Battle of Viru, 30 June-1 July 1943

The battle of Viru (30 June-1 July 1943) was an early success for the US troops invading New Georgia, the first major US offensive in the Solomon Islands after the end of the fighting on Guadalcanal.

Map of Allied Invasions, Solomon Islands
Solomon Islands:
Allied Invasions

Viru is located on a deep, narrow bay close to the southern end of New Georgia. The Japanese had a barge base in Viru Harbour, and the bay faced towards Blanche Channel, the main sea channel that was to be used by the Southern Landing Force on its way towards Rendova Island and Munda at the western end of New Georgia. Eight or nine miles further to the east was Segi Plantation, the main base of Donald G. Kennedy, an New Zealander who had been a District Officer and who was now a coast watcher. Kennedy had managed to keep the Japanese out of his part of the island, and had provided invaluable intelligence and a base for Allied patrols.

In early June General Sasaki, the Japanese commander on New Georgia, decided to eliminate Kennedy. On 17 June Japanese reinforcements arrived at Viru, and Kennedy realised he was the target. On 18 June he radioed a request for help to Admiral Turner, the overall commander of the Allied invasion force. Turner decided that the risk of losing Segi was more important than the risks of altering the complex timetable for the invasion, and on 21 June all but two companies of Lt-Col Michael S. Currin's 4th Marine Raider Battalion landed at Segi. On the following day two companies from the 43rd Infantry Division and an airfield survey party also landed at Segi.

New Georgia Campaign
New Georgia Campaign

The presence of the Marines at Segi meant that the plan for the attack on Viru could be modified. The Marines would be shipped a little way along the coast and would then move cross country to attack Viru from the land on 30 June. A naval force would bring the main invasion force to Viru after the planned start of the land attack. This small scale operation would reveal one of the biggest problems that the Americans would face on New Guinea - the difficulties of travel in the dense jungle.

Allied patrols suggested that the Japanese had troops on both sides of the entrance to Viru Harbour, with most at the village of Tetemara on the western side of the harbour, but also a smaller force at Tombe, on the eastern side.

Viru Harbour, New Georgia, from the shore
Viru Harbour, New Georgia, from the shore

On 27 June O and P companies from the 4th Raider Battalion was moved by sea from Segi to a plantation at Lambeti. On 28 June they began their cross country march, giving them two days to cross eight miles of jungle. Two platoons from Company P were sent to attack Tombe, while the rest of the force made the longer march all around Viru inlet to attack Tetemara. This proved to be over optimistic, and the marines didn't reach Viru until 1 July.

On 30 June the naval force, which consisted of the destroyer transports USS Hopkins, USS Kilty and USS Crosby arrived outside the bottleneck entrance to the harbour. Instead of finding friendly Marines they found a hostile 3in gun. The ships waited outside the harbour for six hours, but eventually headed around the coast to Segi Point.

The overland force reached Viru on 1 July. The Tombe force was first to move, attacking at 09.00. The small garrison of Tombe was quickly dispersed and the Americans suffered no casualties. The fighting alerted the garrison at Tetemara, but as they rushed outside to see what was happening they were attacked by the first six American aircraft.

Viru Harbour, New Georgia, from the air
Viru Harbour,
New Georgia,
from the air
The Tetemara force had a harder fight. Their assault began fifteen minutes after the air strike, but progress was slow and after about an hour they only gained 100 yards. The Marines' main objective was to prevent any of the Japanese garrison from escaping, and the focus of the fight soon turned to the American left. The Japanese commander prepared to attempt to break out towards the north, and Lt Col Michael S. Currin, command of the 4th Raiders, responded by moving his small reserves to the left. The Japanese attack was a costly failure, and after that the Americans were able to make quicker progress into the village. By the afternoon of 1 July the area was safe enough for the second naval echelon to land safely.

The Americans lost eight dead in the fighting at Tetemara. Japanese casualties were much heavier, with 48 dead or captured. Overall Japanese casualties were 61 dead and around 100 wounded. The survivors managed to return to Munda, arriving on 19 July.

The Marines remained at Viru until 4 July, when they were replaced by troops from B Company, 103rd Infantry. Viru Harbour turned out to be unsuitable for use as a PT base but it did become the site of a repair base for small landing craft.

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How to cite this article: Rickard, J (26 April 2013), Battle of Viru, 30 June-1 July 1943 , http://www.historyofwar.org/articles/battles_viru.html

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