Korean War: Battle for Taejon July 1950 (11A)

Both North Korean divisions were now across the Kum River, both were ready to advance to the attack of Taejon itself. The 3rd Division was closer to the city and approaching it from the northwest. The 4th Division, in the Kongju-Nonsan area, was northwest and west of the city and in a position to join with the 3rd Division in a frontal attack or to move south and then east in a flanking movement that would bring it to the rear of Taejon. The road net from Kongju and Nonsan permitted both these possibilities, or a combination of them. After its successful crossing of the Kum on the 14th, the 4th Division apparently had been gathering its forces and waiting on the 3rd to complete its crossing effort so that the two could then join in a co-ordinated attack.  

In the North Korean plan, a third division, the 2nd, was supposed to join the 4th and the 3rd in the attack on Taejon. This division was advancing on the east of the other two and had been heavily engaged for some days with ROK troops in the ChInchon-Chongju area, where it suffered crippling casualties. As events turned out, this division did not arrive in time to join in the attack, nor did the other two need it.  

Had it come up as planned it would have appeared on the east and southeast of Taejon, a thing that General Dean very much feared and which he had to take into account in his dispositions for the defense of the city.  

If past practice signified anything for the future, the North Koreans would advance against Taejon frontally with a force strong enough to pin down the defenders and attack first with tanks in an effort to demoralize the defenders. Thus far, their tanks had led every advance and nothing had been able to stop them. While this frontal action developed, strong flanking forces would be moving to the rear to cut off the main escape routes. This North Korean maneuver had been standard in every major action. The N.K. 4th Division was in a favored position to execute just such a flanking maneuver against Taejon from the west and southwest. Had the 2nd Division arrived on the scene as planned it would have been in a position to do the same thing from the east and southeast. The 3rd Division was in position between these two divisions and undoubtedly was expected to exert the main frontal pressure in the forthcoming attack.  

In any deployment of his forces against the North Koreans in front of Taejon, General Dean faced the fact that he had only remnants of three defeated regiments. Each of them could muster little more than a battalion of troops. Osan, Chonui, and Chochiwon had reduced the 21st Infantry to that state; Pyongtaek , Chonan, and the Kum River had left only a decimated 34th Infantry; and 16 July at the Kum River had sadly crippled the 19th Infantry. In addition to numerical weakness, all the troops were tired and their morale was not the best. General Dean braced himself for the job ahead. He himself was as worn as his troops; for the past two weeks he had faced daily crises and had pushed himself to the limit.

Dean’s Plan at Taejon  

After dark on 16 July, the 34th Infantry on orders from General Dean fell back approximately twenty miles from the vicinity of Nonsan to new defensive positions three miles west of Taejon. Colonel Charles E. Beauchamp, who had flown to Korea from Japan to take command of the regiment, established his command post at the Taejon airstrip just to the northwest of the city. General Dean consolidated all remaining elements of the divisional artillery, except the 155-mm. howitzers of the 11th Field Artillery Battalion, into one composite battalion and emplaced it at the airstrip for the defense of the city. The airstrip itself closed to ordinary traffic. Early in the afternoon of the 17th the 34th Infantry took over the entire defensive line north and west of Taejon. Except for General Dean and three or four other officers, the 24th Division headquarters left for Yongdong, 28 miles southeast on the main highway and rail line. Remaining with Dean at Taejon were Lieutenant Clarke, an aide; Captain Richard A. Rowlands, Assistant G-3; Captain Raymond D. Hatfield, Transportation Officer and Assistant G-4; and two drivers. Dean instructed Major David A. Bissett to establish an office for him at the 21st Infantry command post at Okchon so that he could from there more easily keep informed of affairs east of Taejon. Dean said that he would spend nights at Okchon. “But,” commented Bissett, “he never did, and indeed none of us there expected him to.”  

Before the battle of the Kum, Dean had selected two regimental positions three miles west of Taejon for the close-in defense of the city. These positions were on a 500-foot high, 3-mile long ridge behind (east of) the Kap-chon River. Each extremity covered a bridge and a road immediately to its front. The position was a strong one and well suited to a two-regimental front. It was known as the Yusong position. A village of that name lay across the Kap-chon River about a mile from the northern end of the ridge. Dean’s plan had been to place the 19th Infantry on the northern part of the line covering the main Seoul-Pusan highway where it curved around the northern end of the ridge and to place the 34th Infantry on the southern part to cover the Nonsan-Taejon road where it passed along a narrow strip of low ground at the southern end of the ridge. But with the 19th Infantry combat-ineffective after the ordeal of the 16th and at Yongdong for re-equipping, the defense of the entire line fell upon the 34th Infantry.  

General Dean had no intention of fighting a last-ditch battle for Taejon. He looked upon it as another in the series of delaying actions to which the 24th Division had been committed by General MacArthur to slow the North Korean advance, pending the arrival of sufficient reinforcements to halt and then turn back the enemy. Expecting that the North Koreans would arrive before the city just as soon as they could get their tanks across the Kum River and carry out an envelopment with ground forces, General Dean on 18 July made plans to evacuate Taejon the next day. Anticipating an early withdrawal, engineer demolition teams with Colonel Stephens’ 21st Infantry at the Okchon position prepared the tunnels east of Taejon for destruction.  

But Dean’s plan was changed by the arrival of General Walker at the Taejon airstrip before noon of the 18th. After the North Korean crossing of the Kum River, General Walker had asked his Chief of Staff, Colonel Landrum, to assemble troop and logistical data bearing on Eighth Army’s capability in the face of the growing crisis in Korea. At his office in Yokohama, Colonel Landrum and his staff spent a hectic day on the telephone gathering the information Walker wanted. Then Landrum called Walker at Taegu and relayed to him the status of all troops in Korea or en route there; an estimate of United States military build-up in Korea during the next ten days, with particular emphasis on the 1st Cavalry Division; the status of supplies and especially of ammunition; and a report on General Garvin’s progress in organizing the supply base at Pusan.  

During the conversation Walker had at hand a set of terrain maps and terrain estimates of the roads, railroads, and corridors running from north to south and from south to north and their relationship to enemy operations and Eighth Army’s build-up in Korea. He repeatedly interjected the question, “When and where can I stop the enemy and attack him?” General Walker’s final decision in this conference was that the 24th Division and the ROK Army should execute maximum delay on the North Koreans in order to assure stopping them west and north of the general line Naktong River to Yongdok on the east coast. He hoped to get the 1st Cavalry Division deployed in the Okchon area and south of Taejon along the Kumsan road, thinking this might provide the opportunity to stop the enemy between Taejon and Taegu. Walker felt that if he was forced to fall back behind the Naktong River he could stand there until Eighth Army’s troop and equipment build-up would permit him to take the offensive. Upon concluding this conference with Landrum, General Walker particularly instructed him to keep this estimate to himself, although authorizing him to consider it in reviewing staff plans.

 General Walker had this concept of future operations in Korea in his mind when he talked with General Dean at the 34th Infantry command post. He spoke of the 1st Cavalry Division landing which had started that morning at Pohang-dong on the southeast coast. Walker said he would like to hold Taejon until the 1st Cavalry Division could move up to help in its defense or get into battle position alongside the 24th Division in the mountain passes southeast of Taejon. He said he needed two days’ time to accomplish this. After his conference with Dean, Walker flew back to Taegu. He informed Colonel Landrum that he had told General Dean he needed two days’ delay at Taejon to get the 1st Cavalry Division up and into position. Landrum asked Walker how much latitude he had given Dean.

 Walker replied, in substance, “Dean is a fighter; he won’t give an inch if he can help it. I told him that I had every confidence in his judgment, and that if it became necessary for him to abandon Taejon earlier, to make his own decision and that I would sustain him.”

 This conference changed Dean’s plan to withdraw from Taejon the next day, 19 July. Shortly after noon Dean informed the headquarters of the 21st Infantry that the withdrawal from Taejon planned for the 19th would be delayed 24 hours. The regiment passed this information on to the engineer demolition teams standing by at the tunnels.

At this point it is desirable to take a closer look at the geography and communications which necessarily would affect military operations at Taejon. In 1950 Taejon, with a population of about 130,000 was in size the sixth city of South Korea, a rapidly growing inland commercial center, 100 miles south of Seoul and 130 miles northwest of Pusan. A long and narrow city, Taejon lay in the north-south valley of the Taejon River at the western base of the middle Sobaek range of mountains. Extensive rice paddy ground adjoined the city on the north and west. The railroad ran along its eastern side with the station and extensive yards in the city’s northeast quarter. Two arms of the Taejon River, the main one flowing northwest through the center of the city and the other curving around its eastern side, joined at its northern edge. Two miles farther north the Yudung River emptied into it and the Taejon then flowed into the Kap-chon, a large tributary of the Kum.

 The highway net can be visualized readily if one imagines Taejon as being the center of a clock dial. Five main routes of approach came into the city. The main rail line and a secondary road ran almost due south from the Kum River to it. On this approach, 3 miles north of the city, a platoon of I Company, 34th Infantry, established a road and rail block. From the east at 4 o’clock the main Pusan highway entered the city, and astride it some 6 miles eastward the 21st Infantry held a defensive blocking position in front of Okchon with the regimental command post in that town. There were two railroad and two highway tunnels between Taejon and Okchon. One of each of them was between Taejon and the 21st Infantry position. From the south, the Kumsan road entered Taejon at 5 o’clock. General Dean had the Reconnaissance Company at Kumsan to protect and warn the division of any enemy movement from that direction in its rear.

At 8 o’clock the Nonsan road from the southwest slanted into the Seoul-Pusan highway a mile west of the city. Astride this road 3 miles southwest of Taejon a platoon of L Company, 34th Infantry, held a roadblock at the bridge over the Kap-chon River at the southern end of the 34th Infantry defense position. The Seoul highway slanted toward the city from the northwest at 10 o’clock, and of all approaches it had to be considered the most important. At the western edge of Taejon (700 yards from the densely built-up section) where the Nonsan road joined it, the highway turned east to enter the city. The Taejon airstrip lay on a little plateau north of the road two miles from the city. A mile in front of the airstrip the 1st Battalion, 34th Infantry, was in. battle position astride the highway at Hill 138 just east of the Kapchon River. A mile farther west B Company occupied an advanced position.

 Behind the 1st Battalion, a mile and a half away, the 3rd Battalion, 34th Infantry, held a ridge east of the airfield and between it and the city. The composite battalion of artillery supporting the infantry was emplaced at the airfield where it could fire on the expected avenues of enemy approach.

[N11-66 Interv, author with Beauchamp, 1 Aug 52; Overlay of 34th Inf positions 18 Jul 50, prepared by Beauchamp for author, Aug 52; Ltr, Ayres to author, 3 Oct 52; Ltr, Maj Jack E. Smith (Actg CO 3rd Bn, 34th Inf, 20 Jul 50) to author, 21 Jul 55.]

Taejon—The First Day  

In the afternoon of 18 July General Dean went to the 24th Division command post at Yongdong and there in the evening he took steps to bolster the defense of Taejon for an extra day, as desired by General Walker. He ordered the 2nd Battalion, 19th Infantry, to move back to Taejon from Yongdong and B Battery of the 13th Field Artillery Battalion to return to the Taejon airstrip from the vicinity of Okchon. At the same time he ordered the Reconnaissance Company to be released from division control and attached to the 34th Infantry Regiment. Up to this time the Reconnaissance Company had been based at Kumsan. The division order to the Reconnaissance Company releasing it to regimental control moved it to Taejon the next day. As a result, the division became blind to what the enemy was doing on its southern flank. General Dean subsequently considered his releasing the Reconnaissance Company to the regiment as one of his most serious errors at Taejon. His purpose in releasing it to Colonel Beauchamp’s command was to ensure the 34th Infantry getting direct and immediate information as to conditions on its southern flank; he had not anticipated that the division order would send it to Taejon.

[N11-7 Dean, MS review comments, 20 Jan 58; 21st Inf WD, 18 Jul 50; 19th Inf WD, 18 Jul 50; Interv, author with Major Leon B Cheek (Ex Off, 13th FA Bn, Jul 50), 7 Aug 51; 24th Recon Co WD, 18-20 Jul 50.]

 General Dean also discussed again with Colonel Stephens the role of the 21st Infantry in the next few days. It was to keep open the withdrawal road out of Taejon. Stephens pointed out that his troops were astride that road and on the hills between Taejon and Okchon and asked if he should change their disposition. General Dean answered no, that he did not want that done, as he also feared an enemy penetration behind his Taejon position from the east through the ROK Army area there and he had to guard against it. Dean decided that the 21st Infantry should stay where it was but patrol the terrain north of the Taejon-Okchon road and send patrols periodically up the road into Taejon.8

 The North Korean attack against Taejon got under way the morning of 19 July. The first blow was an air strike against communication lines in the rear of the city. At 0720, six YAK’s flew over the lines of the 21st Infantry and dropped four bombs on the railroad bridge two miles northwest of Okchon. One bomb damaged the bridge, but by noon B Company of the 3rd Engineer Combat Battalion had repaired it and restored rail traffic in both directions. The YAK’s strafed near the regimental command post and dropped propaganda leaflets signed by three American officers and three noncommissioned officers captured at Osan two weeks earlier. Four planes then strafed the Taejon airstrip. Later in the day, the crews of A Battery, 26th Antiaircraft Battalion, supporting the 1st Battalion, 34th Infantry, shot down two YAK’s near Yusong, just west of Taejon.

 [N11-9 24th Div WD, 19 Jul 50, Narr Summ of Enemy Info; 21st Inf WD, 19 Jul 50, includes copies of this enemy leaflet; Btry A, 26th AAA (AW) Bn WD, 19 Jul 50; Antiaircraft Journal (January-February, 1951), article by Corporal John S. Aaron on 24th Div AAA claims three YAK’s shot down; 3rd Engr (C) Bn WD, 19 Jul 50, Narr Summ, Opn Highlights.]

 The U.S. Air Force also went into action early on the 19th. It bombed and burned known and suspected points of enemy concentration west and southwest of Taejon. Aerial observers at noon reported that the enemy had partially repaired the bridge across the Kum River at Taepyong-ni, ten miles north of Taejon, and that tanks and artillery were moving south of the river. The Air Force operated at considerable disadvantage at this time, however, for there were only two strips in Korea suitable for use by F-51 and C-47 types of aircraft—the K-2 dirt strip at Taegu and the similar K-3 strip at Yonil near Pohang-dong. South of Chinju, the K-4 strip at Sachon was available as an emergency field. Most of the tactical planes flew from Japan.

[N11-10 24th Div WD, G-3 Jnl, entry 106, 190825 Jul 50; Ibid., G-2 Jnl, entry 1222, 191315 Jul 50; Hq X Corps, Staff Study, Development of Tactical Air Support in Korea, 25 Dec 50, p. 8; EUSAK WD, G-2 Daily Stf Rpt, 19 Jul 50, p. 2; FEAF Opn Hist, I, 25 Jun-1 Nov 50, 58-59.]

 After completing its crossing at Kongju, the N.K. 4th Division split its forces for a two-pronged attack on Taejon. The bulk of the division, comprising the 16th and 18th Infantry Regiments, the Artillery Regiment, and most of the tanks, went south to Nonsan and there turned east toward Taejon. Some of the infantry of these regiments may have moved south out of Nonsan in a wheeling movement through Kumsan to the rear of Taejon. Others apparently moved across back country trails to strike the Kumsan road south of and below Taejon. The 5th Infantry Regiment, supported by one tank company, left Kongju on the secondary road running southeast through a mountainous area to Yusong, and apparently was the first enemy unit to arrive at the outskirts of Taejon.

 [N11-12 24th Recon Co WD, 19 Jul 50; 24th Div WD, 19 Jul 50; Interv, author with Beauchamp, 1 Aug 52; Situation Overlay 34th Inf, 19 Jul 50, prepared by Beauchamp for author, Aug 52.]

 At 1000, after the 24th Reconnaissance Company had arrived at Taejon, Colonel Beauchamp sent its 2nd Platoon, consisting of thirty-nine men, southwest along the Nonsan road. Half an hour later, three miles west of the Kap-chon River, enemy fire struck the patrol from both sides of the road. It withdrew to the river and there joined the platoon of L Company on the east bank of the stream. The remainder of L Company arrived and deployed.

General Dean had left Taejon that morning intending to go briefly to Yongdong. On the way he stopped at the 21st Infantry command post at Okchon. There he said suddenly about 1000 that he was worried about the disposition of the 34th Infantry and was going back to Taejon. [N11-13] When he arrived there, action already had started at the L Company roadblock on the Nonsan road. The battle of Taejon had begun. Dean stayed in Taejon.

 [N11-13 Interv, author with Colonel Ned D. Moore, 20 Aug 52. (Moore was with Dean.)

 The 2nd Battalion, 19th Infantry, arrived at Taejon from Yongdong about this time, just after noon. By 1300, Colonel McGrail, the battalion commander, had the unit ready to move out at the railroad station. There he received an order saying the North Koreans were breaking through L Company’s blocking position at the Kap-chon River and he was to attack there immediately and restore the position. When he arrived at the scene of fighting McGrail found General Dean there with two tanks, directing fire.

[N11-14 19th Inf WD, 19 Jul 50; Interv, author with McGrail, 20 Aug 52; Interv, author with Montesclaros (S-3 Sec, 2nd Bn, 19th Inf, Jul 50), 20 Aug 52.]

 McGrail’s battalion attacked immediately with two companies abreast astride the Nonsan road, E on the left (south) and F on the right (north). On the right an enemy force was in the act of enveloping the north flank of L Company, 34th Infantry. F Company raced this enemy force for possession of critical high ground, taking and holding it in the ensuing fight. On the left, E Company moved up south of the road, and G Company occupied a hill position a mile behind it. Even with the newly arrived battalion now deployed covering the Nonsan road, there was still a mile-wide gap of high ground between it and the left of the 1st Battalion, 34th Infantry, to the north.

 [N11-15 Intervs, author with McGrail and Montesclaros, Aug 52; Situation Overlay, 1st Bn, 34th Inf, 19 Jul 50, prepared by Colonel Ayres for author. ]

 Co-ordinated with the North Korean advance along the Nonsan road was an enemy approach on the main Seoul highway. There in the Yusong area, B Company of the 1st Battalion, 34th Infantry, came under heavy attack. Enemy flanking parties cut off two platoons half a mile north of Yusong. In the fighting there both platoon leaders were wounded and several men killed. Colonel Ayres from his observation post east of the Kap-chon River could see large groups of North Koreans assembling and artillery going into position in the little valley northwest of Yusong. He directed artillery fire and called in air strikes on these concentrations. In the afternoon he requested and received authority from Colonel Beauchamp to withdraw B Company from its exposed position at Yusong to the main battalion position back of the Kap-chon River. The company successfully withdrew in the evening.

 Meanwhile, just before noon, the North Koreans began shelling the Taejon airstrip with counterbattery fire. This fire, coming from the north and northwest, built up to great intensity during the afternoon. That evening, General Dean told Major Bissett that he had seen as much incoming artillery fire at the Taejon Airfield that day as he had ever seen in one day in Europe in World War II. Frequent artillery concentrations also pounded the main battle positions of the 34th Infantry.

 [N11-17 Interv, author with Beauchamp, 1 Aug 52; Ltr, Ayres to author, 3 Oct 52; Ltr, Bissett to author, 14 May 52. General Order 112, 30 August 1950, 24th Division, awarded the Bronze Star Medal to Corporal Robert D. Jones, Headquarters Battery, 63rd Field Artillery Battalion.]

 By early afternoon, Colonel Ayres was convinced that a major enemy attack was impending. At 1400 he recommended to Colonel Beauchamp that the regiment withdraw that night. Beauchamp rejected this, thinking they could hold the enemy out of Taejon another day, and he so told General Dean. After dark, however, Beauchamp moved his 34th Infantry command post from the airfield into Taejon. At the same time all the supporting artillery displaced from the airfield to positions on the south edge of the city.

 As darkness fell, Colonel Ayres ordered his motor officer to move the 1st Battalion vehicles into Taejon. He did not want to run the risk of losing them during a night attack. Only one jeep for each rifle company, two jeeps for the Heavy Weapons Company, the battalion command jeep, and the radio vehicle were left at the battle positions.

 On the left of the defense position F Company of the 19th Infantry had been under attack all afternoon. After dark men there heard noises on their right flank, and it became apparent that enemy soldiers were moving into, and possibly through, the mile-wide gap between them and the 1st Battalion, 34th Infantry.

 Taejon was ominously quiet during the evening. Occasional showers from the edge of a typhoon that had narrowly missed the area settled the stifling dust raised by the vehicular traffic in the city. As the night wore on the quiet gave way to ominous noises. At his command post Colonel Ayres about 2200 heard the rumble of tanks on his right. He sent a patrol out to investigate. It never reported back. Ayres telephoned Beauchamp and told him he thought enemy troops were moving around the city and again recommended withdrawal.

 Before midnight a report came in to the 34th Infantry command post that an enemy unit was six miles south of Taejon on the Kumsan road. With nine members of the 24th Reconnaissance Company 1st Lieutenant George W. Kristanoff started down the road on a jeep patrol to investigate. Six miles below Taejon an enemy roadblock stopped them. Kristanoff reported the beginning of the action by radio. At 0300, 20 July, a platoon of the Reconnaissance Company drove cautiously out of Taejon down the same road to check on security. Enemy fire stopped the platoon at the same roadblock. There platoon members saw the bodies of several men of the earlier patrol and their four destroyed jeeps. A little earlier, at 0200, word had come in to Taejon that a jeep had been ambushed on the Okchon road.

[N11-21 24th Recon Co WD, 19-20 July 50; 24th Div WD, G-2 Jnl, entry 1313, 201040 Jul 50; General Order in, 30 August 1950, 24th Division, awarded the Silver Star to Lieutenant Kristanoff.]

 It would seem clear from these incidents that enemy units were moving around to the rear of Taejon during the night—in just what strength might only be guessed. But for reasons that cannot now be determined these events were not so evaluated at the time of their occurrence. General Dean has stated that he did not know of the enemy roadblock on the Kumsan road—apparently it was not reported to him. He did learn of the jeep incident on the Okchon road but dismissed it as the work of a few infiltrators and of no special importance because the road subsequently seemed to be clear. Taejon—The Second Day  

Shortly after 0300, 20 July, the S-2 of the 1st Battalion, 34th Infantry, who since dark had remained in the battalion forward observation post, ran into Colonel Ayres’ command post and said that the North Koreans had overrun the observation post and penetrated the battalion main line of resistance. Ayres has said that this was his first knowledge of the enemy’s general attack. He could now hear small arms fire to the front and right and see flares bursting at many points over the battalion position. There seemed to be no action on the battalion left in C Company’s position.  

The enemy attack, infantry and armor, came down both sides of the highway and rolled up the battalion right flank. Other enemy infantry attacked from the north against this flank. The North Koreans penetrated to the 81-mm. and 4.2inch mortar positions behind the rifle companies and then struck Headquarters Company. About 0400 small arms fire hit the Korean house in which the 1st Battalion command post was located and riflemen from the overrun front line began coming into the Headquarters Company area. Ayres tried, and failed, to communicate with his front line companies.

 He sent a message to the regimental headquarters that tanks had penetrated his position and were headed toward the city. There is some evidence that the infantry bazooka teams abandoned their positions along the road when the attack began. And rifle companies certainly did not fight long in place. In the growing confusion that spread rapidly, Ayres decided to evacuate the command post. Major Leland R. Dunham, the battalion executive officer, led about 200 men from the Heavy Mortar Company, the Heavy Weapons Company, and the 1st Battalion Headquarters southward from the Yudung valley away from the sound of enemy fire. Colonel Ayres and his S-3 followed behind the others. Day was dawning.  

[N11-24; Interv, Blumenson with 2nd Lieutenant George H. Wilcox (Plat Ldr, D Co, 34th Inf), 25 Aug 51; Gugeler, Combat Actions in Korea, “Withdrawal Action,” pp. 16-17, recording interview with Master Sergeant Zack C. Williams of A Co, 34th Inf.] 

In Taejon, Colonel Beauchamp received Ayres’ report that enemy tanks were in the 1st Battalion position. Later, telephone communication to the 1st Battalion ended and Beauchamp sent linemen out to check the wires. They came back and said they could not get through —that enemy infantry were on the road near the airfield. The regimental S-3 did not believe this report. Beauchamp went to his jeep and started down the road toward the 1st Battalion command post to find out for himself just what the situation was. At the road junction half a mile west of Taejon, where the main Seoul highway comes in from the northwest to join the Nonsan road, an enemy tank suddenly loomed up out of the darkness. The tank fired its machine gun just as Beauchamp jumped from his jeep; one bullet grazed him, others set the vehicle afire. Beauchamp crawled back some hundreds of yards until he found a 3.5-inch bazooka team. He guided it back to the road junction. This bazooka team from C Company, 3rd Engineer Combat Battalion, set the enemy tank on fire with rockets and captured the crew members. It then took a position to guard the road intersection. Later in the morning this rocket launcher team and one from the 24th Reconnaissance Company destroyed two more T34 tanks approaching from the direction of the airfield.  

This action at the crossroads just west of Taejon in the predawn of 20 July is the first verifiable use of the 3.5-inch rocket launcher against the T34 tanks. This rocket launcher had been under development since the end of World War II, but none had been issued to troops because of the difficulty in perfecting its ammunition. The ammunition had been standardized and in production only fifteen days when the Korean War started. General MacArthur on 3 July requested that the new rocket launcher be airlifted to Korea. The first of the launchers, together with an instruction team, left Travis Air Force Base in California on 8 July and arrived at Taejon on the 10th. The first delivery of the new weapon arrived at Taejon on 12 July. That same day selected members of the 24th Infantry Division began to receive instructions in its use. The 3.5inch rocket launcher was made of aluminum and weighed about fifteen pounds. It looked like a 5-foot length of stovepipe. It was electrically operated and fired a 23-inch-long, eight-and-a-half-pound rocket from its smooth bore, open tube. The rocket’s most destructive feature was the shaped charge designed to burn through the armor of any tank then known.

 When Beauchamp returned to his command post after his encounter with the enemy tanks he found that there was still no communication with the 1st Battalion. A little later, however, a regimental staff officer told him radio communication with the battalion had been re-established and that it reported its condition as good. It was learned afterward that the 1st Battalion had no communication with the regiment after Ayres reported the enemy penetration of his position. The only plausible explanation of this incident is that North Koreans used Colonel Ayres’ captured radio jeep to send a false report to the regiment.

 Disturbed by reports of enemy penetrations of the regimental defense position, Colonel Beauchamp after daylight ordered the 3rd Battalion to attack into the gap between the 1st Battalion, 34th Infantry, and the 2nd Battalion, 19th Infantry. K Company with part of M Company started to execute this order but it never reached the designated area. On the road leading to the airfield it had a sharp encounter with an enemy force. Six T34 tanks and an estimated battalion of enemy infantry scattered part of the troops. In this action, Sergeant First Class Robert E. Dare of K Company courageously covered and directed the withdrawal of the advanced platoon at the cost of his own life. The entire force withdrew to its former 3rd Battalion position.

[N11-27 Ltr, Major Jack E. Smith to author, 18 Jun 55; Comments, Wadlington for author, 1 Apr 53; Ltr, Wadlington to author, 23 Jun 53; Comments, Beauchamp for author, 3 Jan 53. Department of the Army General Order 16, 20 March 1951, awarded the Distinguished Service Cross posthumously to Sergeant First Class Robert E. Dare, K Company, 34th Infantry, for heroism at Taejon, 20 July 1950.]

 In its defensive positions on the ridge east of the airfield, the 3rd Battalion remained undisturbed by enemy action throughout the morning except for a small amount of mortar and artillery fire. A peculiar incident had occurred, however, which no one in the battalion could explain. The battalion commander, Major Lantron, disappeared. Lantron got into his jeep about 0930, drove off from his command post, and simply did not return. Colonel Wadlington learned of Lantron’s disappearance about 1100 when he visited the 3rd Battalion. In Lantron’s absence, Wadlington ordered Captain Jack E. Smith to assume command of the battalion. Some weeks later it was learned that Lantron was a prisoner in North Korea.

[N11-28 ATIS Interrog Rpts, Issue 12, Rpt 1708, p. 26, 1st Lieutenant Bill M. McCarver, and Rpt 1775, p. 214, 1st Lieutenant Henry J. McNichols, Jr.]

 The predawn attack against the 1st Battalion, 34th Infantry, the first tank approaches to the edge of Taejon, and the subsequent North Korean repulse of the K and M Companies’ attack force near the airfield apparently were carried out by the 5th Regiment, N.K. 4th Division, together with its attached armored support. This regiment claims to have captured the Taejon airfield by 0400, 20 July. But after these spectacular successes which started the wholesale withdrawal of the 1st Battalion from its positions west of the city, the enemy force apparently halted and waited for certain developments elsewhere. This probably included completion of the enveloping maneuver to the rear of the city. Only tanks and small groups of infiltrators, most of the latter riding the tanks, entered Taejon during the morning. All these actions appeared to be related parts of the enemy plan.  

Neither Colonel Beauchamp nor his executive officer at the time knew of the North Korean repulse of the K and M Company attack force that was supposed to close the gap between the 1st Battalion, 34th Infantry, and the 2nd Battalion, 19th Infantry. About the time this event was taking place near the airfield, Colonel Beauchamp told General Dean of his early morning experience with tanks at the edge of the city, and Dean also was informed erroneously that the 1st Battalion was holding in its original battle positions. From the vantage point of Taejon everything seemed all right. At this time, however, General Dean instructed Beauchamp to plan a withdrawal after dark on the Okchon road. Dean then telephoned this information to the 24th Division command post at Yongdong. 

[N11-30 Interv, author with Beauchamp, 1 Aug 52; Dean, MS review comments, 20 Jan 58. 31 Intervs, author with McGrail and Montesclaros, 20 Aug 52; Intervs, Blumenson with 2nd Lieutenant Joseph S. Szito (81-mm. Mortar Plat, H Co, 19th Inf), 25 Aug 51, and 2nd Lieutenant Robert L. Herbert (G Co, 19th Inf), 31 Jul 51.]

 In the 2nd Battalion, 19th Infantry, positions covering the Nonsan road there had been alarms during the night, and some false reports had reached Taejon that the enemy had overrun the battalion position. Actually, E Company held its position near the bridge, but north of the road F Company under enemy pressure withdrew approximately 200 yards about daylight.31

 When Major Dunham led the 1st Battalion and the 34th Infantry Headquarters group south, followed at a short interval by Colonel Ayres and his small party, it was just after daylight. These men passed along a protected route behind the high ground held by F Company, 19th Infantry. They had expected to reach the Nonsan road about three miles away and there turn east on it to enter Taejon. As Ayres neared the road he could see F Company on the hill mass to his right (west) engaged in what he termed a “heavy fire fight.” As he watched he saw the company begin to leave the hill. He continued on and saw ahead of him the main body of his headquarters group climbing the mountain on the other side of the Nonsan road.

 Major Dunham, on reaching the road with this group, met and talked briefly there with Colonel McGrail who told him he had had reports that enemy tanks had cut that road into Taejon. Upon hearing this, Dunham led his party across the road into the mountains. When Ayres reached the road enemy machine gun fire was raking it and the bridge over the Yudung. Ayres led his party under the bridge, waded the shallow stream, and followed the main group into the mountains southward. These two parties of the 1st Battalion, 34th Infantry, united on high ground south of Taejon about an hour before noon. Even earlier, the rifle companies of the battalion, for the most part, had scattered into these mountains.

 The rumor of enemy tanks on the Nonsan road that caused the 1st Battalion, 34th Infantry, group to go into the mountains instead of into Taejon had come to Colonel McGrail soon after daylight. A jeep raced up to his command post east of the Yudung bridge. The men in it said that three enemy tanks blocked the road junction just outside the city (they had seen the tanks from a distance, apparently, and had not known they had been knocked out) and that they had seen three more tanks approaching the junction from the airfield. Colonel McGrail could see smoke hanging over Taejon and hear explosions and gunfire. He turned to 2nd Lieutenant Robert L. Herbert and ordered him to take his G Company’s 2nd Platoon and open the road into the city. On the way Herbert encountered a bazooka team which he persuaded to accompany him. He also passed a rifle company getting water in a streambed. This unit identified itself as Baker Company, 34th Infantry; it continued south toward the mountains. Upon arriving at the road junction, Herbert found two T34 tanks burning and a third one that had been destroyed earlier. Lieutenant Little and a reinforced squad armed with two bazookas held the road fork. The burning wreckage of the Heavy Mortar Company, 34th Infantry, littered the road back toward the airfield. A mile to the north three enemy tanks stood motionless. Some men of H Company, 19th Infantry, passed the road fork on their way into Taejon. Herbert’s platoon joined Little’s squad.

