Coastal Watchers

GuadCoastalwatchers

GuadCoastalwatchers

Coastal watchers, with their work in remote areas and behind enemy lines, tend to bridge the gap between an intelligence group and espionage. They were in the Pacific to watch for enemy activity and report back by radio. Most all of the men were Australian and part of the “Ferdinand” organization, which dated back to 1939. Those recruited had been planters, missionaries and colonial officials that were on outposts on such islands as New Guinea, the Solomons, and the Bismarks. These men often sent the Allied air forces at Guadalcanal several hours warning of an incoming raid, allowing the fighters ample time at Henderson Field to take off and gain altitude. An estimated 120 Allied airmen had been rescued by the coast watchers in the first year alone.

Capt. Martin Clemens & native aides

Capt. Martin Clemens & native aides

The commander of this unique group was Lt. Commander Eric Feldt, a graduate of Australia’s first class of naval cadets and a veteran of WWI. He personally knew his recruits and was determined to set up a solid chain between New Guinea and the Solomons. By mid-1941 he had 64 stations operating with a teleradio with a range of 400 miles for voice communication and 600 miles for radiotelegraphy. Feldt only envisioned these men to watch for enemy naval sorties, raids, etc.; hence their title “Ferdinand” named from the pacifist bull in the children’s story. But, when these islands became overrun with Japanese, spying and sabotage took place; often with the assistance of the natives.

Some engaged in guerrilla activities, the most successful was New Zealand coast watcher, Donald G. Kennedy at Segi Point on New Georgia where he ambushed over a hundred enemy soldiers and ran a small flotilla of schooners to rescue downed air men. A Japanese company was sent in to kill him, but Kennedy radioed for help and 2 companies of the 4th Marine Raider Battalion brought him out. This was the vanguard of the New Georgia invasion.

an early memorial to the coastal watchers who were beheaded

an early memorial to the coastal watchers who were beheaded

8 December 1941, on Makin in the Gilbert Islands, all Europeans had been rounded up and imprisoned by the Japanese and those coastal watchers were killed. At Bougainville, as the Europeans were being evacuated in the late part of 1941 and early ’42, Jack Read and Paul Mason remained behind and became part of the organization. They were credited with the earliest warnings of the Japanese air raids against Henderson Field.

Other notable watchers were: Donald S. MacFarland and Kenneth D. Hay at Gold Ridge on Guadalcanal; Leigh Vial operated around Salamaua and gave early warnings of the Japanese raids on Port Moresby. (His nickname was the “Golden Voice,” but unfortunately killed in an air crash in April 1943.

Sailors of injured and sunken ships also benefited from the Ferdinand operations. The most famous of which is the retrieval of the crew of PT-109 and the 165 survivors of the Helena whose lifeboats drifted ashore on Vella Lavella.

Catalina, 1945 in Australia

Catalina, 1945 in Australia

These men were supplied with food, medicine and benzine for their teleradio chargers by air drop from Australian ‘Catalinas’. Because these drops had to take place in inaccessible areas of rugged terrain to avoid Japanese interference, the flights were dangerous. One Catalina crashed on Bougainville during one such mission on 26 April 1943. Three of the crew were killed instantly and two eluded the enemy and were evacuated by submarine. In August 1944, five teams of coast watchers were landed at the base of the Gazelle Peninsula on New Britain. Four survived to give early warning of raids against New Guinea.

Other watch groups were the U.S. Naval Group ‘China’ that trained coast watchers to track down Japanese merchant shipping movements along the China coast. Their headquarters in the town of Changchow and operated in teams of two American sailors, a Chinese interpreter, a Chinese weather observer and 6 or more guerrillas.

Coast watchers were not exclusively an Allied asset. As the Allies advanced into areas formerly controlled by Japan, coastal watchers from the enemy remained behind to report activities.

90' tall lighthouse memorial where the watchers made their 1st sightings of enemy forces, Dec. 1941 Madang, Papua, New Guinea

90′ tall lighthouse memorial where the watchers made their 1st sightings of enemy forces, Dec. 1941 Madang, Papua, New Guinea

Click photos to enlarge.

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Farewell Salute –

Helen K. Persson – originally from Bethlehem, PA, Lt. Commander, U.S. Navy Nurse Corps, WWII

Frank Lautenberg – Bergen County, NJ, U.S. Army Signal Corps, ETO; Last Senator to have served in WWII

Robert A. Castle, Sr. – originally Lawrence, MA; U.S. Army in Korean War, 185th Combat Engineers

Kenneth Wilford Parker – West Palm Bch, FL, U.S. Navy WWII

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Resources – “The Pacific War Online Encyclopedia;” http://www.eaglespeak.us; http://www.ww2incolor.com

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About GP Cox

Everett Smith served with the Headquarters Company, 187th Regiment, 11th A/B Division during WWII. This site is in tribute to my father, "Smitty." GPCox is a member of the 11th Airborne Association. Member # 4511 and extremely proud of that fact!

Posted on June 22, 2013, in Uncategorized, WWII and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 60 Comments.

