Los Negros Island is another one of those places that probably doesn’t ring a bell with too many people. I’ve never been there, but part of its obscurity might have to do with its location – far, far away from the United States and pretty close to Australia. Or maybe it’s the island’s size – pretty small. Or maybe because it’s somewhat misnamed – according to Google’s maps (and depending on the tides), it’s not really an island at all.
Los Negros is part of the U-shaped hook off the eastern end of Manus Island, the largest of the Admiralty Islands that lie northeast of Australia. And on February 27, 1944, it was the scene of the first Alamo Scouts mission.
We mentioned the Alamo Scouts in our discussion of the Los Banos rescue mission, but didn’t really go into much detail. Officially called the U.S. 6th Army Special Reconnaissance Unit, they operated in the Pacific Theater and served as deep-penetration reconaissance units and did a bit of raiding and rescue on the side. They were nicknamed Alamo Scouts because they fell, ultimately, under the command of General William Kreuger, who hailed from Texas and greatly admired the men who died defending the Alamo.
Formed in November of 1943, the first teams of this all-volunteer force finished their grueling training in early February of 1944. This worked out well with Douglas MacArthur’s timetable, as he was preparing to complete the isolation of the huge Japanese airbase at Rabaul. This could only be done with the retaking of the Bismarck Archipelago, accompanied with Kreuger’s capture of the Admiralty Islands.
Reconaissance aircraft seemed to indicate that Los Negros didn’t have any Japanese soldiers on the ground. But aircraft could only see so much, so the job of the Scout team, led by Lt. John McGowen (and whose team was selected by a flip of the coin), was to get in there and determine the truth of the matter without stirring up a hornet’s nest should the enemy be discovered.
The mission lasted just two days, and the Alamo Scouts found that Los Negros was, as McGowen reported, “lousy with Japs.” They extracted and reported back. Though MacArthur initially poo-pooed the McGowen’s findings, Kreuger fully trusted his charges. And good thing he did. Operation Brewer, which began two days later, eventually ran into heavy Japanese resistance. The fact that General Kreuger allocated reserve forces to the assault (based on the Alamo Scout report) made the difference between victory and a much different outcome.
The small mission was the first of more than 100 missions that Alamo Scout teams would conduct over the next 20 months, and it’s a small miracle that, in all those missions, not a single Scout was killed in action.
Los Negros Island (as well as Manus Island) were captured by the Americans. That U-shaped area in between the two islands became Seeadler Harbor, one of the finest harbors in all the Pacific…and site of the Mount Hood’s titanic demise several months later.
This won’t be the last time we visit the Alamo Scouts.
Recommended Reading: Shadows in the Jungle