Morotai file photo

Battle of Morotai

15 Sep 1944 - 14 Jan 1945

Contributor: C. Peter Chen

The island of Morotai is a member of the Molucca Islands 1,800 km˛ or 695 square-miles in size, laying 300 miles northwest of Sansapor, New Guinea. Bypassing the strong nearby Japanese garrison of Halmahera, MacArthur selected Morotai, defended by a small garrison of only 1,000 men, as his next target on his "Hitting 'em where they ain't" island hopping campaign. On 15 Sep 1944, Major General John Persons' US 31st Infantry Division and 126th Infantry Regiment of 32nd Division were delivered by Rear Admiral Daniel Barbey's VII Amphibious Force to the island, landing unopposed. The landing operation was extremely inefficient, with vehicles bogged down by thick mud on the southern beaches of the island. The same soft earth seen at the landing site posed further problems when Army engineers arrived to construct an airfield to extend MacArthur's sphere of control, but they were able to locate another site for the airfield about two weeks later. As soon as the airfields were finished, B-24 Liberator bombers of the US 13th Air Force were flown in.

Although initial Japanese response was weak and uncoordinated, a Japanese infantry colonel was sent to the island to organize the defense. Under the cover of darkness at nights, the colonel transferred men from Halmahera to Morotai. US Navy PT boats and other small craft caused losses for the Japanese, but by Dec 1944, the bulk of the Japanese 211th Infantry Regiment was on Morotai. Assembling his forces near the Hill 40 area, the Japanese colonel sent harassing patrols for the Americans through mid-Dec, an called for air raids from Halmahera and Borneo against American forces through late-Dec. During the night of 24 Dec, the Japanese conducted the most effective air raid, in which sticks of bombs damaged airfields and destroyed several B-24 bombers, while losing only two aircraft. Captured documents later revealed that the colonel planned to sweep out of the jungle at the Gila Peninsula and isolate American forces in small pockets, then take control of the airstrips.

The Americans, meanwhile, was undergoing a transition where fresh troops of the 33rd Division were coming in to relieve men of the 31st Division. On 26 Dec, 33rd Division's 136th Regiment under the command of Colonel Ray E. Cavenee pre-empted the Japanese counteroffensive by moving his troops inland in two columns. The 3rd Battalion of the regiment dug in at Radja while the rest of the regiment moved to the Pilowo River. The regiment's supporting artillery of 105mm howitzers moved to the Ngelengele Island off the west coast of Morotai. The Americans experienced jungle trails more difficult than anticipated. While marching, the men needed to transfer heavy loads such as machine guns and mortars from one man to another as frequently as every 15 minutes to prevent exhaustion. When the troops were about one mile inland, radios failed and the two columns lost communication with each other, necessitating the two columns to use the artillery spotter aircraft as a means of communication between them. On 30 Dec, the Pilowo column came across a small Japanese force, which was promptly pushed back, and the column moved across the river on 1 Jan 1945. On the other side of the river, a strong and well-entrenched Japanese force was detected. From intelligence, the Americans determined the Japanese had two infantry battalions, two mortars, and two or more machine guns. Cavenee, whose headquarters was with Major Lewis L. Hawk's 1st Battalion, launched an attack with that battalion at 1000 on 3 Jan, while Lieutenant Colonel Arthur T. Sauser's 2nd Battalion was sent west of the Japanese position in attempt of envelopment. From Ngelengele, artillery shells poured into Japanese positions. American troops gained ground under fierce resistance from camouflaged defensive positions and sniper fire, reaching within 80 yards of the main Japanese line before stopping the advance for the day.

During the first day of major fighting on 3 Jan, a field 500 yards to the rear was cleared so supplies could be brought in by air for the Americans. This was needed because thick jungle growth and treacherous trails made supplying over land difficult. Due to terrain limitations, heavy machine guns and mortars were of little use, thus men of the heavy weapons companies took on a new duty of carrying the para-dropped supplies from the clearing to the front lines. Terrain difficulties also haunted the evacuation process, requiring eight men and two days of their time to carry a wounded soldier to the rear. The heavy weapons company men were often used to help evacuate the wounded as well. Very quickly, it was recognized that the evacuation was taking up too much resources. To improve the situation, the Americans gathered bamboo found nearby and made light-weight rafts so that the wounded could float down the streams toward the coast, reducing the litter bearing party down to four men instead of eight.

