The 35th on Vella Lavella

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From 9 February to mid-July, 1943, after the fall of Guadalcanal, the 35th Infantry Regiment worked with the rest of the 25th Division maintaining the security of Guadalcanal. Preparations were made for any potential counterattacks by the Japanese and improvements to the new base of operations were made so that it might be used in further operations against the Japanese, who were still in strong positions in the Solomon Islands. The 25th Division or "Tropic Lightning" as it had become known, spent the spring and summer training and recuperating from the battle it had just fought.

The planning for the drive to push the Japanese from the Solomon Islands did not originally include the units of the 25th, however, as the fighting on New Georgia began, it became apparent the more support was necessary. In July of 1943, both the 27th and 161st RCTís were brought in to New Georgia to aid in driving the enemy from the island and in capturing the airfield that had been built at Munda. The 35th Infantry, as division reserve, was scheduled to join the division in August, to aid in the reduction of Rendova Island. By that time, however, the 27th and 161st had proven themselves masters of the situation and plans were changed.

Vella Lavella

During the weeks following the fall of Munda, the Japanese fled New Georgia, occupying Kolombangara, the island to the northwest. They also established positions on Arundel, a smaller island off the western tip of New Georgia. Admiral William F. Halsey, commander of the South Pacific Area, decided not to attempt an assault on Kolombangara. The New Georgia campaign had already taken more time and men than originally planned and the capture of Kolombangara would not be fast or easy. Forces, instead, were committed on Vella Lavella, the island northwest of Kolombangara, which was reported to be held only by a small group of Japanese, and on Arundel. Halsey hoped that U.S. possession of these islands would make the enemy positions on Kolombangara untenable.

Troop movement on Vella Lavella

Brig. Gen. Robert McClure, the 25th Division's assistant commander, led the Northern Landing Force that assaulted the beaches of Vella Lavella. The force, formed around the division's 35th Infantry, made its landings on 15 August, 1943, along the beaches near Barakoma, on the southeast coast. The 2d Battalion, 35th Infantry, landed without opposition and proceeded towards the Bilo Mission near the southern tip of the island.
The 1st Battalion came ashore on the 2d Battalion's right and moved north, crossing the Barakoma River. The 3d Battalion faced greater difficulty in getting to the beach. As their landing craft approached the shore, the Japanese attacked from the air, strafing the beaches. This forced the boats to pull back, and the battalion's landing was held up until later that morning.

 

The landing force established a defensive perimeter across the southern tip of the island, extending from the western coast, opposite Bilo Mission, to just north of the Barakoma River. It was from these positions that the U.S. troops searched for pockets of enemy soldiers. These patrols met scattered resistance, but for the most part were unopposed. At the end of August, after the report of enemy activity near Kokolope Bay, in the northeastern corner of the island, the 1st Battalion, 35th Infantry, received orders to move to the region. McClure ordered the battalion to seize the area around Kokolope Bay for future use as a radar site.

The battalion started off on 30 August, with Company A in the lead. Five days later Companies A and C reached the Boko Mission, east of Kokolope Bay. The Japanese attacked the next morning, but were driven off by Company A.

Companies B and C, on 11 September, again came under fire and could not break through the enemy position. The companies withdrew to the battalion line and waited for further orders.

McClure pulled the 3d Battalion, 35th Infantry, from the defensive perimeter and directed it to move north as part of an assault in conjunction with the 1st Battalion. The 1st Battalion was to move on Valapata, southwest of Kokolope Bay. At the same time the 3d Battalion was to drive north and prevent the enemy from escaping to the west. Both battalions started off on 14 September, but rugged terrain slowed the 3d Battalion. This delay allowed the enemy to slip away, and the 1st Battalion reached Valapata to find the enemy emplacements abandoned. The 3d Battalion then relieved the 1st at Valapata, Boko Mission, and Baka Baka. The 1st Battalion searched the area from the bay to Lambu Lambu, further east, for any enemy stragglers.

While the 1st and 3d Battalions conducted operations in the north, the 2d Battalion manned the defensive perimeter in the south. The battalion had successfully extended its lines north along the west coast to Nyanga Plantation and on to Paramata. This was the situation when, on 18 September, Admiral Halsey turned the command of the forces on Vella Lavella over to Maj. Gen. H.E. Barrowclough, commander of the 3d New Zealand Division, which relieved the 35th Infantry. For its assault landing on Vella Lavella, the 35th infantry received the bronze assault landing arrowhead device on its Northern Solomons campaign streamer.

Upon relief by the New Zealand forces, the 35th Infantry rejoined the division on Guadalcanal on October 20. On 10 November, the division embarked for a far too short, but glorious rest period in New Zealand. This visit was undoubtedly the high point in the regimentís career in the South Pacific. The cordiality, generosity and consideration displayed by the New Zealanders for battle-weary soldiers of another nation cannot be too highly praised. But all too soon, the 35th had to return to the business at hand; the extermination of the Japanese. On 9 February, 1944, the regiment left New Zealand, and on 13 February, debarked upon New Caledonia, where almost immediately, a new training program was begun.

   

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