World War Two: Sicily; (2-8) Axis Threat

On the evening of 10 July, Guzzoni had a far from clear understanding of the situation. Reports indicated that British and Canadian forces had established beachheads along the eastern coast between Syracuse and the Pachino peninsula.

But because signal communications with the naval base had failed completely that day, General Guzzoni dismissed reports of British proximity to Syracuse as exaggerations. Not until 0300, 11 July, did he learn from General von Senger that Syracuse had fallen and that Augusta had been evacuated briefly by Axis forces. Until then, though he was aware that only isolated pockets of Italian troops still resisted near Noto and south of Modica, he counted on Group Schmalz and the Napoli Division to destroy the British and Canadian beachheads. General Guzzoni also knew that American troops had been located in Vittoria and near Comiso, apparently moving inland from a well-established beachhead near Scoglitti. The failure of the counterattacks against the Gela beaches disappointed him.

About 2000, 10 July, Guzzoni ordered the XVI Corps to commit both Group Schmalz and the Napoli Division in a determined attempt to knock out the British beachhead south of Syracuse. He instructed the Hermann Gӧring Division and the Livorno Division to launch a co-ordinated attack against the American beachhead at Gela. He directed the reinforced 207th Coastal Division to strike the American beachhead at Licata.

At his headquarters near Rome, Field Marshal Kesselring, who lacked communications with Guzzoni and who had been receiving information from Luftwaffe headquarters in Catania and Taormina, was unaware of Guzzoni’s intention to counterattack on 11 July. Learning of the fall of Syracuse (and promptly notifying Comando Supremo), Kesselring concluded that this, plus the earlier breakdown of the Italian coastal defenses, meant the Italian units were putting up little resistance. There seemed little likelihood of a more determined stand in the future.

Convinced that only the German units were effective, Kesselring sent a message through Luftwaffe channels to the Hermann Gӧring Division and ordered it to counterattack toward Gela on the morning of 11 July. If pressed home with great vigor and before the Americans could land the bulk of their artillery and armor the attack, he believed, would be successful, Conrath, the Hermann Gӧring Division commander, who had received a call from the XVI Corps commander, went to the corps headquarters at Piazza Armerina.

He learned for the first time of his attachment to the corps and together with Generale di Divisione Domenico Chirieleison, the Livorno Division commander, also in attendance, he received word of Guzzoni’s plan for a co-ordinated attack against Gela. According to the plan, the attack, starting at 0600, would have the German division converging on Gela from the northeast in three columns, the Italian division converging on Gela from the northwest, also in three columns.

Upon returning to his command post, Conrath received Kesselring’s order. But this posed no complication. He reorganized his division into three attack groups: two tank-heavy forces west of the Acate River, one infantry-heavy force east of the river. One tank battalion was to move from the Ponte Olivo airfield south along Highway 117, then east across the Gela plain, and meet with the other tank battalion at Piano Lupo. Several tanks of the Ponte Olivo force were to make a feint north of Gela to deceive the Americans into believing that the city of Gela was the main objective. Instead, the main effort was to be made by the other tank column south along the Niscemi-Piano Lupo road to occupy Hills 132 and 123 (the southern edge of Piano Lupo). Joined by the tank battalion coming across the Gela plain from the west, the tanks were to strike south for the sparsely wooded area between the Biviere Pond and the Gulf of Gela. The infantry-heavy force, meanwhile, was to cross the Acate River at Ponte Dirillo and join the tank forces on Piano Lupo.

From the sparsely wooded area near the shore line, the entire force was then to roll up the 1st Division’s beachhead from east to west, while the Livorno Division, coming in from the west, was to overrun Gela and roll up the 1st Division’s beachhead from the west.

[N2-8-66 MS #R-138, The Counterattack on the Second Day, II July 1943, ch. IX of Axis Tactical Operations in Sicily, July-August 1943 (Bauer), pp. 1-3]

Northwest of Gela, General Chirieleison ordered one column to strike at Gela from the north, a second to advance astride the Gela-Butera road and strike Gela from the northwest, the third, while guarding the division right flank against American forces near Licata, to move southeast from Butera Station to Gela. The remnants of the Italian Mobile Group E were to support the first column.

While the division commanders were completing their attack preparations, Guzzoni, at his headquarters in Enna, finally learned of the fall of Syracuse. The Syracuse-Augusta area, previously considered the strongest defensive sector in all of Sicily, had turned suddenly into a major danger area. If the British advanced quickly from Syracuse into the Catania plain and from there to Messina, they would bottle up all the Axis forces on Sicily.

Since all his reserves were too far away or already committed, Guzzoni modified his previous orders to the XVI Corps. Early on 11 July, he had instructed the corps to execute its counterattack as planned. But now, as soon as the Hermann Gӧring Division attack showed signs of success, the division was to wheel eastward, not to the west, and advance on Vittoria, Comiso, and Palazzolo Acreide in succession. With the entire German division then reunited, a strong blow could be mounted against the British.

At the same time, the move would knock out the 45th Division’s beachhead around Scoglitti. The Livorno Division, after taking Gela, was to wheel westward and destroy the American beachhead at Licata. The 15th Panzer Grenadier Division, returning from the west, would assist the Livorno Division against Licata.

Before the Axis divisions could launch their attacks, the 1st Division acted. In keeping with General Allen’s confidence in the skillful use of night attacks, the 26th Infantry on the left and the 16th Infantry on the right jumped off at midnight, 10 July, toward the division’s major objectives, the Ponte Olivo airfield and Niscemi.

Lieutenant Colonel John T. Corley’s 3rd Battalion, 26th Infantry, moved up Highway 117 toward Monte della Guardia (Hill 300), the commanding terrain west of the highway overlooking the airfield. But within thirty minutes, heavy enemy fire from the front and flanks brought the battalion to a halt.

On the Niscemi-Piano Lupo road, Colonel Denholm’s 1st Battalion, 16th Infantry, advanced north toward Casa del Priolo, while Company G of Colonel Crawford’s 2nd Battalion paralleled this movement on the west side of the road. Though the 1st Battalion reached Casa del Priolo without difficulty and began digging in, Company G spotted German tanks to its left front and returned to its original position near Piano Lupo. Dismayed at the return of his company and fearing the German tanks would pounce on the unprotected left flank of the 1st Battalion, Crawford ordered Companies E and F to move out and dig in on the little orchard-covered ridge at Abbio Priolo, about a thousand yards north and west of Casa del Priolo. Accompanied by Colonel Gorham’s paratroopers, these companies reached the ridge at 0530.

In Gela, the Rangers and engineers continued to improve their defenses. Across the Acate River, in the path of the infantry-heavy German task force, the I80th Infantry remained in a disheartening situation. Though the 1st and 3rd Battalions had thrown back the German counterattack on the previous evening, the regiment still had no contact with the 1st Division on the left and with the 179th Infantry on the right. In addition, the regimental commander probably had no more than a faint notion of the location of his front. Whether he knew that most of the 1st Battalion had been captured by the Germans is not clear. Communications with Colonel Cochrane’s 2nd Battalion were tenuous at best, and often lost, and the regimental headquarters had no knowledge of the whereabouts of portions of Companies E, G, and H, which, in actuality, held a strongpoint astride Highway 115 near Ponte Dirillo and occupied the high ground just north of the bridge. The one bright spot in the 180th Infantry zone was that the bulk of the 171st Field Artillery Battalion was prepared to fire in support.

Unable to make contact with the Livorno Division, but assuming that the Italian division would launch its attack, General Conrath at 0615, 11 July, sent the three task forces of the Hermann Gӧring Division forward. At the same time, one Italian task force, the one nearest Highway 117, jumped off, but on its own initiative, apparently after seeing the German tank battalion start south from Ponte Olivo airfield. To help support the converging attacks on Gela, German and Italian aircraft struck the beaches and the naval vessels lying offshore.