At dawn on 4 Jan, US artillery resumed the shelling. 136th Regiment's 1st and 2nd Battalions resumed their attack that morning after the shelling, but was quickly pinned down by machine guns and sniper fire. Both sides realized they were close to the enemy, and fighting became done mostly by grenades and small arms. It took the Americans the entire day to clear the Japanese perimeter defenses. Before nightfall, Cavenee pulled back his troops by 100 yards so that artillery pieces on Ngelengele could resume firing.

Meanwhile, the other column of the American offensive of Major Ralph Pate's 3rd Battalion of the 136th Regiment began to approach the Japanese positions from Radja on 27 Dec. They encountered the Japanese 211th Regiment's 3rd Battalion all along the way, all the while needing to hack their way through the jungle (as opposed to men of the other column, who traveled over trails). Although they did not know at the time, on their 10-day march toward the main Japanese position near Hill 40, his men had eliminated almost the entire Japanese 211th Regiment's 3rd Battalion.

As the two columns now both bearing down on the main Japanese position, the Japanese decided they must take back the initiative. At dawn on 5 Jan 1945, a small Japanese attack party of about ten men attacked the right flank of the American line. The sword-wielding Japanese officer in command of the attack came within 10 yards of the Americans before a Browning automatic rifle burst cut him down; his last action before collapsing was throwing his sword at an American soldier. The remaining attackers were all cut down by gunfire before they could reach the American line, hence rendering the attack a failure.

After a burst of artillery fire, the three battalions of the 136th Regiment attacked Hill 40 area at 0700 on 5 Jan. The spearhead elements suffered heavy fatalities, but were able to clear out two Japanese machine gun emplacements with grenades to continue their advance. With the machine gun positions taken out, Americans rushed the Japanese line and took over the 211th Regiment command post. The Americans observed that the Japanese were well supplied in terms of ammunition, radio equipment, and medical supplies, but there was a shortage of food. They also observed significant destruction from the artillery bombardment, and concluded that the artillery fire from Ngelengele played as much a role for the conquest of Hill 40 as the infantry did. American troops of the 1st and 2nd Battalions continued north beyond Hill 40 area to pursue the fleeing Japanese and to make contact with the 3rd Battalion which attacked from the north during the final battle; they made contact at 1400 that afternoon. Only 40 Japanese successfully fled from the area after the fall of their regimental command post.

Morotai was cleared of Japanese resistance on 14 Jan 1945. 870 Japanese were killed and 10 captured. 46 Americans were killed and 104 wounded. The island later played an important role in the Australian invasion of Borneo and the American operation to reclaim Leyte.

Source: World War II Magazine.

Battle of Morotai Timeline

15 Sep 1944 US Army troops landed on Morotai, Maluku Islands.

Photographs

Barbey and MacArthur inspected the invasion beaches at Morotai Island, 15 Sep 1944US Navy LCI(L) ships unloading men at Morotai, 15 Sep 1944American transports unloading supplies at Morotai, Sep 1944, photo 1 of 2American transports unloading supplies at Morotai, Sep 1944, photo 2 of 2

Maps

Map showing Japanese positions across the southern Pacific, published in US Pacific Fleet and Pacific Ocean Areas Information Bulletin No. 124-44 of 15 Aug 1944Map depicting Allied advances in the southwestern Pacific Ocean area, 30 Jul-22 Sep 1944Map showing the Morotai landings on 15 Sep 1944Map of major Pacific War engagements, 1942-1945




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Visitor Submitted Comments

  1. shannon says:
    29 Apr 2008 09:05:06 PM

    i think my grandfather fought in one of those infantrys, at Morati.
  2. D. Jackson says:
    6 Sep 2008 02:39:21 PM

    My Uncle PFC Joeseph R. Paul Jr. was killed in action on Oct. 31, 1944 on Morotai.
  3. salvador castro says:
    19 Sep 2008 07:06:15 PM

    On this date, Sept. 19, 1944 a small band of us landed on Cape Sopi, on the northern tip of Morotai. Our mission was to destroy a **** radar station.
    We were part of Company E, 126th Regiment, 32nd Division
  4. Rob de Vrij says:
    31 May 2009 05:39:59 PM

    In 95 I was diving with local people looking for a wreck of a "zero" in Halmahera.We encountered a lot of other stuff also, it was a very interesting trip.On land also lots of Japanese wrecks, the jungle was full with them.They told me stories of a Japanese soldier still alive in Morotai.When I read the stories about the heroic battles in Morotai I would love to go diving there looking for WW2 planes and ships.It is amazing how brave the American soldiers fought there.
  5. Anonymous says:
    31 Jan 2010 03:16:58 PM