 After Herbert’s platoon had departed on its mission, Colonel McGrail lost communication with Colonel Beauchamp’s command post. He had now learned from Major Dunham that the enemy had overrun the 1st Battalion, 34th Infantry, on the Yusong road to the north of him. His own F Company had started to fall back. The general feeling of McGrail’s 2nd Battalion staff was that enemy troops had cut the road between the battalion and Taejon and were probably in the city itself. About 1100 Captain Montesclaros of the S-3 Section volunteered to try to get into Taejon and reach the regimental headquarters for instruction. Colonel McGrail gave him his jeep and driver for the trip.

 Montesclaros reached the road junction without incident, saw the burning enemy tanks, met Lieutenant Herbert’s platoon at the roadblock, and, much to his surprise, found the road into the city entirely open. At the edge of the city, Montesclaros encountered General Dean. Montesclaros reported to him, gave the position of the 2nd Battalion, 19th Infantry, and asked for instructions. General Dean patted Montesclaros on the back and replied, “My boy, I am not running this show, Beauchamp isn’t.” Dean took Montesclaros to the 34th Infantry command post. Beauchamp was not present, but from a member of his staff Montesclaros obtained a written order. Before placing it in his shirt pocket, Montesclaros glanced at the order. It directed McGrail to bring his battalion back to the west edge of Taejon. 

Montesclaros drove back down the road to the 2nd Battalion command post. He found it deserted. Not a living person was in sight; a dead Korean lay in the courtyard. Puzzled, Montesclaros turned back toward Taejon. After driving a short distance, he turned back to the command post to make sure no one was there; he found it the same as before. No one, neither friend nor foe, was in sight. A strange stillness hung over the spot. Again he turned back toward Taejon. He overtook E Company on the road and instructed it to go into position there. At the edge of Taejon, Montesclaros met 1st Lieutenant Tom Weigle, S-2 of the battalion, who told him that McGrail had established a new command post on a high hill south of the road, and pointed out the place. Montesclaros set out for it and after walking and climbing for forty-five minutes reached the place. Colonel McGrail and his command post were not there, but a few men were; they knew nothing of Colonel McGrail’s location.

 Montesclaros started down the mountain with the intention of returning to Taejon. On his way he met Lieutenant Lindsay and E Company climbing the slope. They said the enemy had overrun them on the road. Looking in that direction, Montesclaros saw an estimated battalion of North Korean soldiers marching toward the city in a column of platoons. A T34 tank was traveling west on the road out of Taejon. As it approached the enemy column, the soldiers scurried for the roadside and ducked under bushes, apparently uncertain whether it was one of their own. Montesclaros decided not to try to get into Taejon but to join E Company instead.

 What had happened at the command post of the 2nd Battalion, 19th Infantry? Simply this, believing that the enemy had cut him off from Taejon, Colonel McGrail decided to move his command post to high ground south of the Nonsan road. He instructed E Company to fall back, and then his radio failed. McGrail and his battalion staff thereupon abandoned the command post shortly before noon and climbed the mountain south of Taejon.36 Already F Company had given way and was withdrawing into the hills.

 Soon not a single unit of the 2nd Battalion, 19th Infantry, was in its battle position west of Taejon. Nearest to the city, G Company was the last to leave, its place. From his hill position, Captain Barszcz, the company commander, had seen enemy tanks two and a half miles away enter Taejon just after daylight and had reported this by radio to Colonel McGrail’s headquarters. Later in the morning he lost radio communication with McGrail. Shortly after noon, Captain Kenneth Y. Woods, S-3, 2nd Battalion, 19th Infantry, arrived at G Company’s position and gave Captain Barszcz instructions to join the 1st Battalion, 34th Infantry, group that had passed him in the morning headed south, and to withdraw with it. The G Company 60-mm. mortars were firing at this time. About 1300 Barszcz issued his orders for the withdrawal. The 3rd Platoon was to follow the Weapons Section and bring up the rear. In the withdrawal, however, unknown to Captain Barszcz, the Weapons Platoon leader asked the 3rd Platoon leader to precede him, as he had some mortar ammunition he wanted to expend. The Weapons Section never got out—the entire section of one officer and eighteen enlisted men was lost to enemy action.

 Except for the small group at the road junction half a mile west of the city, all the infantry and supporting weapons units of the two battalions in the battle positions west of Taejon had been driven from or had left those positions by 1300. All of them could have come into Taejon on the Nonsan road. Instead, nearly all of them crossed this road approximately two miles west of the city and went south into the mountains.

 Back at Taejon, the first North Korean tanks had reached the edge of the city before dawn. They came from the northwest along the Yusong road and from the airfield. There is no evidence that the 3.5-inch bazooka teams of the 1st Battalion, 34th Infantry, posted along the Yusong road engaged these tanks.

 Soon after daylight two enemy tanks entered the city from somewhere to the northwest. They were soon followed by a third. Enemy soldiers crowded their decks. These tanks drove to the center of Taejon and there unloaded soldiers who spread quickly into buildings and began the sniping that continued throughout the day. The two tanks then turned back past the large compound where the Service Company of the 34th Infantry had established the regimental kitchen and motor pool. The 2nd Battalion, 19th Infantry, also had its kitchen trucks in this compound. Approximately 150 men were there when the two enemy tanks opened fire on it with their tank cannon. This fire killed several men, destroyed vehicles, and set an ammunition truck on fire. After shooting up the compound, the tanks rumbled away and fired at various targets of opportunity.

 [N11-38 3rd Engr (C) Bn WD, 20 Jul 50; 24th Div WD, G-2 Jnl, entry 1367, 19-20 Jul 50 (I&R Plat Rpt with sketch map); Interv, author with Beauchamp, 1 Aug 52; Interv, Blumenson with 2nd Lieutenant Robert E. Nash (S-4, 2nd Bn, 19th Inf, July 50), 22 Aug 51. Nash was in the compound at the time of the tank attack.]

Not until after the tanks had left the compound area did any of the men there locate a 3.5-inch bazooka. Then, in trying to drive out snipers from nearby buildings, someone fired a 3.5-inch white phosphorus rocket into a building setting it afire. The fire spread rapidly to other wood and straw structures in the city until large parts of Taejon were burning, from this and other causes.

 Bazooka teams from the 24th Reconnaissance Company set out after the two tanks. These tanks, meanwhile, encountered two jeeploads of men at the Medical Company headquarters, killed all but two, and wounded them. One tank ran over one of the wounded as he lay helpless in the road. A bazooka man finally got in a shot against one of these tanks, hitting it in the side and bouncing it off the ground, but the tank kept on going. At the railroad station, this tank fired into supplies and equipment, starting large fires. There, with a track off, it came to the end of its journeys. Rifle fire killed the tank commander. A rocket hit the second tank and knocked a piece of armor three feet square from its front plate. A third tank for a period survived a rocket that penetrated the top turret. Private First Class Jack E. Lowe and Corporal Robert B. Watkins of the 24th Reconnaissance Company were the bazooka men who scored the destructive hits on these tanks.

 [N11-39 24th Recon Co WD, 20 Jul 50 and Summ, 25 Jun-22 Jul 50; 24th Div WD, G-2 Jnl, entry 1304, 200850.]

General Dean and his aide, Lieutenant Clarke, had awakened about 0530 to the sound of small arms fire. As Clarke made the bed rolls he remarked to General Dean, “I don’t think we’ll sleep here again tonight.” The general agreed. Sometime later an enemy tank passed close to the 34th Infantry command post headed west out of the city. General Dean immediately started in pursuit of this tank accompanied by two 2.36-inch rocket launcher teams. The tank went through Lieutenant Herbert’s roadblock without being fired on. It was mistaken for a friendly tank until too late for action. When General Dean’s party arrived at the road fork, Herbert explained what had happened. Subsequently this tank re-entered the city and was destroyed, apparently by a 155-mm. howitzer, at the southwest edge of Taejon. During the morning, Dean and his party lost an opportunity against 2 other tanks on the airfield road when the bazooka man with them missed with his only rocket. [N11-40] By 0900, 4 of the 5 tanks known to have entered Taejon had been destroyed.

 [N11-40 Ltr, Captain Arthur M. Clarke to author, 31 May 52 (consists mostly of a copy of notes Clarke made shortly after he returned to friendly lines, on 23 July, while events were fresh in his mind); Field Artillery School, Fort Sill, Debriefing Rpt 42, Dept of Training Pubs and Aids, 11 Dec 51 (contains some of Clarke’s recollections of Taejon); Dean and Worden, General Dean’s Story, pp. 30-33: Interv, Blumenson with Herbert, 25 Aug 51; 24th Recon WD, 20 Jul 50; 24th Div WD, G-2 Jnl, entry 1304, 200850 Jul 50.]

 At noon another tank entered Taejon. A 3.5-inch bazooka team from the 3rd Engineer Combat Battalion hunted it down and destroyed it. Soon afterward still another penetrated into the city and rumbled past the regimental command post. General Dean led a group, joined later by a 3.5-inch bazooka team from the 3rd Engineer Combat Battalion, in pursuit of this tank. After an hour or more of climbing over walls and fences and dodging through houses stalking it, with enemy snipers firing at them frequently, General Dean and his party brought this tank to bay. About 1400 a group including General Dean, a corporal carrying the bazooka, an ammunition bearer, and two or three riflemen entered a 2-story business building through a back courtyard and climbed to the second story. Looking out from the edge of a window, they saw the tank immediately below them. General Dean has since written that the muzzle of the tank gun was no more than a dozen feet away and he could have spat down its tube. Under General Dean’s directions the bazooka team fired into the tank. Captain Clarke has described what followed: “I remained by the corner of the building in front of the tank to use my Molotov cocktail on it if it began to move. The first round [3.5-inch rocket] hit the tank, and the occupants began to scream and moan. The second round quieted most of the screaming and the third made it all quiet. We all then withdrew to a better observation post and observed the tank burning.” [N11-41] This was the incident that led to the much-quoted remark attributed to General Dean that day, “I got me a tank.”

 [N11-41 3rd Engr (C) Bn WD, 20 Jul 50; Ltr, Clarke to author, 31 May 52; Dean and Worden, General Dean’s Story, pp. 34-35; New York Herald Tribune, July 24, 1950, Bigart interview with Clarke. The author saw three T34 tanks still standing in Taejon in July 1951, each bearing a bold inscription painted in white on its sides reading, “Knocked out 20 Jul 50 under the supervision of Maj General W. F. Dean.” One tank was in the center of Taejon at a street corner; this apparently was the one destroyed under General Dean’s direction. The other two were at the Yusong and Nonsan roads’ juncture west of the city.]

 General Dean’s personal pursuit of enemy tanks in Taejon was calculated to inspire his men to become tank killers. He was trying to sell to his shaky troops the idea that “an unescorted tank in a city defended by infantry with 3.5-inch bazookas should be a dead duck.” The number of enemy tanks that entered Taejon during the day cannot be fixed accurately. Most of them apparently entered Taejon singly or in small groups. It appears that American troops had destroyed 8 enemy tanks in Taejon or its immediate vicinity by 1100, 6 of them by 3.5-inch rockets and 2 by artillery fire. Engineer bazooka teams destroyed 2 more T34 tanks in the afternoon. If this is a correct count, United States, soldiers destroyed 10 enemy tanks in Taejon on 20 July, 8 of them by the new 3.5-inch rocket launcher, first used in combat that day.

[N11-43 34th Inf WD, 20 Jul 50; 24th Div WD, G-2 Jnl, entries 1315, 201107, and 1367, 202225 Jul 50; 24th Div Ordnance Off Stf Hist Rpt, 20 Jul 50. A 24th Division report of 19 July erroneously states that by that date the 3.5-inch bazooka had destroyed several enemy tanks. 24th Div WD, G-4 Daily Summ, 181800-198000 Jul 50.]

 Not every round from a 3.5-inch bazooka stopped a T34 tank in the Taejon street fighting as has been so often stated. Three bazooka teams of the 24th Reconnaissance Company, for instance, made seven hits at close range (30 to 70 yards) on 3 tanks and stopped only 1 of them.

 Fifth Air Force planes also destroyed an undetermined number of enemy tanks at Taejon. In the morning, soon after the initial penetration of approximately 15 tanks along the Yusong road, the Air Force knocked out 5 before they reached the city. An enemy tank crew member captured during the day reported that planes destroyed others north of Taejon. It appears that the North Koreans lost at least 15 tanks at Taejon, and possibly more.

[N11-44 24th Div WD, 20 Jul 50; Ibid., G-2 PW Interrog File, interrog of Kim Chong Sun, 202300 Jul 50.]

The enemy tanks largely failed in their mission within Taejon itself. They did not cause panic in the city, nor did they cause any troops to leave it. They themselves lost heavily, mostly to the new 3.5-inch bazooka which they encountered for the first time. Taejon demonstrated that for the future there was at hand an infantry weapon that, if used expertly and courageously, could stop the dreaded T34.

SOURCE: South to the Naktong, North to the Yalu; BY: Colonel Roy E. Appleman (United States Army Center of Military History)

Korean War: Withdrawal From Taejon (11B)

Korean War: Disaster at the Kum River Line (10)

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World War Two: Sicily (2-10): Beachhead Secure

Straightening Out the Sag: Gradually, around midnight of 11 July, the antiaircraft fire died down. The tragic show was over. As groups of 504th paratroopers made their way toward Gela, their advance sometimes marked by fire fights with other Americans, a relative stillness stole over the front. It was the lull before the next phase of operations, aimed at moving the Seventh Army to the Yellow Line, which would signify that the beachhead was secure.

Though the 1st Division fought primarily a defensive battle on 11 July, it would go over to the offensive the following day. Late on the afternoon of 11 July, after his troops broke the Hermann Gӧring Division counterattack and drove the Italians from Gela, General Allen announced his intention in blunt words: “Sock the hell out of those damned Heinies,” he ordered, “before they can get set to hit us again.”

The first task was to straighten out the sag in the 1st Division front, and in the very early hours of 12 July, three American columns departed their defensive positions fronting Gela and set out to do just this. A composite force under Colonel Darby captured Monte Lapa and Monte Zai on the Gela-Butera road by daylight to cover the 26th Infantry advance up Highway 117. [N2-10-2] The 26th Infantry, reinforced by Lt. Colonel Ben Sternberg’s 2nd Battalion, 18th Infantry, drove toward Monte della Guardia and the Ponte Olivo airfield. Quickly clearing a small Italian roadblock just north of Gela, the troops pushed on to Castle Hill (Castelluccio), an eminence topped by the ruins of a medieval tower. There they came under fire from an artillery battalion of the Livorno Division, and at dawn the three forward battalions were somewhat scrambled in the ditches and ravines below the hill.

Daylight facilitated reorganization and permitted observed artillery fire on the Italian lines and artillery positions. After the 33rd Field Artillery Battalion pounded the rocky eminence with telling effect, and the cruiser Boise lobbed in 255 rounds, the 2nd Battalion, 26th Infantry, surged forward, gained the crest and the tower, and rounded up the remnants of a Livorno Division rifle battalion. While the 1st Battalion, 26th Infantry, swung left and took Monte della Guardia, the 2nd Battalion of the 18th Infantry dashed forward to take Ponte Olivo airfield. By 1000, the combat team’s objectives were secure. A large portion of the sagging center had been moved forward five miles. The third American column, the 16th Infantry, had harder fighting as it advanced astride the Piano Lupo-Niscemi road to secure the division’s eastern flank and to protect the 26th Infantry’s right during the advance to the Ponte Olivo airfield. The 16th Infantry struck the bulk of the Hermann Gӧring Division, reinforced by those Tiger tanks that had withdrawn across the Acate River after the fight at Biazzo Ridge. Though Conrath had decided to withdraw, the German forward units had had no opportunity to begin their retirement. Early morning patrols had reported the disquieting news of the Germans’ presence, but Colonel Taylor ordered the advance as planned.

[N2-10-2 Darby’s command consisted of the 1st and 4th Ranger Battalions; the 1st Battalion, 41st Armored Infantry Regiment (minus Company A); the 1st Battalion, 39th Engineer Combat Regiment; Company A, 83rd Chemical Weapon Battalion; and a platoon of medium tanks.]

Colonel Crawford’s 2nd Battalion, with Colonel Gorham’s paratroopers leading the way, moved out from positions west of Piano Lupo, crossed the road, and advanced up the east side of the road toward Casa del Priolo. Without opposition, the battalion reached the ridge line just south and east of the Casa and quickly occupied the trenches and emplacements earlier dug by the Germans. On reverse slopes to their left, the Americans could hear German troops digging in.

Soon after first light, about 0530, heavy German fire struck the 2nd Battalion from the north and northwest. West of the road, between the forward battalion elements and a single rifle company left near Piano Lupo, the Americans saw Germans threatening to cut off the route to the rear. When Colonel Crawford and Captain Bryce F. Denno, the executive officer, left their command post to visit the front-line units, Crawford took a couple of machine gun bullets in the neck and shoulder. Denno carried the battalion commander back to the command post and saw to his evacuation.

Three hours later, the remaining company came up from Piano Lupo bringing with it an M7 105-mm. howitzer and a half-track 75-mm. howitzer. About the same time, the German infantrymen across the road pulled back to the north. With the German threat removed, the 1st Battalion moved up in echelon to the right rear of the 2nd Battalion and faced east toward the Acate River valley.

Near 1000, southeast of Piano Lupo, Lieutenant Colonel Robert H. York’s 1st Battalion, 18th Infantry, supported by a platoon of medium tanks, had to fight off a column of three German tanks moving northwest along Highway 115. This American force had gone into position shortly after midnight as part of the army reserve, with the mission of screening between the two forward combat teams of the 1st Division and protecting the division’s east flank. Artillery fire from the 7th Field Artillery Battalion, plus fires from the five medium tanks, destroyed two of the three German tanks. The third withdrew out of range. Half an hour later, American artillery fire broke up another German tank reconnaissance effort in the same area. One tank burned, the others withdrew. Thirty minutes later, six Mark VI tanks, supported by armored cars, half-tracks, and two platoons of infantry, moved down the Acate River valley and turned westward against the 16th Infantry positions near Casa del Priolo, while artillery fire from Niscemi gave support.

In the 2nd Battalion area, Denno moved his two howitzers into position to fire on the approaching enemy armor. Hardly had the 75-mm. piece got out of defilade when it was hit and destroyed by an enemy artillery round. The 105-mm. howitzer managed to get off five rounds before it was knocked out by tank fire. Colonel Gorham, trying to repeat his bazooka work of the previous day, was killed by a direct hit from an enemy tank.

Despite the threat, the 16th Infantry was in good shape. The regimental Cannon and Anti-tank Companies were up and in position, armored support was nearby, and the 7th Field Artillery Battalion was giving excellent fire support. The 5th and 3rd Field Artillery Battalions were taken off reinforcing missions elsewhere to lend their weight. [N2-10-3] Two platoons of medium tanks arrived near the 1st Battalion and added their fire power-though they lost four of their own tanks, they got three Tigers.

By noon the German threat had petered out, but by this time the forward infantry battalions were badly battered. Colonel Denholm, the 1st Battalion commander, had been shot and evacuated. The rifle companies were at less than half strength. The 2nd Battalion was left with perhaps zoo men, including the few surviving paratroopers.

Despite the ragged strength of his elements, Captain Denno moved his troops forward and occupied Casa del Priolo with ease. Colonel Taylor urged further movement, but Denno was reluctan this companies were tired and understrength, his flanks were open, the enemy appeared strong between the Casa and Niscemi. Denno prevailed on the regimental commander to hold what had been gained. Increased German artillery fire, growing in intensity just before dark and continuing until midnight, seemed to indicate a possible attack. In reality the Hermann Gӧring Division was covering its withdrawal. The Piano Lupo road junction remained under heavy interdictory fire throughout the night. But no more German soldiers or tanks molested Casa del Priolo.

[N2-10-3 The 7th Field Artillery Battalion fired 15 missions, 914 rounds during the day. The 32nd Field Artillery Battalion fired 7 missions, 304 rounds. The 5th Field Artillery Battalion fired 6 missions, 583 rounds.]

The 16th Infantry had not taken its objective, Niscemi, and a sag remained in the center of the Seventh Army front. But enemy resistance, despite the heavy artillery fire, was lessening, and on the following morning, 13 July, as the Hermann Gӧring Division continued to pull back toward Caltagirone, the Americans entered Niscemi unopposed. The 16th Infantry, particularly the 1st and 2nd Battalions, had had by far the severest fighting thus far in the invasion. These two battalions had been largely responsible for blunting the Hermann Gӧring Division’s counter-attacks. Each battalion had lost its commander. And each subsequently would receive a citation for its outstanding performance.

Casualty figures alone indicated the severity of the fighting between Piano Lupo and Casa del Priolo on the 11th and 12th of July. During these two days the 1st Battalion lost 36 dead, 73 wounded, and 9 missing, the 2nd Battalion lost 56 dead, 133 wounded, and 57 missing. But if the sag had not been eliminated by nightfall 12 July, the bulge represented no serious threat to the 1st Division. Rather, American units on the flanks were threatening to outflank the German salient.

On to the Yellow Line

On the Seventh Army right, the town of Comiso fell without opposition to the 157th Infantry early on II July. The regiment then looked to the west for the arrival of the 179th Infantry, which was to comprise the left arm of the division’s deep pincer movement against the Comiso airfield. Stopped at times by enemy artillery fire, slowed occasionally by long-range machine gun fire, the 179th Infantry in the early afternoon was ready to attack the airfield in conjunction with the 157th. Co-ordination between the two direct support artillery battalions was quickly established, and the artillery radio net was used from then on to regulate the moves of the infantry units.

Soon after 1600, as artillery fires lifted, two battalions of the 179th Infantry moved into the airfield proper from the west, driving the defenders into a battalion of the 157th Infantry coming in from the southeast. Within twenty minutes, the field was in American possession, along with 125 enemy planes (20 in operating condition), 200,000 gallons of aviation gasoline, and 500 bombs. One German plane escaped.

[N2-20-66 II Corps Rpt of Opns, pp. 5-6; 15 7th Infantry Regt S-I Jnl, 11 Jul 43 (which reports approximately 150 planes captured or destroyed on Comiso airfield in one entry; over 200, in serviceable condition, in another entry); 179th Infantry Regt S-I Jnl, 11 Jul 43; McLain MS, Sicily Campaign, pp. 8-9.]

Turning over the job of clearing the airfield to supporting engineers, the Infantry continued inland, the 179th Infantry going due north along the secondary road leading to the Acate River, the 157th Infantry turning due east, and then north toward Chiaramonte Gulfi.

Disregarding the boundary line between the Seventh U.S. and British Eighth Armies, a rifle company entered Ragusa, captured the mayor and chief of police, and seized the city’s switchboard intact. The rest of the day, in addition to policing the city, the Americans amused themselves by answering phone calls from anxious Italian garrisons that wanted to know what was going on near the beaches.

As night fell on II July, the company had still not made contact with the Canadians. The 180th Infantry, which had been having some trouble, finally untracked itself and on 12 July began advancing. Having been allowed a day’s breathing spell by the paratrooper action at Biazzo Ridge, the regimental commander was able to reorganize his units and now moved through Colonel Gavin’s lines. That evening, by 2000, Biscari was secured.

The movement to Biscari was heartening, for the performance of the regiment had hitherto been less than impressive. General Middleton considered relieving the commander, and went so far as to request General Bradley for a replacement. Bradley asked General Patton for Lieutenant Colonel William O. Darby, the 1st Ranger Battalion commander. Though Patton offered the young Ranger commander the I80th Infantry and an immediate promotion, Darby turned down the offer. He preferred to stay with his unit. With no other qualified replacement immediately available, Middleton made no change, except to send the assistant division commander to that headquarters to exercise close supervision.

The 179th Infantry, which had met only minor Italian resistance on 11 July, next day encountered stiffer opposition north of Comiso as it began to meet increasing numbers of Germans. This resulted from General Conrath’s response to urgent messages from General Guzzoni directing him to make an immediate withdrawal to the east coast. Pulling some of his units out of line in the Gela area, Conrath sent them to the northeast, his intention to occupy first a line along Highway 124 from Caltagirone east to Vizzini. The sudden thrust by the 1st Division prevented him from denuding his defenses until the American advance from Gela was stopped. The 180th Infantry push posed another problem, for if the regiment crossed the Acate River north of Biscari it would threaten to cut the German withdrawal route. Thus, small German units, primarily interested in securing the routes of withdrawal to Highway 124, moved northeast and across the routes of advance of the 179th Infantry. Just before noon, part of the Hermann Gӧring Division armored reconnaissance battalion jumped the forward units of the 179th Infantry. Not until late in the afternoon did the regiment stabilize the situation. Further advance toward Highway 124, the Seventh Army’s Yellow Line, it seemed, would be hotly contested.

In contrast, the 157th reached Chiaramonte Gulfi, fourteen road miles northeast of Comiso, without incident. Here for the first time since landing, Colonel Ankcorn was able to pull his scattered battalions together. At Ragusa, where the rifle company was waiting for Canadian troops to show up before rejoining the regiment, a misdirected shelling from a British artillery unit preceded the arrival of 1st Canadian Division elements.

The contact followed good gains on the part of the British 30 Corps on the Seventh Army right. The corps had reached the Pozzallo-Ispica-Rosolini line at the end of 11 July, and next day, while the British 51st Division advanced and took Palazzolo Acreide, the 1st Canadian Division cleared Modica, entered Ragusa, and moved ten miles beyond to Giarratana.

The 30 Corps advance, paralleling the 45th Division inland movement, threatened to interpose a strong Allied force between the Hermann Gӧring Division and those Axis forces opposing the British 13 Corps north of Syracuse. If the British 30 Corps moved into the gap between these two Axis forces-a gap of eighteen miles from Vizzini to Lentiniit would prevent the Hermann Gӧring Division from joining the defenders blocking the road to Catania and, ultimately, Messina.

Progress in the British 13 Corps zone was slower. The stubborn resistance of Group Schmalz prevented the 5th Division from advancing north from Syracuse on 11 July. Despite his defensive success, Schmalz was concerned, for his Kampfgruppe could not hold indefinitely against the stronger British forces. If the British broke into the Catania plain, they would block the bulk of the Axis forces from access to Messina and would, themselves, have an unobstructed passage to this key Sicilian city. Because no units backed Group Schmalz on the east coast, because he needed reinforcement from the main body of the Hermann Gӧring Division, Schmalz decided to fight a delaying action along the coastal highway (Highway 114) in the hope of preventing an Allied breakthrough. During the night of 11 July, Colonel Schmalz withdrew to a defensive line centered on Lentini. The withdrawal uncovered the port of Augusta, and on 12 July British troops entered the city. But advance north to the Catania plain was impossible, for Group Schmalz held firm.

Schmalz’s situation remained serious. He did not have enough troops to hold for long at Lentini. Nor did he have sufficient troops to close the gap to the west between him and the bulk of the Hermann Gӧring Division, which had just started to move northeast from Niscemi. The British 50th Division, paralleling the British 5th Division’s advance, headed directly toward the gap, having moved from its landing areas at Avola through Cassibile, Floridia, and Sortino.

On the west flank of the Seventh Army, the 3rd Division, heavily supplemented by armored and reconnaissance units, highly mobile and readily employable in the terrain ahead, had gained an ideal position from which to exploit inland to Highway 124. Such an advance would cut the Sixth Army in two at Enna, the important hilltop town almost in the geographical center of Sicily.

General Guzzoni was concerned by the deep penetration of the 3rd Division toward Campobello, fourteen miles north of Licata, for continued advance would cut off the Axis forces in the western part of the island and would threaten the Hermann Gӧring Division’s right flank. To counter this movement Guzzoni gathered together what forces he could.

During the night of 10 July, Colonel Venturi, who commanded the Italian 177th Bersaglieri Regiment, had arrived with one of his battalions at Favarotta, where a makeshift force of Italian artillerymen and motorcyclists had managed to halt 3rd Division progress along Highway 123. Taking over the Italian units then on the ground, Venturi created a provisional tactical group-Group Venturiand ordered a counterattack the next morning to recapture Licata.

West of Licata, along Highway 115, the Italian 207th Coastal Division organized a tactical group near the Naro River bridge with the mission of advancing east toward Licata. Other Italian units arriving during the night and going into defensive positions at Agrigento and Canicatti were alerted to the possibility that at least one might move through Naro to Palma di Montechiaro in order to assist the attack on Licata from the west.

Meanwhile, the 15th Panzer Grenadier Division was hurriedly retracing its steps to the central part of the island. Like other Italian and German units, the German division had received no specific orders on 10 July on its probable future operations. But from fleeing Italian coastal units, General Rodt was able to learn that the original Sixth Army plan to throw the Allies back into the sea was not having great success. He therefore decided to try to stop the several American columns moving inland on the roads emanating from Licata. The result of this decision was to embroil elements of the division during the transfer from west to east in numerous small actions, generally in battalion strength.

Arriving at his new command post south of Pietraperzia (some twenty miles northeast of Campobello) about 0400, 11 July, Rodt learned more about the invasion. From additional reports he concluded that the Americans who had landed in Gela were advancing north toward Piazza Armerina, while those American forces which had landed in Licata planned to drive on through Campobello to Canicatti.

Feeling that he could not block both major thrusts, he decided to strike the closer one, the advance of the 3rd Division from Licata. Sending the bulk of Group Ens (the reinforced 104th Panzer Grenadier Regiment Faldella, Losbarto, p. 152, and corrections made available to Mrs. Bauer) to screen against the thrust from Gela and to protect his east flank, he planned to move one battalion from Pietraperzia through Riesi in a flanking movement from the east against the American column moving toward Canicatti. This attack would relieve pressure on both the Livorno and 207th Coastal Divisions.

The reinforced reconnaissance battalion of the division, known as Group Neapel, was to block the main roads north and east from Canicatti and delay the Americans as long as possible. Group Fullriede (the reinforced 129th Panzer Grenadier Regiment) would deploy along a line from Canicattl through Delia to Sommatino to halt advances inland along the roads leading from Licata, Palma di Montechiaro, and Agrigento to Caltanissetta. His main hope was to disrupt the 3rd Division advance by dealing it a damaging blow on its deep eastern flank by means of the battalion attack from Riesi. [N2-10-11]

General Truscott, meanwhile, had called his senior commanders together on the evening of 10 July and issued his orders for the next day’s operation. The 7th Infantry was to thrust westward to take Palma di Montechiaro and the high ground just beyond; the 15th Infantry was to continue north along Highway 123 to seize Campobello; General Rose’s CC-A, operating between these two combat teams, was to seize Naro, then assemble on the high ground to the north and east and prepare for further action. The 30th Infantry, guarding the division’s exposed right flank, was to send one battalion cross-country to seize Riesi, there blocking an important avenue of approach into the division’s eastern flank.

[N2-10-11 MS #0-077 (Rodt) and sketch; MS # 0-095 (Senger); DB SUED, Meldungen, 12 Jul 43·The commitment of the reconnaissance battalion from the 15th Panzer Grenadier Division is controversial. It seems that part of the battalion was also deployed between Palermo and Canicattl at major road intersections. It is difficult to reconstruct the actions of this unit from the scanty Axis reports available.] 

The 3rd Battalion, 7th Infantry (Lieutenant Colonel John A. Heintges), led the advance on Palma di Montechiaro early on 11 July. Crossing the Palma River bridge without incident, the battalion encountered heavy fire from Italian troops who occupied strong positions along a line of low hills just south of the town. Deploying his troops, building up a base of fire, and using supporting weapons to excellent advantage, Heintges pushed slowly ahead and drove the Italians into the town itself. As the battalion prepared to push into Palma around 1100, numerous white flags appeared on buildings in the town.

Colonel Heintges dispatched a smaIl patrol to accept the surrender. Unfortunately, civilians, not soldiers, had displayed the white flags, and the small American patrol came under fire. Two men were killed, another two were wounded. Enraged, Heintges gathered together ten men and personally led them across an open field to a building which seemed to house the heaviest fire. They reached the building safely, planted demolitions on the lower floor, withdrew a short distance, and set off the explosives. The blast signaled start of the attack, and the battalion swept into town behind its commander.