The 3rd Battalion, 26th Infantry, which had been advancing up the east side of Highway 117, bore the brunt of the German attack. Company K was driven to the south and west toward Gela, but the remainder of the battalion held firm. The Italian column passed the 26th Infantry, bumped into Company K, which was trying to get back to Gela, and headed directly for the city. Colonel Darby’s force in Gela laid down heavy fire on the approaching enemy. The 33rd Field Artillery Battalion began pounding away at both columns. The two batteries from the 5th Field Artillery Battalion joined in. The 26th Infantry’s Cannon Company and the 4.2-inch mortars in Gela also opened fire. The combination of fires stopped the Italians.

The German tanks then swung east across the Gela plain to join the force descending the Niscemi-Piano Lupo road. There, the situation had quickly dissolved into a series of scattered infantry-tank actions. First to feel the weight of the German attack was the 2nd Battalion, 16th Infantry, at Abbio Priolo, where the infantrymen and paratroopers had little time to complete more than hasty foxholes and weapons emplacements. German tanks, a conglomeration of Mark Ill’s and IV’s, appeared, flanking the 2nd Battalion from the west. The tanks rushed in, shooting their machine guns and cannon at almost point-blank range. With only a few bazookas plus their regular weapons, the infantrymen and the paratroopers fought back. Aided by fires from eight howitzers of the 7th Field Artillery Battalion and part of the regiment’s anti-tank company, which had finally managed to get across the Acate River that very morning, the battalion Held. As yet, there was no naval gun-fire support. Nor were there aircraft available to fly direct or close support missions.

[Note: Morison. In Sicily-Salerno-Anzio (, suggests that the shore fire control parties probably did not call for fires because smoke obscured the targets. It seems more likely, however, since the 7th Field Artillery Battalion was firing-indicating the battalion had observation-that the field artillerymen either felt they could handle this counterattack without additional help or the very nearness of the enemy troops and the rough nature of the terrain made it too dangerous to call in naval fires at this time.]

[NOTE: Six requests for direct air support were made on 10 July-five by the 1st Division, one by Seventh Army. None of these missions were flown. On 11 July, the 1st Division requested five more direct air support missions; one was flown, in the late afternoon.]

Personally directing the attack on the Niscemi-Piano Lupo road, General Conrath regrouped his forces and again sent them rushing at the American positions. This time, the tanks rolled directly down and tried to circle both flanks. The swinging German movement to the right brought the 1st Battalion at Casa del Priolo into the fight. As German tanks swept past the embattled Americans and joined with other German tanks at the eastern edge of the Gela plain, the Americans pulled slowly back to Piano Lupo under cover of supporting fires, both artillery and naval. By 1100, the Americans were back where they had started from around midnight.

East of the Acate river, the German infantry-heavy task force drove down from Biscari to Highway 115, where Company F, 180th Infantry, defending Ponte Dirillo, delayed it a short while. But the company could not hold, and retired to the beaches. North of the bridge, Colonel Cochran, with the remainder of the 2nd Battalion, 180th Infantry (less than 200 men), and the small group of paratroopers, lost all contact with regimental headquarters. Fortunately, he made contact with the 171st Field Artillery Battalion, and through the battalion with naval vessels. The artillery and the destroyer Beatty both gave heroic support.

[N2-8-13 The Beatty, from 0730 to 1030, fired a total of 799 five-inch rounds on this one German column. Three other destroyers also fired on this column during the course of the day: the Laub (751 rounds); the Cowie (200 rounds); and theTil/man (46 rounds). See Morison, Sicily-Salerno-Anzio, p. 113. See also Infantry Combat, pt. Five: Sicily, (Fort Benning, 1943), p. 1 (copy in OCMH); I7ISt FA Bn AAR, II Ju143]

At that very moment, about 0900, as the German force pushed past the highway toward the mouth of the river, a group of American paratroopers led by Colonel Gavin appeared from the east and struck the enemy column. Colonel Gavin had halted about noon on D-day to await darkness before continuing westward with his small party of paratroopers. As yet, he had made no contact with any American force. As the sun began to set on 10 July, Gavin and his men set forth. At 0230, 11 July, five miles southeast of Vittoria, the paratroopers finally made their first contact with an American unit, Company I, 179th Infantry.

For the first time since landing in Sicily, Colonel Gavin knew his exact location. Entering Vittoria about 0500, and collecting the paratroopers and three airborne howitzers that had assisted in the capture of the city the previous afternoon, Gavin then turned west on Highway 115. Five miles west of the city, Gavin met 180 men of the 3rd Battalion, 505th Parachute Infantry, led by Major Edward C. Krause. Krause had halted here the previous evening after he, too, had failed to make contact with other American forces.

Instructing Krause to organize the now sizable paratrooper force into march formation and to follow, Colonel Gavin and his S-3, Major Benjamin H. Vandervoort, continued westward along the highway. After covering another two miles, Gavin came upon a group of forty men from Company L, 180th Infantry, and twenty paratroop engineers. They told Gavin that the Germans were astride the highway farther to the west, but they could provide no details on strength or dispositions.

Wanting to see the German force for himself, and apparently not knowing the location of the 180th Infantry, Gavin took the paratroop engineers and began walking along the highway toward Biscari Station. A German officer and a soldier on a motorcycle suddenly came around a bend in the road and were captured. Though the two made no effort to resist, they refused to give information. With enemy troops close by, Gavin sent Vandervoort back to hurry along the force of 250 paratroopers under Major Krause. Vandervoort was then to continue on to the 45th Division command post near Vittoria to let General Middleton know Gavin’s location.

Gavin took his engineers toward Casa Biazzo, a group of five buildings on high ground sloping gently westward and overlooking the Acate River. Across what the paratroopers would call Biazzo Ridge ran the road to Biscari. A few hundred yards short of the buildings, Gavin’s little group came under small arms fire. Gavin pushed his men forward to the crest of the ridge where they drove a small detachment of Germans down the far slope. As they prepared to follow, enemy fire increased. Gavin, ordered his men ‘to dig in and hold until the arrival of Krause’s force.

The appearance of Gavin’s small unit drew German attention from Piano Lupo and the Gela beaches, where the entire 1st Division front was aflame. The bulk of the Livorno Division had by this time joined the Hermann Gӧring Division attack. General Conrath’s two tank battalions were once again united, and though he still contended with the 16th Infantry on Piano Lupo, he decided to send the bulk of his armored force across the Gela plain to the beaches. General Chirieleison the Livorno Division commander, was also pushing for a concentrated attack that would surge over the American positions. He had already lost one hour waiting for contact with the German unit.

He did have one column engaging the Americans in Gela. Now he sent a second from Butera toward the city. With most of the Rangers and engineers heavily engaged against the Italian thrust down Highway 117, only two Ranger companies on the west side of Gela stood in the way of Chmeleison’s second column. “You will fight with the troops and supporting weapons you have at this time,” Colonel Darby told them. “The units in the eastern sector are all engaged in stopping a tank attack.”

When the Italian column came within range, the two Ranger companies opened fire with their captured Italian artillery pieces, and with their supporting platoon of 4.2-inch mortars. The Italian movement slowed. General Patton appeared at the Ranger command post in this sector, a two-story building, and watched the Italian attack. As he turned to leave, he called out to Captain Lyle, who commanded the Rangers there, “Kill every one of the goddam bastards.”

Lyle called on the cruiser Savannah to help, and before long almost 500 devastating rounds of 6-inch shells struck the Italian column. Through the dust and smoke, Italians could be seen staggering as if dazed. Casualties were heavy. The attack stalled. Moving out to finish the task, the Ranger companies captured almost 400 enemy troops. “There were human bodies hanging from the trees,” Lyle noted, “and some blown to bits.” As it turned out, a large proportion of the officers and more than 50 percent of the Italian soldiers were killed or wounded.

North of GeIa, artillery and naval fire, small arms, machine gun, and mortar fires reduced the Livorno column to company size, and these troops were barely holding on to positions they had quickly dug. The third Italian column, in about battalion size, starting to move from Butera Station to GeIa, ran into a combat patrol which had been dispatched by the 3rd Division to make contact with the Gela force. The company-size patrol inflicted heavy casualties on the Italians, who pulled back to their original position. The battering received during this attack on Gela finished the Livorno Division as an effective combat unit.

