tonga worked like mad, packing; crating; loading; hauling;
and unloading. Troops loaded materials onto boats and into cargo nets,
then unloaded it into the enormous cargo bays of the USS President Hayes
Even with all of the work in progress, many of
the men managed to get in last farewells to their friends and girlfriends,
scattered the length and breadth of "Sacred Tonga."
The last boat load of personnel and equipment left the
Nuku'alofa pier to board the President Hayes at 1700, 11 November. The
move, from the initial alert to its completion, took exactly thirty-two
hours and eighteen minutes. After all the rush, the President Hayes stayed
in the harbor for three and a half days. During this interval, the troops
practiced landings on the Islet of Pagaimotu. The President Hayes sailed
from Tongatabu at 1140, 14 November, with the destroyer U.S.S. Landsdown
for company, and command of the 147th Infantry passed from Commanding General,
Force 0051 to COMAMPHORSOPAC.
As the ships sailed, Colonel Tuttle released,
to all units concerned, copies of General Lockwood's written commendation: "Upon
the departure of your Regiment from this command, I wish to comment you
and your command. The energy, hard work and attention to duty has been
of a very high order. You have gotten things done."