The Palma defenders had been reinforced by a task force that had moved down from the Naro River, and heavy fighting erupted up and down the main street. For two hours the battle raged from house to house. Around 1300, having had enough, the surviving Italians began pulling out westward along Highway 115. Quickly reorganizing his battalion, Heintges followed in close pursuit, rapidly cleared the hills on the south side of the highway, and dug in there to await the rest of the combat team.

To Heintges’ right, General Rose’s CC-A had begun to move against Naro. With a reconnaissance company forming a screen and the 3rd Battalion, 41st Armored Infantry, reinforced by a company of medium tanks as the advance guard, the combat command proceeded slowly along the narrow, secondary roads and trails northwest of Licata. The terrain was difficult, the roads were poor, but the only opposition came from snipers, scattered long-range machine gun fire, and a strafing attack by two German aircraft. For the first time in a procedure that would become standard, the armored infantrymen mounted the tanks and rode the last few miles.

On 11 July, CC-A consisted of the 66th Armored Regiment; the 41st Armored Infantry Regiment, minus the 1st Battalion; the 14th Armored Field Artillery Battalion; the 62nd Armored Field Artillery Battalion (which, at this time, had only one battery ashore); reconnaissance, engineer, and service units. The remainder of the 62nd Armored Field Artillery Battalion closed at 1600, 11 July 1943.

Just outside Naro, a civilian volunteered the information that the town was unoccupied and the population friendly. Unwilling to take any chances on this rather nebulous bit of information, Colonel Sidney R. Hinds, the 41st Armored Infantry commander, placed the civilian and his small son on the hood of his halftrack and led the column into town while small tank-infantry teams cleared the flanks and secured the exits. The civilian was right. By mid-morning of 11 July, CC-A was in possession of Naro.

Continuing toward Canicattl, six miles north, a company of tanks was briefly delayed by an attack delivered by friendly P-38 aircraft, which, fortunately, caused no damage to men or equipment. Two miles northeast of Naro, on the approaches to a pass between two hills, the company ran into stiff resistance. An Italian infantry battalion had moved up from Agrigento that morning, and despite repeated Allied air attacks, had reached the pass minutes before the American tanks arrived. Halting and deploying, the tankers called for infantry support. The battalion of armored infantrymen under Lt. Colonel Marshall L. Crawley, Jr., came forward, and an attack at 1600 made slow progress against hard-fighting Italians. With the approach of darkness, the Italians withdrew. By nightfall, the Americans were in possession of the pass and were four miles short of Canicatti.

The mistaken strafing by friendly planes turned out to be a harbinger of things to come for CC-A. During the week of 11 July, CC-A was to lose fourteen vehicles and seventy-five men from such attacks. The friendly pilots, who were briefed to be alert for the 15th Panzer Grenadier Division, mistook the CC-A armored vehicles for enemy vehicles despite the rather prominent display of yellow smoke-the agreed signal for the identification of friendly vehicles. One pilot, 1st Lieutenant R. F. Hood (86th Fighter-Bomber Group), shot down over Naro by CC-A’s antiaircraft fire, said that he had seen the yellow smoke but had not been informed of its meaning. Later, the 15th Army Group changed the method of recognition from smoke to peIinants, and this apparently solved the problem.

The 15th RCT, meanwhile, was advancing north along Highway 123 from Favarotta to Campobello. Under Colonel Johnson’s plan of attack, the 3rd Battalion moved directly up the highway to capture the high ground west of Campobello, while the 1st Battalion made a wide, ninety-degree envelopment of the enemy left flank, using for its approach a series of north-south draws, well defiladed from Campobello and the highway. With the 2nd Battalion in reserve and the 39th Field Artillery Battalion and a battery of the 9th Field Artillery Battalion in support, the attack started at 0445.

Because the 1st Battalion, east of the highway, was delayed almost an hour in assembling, the 3rd Battalion moved out cautiously. At Station Favarotta the leading elements ran into Group Venturi, which was moving down the highway to attack Licata. For four hours, Americans and Italians battled for the commanding terrain around Favarotta, American artillery units firing with devastating effect on Italian artillery pieces and armored vehicles emplaced near the small town.

 [N2-10-1616 The 39th Field Artillery Battalion fired 1,484 rounds in the day’s actions; the battery of the 9th Field Artillery Battalion, 86 rounds.]

The end came after a rifle company worked its way around the right of the Italian line on the west side of the highway. Under fire from four or five enemy machine guns on the western edge of Favarotta, the company called for support. Because these particular enemy positions were defiladed from the artillery, Colonel Johnson ordered his available elements of the 15th Infantry Cannon Company, a platoon of three half-tracks mounting 75-mm. howitzers, to come forward. To do so, the half-tracks had to move along a stretch of road that had several hairpin turns.

The hairpin area was no place for halftracks to leave the road, and besides, the enemy had several artillery pieces registered on the treacherous curves. The first half-track stuck its nose out from behind a hill and into the open and three enemy salvos checker boarded the road. The half-track quickly reversed and got back to shelter. Another try five minutes later brought the same result. The platoon commander decided to dash down the road on a dead run. First withdrawing farther into defilade in order to get a running start, he burst out from behind the hill at thirty miles an hour. The others followed at fifty-yard intervals.

The enemy laid down at least four salvos, and the bursts seemed to be within inches of the half-tracks, but the half-tracks kept going and managed to stay on the road. Through the hairpin area safely, they dashed into position to give support. With this added fire, the 2nd Battalion overwhelmed the roadblock. Having lost three artillery pieces and more than half its automatic weapons, and with the infantry battalion seriously reduced strength, Group Venturi withdrew to Campobello.

In the meantime, the 1st Battalion, advancing almost without resistance on its wide enveloping movement, reached high ground east of Campobello at 1500, just as the 2nd Battalion, following Group Venturi from Favarotta, gained high ground west of the town. Though Campobello seemed ripe for a squeeze play, it was harder than it appeared.

That morning, the XII Corps had ordered Generale di Brigata Ottorino Schreiber, commander of the 207th Coastal Division, to go from his headquarters at Agrigento to Canicatti and assume command of a counterattack aimed at retaking Licata. Schreiber was to take over all the Italian and German forces already at Canicattl and those who would arrive during the day. Colonel Augusto de Laurentiis, commander of the military zone of Port Defense Zone at Palermo, assumed command of the coastal division.

At Canicattl around 1150, Schreiber planned to attack south along Highway 125 with Group Venturi, already engaged, and Group Neapel, dispatched by Rodt. Schreiber immediately sent Group Neapel to Campobello to reinforce Group Venturi, both to be supported by Italian artillery at Casa San Silvestro, two miles south of Canicattl General Schreiber’s counterattack, scheduled to jump off at 1350, never started. Group Venturi had been mauled too severely to think of offensive action, Group Neapel became involved in defending Campobello, and American artillery fire and the threat to his right flank posed by the advance of CC-A into Naro prompted General Schreiber to withdraw to Casa San Silvestro. Group Neapel remained at Campobello temporarily to cover the withdrawal At 1500, behind a thunderous concentration laid down by the 39th Field Artillery Battalion, the 1st and 3rd Battalions of the 15th Infantry advanced on Campobello. The attack progressed slowly but steadily until just short of town where concentrated German fire forced a halt.

Another artillery preparation and the squeeze of the two American battalions hurried the Germans out of town. At 1600 the 3rd Battalion entered Campobello. In the final push on Campobello, 1st Lieutenant Robert Craig, Company L, 15th Infantry, singlehandedly knocked out two enemy machine gun positions, killing eight Germans and wounding three others before he, himself, was killed. Lieutenant Craig was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor.

That day also, the 3rd Battalion, 30th Infantry, marched over fourteen miles of rugged mountains, overcoming scattered enemy resistance, and occupied Riesi. After making physical contact with the 1st Division on its right, the 3rd Division at nightfall on 11 July-a day ahead of time-was in possession of its invasion objectives. With the Yellow Line now extended to Palma di Montechiaro, Naro, and Campobello, the division front formed a broad semicircle from Palma on the west to Poggio Lungo on the east. Now that he had carried out the order to gain the YeHow Line so as to protect the army group left flank, General Truscott had no further mission. Nor had General Patton been instructed on how to develop the situation beyond the Yellow Line. General Alexander had been less than explicit in his instructions-the Seventh Army was “to prevent enemy reserves moving eastwards against the left flank of Eighth Army.”

Unwilling to sit still, Truscott ordered General Rose to reconnoiter toward Canicattl during the evening of 11 July as the prelude to a possible attack the next day. Since Caltanissetta and Enna appeared to be logical objectives, Truscott decided to seize Canicatti as a necessary preliminary first step.

At Casa San Silvestro, General Schreiber’s hasty development of new defensive positions was interrupted at 1800 when an Allied bombing attack on Canicattl severely damaged the town and railroad station and produced heavy casualties in the Italian infantry battalion that had retired from Favarotta earlier that day.

Not long afterwards, Schreiber received word from the XII Corps. He was to counterattack the next morning with several new units being sent to him-an infantry battalion from the Assietta Division, an infantry battalion and an anti-tank gun company from the Aosta Division, and two Italian artillery battalions. Apprehensive over the developments in the Licata sector, Guzzoni apparently hoped that Schreiber’s counterattack on 12 July would not only delay further American advances inland but would also block the major avenues of approach into central Sicily.

At 2000, 11 July, Colonel Fritz Fullriede reported in to General Schreiber as the commander of all German troops in the area and placed himself and his units under the Italian general’s tactical leadership. Fullriede reported American tanks [N2-10-22] had driven through to points west of Canicatti, thus threatening to cut off German and Italian units south of that town. Fullriede told General Schreiber that he had assembled the bulk of his German force north of Canicatti, leaving detachments at Sommatino and Delia, small towns to the east of Canicatti, to cover his flanks. He urged the Italian commander to do the same with the Italian units. Fullriede also stated that he had received instructions from Sixth Army headquarters to switch to the defensive in the Canicatti area and to await the arrival of additional German units.

[N2-10-22 ; IT gga, Sitrep, 2000, 11 Jul 43. There is no confirmation of this In German sources.]

What then of Schreiber’s counterattack? Several telephone calls to X II Corps and to Sixth Army cleared up the confusion. Guzzoni had changed his mind. On 12 July, Schreiber was to limit his actions to local thrusts only, those that would not seriously deplete manpower and material. In view of his amended orders, General Schreiber decided to withdraw his units during the night to positions north of Canicatti and behind Group Fullriede’s lines. American patrols hung on tenaciously to the withdrawing Italians; one Italian artillery battery, unable to fall back quickly enough, blew up its 105-mm. guns and surrendered.

The leading elements of Group Ens were by then arriving at Pietraperzia. Colonel Karl Ens was slightly wounded when Allied aircraft bombed General Rodt’s headquarters, but he continued in command of his battle group. He ordered one battalion to a position just south of Pietraperzia, its counterattack through Riesi called off because the 3rd Division occupied the town; a second battalion to Barrafranca; and the third to Piazza Armerina, to gain contact with the Hermann Gӧring Division which was known to be somewhere off to the east.

The Herman Gӧring Division was in the precarious position of operating with a gap in its center. Between its left flank and the 15th Panzer Grenadier right was another gap, this one covered by the Livorno Division. But the combat efficiency of the Livorno Division was near zero. If the Italians could not, as seemed likely, prevent the Allies from breaking through to Highway 124, the Germans would suffer disastrous consequences.

General Keyes, the Seventh Army deputy commander, visited General Truscott on the morning of 12 July. Though Keyes had no information on further missions for the division, he agreed with Truscott that Canicatti should be seized as a prelude to further advances into central Sicily. At Canicatti Highway 123 from Licata met Highway 122 fromCaltanissetta. Except for the mountain pass at Naro, the secondary road northeast to Canicattl. was a valley thoroughfare practicable for mechanized forces. The road went through the pass (occupied by CC-A late on 11 July) and emerged on a plain in front of Canicatti. East from Canicatti a good secondary road ran to Delia, Sommatino, and Riesi, the base of the secondary road net in the upper part of the Licata-Agrigento-Canicatti triangle. Quite certain that General Patton would approve, Keyes told Truscott to go ahead and take Canicatti.

Truscott immediately telephoned General Rose to get CC-A moving on Canicatti. At the same time, he ordered the 30th Infantry to move to Naro, leaving its 3rd Battalion in Riesi. He notified the 15th Infantry to move forward on the right of the armored command to seize Delia and Sommatino and then swing to the west to aid the armor in taking Canicattl. The 7th Infantry was to guard the division left flank. After taking Canicatti, General Truscott planned to place eCA in division reserve as a mobile force for exploitation north or west.

Preceded by a five-minute preparation from the two supporting armored field artillery battalions, CC-A jumped off at 1330, 12 July, through the pass and down the road toward the southern outskirts of Canicatti. A tank-infantry team (with infantry on the tanks) leading the advance was still some distance from the town when observers saw a white flag flying over one of the buildings. Colonel Hinds and another officer jumped into a jeep and drove toward town to accept the surrender. Hardly had Hinds started forward when enemy artillery fire from high ground north of Canicatti began to pattern the road. At that moment, Hinds noted that the white flag was actually a Red Cross flag on top of a hospital. By then white sheets, towels, and other signs of surrender began to appear. Taking no more chances, Hinds deployed his force on both sides of the road and called in the supporting artillery.

The 14th and 62nd Armored Field Artillery Battalions obliged. For thirty minutes the two artillery units methodically worked over the town from end to end, shifting their fires periodically to batter the German positions in the hills north of town. [N2-10-28] As the last artillery rounds were being fired, a company of tanks roared down the road and into town. There was no opposition. Canicatti was secured at 1500.

Scarcely pausing, the company of tanks drove out the northern exit from town and ran into Colonel Fullriede’s main battle position. After expending all its ammunition and losing one tank, the company pulled back to town to await reinforcements. A tank-infantry team swung to the right and secured the eastern edge of a ridge line a mile north of town. Though the Germans fought stubbornly, they were driven off the ridge line by 2000. By darkness, CC-A had Canicatti, but Group Fullriede held the bulk of the hill mass northwest of the town. The enemy was in poor shape, however.

American counterbattery fire had destroyed most of the supporting Italian artillery. The German battalion holding the ridge line had been severely mauled. Other small German detachments east of Canicattl-on the road to Delia and Sommatino-suffered heavy losses from American tank-infantry teams that overran their positions. Deeming his forces too small to hold longer, Colonel Fullriede, with General Schreiber’s approval, pulled back that evening to a new line along the railroad running from Serradifalco to San Cataldo.

[N2-10-28 The 14th Armored Field Artillery Battalion fired a total of 1,862 rounds during the day, most of them at this time. The 62nd Armored Field Artillery Battalion fired a total of 627 rounds.]

The 15th Infantry had contributed to Fullriede’s decision. It moved smartly and by dark of 12 July had both Delia and Sommatino, although the former would not be entirely secure until the following morning. Here, the 3rd Battalion, 15th Infantry, had quite a stiff fight with part of the Group Ens battalion which had gone into position earlier in the day. With the entire important secondary east-west road from Canicattl east to Riesi in 3rd Division hands, General Truscott again faced the problem of what to do. The 7th Infantry was patrolling vigorously westward toward Agrigento; the 30th Infantry closed in Naro and prepared to relieve CC-A at Canicattl; the 15th Infantry, with the 3rd Battalion, 30th Infantry, at Riesi, lay along the secondary road running east from Canicattl. Truscott could go either west against Agrigento or north toward Enna.

Canicattl had been taken with General Keyes’ approval, but to go any further would require, Truscott thought, a nod from General Patton himself. To go ahead and take Caltanissetta and Enna, Truscott would need at least one more regimental combat team to guard his lengthy western flank. His front was almost fifty miles long, and both flanks were open. Though patrols had traversed with relative ease the area between Riesi and Butera, the area was far from secure. Less than two miles east of Riesi lay a strong enemy roadblock, and no one knew for certain how many other such positions were in the general area. Until the 1st Division on the right moved up from Ponte Olivo, Truscott would have to classify the area as uncertain, though not particularly dangerous. Truscott would also need a stronger reserve, stronger than the 3rd Ranger Battalion, which for two days had been the only uncommitted unit.

General Keyes, who had spent the day with General Truscott observing the capture of Canicattl, phoned General Patton that evening. He reported the successful attack and stated that the situation was favorable for a prompt operation against either Agrigento or Caltanissetta. But, concluded General Keyes, “Neither will be instituted tomorrow without your instruction.”

General Patton could give no instruction because he had none from General Alexander. And the 15th Army Group commander was primarily concerned with protecting the British Eighth Army left flank. With continued reports from pilots on sizable enemy movements from west to east, Alexander remained apprehensive over the possibility of a massive enemy counterattack.[N2-10-31] And thus he was not anxious to move the 3rd Division, which provided a solid block on the army group left.

 [N2-10-31 General Alexander feared that the road complex in central Sicily would be used by the Germans to launch an attack against the Eighth Army. Until the day the Seventh Army captured Palermo, Alexander continued to be worried about this possibility. Alexander Despatch, pp. 12,24; 15th AGp Radios J,P, 13 Jul 47; 184, 16 Jul 43; and 0165, 18 Jul 43, all quoted in Seventh Army Rpt of Opns. These are indicative of Alexander’s concern for Eighth Army’s left flank. See also, Interv, Smyth with Lieutenant General Lucian K. Truscott (Ret.) and Major General William W. Eagles, 19 Apr 51.] 

Still, Keyes was loath to leave the 3rd Division completely sedentary. Before leaving Truscott’s headquarters, he verbally approved a reconnaissance in force in battalion strength toward Agrigento. At the same time, the division was to gain the heights northwest of Canicatti and eliminate the troublesome enemy roadblock southeast of Riesi. Beyond this, Keyes would not go, though on the following afternoon, apparently after consulting with General Patton, Keyes restated his approval in writing. These small movements were to develop in a surprising fashion. They would help General Alexander make up his mind on how to use the Seventh Army in Sicily.

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 (2-11) Allies Push Inland

World War Two: Sicily (2-9); Allied Airborne Reinforcement July 1943

 

World War Two: Saipan (2-9) Fight for Center

Preparations for the Drive to the North: While elements of the 27th Division were slowly inching their way down Nafutan Point, the two Marine divisions prepared to launch the drive against the main line of Japanese defenses, which stretched across the waist of the island from just below Garapan to the northwest corner of Magicienne Bay. The 2nd Marine Division in the north had little more to do than consolidate the lines it already held, send out patrols, and mop up small isolated pockets of enemy troops still lurking within its sector. The 4th Marine Division, before it could be in a position to attack, would have to reorient the direction of its drive from east to north and then push forward (northward) about a thousand yards to tie its left flank in with the right flank of the 2nd Division. When this was accomplished the two Marine divisions would be drawn up abreast on what was designated the O-4 line, which ran roughly parallel and a little to the south of the Japanese main line of defense.

During the period in which the 4th Marine Division was pivoting to the left, the only serious fighting occurred around Hill 500, on 20 June. This 500-foot eminence just west of the village of Tsutsuuran had once been the site of the command post of Colonel Oka, commander of the 47th Independent Mixed Brigade, who had since left it for a safer location to the northward. Hill 500 fell within the zone of the 25th Marines, which attacked it in column of battalions.

Following an advance preparation of rockets, artillery, heavy weapons, and mortars, the lead battalion moved forward about 1030 under cover of smoke. By noon it had seized the hill, and it spent the rest of the day mopping up the network of caves that ran through the area. Altogether, the marines suffered forty-nine casualties and accounted for forty-four enemy dead. The hill had been well organized for defense but not strongly manned.

That same day the 8th Marines, which constituted the 2nd Marine Division’s right (south) flank, made a forward advance against no opposition to tie in with the left flank of the 4th Division. There was little other activity in the 2nd Division’s zone of action. By nightfall of the 20th the marines rested securely on the designated O-4 line ready to jump off on order for the big drive northward. They spent June 21st resting and sending out patrols. Men of the 4th Division moved as far as 1,500 yards to their front without meeting any organized enemy resistance.

Landing the 106th Infantry

Before leaving Hawaii, the 106th Infantry Regiment had been assigned as reserve for the 27th Division with the probable mission of landing on Saipan. On arrival at Kwajalein, Colonel Russell G. Ayers, the regimental commander, was informed that his unit would be attached to the Southern Landing Force, destined for Guam. The regiment was to land in the rear of the 1st Provisional Marine Brigade and to capture Orote Peninsula on that island. On 16 June, however, because of the imminent engagement with the approaching Japanese fleet, Admiral Spruance indefinitely postponed the landing on Guam, and on the 18th the transports carrying the 106th Infantry were detached from Admiral Conolly’s Southern Attack Force and ordered to Saipan.[N2-9-88 106th RCT Rpt FORAGER, p. 2. The other landing troops originally assigned to Guam were subsequently returned to Eniwetok. TF 53 Rpt of Amph Opns for Capture of Guam, 10 Aug 44, pp. 5-6.]

On the evening of the 18th General Holland Smith requested that the 106th be landed “in order to maintain the continuity of the offensive,” but Admiral Turner was reluctant to comply because to do so would inevitably delay the Guam attack until another reserve force for that landing could be brought up from the Hawaiian area. Nevertheless, Smith continued to press his case, and at last Turner concurred and ordered the 106th Infantry to commence landing early on the morning of 20 June.

The regiment landed on order and except for its attached artillery was assigned to Northern Troops and Landing Force reserve. Next day Colonel Ayers directed all of his units to initiate reconnaissance in the zones of action of both Marine divisions. In conducting this reconnaissance, one group from the Antitank Company was ambushed and suffered four casualties, the first to occur in the regiment. The rest of the day the 1st Battalion patrolled Susupe swamp with the mission of clearing Japanese stragglers from the vicinity of corps headquarters and a nearby Marine hospital. For this purpose the battalion was attached to the 2nd Marine Division under whose control it remained until the morning of 23 June. During this period the battalion killed eighteen Japanese in the swamp and took two prisoners of war.

Japanese Situation on the Eve of the Northern Attack

While the marines pivoted on the 2nd Marine Division’s left flank below Garapan, the Japanese too were pivoting on almost the same point. By the 19th they were in position along a new “line of security” that ran from below Garapan, east to White Cliff, south to Hill 230, and then southeast through Hill 286 to Magicienne Bay.

General Saito disposed his troops in new sectors divided by Mount Tapotchau. On the extreme right (west) of the Japanese flank the town of Garapan was occupied by naval units, chiefly the Yokosuka 1st Special Naval Landing Force. To their left, the 135th Infantry held the area between Garapan and the west slopes of Mount Tapotchau. The 118th Infantry, a straggler unit, was to hold the area southeast of Tapotchau and be prepared to check enemy landings from Magicienne Bay. Kagman Peninsula was to be held by those remnants of the 47th Independent Mixed Brigade that had not already been destroyed or isolated on Nafutan Point. The 9th Expeditionary Unit, another straggler force, was placed under command of the 47th Independent Mixed Brigade and assigned to defend the shore north of Kagman Peninsula. In general reserve was the 136th Infantry, which had been ordered to assemble at Chacha at sunset on the 19th. The 9th Tank Regiment had a dual mission—to co-operate with the 118th Regiment, and to check any advances along the coast or against the beaches of Magicienne Bay.

Even this late in the campaign, the Japanese expected either a landing on Magicienne Bay or a tank attack up the bay coast. Their fear of American tanks was especially acute, as a report from 31st Army headquarters attests: “The changes in the battle up until today have been the results of naval gunfire and bombing but from now on the main thing will be to gain unfailing victory in antitank warfare. Our army has new ideas concerning this point and we hope this is not a miscalculation.”

The stubborn determination of the Japanese to continue their resistance is all the more remarkable in view of their losses to date. As of 19 June approximately three and a half of the 43rd Division’s original eight battalions had been destroyed. Only one of five artillery battalions remained. The 47th Independent Mixed Brigade had been all but eliminated as an organized fighting unit. Two and a half battalions of infantry belonging to other units were destroyed, only one composite battalion remaining. Sixty percent of the 9th Tank Regiment was destroyed, as were most of the 7th and 11th Independent Engineers. On the eve of the American attack to the north the personnel losses of Japanese line units were reported to be not lower than 50 percent.

In terms of artillery and tanks, the Japanese were just as badly off and as hopelessly outnumbered. All that remained to them on 20 June after six days of fighting were eleven 75-mm. field pieces, twenty-seven tanks, three operational antiaircraft guns, and nine machine cannon. But though the Japanese on Saipan were weak in manpower and short of weapons and equipment, they lacked nothing of the traditional spirit that had driven and was to drive so many of their countrymen to glorious if futile death on the battlefield. On the eve of the battle one tanker doubtless spoke for most of his compatriots when he inscribed in his diary: The fierce attacks of the enemy only increase our hostility. Every man is waiting for the assault with all weapons for close quarters fighting in readiness. We are waiting with ‘Molotov cocktails’ and hand grenades ready for the word to rush forward recklessly into the enemy ranks with our swords in hands. The only thing that worries me is what will happen to Japan after we die.

22 June: The Jump-off

General Holland Smith’s orders for 16 June called for an attack to the north by the two Marine divisions in line abreast, the 2nd Division on the left, the 4th on the right. The jump-off hour was to be 0600, the objective line (O-5) to run through Laulau village on Kagman Peninsula on the right, Mount Tapotchau in the center, and a point on the west coast of the island about 1,000 yards south of Garapan on the left.

In view of the fact that this northward push would automatically extend the lines of the two Marine divisions, especially as the 4th Division was required to spread eastward on Kagman Peninsula, the corps commander alerted the 27th Division to the fact that it might soon be committed to the northern line. The Army division, which was then in corps reserve, was ordered to reconnoiter routes to both of the Marine divisions’ zones of action. 27th Division Artillery was passed to the control of General Harper’s XXIV Corps Artillery to deliver close and deep support missions in advance of the marines. Altogether, the troops on the northern line would have eighteen battalions of artillery to support their drive on the morning of 22 June. On the right of the 4th Marine Division zone in the area inland from Magicienne Bay, the 24th Marines jumped off on schedule, made rapid progress against light opposition, and by 1330 reached an intermediate objective line that had been established by the division commander about 2,000 yards in front of its line of departure.

To its left, the, 25th Marines found the going more difficult The regiment jumped off on schedule in column of battalions, and within half an hour the lead battalion was attacked by a force of Japanese troops accompanied by a tank. Ninety of the enemy were killed and the tank was destroyed. For the rest of the morning the regiment encountered light resistance, but just south of the intermediate objective line received severe machine gun fire, a situation that was aggravated by an exploding Japanese ammunition dump. This slowed progress so that by the day’s end the 25th Marines were still short of the day’s objective, although the regiment had made an advance of about 2,000 yards.

Meanwhile, the 23rd Marines, which had been in division reserve, was committed between the two assault regiments shortly after noon. Fighting against light enemy resistance but over stubborn terrain, the 23rd Regiment, too, fell just short of reaching the day’s objective by the time it dug in for the night.

The 2nd Marine Division had the more difficult task of gaining the approaches to Mount Tapotchau and of pushing to the top of Mount Tipo Pale, General Watson, the division commander, placed all three of his regiments in line abreast, the 8th, 6th, and 2nd Marines from right to left. As the official Marine Corps historian described the scene, “Looking to the north of the 6th and 8th Marines’ lines, a nightmare of sheer cliffs and precipitous hills could be observed, separated in crisscross fashion by deep gashes . . . . Dense foliage which cloaked the region often limited visibility to a few feet.”

Both assault battalions of the 8th Marines made fair progress against little opposition during the morning even though their axis of attack was cut by deep ravines, cliffs, and transverse ridges. As they neared the top of the first ridge line, they lost contact, and about noon the reserve battalion had to be committed in the center. An hour later forward movement stopped as mortar fire began to fall heavily all along the line. Enemy machine guns located on a hill to the right in the zone of the 25th Marines commenced to lay enfilade fire along the right flank of the 8th Marines. The summit of Mount Tapotchau still lay about 1,200 yards (as the crow flies) ahead, but no further progress could be made that day, and the regiment dug in for the night.

In the center the 6th Marines was initially held back by the slow progress of the division’s right flank. Shortly after noon the advance toward Tipo Pale got under way, only to come up against several pockets of Japanese machine guns, which stopped the lead elements on the slopes of the mountain. After a futile attempt to get at these positions by a flanking movement, the marines bypassed them altogether, and by 1400 the lead battalion had pushed to the top of Tipo Pale.

The advance to the top of Tipo Pale marked the farthest and most significant progress in the zone of the 2nd Marine Division. This eminence was about 1,000 feet in height and lay about 1,200 yards southwest of Tapotchau’s summit. Its capture was essential to cover any approach to the western slope of Tapotchau. No forward movement was made on the extreme left of the 2nd Division’s zone. The 2nd Marine Regimental Combat Team occupied the O-5 line south of Garapan for several days, and since the whole forward maneuver of the two divisions pivoted on this regiment it was forced to remain stationary until the other regiments pulled abreast.

Meanwhile, preparations were proceeding apace to move the 27th Infantry Division into the main line of attack. On the evening of 21 June General Holland Smith had ordered the division to conduct reconnaissance to the north over the road net that led to the 2nd and 4th Marine Division areas. By late afternoon of the 22nd all three battalions of the 165th Infantry had completed the reconnaissance as ordered by Colonel Kelley. That evening Colonel Ayers took the commanders of the 2nd and 3rd Battalions, 106th Infantry, with him on a road reconnaissance and before dark had reached a point where his regiment would leave the road system and move cross country in the direction of the front held by the 4th Marine Division.

About 1600 that afternoon General Ralph Smith visited the headquarters of General Erskine, chief of staff to General Holland Smith, where he first received definite information that his division would be fed into the Marine front line the following day. The plan was for the Army division to relieve the left flank elements of the 4th Marine Division so as to permit that unit to move eastward to cover Kagman Peninsula. This would put the 27th Division in the center of a three division front and at the entrance to the valley that lay between Mount Tapotchau and its hill system on the left (west) and a series of hills and ridges on the right (east) that ran north from Magicienne Bay. Jump-off hour for the next morning was set at 1000.

As soon as this decision was reached, General Ralph Smith called Brigadier General Redmond F. Kernan, Jr., and ordered the division artillery to begin reconnaissance for positions from which to support the division attack next morning. Smith then left for his own command post where he met with Colonels Kelley and Ayers, commanders of the two regiments that would go into action next day. General Smith assigned Ayers’ 106th Infantry to the left of the division line and Kelley’s 165th to the right. Zones of approach to the line of departure were assigned to each of the regimental commanders, who in turn were to work out their routes of approach within their zones.

Ayers and Kelley returned to their own command posts shortly after 1800 and began briefing their battalion commanders. In the 106th Regiment the 3rd Battalion, under Lieutenant Colonel Harold I. Mizony, was designated the assault battalion. It was to be followed in column by the 2nd, under Major Almerin C. O’Hara, and the 1st, under Lieutenant Colonel Winslow Cornett. Colonel Kelley designated his 2nd Battalion, under Lieutenant Colonel John F. McDonough, as the lead battalion during the approach. The 2nd was to be followed by the 1st, under Major Mahoney, and the 3rd, under Major Claire. Upon relieving the marines, the 165th was to take up the line with its 2nd Battalion on the left and its 1st on the right.

Orders from division headquarters confirming these decisions were issued at 2100. The line of departure for the two Army regiments was to be the “line held by the 4th Marine Division within the [27th] Division zone of action,” Two and a half hours later General Holland Smith’s headquarters issued substantially the same order. In this case, the line of departure was designated as the “front lines at King Hour [1000],” which was essentially no different from that specified by Ralph Smith.

23 June: Into Death Valley

Promptly at 0530, just as day was breaking, both regiments began to move toward the front lines. In the 106th Infantry zone Colonel Mizony’s 3rd Battalion led off with Company L in the lead, followed by K, then battalion headquarters, and finally I Company. Colonel McDonough’s 2nd Battalion, 165th, took the lead in that regiment. About 0620 the head of McDonough’s column cut into Mizony’s column just behind L Company, thus splitting the 3rd Battalion, 106th Infantry, at that point. The two regimental commanders conferred but nothing could be done to unscramble the units until they reached a clearing that would permit the 165th to move eastward and the 106th to proceed north toward its assigned zone of action. At this point of divergence an officer control station was set up to sort out the vehicles and units of the two regiments and direct each to its proper destination. Altogether, this delayed Companies K and I, 106th Infantry, upwards of an hour, though Company K was due to move into the assault at the line of departure at 1000. Company L, 106th, on the other hand, was ahead of the traffic jam and was able to push on unhindered.