East of Gela, as General Conrath sent the major part of both his tank battalions toward the beaches, the Gela plain became a raging inferno of exploding shells, smoke, and fire. The lead tanks reached the highway west of Santa Spina, two thousand yards from the water. As they raked supply dumps and landing craft with fire, the division headquarters reported victory: “pressure by the Hermann Gӧring Division [has] forced the enemy to re-embark temporarily.” At Sixth Army headquarters, General Guzzoni was elated. After discussion with General von Senger, he instructed XVI Corps to put the revised plan into action wheel the German division that afternoon to the east toward Vittoria and continue movement during the night to Palazzolo Acreide and the Syracuse sector.

But the German tanks never reached the 1st Division beaches. Nor was there any thought of American re-embarkation. [N2-8-20] The 32nd Field Artillery Battalion, coming ashore in Dukws moved directly into firing positions along the edge of the sand dunes and opened direct fire on the mass of German armor to its front. The 16th Infantry Cannon Company, having just been ferried across the Acate River, rushed up to the dune line, took positions, and opened fire. Four of the ten medium tanks of Colonel White’s CC-B finally got off the soft beach, and, under White’s direction, opened fire from the eastern edge of the plain.

[N2-8-20 There is no evidence in the official records of any order to re-embark personnel or equipment from any beaches. The WNTF Action Report, page 56, indicates that the engineer shore parties were called inland to establish a temporary defensive line, “and the withdrawal seaward by boats of other beach personnel.” Morison (Sieily-Salerno-Anzio, page 116) states “neither they [the Navy’s advanced base group] nor anyone else were given orders to re-embark, as the enemy reported.” General Faldella, the Sixth Army chief of staff, reported (Losbareo, page 148) an intercepted Seventh Army radio message that ordered the U.S. 1st Division to prepare for re-embarkation. Faldella repeated this to Mrs. Magna Bauer in Rome during an interview in January 1959, asking repeatedly whether the original message appeared in the records. The intercept was probably misinterpreted.]

The 18th Infantry and the 41st Armored Infantry near the Gela-Farello landing ground prepared to add their fires. Engineer shore parties stopped unloading and established a firing line along the dunes. Naval gunfire, for a change, was silent-the opposing forces were too close together for the naval guns to be used. Under the fearful pounding, the German attack came to a halt. Milling around in confusion, the lead tanks were unable to cross the coastal highway. The German tanks pulled back, slowly at first and then increasing their speed as naval guns opened fire and chased them. Sixteen German tanks lay burning on the Gela plain.

On Piano Lupo, the 1st and 2nd Battalions, 16th Infantry, had managed to hold the road junction, even though six German tanks had broken into their lines. The single remaining 37-mm. anti-tank gun in the 2nd Battalion disabled one. A lucky round from a 60-mm. mortar dropped down the open hatch of another. A bazooka round badly damaged a third. Colonel Gorham, the paratroop commander, put a fourth out of commission with bazooka fire. The other two retired. With almost one-third of his tank strength destroyed or disabled, General Conrath called off the attack shortly after 1400. Though fighting east of the river continued until late that evening, the tank units withdrew to the foothills south of Niscemi.

[N2-8-21 It is difficult to state exactly how many tanks the Hermann Gӧring Division lost in this counterattack. The division had go Mark III and IV tanks on 9 July. Attached were the 17 Tiger tanks from the 5th Tank Battalion. The division reported 54 tanks operational on 11 July, and 45 on 14 July.]

At Enna, General Guzzoni again changed his plans. The fierce American resistance at Gela, the known arrival of additional Allied units, and the continued pressure of the 45th Division in the Vittoria-Comiso area indicated the difficulty of getting the Hermann Gӧring Division to the east coast by way of Vittoria and Palazzolo Acreide. In addition, a further American advance inland from Comiso might bypass the Hermann Gӧring Division and cut it off entirely from the east coast. Thus, during the afternoon of 11 July, Guzzoni ordered the XVI Corps to suspend all offensive action in the Gela area, to withdraw the Hermann Gӧring Division to Caltagirone for movement on the following day to Vizzini and commitment against the British, and to consolidate the Livorno Division along a line from Mazzarino to Caltagirone to cover the German withdrawal. [N2-8-22]

Before Guzzoni’s instructions reached Conrath, General von Senger visited the Hermann Gӧring Division. Though disappointed because the tanks had not broken through to the beaches, Senger considered the situation favorable for turning the division eastward toward Vittoria and Comiso. This would cut off from the beaches those units of the 45th Division that had pushed well inland. Feeling that the 1st Division, which had borne the brunt of Axis counterattacks for two days, was in no position seriously to contest this movement, he ordered Conrath to the east.

[N2-8-22 during the period 10-14 July 1943 occurred in the battle for Gela and in the subsequent withdrawal. With a majority of these lost on 11 July. Thus, the German tank loss is estimated as being a minimum of 26, and a maximum of 45. In addition, 10 of the 17 Tiger tanks were also lost.]

Conrath was in agreement with Senger’s estimate. Still expecting his tanks to reach the beaches, he was sure his infantry heavy task force could wheel to the east from Biscari to strike at Vittoria. Unfortunately for Conrath, his infantry heavy force had been so manhandled by Gavin’s men on Biazzo Ridge that it was hardly in any condition to initiate any offensive action.

About 1000, a good many of the paratroopers, coming from Vittoria under Major Krause, had joined Colonel Gavin on Biazzo Ridge. Gavin directed this force to advance westward along Highway 115, seize Ponte Dirillo, and open a route to the 1st Division’s zone. Augmented by random troops of the 180th Infantry rounded up by Gavin, the paratroopers got going. After a mile of slow progress against increasing German resistance, the attack halted when four Tiger tanks, supported by infantrymen, came into view and began pressing the paratroopers back. Though American soldiers crawled forward singly with bazookas, they could not get close enough to register a kill. Fortunately, two of the three airborne howitzers came in behind Biazzo Ridge, went into position, and opened fire.

The fight continued until well after noon. As American casualties increased to the danger point, artillerymen manhandled one of the little howitzers to the top of the ridge just in time to engage in a point-blank duel with a Tiger tank. In the face of heavy small arms fire and several near misses from the tank gun, the paratrooper crew got off several quick rounds, one of which knocked out the tank. Two half-tracks towing 57-mm. anti-tank guns arrived from the 179th Infantry, went into firing positions, and engaged the other three Tiger tanks. Around 1500, the Germans had had enough.

The anti-tank guns had arrived in response to Colonel Gavin’s request, through another staff officer dispatched to the 45th Division command post for assistance, especially for anti-tank guns, artillery liaison parties, and tanks. General Middleton had been quick to react. Shortly after the anti-tank guns rolled up, a naval gunfire support party and a liaison party from the l89th Field Artillery Battalion reached Colonel Gavin’s headquarters. Within a very few minutes, the field artillery battalion signaled rounds on the way and the Navy joined in blasting the German troops along the Acate River. Still later in the afternoon, eleven tanks from the 753rd Medium Tank Battalion arrived. At the same time, Gavin received word that Lieutenant Swingler, commander of the 505th’s Headquarters Company, was on the way with an additional one hundred paratroopers. With this growing strength, Gavin decided to switch to the offensive.

On trucks furnished by the 45th Division, Lieutenant Swingler and his men arrived shortly after 2000. Forty-five minutes later, after a tremendous artillery concentration, the paratroopers launched their second attack. Every available man was committed, including a few from the Navy who had enrolled in the unit during the day. Not long afterwards, the German force was scattered, most of the troops making their way north toward Biscari, a few crossing at Ponte Dirillo to rejoin the main body of the division, a smaller number remaining near the bridge in blocking positions. With the advent of darkness, Gavin called off the attack before his troops reached the river, Pulling his men back, he organized a strong defensive line along the ridge.