    My father served with a US Navy land-based aviation unit, CASU-F 57, on Morotai (after having been at Wewak & Biak in New Guinea). From there they went on to Puerta Princesa & then Clark Field in the Philippines after the Leyte Gulf landings were secure. His stories were that there were plenty of **** soldiers in the mountains of Morotai & they loved to come out at night & attack the Navy & USAAF a/c there. FWIW.
  6. Anonymous says:
    3 May 2010 03:59:50 AM

    My father inlaw served on Morotai Island During WW11.I do not know anything about this theater of WW11.I s there a medal for this theater of War
  7. Anonymous says:
    7 May 2010 03:50:34 AM

    My father served in the Navy on the USS Half Moon and at Morotai. This was long before I was born and I only learned this specifically from records I had retrieved from being a surviving family member of a WWII veteran. The HBO series, "The Pacific," was a catalyst in my wanting to find out more about my father's service activity. So far, this is all I have learned. I would be pleased to see postings by anyone with stories about the ship or the Navy on the island in the fall of 1944.
  8. Anonymous says:
    2 Jun 2010 07:25:50 AM

    My cousin, PFC Franklyn F. St. Louis was killed on Morotai on 23 Sep 1944. After the war our government wanted to rebury our fallen heroes in Japan! My cousin's remains were brought home and he was laid to rest in Golden Gate National Cemetery, San Bruno, CA.
  9. Anonymous says:
    2 Jun 2010 07:28:05 AM

    To the person who posted on May 7th about her father serving on the USS Half Moon--FYI you can go to www.nara.gov and obtain copies of your father's service records.
  10. Marvin E. Paulin says:
    18 Sep 2010 10:29:54 AM

    I flew on a B24 from Morotai in 1945. It was the 307th Long rangers.
  11. WALTER R. OGILVIE says:
    7 Oct 2010 10:47:21 AM

    I WAS A COOK IN THE ARMY AIR FORCE ON MOROTAI ABOUTNOV 44-MAR 45. THERE WAS ALOT OF BOMBING AND STRAFING BY THE JAPANESE DURING THAT TIME. ONE NIGHT I WAS IN THE MESS TENT WITH 2 OTHER G.I.'S HAVING COFFEE ABOUT 10:30. THE BOMBING STARTED AND WE HIT THE LIGHTS AND RAN FOR THE FOX HOLES. IN THE DARK I TRIPPED AND HAD A HARD TIME GETTING OUT OF THE TENT. I KNEW I WAS A GONNER.
  12. Keith McGilvery says:
    18 Oct 2010 06:50:19 PM

    As a Wireless Maintenance Mech. with75 Sqdn.Kittyhawk fighters RAAF, we were based at Morati Island from late Nov.1944 to late April 1945..Beautiful Morotai Skyline Drive and a wrestling stadium with Pitoe and Wama ? metal sheeted strips, are a vague memory.."Operation OBOE for D Day 1st.May 1945 at Tarakan ended my 23 months Service in the S.W.Pacific.K.L.McG.
  13. HANK RUMAGE says:
    6 Nov 2010 03:37:46 AM

    My brother served on Mortai as a Naval Signalman. His duty station was the large signal tower on or near the beach.
  14. Mark Atwell says:
    4 Dec 2010 09:19:22 AM

    I dived off Morotai earlier this year on a 'plane wreck and truck. Looks like they may have been 'cast overboard' from the runway: http://www.flickr.com/photos/markatwell/4845041381/
  15. Bob Hayne says:
    18 Dec 2010 12:45:10 PM

    My Dad served on Morotai.
    LAC Fred Hayne
    11 Telecom
  16. kathlee miheve goldsberry says:
    6 Jan 2011 08:14:01 AM

    my father frank d. miheve was in morotai. i have a letter saying he was there in june 1945. if anyone knew him please e-mail me:
    goldy601@hotmail.com
    THANK TO ALL THAT SERVIED
  17. WILLIAM "rUDY" rUDIN says:
    18 Jan 2011 06:32:27 AM

    i SERVED ON mORATAI UNTIL THE END OF THE WAR. aS A MEMBER OF THR 14TH aIRDROME sQ.WE OPERATEED THE PITOE AIRDROME WHICH ALL THE B24S TOOK OFF TO ATTACK THE NIPS WHEN WE FIRST LANDED AND TOOK CONTROL MOF PITOE WE WERE BOMBED AND STRAFED ASMANY AS 15 TO 20 TIMES DURING ONE NIGHT THE JAPS CAME FROM LOLABATA ON HALAMERHARA.
  18. william "rudy" rudin says:
    20 Jan 2011 11:15:38 AM

    I would like to add my e-mail to my last comments, so if anyone could contact me. Wrudy21@comcast.net My comments was listed at #17
  19. Karl Anderson says:
    29 Jan 2011 01:48:17 PM