The two assault battalions of the 165th Infantry relieved the 24th Marines at 1000 on schedule. Company L, 106th Infantry, completed the relief in its zone at 0930. Only Company K of the 106th was late, but its tardiness was to hold up the entire division attack. Not until 1055, or almost an hour after the scheduled jump-off time, was Company K in line, and not until then could the 3rd Battalion jump off in the attack.

When the men of the 106th Infantry got into the line, they were surprised to discover that some of the marines whom they were to relieve had fallen back two or three hundred yards from positions held the day before. Company K of the 25th Marines had pulled back to its right rear on the previous evening to tie in the night defense.

This caused some consternation at 106th headquarters because the regimental commander was under the mistaken impression that the line of departure for the morning’s attack was the forward line of the previous day’s advance as indicated on his overlay, rather than the “front lines at King Hour” as stated in the operation order.

Actually, of course, this withdrawal on the part of the Marine company eased Colonel Ayers’ immediate problem by reducing the distance his already tardy troops would have to cover before reaching the line of departure. It did, however, create a gap between the 106th and the 165th on his right that would have to be covered before the two units could move forward abreast.

The positions the 27th Division was ordered to assault had, since 19 June, been held by the 118th Infantry Regiment, which as of that date was made responsible for the entire Japanese line of defense from the east slope of Mount Tapotchau to Magicienne Bay. The Japanese regiment had been torpedoed en route from Japan to Saipan less than three weeks earlier and had arrived on the island minus about 850 of its troops and almost completely stripped of its weapons and equipment.

Total troop strength of the regiment on its arrival on Saipan was estimated to be about 2,600. The Japanese command had had neither time nor opportunity to re-equip the survivors and reorganize them into a first-class fighting unit. The degree of attrition suffered by the regiment since the American invasion is unknown but it cannot have escaped damage from the terrible pounding from air, sea, and land to which the island had been subjected since 12 June.

Before the 27th Division was committed, the 136th Infantry Regiment, 43rd Division, which had previously been in reserve around Chacha village was ordered to move out to Hill 286 (meters), Hill 343 (meters), “and the hills E[ast] of there.” Hill 286 was in the zone of action of the 2nd Marine Division, but Hill 343, the “hills East,” and the valley in between were directly athwart the line of advance of the 27th Infantry Division.

Initially, the 136th had been one of the Saipan garrison’s best fighting forces, being at full strength and fully equipped at the time of the landing. However, the regiment had taken a frightful beating in the first days of the invasion. Manning the Central Sector facing Red and Green Beaches, it had borne the brunt of some of the hardest fighting on Saipan. Although not literally decimated, its combat strength had been severely weakened. Two men of the regiment who had been captured on 25 June testified that its 2nd Battalion had been depleted approximately 67 percent on the first day of the landing, that the remnants of the 2nd and 3rd Battalions were combined as a single battalion, and that the total strength of the regiment was less than 1,000.

But whatever losses in manpower and equipment the Japanese in this sector may have suffered, they still had one enormous advantage. That was terrain. The soldiers of the 27th Division were soon to dub the area “Death Valley.” The “valley” is really a terrace like depression on the eastern slope of the sprawling mountain mass that fills most of central Saipan and culminates in the towering peak of Mount Tapotchau. The floor of the valley, less than 1,000 yards in width, is dominated along its entire length by the rugged slopes of Mount Tapotchau on the west and a series of hills, the highest about 150 feet above the valley floor, on the east.

This eastern hill system was to be called “Purple Heart Ridge” by the soldiers who fought there. Death Valley, then, was a sort of trough into which the men of the 27th Division were to advance. The valley itself was almost devoid of cover except for a line of trees near the southern end and for three or four small groups of farm buildings surrounded by trees. The cliff on the left was for the most part bare, but above the cliff was wooded ground. The hills on the right were tree-covered. A narrow road—little more than a cowpath—ran up the valley a short distance then branched off, the left branch skirting the cliffs of Mount Tapotchau, the right heading toward the north face of Hill Able and then cutting to the east.

Obviously, this terrain was ideally suited for defense against any attack through the valley, and the Japanese made the most of it. In the words of Colonel Albert K. Stebbins, Jr., 27th Division chief of staff: The cliffs and hillsides were pocketed with small caves and large caves. The wooded area was rough, filled with boulders, and excellent for defensive operations. Bands of fire were laid by the enemy thru the underbrush and in such manner as to make it most difficult to discover their locations: Well placed, hostile guns fired only when lines passed and striking our forces in the rear disrupted the attack.

The Japanese had at their disposal all kinds of automatic weapons, light and heavy mortars, and some 75-mm. mountain guns. These were well concealed, usually in caves whose mouths were covered with brush. Troops approaching through the valley could get at the positions only by direct shots from tanks or self-propelled guns. It was impossible to reach them with artillery, at least during the initial stages of the attack, because the axis of the caves was at right angles to the line of fire of the artillery. “Cannon to right of them, Cannon to left of them.” Not so much cannon perhaps, but enough other fire to make this seem to the men caught in the middle a true replica of Tennyson’s “Valley of Death.” The regimental boundary line coincided with the road that ran through Death Valley.

On the division right the first obstacle to be overcome by the 1st Battalion, 165th, was Hill Love, lying roughly on the border line between Companies A and C. This eminence rose about 700 feet above sea level, was tree-covered, and was infested with Japanese. A patrol from A Company met heavy machine gun and rifle fire that killed the patrol leader and wounded one other man. It was then decided that the two companies would circle the hill and meet at its northern base. Company C on the right jumped off at 1015 and by 1400 had succeeded in working its way around the hill to the northern face. Here, the men were pinned down by heavy fire to their front and made no further advance. During the course of the afternoon the company suffered three men killed and fourteen wounded. A platoon of tanks from the 72nd Provisional Tank Battalion was brought forward in an effort to reduce the on 23 June, 27th Division soldiers worked their way into a small wooded area enemy positions. One of these, commanded by 1st Lieutenant Louis W. Fleck, was set on fire with a “Molotov Cocktail.” All the tankers but one were killed as they emerged from the turret. The men of Company C who witnessed the incident were helpless to avert it because by now marines had pushed ahead directly into their line of fire and the battalion commander had ordered them not to fire.

Meanwhile, Company A had also reached the northern face of Hill Love. It too could make no further progress. At 1630 the tanks withdrew for the night and the two companies dug in. Company B was brought in and completed the encirclement of the promontory by digging in on the south face.

The 2nd Battalion, 165th Infantry, also had considerable trouble during the afternoon. After reaching the tree line that lay about 300 yards to their front, both of McDonough’s companies remained stationary for two hours, waiting for Company K, 106th Infantry, to work its way up on the left. General Ralph Smith finally ordered McDonough to advance without regard to what was going on in the 106th area and instructed Colonel Kelley to commit his reserve if necessary. Regiment therefore ordered an attack for 1315. Company K was brought up and ordered to deploy one platoon on the regimental left to maintain contact with K Company of the 106th and the other on the right to maintain contact with the 1st Battalion, 165th.

As soon as McDonough’s battalion moved out from the line of trees it was greeted by a hail of small arms, machine gun, and heavy weapons fire from the cliff line on its left. A similar concentration of fire from Purple Heart Ridge on the right soon followed and the advance platoons of Company F were badly hit in the cross fire. Under cover of a smoke screen laid down by the chemical battalion, the men eventually pulled back to the tree line from which they had started. Company G, witnessing the results of F Company’s advance also withdrew to the tree line and remained there for the rest of the day.

In the zone of the 106th Infantry on the division left the action can be characterized as two separate battles since K and L Companies had no physical contact during most of the day. Company K on the right pushed off at 1055. Shortly thereafter the leading scout of the advance platoon was struck by machine gun fire. The rest of the company hit the ground and was immediately subjected to mortar fire. The company commander, Captain Heminway, ordered his men to move forward by infiltration. This movement began about 1300, and by 1500 the company had worked its way into a small wooded area that provided some cover against the enemy weapons. There it waited for L Company on its left to come up, and since the latter unit did not pull abreast until 1615 both decided to dig in there for the night.

Company L had arrived on the line in sufficient time to push the attack at 1000 but had been held up by K Company’s tardiness in relieving the marines in its zone. On Captain Hallden’s left was the cliff of Mount Tapotchau and on his right a series of ravines. About 400 yards ahead, the cliff line receded to form a little cove in the mountain wall that the soldiers dubbed “Hell’s Pocket.” In the midst of this cove was a lone rock that rose a hundred feet and was covered with ivy. Caves in the rock and in the cliff walls that surrounded it provided ideal spots for Japanese machine guns.

Company L advanced about fifty yards from its line of departure, and Japanese mortar fire began to fall in the area. Hallden pushed his men on, moving along the base of the cliff, which formed the west wall of Hell’s Pocket. As the troops probed deeper into the pocket an enemy mortar shell set off a Japanese ammunition dump and the flying debris kept the men pinned down for over an hour. Self-propelled mounts were brought forward in an effort to knock out the cave positions of the Japanese but the vehicles were too exposed to fire from above to accomplish much. Finally, a platoon of medium tanks came in to support the infantry.

By this time the gap between K and L Companies had grown wider so Hallden shifted to the right rear out of Hell’s Pocket and by 1530 had re-established contact with Company K on the valley floor where both companies dug in for the night. Company I, which had been in reserve most of the afternoon, was brought up and dug in on the rear of this position. Progress for the day in the zone of the 106th was about 100 yards.

Throughout the day the 106th Regiment experienced considerable difficulty in maintaining contact with the 2nd Marine Division on its left. The corps order had stipulated that the burden of contact was from right to left. Responsibility for contact therefore rested with L Company, 106th, but the marines were moving along the top of the cliff at whose base the Army troops were located, and physical contact was impossible. As Company L moved to the right to tie in with Company K, even visual contact was lost. At 1703 division headquarters ordered Colonel Ayers to gain contact with the marines on his left “with sufficient force to maintain it,” and half an hour later Ayers ordered the 2nd Battalion, 106th, to cover the gap. On the theory that it would be easier to maintain contact between two companies of the Army division than between Marine and Army units, Company F was ordered to move to the top of the cliff and tie in with the marines while G Company moved forward to positions below the cliff and established contact on the left of L Company.

This move was not completed until 1910, and both companies had to build up a defensive line under cover of darkness. Later that night, Company F’s 1st Platoon, which was hugging the cliff overlooking the edge of Hell’s Pocket, was attacked by a party of about fifteen Japanese who made their way through the perimeter before being discovered. In the intense hand-to-hand fight that ensued, bayonets, grenades, knives, and fists came into play. The Japanese killed two men of the platoon and wounded two others before being destroyed or routed.

Progress in the zone of the 27th Division on 23 June had been disappointing, especially in the area assigned to the 106th Infantry. During the afternoon General Holland Smith expressed his alarm over the situation in a conversation with General Jarman, the island commander and the senior Army officer on Saipan. In General Jarman’s words: General Smith, CG of the V Phib Corps, called me to his quarters and indicated that he was very much concerned about the situation which he was presented with in regard to the 27th Division He outlined to me the many things that had happened with respect to the failure of the 27th Division to advance. He indicated that this division had suffered scarcely no [sic] casualties and in his opinion he didn’t think they would fight. . . . He stated that if it was not an Army division and there would be a great cry set up more or less of a political nature, he would immediately relieve the division commander and assign someone else.

Next morning, General Holland Smith registered his displeasure in a stern dispatch to General Ralph Smith himself:

COMMANDING GENERAL IS HIGHLY DISPLEASED WITH THE FAILURE OF THE 27TH DIVISION ON JUNE TWENTY THIRD TO LAUNCH ITS ATTACK AS ORDERED AT KING HOUR AND THE LACK OF OFFENSIVE ACTION DISPLAYED BY THE DIVISION IN ITS FAILURE TO ADVANCE AND SEIZE OBJECTIVE O-5 WHEN OPPOSED ONLY BY SMALL ARMS AND MORTAR FIRE X THE FAILURE OF THE 27th TO ADVANCE IN ITS ZONE OF ACTION RESULTED IN THE HALTING OF ATTACKS BY THE 4TH AND 2nd MARINE DIVISIONS ON THE FLANKS OF THE 27TH IN ORDER TO PREVENT DANGEROUS EXPOSURE OF THEIR INTERIOR FLANKS X IT IS DIRECTED THAT IMMEDIATE STEPS BE TAKEN TO CAUSE THE 27TH DIVISION TO ADVANCE AND SEIZE OBJECTIVES AS ORDERED X.

There can be no doubt of the truth of General Holland Smith’s charges that the 27th Division had been late in the jump-off, that its advance had been slow, and that it had held up progress of the two Marine divisions on its flanks. It is apparent, however, that he underestimated the stubbornness of the Japanese defenses in the area by dismissing the opposition in the zone of the 27th Division as being “only by small arms and mortar fire.”

When subsequently queried on this point, Colonel Ayers, commanding officer of the 106th Infantry, was of the firm belief that if he had tried to advance rapidly across the open ground in front of him his regiment “would have disappeared.” General Ralph Smith agreed. He later testified that, after visiting the front lines shortly after noon, he was “satisfied that Colonel Ayers was making every effort possible to advance in the valley, and considered that any further pushing of troops in that zone would only lead to increased casualties, without accomplishing adequate results.

On the other hand, General Jarman testified that in his conversations with General Ralph Smith on the afternoon of 23 June the division commander had been far from satisfied with the conduct of his troops. In General Jarman’s words: I talked to General Smith and explained the situation as I saw it and that I felt from reports from the Corps Commander that his division was not carrying its full share. He immediately replied that such was true; that he was in no way satisfied with what his regimental commanders had done during the day and that he had been with them and had pointed out to them the situation. He further indicated to me that he was going to be present tomorrow, 24 June with his division when it made its jump-off and he would personally see to it that the division went forward . . . . He appreciated the situation and thanked me for coming to see him and stated that if he didn’t take his division forward tomorrow he should be relieved.The First Night in Death Valley

At 1925, just as darkness fell, the Japanese launched a six-tank attack down the road that ran the length of Death Valley and marked the boundary between Mizony’s and McDonough’s positions. Not until the column had almost reached the American outposts was it discovered, and by then the lead tank was too close to be fired upon from either side of the road without endangering the men on the other. The other five tanks, however, were taken under fire by both battalions with every weapon available. Bazookas, antitank guns, grenade launchers, and artillery went into action, and all five tanks were knocked out. The lead tank proceeded on through the lines and circled back, firing constantly. One shell landed in a Japanese ammunition dump located in the midst of the 3rd Battalion, 106th’s, lines and set it afire.

The tank then turned east and was finally knocked out in the zone of the 23rd Marines.

Meanwhile, the ammunition dump in the middle of the 3rd Battalion, 106th, was going off in all directions. Simultaneously, the Japanese on Mount Tapotchau began to throw mortar shells and machine gun fire into the area. Company L suffered sixteen men wounded within the space of an hour. The position of the entire 3rd Battalion was now untenable, 1st Lieutenant George T. Johnson of I Company ordered his men to disperse as soon as the dump started to explode. He later assembled them across the road to the rear of the 165th line and dug in there for the rest of the night. The other two infantry companies withdrew about 100 yards behind the conflagration, thus canceling altogether the small gain made by the battalion during the day’s action.

23 June: Marines on the Flanks

On the right of the 27th Division, the 4th Marine Division attacked with two regiments abreast, 24th on the right and 23rd on the left. The 24th Marines pushed rapidly ahead along the shore of Magicienne Bay and by midafternoon had reached the O-5 line at one point just east of the village of Laulau. On the left the 23rd Marines made somewhat slower progress, partly because its advance was held back by the 165th Infantry. Within a short time after the jump-off, one battalion seized the top of Hill 600, which though lightly manned by the enemy was admirably suited for defense and took thirty minutes of close fighting to capture. There, the battalion was ordered to hold, pending the advance of the Army troops on the left, but since the 1st Battalion, 165th, was held up, the marines spent the rest of the afternoon in a stationary position, firing and pitching grenades at the Japanese who still occupied in force the northern face of the hill. That night a group of enemy tanks launched an attack against Hill 600 but was repulsed with the loss of three of its five vehicles.

On the other side of Death Valley, the 8th Marines jumped off on schedule except on the right flank, which was held up by the late arrival of the 106th Infantry. To fill the gap between these units, the reserve battalion was ordered into position to protect the right flank and the three battalions in the assault moved forward. By midafternoon the right battalion seized the cliff that dominated the only feasible route to the top of Mount Tapotchau. On the regimental left, the marines ran into a nest of about thirty Japanese riflemen and six heavy machine guns, which held up their progress for the rest of the day.

Soon after the 6th Marines in the center of the 2nd Division’s line launched its attack, the right flank battalion was pinched out by the reduced frontage. On the left, the regiment made no advance during the day because it was already so far forward that any further move would have caused too much of a contact strain. The same was true of the 2nd Marines on the division left flank. Not until the center of the corps line made more significant progress would it be safe for the elements on the left to move ahead.

24 June: Action of the 27th Division

General Holland Smith’s order for June 24th called for a continuation of the attack with three divisions abreast in the same order as before, commencing at 0800. Corps artillery was assigned to general support and ordered to reinforce the fires of divisional artillery. In the zone of the 27th Division, its own organic artillery would fire a ten-minute preparation before the jump-off and thereafter support the attack on call.

165th Infantry Attack Against Purple Heart Ridge

At 0705 corps reminded 27th Division that the slope on the right side of Purple Heart Ridge was in the zone of action of the 165th Infantry, which would capture it with the help of fire from the 4th Marine

Division on its right. This meant in effect that the 106th Infantry alone would be responsible for the frontal attack up Death Valley. Simultaneously, the 2nd Battalion, 165th, would attack along the crest of Purple Heart Ridge itself and the 1st Battalion, 165th, would move up on the right (east) of the ridge.

Purple Heart Ridge was in reality a series of hills connected by a ridge line running in a northerly direction. From south to north these hills were designated Queen, Love, George-How, X-ray-Yoke, Oboe, King, and Able. Hill Queen had already been overrun by the 4th Marine Division in its advance eastward toward Kagman Peninsula. Hill Love had been surrounded by the 1st Battalion, 165th Infantry, which had dug in the night before around its base.

There were obvious tactical advantages to an early capture of this ridge line or any considerable part of it. It overlooked Death Valley from the east just as the higher cliffs around Mount Tapotchau did from the west. The commanders were becoming aware that any movement north through the valley could be easily interdicted by fire from the elevations on either side. If the lower of the two walls of the corridor—Purple Heart Ridge—could be seized, then fire could be brought directly to bear against the caves that dotted the west cliffs from which such effective fire was being trained on the troops trying to advance through the valley below.

At 0800 the two assault battalions of the 165th Infantry jumped off on schedule in the same order they were in at the end of the previous day’s fighting: On the front line from right to left were Cloyd’s Company C, O’Brien’s Company A, Chasmar’s Company G, and Leonard’s Company F. In reserve for the 1st Battalion was Gil’s B Company; for the 2nd Battalion, Ryan’s E Company. The regimental plan called for Company C on the right flank to swing well to the right and then northeast into the zone of the 23rd Marines. There it would wait until the rest of the battalion came abreast. Company B was to come up from behind Hill Love on A Company’s left, execute a turning movement, and then attack eastward across A’s front in order to enfilade the enemy positions to the north of Hill Love.

Within a little more than an hour after the jump-off, Company C had moved to the right and gained physical contact with the marines. Lieutenant Cloyd stopped his advance on the northern nose of Hill 600 to await the approach of the rest of the battalion on his left. He made no further progress that day.

On the battalion left, Companies A and B ran into immediate trouble. As A pushed off from Hill Love toward the same positions that had caused so much trouble the day before, it came under heavy fire from small arms and machine guns. Company B then moved up to the left and, as planned, tried to execute a turning movement to the right across A Company’s front. Company B, too, met a fusillade of fire and finally withdrew after losing twelve wounded, two mortally. It was only 0930, but the 1st Battalion attempted no further movement until midafternoon.

[NOTE: According to standard usage in the Central Pacific, the maps used in the Marianas were overlaid with a grid. Each large square of the grid measured 1000 by 1000 yards and was given a numerical designation. These were in turn subdivided into twenty-five smaller squares of 200 square yards, each given a letter designation according to the phonetic alphabet then in use. Thus, Hill Love derived its name from the fact that it was located in small square “L” of large square “175.” The squares, both large and small, were called “target areas.”]

Colonel Kelley then decided to commit his 3rd Battalion to the right of the line. The 3rd was to move to the right, following the same route used by Company C and, upon reaching the latter’s positions on the left flank of the Marine lines, pass through and launch an attack that would carry it to the top of Hill King, almost at the northern edge of Purple Heart Ridge. While this was taking place, B Company was to circle the pocket of resistance north of Hill Love and build up a line facing the pocket from the north. Thereafter, the 1st Battalion was to mop up this area of resistance and retire into regimental reserve. The change of plans was agreed upon at 0904, and orders were accordingly issued at 1015. The 3rd Battalion completed its move by 1335, and by that time Company B had encircled the pocket and was facing south ready to attack.

Meanwhile, the 2nd Battalion, 165th Infantry, moved off on schedule in an effort to take the ridge by a direct assault from the southwest. The night before, the battalion had occupied positions about three hundred yards to the north and west of Hill Love. G Company moved off with Company F following, echeloned to the left rear. By 1000 the lead platoon had reached the southern face of Hill X-ray-Yoke, about the midpoint of the ridge. Here the men found a steep gulch directly across the path of advance. In order to get up on the hill itself, they would have to climb down the near cliff, cross the bottom of the canyon, and scale the cliff on the other side. As the first platoon attempted this feat of acrobatics it came under rifle fire from the hill ahead and was stopped in its tracks. Company G made no further progress that day.

F Company to the left rear had also run into trouble. As it came abreast of G, Company F spread out to the left where the gully in front of Hill X-ray-Yoke was not quite so precipitous. Here the terrain was friendlier, but the enemy was not, and heavy mortar and machine gun fire kept the bulk of the company pinned down for two hours. Around 1130 Captain Leonard sent a patrol out to his left toward a small house located on the floor of Death Valley. His purpose was to protect his flank from a possible attack from that direction. Of the twenty men dispatched on this mission six were wounded and one was killed by machine gun fire before the patrol was withdrawn. F Company, too, now held its lines for the remainder of the day. At nightfall the whole battalion dug in just below the gulch. The clay’s action represented an advance of about 150 yards.

While the stalemate was developing on the left flank of the regimental line, stubborn resistance continued on the extreme right. The 3rd Battalion had swung right behind the ridge and passed through Company C at 1335. Shortly after 1600 Captain Howard Betts, who commanded Company K, made a frontal assault in column of platoons up Hill X-ray-Yoke from the east.

The lead platoon reached the tree line well up the hill without much trouble, but just as it started into the undergrowth, Japanese machine guns opened fire from the left front, traversing the length of Betts’ line and wounding two men. The platoon took to earth and was pinned there by a continuous grazing fire for almost two hours. Betts immediately swung his second platoon into line on the right, but after about fifty yards further advance up the hill, it too ran into machine gun fire and was stopped. By this time darkness was coming on, and Company K was pulled down the hill to tie in with I Company for the night. Meanwhile, the 1st Battalion’s effort to mop up the pocket of resistance north of Hill Love had failed, and that unit, with the exception of Company C, dug in around the same positions it had occupied the night before.

106th Infantry: Into Death Valley Again

The units, from right to left, on the front line facing the mouth of Death Valley on the morning of 24 June were: Company K, 106th Infantry, Captain Heminway; Company L, 106th Infantry, Captain Hallden; and Company G, 106th Infantry, Captain David B. Tarrant. Company F of the 106th was still on top of the cliff, and, since its movement was geared to that of the 2nd Marine Division, its actions must be considered as separate from those of the rest of the 106th Regiment.

The 3rd Battalion jumped off on time, but immediately encountered such heavy mortar fire that many of the men fell back to the line of departure and in some cases behind it. By 0945 the front-line troops had advanced from 50 to 100 yards into the valley, but there was no sign of any abatement of enemy fire, especially from the cliffs of Tapotchau. Division headquarters was severely disappointed, and at 1012 General Ralph Smith radioed Colonel Ayers: “Advance of 50 yards in 1-1/2 hours is most unsatisfactory. Start moving at once.”

In response to this pressure, Company K, supported by a platoon of medium tanks of Company B, 762nd Tank Battalion, immediately pushed forward into the valley. Captain Heminway had two platoons abreast, the 1st on the right, the 3rd on the left. He left the 2nd Platoon at the entrance to the valley to deliver covering fire to his front. He also set up his machine guns on the high ground beside the valley road and had some support from M Company’s heavy weapons. Heminway’s men advanced in a long, thin skirmish line, moving rapidly toward the center of the valley. They had pushed forward fifty yards without event when the entire cliff on the left of the valley seemed to open up. The company broke into a run toward a fold in the ground that offered some cover. Here the company commander stopped to reorganize his line. Just as he got up to wave his men forward again he was shot in the head and killed. This paralyzed the entire line until 1st Lieutenant Jefferson Noakes, the company executive officer, could come forward and take command.

Meanwhile, the platoon of tanks attached to Company K had been roaming around the floor of the valley trying to silence the Japanese fire from the cliff. One of the tanks, commanded by the platoon leader, 2nd Lieutenant Richard Hitchner, received two hits from enemy shells, was knocked out, and had to be abandoned. Around 1100 another tank was hit, and the whole platoon withdrew.

At this juncture 3rd Battalion called the company headquarters and announced that a smoke screen would be laid down and that under its cover the men of Company K were to withdraw from their exposed positions. Some of the men did withdraw under the smoke, but one platoon failed to get the word and remained holed up until two tanks that had been supporting L Company went over and covered its withdrawal.

Meanwhile, Company I, under Lieutenant Johnson, had been ordered into the line between the other two companies of the 3rd Battalion. Reporting at 1015, Johnson was told to move two platoons out into the valley in column, swing left until he made contact with L Company’s right flank, and then deploy his men to the right to close the gap that existed between Companies L and K. Immediately upon entering the pass into the valley, both platoons were subjected to brutal fire from the cliffs on the left and stayed pinned down for better than two hours. The men lay on an open slope without any means of protection, unable even to lift their heads to fire back. Seven were killed and thirteen wounded. A little before 1200, as the men still lay out on the open ground, three Japanese tanks came down the valley road from the north firing in all directions. Just as they were about to overrun the area occupied by Company I, all three were knocked out by antitank guns from both sides of the valley.

Meanwhile, Lieutenant Johnson was frantically trying to get at the source of the enemy fire that was proving so deadly to his unit. He had the antitank guns of battalion headquarters open up on the face of the western cliff with canister and set up all of M Company’s heavy machine guns to deliver covering fire in that direction. His 3rd Platoon, which was just at the entrance to the valley, took up positions and delivered supporting small arms fire all along the face of Mount Tapotchau. Johnson himself took his company headquarters and moved along the edge of the trees to the left in an effort to get at the Japanese position in front of Company L. As this group moved to the left through the undergrowth, it too was pinned down by mortar fire and discovered the woods to be full of enemy riflemen between the valley road and L Company’s right flank. Johnson was wounded.

It was at this point that the battalion commander ordered K and I Companies to withdraw under cover of smoke. In the latter unit’s zone, the screen was neither effective nor of long enough duration, and only a handful of Johnson’s men could get out. Finally, about 1225, Colonel Mizony brought every weapon he had to bear on the Japanese positions along the cliff and in Hell’s Pocket. Under cover of this fire the remainder of Company I was able to crawl and scramble back to the cover of the trees. Casualties in the 3rd Battalion, 106th, alone, for the day had amounted to 14 killed and 109 wounded.

Meanwhile, the 1st Battalion, 106th Infantry, had been ordered up to relieve the 3rd Battalion. The relief was accomplished at 1515. Upon assuming its position in the line the 1st Battalion was ordered to dig in for the night since it was considered too late in the day to launch further attacks into the valley.

While the 3rd Battalion had been enengaged in trying to push out into the valley, Company G, on the left flank, had advanced no more than two hundred yards during the day. The unit had not itself encountered much enemy fire, but when Company L ran into so much trouble during the morning, Captain Tarrant held his line firm rather than push out ahead of the unit on his right. The attempt of the 106th Infantry to push up Death Valley by frontal assault had failed again. In the words of Colonel Ayers, “We were thrown right back on to the original line of departure.”

Once again corps headquarters ordered the 27th Division to renew the attack into the valley next morning with the “main effort on the left.” General Ralph Smith, however, now decided that any further headlong rush up the valley would only result in increased casualties, and ordered his division to make the main effort on the right. Beginning on the morning of the 25th, the 2nd Battalion, 106th Infantry, would take up positions along the entrance to the valley and contain the Japanese there while the 165th Infantry and the other two battalions of the 106th would circle around the east (right) flank and come out into the valley at its northern end to the rear of the Japanese positions. This, it was hoped, would put the Army division abreast of the two Marine divisions, and the encircled Japanese in Death Valley could then be mopped up at leisure.

There is no evidence that this discrepancy between corps and division orders was ever noted at the time. In any case, before he could put this plan into execution, General Ralph Smith was relieved of his command, and it was left to his successor, General Jarman, to solve the problem of Death Valley.

24 June: Action on the Flanks

On the right of the corps line, the 4th Marine Division was ordered to press eastward across Kagman Peninsula and secure that area before reorienting its drive toward the north of the island. The division jumped off on schedule at 0800, the 24th Marines on the right, the 23rd on the left. The 24th Regiment moved out rapidly along the coast to Kagman Peninsula against “moderate” resistance. By the end of the day the 24th Marines had advanced about 1,200 yards.

On its left the 23rd Marines was initially held up by a pocket of resistance on the slopes of Hill 600 that marked the boundary line between the Marine division and the Army division. About noon the Marine regiment detoured the pocket and commenced to swing around the are toward Kagman Peninsula, pivoting on the 24th Marines on its right. As the 23rd Regiment accelerated its swing, the gap between it and the 165th Infantry increased and toward late afternoon amounted to from 800 to 1,000 yards. By 1630 Chacha village was overrun and the advance halted for the night since the gap on the left precluded any further progress. The 1st Battalion, 23rd Marines, in division reserve, was ordered to occupy Hill 600 and assist its parent regiment in patrolling the gap. Opposition in the 4th Division’s zone on the 24th was characterized as “moderate” and “light,” although total casualties came to 380, including killed, wounded, and missing in action.

To the west (left) of Death Valley the 2nd Marine Division was drawn up abreast, from right to left, 8th Marines (with the 1st Battalion, 29th Marines, attached), 6th Marines, and 2nd Marines. On the right flank the 1st Battalion, 29th Marines, was struggling along the cliff overlooking Death Valley. The ground was “a tangle of tree ferns and aerial tree-roots overgrown with a matting of vines. This formation led up to a ridge, access to which required an almost vertical climb.” By nightfall the battalion had succeeded in climbing the ridge, which connected with and was within machine gun range of the summit of Mount Tapotchau. The battalion’s advance for the day was about 800 yards.

During this movement of the 1st Battalion, 29th Marines, Company F of the 106th Infantry was virtually an integral part of the Marine battalion and had been ordered by its own battalion headquarters to gear its movements to those of the marines. About 1230, F Company came to a halt when the marines on its left engaged in a fire fight. The company’s right flank rested along the edge of the cliff overlooking Death Valley just opposite the north rim of Hell’s Pocket. The terrain to the right consisted of a down-sloping nose of ground that broke off abruptly in the cliffs that scaled down the valley. Captain Roderick V. Le Mieux, the company commander, ordered a patrol to probe down this nose and investigate the source of enemy rifle fire coming from that direction. The patrol soon flushed a covey of Japanese and a full-scale fire fight developed. The patrol leader, finding himself outnumbered, returned for more men. With the larger group he again went down the nose and succeeded in driving the enemy back down the hill.

Meanwhile, Captain Le Mieux had moved ahead a short distance and observed a Japanese artillery piece in a cave in the side of the cliff about 500 yards to his front. The Japanese were playing a hide and seek game with the piece, running it out of the cliff to fire at the line of trees along the south edge of the valley below, then quickly dragging it back under cover.