The paratrooper stand on Biazzo Ridge prompted General Conrath to change his plans. Learning of the heavy losses being sustained by his infantry-heavy force, he decided, apparently on his own initiative, to break off contact with the Americans near Gela. Ignoring General von Senger’s instructions to wheel eastward, he decided to withdraw to Caltagirone in compliance with Guzzoni’s orders. But instead of retiring at once to Caltagirone, Conrath planned to pull his Hermann Gӧring Division back in stages. He would reach Caltagirone during the night of 13 July, a day later than Guzzoni wished.[N2-823]

[N2-823 For a complete discussion of Conrath’s decision, see MS #R-138 (Bauer), pp. 7-9, and MS #R-164 b, General Remarks to Individual Chapters and Suggested Corrections, Comments on Chapter XIX (Bauer). Though General Conrath, it seems certain, ordered a withdrawal to start during the night of 11 July, this information apparently did not reach all of his units. Interrogation of a German prisoner by 2nd Armored Division personnel on 12 July disclosed that the prisoner’s unit was ordered to attack Gela, which was reported clear as a result of the tank attack on 11 July. See 1st Inf Div G-2 Jnl, 10-14 Jul 43]

Though bitter patrol clashes continued in the hills near Piano Lupo during the night, and though the 16th Infantry reported an enemy infantry and tank buildup, the 1st Division beachhead was no longer in any serious danger. General Allen had established physical contact with the 3rd Division on his left. Almost all of the floating reserve was ashore. The Navy stood by to render gunfire support. More supplies and equipment were arriving.

[N28-2424 By nightfall, 11 July, all tanks of the 3rd Battalion, 67th Armored Regiment; eight light tanks from the 82nd Reconnaissance Battalion; all of Company E, 67th Armored Regiment; and the bulk of the 78th Armored Field Artillery Battalion were ashore. All this, of course, was in addition to the foot elements put ashore during the night of 10 July.]

Colonel Perry, then Chief of Staff, 2nd Armored Division, disagrees with one report (Morison, Sicily-Salerno-Anzio, page 111) that the desperate need for more armor ashore was not fully appreciated. Colonel Perry states that the need for armor was appreciated by the 2nd Armored Division, but that due to the lack of causeways and the slowness of unloading tanks from LST’s to LCT’s and then to shore, tanks could not be gotten ashore quickly. Colonel Perry further states that on 11 Despite the fact that the 1st Division had taken quite a battering on 11 July, in particular the 16th Infantry, and despite the fact that enemy air raids had caused some damage, notably the destruction of a Liberty ship filled with ammunition, General Patton was ashore urging General Allen to get on with the business of taking Ponte Olivo and Niscemi, objectives which, according to the Seventh Army’s plan, should have been taken that day. [N2-8-25]  11 July there was no causeway operating on any 1st Division beach until late in the afternoon. The only U.S. tanks to see action on 11 July were four of the ten medium tanks that were unloaded early in the morning.

[N2-8-25 See Combat Operations of the 1st Infantry Division During World War II (a 43-page mimeographed document prepared by General Allen), p. 36. According to General Allen’s report, General Patton was very much “wrought up” because the 1st Division had not as yet taken Ponte Olivo airfield.]

SOURCE: Sicily and the Surrender of Italy: BY; Lieutenant Colonel Albert Nutter Garland & Howard McGaw Smyth (United States Army Center of Military History)

World War Two: Sicily (2-6): Allied Invasion July 1943

Advertisements

World War Two: Saipan (2-7) Battle of the Philippine Sea (1)

While the marines and soldiers of the V Amphibious Corps were still pushing toward the east coast of Saipan, Admiral Spruance received news that was to prove even more significant than that of the capture of Aslito field. Beginning on 15 June, American submarines patrolling the waters east of the Philippine Islands sent in a series of reports on enemy ship movements that seemed to indicate strongly that the Japanese were massing a fleet and were sending it to the rescue of the beleaguered defenders of Saipan.

Spruance, like all other high-ranking U.S. naval commanders in the Pacific, had hoped that an invasion of the Marianas would bring the enemy fleet out fighting. That hope now seemed likely to be fulfilled. The Japanese Navy, like the American, had long been imbued with Alfred Thayer Mahan’s doctrine that the sine qua non of victory in naval warfare is the destruction of the enemy fleet. In their own national history, the Japanese had only to look back as far as 1905 for historical warrant for this assumption. In that year, Admiral Heigachiro Togo had met and almost annihilated the Russian Fleet at the Battle of Tsushima, thus paving the way to Japan’s victory in the Russo-Japanese War and a long-coveted place in the international sun.

In the early stages of World War II the Japanese sought to put this doctrine to test, but always fell short of complete success. In spite of the tremendous damage done to it at Pearl Harbor, the U.S. Fleet survived and recovered with remarkable rapidity. Important sea battles were won by the Japanese in the Solomons, but none of them were conclusive. At Midway the tables were turned when U.S. carrier planes repelled an attempted invasion and administered a sound drubbing to the Japanese naval forces supporting it.

By late 1943 the high command of the Imperial Navy felt that conditions were ripe for a decisive fleet engagement. Twice in the autumn of that year Admiral Mineichi Koga, Commander in Chief, Combined Fleet, sallied forth from Truk in an effort to engage the U.S. Central Pacific Fleet. Both times he failed to discover his adversary. In the end he retired to Truk and allowed most of his carrier air strength to be diverted to the Rabaul area, where two thirds of it was lost. In the spring of 1944, as American forces threatened to press farther into western Pacific waters, the Japanese prepared another plan, Operation A-GO, in the hope of forcing a major fleet engagement.

[N2-7-2 Information on Operation A-GO is derived from: Japanese Studies in World War II, 60 and 97; USSBS, Campaigns, pp. 213-72; USSBS, Interrogations, II, 316.]

On 3 May 1944 Admiral Toyoda, Koga’s successor as Commander in Chief, Combined Fleet, issued the general order for Operation A-GO. It was assumed that the next major thrust of the U.S. Fleet would be into waters around the Palaus, in the western Carolines, and that there it could be met and bested by the Japanese. Thought was given to the possibility that the Americans might move first against the Marianas rather than Palaus, but the consensus among high Japanese naval circles favored the latter alternative. Probably wishful thinking entered the picture here, for it was obviously to the advantage of the Japanese to concentrate their naval forces in the more southerly waters. The 1st Mobile Fleet, commanded by Admiral Jisaburo Ozawa, was soon to be moved to Tawi Tawi in the Sulu Archipelago, and it was to this force that major responsibility for carrying out Operation A-GO was assigned. The Japanese were already suffering a shortage of both fuel and tankers, and should Ozawa extend the range of his operations as far north as the Marianas he would take considerable logistical risks.

Before A-GO could be executed, an American thrust in another quarter caused Toyoda to change his plans. On 27 May General MacArthur’s forces invaded the island of Biak in the Geelvink Bay area of New Guinea and placed the Japanese admiral in a dilemma. If Biak were lost to the invaders, the success of A-GO could easily be jeopardized by American aircraft based on that island. On the other hand, to reinforce Biak would entail at least a temporary dispersion of forces, and of course the first principle upon which A-GO was based was that of concentration of force. Faced with this choice, the Japanese decided to accept the risks of dispersion and to dispatch some of their ships and planes to the Biak area in an effort to drive the Americans off. This decision was reflected in a new plan of operations known as KON.

[N2-7-3 Information concerning KON and its effects is derived from: Smith, Approach to the Philippines, Ch. XV; Samuel Eliot Morison, History of United States Naval Operations in World War II, Vol. VIII, New Guinea and the Marianas, March 1944-August 1944 (Boston, Little, Brown and Company, 1953), pp. 119-33]

Three times within eleven days Japanese naval forces sailed forth for Biak with troop reinforcements. The first of the expeditions turned back on 3 June, having lost the element of surprise on being sighted by American submarines and planes. The second was struck by B-25’s and suffered one destroyer sunk and three others damaged before the entire task force was chased away by American warships. The third, which included the super-battleships Yamato and Musashi, the light cruiser Noshiro, and six destroyers, all detached from the 1st Mobile Fleet, was abruptly called off on 12 June when Admiral Toyoda received definite word that Admiral Spruance’s forces were attacking the Marianas.