  1. I have recently, this week, begun posting my daddy’s letters (from the time he boarded the train in Ozark, Ar in late April 1942 to take his physical in Little Rock until the last letter and telegram that he would arrive home on about Dec 28, 1945) detailing basic training, maneuvers in the desert at Needles, California through the South Pacific and the invasion to retake the Philippines at Linguyan Bay on Luzon. Amazing history and not fazed by time since they are real time.
    Love reading your posts. I would not have found them if you had not ‘liked’ mine. Thank you.

    Like

  2. Sounds like that’s where Mitchner got his plot for South Pacific.

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    • It does sound like it, but actually Mitchner ( with a photographic memory) wrote South Pacific from his recollections as a cabin boy and crewman on the Pacific as a teenager.

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  3. Great read. Thank you.

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  4. Another wonderful story, to add to our understanding of the ideals and sacrifices of this generation. I had heard passing reference to these “coast watchers” but this gives me so much real data!

    I also want to thank you for taking the time to answer each comment. It’s obviously not for the “search engines!” Your blog exudes respect — for the wonderful subject matter of your posts, and for your readers.

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    • I’m overwhelmed by your compliments and give back a grand Thank You, Susan. So much is always related about the ETO, and I simply believe these men deserve the respect and honors.

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  5. Thanks for the ‘Like’ on my blog! I just happen to be reading two books on Guadalcanal now, and one includes the story of Martin Clemens. He was certainly courageous. He had the chance to leave before the Japanese arrived, he chose to stay and helped the Allies with radio reports of where the Japanese were and what they were doing on the island both before and during the Allied retaking of the island.

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  6. I happen to be reading two books on Guadalcanal, one includes the story of Martin Clemens. He was certainly courageous and contributed a great deal to the war effort.

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  7. I’m curious, what was your inspiration to blog about military history? Also, have you written any in reference to the Native American code talkers? My Father-in-law was one and still manages to tell some fascinating stories even though he is quite old now.

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  8. This fascinating aspect of the war is all but forgotten nowadays. Thanks for bringing important memories forward. Good on those Aussies!

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  9. This story fascinated me, and the fascination began with imagining the lives these men led before they dropped everything to be coastal watchers. What amazing heroes.

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  10. Ferdinand is one of my favourite stories. It is so fascinating to know that the coastal watchers were part of the Ferdinand organisation. Lovely to learn more about the coastal watchers. I knew only a little but always people spoke of them with great admiration, even awe.

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  11. Fascinating stories of bravery about mostly unknown activity during the war.

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  12. I love it. Some great reads for me. This quite interesting. I never knew about these men, either.

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  13. A great tribute to mainly unsung heros.

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  14. Your entries are amazing. There’s so much of history I’ve never heard of. This was one. There’s so much involved I just could never begin to imagine. I’m grateful to all those who made it possible for me to remain naive about war. Does that make sense?

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  15. Amazing…I had no idea. Thank you for researching and spreading this information near and far. I learn from and enjoy each post.

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  16. I am glad you are reporting these lesser know activities of WWII. Each and every one of the men and women who played a part in successfully winning the war should get their due acknowledgement.

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  17. patricia taylor

    Truely amazing! It makes me wonder how many more stories (people) there are out there that we havenÂŽt heard about!

    Like

  18. Pierre Lagacé

    Freshly brewed…

    http://no23squadron.wordpress.com/2013/06/22/goggles-on-upside-down/

    For all those avid readers of my blog about this little known Mosquito Squadron in WWII.

    Like

  19. Daniel W. Ostler

    An amazing bit of history…

    Date: Sat, 22 Jun 2013 10:45:05 +0000 To: dan@ostler.com

    Like

  20. Brian M Murray

    It never ceases to amaze me that everyday bravery and heroism was so commonplace during that war. There are so many untold stories like this that simply went untold or unnoticed. Thank you for sharing this, awesome article.

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    • My pleasure. That’s why I’m always trying to encourage people to talk to their relative, neighbors, etc. There is always another story out there.

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  21. Pierre Lagacé

    A reblogué ceci sur Lest We Forget and commented:
    Another great post

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    • Another honor from the master historian himself. You never cease to amaze me!! (can’t help but continue to use that word Amaze!)

      Like

      • Pierre LagacĂ©

        I am a very humble person, but I write like crazy!

        I have found the son of R.C. Harris, Eugene’s Navigator.

        Robert is sending everything he has about his father. I will post everything about his father and his pilot who did 33 missions flying a Mosquito over Germany from December 6m 1944 to May 3, 1945.

        I am all excited! (Does it show?)

        Writing about those who never spoke that much about the war…

        Now you know why your blog is so precious and why I am always amazed each time you post something new.

        Like

  22. Wonderful information! It seems obvious now that such people should have existed, but until you told us about them I had no idea of the work they did. Thank you.

    Like

    • Certainly my pleasure. They were top-secret throughout the war saving their part of the world. Like so many, without constant reminders, they are forgotten.

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  23. Pierre Lagacé

    I knew about them, but this is a refresher course and it gives a lot more détails.

    Lest we forget

    Like

  24. Your blog has become one of my top favorites in very short time because of this sort of entry. Fascinating, illuminating, and a good read!

    Doug

    Like

  1. Pingback: June 1943 (1) | Pacific Paratrooper

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