BRAVE NEW ZEALANDERS
ATOLL CLEARED OF ENEMY
(N.Z.E.F. Official News Service) From NZ Herald
SOUTH PACIFIC BASE, March 13 (1944)
For the first time in its history a tank squadron of the Third New Zealand Division went into action on Nissan Island, supporting infantry units which destroyed the last remaining nest of Japanese on the atoll.
This action began unexpectedly and with startling suddenness, as so often happens in the jungle, where every man must he constantly alert. When night fell over 60 Japanese lay dead. in a grove of pandanos trees and litterng the shore, mowed down by our grenades, machineguns and rifle fire. Individual acts of bravery marked the whole action.
Well tested in their action on Vella Laveila, our men moved to the attack with courage and precision, outwitting the Japanese by their superior skill and jungle tactics.
The Opening Rifle Shot
The action began on the outskirts of the tiny native village of Tanakeran,
about 150 yards from the low coral cliffs which border the south-west coast
of Nissan. All round the area were dense thickets and large trees where
a man may remain concealed five yards away. This area, like all others
on the island, had been patrolled and was thought to he clear.
Between 11.30 a.m. and noon Captain J. F. B. Stronach, of Christchurch, officer commanding a Bren carrier platoon, was making a reconnaissance of the area with the object of establishing headquarters there. As it was lunch time he rested his men and decided to go for a swim. A few minutes later one of his men walked across toward the edge of the cliff. Suddenly a rifle cracked in the green gloom. A Japanese had fired on him from behind a tree.
Force Quickly Organised
Two sergeants immediately collected 15 men to search the area,
thinking that one or two Japanese stragglers had escaped.. our patrols.
They were met by withering bursts of rifle and machinegun fire, and two
of their men fell wounded.
The firing brought Captain Stronach to the scene at the double. He realised that the Japanese were there in considerable numbers. They were either hidden in caves or up in the trees, and thus escaped our patrols. in all he had 28 men assembled quickly from various units. With this small force he formed a perimeter, boxing the Japanese in along the coast, with the object of holding them there until reinforcements arrived. At first an attempt ivas made to rescue Corporal Roy Stannard, of Wairenga, of the carrier platoon, who lay wounded in the field of fire. Although Captain Stronach and some of his men crawled to within 10 feet of him, they could not effect a rescue, as the Japanese riddled the area with rifle and mortar fire. Corporal Stannard was afterward rescued by a tank.
Tanks Go Into Action
Lieutenant E. H. Ryan, of Hawera, who was also making a
reconnaissance of the area with a machinegun company, arrived and went
into action on the right flank, spraying the area from knee height to the
tops of the trees. Because of the noise, it was
impossible to pick up snipers hidden in the branches. So severe was the
Japanese mortar fire that Lieutenant Ryanís machine gunners were pinned
in along n the coast and the signal was sent for reinforcements.
Soon afterward he was wounded.
At two o'clock in the afternoon Major R. J. Rutherford, of New Plymouth got his first tanks into action. Visibility was limited and great spreading roots of trees hampered tank movements. But the trees were plastered with shrapnel from the tankís howitzers. Lieutenant T K. Evans, of Hawera, commanded one tank and Sergeant H. H.. Beetham, of Masterton, another.
Sergeant Beethamís tank located Corporal Stannard and went in under a hail of bullets to rescue him. Although the Japanese were only 15 to 20 yards away our men could not locate them accurately; all they aimed for was space.
Japanese snipers picked off a tiny periscope on one tank and fired at
an observation aperture no larger than a bullet. Their accuracy was disturbing,
as was evidenced by bullet marks on the heavy metal. Two more tanks were
now brought into action, one commanded by Lieutenant D. Holden, of
Onga Onga, and the other by Corporal H. E. Johns, of New Plymouth, the
Taranaki footballer. Once more the area was plastered with shrapnel, bringing down showers of leaves and shattered branches. As the tanks were now too close for the safety of our men, they were withdrawn.
Meanwhile Captain Stronach was still holding the perimeter, his men firing into the area where the Japanese were pinned.
By 3.30 p.m. Major A. B. Bullen, of Auckland, officer commanding D Company, arrived with two platoons, and the infantry, the real heroes of jungle fighting, prepared for the final assault.
Major Bullen took full command of the operation, moving his 14th platoon to the right flank and placing his 15th platoon on the left. By now the Japanese were well trapped, and as our men moved forward the action developed into a perfect exhibition of grenade throwing. Major Bullen was shouting his orders and making his voice heard above the wicked crack of rifles, the stutter of machine-guns and the explosion of mortars. And every one of those orders was obeyed implicitly as his men closed in on the Japanese, now hemmed into a small area with a cliff behind them. Every shouted order brought a storm of lead in Major Bullenís direction as the Japanese sought to find him.
Order for Final Dash
Night was coming on. The final clearing up had to be completed before
darkness. Major Bullen had the whole situation under control and was elated
by the conduct and coolness of his men. Word reached him that eight Japanese
had heen killed while trying to escape along the rugged coast. Corporal
L. G. Ratcliffe, of Kerepeehi, in charge of a picket, accounted for
six with a tommy-gun and two others were despatched as they rounded some
Meanwhile the net closed in. With only about a quarter of an hour of daylight left, Major Bullen gave orders for the final assault to his impatient men. First came a shower of grenades, every man hurling them vigorously and with telling effect. Then the final dash. The men were firing as they stumbled and ran over the jagged coral, avoiding splaying roots of pandanus Just before that final dash Captain P. R. W. Adams. of Blenheim, fell dead, shot by a sniper.
New Zealand Losses Light
Victory was complete and our losses were remarkably light, thanks to skilful handling of the whole situation by Major Bullen, and before his arrival by Captain Stronach. They counted the dead 51 of them lying in groups among the rocks and tree roots, One wounded Japanese, as our men approached him, placed a hand grenade on his stomach and committed suicide. Only a few of the enemy escaped, and they were accounted for next day.