Thus, the American soldiers on Biak were saved from further naval harassment by the timely appearance of Central Pacific forces off the Marianas. By the same token, the invasion of Biak by Southwest Pacific forces was to prove a boon to Admiral Spruance, Japanese plans for A-GO relied heavily on the support of naval land-based planes of the 1st Air Fleet stationed in the Marianas, Carolines, and Palaus, but one third to one half of all these planes were sent to Sorong and other bases in western New Guinea in response to the invasion of Biak. There, large numbers of pilots fell prey to malaria, and most of the aircraft were lost either to U.S. action or to bad weather. By the time the U.S. Fifth Fleet showed up to meet the challenge of A-GO, the land-based aircraft available to Toyoda had been sizably reduced in number.

On 11 June the Japanese admiral received word of Mitscher’s carrier strike against Saipan and immediately suspended the KON operation, ordering the task force bound for Biak to join forces with the main body of Ozawa’s 1st Mobile Fleet. Ozawa himself sortied from Tawi Tawi two days later, and on the morning of the 15th Operation A-GO was activated. Contrary to earlier Japanese expectations, the Americans had chosen to attack the Marianas rather than the western Carolines. Hence the scene of the impending “decisive fleet engagement” could only lie somewhere in the Philippine Sea—that vast stretch of ocean between the Philippines and the Marianas.

On the evening of 15 June Ozawa’s fleet had completed its progress from Tawi Tawi up the Visayan Sea and through San Bernadino Strait into the Philippine Sea. On the next afternoon it was joined by the KON force that had been diverted from Biak. Both fleets were sighted by American submarines, and it was apparent that the Japanese were heading in a northeasterly direction toward the Marianas.

[N2-7-4 The following account of the Battle of the Philippine Sea is derived from CINCPACCINCPOA

Opns in POA—Jun 44, Annex A, Part VII; Morison, New Guinea and the Marianas, Chs. XIV-XVI.

The Philippine Sea was so named as the result of a recommendation made by Admiral Nimitz in 1944, at the time of operations against the Marianas. The name was officially approved by the U.S. Board on Geographic Names in March 1945. The Philippine Sea applies to that area limited on the north by Japan, on the east by the Bonins and the Marianas, on the south by the Carolines, and on the west by the Philippines, Formosa, and the Ryukyu Islands.]

Altogether, Ozawa had mustered 5 carriers, 4 light carriers, 5 battleships, 11 heavy cruisers, 2 light cruisers, 28 destroyers, and 430 carrier-based combat aircraft. He was outnumbered by the Americans in every respect except in heavy cruisers. Spruance had at his disposal 7 carriers, 8 light carriers, 7 battleships, 8 heavy cruisers, 13 light cruisers, 69 destroyers, and 891 carrier-based planes. The mammoth American fleet was divided into four carrier task groups under Admiral Mitscher, Commander, Task Force 58. Mitscher was in tactical command, but his major tactical decisions had to be approved by Spruance as Commander, Fifth Fleet.

By the morning of 18 June all four American carrier groups had rendezvoused and were steaming in a southwesterly direction toward the approaching enemy. Spruance had ordered: “Action against the enemy must be pushed vigorously by all hands to ensure complete destruction of his fleet,” but had added the precautionary note, “Task Force 58 must cover Saipan and our forces engaged in that operation.”

That night Admiral Mitscher learned the full meaning of this qualification when his superior ordered him to change course to the east and maintain it until daylight. Mitscher protested but was overruled. Admiral Spruance was fearful that Ozawa might attempt an end run under cover of darkness and put the Japanese fleet between him and Saipan. The Fifth Fleet commander was unwilling to jeopardize the landing operations even if it meant a delay in closing with the enemy fleet. Actually, no such end run was contemplated by the Japanese commander, but Spruance had no way of knowing that at the time.

On the morning of the 19th, after the American carriers had turned west again, Ozawa’s planes, which were lighter and less well armed and therefore capable of greater range than their American rivals, delivered the first blow. In four separate raids lasting for almost five hours Japanese planes roared over the horizon in a futile effort to knock out Mitscher’s mighty fleet. Out of all the American surface vessels present, only one was hit—the battleship South Dakota, which lost 27 men killed and 23 wounded, but was not seriously damaged. For the rest, the raids were broken up and the raiders destroyed or turned back by the combined might of American ships’ fire and planes, chiefly the latter. Later that afternoon American strikes on Guam and Rota, which had been ordered for the morning, were resumed. By evening the “Great Marianas Turkey Shoot” was over with disastrous results to the Japanese. Out of 430 carrier planes, Ozawa lost 330.

Some went down under the fire of American ships and planes; others were destroyed on Guam and Rota; and still others were counted as operational casualties. Against this, only twenty-four American planes were shot down and six lost operationally. The same day, two Japanese carriers, Shokaku and Taiho (Admiral Ozawa’s flagship) were sunk by American submarines operating well to the south of Mitscher’s fleet.

That night Ozawa changed course to the northwest hoping to put distance between himself and the American fleet and to allow himself opportunity to refuel. Mitscher held to a westerly course in the belief that it would bring him across the track of his enemy. However, he could not send out night air patrols because none of his carrier aircraft were equipped with search radar, and not until late the following afternoon was aerial contact finally made with the Japanese fleet, which was now heading in the general direction of Okinawa. Mitscher immediately launched a twilight air attack that succeeded in destroying about 65 of Ozawa’s remaining 100 aircraft, sinking the carrier Hiyo, hitting another carrier and a battleship, and damaging two fleet oilers to the extent that they had to be scuttled. American plane losses came to 100, mostly incurred through crashes when the returning planes tried to land on their carriers after dark. Personnel casualties were not so heavy, coming to only 49.

Thus ended the Battle of the Philippine Sea. Mitscher would have detached his battleships, cruisers, and destroyers to pursue and destroy the fleeing enemy, but Spruance refused to break up the fleet. It would have made no difference anyway since Ozawa was by now too far away to be overhauled.

Despite the escape of six carriers and their escorts, the Imperial Navy had suffered a severe blow—one from which it never recovered. In the opinion of Samuel Eliot Morison, the Battle of the Philippine Sea “decided the Marianas campaign by giving the United States Navy command of the surrounding waters and air. Thus, the Japanese land forces on Saipan, Tinian, and Guam were doomed, no matter how bravely and doggedly they fought.

There can be no doubt of the decisive influence of the sea battle on the ultimate outcome of the land campaigns in the Marianas. On the other hand, the immediate effects were not altogether beneficial from the point of view of the troops fighting ashore on Saipan. On first getting word of the approach of the Japanese Fleet, Admiral Spruance had detached from Admiral Turner’s attack force five heavy cruisers, three light cruisers, and twenty-one destroyers to supplement Task Force 58.

This left Turner without adequate fire support for his transport shipping, which was still in the process of unloading at Saipan. Consequently, most of the transports retired well to the eastward of Saipan on the night of 17 June and remained away from the Saipan area until the Battle of the Philippine Sea was over. The withdrawal of these transports naturally interrupted unloading and imposed additional strains on the already overburdened logistical program on Saipan.

Logistics

No aspect of an amphibious landing against a hostile shore presents more complex problems than that of transporting supplies from ship to shore and allocating them at the proper time and place and in the proper amounts to the troops that need them. Similarly, no phase of an amphibious operation is so likely to become disorganized and even disorderly. Ordinarily, the assault landing craft and vehicles move from ship to shore in scheduled wave formations and in a fairly methodical fashion. Once ashore the troops deploy and eventually move inland according to prearranged plan. Supplies, on the other hand, cannot move off the beach under their own power. More often than not they are dumped at the water’s edge in a haphazard fashion by landing craft whose naval crews are primarily interested in putting out to sea again. The supplies stay at the shore line until shore parties can segregate them in some order on the beaches or until mechanical transportation comes ashore to haul them in to inland dumps. To the casual observer at least, the pile up and congestion of supplies at the shore line during the first phase of a normal amphibious assault presents a picture of total chaos.