Le Mieux observed about a hundred of the enemy in the vicinity of this position as well as a large ammunition dump. He ordered up heavy weapons from Company H, which succeeded in catching the gun out of the cave and destroying it. In addition they blew up the ammunition dump, killing about thirty Japanese. Shortly thereafter an enemy patrol was discovered advancing toward the heavy weapons outpost. Rifle fire and grenades quickly dispersed the Japanese, but not before Captain Le Mieux received a serious fragmentation wound and had to be replaced by 1st Lieutenant Herbert N. Slate, the company executive officer. A few minutes later the company was ordered to pull back to the left and to tighten up the lines before digging in for the night.

In the center, the 8th Marines advanced with no particular difficulty, maintaining contact with units on both of its flanks. The battalion on the regimental left, on the other hand, after advancing a short distance, encountered heavy enemy resistance in an area honeycombed with caves and irregular coral limestone formations covered with trees and undergrowth. This was the same pocket that had retarded the battalion on the previous day. Contact with the 6th Marines on the left was temporarily broken. Shortly after noon the pocket was cleaned out and contact was restored with the regiment on the left. The advance continued until late afternoon and by the time the 8th Marines dug in for the night it had registered a day’s gain of about 700 yards.

The advance of the 6th Marines in the division center was not so rapid, especially on the right flank where it faced cliffs and thickly wooded ravines and encountered strong enemy positions in natural cave formations. By evening the regiment had progressed from about 900 yards on the left to 500 to 600 yards on the right. The regimental lines had become too extended for safety, and an additional company was committed to the line.

On the division left the 2nd Marines jumped off at 0800. On its right, progress was slow against heavy fire from a hill, just southeast of Garapan, that the marines did not occupy until 1500. Shortly thereafter the Japanese counterattacked the hill, which from their side (north) was virtually a cliff. Firing with muzzles depressed against the enemy below, the marines easily repulsed the attack and dug in for the night along the ridge overlooking “Radio Road,” which ran at right angles to the line of advance. Meanwhile, the battalion on the left had quickly advanced 500 yards along the beach into the southern outskirts of Garapan itself. Around 1625, as these men were preparing their defenses along the flatlands bordering the sea, seven enemy tanks unaccompanied by infantrymen suddenly moved out from Garapan against them. Marine tanks and 75-mm. halftracks were rushed in and quickly broke up the attack, destroying six of the Japanese vehicles and routing the seventh. The 2nd Marines had now reached the O-6 line and would again have to hold up until the units on its right came abreast. Casualties for the entire 2nd Division on the 24th amounted to 31 killed, 165 wounded, and one missing in action.

After two days of fighting on a three divisional front, the attack of Holland Smith’s corps against the center of the Japanese main line of resistance had stalled. On the right, the 4th Marine Division had overrun most of Kagman Peninsula, an area that presented no particular terrain problems but that still contained plenty of live Japanese, judging from the casualties suffered there by the marines. On the left, the 2nd Marine Division had fought its way into the outskirts of Garapan and up the craggy approaches to Mount Tapotchau, although it would take another day to reach the summit of the mountain. In the corps center, the 165th Infantry on the 27th Division’s right had captured Hill Love, but had made no further advance along the hill system called Purple Heart Ridge. Progress of the 106th Infantry into Death Valley had been negligible. Thus, in the center—the 27th Division zone—the corps line bent back as much as 1,500 yards. Total reported casualties in the 4th Marine Division for the two days were 812; for the 2nd Marine Division, 333; for the 27th Infantry Division, 277.

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

World War Two: Saipan (2-10); Smith Versus Smith

World War Two: Saipan (2-8) Capture of Nafutan Point

World War Two: Saipan (2-8) Capture of Nafutan Point

By the end of 18 June the 4th Marine Division had penetrated to Magicienne Bay and cut the island of Saipan in two. General Holland Smith’s plans for the next phase of the operation called for a change of direction of the main attack from east to north across the breadth of the island. Specifically, this meant that the 2nd Marine Division would hold and consolidate its positions on the extreme left flank south of Garapan and would constitute the pivot of a wheeling movement. The outer end of the wheel’s spoke would be the right flank of the 4th Marine Division resting on Magicienne Bay.

When the turn had been completed the two divisions would be abreast and ready to launch their northerly drive against the main enemy defense line, which now stretched across the island in a southeasterly direction from the outskirts of Garapan to Magicienne Bay. Meanwhile, Nafutan Point and the approaches to it along the south coast of Saipan remained occupied by Japanese troops that had to be cleared out before Aslito field could be considered entirely safe from counterattack and infiltration.

Nafutan Point is a short peninsula—a southward extension of the east coast of Saipan. Dominating most of the peninsula is a high cragged ridge running in a north -south direction not far inland from the east coast. This is Mount Nafutan, whose highest point is about 407 feet. Its northern and western faces are almost sheer cliffs. About 400 yards west of the northern part of Nafutan mountain lies a ridge about 300 feet in height. Although the lowlands in the western portion of the peninsula and in the valley between Mount Nafutan and Ridge 300 were mostly under cultivation, the hilly and mountainous areas in the east were generally covered with thick underbrush.

Compressed into this area by the advance of the American troops was a motley crowd of Japanese military personnel mixed with civilians. Altogether, the military contingent numbered about 1,050. Included were survivors of the 317th Independent Infantry Battalion, 47th Independent Mixed Brigade; naval personnel who had manned the coastal defense guns located near the southern tip of the peninsula; antiaircraft and service troops that had been swept out of Aslito field; and probably stragglers from many other units. The men were under no single command, at least in the strict sense of that word, but the highest ranking officer seems to have been a Captain Sasaki, who commanded the 317th Independent Infantry Battalion.

The job of disposing of these people and securing Nafutan Point was initially assigned to the two regiments of the 27th Infantry Division that were ashore by the 18th of June. Holland Smith’s headquarters assumed that the task could be completed in a short time, and that it would be little more than a mopping-up operation. The assumption proved to be optimistic in the extreme. Not until 27 June was the southeastern extremity of Saipan completely cleared of the recalcitrant, if disorganized, enemy troops holed up in that vicinity.

Action of 19 June

27th infantry division on 19th “complete missions assigned” in the previous day’s order, which meant in effect that the division was to push to the east coast of Saipan along its entire front including all of Nafutan Point. Jump-off hour was set by division orders at 0730.

In position along the front line from right to left (south to north) were the 3rd and 1st Battalions, 105th Infantry, and the 2nd and 1st Battalions, 165th. The latter regiment had on the preceding day almost reached Magicienne Bay, but the line of the 105th bent back sharply to the westward to a position on Saipan’s south coast only 700 yards east of Cape Obiam, On the extreme right, the 3rd Battalion, 105th Regiment, met no opposition to speak of. During the day not an enemy shot was fired except for a few random rounds of artillery that were lobbed into the battalion’s area from Nafutan Point. Nevertheless, the rugged terrain along the southern coast made progress difficult, and by nightfall the battalion had advanced only about 1,800 yards in its zone.

To its left and well ahead, the 1st Battalion, 105th, jumped off at 0730, as scheduled, with Company A on the right, B on the left. After three hours of unopposed progress, the battalion came up against the first of the series of ridges that flank Mount Nafutan to the northwest. In spite of considerable enemy small arms and automatic weapons fire, both companies reached the top of the ridge without trouble, but as they went over the crest to a stretch of level ground with clear fields of fire they were pinned down by heavy fire from five separate pillboxes to their immediate front. The pillboxes were located near the boundary line between the two advance companies, and the company commanders drew their units into a semicircle around the area and poured fire into it. After an hour and a half of futile effort to place shaped charges against the pillboxes, both companies pulled back to a line below the ridge out of range of enemy fire.

On being informed of the situation, regiment ordered the 1st Battalion to re-form, move to the left, and try to outflank the enemy by an attack from the north, rather than by a frontal assault As a prelude to the attack, naval planes were to deliver a fifteen-minute air strike, which was to be followed by a half hour’s concentrated division artillery fire.

Promptly at 1610 the battalion jumped off and almost immediately ran into trouble. B Company, on the left, had to climb the ridge some distance back from the enemy positions in order to execute the flanking movement. Once on top, it was to attack south. However, in getting onto the ridge, the men were held up by an exploding artillery dump and had to take a circuitous route. No sooner had they reached the top of the ridge than the Japanese opened fire with dual-purpose guns. By this time it was 1730, well on toward darkness.

Company A, meanwhile, had not been able even to get into position to attack. Before it could swing into line on the right flank of Company B, it too came under fire from the enemy positions and the men jumped for cover. One soldier (Private Thomas C. Baker) succeeded in knocking out one of the enemy’s pillboxes with a bazooka, but even so the company made no substantial progress. Shortly after 1800, Colonel O’Brien halted the attack, and the whole battalion retired to the line of departure for the night. There, Company C replaced Company B.

To the north, the 165th Infantry was faring somewhat better. The previous evening the regiment had stopped short of the shore line, and its first task was to complete its penetration to the sea. Ahead was a steep slope that ran down to a line of cliffs at the water’s edge, there to drop fifty to sixty yards straight down to the ocean. The slope was a coral formation studded with sharp rocks and pocketed with holes, deep canyons, crevasses, and caves. The whole area was heavily overgrown with a tangle of vines, small trees, and bushes. The only feasible means of approach to the shore line was by way of a series of parallel paths running eastward through the undergrowth.

The regiment jumped off on schedule at 0730 with the 2nd Battalion on the right (south), 1st on the left (north). Only A Company on the extreme left had any serious trouble. An advance platoon ran into a Japanese machine gun position and was fired upon from ambush and held up for over two hours. By 1300 lead elements of both battalions had picked their way cautiously to the ocean’s edge. The only apparent enemy opposition remaining in the area was in a small pocket along the boundary line between the Army regiment and the 4th Marine Division, During the afternoon anneals were sent out over a public address system in an attempt to persuade this isolated remnant of enemy troops to surrender, but the action met with no success. Before the troops dug in for the night, the 1st Battalion, on the left, was relieved by the 3rd, which had been in reserve during the day.

At the close of operations on the 19th, two battalions of the 165th Infantry were drawn up in defensive positions along the southern coast of Magicienne Bay. The 1st and 2nd Battalions had completed the process of cutting off the enemy on Nafutan Point from the rest of the island. However, the leftward swing of the 1st Battalion, 105th Infantry, and the slow advance of the 3rd Battalion, 105th, along the southern shore, had resulted in a large gap in the middle of that regiment’s line. In order to fill the gap and protect Aslito airfield, Colonel Kelley ordered the 1st Battalion, 165th, to move back to the airfield and dig in.

Along the 27th Division front the night was quiet except for two widely separated actions. On the south coast, a group of twenty to thirty civilians stumbled into the perimeter of Company L, 105th Infantry, and were all killed. In the Magicienne Bay area, about an hour after dark, some twenty Japanese launched a counterattack against the right flank of B Company, 165th Infantry, but the attack was broken up within half an hour.

Action of 20 June

The morning of 20 June brought about a change in the 27th Division’s plans and a reorientation of the attack against Nafutan Point. General Ralph Smith, after reviewing the difficulties encountered the preceding day by the 1st Battalion, 105th Infantry, in its attempt to assault Nafutan Ridge frontally from the west, decided that the direction of the attack should be changed from eastward to southward. He attached the 1st Battalion, 105th, to the 165th Infantry and then at 0800 called a conference of the unit commanders most concerned with the new plan of attack. In attendance, besides General Smith, were his operations officer, Lieutenant Colonel Frederic H. Sheldon; Colonel Kelley, commanding officer of the 165th Infantry; and the three battalion commanders of that regiment, as well as Colonel O’Brien who commanded the 1st Battalion, 105th.

As a result of the conference, General Smith issued his Field Message No. 1, which called for a coordinated attack by the 165th Infantry, with the 1st Battalion, 105th, attached, southward along the main axis of Nafutan Point, to commence at 1000. The day’s objective was a line drawn across the peninsula about halfway between the line of departure and the southern tip. The 3rd Battalion, 105th, in the meanwhile would continue to advance eastward along the southern coast until it could close lines with the rest of the division in a tightening noose around Nafutan.

For the main attack down the peninsula, the line-up of units from right to left (west to east) was: Companies C and A of the 105th Infantry and Companies I, K, F, and G of the 165th. The terrain to the front of the three battalions varied. Immediately ahead of the right flank of the 1st Battalion, 105th, the ground was fairly smooth with no serious obstacles. On its left the land sloped upward abruptly to a cane-covered plain in Company I’s zone.

Between the two levels, at the line of departure, a short ramp like piece of ground served as an approach to the higher plain from the west, but as one proceeded farther southward the ramp became progressively steeper and finally developed into sheer cliff. Originally, A Company was deployed across this ramp from top to bottom with Company C tied in on the flat land to its right. As the advance progressed it would be necessary for Company A to keep edging more and more to the right until eventually it would end up on the level ground at the foot of the ridge. This necessarily would make effective contact with Company I on the left impossible. Thus it was that the action of the 1st Battalion, 105th, was to all intents and purposes independent of that of the 165th on its left.

Immediately in front of K and F Companies, 165th Infantry, there was nothing but open cane field sloping gently down to the bay on the left. Ahead of Company G, however, was a rubble of coral topped with the thick undergrowth that lined Magicienne Bay. Approximately 800 yards ahead of the line of departure the ground in front of the 165th sloped upward to a hill. On the left of the 3rd Battalion zone the incline was gradual, but on the right of the 2nd Battalion the slope gave way to an abrupt cliff—the face of Mount Nafutan itself.

Although the original jump-off hour had been set at 1000, General Smith found it necessary to postpone it to 1115 and later to 1200 in order to permit the 1st Battalion, 165th, to relieve the other two battalions, which were still in position along Magicienne Bay north of the line of departure.

At 1145 division artillery laid down a concentrated fire along the whole front, particularly along the hill that crossed the 165th’s line of advance. Then Company C, 88th Chemical Battalion, which had been brought up to lend general support to the attack, fired its 4.2-inch chemical mortars and set up a smoke screen. Six tanks from the 766th Tank Battalion supported the 3rd Battalion, 165th, in the center of the regimental line. Promptly at 1200 the troops jumped off. On the right of the regimental line the 1st Battalion, 105th Infantry, almost immediately came under machine gun fire from its left front and flank, while the right flank received some fire from a heavy flat-trajectory weapon. The whole line stopped, and C Company on the right dug in.

Colonel O’Brien, the battalion commander, came up in an effort to locate the source of enemy fire and finally determined that it came from a small group of buildings almost on the battalion boundary line. Company A immediately put automatic weapons fire into this whole area. This seemed to stop the fire, and Colonel O’Brien went out to make a reconnaissance. He had moved over into the buildings when snipers began opening up on him from various houses, O’Brien immediately ordered all the buildings burned down. For the next hour the battalion was held up while the settlement was burned to the ground, tanks, self-propelled mounts, antitank guns, and flame throwers joining in the arson.

Upon completion of this task, the 1st Battalion, 105th, pushed forward again and for the rest of the afternoon ran into no trouble except occasional small arms fire. Contact with Company I on the left was lost during the burning of the settlement and was not regained for the rest of the afternoon, chiefly because of the gradually rising ridge that now separated the two battalions. When the 1st Battalion dug in at nightfall, it had advanced about 500 yards.

In the zone of the 3rd Battalion, 165th Infantry, Company I, led by three tanks, fell under enemy fire almost immediately and remained stationary for about an hour and a half. Its tanks proved to be more of a hindrance than a help since they drew enemy artillery fire into the area of advance but could not be controlled by the infantry because of radio failure. On the left, Companies K and F were faring considerably better, and at 1405 Company K reported that it was 400 yards ahead of I Company and out of contact. Meanwhile, on the extreme left of the regimental line G Company was stopped by a nest of Japanese hidden in the underbrush near the ocean shore and made no further advance. With both flanks of the line retarded, the two battalion commanders ordered their reserve Companies, E and L, to take positions on the extreme left and right, respectively. These moves were completed about 1630, and the regiment prepared to continue the advance.

Heavy mortar fire was laid down, and both battalions jumped off in a continuance of the attack. On the regimental right progress was slow since the entire 3rd Battalion had to contend with the heavy undergrowth and was moving up hill. On the left, E Company commenced to receive considerable fire from the hills north of Mount Nafutan and was pinned down. By 1730 no further progress seemed possible before nightfall, and all units were ordered to dig in for the night. Company E withdrew about a hundred yards before doing so. Casualties had been relatively light, the 105th suffering only one man killed and five wounded; the 165th, six killed, twenty-one wounded, and one missing in action.

Meanwhile, the 3rd Battalion, 105th Infantry, which was still under control of its parent regiment, had been pushing eastward along the southern shore. Little infantry opposition was encountered by either of the two assault companies, although they did receive scattered artillery fire at different times during the day. By nightfall the battalion had reached a point only a hundred yards short of tying in with the attack coming down Nafutan peninsula from the north. The division line, therefore, presented an almost solid front that hemmed the southern defenders of the island into an ever-tightening pocket. During 20 June the 106th Infantry Regiment landed on Saipan and was assigned as corps reserve. As soon as the regiment was ashore the 2nd Battalion, 105th Infantry, was released to the control of the 27th Division, and General Ralph Smith immediately ordered it to assemble in division reserve at the southwest corner of Aslito airfield.

Along the division’s front line that night there was little activity except in the center in the zone of the 3rd Battalion, 165th Infantry. Shortly before 2200 enemy guns began opening up not more than 150 yards to the direct front. The fire was point blank and was aimed at both the 3rd Battalion zone and the area held by the 1st Battalion, 105th Infantry. In the zone of the former, the Japanese guns overshot their mark and no damage was done, but during the barrage some rounds fell on A Company, 105th, killing one man and wounding three.

Action of 21 June

Plans for 21 June called for a continuance of the attack to the south on Nafutan Ridge. At a conference held at the 27th Division command post at 2200 on 20 June, the plan was reaffirmed, but with some changes. At Colonel Kelley’s request, General Ralph Smith ordered the fresh 2nd Battalion, 105th Infantry, to relieve the 2nd Battalion, 165th, on the left of the line as early as possible the next morning. The attack was to jump off at 0930 after a thirty-minute artillery preparation. Upon reaching the first phase line, where the 3rd Battalion, 165th Infantry, was to be pinched out, control of the attack southward was to be assumed by Colonel Bishop of the 105th Infantry. Field Order Number 45, 27th Infantry Division, which contained these plans, was issued at 0615, 21 June. By 0900 the 2nd Battalion, 105th, had relieved the 2nd Battalion, 165th, on the left of the line. As the action opened, then, on the morning of 21 June, the 27th Division units on the line from right to left (west to east) were: Companies L, I, C, and A, 105th Infantry; Companies L, and K, 165th; and Companies G and F, 105th.

On the extreme right, the 3rd Battalion of the 105th, still pushing its way eastward along the southern coast of Saipan, met serious enemy opposition for the first time. Shortly before noon the right platoon of Company I, operating along the seashore, crossed the face of a cave in the ridge and a Japanese machine gun opened up, placing enfilade fire all along the platoon line. The advance stopped at once. On request of the company commander, division dispatched a platoon of tanks from those that had come ashore with the 106th infantry.

In the meantime, Lieutenant Colonel Edward T. Bradt, battalion commander, sent forward a self-propelled mount from the Cannon Company. The vehicle sprayed the area with fire but failed to get close enough to the cave to deliver direct fire into its mouth. Shortly after 1500 the tanks arrived and immediately knocked out the position with their machine guns and 37-mm’s. The battalion line then remained stationary while a loud speaker was sent forward from division headquarters in an unsuccessful attempt to persuade the remaining Japanese troops and/or civilians to come out of the cave. Shortly before 1700 the battalion line pushed forward to a point about 600 yards from the morning line of departure and dug in for the night. Contact with the 1st Battalion, 105th, on the left had been lost during the day’s movement, and a small gap remained between the two battalions.

In the zone of the 1st Battalion, 105th, Company A on the battalion left lost ground even before the drive got under way. At daylight, when it became evident from the sound of firing on its left that the enemy had entrenched himself firmly to the front, Captain Louis F. Ackerman ordered his men to move back about a hundred yards to a less exposed position. A further backward movement to adjust its lines to those of the unit on its left brought Company A a full 200 yards behind the positions where it had dug in the night before.

After jumping off at 0930, the 1st Battalion, 105th, moved forward slowly without opposition. The advance was delayed to permit cane fields to be burned to the company’s front, and even two hours after the jump-off Company A had not yet reached the place where it had bivouacked the night before. Finally, at 1255, when Company A had advanced about a hundred yards ahead of the line where it had spent the previous night, it was hit by a heavy mortar concentration coupled with sweeping small arms and automatic weapons fire. This caught the advancing troops in open terrain without cover. Ackerman immediately radioed battalion headquarters for tanks and ordered his men back into the foxholes of the night before.

On the right of the battalion line, Company C had guided its advance on Ackerman’s company. Most of the men in this part of the line had better protection than did A Company, so when the mortar barrage hit, 1st Lieutenant Bernard A. Tougow, in command of C, kept his men on the line. Within a few minutes after A pulled back, Colonel O’Brien, battalion commander, arrived at the C Company command post with three tanks, which immediately went to work to break up a small Japanese counterattack. The tanks then moved over to the left to meet Captain Ackerman, who had put in the request for their assistance.

O’Brien organized a co-ordinated attack along the whole front of his battalion and supported it by the tanks, which he placed in front of Company A. Shortly before 1500 the assault moved off after a brief artillery preparation. The tanks, which were buttoned up, moved out ahead of the line of infantrymen for a few minutes, then veered to the left and finally reversed their course and headed back toward the American line firing as they came. Colonel O’Brien’s frantic efforts to contact the tankers by radio failed, and he finally ran out in the midst of this fire to meet them. Crawling up on the turret of the first tank he met, he banged on it with his pistol butt. The tank then contacted the other two by radio and the firing stopped momentarily. O’Brien turned the vehicles around and then took up a position atop the lead tank’s turret and ordered the advance to proceed.

The whole battalion jumped off in a rapid push that carried it across the open ground. Throughout the movement most of the men advanced at a dogtrot behind the tanks, keeping up a steady fire to the front. O’Brien continued to ride the tank turret of the lead tank, giving directions to the men inside with his pistol butt and waving the infantrymen forward. During the advance A Company lost two men killed and three wounded. Company C on the right suffered no casualties.

In the center of the division line, Companies L and K of the 165th Infantry jumped off on schedule at 0930. They had made some progress by 1255, when they were held up by a heavy concentration of mortar fire, most of which landed in the L Company area. Within the space of a few minutes one man was killed and eleven were seriously wounded; then the barrage ceased as abruptly as it had begun. By that time all of the 3rd Battalion was badly disorganized and made no further advance during the afternoon. This left L Company of the 165th some 500 yards to the left rear of Company A, which had advanced rapidly during the afternoon with the aid of the tanks under Colonel O’Brien’s personal direction.

To fill the gap, O’Brien ordered in the 1st Platoon of his reserve Company B. The platoon leader sent out a patrol that reported that a number of Japanese had taken up position with a machine gun at the crest of the ridge between the two battalions and that the only way firm contact could be established was by knocking out the position. O’Brien then ordered the platoon to face the ridge, deploy, and assault it frontally from the west. After a short mortar concentration the platoon attacked at 1615, but was immediately pinned down by enemy fire that killed two men and wounded three others. Shortly afterward, O’Brien received an urgent radio message indicating that Company L was being fired on from the direction of the 1st Platoon, Company B, The assault on the west face of the ridge was promptly called off and the gap along the battalion line remained unclosed for the night.

The most serious difficulties of the day’s fighting for Nafutan came on the extreme left of the division line. Here, the un-blooded 2nd Battalion, 105th Infantry, was inserted in the line with Company G on its right and Company F on its left close to the ocean shore, while the reserve company took position north of the front line along the eastern coast.

The terrain to the immediate front was extremely difficult The most prominent feature was the nose of Mount Nafutan, a sheer cliff splitting the battalion front like the bow of a ship. The cliff was not more than thirty feet high, but the approach to it was up a steep slope through the stubble of a cane field that offered no cover. The battalion jumped off on schedule at 0930. On the right, Company G was immediately hit by enemy small arms, machine gun, and mortar fire. One source of the fire was soon found to be a machine gun located on the top of the cliff. Captain Frank Olander, company commander, ordered one squad to assault the cliff itself, but the men had no sooner reached the top of the cliff than they were recalled because of their precarious and isolated situation. A second squad was sent to the top, but the underbrush was so thick that the men failed to spot the critical machine gun. Another platoon that had meanwhile attempted to infiltrate around to the right of the nose of Mount Nafutan was soon pinned down by the enemy fire from the top. The squad on top of the cliff was then called back, and the company commander made his way to the battalion command post to request more aid.

Lieutenant Colonel Leslie M. Jensen, the battalion commander, immediately ordered two self-propelled mounts from the 165th Infantry Cannon Company (the 105th Cannon Company was not yet ashore) to carry rations and water to the isolated men around the base of the cliff. He then called division concentration on the nose of the ridge or near any part of Jensen’s front line was inadvisable because of the advanced positions of the rest of the American line.

Eventually, however, it was agreed that one battery of 105-mm. howitzers could be sent forward to fire point-blank against the cliff. Olander was instructed to withdraw his men under cover of this fire. The decision was reached at 1535, and Battery B, 104th Field Artillery Battalion, was ordered to the front lines at once. For the next hour, under Olander’s instructions, Company G attempted no further movement. Then, under cover of the artillery barrage the entire company drew back to positions to the rear of that morning’s line of departure.

On the extreme left, close to the ocean shore, Captain Earl White, commanding Company F, 105th Infantry, sent his 2nd Platoon south through the scrub fringing the shore line with instructions to search for a route that would lead them onto Mount Nafutan from the rear. At 1700, after an afternoon of extremely difficult work through the coral and underbrush, the platoon finally gained the top of Mount Nafutan. During this period, White had kept mortar fire on the Japanese positions on top of the ridge that were holding back the rest of his company. Sometime during the afternoon the Japanese appear to have picked up their guns and moved out. When the 2nd Platoon arrived on top of the ridge at 1700 the men found it unoccupied, but within a few minutes of the arrival of the platoon the company commander ordered it to return to its starting point. Upon the return of the platoon, White ordered Company F to pull back behind the line of departure where there was better cover and where Company G had already dug in.

Thus, by the close of the fighting on 21 June, troops of the 27th Division had made insignificant progress on either flank of its attack down Nafutan Point, but had made a slight dent in the center. The intermediate objective line about halfway down the peninsula from the original line of departure of 20 June was still from five hundred to a thousand yards away. The nose of Mount Nafutan, which had been reached by elements of Companies F and G, 105th Infantry, had been relinquished and the mountain itself still had to be scaled before the southeastern tip of the island could be secured. Casualties for the day’s fighting on Nafutan came to seven killed and fifty-seven wounded in action.

Change of Plan: Relief of the 165th Infantry on Nafutan Point By 21 June the two Marine divisions had completed their pivoting movement to the north, and General Holland Smith prepared to launch a full-scale attack against the Japanese main line of resistance in that area. To do so, he would need the bulk of the 27th Division as corps reserve and, accordingly, he decided to reduce the number of troops committed to Nafutan Point and to remove most of the men to the reserve area behind the Marine front lines to the north. His opinion that these troops would no longer be needed on Nafutan was reinforced by a report from 27th Division headquarters stating that the only enemy left in that area consisted of 300 to 500 service personnel from the remnants of naval air units originally stationed on Aslito, plus a larger number of civilians. Hence, on 21 June Holland Smith issued his operations Order Number 9-44, which was received at 27th Division Headquarters at 1215 that day. The 27th Infantry Division (less one infantry battalion and one light tank platoon) was to assemble northwest of Aslito airfield in corps reserve.

Division artillery was to pass to control of the XXIV Corps Artillery. One infantry battalion (undesignated) of the division was ordered to remain in the garrison area, that is, Nafutan peninsula. “It will mop up remaining enemy detachments, maintain anti-sniper patrols . . . and protect installations within its zone of action with particular attention to ASLITO Airfield.” The slow progress that his division had made on the afternoon of the 21st, however, convinced General Ralph Smith that more than a single battalion would be necessary to clean up the point. Accordingly, at 1435, his headquarters notified Colonel Robert Hogaboom, USMC, G-3 of Northern Troops and Landing Force, that at least two battalions would be needed for the next day’s operations in that area. At 1700 General Ralph Smith called General Holland Smith and recommended that all of the 105th Regimental Combat Team be left in the Nafutan Point area. General Holland Smith agreed to this but stipulated that only two of the 105th’s battalions be used there. The other would be held in reserve ready for use elsewhere if necessary.

This modification of Operations Order Number 9-44 was contained in a mail brief issued by General Holland Smith that arrived at 27th Infantry Division headquarters at 0830 on 22 June. In the words of the message, “1 RCT will continue mission in Garrison Area [Nafutan] of cleaning up remaining resistance & patrolling area.” The order did not designate specifically which regimental combat team was intended, although the previous day’s conversation had clearly indicated that the 105th was to be used for the mission.

At 2000, 21 June, after his conversation with General Holland Smith but before receiving the mail brief modifying the latter’s original orders, General Ralph Smith issued his Field Order Number 45-A, which contained the following instruction to the 105th Infantry: RCT 105 will hold present front line facing NAFUTAN PT, with two Battalions on the line and one Battalion in Regimental Reserve.

It will relieve elements of RCT 165 now on the present front line by 0630 22 June. The Battalion in reserve will not be committed to action without authority from the Division Commander. Reorganization of the present front line to be effected not later than 1100 22 June and offensive operations against the enemy continued. Reserve Battalion will maintain anti-sniper patrols in the vicinity of Aslito Airfield. The wording of this paragraph and the fact that it was issued at all to the 105th Infantry by 27th Division’s commanding general was soon to become a major bone of contention between Generals Holland Smith and Ralph Smith and was one of the alleged reasons for the latter’s being subsequently relieved of his command.

Action of 22 June

22 June was spent reorganizing the front lines facing Nafutan Point.44 On the right General Ralph Smith ordered the 3rd Battalion, 105th Infantry, to hold its line and spread out to the left to relieve the 1st Battalion of the same regiment, which was to revert to corps reserve. On the left, the 2nd Battalion, 105th, was to hold its line facing Mount Nafutan and move to the right to relieve the 3rd Battalion, 165th Infantry. On the right, the 3rd Battalion accomplished its assigned relief mission, but on the left the 2nd Battalion ran into trouble.

During the preceding night it had become evident that the Japanese were preparing positions on the nose of Mount Nafutan, and Captain Olander, G Company commander, requested permission to pull his men back to less exposed positions. Permission was granted, but before the move could be executed the enemy on Mount Nafutan opened fire with machine guns, small arms, and mortars, killing seven men and wounding twenty-one.

Companies G and F immediately pulled back a considerable distance to the rear for reorganization, leaving E Company to prevent any breakthrough. Company G, which had been badly hit on the 21st as well as on the morning of the 22nd, took more than two hours to reorganize. By 0946 Captain Olander was ready to move again, but by this time his company had four officers and only seventy-two enlisted men, less than half of its original strength. With these few soldiers he was expected to take over a zone then held by a full battalion. The reorganization had taken place some 400 yards behind the position of the night before and the men now marched another 600 yards to the original line of departure from which the attack had jumped off on 20 June. From this point the company commander moved his men up to relieve the 3rd Battalion, 165th, at 1025. Because his company was understrength, Olander had to place his men some twenty yards apart in the skirmish line.

The 2nd Battalion, 105th, spent the rest of the afternoon reorganizing its line, and made no further advance. By nightfall, in fact, there was a net loss of ground on the 2nd Battalion front.

Meanwhile, about 1515 General Ralph Smith visited headquarters of Northern Troops and Landing Force to consult with the corps commander about plans for the immediate future. General Holland Smith expressed his concern regarding the slowness of the advance on Nafutan Point. He said that “he did not wish to be unreasonable but that Colonel Bishop [Commanding Officer, 105th Infantry] must not be permitted to delay. If he couldn’t do it, to send somebody who could.” In response, General Ralph Smith “pointed out difficult terrain and Jap positions in caves and said rapid advance was impracticable if undue losses were to be avoided and if Japs were to be really cleaned out. [He] said that continuing pressure would be applied and that [he] thought the point could be cleaned in a couple of days more.” Shortly after this meeting, General Ralph Smith went to see General Erskine, Holland Smith’s chief of staff. General Erskine apprised him of the corps plan to pass the 27th Division between the two Marine divisions on the northern front. As to Nafutan Point, Erskine expressed his belief that one battalion could finish up the job there.

