Battle of Wickham Anchorage, 30 June-3 July 1943

The battle for Wickham Anchorage (30 June-3 July 1943) was a short but hard-fought battle that saw American troops defeat a smaller Japanese force on Vangunu Island, and that allowed the Americans to use Wickham Anchorage.

Wickham Anchorage was a useful harbour area at the eastern end of the New Georgia group. It is bordered by Vangunu Island to the west and Gatukai Island to the east. The main Japanese garrison was believed to be at Vura village on Vangunu, south-west of the anchorage. The Americans hoped to capture the anchorage very quickly, thus allowing it to be used as a safe haven for transport ships heading towards the main battlefield around Munda on New Georgia.

The Americans decided to land at Oloana Bay, on the south coast of Vangunu, and advance east towards Vura. A sizable force was allocated to this landing. The army provided the 2nd Battalion, 103rd Infantry Regiment (Colonel Lester E. Brown), and part of the 20th NCB. Artillery support was provided by 90mm guns from Battery B, 70th Coast Artillery, 40mm and .50 caliber guns from Battery E, 70th Coast Artillery and 105mm howitzers from Battery B, 152nd Field Artillery Battalion. The Marines provided two companies and a demolition platoon from the 4th Marine Raider Battalion. The Marines would be transported on two destroyer transports and the army troops on a force of LCIs and LSTs.

New Georgia Campaign
New Georgia Campaign
The plan called for the marines to land before dawn on 30 June to secure the beach. They would be followed 30 minutes later by seven LCIs, then finally at 10.00 by seven LSTs. This neat plan soon descended into chaos. When the invasion force arrived off Oloana Bay it ran into heavy rain and high winds. Visibility was very poor, and Admiral Fort, in overall command of the landings, decided to cancel the night-time landings and wait for better weather or dawn. This order didn’t reach the two destroyer transports, and at around 3.30 the Marines began to transfer to their LCVP landing craft. At 3.45 the commanders of the destroyers realised they were in the wrong place, and ordered the marines to re-embark. They then moved to the correct position, 1000 yards further east, and resuming the landing operation. The move brought the Marine landing craft into contact with the seven LCIs, and the Marines were scattered. Eventually they managed to get to shore along a seven mile stretch of the coast, fortunately without facing any Japanese opposition. Six of their boats were lost, but all of the men escaped safely.

The main infantry landing took place at dawn, and was a total success. The army was soon ashore, and the Marines eventually rejoined them. New intelligence forced Colonal Brown, the land commander, to revise his plans. The main Japanese force had been discovered at Kaeruka, another village in a bay around 1,000 yards to the north-east of Vura. This now became the target of the American column. One company was sent to occupy Vura, which would become a mortar position. The 105mm howitzers were to remain at Oloana to provide artillery support. The rest of the force was ordered to advance along an inland trail that led to Kaeruka. 

Vura was only held by sixteen Japanese troops, and they were quickly eliminated. The main force reached the starting point for the main attack at 13.20, but by then all of its radios were out of commission, and so Colonel Brown was unable to call for any artillery support. Despite this he decided to launch his attack as planned, and the advance began at 14.05. Although the Japanese fought hard to defend the line of the Kaeruka River, the Americans eventually managed to force their way across and cleared the village. That night they also managed to wipe out a Japanese supply convoy that didn't know the village had fallen.

Although the Japanese had lost the two villages, they hadn't been defeated. The survivors of the fighting on 30 June pulled back to Cheke Point, a headland 500 yards to the east of Kaeruka River. The Americans pulled back to Vura, and prepared for a properly coordinated attack on the new Japanese position. Cheke Point came under aerial attack, was bombarded from the sea, and on 2 July was subjected to a day long bombardment by the 105mm howitzers. This preliminary bombardment inflicted heavy damage on the Japanese, and when the Americans attacked on 3 July they found little resistance. Only seven Japanese soldiers were killed during the attack, and most of the garrison had evacuated the area.

Wickham Anchorage soon proved to be something of a disappointment for the Americans. By holding out until 3 July the Japanese had blocked its use by the transport shipping heading towards Rendova during the build-up to the battle for Munda. The anchorage was never developed into a major base, although it did become a refuge for small craft.

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How to cite this article: Rickard, J (2 May 2013), Battle of Wickham Anchorage, 30 June-3 July 1943 , http://www.historyofwar.org/articles/battles_wickham_anchorage.html

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