To be sure, in a well-conducted amphibious operation the chaos is often more apparent than real, but even under the best conditions the problem of ship-to-shore supply is a complicated one and not easy of solution. At Saipan it was further complicated by local circumstances, which were formidable, although not unique. On the first day unloading was hampered by heavy artillery and mortar fire on the beaches that did not cease altogether until three days later. Hydrographic conditions were unfavorable to a steady movement of supplies and equipment in to the beaches. The uncertain naval situation made it necessary for the transports to retire to seaward each of the first three nights. Finally, for the next five days and nights most of the transports stayed at sea awaiting the outcome of the Battle of the Philippine Sea.

Enemy harassment of the beaches and the unfavorable hydrographic conditions offshore were of course felt most seriously by the two Marine divisions during the first two days of the operation. Sporadically, enemy fire caused all unloading work to be suspended as shore parties took cover. The beaches on the flanks of the landing area were completely inaccessible to boats of any kind. LST’s and LCT’s could ground on the abutting reef, but supplies from that point to shore had either to be manhandled or transferred to LVT’s and DUKW’s. Some landing craft could reach shore at the interior beaches by way of the narrow channel off Charan Kanoa, but at low tide its use was restricted to those of the most shallow draft, and at all times it was congested because both assault divisions were using it.

Inevitably, too, along the six thousand yards of beach there was some mix-up of supplies in spite of the elaborate organization to supervise the unloading of the transports and the movement of supplies to the troop units to which they were allocated. In accordance with standard amphibious doctrine, this task was shared by naval beach parties and ground force shore parties. The beach parties supervised the unloading of the transports and the progress of landing craft and vehicles to the shore line. Also, they marked channels and controlled traffic in the lagoon. In command of these operations was a force master who had under him two transport group beachmasters, one for each Marine division, each of whom in turn commanded two transport division beachmasters, one for each assault regiment. All of these naval officers were landed as soon as satisfactory lateral communications had been established, and each was provided with a communication team of one officer, five radiomen, and five signalmen.

Paired with the naval beach-masters and working in close co-ordination with them were the Marine and Army shore party commanders whose job it was to control traffic on the beaches themselves, receive the supplies as they were landed, and distribute them to the appropriate troop units. Each Marine division was authorized a shore party of 98 officers and 2,781 enlisted men. The 2nd Marine Division based its shore party organization on the pioneer battalion of its engineer regiment. Nine teams were organized under three shore party group headquarters. The organization of the 4th Marine Division’s shore party differed somewhat in that two shore party groups were set up, each with three teams. These were drawn from personnel of the 121st Naval Construction Battalion as well as from the pioneer battalion of the division engineering regiment.

Each of the three Army regiments had its own shore party battalion—the 152nd Engineers for the 165th Infantry, the 34th Engineers for the 105th, and the 1341st Engineers of the 1165th Engineer Group for the 106th Infantry.

Notwithstanding this system of interlocking and parallel controls, the first two days of the operation frequently saw supplies of the 2nd Marine Division being dumped on the beaches of the 4th Division and vice versa. When the 27th Division began to land the situation rapidly deteriorated. On the night of 16 June the 165th Infantry commenced to come ashore over Blue Beach 1 in the zone of the 4th Marine Division. Next day the 105th Infantry followed. Few, if any, preliminary plans had been made by higher headquarters to cover the details of landing the reserve division, and the division itself, in its initial planning, had made no provision for a landing in this particular area. Hence, the process of getting the troops and supplies ashore inevitably became a makeshift proposition. Colonel Charles Ferris, Division G-4, set up an on-the-spot system of controls, but was unable to persuade either the Navy beachmaster or the senior shore party commander at corps headquarters to agree to routing cargo to any single beach or to order the transports’ boats to report to a single control craft in the channel so that an accurate record could be kept of items discharged. The result was that the 27th Division’s supplies were landed over several beaches, and the Army troops had to scramble and forage to get what they needed.

On 18 June all ships carrying troops and supplies of the 27th Division retired eastward of the island to await the outcome of the Battle of the Philippine Sea. To add to the division’s difficulties, the 152nd Engineers, which had been assigned as the shore party for the 165th Infantry, was detached and assigned to corps, leaving only the 34th Engineers to perform shore party functions for the two Army regiments that landed. By the morning of the 19th the supply situation within the division had become critical. True, there was enough food and water on hand for immediate needs, but only by dint of borrowing K rations from Marine dumps and capturing the water cisterns on Aslito field.

The quantities of Class II, III, and IV (organization equipment, fuel and lubricants, miscellaneous equipment) supplies on hand were almost negligible. Small arms ammunition would last four days, but there were only about 600 rounds of 155-mm. ammunition available for each battalion and 1,200 rounds per battalion of 105-mm. ammunition, most of the latter borrowed from the Marines. Of the division’s vehicles, there were on shore only three 2-1/2-ton cargo trucks, twenty-three 3/4-ton weapon carriers, and forty-nine DUKW’s. Not until 20 June did the ships carrying the troops of the 106th Regiment return to Saipan, and not until the 27th were the division’s supplies and equipment fully unloaded.

The 27th Division was not alone in suffering an interruption to the flow of its supplies and equipment because of the Battle of the Philippine Sea. The hasty withdrawal of the naval transports on the 18th made an orderly discharge of any cargo over the proper beaches impossible. Priorities were assigned to rations, ammunition, and fuels, and other items had to be neglected. Moreover, in order to dispatch the cargo ships with all possible speed out of the danger area, it was necessary to permit them to unload over the beach that was the handiest. Thus, it was impossible to prevent a division’s supplies from being scattered among all the dumps. The only advantage enjoyed by the two Marine divisions in this respect lay in the three full days they had had to unload their cargo before the general exodus of naval shipping, but this was at least partly offset by the fact that for most of the time their landing beaches were under fire.

Meanwhile, during the period when most of the transports were cruising east of Saipan, shore parties were furiously at work improving the beach approaches and eliminating obstacles to a more rapid delivery of supplies across the reef. Twelve pontoon sections had been hauled to Saipan lashed to the sides of LST’s, and others came later, side-carried by ships of the first garrison echelon. By 18 June naval Seabees had floated three of these and commenced construction of a causeway pier off Charan Kanoa, which was increased in length as fast as additional sections could be obtained from LST’s on their return from retirement to sea. Next day the 34th Engineer Battalion opened up Yellow Beach 3 just north of Agingan Point by blowing two channels through the reef to permit small boats to discharge on the shore during high tide. The battalion also rigged up a crane on an overhanging point off the beach to enable it to unload matériel directly from landing craft into trucks waiting on a level above the beach itself. On 21 June the 1341st Engineer Battalion removed all the mines from White Beach 1 below Agingan Point and prepared access roads from the beach. Naval underwater demolition teams searched for anti-boat mines and blew landing slips in the offshore reef for LST’s and LCT’s.

One factor that eased the 27th Division’s unloading problems was that a large percentage of its supplies had been palletized before embarkation from Oahu. Unlike the two Marine divisions, which were skeptical of the process, the 27th Division had responded enthusiastically to General Holland Smith’s administrative order that 25 to 50 percent of all supplies and two to five units of fire be palletized. In fact, the Army division had palletized almost 90 percent of all its supplies and had reason to be grateful for its own forehandedness. Securing the matériel to wooden pallets permitted a more rapid unloading of landing craft at the beaches, released working parties that otherwise would have been engaged in the arduous labor of transferring cargo from landing craft into trucks, and reduced the number of men at the landing beaches in positions exposed to enemy fire. In the opinion of Holland Smith, “These advantages were clearly manifest at Saipan when palletized supplies of the 27th Division were handled as against un-palletized supplies of the 2nd and 4th Marine Divisions.”

