Noemfoor is an elliptical, almost circular shape. It is approximately 11 mi (18 km) in diameter and encircled by coral reefs. The landscape is dominated by limestone and coral terraces, topped by a 670 ft (200 m) tall hill, which is covered by tropical rainforest, like much of the interior. Noemfoor lies just north of Cenderawasih Bay (Geelvink Bay), between the island of Biak and the east coast of the Doberai Peninsula (Vogelkop/Bird's Head Peninsula), on mainland New Guinea.
The island was occupied by Japanese forces in December 1943. The indigenous civilian population numbered about 5,000 people, most of whom lived a subsistence lifestyle in coastal villages.
The island was also hosting about 1,100 laborers taken to Noemfoor by the Japanese: a 600-strong Formosan (Taiwanese) auxiliary labor unit and 500 Indonesian civilian forced laborers. According to the official U.S. Army history, over 3,000 Indonesian men, women, and children were shipped to Noemfoor by the Japanese military. Most came from Soerabaja (Surabaya) and other large cities on Java. These Javanese civilians were forced to construct roads and airfields, mostly by hand. Little food, clothing, shelter or medical attention were provided. Many attempted to steal Japanese supplies, and were executed. Others died from starvation and preventable disease. Survivors also alleged that sick Javanese were buried alive. The Formosan labor troops had originally numbered about 900 men. They had also worked on airfield and road construction, on ½ the ration of rice issued to regular Japanese troops. When they became ill from exhaustion, hunger, or tropical diseases, they were put in a convalescent camp. In the words of the U.S. official history: "There, their rations were again cut in half, and the shelter and blankets provided covered but a fraction of the inmates. Medical care was given only to the worse cases, and then was inadequate."
The Japanese built three airfields on the island, turning it into a significant air base.Kornasoren Airfield/Yebrurro Airfield, located toward the northern end of the island
Kamiri Airfield, on the northwestern edge of the island
Namber Airfield, on the west coast of the island.
Bombing of the island by the United States Army Air Forces (USAAF) and Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) began as early as April 1944.
Noemfoor was also used as a staging area for Japanese troops moving to reinforce Biak, which was invaded by the Allies in May 1944. Japanese barges could travel from Manokwari to Noemfoor—about 60 nmi (69 mi; 110 km)—during one night. Japanese forces on Biak had been defeated by 20 June.
In describing his preparations for the Western New Guinea campaign, General Douglas MacArthur wrote in his memoirs that: "[t]he Hollandia Invasion initiated a marked change in the tempo of my advance westward. Subsequent assaults against Wakde, Biak, Noemfoor, and Sansapor were mounted in quick succession, and, in contrast to previous campaigns, I planned no attempt to complete all phases of one operation before moving on to the next objective."
Ultimately, Noemfoor was selected for invasion for four reasons:Allied commanders believed that Japanese troops equivalent to less than one battalion would be based there;
the Allies were already experiencing a shortage of amphibious vessels and Noemfoor could be seized without large-scale operations;
it also had the greatest number of useful airfields in the smallest area and;
Japanese air defences in western New Guinea were almost negligible. (At the end of June, RAAF HQ reported that although the Namber and Kamiri airfields were serviceable, they were barely being used and "a possibly generous" estimate suggested that only 19 Japanese bombers and 37 fighters remained in New Guinea.)
MacArthur selected the 158th Regimental Combat Team, primarily units from the Arizona National Guard, United States Army—commanded by Major General Edwin D. Patrick—to assault the island in Operation Cyclone, from 2 July.
In mid-June, No. 10 Operational Group RAAF, under Air Commodore Frederick Scherger, was designated the controlling Allied air force unit for Operation Cyclone. The USAAF units attached to 10 OG for the invasion comprised: the 58th and 348th Fighter Groups and the 307th, 309th and 417th Bombardment Groups.
The 8,000-strong invasion force – composed primarily of the 158th RCT and No. 62 Works Wing RAAF – was known as Cyclone Task Force. A 40-strong contingent of Dutch civil administration personnel was also included.