    My wife's uncle, Frank W. Briggs, was killed on Moratai on Jan 1, 1945. If anyone new him or has any information about him, please let me know. One of his 5 brothers is still alive and I am sure he would be happy to hear about Frank.
  20. Robert Bulkowski says:
    12 Dec 2011 07:16:20 PM

    MY father PFC BERNARD F BULKOWSKI was with the 544th E.B.& S.R.,ENGINEER BOAT & SHORE REGIMENT COMPANY D.He went with the first elements of the Fourth Engineer Special Brigade to Maffin Bay, Dutch New Guinea were he staged with his regiment for there initial combat landing. After a brief period of preparation he joined the large task force and landed with the D-Day asssult units on the jap-held Island of Moratai,netherlands East Indies in mid -September 1944. Then to Bougainville in the Solomon Islands to join the 37th Infantry Division for combat operations. This campaign lasted 3 weeks. His unit was then assigned to the XIV corps of the Sixth Army for an amphibious assault on the Island of Luzon, Philippene Islands.On January 9th 1945 he landed in the initial assault waves at Lingayen Gulf.In March then in motor convoy to Manila.
  21. Anthony Monioudis says:
    7 Mar 2012 09:38:49 PM

    My father, John Monioudis, and uncle, John Simiris, both served on Morotai during World War II, my father as a communications officer to an AA gun at an airport and my uncle as a cook. My father was there from shortly after the invasion until well after the formal surrender ceremonies. He was wounded during an air raid but was not evacuated. He kept up with his wartime buddies for many years and was the last surivor of this group until his passing last month. I wish I had know of this site before so I could have asked him about some of the names mentioned. I do have his album of wartime photos.
  22. Steve Harris says:
    14 May 2012 09:12:40 PM

    My Dad, Herbert Harris served there. He had few words to say about it but from what I can gather he was in the Army in the New Guinea campaign and ended up on Moratai, probably as a machine gunner at the air base. He was left behind as the main forces headed north. He never gave any info on units he was in but he mentioned his company was mostly from the deep South, a real shock for a street guy from Brooklyn, NYC.
    He may have been an NCO once or twice and had a low opinion of officers. I remember him stating that is was ironic that after all this his only injury was a messed up back when some supplies were dumped on him from a cargo net.
    Sorry to be so vague but he just wouldn't talk much.
    He loved the Aussie pilots and had an RAF mustache for the rest of his life. He passed away in 1999.
    Steve
  23. Dr Thomas says:
    28 May 2012 06:08:20 AM

    My 27-year old uncle George Abood from Detroit, Second Class Seaman, died on Morotai in March 1944 ...NOT from enemy fire but my parents told me from a tick-borne disease. If anyone knows anyone who knew him or even the correct name of the disease that killed him (my Dad, also Navy, called it something like "susu gamucci"?), I would love to tell my 91 year old Mother who still grieves for her lost brother to this day. Thank you, Dr. Thomas
  24. Steve Parris says:
    17 Jun 2012 08:16:26 PM

    My father, Delbert Parris and uncle Burl Parris served on Morotai with the 31st Infantry "Dixie" Division. Lots of Southern boys: that division was composed of national guard regiments from Alabama, Mississippi, and Florida. Dad says they made lots of patrols but not much fighting. He said Morotai was a lot calmer than what they encountered in New Guinea at Aitape and later on Mindinao and his time there contributed to him surviving the war. He is still alive at 92 and living in a veterans home in Texas.
  25. US Embassy Jakarta says:
    5 Aug 2012 10:30:52 AM

    Looking for Battle of Morotai survivors and photos of survivors. We're doing two events commemorating the Battle of Morotai at our cultural center @america here in Jakarta Indonesia. We're looking for photos (past and present) of survivors. If you have any, please contact us. http://www.atamerica.or.id/events/684/Sail-Morotai-Presentation-on-the-Battle-of-Morotai-and-its-Legacy
  26. Lester DeGennaro says:
    10 Aug 2012 08:28:43 PM

    I was stationed on Morotai assined to 8th Service Squadron as a machnist. Our tent was located in one corner and served as a defence for the Squadron. Other men in the tent, Kurt Obee, Frank Boyt, Frank Cutrone. Survived 187 bombings. Present age 90 years. Retired M/Sgt, 20years, 29 days active service
  27. Denny Cain says:
    5 Jan 2013 07:28:52 AM