As a result of these afternoon conferences, General Ralph Smith returned to the division command post and drew up Field Order Number 46, which was issued at 2100. In part, the order read: “2nd Battalion, 105th Infantry (1 Platoon Light Tanks attached) [will] continue operations to mop-up remaining enemy detachments in NAFUTAN POINT area. On completion of this mission, [it will] revert to Corps control as Corps Reserve.” An hour later Holland Smith issued Operations Order Number 10-44, which was received at 27th Division command post at 2330.50 In reference to Nafutan Point this order read: “2nd Battalion, 105th Infantry (with one light tank platoon attached) [will] continue operations at daylight to mop up remaining enemy detachments in NAFUTAN POINT area. Upon completion this mission [it will] revert to Corps control as Corps reserve.” Although there was no serious discrepancy between these two sets of orders, General Holland Smith was becoming alarmed over the fact that the battalion on Nafutan Point was getting orders from two different sources. Next day he warned General Ralph Smith: “2nd Battalion, 105th by my operations order 10-44 not under your tactical control and should not be included in your tactical orders. Please take steps to rectify.”

Later in the operation, in requesting the relief of General Ralph Smith, General Holland Smith alleged that Field Order 46 “contravened the NT and LF order by issuing tactical orders to the 2nd Battalion, 105th Infantry, to continue operations to mop up enemy resistance in NAFUTAN POINT area. The 2nd Battalion, 105th Infantry, by NT and LF Order No. 10-44, had been removed from the tactical control of the 27th Infantry Division.”

Stalemate on Nafutan 23-24 June

As a result of these new orders the job of finishing off Nafutan peninsula was left to a single rifle battalion supported by one platoon of six light tanks. The battalion was to have no assistance from artillery except for whatever fire support might be provided by naval ships operating in the area. The front line currently held by the American troops ran along the northern base of the peninsula for a distance of roughly 2,500 yards. The terrain was mountainous, full of cliffs, crevices, and caves. Yet, it must be added that, because of the shape of the peninsula, any continuous forward advance of the attacking troops would automatically reduce the length of the front and thereby shorten the line. In effect, the troops were moving down an inverted isosceles triangle from base to apex. An advance of a thousand yards along the axis of the attack would reduce the front from approximately 2,500 yards to approximately 1,000 yards. Nevertheless, General Ralph Smith was sufficiently alarmed at the wide dispersion of the troops left along the front line on Nafutan to warn General Holland Smith of the possible consequences. “I want to draw your attention,” he wrote on 23 June, “that it is within the enemy’s capabilities at NAFUTAN Point to infiltrate small bodies of men through our lines at night and execute considerable damage to the planes and supplies at Conroy [that is, Aslito or Isely] field.” He added that the Seabees and Air Forces troops working on the field should be alerted and would have to provide their own local security against enemy groups that might infiltrate through the lines of the 2nd Battalion, 105th Infantry.

General Holland Smith had withdrawn the bulk of the troops previously committed to Nafutan because they were more urgently needed in the north and because his intelligence reports indicated that the number of Japanese remaining on the point was small and probably ill-equipped. Two days earlier the intelligence sections of both the 27th Division and the 105th Infantry had estimated that only from three to five hundred enemy service personnel remained bottled up in that area, and no revision of that estimate had been made since. Actually, as later events were to prove, the number was much larger, but as of the 23rd no responsible authority had issued any report to indicate that this was so.

The change in orders now necessitated another shuffling of the line. Lieutenant Colonel Leslie Jensen, commanding officer of the 2nd Battalion, 105th, ordered E Company to march to the right and relieve the 3rd Battalion, 105th. Company G was shifted to the right so that part of the company was below the 300-foot ridge line west of Mount Nafutan and part was on the north slope of the ridge. This reorganization was completed at 1230, and the company was ordered to attack at 1400. Company F, which on the morning of 23 June was still in position before the nose of Mount Nafutan, was ready to attack at 0800, but, before the attack could be launched, was withdrawn and reorganized. Colonel Jensen then waited until he saw how far his other two companies would stretch before ordering F back into the line. Thus, in spite of Holland Smith’s orders to “continue operations at daylight,” the 2nd Battalion spent the entire morning trying to readjust its lines to stretch clear across Nafutan Point. When this readjustment was completed, the three companies were in position in a broken line with Company E on the right, G in the center, and F on the left.

On the right (west) flank, one platoon of Company E managed to push through the coral fringing the beach for a distance of about 300 yards without any opposition. However, at the day’s end this advance platoon was pulled back to its starting position because Captain Clinton F. Smith, the company commander, had not been able to establish contact with G Company on his left and was fearful of infiltration. Meanwhile Company G moved up to the top of Ridge 300. There it came under fire from at least four machine gun positions to its left (east). Captain Olander ordered his men not to return fire for fear of endangering the men of F Company, who were presumably operating in the general area from which the enemy was firing. Efforts to bring up the three light tanks attached to the unit failed because of the precipitous coral terrain, and finally the company commander ordered his men to withdraw to the bivouac area of the night before.

In the zone of Company F, the 2nd Platoon reached the top of Mount Nafutan by skirting it to the left through the brush just inland of the east coast and coming up to it from the rear. The men met no opposition en route. The 1st Platoon was ordered to move up the valley between Ridge 300 and Mount Nafutan. For about an hour it proceeded without any opposition, but suddenly the whole column came under fire from a machine gun on the right in the direction of Ridge 300. Three tanks were called up and for better than half an hour these vehicles sprayed the hills on both sides of the valley. Nevertheless, at 1700 Captain White, the company commander, called the platoon back out of the valley and ordered it to dig in along the morning’s line of departure. Meanwhile, the 3rd Platoon had moved along the inside, east of Ridge 300, with no opposition until about 1500. There it halted and waited for the rest of the company to move abreast.

When this failed to happen, it too withdrew to dig in for the night with the rest of F Company. Thus at the close of the day the 2nd Battalion, except for one platoon atop Mount Nafutan, had withdrawn to approximately the same positions it had occupied at the beginning of the day’s advance. The battalion was dug in in four widely separated perimeters with no contact between them. The perimeter of E Company on the right was about 1,000 yards from that of G in the center; G, in turn, was about 800 yards from the Company F positions, while one platoon of F was in an inaccessible position another 800 yards to the left front.

As before, General Holland Smith’s orders for 24 June called for the 2nd Battalion, 105th Infantry, to “continue operations at daylight to mop up remaining enemy detachments.” However, not until 0800 did the battalion actually commence moving. The interim was spent trying to readjust the overextended lines of the battalion and trying to establish at least a semblance of contact between the various units.

On the extreme right flank, two platoons of Company E, against almost no opposition, re-flushed the area they had traversed the day before and by nightfall reached a point about 100 yards beyond that previously gained. The 3rd Platoon of this company, on the left, ran into more difficulty. During the early part of the morning the unit had moved to the left and re-established contact with G Company. By 1000, without running into any Japanese, it had reached the point of its furthest advance of the day before. Shortly thereafter the leading squad was hit by heavy small arms and machine gun fire from its left rear and was forced to take cover in a group of small houses.

Meanwhile, the other two squads to the rear laid mortars on the suspected source of enemy fire, but failed to knock it out. Then, about 1500, a force of from fifty to seventy-five Japanese rose up out of the ground and launched a counterattack through the gap that had developed between E and G Companies. With this, all further progress ceased, and shortly after dark the entire platoon moved back to the company perimeter of the night before. G Company in the center was late in moving out. Captain Olander waited until Company E on his right had made contact and until F on his left had been reorganized. He then further delayed his jump-off until the arrival of the three light tanks he had requested. Moving off about 1130 Company G quickly recovered the ground it had taken the previous day, and then it again ran into machine gun fire. A tank was brought forward, succeeded in locating one of the enemy guns, and in a few minutes silenced it with 37-mm. fire. Shortly after this the Japanese counterattack on the right developed, and although G Company was not hit, it remained stationary for two hours.

At approximately 1630 Olander once again ordered his company to advance. Four enemy machine gun positions in the immediate front were taken out by tank guns. The reduction of these positions put the company ahead of the units on the right and left, and Captain Olander swung his men to the left in an attempt to take out a group of machine guns that were holding back the advance of Company F. This move was effected in spite of approaching darkness, and within a few minutes after making the turn G Company surprised a pocket of about fifty Japanese and wiped them out within ten minutes. In the ensuing darkness, however, all organization within the company broke down. Olander lost contact with his platoon leaders, and the latter pulled their men back to the bivouac area of the night before.

The action of Company F on the left was in general a repetition of that of the previous day. The 2nd Platoon, which had spent the night on Mount Nafutan, was ordered to build up a skirmish line and comb the nose of the ridge until the 1st Platoon could move up on its right. However the latter unit, while en route to the top of Mount Nafutan, ran into scattered rifle fire and stopped in its tracks. Meanwhile, on the company’s right, the 3rd Platoon was held up by a Japanese machine gun. A self-propelled mount from the 105th Cannon Company knocked this position out, but retired before disposing of a second machine gun, which had wounded one of its crew. The platoon leader then sent out a squad to get the weapon, but a third gun opened up and pinned the squad down. By this time night was approaching and, as no further progress seemed likely, Captain White ordered his entire company including the platoon on top of Mount Nafutan to withdraw to the G Company perimeter of the night before.

At nightfall then, the 2nd Battalion, 105th Infantry, occupied positions m practically the same area in which it had dug in the previous night, except that the platoon atop Mount Nafutan had been recalled. At 1818 control of the battalion had passed to the Army Garrison Force.

Since Major General Sanderford Jarman, USA, the island commander, had taken command of the 27th Division during the day, command of the forces on Nafutan Point passed to the control of Colonel Geoffrey M. O’Connell, General Jarman’s chief of staff.

Nafutan Secured 25-28 June

Colonel O’Connell’s first step to expedite the capture of Nafutan was to assign two batteries of 90-mm. antiaircraft guns and four 40-mm. guns to support the advancing infantry. The 90-mm. guns were to fire from their fixed positions on Aslito field, and the 40-mm.’s were ordered to move into forward positions in direct support.

Because of the mountainous terrain and the impossibility of bringing direct fire against most of the Japanese positions, the 90-mm. guns were ordered to fire air bursts into the tree tops, approximately twelve feet above ground level. In the opinion of Colonel O’Connell, “The high muzzle velocity of these weapons, their rapid rate of fire and the flexibility obtainable by raising and lowering the height of burst made them particularly effective for support in this type of terrain.” The 40-mm.’s were used for direct fire and were to prove remarkably accurate in hitting cave entrances as small as four or five feet in diameter from an average range of 2,000 yards.

O’Connell’s plan for the infantry differed somewhat from that previously employed. Company E was ordered to leave its 3rd Platoon in the area adjacent to the peninsula’s west coast at the point where the company had bivouacked the two preceding days. The other two platoons were to move to the left, establish firm physical contact with G Company, build up a skirmish line, and move south along the west slope of Ridge 300. Company G was to form a line on E Company’s left flank and advance in co-ordination with that unit. F Company was to deploy two platoons across the mouth of the valley between Ridge 300 and Mount Nafutan, while the third platoon moved along the east slope of the ridge in co-ordination with the other two companies.

By 1030 of 25 June, the 1st and 2nd Platoons of E Company had swung left and established contact with Company G. About 1130, after an advance of nearly 150 yards, the leading squad of the 1st Platoon on the right ran into a fusillade of fire and was pinned down. Tanks were called up but became entangled in the undergrowth and rocks and could be of no assistance. At 1600 the company commander ordered both platoons to retire about forty yards behind their farthest point of advance and tie in with Company G and spend the night. Company G had little or no opposition during the day, but its advance was slow because it was held up by the halting forward movement of the units on both flanks and because the tanks had extreme difficulty in maneuvering over the terrain. About noon the company reached the gun position it had knocked out during the late afternoon of the preceding day, and after a heavy fire by antiaircraft guns, moved on through it. The position contained four heavy machine guns and two 50-mm. mortars. The company advanced another twenty-five yards but was then held up because of the dense growth of scrub brush. Captain Olander worked his tanks into position and for two hours sprayed this area with machine gun fire and canister. Just as he was about to continue the advance, the tanks notified him that it was 1600 and they were about to withdraw. This notice plus the fact that Company E was making no further progress induced Olander to pull his men back to the demolished enemy strongpoint and dig in there for the night.

Meanwhile, Company F was undergoing a repetition of the trouble it had encountered the day before. Shortly after jumping off, the 3rd Platoon on the right discovered that the Japanese had mined the only available tank route and engineers were called up to abate the nuisance. Two tanks were then called up and succeeded in destroying two machine guns that lay athwart the line of advance. Immediately, another gun opened up. A squad went forward to take out this position but was pinned down by machine gun fire and a shower of grenades. Further tank action was delayed when radio communications between the tanks and infantry gave out, and not until 1500 was the platoon leader able to direct his tanks into the area of resistance.

Finally, the two tanks succeeded in bringing their guns to bear against the position, and shortly after 1500 the whole platoon pushed forward and into the Japanese line. Here they found six heavy machine guns, several mortars, a wrecked dual-purpose gun, and all types of grenades and ammunition, together with the dead bodies of over a hundred Japanese. The platoon dug in for the night. The other two platoons of Company F had remained stationary during the day guarding the northern approach to the valley between Mount Nafutan and Ridge 300. June 25 marked the climax of the campaign for the capture of Nafutan Point. During the day the 2nd Battalion knocked out and overran the main defensive line of Japanese positions on top of Ridge 300. These positions controlled the approach to the point, and it was from Ridge 300 that the advance of the whole line had been held up since 22 June.

Plans for 26 June were the same as on the previous day except that the 1st and 2nd Platoons of Company F were to leave the northern mouth of the valley and take position on the left flank of the battalion line. At 0645 concentrated mortar fire was directed along the whole front, and at 0750 both batteries of 90-mm. antiaircraft guns fired a ten-minute concentration. Promptly at 0800 all three companies jumped off.

On the right, Company E moved slowly forward, fighting the terrain and the underbrush. By 1400, when it was some fifty yards ahead of its farthest point of advance of the previous day, a machine gun opened up directly in front of the 2nd Platoon. A self-propelled mount came forward but could not bring its gun to bear against the enemy position. Finally, the enemy gun was taken out by a BAR belonging to Company G, whose right flank was moving along an elevation to the left of E Company and was therefore in a better position to fire on the enemy in front of the latter unit. That company resumed its advance and for the next 200 yards met no opposition. At 1600 Captain Smith was notified that the other two companies were pulling back to approximately the same positions they had held the night before, so he did likewise.

Company G made more rapid progress. After cleaning out the position to the front of E Company, Captain Olander’s men pressed ahead. At 1600 their tanks left to return to their maintenance pool for the night, but the company commander elected to go on without them. Within half an hour his men had arrived at the southern edge of Ridge 300.

It was on the left flank in the zone of Company F that the greatest progress was registered on the 26th. With three platoons abreast, and without benefit of tank support, the company pushed steadily forward without meeting any enemy fire. By 1700 it had reached the southern end of Mount Nafutan, a thousand yards from the tip of the peninsula. There, the men began to receive small arms fire and came to a halt At 1830 F and E Companies withdrew all the way back to the area in which G had spent the previous night. This withdrawal was made because both company commanders felt that their positions on the top of the high rocky points of Mount Nafutan and Ridge 300 were too exposed to provide satisfactory spots to dig in and establish perimeters.

The battalion dug in in four perimeters on the night of 26 June. The three rifle companies, less E Company’s 3rd Platoon but reinforced by elements of H Company, dug in on Ridge 300. The 3rd Platoon of E Company still occupied the old bivouac area near the west coast of the peninsula. The whole area between the 2nd Battalion positions on Ridge 300 and the sea to the east was unoccupied by American troops and serious gaps appeared on the right of the line.

Shortly after midnight of 26 June, a body of Japanese estimated at 500 sneaked through the 2nd Battalion’s outposts. Their destination was Hill 500, formerly the site of headquarters of the 47th Independent Mixed Brigade, but now occupied by the 25th Marines in Northern Troops and Landing Force reserve. One small force hit the rear command post of the 2nd Battalion, 105th Infantry, and in the darkness was driven off with a loss of twenty-seven dead in return for four Americans killed and twenty wounded. Otherwise the infiltration was undetected.

This desperate Japanese move was led by Captain Sasaki, commanding officer of the 317th Independent Infantry Battalion, 47th Independent Mixed Brigade. The troops composing the force consisted of those remnants of his own command that had escaped to Nafutan plus scattered Army and Navy men from other units, including the service and antiaircraft troops formerly stationed on Aslito.

Sasaki’s order read in part: 26 June 1944:

  1. The enemy situation is the same as you have been informed.
  2. The Battalion will carry out an attack at midnight tonight. After causing confusion at the airfield, we will advance to Brigade Headquarters in the Field.
  3. . . . Units will assemble at 1930 in areas to be designated separately. You must carry out the attack from the designated places.
  4. Casualties will remain in their present positions and defend Nafutan Mount. Those who cannot participate in combat must commit suicide.
  5. We will carry the maximum of weapons and supplies.
  6. The pass word for tonight will be “Shichi Sei Hokoku” [Seven lives for one’s country].

The word “battalion” as applied here is a courtesy title only. The force was a conglomerate mixture of all kinds of troops, of which the remnants of Sasaki’s battalion formed only the nucleus. About 0230 Sasaki’s force hit Aslito field and splattered the area with machine gun and small arms fire before moving on toward Hill 500, where it apparently expected to find the command post of the 47th Independent Mixed Brigade. Arriving at its destination around 0530, one part of the force found instead that the hill was occupied by the 25th Marines, who instantly gave battle with small arms and hand grenades.

Simultaneously, another group of Japanese fell upon the 14th Marine Artillery Regiment in positions between Hill 500 and Aslito. Here another hot fight ensued, the Marine artillerymen killing 143 Japanese at the cost to themselves of 33 killed and wounded. Still another segment hit the command post of the 104th Field Artillery Battalion, where 15 to 20 of them were killed. The 25th Marines mopped up the remaining stragglers the next morning, and with that Sasaki’s breakthrough was finished.

On the morning of 27 June all three companies of the 2nd Battalion, 105th Infantry, formed a skirmish line and swept to the end of the peninsula with no trouble. Not a live Japanese was encountered, and at 1840 Nafutan Point was declared secure. On Mount Nafutan, and later another 350 dead enemy soldiers were counted in the area of the operation of the 2nd Battalion, 105th Infantry. These figures, plus the estimated 500 that had participated in the breakthrough, bring the total estimate of enemy combat personnel in the area to about 1,050, considerably above the original estimate of 300 to 500 that had been agreed upon by the 105th Infantry, the 27th Infantry Division, and Northern Troops and Landing Force.

[N3-7-65 Two hundred dead Japanese, mostly soldiers, were found in five of the caves ]

Also captured on Nafutan Point on 28 June were four 6-inch guns of British manufacture and three 14-cm. guns manufactured in 1925 at the Yokosuka Naval Arsenal. All were in the vicinity of the radar station on the point but had not yet been emplaced. One of the 14-cm. guns was slightly damaged; one 6-inch gun was badly damaged, two were slightly damaged, and one was almost intact.

Nafutan Point had taken a long time to capture, probably longer than was necessary. General Holland Smith and his staff were bitterly disappointed, not to say outraged, by the slow progress made by the 2nd Battalion, 105th Infantry. They complained frequently about “1000 Americans being held up by a handful of Japs.”

The number of enemy troops isolated on Nafutan Point was actually considerably more than a handful, and probably totaled about 1,050. Also, the effective strength of the 2nd Battalion, 105th Infantry, as of 27 June, was down to 556 officers and men according to Colonel O’Connell, USA, who commanded the unit during the last stage of the capture of Nafutan.

In addition, the terrain that the American soldiers faced was far from suitable for rapid assault As described in the battalion report, “The terrain consisted of steep ridges, deep gulches with cliffs, ground broken with coral pinnacles, and thick jungle type underbrush which impeded progress and made observation impossible.” Also, for the first three days of the assault, the battalion had no artillery support, and after that only the 40-mm. and the 90-mm. antiaircraft guns that Colonel O’Connell brought down when he took over command, plus naval gunfire from three destroyers.

The low estimate of the number of Japanese troops in the area that was entertained by corps headquarters was derived from an intelligence report emanating from the 27th Division itself. As of 21 June, the division had estimated the number of remaining Japanese on Nafutan to be between two and three hundred. Since no change in this figure had been made, General Holland Smith’s staff had some reason to assume that only a “handful” remained. Also, the bare figure of 1,050 enemy troops cited above offers no real picture of the combat efficiency of the Japanese left on the peninsula. These were, it must be remembered, stragglers who had made a disorderly retreat before the onslaught of the American push across Aslito field. They were disorganized, short of supplies, and in some cases unarmed.

Against these people, the American drive was halting and slow. There was some justification for Holland Smith’s lack of confidence in the leadership of the regiment, and later of the battalion, committed to cleaning up Nafutan. The attack of the infantry companies was frequently un-coordinated; units repeatedly withdrew from advanced positions to their previous nights’ bivouacs; they repeatedly yielded ground they had gained. Whatever the extenuating circumstances, these facts could not fail to raise doubts about the aggressiveness and combat efficiency of the unit assigned to the mission.

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

World War Two: Saipan (2-9) Fight for Center

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

World War Two: Sicily (2-9); Allied Airborne Reinforcement July 1943

Early on the morning of 11 July, in order to bolster the Gela forces, General Patton ordered the 504th Combat Team to drop into the 1st Division’s beachhead that evening. At 1800, about the time that Colonel Gavin on Biazzo Ridge was issuing his second attack order of the day, Colonel Reuben H. Tucker’s 504th began taking off from the airfields in Tunisia the 1st and 2nd Battalions, 504th Parachute Infantry; the 376th Parachute Field Artillery Battalion; and Company C, 307th Airborne Engineer Battalion in all a few more than 2,000 men.

[N2-9-2 The NAAFTCC Report (page 85) states that 2,008 troops were carried on the mission; Brigadier General Paul L. Williams (commander of TCC) states in his report that 2,304 troops participated. There is no airborne report available that gives the number of men carried, but, according to the strengths of the units at the time, it appears that the TCC report is more nearly accurate.]

One hundred and forty-four aircraft from the U.S. 52nd Troop Carrier Wing in the aerial column flew a basic nine-ship V of V’s formation stepped down to make it easier to see the silhouette of the lead aircraft against the sky. Undoubtedly, General Williams based his figure on an average load of sixteen men per aircraft; the TCC report indicates an average load of slightly less than fourteen men per aircraft. The air over the Mediterranean Sea was quiet and calm. A quarter moon offered some illumination. Many pilots, who remembered the earlier flight, were confident that this mission would not suffer from the vagaries of the weather. Knowledge that they would be flying a course over friendly territory made them feel secure. They looked forward to a relatively quiet and peaceful night a milk run.

The course had been worked out in planning sessions attended by General Ridgway (the 82nd’s commander); Major General Joseph M. Swing (American airborne adviser at Allied Forces Headquarters); British General Browning ( the AFHQ airborne adviser); and representatives from Air Chief Marshal Tedder’s Mediterranean air command and Admiral Cunningham’s Mediterranean naval command. Concerned because the airborne troops might be fired on by friendly naval vessels off the Seventh Army assault beaches, Ridgway had tried repeatedly to get assurances that the Navy would clear an aerial corridor to the island. He had even gone to General Browning with a strong request for assurances that the Navy would not fire on any reinforcing missions. Since it had already been planned that any reinforcing mission would be flown over the same route used by the 505th Combat Team, General Ridgway was most anxious lest his follow up units draw fire from the large number of naval vessels which would be off the beaches. General Browning could offer no such assurances.

On 22 June, General Ridgway had presented his views to a joint conference presided over by General Eisenhower. The naval representatives in attendance refused to provide a definite corridor for any airborne mission flown after D-day in the Seventh Army sector. Ridgway had then written to General Keyes, the Seventh Army deputy commander, and recommended that, unless a clear aerial corridor into Sicily could be provided, no subsequent airborne troop movement be made after D-day.

As a result of energetic action by Generals Keyes and Swing, General Ridgway and the Troop Carrier Command received assurance from the Navy on 7 July that if a follow-up air transport movement followed certain designated routes and made its last leg overland, the withholding of friendly naval fire could be guaranteed. Accordingly, the 504th’s route was carefully plotted to hit the island at Sampieri, thirty miles east of Gela and at the extreme eastern end of the Seventh Army zone. Once over land, the troop-carrying aircraft were to turn to the northwest and fly toward the Gela-Farello landing ground-over friendly lines all the way along a corridor two miles wide and at an altitude of 1,000 feet. [N2-9-3] Earlier AFHQ radio instructions and Seventh Army warnings were supplemented at 0845 on 11 July when General Patton sent a top priority message to his principal subordinate commanders. He directed them to notify their units, especially the antiaircraft battalions, that parachutists would drop on the Gela-Farello landing field about 2330 that night.

[N2-9-3 Warren, USAF Hist Study 74, p. 37; Ltr prepared by Ridgway, 2 Aug 43, sub: Reported Loss of Transport Planes and Personnel Due to Friendly Fire, in Ridgway Personal File, 1942-1943, item 42; Admiral of the Fleet Sir Andrew B. Cunningham, Despatch, The Invasion of Sicily, a Supplement to the London Gazette, April 25, 1950, p. 2081; Notes on the Routing of Troop Carrier Aircraft, 24 Jul 43, 99-66.2, sub: AFHQ Rpt of Allied Force Airborne Board in Connection With the Invasion of Sicily.]

General Ridgway, on Sicily, visited six crews of antiaircraft artillerymen near the 1st Division command post during the afternoon of 11 July to make sure that the warning had been sent down the chain of command. Five crews had received the warning; the sixth had not. When he brought this to the attention of an officer from the 103rd Coast Artillery Antiaircraft Battalion he learned that a conference of all officers from the antiaircraft units in the vicinity was being held later that afternoon. The officer assured Ridgway that he, personally, would see to it that the subject of the airborne mission was discussed.

Following the prescribed course, the air column rounded the corner at Malta in good shape and headed for Sicily with all formations intact. A few aircraft encountered some light antiaircraft fire from Allied shipping north of Malta, but no damage was done and the column continued serenely on its way. Inside the planes, some paratroopers closed their eyes and dozed; others craned their necks to look down at the sea.

Off the Seventh Army beaches, though, all had not been serene on 11 July. Dawn of the 11th had brought with it a heavy aerial attack. At 0635, twelve Italian planes had swept down over the transport area off Gela, forcing the ships to weigh anchor and disperse. Two transports received near misses. One, the Barnett, was badly damaged by a near miss which blew a hole through her side. Enemy air attacks against the beaches and shipping continued throughout the day. At 1400, four planes strafed the Gela beaches while a high level enemy bomber dropped five bombs in the anchorage area. In the ScogHtti area, four bombs fell about 700 yards off the port bow of the Ancon at 1430.

At 1540, around thirty Junker 88’s attacked the Gela area, harmlessly bracketing the cruiser Boise with bombs but striking the Liberty ship Robert Rowan (one of seven arriving in the first follow up convoy). Loaded with ammunition, the Rowan took an enemy bomb in her Number Two hold, caught fire, exploded, and sank in shallow water. Her bow exposed, with smoke pouring from the hulk, she provided a perfect beacon for later waves of enemy bombers. Around 2150 came a massive strike.

[NOTE: The Axis air forces committed 188 Italian and 285 German planes against the various Allied beachheads on 11 July. By far the largest number of enemy air missions was flown against the Seventh Army beaches. OKH, Tagesmeldungen West; IT an. 2.]

Near Gela, the Boise and all the destroyers except one were closely straddled. Many ships were damaged by near misses. Bomb fragments hurt another Liberty ship. Again the transports weighed anchor and dispersed. The sky over Gela became a confused jumble of friendly and enemy aircraft flying among the puffs of smoke of ground and naval antiaircraft fire. The melee lasted about an hour. Just before the planes carrying paratroopers of the 504th crossed the coast line, the enemy bombers withdrew. The antiaircraft fire died down. Into this calm flew the 504th.

The leading flight flew peacefully to the Gela-Farello landing ground. At 2240, five minutes ahead of the scheduled drop time, the first paratroopers jumped over the drop zone. The second flight was in sight of Biviere Pond, the final check point, when the calm was rudely shattered by a lone machine gun. Within the space of minutes, it seemed as though every Allied antiaircraft gun in the beachhead and offshore was blasting planes out of the sky. The slow-flying, majestic columns of aircraft were like sitting ducks. As one company commander (Captain Willard E. Harrison) remembered later: “. . . guns along the coast as far as we could see . . . opened fire and the naval craft lying offshore . . . began firing.” Only the few planeloads of paratroopers who had jumped several minutes ahead of schedule floated safely to the correct drop zone.

The first flights of the second serial were just turning into the overland aerial corridor when the firing started. Squadrons broke apart, tried to re-form, then scattered again. Eight pilots gave up and returned to North Africa still carrying their paratroopers. Those pilots who managed to get over Sicily dropped paratroopers where they could. Troops dropped prematurely, some dropped in the sea. A few planes turned to the east and released their loads in the British zone.

Six aircraft received hits as paratroopers were struggling to get out of the door. Many pilots, after dropping their paratroopers, tried to escape the gantlet of fire that extended the length of the beachhead corridor by turning immediately out to sea, flying as low as possible, and taking evasive action against the deadly hail of fire rising from the ships. [NOTE 2-9-88 A few of the pilots reported they were under fire for as much as thirty miles after leaving Sicily.]

Control over Army and Navy antiaircraft gunners vanished. One aircraft passed low over the bow of the Susan B. Anthony (off Scoglitti) and close by the Procyon. Not identifying the C-47 as friendly, both ships opened fire. The plane crashed in flames just off the stern of the cruiser Philadelphia. Seconds later, fire from all the nearby ships blasted another C-47 out of the sky.

At his command post in Scoglitti, General Bradley, the II Corps commander, watched in helpless fury as the antiaircraft fire from both ground and naval batteries cut the troop carrier formations to pieces. At the Gela-Farello landing ground, waiting to receive the paratroopers, General Ridgway was thunderstruck at the events around and above him. At his command post just north of Gela, Colonel Bowen, the 26th Infantry commander, felt stunned by the terrific volume of naval fire.

In the lead aircraft of the third serial, which broke apart even before reaching Sicily, Colonel Tucker Was dumbfounded. His aircraft, well off course, flew through the smoke pouring up from the still smoldering Robert Rowan, came out on the Gela side, and went in low over the 1st Division beaches. Heavy fire raked the aircraft. The pilot could not find the drop zone. By this time, the plane was alone. The wingmen were gone, the rest of the serial completely scattered. Going forward, Colonel Tucker instructed the pilot to turn west until he could locate some identifiable geographical feature. Licata eventually came into view. The pilot turned and flew back toward Gela. Though the fire was still heavy, Colonel Tucker and his men jumped over the landing ground. On the ground, Tucker stopped the crews of five nearby tanks from firing on the aircraft with their .50-caliber machine guns.

Other paratroopers and aircrew members were not so fortunate. Some paratroopers were killed in the planes before they had a chance to get out. Other paratroopers were hit in their chutes while descending. A few were even shot on the ground after they landed. It seems that each succeeding serial received heavier fire than those preceding it. The last, carrying the 376th Parachute Field Artillery Battalion, received the heaviest fire and suffered the greatest losses.

Flight Officer J. G. Paccassi (the 61st Group) lost sight of his element leader after the turn to the northwest had been made and he went on alone to the drop zone, encountering heavy antiaircraft fire all the way. Paccassi’s plane was hit just as the paratroopers went out the door and he quickly turned and headed out for sea, flying almost at surface level. Just off the coast, the plane was hit again, the rudder shot away, then both engines failed. As naval vessels still fired, Paccassi crash-landed into the sea. The destroyer Beatty fired on the downed aircraft for five seconds with 20-mm. guns before realizing that the plane was American, then dispatched a small boat to pick up the survivors.

Two survivors from an aircraft of the 314th Group picked up by the destroyer Cowie stated that their element of three planes passed over the drop zone, but received such intense fire that the pilots considered the dropping of paratroopers suicidal. Their plane turned back to the coast and followed it south at an altitude of 500 feet before being hit. As the plane filled with smoke and flame, the pilot ordered everybody out just before the plane crashed. The destroyer Jeffers picked up seven survivors from an aircraft of the 316th Group which had crash landed nearby-the entire five-man crew, plus Major C. C. Bowman from 82nd Airborne Division headquarters, who had been flying as an observer, and one paratrooper who had refused to jump.

