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Cumberland Goes To War is a community heritage project coordinated and promoted by Allegany County Tourism in partnership with the Canal Place Preservation and Development Authority, the City of Cumberland, Western Maryland Scenic Railroad and the Allegany County Chamber of Commerce. Funded in part by the Maryland Heritage Areas Authority, the Allegany County Commissioners and the City of Cumberland. More information about the project and/or the images in the archive can be obtained by emailing info@cumberlandgoestowar.com.


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41st_infantry_division
41st Infantry Division

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Registered: August 2008
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In December, General Douglas Macarthur decided to commit more American troops to the Battle of Buna-Gona. The 163rd Regimental Combat Team, under the command of Colonel Jens A. Doe, was alerted on 14 December 1942.[20] It arrived at Port Moresby on 27 December. The first elements, which included the 1st Battalion and regimental headquarters, flew over the Owen Stanley Range to Popondetta and Dobodura on 30 December, where they came under the command of Lieutenant General Edmund Herring's Advanced New Guinea Force.[21]
The 163rd Regimental Combat Team was attached to Major General George Alan Vasey's 7th Division and Doe assumed command of the Sanananda front from Brigadier Ivan Dougherty on 3 January 1943.[22] The front line consisted of a raised road with Japanese positions on relatively dry ground astride it, surrounded by jungle swamp. Roadblocks had been established behind the Japanese positions but they had not been budged; both sides resupplied their positions through the swamp. Vasey's plan was for the Americans to fix the Japanese in position while he attacked with Brigadier George Wootten's 18th Infantry Brigade, supported by M3 Stuart light tanks of the 2/6th Armoured Regiment and 25 pounders of the 2/1st Field Regiment.[23]



Sanananda road block positions 1-22 January 1943.
Doe, "eager to come to close grips with the Japanese", requested permission to launch an attack against the enemy Perimeters Q and R between his two roadblocks. Herring and Vasey thought that he was underestimating the enemy, but Vasey gave permission for the attack, provided that it would not jeopardise the main plan.[24] The attack went ahead on the afternoon of 8 January 1943 but both attacking companies of the 1st Battalion, 163rd Infantry encountered heavy fire and were thrown back. First Lieutenant Harold R. Fisk became the first officer of the division to be killed in action. His body could not be immediately recovered. He was posthumously awarded the Silver Star. The roadblock position he had attacked from was named Fisk in his honour.[25]
The first part of Vasey's plan involved the blocking of the Killerton Trail to prevent the Japanese from using it as an escape route, and to provide a jumping off point for a later advance by the 18th Infantry Brigade. The 2nd Battalion, 163rd Infantry, under Major Walter R. Rankin, set set out early on 9 January 1943. Company G, covering the flank of the advance, was strongly engaged by Japanese heavy machine gun, mortar, and rifle fire. The remainder of the battalion established themselves astride the trail in a new position which was named Rankin after the battalion commander. The attack had cost four dead and six wounded. More casualties would be taken holding the position over the next few day.[26]
On 10 January, a patrol from the 163rd Infantry discovered that the Japanese had unaccountably evacuated Perimeter Q. This was occupied at once by Company A, which sent out tree snipers and patrols to harass the enemy and feel out the contour of the Perimeter R, which was now open to attack from all sides. The Japanese had left behind a considerable quantity of material, including a water-cooled .50 calibre machine gun. The Japanese had evidently been very hungry and there was evidence of cannibalism.[27]
With the roadblock established, the 18th Infantry Brigade launched the main attack against Perimeter P on 12 January. Vasey's plan of attack was based on the assumption that the Japanese defenders had no antitank guns. This proved to be incorrect, and three Stuart tanks were hit by fire from a concealed Type 1 37 mm Anti-Tank Gun.[28] Although the 2/9th and 2/12th Infantry Battalions killed some Japanese and gained some ground, the Japanese position remained intact. The attack had cost 18th Infantry Brigade 34 killed, 66 wounded and 51 missing.[29]
The Australian commanders were now demoralised. Wootten reported that to continue the attack under the existing conditions could only lead to heavy casualties. Vasey directed him to continue aggressive patrolling.[30] They had completely misread the situation. On 14 January, a patrol from the 163rd Infantry captured a very sick Japanese soldier. Taken to 7th Division headquarters for interrogation, the man revealed that the Japanese commander, Lieutenant Colonel Tsukamoto Hatsuo had ordered all able bodied men to evacuate Perimeter P, leaving the sick and wounded to hold it to the last.[31] Vasey ordered an immediate attack. Supported by a troop of the 2/1st Field Regiment and their own mortars, Rankin's 2nd Battalion reduced the three small enemy perimeters to the south of their position and advanced to meet the Australians on the Killerton Track. By early afternoon the Australians and Americans had also joined hands on the Sanananda Road as well. Some 152 Japanese were killed and six captured.[32]
On 15 January, a platoon of A Company managed to get inside Perimeter R undetected. The rest of the company followed, taking the Japanese defenders by surprise. Company C joined in the attack from the Fisk while Company B attacked from the west. Bunker after bunker fell to small groups attacking with rifles, grenades and submachine guns but the Japanese resistance was desperate and the entire position was not taken until the next day.[33]
The Australians carried out a wide envelopment, reaching the sea on 16 January, but the 163rd Infantry remained confronted by Perimeters S, T, and U, although these were not immediately located. A first attack succeeded in establishing a new position called AD.[34] On 19 January an attack supported by 250 25 pounder and 750 M1 Mortar rounds faltered after a Japanese mortar round killed Company I's commander, Captain Duncan V. Dupree and its First Sergeant, James W. Boland.[35] In his situation report, under "American troops", Vasey wrote "Heb. 13:8" ("Jesus Christ, the same yesterday, today and for ever.")[36] But the next day, Companies A and K managed to fight their way into Perimeter T. This softened resistance from Perimeter S, and Companies B and C were then able to capture it. Some 525 Japanese dead were counted after the attack. Finally, on 22 January, Companies I and L were able to capture Perimeter U, counting another 69 Japanese dead.[37]
In just three weeks of fighting in January 1943, the 163rd Infantry lost 85 killed, 16 other deaths, 238 wounded and 584 sick, a total of 923 casualties.[38]
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