Vintage Military - Part 16
World War II - New Britain
In 1943, the U.S. had been retaking the Japanese-held Solomon Islands to the east of New Guinea with the eventual goal of taking the major Japanese base at Rabaul on New Britain. New Britain is an island to the northeast of New Guinea.
This classic photo, which I've shown before, is called PBY Blister Gunner, Rescue at Rabaul. For months, the U.S. had been attacking Rabaul from the air. Photographer Horace Bristol was on a PBY (seaplane) assigned to rescue a pilot who had been shot down off Rabaul. In Bristol's words:
“…The Japanese were shooting at him from the island, and when they saw us they started shooting at us. The man who was shot down was temporarily blinded, so one of our crew stripped off his clothes and jumped in to bring him aboard. He couldn’t have swum very well wearing his boots and clothes. As soon as we could, we took off. We weren’t waiting around for anybody to put on formal clothes. We were being shot at and wanted to get the hell out of there. The naked man got back into his position at his gun in the blister of the plane.”
By the end of 1943, the U.S. was finally in position to mount a ground invasion of New Britain. Rather than invading heavily fortified Rabaul directly, they landed in two other locations on the island: Arawe and Cape Gloucester. Artist David Fredenthal was with an aborted first attempt at Arawe. This is one of his sketches, published in the Aug. 21, 1944 issue of LIFE magazine, but the incident pictured occurred on Dec. 13, 1943.
This photo of the Cape Gloucester landing was published in the Jan. 31, 1944 issue of LIFE. The photo is credited to war photographer Frank Prist Jr., Acme Newspictures.
Previously we showed some photos of naked troops unloading supplies. This movie clip from the Dept. of Defense Naval Photographic Center shows naked U.S. marines unloading supplies from an LST at Cape Gloucester on Jan. 4, 1944. As I've mentioned before, this was purely practical: why get your uniform wet?
Meanwhile, LIFE photographer Myron Davis was covering the landing on Arawe. It's not clear what the troops in this photo from December 1943 are doing, but about half of them are naked. Note: I cropped the photo to show detail.
Ultimately, the generals decided not to attack Rabaul with ground forces but just to bottle it up. Rabaul was blockaded, its aircraft were destroyed, and it played no further part in the war.
This photo and the next show LIFE photographer Myron Davis. They are labeled "Myron Davis just before Arawe, New Britain Invasion." They were presumably taken on one of the neighboring islands as the troops took a break before the invasion started.
Davis was only 24 years old at the time. You can see why he would be accepted by the troops as one of them. These two photos of Myron Davis swinging from a vine are my favorite portraits of any LIFE photographer. Does that have anything to do with the fact that he's cute and he's naked? I'll give you one guess.