Captain Adam A. Komosa, who commanded the 504th’s Headquarters Company, later recalled: It was a most uncomfortable feeling knowing that our own troops were throwing everything they had at us. Planes dropped out of formation and crashed into the sea. Others, like clumsy whales, wheeled and attempted to get beyond the flak which rose in fountains of fire, lighting the stricken faces of men as they stared through the windows. [N2-9-1414 Captain Adam A. Komosa, Airborne Operation, 504th Parachute Regimental Combat Team, Sicily, 9 JulY-19 August 1943: Personal Experiences of a Regimental Headquarters Company Commander (Fort Benning, Ga., 1947), p. 13.]

Chaplain Delbert A. Kuehl made a bruising landing against a stone wall somewhere in the 45th Division sector, well southeast of Gela. Almost immediately after landing, the chaplain and a few men with him were taken under fire by American troops. Confidently, Chaplain Kuehl shouted the password. The reply was heavier fire. While he tried in vain to identify himself as an American, the firing continued. Then, as several of the paratroopers fired into the air, the chaplain maneuvered around the flank, crawled through a vineyard, and closed in on the American position from the rear. He crept up to one soldier who was blasting away at the paratroopers, tapped him on the shoulder, and asked him what he was doing. The firing soon stopped. It appears that not every American unit had the same sign and countersign.

[N2-9-1515 Komosa, Airborne Operation, 504th Parachute RCT, p. 16. Also see the Ridgway letter of 2 August which brings out the firing on paratroopers by American troops. Both the 171st and 158th Field Artillery Battalions (45th Division) reported skirmishes with paratroopers during the night of 11 July. The 171st Field Artillery Battalion’s report states that “since no news of the American Paratroopers had reached this Hq, they were assumed to be hostile and the Battalion was deployed for all around defense.” During the period of confusion which existed after the drop of the 504th, one artilleryman was killed by his own men when “mistaken for an enemy paratrooper.”]

Of the 144 planes that had departed Tunisia, 23 never returned, 37 were badly damaged. [N1616 General Tucker stated that the aircraft in which he flew to Sicily did return to North Africa; the crew later reported over 1,000 holes in the craft.] The loss ratio in aircraft was a high 16 percent. Brigadier General Charles L. Keerans, Jr., the assistant division commander, had been aboard one of the planes that did not return.

Of the six aircraft shot down before the paratroopers had a chance to jump, one carried 5 officers and 15 enlisted men from the 504th’s Headquarters and Headquarters Company; another carried 43 officers and 15 men from the 2nd Battalion’s Headquarters and Headquarters Company; and the remaining four carried 1 officer and 32 men from Battery C, 376th Parachute Field Artillery Battalion. Of these 9 officers and 62 men, a few miraculously survived. Lieutenant Colonel L. G. Freeman the 504th’s executive officer, 2 other officers, and 12 men (11 of them wounded),

crawled from the wreckage of their downed plane. 1st Lieutenant M. C. Shelly, from the 2nd Battalion’s Headquarters Company, standing at the door of the aircraft when it crashed, was thrown clear. All the other occupants were killed. One of the Battery C planes was shot down at sea, carrying with it all the occupants. From the other three aircraft, 5 men saved themselves by using their reserve chutes-2 managed to get out of one plane after it had been hit twice and was afire, 3 men were blown clear when antiaircraft fire demolished their planes.

A total of twelve officers and ninety-two men were aboard the eight planes which returned to North Africa without dropping: two planes with personnel from the 504th’s Headquarters Company; one plane, Company F, 504th; two planes, Battery C and two planes Battery D, 376th Parachute Field Artillery Battalion; and one plane, Headquarters Battery, Division Artillery. Four dead and six wounded paratroopers were taken from the planes that returned.

A final computation would show that the 504th Combat Team suffered a total of 229 casualties on the night of 11 July 1943: 81 dead, 132 wounded, and 16 missing. In less than an hour, the 504th Combat Team had become a completely disorganized unit. The first few sticks landed on and around the drop zone, and the bulk of the parachutists carried by the lead group managed to drop fairly near the Gela-Farello landing ground. For the most part, the other groups dispersed before they reached the drop zone, and a large number of the aircraft dropped paratroopers between Vittoria and the Acate River in the 45th Division’s sector.

[N2-9-18 Rpt, Ridgway to TAG, 19 May 44, sub: Casualties, Sicilian Campaign, CT 504, Ridgway Personal File, item 32; 82nd AB Div in Sicily and Italy, pp. 8, 19. On 24 July, 52nd Troop Carrier Wing casualties were reported as 7 dead, 30 wounded, and 53 missing]

The 504th’s dispersal was as great as that of the 505th, with paratroopers landing on Sicily from Gela on the west to the east coast. Colonel Tucker himself did not locate General Ridgway until 0715 the next morning. At that time, of his 2,000-man force, Tucker counted as present for duty the equivalent of one rifle company and one battery of airborne howitzers. By late afternoon, the effective troops of the 504th numbered only 37 officers and 518 men.

General Eisenhower quickly demanded a full report of the disaster. On 13 July, Brigadier General Paul L. Williams, commanding the Troop Carrier Command, submitted his report to Lt. General Carl Spaatz, the NAAF commander. Williams stated that the heavy ground and naval antiaircraft fire directed against the troop-carrying aircraft showed a definite lack of coordination between air, naval, and ground forces, or a definite breakdown in the communication systems used to disseminate the instructions of higher headquarters to lower echelons. General Williams would not say which opened fire first-the Navy or the Army-but stated simply that his troop carriers were fired on by both ground and naval antiaircraft batteries.

Endorsing General Williams’ report, Spaatz added that the greatest mistake, in his opinion, was the failure to place definite restrictions on all antiaircraft units during the time period when the aerial column approached Sicily as well as during the period when the parachutists dropped. Air Marshal Tedder agreed with Spaatz and Williams, but went even further. He considered the airborne mission to have been operationally unsound because it had required aircraft to fly over thirty-five miles of active battle front. “Even if it was physically possible for all the troops and ships to be duly warned, which is doubtful,” Tedder said, “any fire opened either by mistake or against any enemy aircraft would almost certainly be supported by all troops within range-AA firing at night is infectious and control almost impossible.” [N2-9-2020 File 99-66.2, sub: AFHQ Rpt of Allied Force Airborne Board in Connection With the Invasion of Sicily. See also 0100/4/78, sub: Airborne Operations in HUSKY; 0100/21/1072, sub: Airborne Employment, Operation and Movement of Troops, vol. 2, 23-30 Jul 43; and 0100/12A/71, III, sub: Airborne Forces]

Admiral Cunningham, quick to defend the naval gunners, felt that the lack of antiaircraft discipline was only partially responsible for the tragic occurrence. At night, he pointed out, “no question of A.A. indiscipline can arise. All ships fire at once at any aeroplane particularly low fIying ones which approach them.” Nothing less than that could be acceptable to the Navy, otherwise merchant vessels and naval combat ships would incur severe losses and strong damage. The major cause of the tragedy, Cunningham felt, was either bad routing or bad navigation on the part of the aircraft crews.

Admiral Cunningham carefully left unsaid why the naval fire was not stopped sooner, or why the ships’ crews failed to recognize the C-47 aircraft, particularly when they were flying at such a low altitude and were flashing recognition signals (amber belly lights) continuously. The exact cause of the catastrophe could not be pinpointed. A board of officers appointed by AFHQ to investigate the circumstances uttered only generalities.

Despite agreement that advance warning had been given to naval vessels and ground antiaircraft batteries, some individuals and units hotly denied ever receiving such a warning order. Other units and individuals claimed that enemy bombers returned and mixed with the friendly aerial column. Still others reported that the antiaircraft fire came from enemy guns. To the last charge, it was true that at least one plane was brought down by enemy machine gun fire near Comiso. But returning pilots and para troopers alike noted that the heaviest fire came not from the right-the direction of the front-but from Allied guns to the left of the overland aerial corridor. As one pilot said: “Evidently the safest place for us tonight while over Sicily would have been over enemy territory.”

General Ridgway probably expressed it best of all: The responsibility for loss of life and material resulting from this operation is so divided, so difficult to fix with impartial justice, and so questionable of ultimate value to the service because of the acrimonious debates which would follow efforts to hold responsible persons or services to account, that disciplinary action is of doubtful wisdom.

Deplorable as is the loss of life which occurred, I believe that the lessons now learned could have been driven home in no other way, and that these lessons provide a sound basis for the belief that recurrences can be avoided. The losses are part of the inevitable price of war in human life.

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 (2-10): Beachhead Secure

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

Korean War: Disaster at the Kum River Line (10)

 The Kum River is the first large stream south of the Han flowing generally north from its source in the mountains of southwestern Korea. Ten miles east of Taejon, the river in a series of tight loops slants northwest, then bends like an inverted letter U, and 12 miles northwest of the city starts its final southwesterly course to the sea. For 25 miles upstream from its mouth, the Kum River is a broad estuary of the Yellow Sea, from 1 to 2 miles wide. In its semicircle around Taejon, the river constitutes in effect a great moat, much in the same manner as the Naktong River protects Taegu and Pusan farther south and the Chickahominy River guarded Richmond, Virginia, during the American Civil War. 

Protected by this water barrier, generally 10 to 15 miles distant, Taejon lies at the western base of the Sobaek Mountains. To the west, the coastal plain stretches northward to Seoul and southwestward to the tip of Korea. But south and southeastward all the way to the Naktong and on to Pusan lie the broken hills and ridges of the Sobaek Mountains. Through these mountains in a southeasterly course from Taejon passes the main Seoul-Pusan railroad and highway. Secondary roads angle off from Taejon into all of southern Korea. Geographical and communication factors gave Taejon unusual military importance.

 The Seoul-Pusan railroad crossed the Kum River 8 air miles due north of Taejon. Nine air miles westward and downstream from the railroad, the main highway crossed the river. The little village of Taepyong-ni stood there on the southern bank of the Kum 15 air miles northwest of Taejon. At Kongju, 8 air miles farther westward downstream from Taepyong-ni and 20 air miles northwest of Taejon, another highway crossed the Kum.

 Engineers blew the highway bridges across the Kum at Kongju and Taepyong-ni and the railroad bridge at Sinchon the night and morning of 12-13 July. On the approaches to Taejon, engineer units placed demolitions on all bridges of small streams tributary to the Kum.

 Downstream from Kongju the 24th Reconnaissance Company checked all ferries and destroyed all native flat-bottomed boats it found in a 16-mile stretch below the town. Checking below this point for another twenty miles it came to the south side of the river. In the arc of the river from Kongju eastward to the railroad crossing, General Menoher, the assistant division commander of the 24th Division, then ordered all similar boats seized and burned.

 General Dean and his 24th Division staff had a fairly clear idea of the situation facing them. On 13 July, the division intelligence officer estimated that two enemy divisions at 60 to 80 percent strength with approximately fifty tanks were closing on the 24th Division. Enemy prisoners identified them as the 4th Division following the 34th Infantry and the 3rd Division following the 21st Infantry. This indicated a two-pronged attack against Taejon, and perhaps a three-pronged attack if the 2nd Division moving south next in line to the east could drive ROK forces out of its way in time to join in the effort.

 Behind the moat of the Kum River, General Dean placed his 24th Division troops in a horseshoe-shaped arc in front of Taejon. The 34th Infantry was on the left, the 19th Infantry on the right, and the 21st Infantry in a reserve defensive blocking position southeast of Taejon. On the extreme left, the 24th Reconnaissance Company in platoon-sized groups watched the principal river crossing sites below Kongju. Thus, the division formed a two-regiment front, each regiment having one battalion on the line and the other in reserve.

 The 24th Division was in poor condition for what was certain to be its hardest test yet. In the first week, 1,500 men were missing in action, 1,433 of them from the 21st Regiment. That regiment on 13 July had a strength of about 1,100 men; the 34th Infantry had 2,020 men; and the 19th Infantry, 2,276 men. There were 2,007 men in the division artillery. The consolidated division strength on 14 July was 11,440 men. Action against the Kum River Line began first on the left (west), in the sector of the 34th Infantry.

 From Seoul south the N.K. 4th Division [N10-6] had borne the brunt of the fighting against the 24th Division and was now down to 5,000-6,000 men, little more than half strength. Approximately 20 T34 tanks led the division column, which included 40 to 50 pieces of artillery. Just before midnight of 11 July the 16th Regiment sent out scouts to make a reconnaissance of the Kum, learn the depth and width of the river, and report back before 1000 the next morning. An outpost of the 34th Infantry I&R Platoon during the night captured one of the scouts, an officer, 600 yards north of the river opposite Kongju. The regiment’s mission was the capture of Kongju.

 [N10-6 ATIS Res Supp, Issue 2 (Documentary Evidence of N.K. Aggression), Interrog 118; ATIS Res Supp Interrog Rpts, Issue 94 (N.K. 4th Div), p. 46; 24th Div WD, G-2 Sec, PW Interrog file, interrog of 2nd Lieutenant Bai Jun Pal, 12 and 13 Jul 50.]

 U.N. air attacks on North Korean armor, transport, and foot columns had become by now sufficiently effective so that the enemy no longer placed his tanks, trucks, and long columns of marching men on the main roads in broad daylight. The heavy losses of armor and equipment to air attack in the vicinity of Pyongtaek , Chonui, and Chonan in the period of 7 to 10 July had wrought the change. Now, in approaching the Kum, the enemy generally remained quiet and camouflaged in orchards and buildings during the daytime and moved at night. The North Koreans also used back roads and trails more than in the first two weeks of the invasion, and already by day were storing equipment and supplies in railroad tunnels. The N.K. 4th Division Crosses the Kum Below Kongju.

 [N10-7 EUSAK WD, G-2 Stf Rpt, 13 and 22 Jul 50; 24th Div WD, G-2 PW Interrog File, interrog of Lee Ki Sup, 20 Jul 50.]

 On the high ground around Kongju, astride the Kongju-Nonsan road, the 3rd Battalion, 34th Infantry, was in its defensive positions. On line from left to right were L, I, and K. Companies, with the mortars of M Company behind them. The 63rd Field Artillery Battalion was about two and a half miles south of the Kum in their support. Three miles farther south, the 1st Battalion, 34th Infantry, was in an assembly area astride the road.

[N10-8 Interv, Mitchell with Master Sergeant Milo W. Carman (Platoon Sergeant, 2nd Plat, K Co. 34th Inf), 1 Aug 50; Interv, Mitchell with 2nd Lieutenant James B. Bryant (Platoon Leader, B Co, 34th Inf), 30 Jul 50; Wadlington Comments; Ltr, Lieutenant Colonel Harold B. Ayres to author, 3 Oct 52.]

 Communication between the 3rd Battalion units was practically nonexistent. For instance, L Company could communicate with only one of its squads, and it served as a lookout and was equipped with a sound power telephone. The L Company commander, 1st Lieutenant Archie L. Stith, tried but failed at the 3rd Battalion headquarters to obtain a radio that would work. He had communication with the battalion only by messenger. Procurement of live batteries for Signal Corps radios SCR-300’s and 536’s was almost impossible, communication wire could not be obtained, and that already laid could not be reclaimed.

[10-9 Interv, 1st Lieutenant Billy C. Mossman with Stith, 31 Jul 50; Wadlington Comments. 10-24th Div WD, 13 Jul 50; 3rd Engr (C) Bn Unit WD, 13 Jul 50; Interv, Mitchell with Master Sergeant Wallace A. Wagnebreth (Platoon Leader, L Co, 34th Inf), 31 Jul 50, copy in OCMH.]

 At 0400 hours 13 July, D Company of the 3rd Engineer Combat Battalion blew the steel truss bridge in front of Kongju. A few hours after daybreak an enemy squad walked to the water’s edge, 700 yards from a 34th Infantry position across the river, and set up a machine gun. On high ground north of this enemy machine gun squad, a North Korean tank came into view. The men of the 3rd Battalion, 34th Infantry, now had only the water barrier of the Kum between them and the enemy. That afternoon, the North Koreans began shelling Kongju from across the river.

 The command situation for Colonel Wadlington continued to worsen as both the regimental S-2 and S-3 were evacuated because of combat fatigue. Then, that night, K Company, a composite group of about forty men of the 3rd Battalion in such mental and physical condition as to render them liabilities in combat, was withdrawn from the Kum River Line with division approval and taken to Taejon for medical disposition.

 There were now only two understrength rifle companies of the 34th Infantry in front of Kongju—L Company on the left and I Company on the right of the road on the river hills, with some mortars of the Heavy Weapons Company behind. These troops knew of no friendly units on their left (west). From the 19th Infantry on their right, Captain Melicio Montesclaros had visited the I Company position and told the men there was a 2-mile gap between that flank and his outpost position eastward on the regimental boundary.

 Shortly after daybreak of the 14th, American troops on the south side of the Kum at Kongju heard enemy tanks in the village across the river. By 0600, enemy flat trajectory weapons, possibly tank guns, were firing into I Company’s area. Their target apparently was the mortars back of the rifle company. Simultaneously, enemy shells exploded in air bursts over L Company’s position but were too high to do any damage. Soon thereafter, L Company lookouts sent word that enemy soldiers were crossing the river in two barges, each carrying approximately thirty men, about two miles below them. They estimated that about 500 North Koreans crossed between 0800 and 0930.

 The weather was clear after a night of rain. The 63rd Field Artillery Battalion sent aloft a liaison plane for aerial observation. This aerial observer reported by radio during the morning that two small boats carrying men were crossing the Kum to the south side and gave the map co-ordinates of the crossing site. Apparently this was part of the same enemy crossing seen by L Company men. The battalion S-3, Major Charles T. Barter, decided not to fire on the boats but to wait for larger targets. One platoon of the 155-mm. howitzers of A Battery, 11th Field Artillery Battalion, in position east of Kongju fired briefly on the enemy troops. But Yak fighter planes soon drove away the liaison observation planes, and artillery fire ceased.

[N10-12 Interv, Mossman with Stith, 31 Jul 50; Interv, Mitchell with Wagnebreth, 31 Jul 50; Interv, Mossman with Private First Class Doyle L. Wilson, L Co, 34th Inf, 2 Aug 50; Interv, author with Major Clarence H. Ellis, Jr. (S-3 Sec, 11th FA Bn, Jul 50), 22 Jul 54; Interv, Mossman with Sergeant First Class Clayton F. Gores (Intel Sergeant, Hq Btry, 63rd FA Bn), 31 Jul 50.]

 Soon after the enemy crossed the river below L Company, Lieutenant Stith, the company commander, unable to find the machine gun and mortar sections supporting the company and with his company coming under increasingly accurate enemy mortar and artillery fire, decided that his position was untenable. He ordered L Company to withdraw. The men left their positions overlooking the Kum shortly before 1100. When Sergeant Wallace A. Wagnebreth, a platoon leader of L Company, reached the positions of the 63rd Field Artillery Battalion, he told an unidentified artillery officer of the enemy crossing, but, according to him, the officer paid little attention. Lieutenant Stith, after ordering the withdrawal, went in search of the 3rd Battalion headquarters. He finally found it near Nonsan. Learning what had happened; the battalion commander relieved Stith of his command and threatened him with court martial.

[N10-13 Intervs, Mossman-with Stith, 31 Jul 50, and Wilson, 2 Aug 50; Interv, Mitchell with Wagnebreth, 31 Jul 50. ]

The 63rd Field Artillery Battalion Overrun  

Three miles south of the river, the 63rd Field Artillery Battalion had emplaced its 105-mm. howitzers along a secondary road near the village of Samyo. The road at this point was bordered on either side by scrub-pine-covered hills. From north to south the battery positions were A, Headquarters, B, and Service. The artillery battalion had communication on the morning of the 14th with the 34th Regimental headquarters near Nonsan but none with the infantry units or the artillery forward observers with them on the Kum River Line. The day before, the commanding officer of the 63rd Field Artillery Battalion, Lieutenant Colonel Robert H. Dawson, had been evacuated to Taejon because of illness, and Major William E. Dressier assumed command of the battalion.

 About 1330 an outpost of the artillery battalion reported enemy troops coming up the hill toward them. It received instructions not to fire unless fired upon as the men might be friendly forces. As a result, this group of enemy soldiers overran the machine gun outpost and turned the captured gun on Headquarters Battery. [N10-14] Thus began the attack of the North Korean 16th Regiment on the 63rd Field Artillery Battalion. Enemy reconnaissance obviously had located the support artillery and had bypassed the river line rifle companies to strike at it and the line of communications running to the rear.

 [N10-14 Interv, Mitchell with Corporal Lawrence A. Ray (A Btry, 63rd FA Bn), 29 Jul 50.]

 Now came enemy mortar fire. The first shell hit Headquarters Battery switchboard and destroyed telephone communication to the other batteries. In rapid succession mortar shells hit among personnel of the medical section, on the command post, and then on the radio truck. With the loss of the radio truck all means of electrical communication vanished. An ammunition truck was also hit, and exploding shells in it caused further confusion in Headquarters Battery.

[N10-15 Interv, Mitchell with SERGEANT FIRST CLASS Leonard J. Smith (Chief Computer, FDC, Hq Btry, 63rd FA Bn), 29 Jul 50; 24th Div WD, G-2 Jnl, entry 1056, statement of Lee Kyn Soon.]

 Almost simultaneously with the attack on Headquarters Battery came another directed against A Battery, about 250 yards northward. This second force of about a hundred enemy soldiers started running down a hill from the west toward an A Battery outpost “squealing like a bunch of Indians,” according to one observer. Some of the artillerymen opened up on them with small arms fire and they retreated back up the hill.

 Soon, however, this same group of soldiers came down another slope to the road and brought A Battery under fire at 150 yards’ range. Mortar fire began to fall on A Battery’s position. This fire caused most of the artillerymen to leave their gun positions. Some of them, however, fought courageously; Corporal Lawrence A. Ray was one of these. Although wounded twice, he continued to operate a BAR and, with a few others, succeeded in holding back enemy soldiers while most of the men in the battery sought to escape. Soon a mortar burst wounded Ray and momentarily knocked him unconscious. Regaining consciousness, he crawled into a ditch where he found fifteen other artillerymen—not one of them carrying a weapon. All of this group escaped south. On the way out they found the body of their battery commander, Captain Lundel M. Southerland.

 [N10-16 Intervs, Mossman with Private First Class Fred M. Odle (A Btry, 63rd FA Bn), 28 Jul 50, and Sergeant Leon L. Tucker (Hq Btry, 63rd FA Bn), 31 Jul 50; interv, Mitchell with Ray, 29 Jul 50. General Order 55, 7 September 1950, awarded the Distinguished Service Cross to Corporal Ray. EUSAK WD.]

 Back at Headquarters Battery, enemy machine guns put bands of fire across both the front and the back doors of the building which held the Fire Direction Center. The men caught inside escaped to a dugout, crawled up a ravine, and made their way south toward Service Battery. In the excitement of the moment, apparently no one saw Major Dressier. More than two and a half years later his remains and those of Corporal Edward L. McCall were found together in a common foxhole at the site. [1717 Interv, Mitchell with Smith, 29 Jul 50; Washington Post, April 9, 1953]

 After overrunning A and Headquarters Batteries, the North Koreans turned on B Battery. An enemy force estimated at 400 men had it under attack by 1415. They worked to the rear of the battery, set up machine guns, and fired into it. The battery commander, Captain Anthony F. Stahelski, ordered his two machine guns on the enemy side of his defense perimeter to return the fire. Then enemy mortar shells started falling and hit two 105-mm. howitzers, a radio jeep, and a 2½-ton prime mover. A group of South Korean cavalry rode past the battery and attacked west toward the enemy, but the confusion was so great that no one in the artillery position seemed to know what happened as a result of this intervention.

 The North Koreans kept B Battery under fire. At 1500 Captain Stahelski gave the battery march order but the men could not get the artillery pieces onto the road which was under fire. The men escaped as best they could. [N10-18] An hour and a half after the first enemy appeared at the artillery position the entire 63rd Field Artillery Battalion, with the exception of Service Battery, had been overrun, losing 10 105-mm. howitzers with their ammunition and from 60 to 80 vehicles. The 5 guns of A Battery fell to the enemy intact. In B Battery, enemy mortar fire destroyed 2 howitzers; artillerymen removed the sights and firing locks from the other 3 before abandoning them.

 [N10-18 Interv, Mitchell with Private First Class William R. Evans, 29 Jul 50; 24th Div WD, G-2 Jnl, entry 1056, 15-19 Jul 50, statement of Captain Stahelski.]

 Meanwhile, Service Battery had received word of the enemy attack and prepared to withdraw at once. A few men from the overrun batteries got back to it and rode its trucks fifteen miles south to Nonsan. Stragglers from the overrun artillery battalion came in to the Nonsan area during the night and next morning. Eleven officers and 125 enlisted men of the battalion were missing in action.

 [N10-19 Interv, Mossman with Tucker, 31 Jul 50; 24th Div WD, 14 July 50. Enemy sources indicate the N.K. 4th Division occupied Kongju by 2200, 14 July, and claim that the 16th Regiment in overrunning the 63rd Field Artillery Battalion captured 86 prisoners, 10 105-mm. howitzers, 17 other weapons, 86 vehicles, and a large amount of ammunition. See ATIS Res Supp Interrog Rpts, Issue 94 (N.K. 4th Div), p. 46.]

 It is clear from an order he issued that morning that General Dean did not expect to hold Kongju indefinitely, but he did hope for a series of delaying actions that would prevent the North Koreans from accomplishing an early crossing of the Kum River at Kongju, a quick exploitation of a bridgehead, and an immediate drive on Taejon.

 [N10-20 24th Div WD, G-3 Jnl, entry 457, 141025 Jul 50; Wadlington Comments; Ltr, Major David A. Bissett, Jr. (Sr Aide to General Dean, Jul 50), 14 Jul 52. ]

 Pursuant to General Dean’s orders, Colonel Wadlington, the acting regimental commander, left his headquarters at Ponggong-ni on the main road running south out of Kongju the morning of the 14th to reconnoiter the Nonsan area in anticipation of a possible withdrawal. He was absent from his headquarters until midafternoon. Shortly after his return to the command post, between 1500 and 1600, he learned from an escaped enlisted man who had reached his headquarters that an enemy force had attacked and destroyed the 63rd Field Artillery Battalion. Wadlington at once ordered Lieutenant Colonel Harold B. Ayres to launch an attack with the 1st Battalion, 34th Infantry, to rescue the men and equipment in the artillery area and drive the North Koreans westward. According to Ayres, Wadlington’s order brought him his first word of the enemy attack.

 [N10-22 Wadlington Comments and Ltr to author,1 Apr 53; Ltr, Ayres to author, 3 Oct 52; Interv, Mossman with Gores, 31 Jul 50; 24th Div WD, G-2 Jnl, entry 1056, 15-19 Jul 50. The communications officer of the 63rd Field Artillery Battalion, 1st Lieutenant Herman W. Starling, however, has stated that about 1400 he went to the 1st Battalion command post and reported that the artillery was under attack and asked for help. Ayres says he has no knowledge of this but that it might have occurred in his absence since he was away from his post command most of the day. He says no one on his staff reported such an incident to him.]

 The 1st Battalion a little after 1700 moved out northward in a column of companies in attack formation. The three-mile movement northward was without incident until C Company approached within a hundred yards of the overrun artillery position. Then, a few short bursts of enemy machine gun and some carbine fire halted the company. Dusk was at hand. Since his orders were to withdraw if he had not accomplished his mission by dark, Colonel Ayres ordered his battalion to turn back. At its former position, the 1st Battalion loaded into trucks and drove south toward Nonsan.

 [N10-23 Ltr, Ayres to author, 3 Oct 52; Interv, Mitchell with Bryant, 30 Jul 50; Wadlington Comments; 24th Div WD, G-2 Jnl, entry 1056, 15-19 Jul 50.]

 As soon as the 24th Division received confirmation of the bad news about the 63rd Field Artillery Battalion it ordered an air strike for the next morning, 15 July, on the lost equipment—a practice that became standard procedure for destroying heavy American equipment lost or abandoned to enemy in enemy-held territory.

 During the day I Company, 34th Infantry, had stayed in its position on the river line. Enemy mortar fire had fallen in its vicinity until noon. In the early afternoon, artillery from across the river continued the shelling. The acting commander, Lieutenant Joseph E. Hicks, tried but failed to locate L Company and the 3rd Battalion Headquarters. A few men from the Heavy Weapons Company told him that enemy roadblocks were in his rear and that he was cut off. Except for the enemy shelling, all was quiet in I Company during the day. That night at 2130, pursuant to orders he received, Hicks led I Company over the mountains east and southeast of Kongju and rejoined the regiment. The 34th Infantry occupied new positions just east of Nonsan early in the morning of 15 July.

 [N10-25 Wadlington Comments; Interv, Mitchell with Sergeant Justin B. Fleming (2nd Plat, I Co, 34th Inf), 1 Aug 50]

 In their first day of attack against it, the North Koreans had widely breached the Kum River Line. Not only was the line breached, but the 19th Infantry’s left flank was now completely exposed. The events of 14 July must have made it clear to General Dean that he could not long hold Taejon.

 Nevertheless, Dean tried to bolster the morale of the defeated units. After he had received reports of the disaster, he sent a message at 1640 in the afternoon saying, “Hold everything we have until we find where we stand—might not be too bad—may be able to hold—make reconnaissance—may be able to knock those people out and reconsolidate, am on my way out there now.” Informing Colonel Stephens that the 34th Infantry was in trouble, he ordered him to put the 21st Infantry Regiment in position on selected ground east of Taejon. Something of Dean’s future intentions on operations at Taejon was reflected in his comment, “We must coordinate so that the 19th and 34th come out together.” General Dean closed his message by asking Stephens to come to his command post that night for a discussion of plans.27

 Although an aerial observer saw two tanks on the south side of the Kum River southwest of Kongju early in the morning of the 15th, enemy armor did not cross in force that day. Other parts of the 4th Division continued to cross, however, in the Kongju area. Air strikes destroyed some of their boats and strafed their soldiers. By nightfall of 15 July some small groups of North Korean soldiers had pressed south from the river and were in Nonsan.

The N.K. 3rd Division Crosses the Kum; Against the 19th Infantry

 The third and last regiment of the 24th Division, the 19th Infantry, commanded by Colonel Guy S. Meloy, Jr., began to arrive in Korea on 4 July. Nearly ninety years earlier the 19th Infantry Regiment had won the sobriquet, “The Rock of Chickamauga,” in a memorable stand in one of the bloodiest of Civil War battles. Now, on 11 and 12 July General Dean moved the 1950 version of the regiment to Taejon as he concentrated the 24th Division there for the defense of the city. Before dark of the 12th, the 19th Infantry was in position to relieve the 21st Infantry Regiment on the south bank of the Kum, but the formal relief and transfer of responsibility for the regimental sector did not take place until 0930 the next day. Fourteen years earlier General Dean had served as captain in the regiment in Hawaii.

 The 19th Infantry’s zone of responsibility was a wide one, extending from high ground just east of the railroad bridge, 8 miles due north of Taejon, westward along the river to within 3 miles of Kongju. This was an airline distance of 15 miles or a river distance of almost 30 miles because of the stream’s numerous deep folds. Necessarily, there were wide gaps between some of the units in disposing a regiment—a 2-battalion regiment at that—over this distance. The main regimental position was astride the Seoul-Pusan highway where it crossed the Kum River at Taepyongni, about midway of the regimental sector.

 Engineer demolition troops had blown, but only partially destroyed, the highway bridge over the Kum at 2100, 12 July. The next morning they dynamited it again, and this time two spans dropped into the water. On the 15th, engineers destroyed the railroad bridge upstream at SInchon. [N10-30] At Taepyong-ni the Kum River in mid-July 1950 was 200 to 300 yards wide, its banks 4 to 8 feet high, water 6 to 15 feet deep, and current 3 to 6 miles an hour. Sandbars ran out into the stream-bed at almost every bend and the channel shifted back and forth from the center to the sides. The river, now swollen by rains, could be waded at many points when its waters fell.

 [N10-30 Interv, Mitchell with Col Meloy, 30 Jul 50. Standard practice was to blow the spans adjacent to the friendly side of a stream.]