    I just recently learned of my Great-Uncle's service in WW II. He was Army Sergeant Sylvan M. Hammond and was killed during an air raid on Morotai Island, October 24th, 1944. I don't have any info on his unit but I assume he was with the Red Arrow Division. If anyone knew him or knows any additional info about him I would really appreciate a contact. My e-mail is cain11b@aol.com and my phone number is 678-761-1310. Thank you.
  28. judi pope says:
    25 Feb 2013 06:27:38 PM

    My late father, Lt Col.William Charles Fitzmaurice Hill of Melbourne, Australia served as a wireless operator on Morati.Any info relating to him please email me at jpope8@ncable.net.au. Thanks.
  29. Anonymous says:
    30 Nov 2013 03:32:44 AM

    My late grandfather served on Morotai, from his records, being hard to read he arrived back in Australia on 27/8/45. His name was Norman Alfred Wearne, VX 63349. Was an RO, I think he was in Sigs 3 Aust Armed Div. He also had 2 other brothers there also. If anyone knows of him or the other 2 brothers (Wearne) please email me at farrah_leith@bigpond.com
  30. Geoff Fox says:
    7 Dec 2013 07:23:45 PM

    i am designing a memorial exjhibition at morotai

    my father was there in 1945
  31. Natalie says:
    28 Dec 2013 03:50:48 PM

    Thank you for the article. I have recently started to try and find out what my grandfather did during WWII. The article has given me some indication of what life was like for him and the other ANZACs.
  32. Bill Gabour says:
    29 Dec 2013 08:21:38 AM

    My Uncle Charles (Gabby) Gabour was on a B24 that crashed on 1 Dec 44. They took off from Pitoe Airdrome on a strike of Fabrica Airdrome, Negros Isl.He was with the AF-13th BC, 5th Bomb Group, 394th Bomb Squadron.
    He was one of 3 that were MIA from the crew.
    Anyone that may have known him or have more info please contact me at ab5g@cox.net___
  33. tom butscher says:
    11 Jan 2014 08:27:31 PM

    My stepfather was on Mortai with the 2nd Emergency Rescue Sq.(2nd ERS) He told of some wild stories that I have since confirmed thu research. I would love to go to the Mortai Island. If anyone would like to contact me about the 2ERS my email is Butscherkb21@hotmail.com.
  34. Geoff Fox says:
    14 Jan 2014 11:01:27 PM

    i will be planting trees on morotai on and around 26th january at air Kaca; maybe 26 trees or 52 or 78; or even 156; geofoxau@yahoo.com
  35. Bill Watson says:
    21 Sep 2014 03:28:52 AM

    My father served on Morotai. He was a Leading Aircraftman with the RAAF 13 Squadron. It would be great to make the journey to see where he served, maybe one day.
  36. Keith McGilvery says:
    4 Oct 2014 04:41:46 AM

    During the last couple of months I had noted some where that a photo of a highway at Morotai was actually named after an American unit and I recall including a 1945 photo of the highway, the details being on another computer which I'll check tomorrow..I guess I'd have used this medium of contact, hence wonder why it wasn't added to my earlie3r observations
  37. Lori L says:
    2 Nov 2014 05:14:29 AM

    My father-in-law served on Morotai 1943 - 1944. He was in Section 18 in the 785 AA Battalion (Army), and his captain's name was Provida. He would love to hear from anyone from his unit.
    Email lori79@live.com.

  38. Timothy Babb says:
    15 Nov 2014 06:05:44 PM

    My father, Robert Babb of South Dakota was at Morotai with the Army Air Corps. He said he saw his most dangerous action there. I remember him telling me of a Japanese raid where they killed the US hospital patients. I do not know his unit or the time he was there. Later he was at Tacloban in the Philippines. Anyone who can help me find details my address tjbabb@aol.com.
  39. Bill Watson says:
    24 Nov 2014 03:19:16 AM

    Further to my comments on September 21 2014. When my father was alive l kept notes of his experiences during WW11, dad spoke highly of his commanding officer (13 Squadron Australian Air Force) Gough Whitlam who later became an Australian
    Prime Minister. Unfortunately Mr Whitlam recently passed away, dad recalled how
    Gough drove him down to the wharf on
    Moratai to meet two of his brothers (infantry
    soldiers) who arrived on a troop ship and
    then offered to pick him up at days end.
    What a great CO.
    This is a very special web site.

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More on Battle of Morotai
Participants:
» Barbey, Daniel
» MacArthur, Douglas

Location:
» Dutch East Indies

Ship Participants:
» Belleau Wood
» Phoenix


Battle of Morotai Photo Gallery
Barbey and MacArthur inspected the invasion beaches at Morotai Island, 15 Sep 1944
See all 4 photographs of Battle of Morotai



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