Not all of the logistical difficulties that beset the fighting troops were due to unloading difficulties. Some shortages can be traced back to the point of embarkation and are attributable to insufficient shipping. This was particularly true in the case of motor transportation. There was simply not enough space aboard the transports assigned to the operation to stow all of the vehicles of the three infantry divisions and of the XXIV Corps Artillery. General Smith’s headquarters cut the table of organization and equipment allowances, and his own allowances were reduced again because of inadequate shipping space. In the end, out of all motor transport vehicles allowed by corps, only 94 percent of the ambulances, 83 percent of the trucks, 71 percent of the trailers, and 75 percent of the tractors could be embarked from Oahu. Although these cuts were distributed more or less equally among all the units involved, the 27th Division suffered somewhat less than the others, being able to carry with it 86 percent of its trucks, 99 percent of its trailers, and 99 percent of its tractors. However, this advantage was more than offset when, after arrival on Saipan, corps headquarters commandeered thirty-three of the Army division’s 2-1/2-ton trucks and refused to return them even as late as 6 July.

As a partial compensation for the shortages in standard types of motor transportation, a substantial number of DUKW’s was provided for the Saipan operation more than had hitherto been used in the Central Pacific. All together, 185 of these vehicles were embarked. Each infantry division had a DUKW company attached, as did XXIV Corps Artillery. The DUKW’s initial function was to land the artillery. This had entailed some modification both of the DUKW’s bodies and of the 105-mm. howitzer wheels. After the landing phase, the amphibian trucks were used continually throughout the campaign, chiefly for hauling ammunition from shipboard or supply dumps to artillery emplacements and as prime movers for 105-mm. howitzers. In the opinion of General Holland Smith’s G-4 officer, Colonel Anderson, GSC, “the DUKW was the outstanding single type of equipment employed in this operation.”

Later, as the fight in the central and northern part of Saipan progressed, one other serious supply shortage manifested itself. The heavy demand for artillery support and close-in infantry support by 81-mm. and 60-mm. mortars created an unexpected drain on the mortar ammunition supply. Previous experience in the Central Pacific had seemed to indicate that a total of seven units of fire would be sufficient for Saipan, but this proved to be too low an estimate, and on the basis of experience in the Marianas ten units was recommended for future operations. The initial fault in not loading enough ammunition aboard the assault ships was compounded by the fact that resupply ships were frequently not vertically loaded, thus making it difficult for the troops to get their ammunition ashore when they needed it. Also, the first ammunition resupply ship was late in arriving in the area, and many of these vessels withdrew at night because of threatened air attacks, thus making a build-up of reserves impossible.

The extent to which these shortages and delays, avoidable and unavoidable, affected the course of the battle on Saipan cannot definitely be determined. The shortages and delays were real enough, but the fact that they were reported in such detail by supply officers and others might be taken to be as much in evidence of the wealth of matériel to which Americans in combat were accustomed as of any real privation suffered on Saipan. The records show no single instance wherein any infantry or artillery unit had to cease fire for want of ammunition or became completely immobilized for lack of transportation. On the other hand, it can be assumed that any defects in a supply system automatically impede the progress of ground troops. It is highly probable that had more supplies been on hand and had they reached the front lines in a more expeditious fashion, the combat troops would have been able to move against the enemy with greater force and speed.

Post landing Naval Gunfire Support On Saipan, as elsewhere in the island warfare typical of the Pacific, one of the most effective weapons in support of the infantry proved to be ships’ fire. Naval vessels ranging in size from LCI gunboats to old battleships, and mounting guns of calibers from 20-mm. to 14 inches, cruised the 27 1st Amphibian Truck Company for the 2nd Marine Division; 2nd Amphibian Truck Company for the 4th Marine Division; Provisional DUKW Company (from Quartermaster Company) for the 27th Division; 477th Amphibian Truck Company for XXIV Corps Artillery.

coasts of the island prepared at all times to support the troops on call, lay down preparatory fire, illuminate the night with star shells, and perform a host of other duties. True, the configuration and terrain of Saipan imposed some natural limitations on the fullest exploitation of this support. Naval guns have a flat trajectory and the mountains and hills of the volcanic island often masked fire from the sea. Also, the reefs fringing many parts of the island kept the larger vessels from approaching within optimum range for direct fire at some targets.

On the other hand, many of the enemy’s guns and installations were emplaced in defilade in valleys that ran perpendicular to the shore line on the east and west coasts, and against these naval gunfire could be particularly effective. The caves along the shore line offered ideal hiding places for enemy troops and were also ideal targets for ships firing from the sea, especially for the vessels of more shallow draft.

In general, two types of controls were set up to permit the co-ordination between troops and ships so necessary to efficient operations of this sort. For close support missions it was customary each day to assign a certain number of vessels to each infantry battalion in the assault—usually two or three destroyers. During the entire course of the operation 2 old battleships, 2 heavy cruisers, 3 light cruisers, and 39 destroyers delivered call fires at various times. Attached to each battalion was a shore fire control party consisting of naval and ground force personnel furnished by the 1st, 2nd, and 295th Joint Assault Signal Companies, which were attached, respectively, to the 4th Marine Division, the 2nd Marine Division, and the 27th Infantry Division. These parties were in direct radio communication with their supporting ships and from their positions on shore would request fire missions and spot the results.

This system of control was generally employed for two types of missions. First were the close support missions fired sometimes within fifty yards of friendly troops. Destroyers’ five-inch guns were usually used for this purpose, and the bulk of all five inch ammunition (139,691 rounds) was consumed in this fashion. How effective it was is doubtful.

Admiral Turner’s final opinion was, “Field Artillery is much better qualified for this type of fire by reason of its greater accuracy and smaller burst patterns.” The second type of mission usually controlled by shore fire control parties was night illumination. Star shells were fired on request of the infantrymen to prevent infiltration, to help stop counterattacks, and to keep enemy activity to their immediate front under surveillance. Unfortunately, there were not enough of these projectiles on hand to satisfy the wants of the troops, and after the first night a quota of six per hour per ship had to be imposed except during emergencies.

Except for these two types of missions, request for all other sorts of ships’ fire on ground targets originated from the naval gunfire officer of the Northern Troops and Landing Force. His headquarters was set up ashore near those of the corps air officer and the corps artillery officer and the three worked in close co-ordination so as to avoid duplication of effort and waste of ammunition.

Under the naval gunfire officer’s supervision, all deep support fire missions were arranged, including preparation fires, deliberate and methodical destruction fires, counterbattery, harassing, and interdiction fires, and fires on targets of opportunity. Since these missions were not controlled by shore fire control parties, it was considered necessary to fix definite safety limits and to specify safe lines of fire. Preparation fires were not brought closer than 1,500 yards from the nearest friendly troops. Deliberate and moderate destruction fires, fires on targets of opportunity, and counterbattery, harassing, and interdiction fires were usually confined to areas 2,500 yards from the front line. On the whole these various missions were executed far more effectively than were close support fires, and it was in this field that naval gunfire won its laurels at Saipan. Other chores ably performed by the support ships were the guarding of Saipan against amphibious reinforcements from Tinian, neutralization of the airfields at Marpi Point and Ushi Point, Tinian, and destruction of enemy cave positions along the seacoast that were inaccessible to anything but the 40-mm. fire of LCI gunboats.

The testimony of prisoners of war captured on Saipan leaves no doubt of the impression made on the Japanese by American naval gunfire. Major Takashi Hiragushi, 43rd Division intelligence officer, testified, “the most feared of . . . [American] weapons was the naval shelling which managed to reach the obscure mountain caves where . . . CP’s were located.”

A captured Japanese lieutenant declared that the greatest single factor in the American success was naval gunfire. When asked how he distinguished between naval gunfire and land-based artillery, he laughed and said that it was not difficult when one was on the receiving end. Everyone in the hills “holed up” and waited when a man-of-war started to fire. Other Japanese prisoners of war, when interrogated on the matter, were in almost unanimous agreement. Perhaps the highest testimonial of the efficacy of this particular weapon came from General Saito himself when he wrote on 27 June, “If there just were no naval gunfire, we feel with determination that we could fight it out with the enemy in a decisive battle.”

