The Goettge patrol.

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In the context of war, perfidy is a form of deception in which one side promises to act in good faith (such as by raising a flag of truce) with the intention of breaking that promise once the unsuspecting enemy is exposed (such as by coming out of cover to attack the enemy coming to take the “surrendering” prisoners into custody). Perfidy constitutes a breach of the laws of war and so is a war crime, as it degrades the protections and mutual restraints developed in the interest of all parties, combatants, and civilians.goettge

A Marine patrol, commanded by Lieutenant-Colnonel Goettge was sent to investigate a report about Japanese in the area who were waiting to surrender. The patrol was ambushed, shot bayonetted and killed. Only three men escaped alive.

Prior to the Marine invasion of the Solomon Islands in Operation Watchtower, Goettge, Division D-2 augmented Marine Intelligence when he traveled to Australia spending a week in Melbourne and a few days in Sydney gathering information on the Islands from people who lived and worked there. In addition to information gleaned from interviews Goettge brought eight Australians to where the First Marine Division was forming in Wellington, New Zealand..

The Marines landed on Guadalcanal on August 7, 1942, and within several days rounded up a number of Japanese Navy laborers, who had been assigned to construct the airfield at Lunga Point. Most were malnourished and sick from tropical illnesses.

Information about the strength and location of the Japanese forces on Guadalcanal was sketchy and difficult to ascertain. This resulted in the need for probes into the enemies defenses days after the landing on August 7.

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A Japanese warrant officer was among the prisoners and, after being plied with alcohol, told the Marines that there were a number of Japanese west of the Matanikau River. These soldiers were reportedly sick, demoralized, and willing to surrender. At about the same time, Marines near the Matanikau perimeter reported seeing a white flag flying from a tree.

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These reports, as well as several other similar accounts were given to Goettge. He thought that this might be an opportunity to secure much of the island without significant fighting and he decided to act quickly. He organized a 25 man patrol to land just west of the Matanikau estuary. The plan was to follow the Matanikau upstream, bivouac for a night, then head east back to the Lunga perimeter.

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The patrol consisted of Goettge; Japanese translator LT Ralph Corry; regimental surgeon, LCDR Malcom Pratt; and a handful of scouts and infantry. Just before the patrol departed on the evening of August 12, Goettge was informed by Colonel Whaling, the 5th Marine Regiment’s executive officer, that the Japanese were strongly defending the area between Point Cruz and the mouth of the Matanikau. Whaling suggested a landing west of Point Cruz.

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The Goettge Patrol left at dusk on a tank lighter. However, a flare was seen to the east and the lighter returned to the perimeter, thinking it was a signal to return. The patrol then left for a second time around 9:00 p.m. Despite Whaling’s warning, the boat headed for an area just to the west of the Matanikau river mouth. Before the patrol reached the beach, the lighter ran aground on a sandbar. The coxswain gunned the motor to free the vessel, and the Marines disembarked on the beach around 10:00 p.m.

 

Unbeknownst to Goettge, the Japanese had heard the sound of the stuck landing craft, and began organizing troops on a coral plateau about 200 yards inland from the Marines. Goettge ordered a defensive perimeter established, then took two men, Captain Ringer and First Sergeant Custer, with him to scout the jungle. Not long after they left the beach, the Japanese opened fire and Goettge was killed with a shot to the head. Ringer and Custer managed to make it back to the perimeter.

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Platoon Sergeant Frank Lowell Few and two Marines went back into the jungle to confirm that Goettge was indeed dead. They found his body and took his watch and insignia, so the Japanese would not be able to identify him as an officer. Over the next nine hours, the patrol lay pinned on the beach. The Japanese maintained fire on the American perimeter, but the Marines were unable to locate the Japanese in the dark jungle. About 30 minutes after landing, Sergeant Arndt was tasked to head out into the ocean and try to swim back to the Lunga perimeter, over five miles to the east. Arndt reached American lines around 5:00 a.m., but it was too late to affect the fate of the Goettge Patrol.

During the course of the night, the Japanese picked the Marines off, one by one. The Japanese would occasionally launch a flare to illuminate the beachhead perimeter. However, the Marines were unable to discern the Japanese positions in the moonless night. After some time, Captain Ringer ordered another Marine, Corporal Spaulding, to make a second attempt to get back to American lines. Like Arndt, Spaulding ran off the beach into the ocean, and then started on the grueling swim to safety. He reached American lines around 7:30 a.m.

By dawn, only four members of the patrol were still alive. Captain Ringer decided they stood a better chance in the jungle. As the Marines made their dash off the beach, the Japanese opened fire, cutting down the remaining survivors except for Platoon Sergeant Frank Few. Few managed to reach the trees. He saw a Japanese soldier firing into the corpses of the Marines and decided it would be certain death to remain. Few drew his pistol, killed the Japanese, then made a dash into the sea. Few looked back and saw Japanese troops swarming the beach, mutilating the bodies of the dead or wounded but still alive Marines. Few also managed to make it back to friendly lines by swimming approximately four miles through shark-infested waters. Few was the last survivor of the Goettge Patrol.Guadalcanal_Diary_1943_poster

A slightly fictionalized version of the incident is in the movie Guadalcanal Diary. In the film, the patrol is led by a “Captain Cross” and there is only one survivor, though one Marine is shown running along the beach for help.

 

According to a Marine Corps monograph previous to August 21, a patrol found Pratt’s dispatch case and a cloth with Goettge’s name on it; the monograph also claimed no identifiable remains were found. See Note # 16 at However on August 18, a Marine patrol from 3rd Battalion, 5th Marines, made a combat patrol in the same area that the Goettge Patrol was annihilated. They reported seeing remains, but Goettge’s body was never found. There are at least five eyewitness reports of finding the remains of the patrol- one from Company “I”/3/5;one from Company “K”/3/5;and three from Company “L”/3/5

 

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