Facing them were approximately 2,000 Japanese troops, mostly from the 219th Infantry Regiment as well as some from the 222nd Infantry Regiment, who had been in transit to Biak. The garrison was commanded by Colonel Suesada Shimizu, also CO of the 219th Regiment.
At the beginning of July 1944, various kinds of Japanese aircraft were at the Noemfoor airfields. It appears that elements of 61° Hiko Sentai ("No. 61 Air Group"/"61st Flying Regiment") in particular, flying Mitsubishi Ki-21 ("Sally") bombers, were based at Kamiri. (However, Japanese aircraft played no significant role in the ensuing battle; see below.)
From 04:30 on 2 July, warships from the U.S.-Australian Task Forces 75 and 74—under Rear Admiral Russell S. Berkey—bombarded Japanese positions on Noemfoor. TF 74 was commanded for the first time by Commodore John Collins, making him the first graduate of the Royal Australian Naval College to command a naval squadron in action.
At 08:00, the 158th RCT was taken to the beach by TF 77, made up of LCMs and LCTs under R.Adm. William Fechteler. The initial landings were near Kamiri airfield, on the northwest edge of the island. Although the island is surrounded by "an almost solid ring" of coral, newspapers reported "almost no loss" of troops before reaching the shore.
Although there were extensive Japanese defensive preparations in the Kamiri area, there was little resistance at Kamiri Airfield. In the words of the U.S. Navy official history: "Japanese encountered around the airfield were so stunned from the effects of the bombardment that all the fight was taken out of them." Kamiri was captured within hours of the landing. Reports indicated that approximately 45 Japanese soldiers were killed, and about 30 Japanese planes captured, although all of these were damaged as a result of the earlier bombardment and bombing.
The following day, as a precaution against Japanese resistance elsewhere, the 2,000 paratroopers of the U.S. 503rd Parachute Regiment were dropped onto the island.
The second base captured by US forces, Yebrurro airstrip was secured by 4 July. That same day, the first elements of No. 10 Operational Group arrived on Noemfoor. There were no Japanese air attacks until the night of 4 July, when a light bomber dropped three bombs near Kamiri, without effect. A few days later, four single-engined fighters dropped about 40 incendiary bombs, causing some damage to Allied materiel.
On 5 July, there was an unsuccessful counter-attack by Japanese ground forces. That same day, a detachment of U.S. forces from Noemfoor also secured the smaller neighboring island of Manim. Namber Airfield came under Allied control, without resistance, on 6 July. The island was officially declared secure on 7 July. However, individual Japanese soldiers continued guerrilla activities, and it was 31 August before all fighting had ceased.
By 31 August, Cyclone Task Force had lost 66 killed or missing and 343 wounded. It had killed approximately 1,714 Japanese and taken 186 prisoners.
According to the U.S. Army official history, only 403 of the original 3,000 Javanese civilian laborers were alive by 31 August. About 10–15 were reported to have been killed accidentally by Allied forces. The rest had died from mistreatment before the invasion.
About 300 Formosan labor troops had died before the invasion. Others fought the Allies, allegedly as a result of Japanese coercion. Over 550 surrendered; more than half of these were suffering from starvation and tropical diseases. Less than 20 were reported killed by Allied action.
According to the U.S. Army historian, Allied personnel found evidence that human bodies, of Japanese, Formosan and Allied personnel, had been partly eaten by starving Japanese and Formosans.
Allied airfield repair and construction work by the RAAF and U.S. Army Engineers began on 2 July.
On the afternoon of 6 July, before the formal cessation of hostilities on the ground, an RAAF P-40 fighter squadron had landed at Kamiri, supporting operations on Noemfoor and becoming the first of many Allied air force units to be based there.
Namber Airfield was assessed as too rough and badly graded to be effectively used by Allied aircraft. It was abandoned in favor of expansion and improvements at Kornasoren. On 25 July, a USAAF P-38 Lighting fighter group was able to land there. By 2 September, two parallel 7,000 ft (2,100 m) runways had been completed; soon afterwards, B-24 Liberator heavy bombers began operating from Kornasoren Airfield, against Japanese petroleum facilities at Balikpapan, Borneo.
Allied aircraft based on Noemfoor played an important role in the battles of Sansapor and Morotai.