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    Driniumor River West Sepik Province Papua New Guinea (PNG)
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Eugene Salternik c1944
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US Army c1944

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Justin Taylan 2003

Location
The Driniumor River runs roughly south to north, emptying into the sea.  Located to the east of Aitape and 17 miles east of Tadji. During late April 1944, the west shore of the river was the American perimeter around Aitape, encompassing Aitape Harbor and Tadji Airfield.

Americans Defenses
After the US Army landed at Aitape on April 22, 1944, a covering force comprising the US Army 32nd Infantry Division and 112th Cavalry Regiment was sent eastward to guard Aitape's eastern flank on the Driniumor River. Only minor actions took place up to July 1944, as the US garrison was reinforced and built defensive positions along the Driniumor River to meet an expected Japanese attack. 

Japanese Counter Attack
This came in July 9-10, 1944 beginning with an attack of the Japanese Army's 128th Infantry Regiment, 32nd Infantry Division. By July 11, over 800 Japanese troops were killed, but they were able to penetrate the line at one area, and for US troops to withdraw.

Japanese also attempted to flank south of the American positions by moving inland to Afua in the Torricelli Mountains where fighting raged for two weeks, and was often hand to hand but they failed to break the line.

In mid-July and the US troops were forced to withdraw.  During the fighting along the Driniumor River the 31st Infantry Division's 124th Infantry Regiment killed more than 3,000 of the enemy and played a major part in breaking the back of the by-passed Japanese 18th Army. However, repeated counterattacks restored the position and the Japanese sustained heavy casualties. In further attacks in August the Japanese around Aitape were thoroughly defeated, and the scattered remnants fled back to the east and south to join Japanese forces between the mouth of the Sepik River and Wewak.

Three Medals of Honor
Three soldiers earned the Medal of Honor during Battle of Driniumor River. S/Sgt Gerald L. Endl was killed in action after rescuing wounded Americans and later earned the Medal of Honor. 2nd Lt. Dale Eldon Christensen single handily attacked 4 enemy mortars and 10 machine guns on the night of July 18-19, he attempted to repeat an similar attack on August 4, but was killed. For these two actions he was posthumously earned the Medal of Honor. On July 23, 2nd Lt. George W. G. Boyce, Jr. attacked a Japanese position, throwing himself onto a hand grenade to save his men, and posthumously earned the Medal of Honor.

Relief By Australians
Repeated US counterattacks restored the original line, and the Japanese sustained heavy casualties, with the final Japanese attack came on August 4, with 200 attacking and were massacred on the American line. The Americans in the Driniumor River area were relieved by the Australian 2/4th Battalion at the end of November 1944.

Eugene Salternik, 25th Liaison Squadron (L-5s) recalls:
"I flew an officer over the battlefield and landed nearby so he could survey the area. I snapped a photo of the area from my L-5, you could see stacks of bodies from the air, it was a massacre."

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Last Updated
February 4, 2018

 

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