National Geographic : 1945 Jan
Fiji Patrol on Bougainville BY DAVID D. DUNCAN First Lieutenant, U. S. Marine Corps With Illustrations from Photographs by the Author T HE dugout headquarters was cool under its massive roof of palm logs and sand bags. An orderly presented me to the officer behind the desk. He was Lt. Col. Geoffrey T. Upton, commanding the 1st Bat talion of the Fiji Infantry Regiment on Bou gainville in the Solomon Islands.* "So you're the U. S. Marine who wishes to enlist in the Fijian Army," he chuckled as we shook hands. "Now just what can we do for you?" "Colonel, as a photographer for the Avia tion Division of the U. S. Marine Corps, I am making a motion picture of SCAT [South Pacific Combat Air Transport Command]," I replied. "I have heard of the exploits of the Fijians in their behind-the-lines fighting with the Japs. Parachute drops, many by SCAT planes, supply their jungle outpost at Ibu, in the heart of enemy country. I need pictures of those drops; they must be extremely color ful. I would like permission to join your men in their stronghold." At dawn next morning I reported to the pilots' shack of the- Army Air Forces Cub Command. Men of this group fly the frail two-man planes which so effectively spot artil lery fire. "Here we are at Cape Torokina, on Empress Augusta Bay," the captain explained, pointing to a map.t "There's Ibu, the Fiji outpost, on the other side of the island-barely 10 miles from the Japs at Numa Numa. To get there you'll have to ride our grasshopper up the canyon of the Laruma River, then through the pass in the Crown Prince Range (p. 89). "Thirty seconds after taking off, you'll be over enemy country. In all those mountains and jungle"-he waved a hand across the island-"there's only one little spot where you can safely land. That's Ibu. You had bet ter take another good look. Over Jap Country in a Grasshopper "Planes lost in this country are never seen again," he added. "The jungle or the Japs get them. One Fijian who crashed fought the jungle for 20 days before he reached friendly hands. The pilot gave up after the Fijian, who had carried him for four days, could no longer lift him. He was never seen again." As our tiny plane banked and climbed away from the bomber strip, I realized how small our toe hold is on Bougainville. We were already beyond our front lines! Down below was nothing but green jungle-Jap country. Here I was flying to war in a plane so small the kids used to bounce them around in pas tures at home. I was a United States Marine, being flown by an Army pilot, going to join in a campaign with Fiji islanders. Everyone was in on it but the Navy! Yet the Navy also was to play an important role before I next saw Empress Augusta Bay. My revery ended abruptly. Wind struck my face as the plane sideslipped into the pass. Veils of rain hid most of the peaks of the Crown Prince Range. Bougainville's beautiful and most active volcano, Mount Bagana, was lost in its daily storm. It was a far different Bagana from the one I photo graphed on a clear day with its plume stand ing straight up-one of the rarest sights in the Solomons (Plate II). Another squall loomed dead ahead. Pour ing on full throttle, the pilot flipped into the next canyon. Its walls reared higher than the plane. Diving barely over the treetops, he followed the zigzagging course of the stream. Sunlight spilled from the clouds. We squirted out of the canyon just in front of the rain. Fiji Outpost Like a Movie Set Twenty minutes after our take-off from Torokina, we were over Ibu, the Fijian strong hold, with its miniature airfield. Spiraling for the approach, I got my first good look at the field. It was really some thing! While shooting pictures around the chicle camps and coffee plantations of Central America, I thought I had seen the ultimate in microscopic airports. Compared with Ibu's, they rivaled New York's La Guardia Field. Enormous trees choked one end of the strip. The runway clung to the crest of a ridge and disappeared over the edge of a canyon. That strip was only 350 feet long. It looked like a melon patch. * See, in the NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC MAGAZINE, "A Woman's Experiences Among Stone Age Solomon Islanders," by Eleanor Schirmer Oliver, December, 1942, and "Jungle War: Bougainville and New Cale donia," 17 paintings, by Lt. William F. Draper, April, 1944. t See Map Supplement of "Southeast Asia and Pa cific Islands," in THE GEOGRAPHIC for October, 1944.