National Geographic : 1945 Jan
The National Geographic Magazine through the jungle. The Japs charged the first position and were blown back. When they hit again, it had been abandoned. With heavy machine guns they pounded the second ambush, then drove in with bayonets. Bren fire scattered them over the ridge. They came again, screaming as they charged. The second position was deserted. That third ambush repulsed a massed fron tal attack. Then the enemy, fearing the Fijian fire more than the jungle, infiltrated around the trail. Their three-sided banzai charge carried them over the position. It, too, had been abandoned. Five Against a Hundred The final Fijian stand around Tokuo was made by five men who stayed in the village. Five men against more than a hundred. Sub machine gun slugs and grenades poured from the huts, throwing the Japs back into the jungle. Tokuo belonged to the night-and the Fijians. More of the enemy were added to the score. Not a Fijian was hit. Next day the fury of the Japanese storm mounted to even greater heights around our ambush in Sisivie. As usual, the rain limited all visibility to a few feet. As usual, the Japs waited until the downpour was at its worst, then slipped through the watery screen to the attack. Cloaked in ferns from head to waist, faces blackened with charcoal, and leaning quietly against tree trunks, the Fijians became part of the jungle in the half-light and the rain (Plate III). Cool and casual, they placed each shot with terrific speed, but utmost care. I'll never forget two dramatic scenes that occurred as the Japs swarmed forward in clusters, like specters. One Fijian soldier was pulling grenade pins with his teeth and hurling the bombs with a mighty shout into Jap faces. His grenades blew Japs and jungle to kingdom come. A gigantic, six-foot-four mortar man, braced with legs apart and exposed to enemy fire, was slamming bomb after bomb into his gun and firing it from the waist. The shocks twisted his body, but his feet never moved. Cpl. Malakai Mo stayed always at my side with his Tommy gun. When my grenades were gone, he gave me some of his. Cpl. Malakai tapped on his Tommy and, catching my eye, pointed to a grenade thrower calmly tying up a hole in his dungarees. Slugs had shot away the seat of his pants! Those were the Fijians. Gentle but fear less, thinking of a stranger before protecting themselves, standing alone on a hilltop in a foreign land, fighting for their lives. The police boys led us out by a secret path over the mountains. Half of the garrison poured through this corridor while the other half held the crowding Japs. Our last action with the enemy was fought at Sisivie. Twenty men held off some 600 Japs in a fierce battle. When the battalion was clear, the rear guard gave a defiant cry, threw everything they had at the enemy, and then turned and sprinted up the ridge. Not a Fijian remained behind. Again every man came through without a scratch. During the next five days we marched across a mountainous, jungled, enemy land. It rained continually. Food disappeared completely after the second day. Climbing over Mount Balbi, we found the nights bitterly cold. No fires were permitted for fear of strafing or bombing, but drinking water was plentiful. We either caught rain or chopped stems of wild bamboo, filling our canteens with water from the sections. Bougainville Allies Hunt Japs with Arrows In the midst of the stumbling procession some 150 barefoot Bougainville natives plodded. Since they had helped the Fijians as scouts and carriers, they could not be left behind to the mercy of the Japanese. Even women and children, some infants rid ing pickaback, accompanied the heads of the households. To hunt birds, fish, cuscus, and Japs, the Bougainville men carried a variety of bows and arrows.* "Antipersonnel" arrows had long, smooth, sharply pointed tips made of a wood tough as mahogany. After we crossed the divide, the going got worse. Feet and boots cut deep into the trail, laying bare quagmires of slender, sinewy roots. Men went down as though shot when caught in their grip. Then one morning, bright and clear, we hit the beach. Planes wheeled out of the southern sky and spotted our haggard, bearded men lined up on the sands. The 1st Fiji Battalion was intact. All but one were present. Soon landing craft of the Navy plowed across the sea and picked us up (Plate VII). For sixty days the colonel had guided his men across the largest of the Solomon Islands, through the heart of enemy country. With the loss of only one man he had fulfilled his mission. He had proved that the thousands of Japs on Bougainville, neutralized by our troops at Empress Augusta Bay, can be left to "die on the vine." * See, "What the Fighting Yanks See," by Wanda Burnett, NATIONAL GEOGRAPITIr, October, 1944.