Close Air Support

Once the assault troops had landed on Saipan and established their beachhead, the role of aircraft for the remainder of the operation was twofold. First, and most important, it was to keep the battlefield isolated from the inroads of enemy air and surface craft. Second, it was to support the advance of the ground troops in somewhat the same manner as naval gunfire and artillery.

After the Battle of the Philippine Sea no serious threat of enemy air intervention remained, and except for occasional nuisance raids the troops on Saipan could enjoy virtual immunity from that quarter. Thereafter, the planes of Mitscher’s Task Force 58 were employed on occasional troop support missions, while Admiral Turner’s escort carriers provided the aircraft for combat air patrols and antisubmarine patrols. Once Aslito airfield was captured. He was mistakenly identified as Major Kiyoshi Yoshida, 31st Army intelligence officer and put into operation, these duties were shared by P-47’s of the 19th and 73rd Fighter Squadrons, Seventh Air Force.

Whether in deep support or close support, the planes assigned to assist the ground forces flew three types of missions—bombing, rocketing, and strafing. Of these, the first was the least effective in knocking out comparatively small targets such as gun installations. After the initial softening up of the landing beaches, bombing missions were ordinarily employed against enemy troop concentrations, supply dumps, and buildings. The first extensive use of aircraft rockets in the Central Pacific was on Saipan. The rockets proved to be the most valuable weapon for support aircraft, in spite of the fact that there was insufficient training in its use and that no delay fuzes were available. The most common technique for close support missions was strafing, which was not only effective against the enemy but safer for friendly troops.

Troop requests for close air support were radioed by air liaison parties attached to each regiment and battalion. The requests were filtered through division and corps headquarters, each of which had the opportunity of rejecting them before final decision was made by the Commander, Support Aircraft, Captain Richard F. Whitehead, USN, who was aboard Admiral Turner’s flagship. Once a strike was ordered, it would be controlled either by Captain Whitehead himself, by the support aircraft commander on Holland Smith’s stall, by the air co-ordinator (who was a group or squadron leader from one of the participating carriers and was on station over the island at all times during daylight hours), or by the flight leader assigned to the particular mission.

Air liaison parties on the ground had no direct radio communication with the planes and were therefore unable to coach the pilots into their targets. Targets were designated in a variety of ways. Sometimes the infantry marked them with white phosphorus mortar shells. At others, planes flew dummy runs and waited to execute their missions until battalion air liaison parties notified the Commander, Support Aircraft, who in turn notified the flight leader if the runs were made on the correct area. Fluorescent panels were used to mark the front lines of the troops.

The highly centralized system of close air support control used at Saipan had the advantage of reducing to a minimum the danger of duplication of missions and of planes bombing and strafing within friendly lines. On the other hand, it was time consuming to a degree that was highly unsatisfactory to the troops. The time lag between requests for and execution of an air strike was sometimes more than an hour and seldom less than a half hour.

One reason for the delay was the difficulty of co-ordinating air with the other supporting arms. No single co-ordinating agency had been established before the invasion of Saipan. This created no especially difficult problem when it came to coordinating air and naval gunfire, since by mutual agreement naval gunfire was lifted in certain areas when requested by the Commander, Support Aircraft, and air attacks were stopped on the request of firing ships. On the other hand, the co-ordination of air and artillery presented a more difficult problem because of the higher ordinates of artillery pieces, their rapid rate of fire, and the lack of central control for the four separate artillery units. For these and other reasons, close air support was the least satisfactory of the three supporting arms.

Artillery

Artillery support was of course provided by the three divisions’ organic pieces, as well as by the twenty-four 155-mm. guns and twenty-four 155-mm. howitzers of XXIV Corps Artillery, which was commanded by General Harper. Corps artillery commenced to land and go into position on 18 June, and by 22 June all four battalions were ashore and firing. The two 155-mm. howitzer battalions and one of the gun battalions were emplaced 1,500 to 2,000 yards south of Charan Kanoa on the low, flat, plain adjacent to Yellow Beaches, while the other gun battalion was emplaced on the higher ground just southwest of Aslito airfield.

Initially, all battalions faced north on Saipan except for Battery B, 531st Field Artillery Battalion, which was positioned to fire on Tinian. On 27 June the front lines had advanced to an extent calling for a forward displacement of the heavy battalions of the corps, and by the 28th all had been displaced to positions northeast of Magicienne Bay. On 7 July the 225th Field Artillery Battalion displaced again, this time to the northeastern edge of Kagman Peninsula. In addition to supporting the troops on Saipan, XXIV Corps Artillery had the job of guarding the back door to Tinian. Observation posts overlooking the southern island were manned twenty-four hours a day, and various harassing and destructive missions were fired on Tinian airfields and other targets on that island throughout the Saipan operation.

For the most part corps artillery was assigned the job of delivering deep support fires for the advancing troops, and a minimum safety band of 1,500 yards in front of the infantry was established. The division’s batteries engaged in night harassing fires, preparation fires in advance of the daily infantry jump-offs, fires on targets of opportunity, and call fires at the request of the troops. On several occasions division artillery fired rolling barrages. Close liaison was maintained between corps and each division artillery headquarters by liaison officers numbering as many as three per division. A similar system was maintained by the divisions themselves. Each light artillery battalion had a command liaison officer with its supported infantry regiment, and usually the Marine and Army artillery units exchanged liaison officers to co-ordinate fires near division boundaries. Primary means of communication was by wire, although this was not altogether satisfactory because the large number of tracked vehicles used on Saipan made maintenance of wire lines difficult As a substitute, all corps liaison officers were provided with truck-mounted radios.

Altogether, the four artillery units were to fire about 291,500 rounds before the end of the battle for Saipan. Of these, 37,730 can be attributed to the corps artillery. In spite of this considerable volume of fire, there were certain limiting factors to the optimum employment of artillery. Chief among these was terrain.

After the major portion of southern Saipan had been secured and the main American attack reoriented to the north, General Holland Smith disposed almost all of his field artillery to support the northward thrust. True, one battery of 155-mm. guns (later increased to three) was pointed to the south against Tinian, but all the remaining pieces were ordered to direct their fire against the Mount Tapotchau-Death Valley-Kagman Peninsula line and beyond.

The terrain in this central part of Saipan presented several problems to the gunners. XXIV Corps Artillery was assigned the general mission of deep support, which meant that most of its targets were located in the northern half of the island. Since Mount Tapotchau lay athwart the line of sight between ground observers and these targets, corps artillerymen had to rely entirely on air spotters. Six L-4 liaison planes were assigned for this purpose, and by the end of the operation each of the pilots and his accompanying air observer had put in approximately a hundred hours in the air over enemy territory.

A more serious problem faced the artillerymen of the three divisions whose mission was to fire in close support of the advancing troops. In the center of the island, just east of Mount Tapotchau, lay Death Valley, which ran north and south along the axis of the attack. Since most of the enemy’s guns and mortars in this area were sighted into the valley from the hills and cliffs on either side, they could not easily be reached by American artillery firing from the south. This was one reason for the slow progress made by infantrymen up the center corridor of the island. Furthermore, since the troops on the right and left pushed on more rapidly than those in the center, the front line became more and more bent back in the middle. The unevenness of the line made the adjustment of artillery fire all the more difficult Nevertheless, in spite of the fact that Saipan was far from an artilleryman’s paradise, the main body of Holland Smith’s troops during the attack to the north did at least have continuous artillery support. Not so those troops of the 27th Division that were left to clean out the Japanese who were holed up on Nafutan Point, the southeastern tip of the island. Except for tanks, naval gunfire, and, later, antiaircraft guns, the infantrymen assigned to this mission would have to depend entirely on their own weapons.

SOURCE: Campaign in the Marianas; BY: Philip A. Crowl (United States Army Center of Military History)

World War Two: Saipan (2-6); Capture of Aslito Airfield