Red Arrow at War

80 Years Ago: Papua, New Guinea, December 1942:

“Red Arrow at War by Michael Gnatek” via the U.S. Army National Guard Heritage Painting Program.

The 32nd Infantry Division, known as the “Red Arrow” Division. made up of units from the Michigan and Wisconsin National Guards (126th Infantry Regiment, 127th Infantry Regiment, and the 128th Infantry Regiment), was mobilized on 15 October 1940.

Slated to depart for Northern Ireland after World War II began, the division was diverted to the Pacific at the last minute, arriving in Australia in May 1942. Elements moved to Port Moresby, New Guinea in September 1942, in order to halt the Japanese invasion which threatened Australia. The Red Arrow’s 126th Infantry Regiment went by ship; the 128th Infantry was airlifted in the first mass troop movement by air in World War II. Joining the Australians, the 32d entered combat on 16 November 1942.

Soldiers from the 32nd “Red Arrow” Division’s 2nd Battalion, 127th Infantry Regiment adjust their clothing and equipment after disembarking a transport plane that brought them from Port Moresby to the Dubadura air strip eight miles south of Buna, Papua New Guinea Dec. 15, 1942. Note the boonie hats–M1941 Herring Bone Twill (HBT) sun hats– M1905 bayonets, and serious love of multiple Thompson pouches per user. U.S. Army Signal Corps photo

32nd “Red Arrow” Division Soldiers position themselves behind a captured Japanese breastwork near Cape Endaiadere, New Guinea, Dec. 21, 1942. Note the M1928 and boonie hats. U.S. Army Signal Corps photo

The Allied forces were to take heavily-fortified Japanese positions at Buna, on New Guinea’s southeast coast. It proved to be one of the most difficult campaigns of the war. Fighting in the hot, steamy jungles, the 32d was desperately short of basic equipment, weapons, medicine, and even food. In the terrible heat and drenching rain the men of the 32d, many of them burning with fever, had to reduce Japanese positions one at a time, usually by rushing them with grenades. Most of the Japanese fought to the death, but finally, on 2 January 1943, Buna fell.

It was the Japanese Army’s first defeat in modern history, but for the 32d Division the cost was high: 1,954 were either killed or wounded, with 2,952 hospitalized due to disease.

After Buna, the 32d participated in the long campaign to drive the Japanese from the rest of New Guinea and went on to see heavy fighting in the Philippines.

Across 654 Days of Combat– twice the average amount seen by most divisions in the European Theatre of Operations– the 32nd would suffer 7,268 casualties.

Today, the 32d Infantry Brigade, Wisconsin Army National Guard, continues to maintain the Red Arrow heritage.

The WARNG maintains an excellent photo depository of the Red Arrow in WWII.

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