 On the regimental right, the railroad bridge lay just within the ROK Army zone of responsibility. A mile and a half west of the railroad bridge a large tributary, the Kap-ch’on, empties into the Kum. On high ground west of the railroad and the mouth of the Kap-chon, E Company in platoon-sized units held defensive positions commanding the Kum River railroad crossing site. West of E Company there was an entirely undefended 2-mile gap. Beyond this gap C Company occupied three northern fingers of strategically located Hill 200 three miles east of Taepyong-ni. [N10-31] Downstream from C Company there was a 1,000-yard gap to where A Company’s position began behind a big dike along the bank of the Kum. The A Company sector extended westward beyond the Seoul-Pusan highway at Taepyong-ni. One platoon of A Company was on 500foot high hills a mile south of the Taepyong-ni dike and paddy ground.

 [N10-31 There were two 600-foot high hills (Hills 200) in the 1st Battalion, 19th Infantry, zone. The second is close to the highway and just east of the village of Palsan.]

 West of the highway, the 1st Platoon of B Company joined A Company behind the dike, while the rest of the company was on high ground which came down close to the river. West of B Company for a distance of five air miles to the regimental boundary there was little protection. One platoon of G Company manned an outpost two miles away. The I&R Platoon of about seventy men, together with a platoon of engineers and a battery of artillery, all under the command of Captain Melicio Montesclaros, covered the last three miles of the regimental sector in the direction of Kongju. The command post of Lieutenant Colonel Otho T. Winstead, commander of the 1st Battalion, was at the village of Kadong, about a mile south of the Kum on the main highway. Colonel Meloy’s regimental command post was at the village of Palsan, about a mile farther to the rear on the highway.

[N10-32 The positions given for the 19th Infantry at the Kum River are based on 19th Inf WD, 13 Jul 50; Ltr, Brigadier General Guy S. Meloy, Jr., to author, 6 Jul 52; Notes and overlays of 19th Inf position 14-16 Jul 50 prepared by Lieutenant Colonel Edward O. Logan (S-3, 19th Inf, at Kum River) for author, Jun 52; Interv, author with Major Melicio Montesclaros, 20 Aug 52; Intervs, Captain Martin Blumenson with 2nd Lieutenant Charles C. Early (Platoon Leader, 3rd Plat, B Co, 19th Inf), 26]

The 2nd Battalion with two of its rifle companies was in reserve back of the 1st Battalion. Behind A Company, east of the highway, were two platoons of G Company; behind B Company, west of the highway, was F Company. The 4.2inch mortars of the Heavy Mortar Company were east of the highway.

 [NOTE: Aug 51, with 2nd Lieutenant Augustus B. Orr (Platoon Leader, C Co, 19th Inf), 26 Aug 51, and with Captain Elliot C. Cutler, Jr. (CO Hv Mort Co, 19th Inf at Kum River), 27 Aug. 51.]

 Artillery supporting the 19th Infantry consisted of A and B Batteries, 52nd Field Artillery Battalion; A and B Batteries of the 11th Field Artillery Battalion (155mm. howitzers); and two batteries of the 13th Field Artillery Battalion. Lieutenant Colonel Charles W. Stratton, commanding officer of the 13th Field Artillery Battalion, coordinated their firing. The 52nd Field Artillery Battalion, in position along the main highway at the village of Tuman-ni, about three miles south of the Kum, was farthest forward. Behind it two miles farther south were the 11th and the 13th Field Artillery Battalions. The larger parts of the 26th Antiaircraft Artillery (Automatic Weapons) Battalion and of A Company, 78th Heavy Tank Battalion (light M24 tanks), were at Taejon.

 Aerial strikes on the 14th failed to prevent the build-up of enemy armor on the north side of the Kum opposite Taepyong-ni. Tanks moved up and dug in on the north bank for direct fire support of a crossing effort. Their fire started falling on the south bank of the Kum in the 19th Infantry’s zone at 1300, 14 July. Late in the day an aerial observer reported seeing eleven enemy tanks dug in, camouflaged, and firing as artillery. There were some minor attempted enemy crossings during the day but no major effort. None succeeded.

 The afternoon brought the bad news concerning the left flank—the collapse of the 34th Infantry at Kongju. The next morning, at 0700, Colonel Meloy received word from his extreme left flank that North Koreans were starting to cross there. An aerial strike and the I&R Platoon’s machine gun fire repelled this crossing attempt. But soon thereafter enemy troops that had crossed lower down in the 34th Infantry sector briefly engaged the Reconnaissance Platoon when it tried to establish contact with the 34th Infantry.

 These events on his exposed left flank caused Colonel Meloy to reinforce the small force there with the remainder of G Company, 1 machine gun platoon and a section of 81-mm. mortars from H Company, 2 light tanks, and 2 quad-50’s of the 26th Antiaircraft Artillery Battalion—in all, two thirds of his reserve. Lieutenant Colonel Thomas M. McGrail, commanding officer of the 2nd Battalion, accompanied these troops to the left flank. Meloy now had only F Company in reserve behind the 1st Battalion in the main battle position.

 [N10-36 Ltr, Meloy to author, 29 May 52; Ltr, Captain Michael Barszcz (CO G Co, 19th Inf) to author, 3 Jul 52; Notes and overlay, Logan for author, Jun 52; 19th Inf WD, 14-15 Jul 50; 24th Div WD, 15 Jul 50; EUSAK WD, G-3 Sec, Msg at 151700 Jul 50.]

The morning of 15 July, Colonel Stephens at 0600 started his 21st Infantry Regiment from the Taejon airstrip for Okchon, ten miles east of the city on the main Seoul-Pusan highway. This organization was now only a shadow of a regiment. Its 1st Battalion had a strength of 517 men. The 132 men of the 3rd Battalion were organized into K and M Companies and attached to the 1st Battalion. A separate provisional group numbered 466 men. As already noted, the regiment so organized numbered little more than 1,100 men of all ranks.

 [N10-37 21st Inf WD, 29 Jun-22 Jul 50 and Incl II, Activities Rpt 1st Bn; 24th Div WD, G-3 Jnl, entry 408, 131440 Jul 50; Ltr, General Stephens to author, 17 Apr 52.]

 General Dean had ordered the move to the Okchon position. He feared there might be a North Korean penetration through ROK Army forces east of Taejon, and he wanted the 21st Infantry deployed on the high hills astride the highway in that vicinity to protect the rear of the 24th Division. The regiment went into position five miles east of Taejon, beyond the railroad and highway tunnels, with the command post in Okchon. From its new position the 21st Infantry also controlled a road running south from a Kum River ferry site to the highway. One battery of the 11th Field Artillery Battalion accompanied the 21st Infantry. A company of attached engineer troops prepared the tunnels and bridges east of Taejon for demolition.

[N10-38 Ltr, Stephens to author, 17 Apr 52; Ltr, Perry to author, 8 Jun 52; 21st Inf WD, 15-16 Jul 50. 39ATIS Res Supp Interrog Rpts, Issue 96 (N.K. 3rd Div), p. 32.]

 As evening of 15 July approached, Colonel Meloy alerted all units in battle positions for an enemy night crossing. Supporting mortars and artillery fired on the enemy-held villages across the river. This and air strikes during the evening set the flimsy Korean wood-adobe-straw huts on fire and illuminated the river front with a reddish glow.

 Enemy sources indicate that all day the N.K. 3rd Division had made preparations for an attack on the river line, and that repeated air attacks seriously hampered the movement of its heavy equipment and instilled fear in the minds of its soldiers. Political officers tried to raise the lowering morale of the troops by promising them a long rest after the capture of Taejon and by saying that when the city fell the Americans would surrender.

 Just before dusk, 2nd Lieutenant Charles C. Early, platoon leader of the 3rd Platoon, B Company, from his position above the Kum, saw an enemy T34 tank come around a bend in the highway across the river. While he telephoned this information to his company commander, he counted eight more tanks making the turn in the road. He could see them distinctly with the naked eye at a distance of about two miles. Three of the tanks pulled off the road, swung their turrets, and fired on Early’s position. Most of their rounds passed overhead. Enemy artillery began firing at the same time. The 1st Battalion had called for an air strike when the enemy tanks opened fire, and now two planes appeared. When the planes arrived over the river all the tanks except one took cover in a wooded area. The strike left the exposed tank burning on the road. The two planes stayed over the area until dark. Upon their departure, enemy infantry in trucks moved to the river’s edge.

 Small groups of enemy soldiers tested the American river defenses by wading into the river; others rushed out to the end of the blown bridge, jumped into the water, and began swimming across. Recoilless rifle and machine gun fire of the Heavy Weapons Company inflicted heavy casualties on this crossing attempt at and near the bridge, but some of the North Koreans got across under cover of tank fire.

 Upstream in front of Hill 200 another enemy crossing attempt was under way in front of C Company. The combined fire from all company weapons supported by that from part of the Heavy Weapons Company repelled this attack and two more that followed after short intervals.

 Some rounds falling short from friendly 81-mm. mortars knocked out two of the company’s 60-mm. mortars and broke the base plate of the remaining one. Corporal Tabor improvised a base plate and, holding the tube in his hand, fired an estimated 300 rounds. With his first river crossing attacks repulsed, the enemy made ready his major effort. At 0300 Sunday, 16 July, an enemy plane flew over the Kum and dropped a flare. It was the signal for a co-ordinated attack. The intensity of the fire that now came from enemy guns on the north bank of the river was as great, General Meloy has said, as anything he experienced in Europe in World War II. Under cover of this intense fire the North Koreans used boats and rafts, or waded and swam, and in every possible way tried to cross the river. American artillery, mortar, and supporting weapons fire met this attack.

[N10-41 Ltr, Meloy to author, 29 May 52; 19th Inf WD, 16 Jul 50; 13th FA Bn WD, 16 Jul 50. The journal of the 19th Infantry was lost in action on the 16th. The summary of events in the regimental war diary for 16 July was compiled later from memory by the regimental staff.]

Representative of the accidents that weigh heavily in the outcome of most battles was one that now occurred. One of the 155-mm. howitzers of the 11th Field Artillery Battalion had been assigned to fire flares over the river position on call. At the most critical time of the enemy crossing, the 1st Battalion through the regiment requested a slight shift of the flare area. Normally this would have taken only a few minutes to execute. But the artillery personnel misunderstood the request and laid the howitzer on an azimuth that required moving the trails of the piece. As a result of this mishap there were no flares for a considerable period of time. Colonel Winstead, the 1st Battalion commander, said that mishap and the resulting lack of flares hurt his men more than anything else in their losing the south bank of the river.

 Enemy troops succeeded in crossing the river at 0400 in front of the gap between C and E Companies on the regimental right and struck the 1st Platoon of C Company for the fourth time that night. In the midst of this attack, Lieutenant Henry T. McGill called Lieutenant Thomas A. Maher, the 1st Platoon leader, to learn how things were going. Maher answered, “We’re doing fine.” Thirty seconds later he was dead with a burp gun bullet in his head. North Koreans in this fourth assault succeeded in overrunning the platoon position. The platoon sergeant brought out only about a dozen men. C Company consolidated its remaining strength on the middle finger of Hill 200 and held fast. But the North Koreans now had a covered route around the east end of the 1st Battalion position. They exploited it in the next few hours by extensive infiltration to the rear and in attacks on the heavy mortar position and various observation and command posts.

 Simultaneously with this crossing at the right of the main regimental position, another was taking place below and on the left flank of the main battle position. This one lasted longer and apparently was the largest of all. At daybreak, men in B Company saw an estimated 300 to 400 North Korean soldiers on high ground southwest of them—already safely across the river. And they saw that crossings were still in progress downstream at a ferry site. Enemy soldiers, 25 to 30 at a time, were wading into the river holding their weapons and supplies on their heads, and plunging into neck-deep water.

 From his observation post, Colonel Meloy could see the crossing area to the left but few details of the enemy movement. Already B Company had called in artillery fire on the enemy crossing force and Colonel Meloy did likewise through his artillery liaison officer. Captain Monroe Anderson of B Company noticed that while some of the enemy moved on south after crossing the river, most of them remained in the hills camouflaged as shrubs and small trees. Lieutenant Early, fearing an attack on his rear by this crossing force, left his 3rd Platoon and moved back to a better observation point. There for an hour he watched enemy soldiers bypass B Company, moving south.

 By this time it seemed that the North Koreans were crossing everywhere in front of the regiment. As early as 0630 Colonel Winstead had reported to the regiment that his command post and the Heavy Mortar Company were under attack and that the center of his battalion was falling back. The enemy troops making this attack had crossed the river by the partly destroyed bridge and by swimming and wading. They made deep penetrations and about 0800 overran part of the positions of A Company and the right hand platoon of B Company behind the dike. They then continued on south across the flat paddies and seized the high ground at Kadong-ni. Lieutenant John A. English, Weapons Platoon leader with B Company, seeing what had happened to the one platoon of B Company along the dike, ran down from his hill position, flipped off his helmet, swam the small stream that empties into the Kum at this point, and led out fourteen survivors.

 This enemy penetration through the center of the regimental position to the 1st Battalion command post had to be thrown back if the 19th Infantry was to hold its position. Colonel Meloy and Colonel Winstead immediately set about organizing a counterattack force from the 1st Battalion Headquarters and the Regimental Headquarters Companies, consisting of all officers present, cooks, drivers, mechanics, clerks, and the security platoon. Colonel Meloy brought up a tank and a quad-50 antiaircraft artillery half-track to help in the counterattack. This counterattack force engaged the North Koreans and drove them from the high ground at Kadong-ni by 0900. Some of the enemy ran to the river and crossed back to the north side. In leading this attack, Major John M. Cook, the 1st Battalion Executive Officer, and Captain Alan Hackett, the Battalion S-1, lost their lives.

 [N10-47 Notes, Logan for author, Jun 52; Ltr, Meloy to author, 29 May 52; Interv, Mitchell with Meloy, 30 Jul 50; Intervs, Blumenson with Early, 26 Aug 51, and Cutler, 27 Aug 51; 24th Div WD, G-3 Jnl, entry 583, 160730, Jul 50.]

 Colonel Meloy reported to General Dean that he had thrown back the North Koreans, that he thought the situation was under control, and that he could hold on until dark as he, General Dean, had requested. It was understood that after dark the 19th Infantry would fall back from the river to a delaying position closer to Taejon.

Roadblock Behind the 19th Infantry  

But events were not in reality as favorable as they had appeared to Colonel Meloy when he made his report to General Dean. Colonel Winstead, the 1st Battalion commander, soon reported to Colonel Meloy that while he thought he could hold the river line to his front he had no forces to deal with the enemy in his rear. Fire from infiltrated enemy troops behind the main line was falling on many points of the battalion position and on the main supply road. Then came word that an enemy force had established a roadblock three miles to the rear on the main highway. Stopped by enemy fire while on his way forward with a resupply of ammunition for the 1st Battalion, 2nd Lieutenant Robert E. Nash telephoned the news to Colonel Meloy who ordered him to go back, find Colonel McGrail, 2nd Battalion commander, and instruct him to bring up G and H Companies to break the roadblock. Almost simultaneously with this news Colonel Meloy received word from Colonel Stratton that he was engaged with the enemy at the artillery positions. [N10-4949 19th Inf WD, Summ, 16 Jul 50; 52nd FA Bn WD, 16 Jul 50; 24th Div WD, G-3 Jnl, entry 160910 Jul 50; Ltr, Meloy to author, 30 Dec 52.]

 All morning the hard-pressed men of the 19th Infantry had wondered what had happened to their air support. When the last two planes left the Kum River at dark the night before they had promised that air support would be on hand the next morning at first light. Thus far only six planes, hours after daylight, had made their appearance over the front. Now the regiment sent back an urgent call for an air strike on the enemy roadblock force.

 Scattered, spasmodic firing was still going on in the center when Colonel Meloy and his S-3, Major Edward O. Logan, left the regimental command post about an hour before noon to check the situation at the roadblock and to select a delaying position farther back. Before leaving the Kum River, Meloy gave instructions to Colonel Winstead concerning withdrawal of the troops after dark.

 The enemy soldiers who established the roadblock behind the regiment had crossed the Kum below B Company west of the highway. They bypassed B and F Companies, the latter the regiment’s reserve force. Only enough enemy soldiers to pin it down turned off and engaged F Company. During the morning many reports had come into the regimental command post from F Company that enemy troops were moving south past its position. Once past F Company, the enemy flanking force turned east toward the highway.

 About 1000, Colonel Perry, commanding officer of the 52nd Field Artillery Battalion, from his command post near Tuman-ni three miles south of the Kum River, saw a long string of enemy soldiers in white clothing pass over a mountain ridge two miles westward and disappear southward over another ridge. He ordered A Battery to place fire on this column, and informed the 13th Field Artillery Battalion below him that an enemy force was approaching it. A part of this enemy force, wearing regulation North Korean uniforms, turned off toward the 52nd Field Artillery Battalion and headed for B Battery.  

Men in B Battery hastily turned two or three of their howitzers around and delivered direct fire at the North Koreans. The North Koreans set up mortars and fixed into B Battery position. One of their first rounds killed the battery commander and his first sergeant. Other rounds wounded five of the six chiefs of sections. The battery executive, 1st Lieutenant William H. Steele, immediately assumed command and organized a determined defense of the position. Meanwhile, Colonel Perry at his command post just south of B Battery assembled a small attack force of wire, medical, and fire direction personnel not on duty, and some 19th Infantry soldiers who were in his vicinity. He led this group out against the flank of the North Koreans, directing artillery fire by radio as he closed with them. The combined fire from B Battery, Colonel Perry’s group, and the directed artillery fire repelled this enemy attack. The North Koreans turned and went southward into the hills.

 [N10-52 Ltr, Colonel Perry to author, 8 Jun 52; Notes, Logan for author, Jun 52; Ltr, Meloy to author, 30 Dec 52; 52nd FA Bn WD, 16 Jul 50; 13th FA Bn WD, 16 Jul 50. General Order 120, 5 September 1950, 24th Division, awarded the Silver Star to Lieutenant Steele for action on 16 July.]

 Before noon the enemy force again turned east to the highway about 800 yards south of the 52nd Field Artillery position. There it opened fire on and halted some jeeps with trailers going south for ammunition resupply. Other vehicles piled up behind the jeeps. This was the beginning of the roadblock, and this was when Colonel Meloy received the telephone message about it. South of the roadblock the 11th and 13th Field Artillery Battalions came under long-range, ineffective small arms fire. The artillery continued firing on the Kum River crossing areas, even though the 13th Field Artillery Battalion Fire Direction Center, co-ordinating the firing, had lost all communication about 1100 with its forward observers and liaison officers at the infantry positions.

 [N10-53 Ltr, Perry to author, 8 Jun 52; Notes, Logan for author, Jun 52, quoting Maj Leon B. Cheek, S-3, 13th FA Bn; Interv, Blumenson with Lt Nash (S-4, ad Bn, 19th Inf), 1 Aug 51.]

 The North Korean roadblock, a short distance below the village of Tuman where the highway made a sharp bend going south, closed the only exit from the main battle position of the 19th Infantry. At this point a narrow pass was formed by a steep 40-foot embankment which dropped off on the west side of the road to a small stream, the Yongsu River, and a steep hillside that came down to the road on the other side. There was no space for a vehicular bypass on either side of the road. South of this point for approximately four miles high hills approached and flanked the highway on the west. As the day wore on, the enemy built up his roadblock force and extended it southward into these hills.

 When Colonel Meloy and Major Logan arrived at the roadblock they found conditions unsatisfactory. Small groups of soldiers, entirely disorganized and apathetic, were returning some fire in the general direction of the unseen enemy. While trying to organize a group to attack the enemy on the high ground overlooking the road Colonel Meloy was wounded. He now gave to Colonel Winstead command of all troops along the Kum River.

 Major Logan established communication with General Dean about 1300. He told him that Meloy had been wounded, that Winstead was in command, and that the regimental situation was bad. Dean replied that he was assembling a force to try to break the roadblock but that probably it would be about 1530 before it could arrive at the scene. He ordered the regiment to withdraw at once, getting its personnel and equipment out to the greatest possible extent. Soon after this conversation, enemy fire struck and destroyed the regimental radio truck, and there was no further communication with the division. Colonel Winstead ordered Major Logan to try to reduce the roadblock and get someone through to establish contact with the relief force expected from the south. Winstead then started back to his 1st Battalion along the river. Shortly after 1330 he ordered it to withdraw. In returning to the Kum, Winstead went to his death.

 [N10-54 Ltrs, Meloy to author, 29 May, 7 Jul, 4 Dec, and 30 Dec 52; Notes, Logan for author, Jun 52; 24th Div WD, G-2 Jnl, entry 1031, 161300 Jul 50.]

 The message in the G-2 Journal reporting Logan’s conversation with General Dean reads, “Colonel Meloy hit in calf of leg. Winstead in command. Vehicles badly jammed. Baker Battery is no more [apparently referring to B Battery, sad Field Artillery Battalion, but in error]. Will fight them and occupy position in rear. Both sides of road. Vehicles jammed. Taking a pounding in front. Air Force does not seem able to find or silence tanks.”

 During the previous night the weather had cleared from overcast to bright starlight, and now, as the sun climbed past its zenith, the temperature reached 100 degrees. Only foot soldiers who have labored up the steep Korean slopes in midsummer can know how quickly exhaustion overcomes the body unless it is inured to such conditions by training and experience. As this was the initial experience of the 19th Infantry in Korean combat the men lacked the physical stamina demanded by the harsh terrain and the humid, furnace like weather. And for three days and nights past they had had little rest. This torrid midsummer Korean day, growing light at 0500 and staying light until 2100, seemed to these weary men an unending day of battle.

 When the 1st Battalion began to withdraw, some of the units were still in their original positions, while others were in secondary positions to which enemy action had driven them. In the withdrawal from Hill 200 on the battalion right, officers of C Company had trouble in getting the men to leave their foxholes. Incoming mortar fire pinned them down. Corporal Jack Arawaka, a machine gunner, at this time had his gun blow up in his face. Deafened, nearly blind, and otherwise wounded from the explosion, he picked up a BAR and continued fighting. Arawaka did not follow the company off the hill.

 As 2nd Lieutenant Augustus B. Orr led a part of the company along the base of the hill toward the highway he came upon a number of North Korean soldiers lying in rice paddy ditches and partly covered with water. They appeared to be dead. Suddenly, Orr saw one of them who was clutching a grenade send air bubbles into the water and open his eyes. Orr shot him at once. He and his men now discovered that the other North Koreans were only feigning death and they killed them on the spot.

 When C Company reached the highway they saw the last of A and B Companies disappearing south along it. Enemy troops were starting forward from the vicinity of the bridge. But when they saw C Company approaching from their flank, they ran back. Upon reaching the highway, C Company turned south on it but soon came under enemy fire from the hill east of Palsan-ni. An estimated six enemy machine guns fired on the company and scattered it. Individuals and small groups from the company made their way south as best they could. Some of those who escaped saw wounded men lying in the roadside ditches with medical aid men heroically staying behind administering to their needs. On the west side of the highway, F Company was still in position covering the withdrawal of B Company. At the time of the withdrawal of the 1st Battalion, F Company was under fire from its left front, left flank, and the left rear.

[N10-56 Ibid.; Ltr, Meloy to author, 4 Dec 52, citing comments provided him by Capt Anderson, CO, B Co.]

 As elements of the withdrawing 1st Battalion came up to the roadblock, officers attempted to organize attacks against the enemy automatic weapons firing from the high ground a few hundred yards to the west. One such force had started climbing toward the enemy positions when a flight of four friendly F-51’s came in and attacked the hill. This disrupted their efforts completely and caused the men to drop back off the slope in a disorganized condition. Other attempts were made to organize parties from drivers, mechanics, artillerymen, and miscellaneous personnel to go up the hill—all to no avail. Two light tanks at the roadblock fired in the general direction of the enemy. But since the North Koreans used smokeless powder ammunition, the tankers could not locate the enemy guns and their fire was ineffective. Lieutenant Lloyd D. Smith, platoon leader of the 81-mm. mortar platoon, D Company, was one of the officers Major Logan ordered to attack and destroy the enemy machine guns. He and another platoon leader, with about fifty men, started climbing toward the high ground. After going several hundred feet, Smith found that only one man was still with him. They both returned to the highway. Men crowded the roadside ditches seeking protection from the enemy fire directed at the vehicles.

 [N10-57 Notes, Logan for author, Jun 52; Interv, Blumenson with Lieutenant Smith (D Co, 19th Inf), 25 Aug 51.]

 Several times men pushed vehicles blocking the road out of the way, but each time traffic started to move enemy machine guns opened up causing more driver casualties and creating the vehicle block all over again. Strafing by fighter planes seemed unable to reduce this enemy automatic fire of three or four machine guns. Ordered to attack south against the enemy roadblock force, F Company, still in its original reserve position, was unable to do so, being virtually surrounded and under heavy attack.

 About 1430, Major Logan placed Captain Edgar R. Fenstermacher, Assistant S-3, in command at the roadblock, and taking twenty men he circled eastward and then southward trying to determine the extent of the roadblock and to find a bypass. Approximately two hours later, he and his group walked into the positions of the 13th Field Artillery Battalion which had started to displace southward. A few minutes later Logan met General Dean. With the general were two light tanks and four antiaircraft artillery vehicles, two of them mounting quad .50-caliber machine guns and the other two mounting dual 40-mm. guns.

 In carrying out Meloy’s instructions and going back down the road to find Colonel McGrail and bring G and H Companies to break the roadblock, Nash ran a gantlet of enemy fire. His jeep was wrecked by enemy fire, but he escaped on foot to the 13th Field Artillery Battalion position. There he borrowed a jeep and drove to McGrail’s command post at Sangwang-ni on the regimental extreme left flank near Kongju. After delivering Meloy’s orders, Nash drove back to Taejon airstrip to find trucks to transport the troops. It took personal intercession and an order from the assistant division commander, General Menoher, before the trucks went to pick up G Company. Meanwhile, two tanks and the antiaircraft vehicles started for the roadblock position. Colonel McGrail went on ahead and waited at the 13th Field Artillery Battalion headquarters for the armored vehicles to arrive. They had just arrived when Logan met General Dean.

 Logan told General Dean of the situation at the roadblock and offered to lead the armored vehicles to break the block. Dean said that Colonel McGrail would lead the force and that he, Logan, should continue on south and form a new position just west of Taejon airfield. While Logan stood at the roadside talking with General Dean, a small group of five jeeps came racing toward them. Lieutenant Colonel Homer B. Chandler, the 19th Infantry Executive Officer, rode in the lead jeep. He had led four jeeps loaded with wounded through the roadblock. Every one of the wounded had been hit again one or more times by enemy fire during their wild ride.

 McGrail now started up the road with the relief force. One light tank led, followed by the four antiaircraft vehicles loaded with soldiers; the second light tank brought up the rear. About one mile north of the former position of the 13th Field Artillery Battalion, enemy heavy machine gun and light antitank fire ripped into the column just after it rounded a bend and came onto a straight stretch of the road. Two vehicles stopped and returned the enemy fire. Most of the infantry in the antiaircraft vehicles jumped out and scrambled for the roadside ditches. As McGrail went into a ditch he noticed Colonel Meloy’s and Major Logan’s wrecked jeeps nearby. Enemy fire destroyed the four antiaircraft vehicles. After expending their ammunition, the tanks about 1600 turned around and headed back down the road. McGrail crawled back along the roadside ditch and eventually got out of enemy fire. The personnel in the four antiaircraft vehicles suffered an estimated 90 percent casualties. The location of the wrecked Meloy and Logan jeeps would indicate that McGrail’s relief force came within 300 to 400 yards of the regimental column piled up behind the roadblock around the next turn of the road.

 Back near Kongju on the regimental west flank, G Company came off its hill positions and waited for trucks to transport it to the roadblock area. Elements of H Company went on ahead in their own transportation. Captain Montesclaros stayed with the I&R Platoon, and it and the engineers blew craters in the road. They were the last to leave. At Yusong General Menoher met Captain Michael Barszcz, commanding officer of G Company, when the company arrived there from the west flank. Fearing that enemy tanks were approaching, Menoher ordered him to deploy his men along the river bank in the town.

 Later Barszcz received orders to lead his company forward to attack the enemy-held roadblock. On the way, Barszcz met a small convoy of vehicles led by a 2½ton truck. A Military Police officer riding the front fender of the truck yelled, “Tanks, Tanks!” as it hurtled past. Barszcz ordered his driver to turn the jeep across the road to block it and the G Company men scrambled off their vehicles into the ditches. But there were no enemy tanks, and, after a few minutes, Barszcz had G Company on the road again, this time on foot. Some distance ahead, he met General Dean who ordered him to make contact with the enemy and try to break the roadblock.

 [N10-62 Ltr, Barszcz to author, 3 Jul 52; Interv, author with Montesclaros, 20 Aug 52. Interv, Blumenson with 2nd Lieutenant Robert L. Herbert (Platoon Leader, 2nd Plat, G Co, 19th Inf), 20 Aug 51.]

 About six miles north of Yusong and two miles south of Tuman-ni, G Company came under long-range enemy fire. Barszcz received orders to advance along high ground on the left of the road. He was told that enemy troops were on the hill half a mile ahead and to the left. While climbing the hill the company suffered several casualties from enemy fire. They dug in on top at dusk. A short time later a runner brought word for them to come down to the road and withdraw. That ended the effort of the 19th Infantry and the 24th Division to break the roadblock behind the regiment.

 Efforts to break the enemy roadblock at both its northern and southern extremities disclosed that it covered about a mile and a half of road. The enemy soldiers imposing it were on a Y-shaped hill mass whose two prongs dropped steeply to the Yongsu River at their eastern bases and overlooked the Seoul-Pusan highway.

 Behind the roadblock, the trapped men had waited during the afternoon. They could not see either of the two attempts to reach them from the south because of a finger ridge cutting off their view. Not all the troops along the river line, however, came to the roadblock; many groups scattered into the hills and moved off singly or in small units south and east toward Taejon.

 About 1800, several staff officers decided that they would place Colonel Meloy in the last tank and run it through the roadblock. The tank made four efforts before it succeeded in pushing aside the pile of smoldering 2½-ton trucks and other equipment blocking the road. Then it rumbled southward. About twenty vehicles followed the tank through the roadblock, including a truck towing a 105-mm. howitzer of the 52nd Field Artillery Battalion, before enemy fire closed the road again and for the last time. A few miles south of the roadblock the tank stopped because of mechanical failure. There Captain Barszcz and G Company, withdrawing toward Yusong, came upon it and Colonel Meloy. No one had been able to stop any of the vehicles for help that had followed the tank through the roadblock. Instead, they sped past the disabled tank. The tank commander, Lieutenant  N. Roush, upon Colonel Meloy’s orders, dropped a thermite grenade into the tank and destroyed it. Eventually, an officer returned with a commandeered truck and took Colonel Meloy and other wounded men to Yusong. [N10-64] About an hour after the tank carrying Colonel Meloy had broken through the roadblock, Captain Fenstermacher, acting under his authority from Major Logan, ordered all personnel to prepare for cross-country movement. The critically wounded and those unable to walk were placed on litters. There were an estimated 500 men and approximately 100 vehicles at the roadblock at this time. Captain Fenstermacher and others poured gasoline on the vehicles and then set them afire. While so engaged, Captain Fenstermacher was shot through the neck. About 2100 the last of the men at the roadblock moved eastward into the hills.

 [N10-64 Ltrs, Meloy to author, 20 Aug and 30 Dec 52; Notes, Logan for author, Jun 52; Intervs, Blumenson with Early, 26 Aug 51 and Herbert, 20 Aug 51; 52nd FA Bn WD, 16 Jul 50; 13th FA Bn WD, 16 Jul 50; Intervs, author with Huckabay and Eversole, 52nd FA Bn, 4 Aug 51]

 One group of infantrymen, artillerymen, engineers, and medical and headquarters troops, numbering approximately 100 men, climbed the mountain east of the road. They took with them about 30 wounded, including several litter cases. About 40 men of this group were detailed to serve as litter bearers but many of them disappeared while making the ascent. On top of the mountain the men still with the seriously wounded decided they could take them no farther. Chaplain Herman G. Felhoelter remained behind with the wounded. When a party of North Koreans could be heard approaching, at the Chaplain’s urging, Captain Linton J. Buttrey, the medical officer, escaped, though seriously wounded in doing so. From a distance, 1st Sergeant James W. R. Haskins of Headquarters Company saw through his binoculars a group of what appeared to be young North Korean soldiers murder the wounded men and the valiant chaplain as the latter prayed over them.

 All night long and into the next day, 17 July, stragglers and those who had escaped through the hills filtered into Yusong and Taejon. Only two rifle companies of the 19th Infantry were relatively intact—G and E Companies. On the eastern flank near the railroad bridge, E Company was not engaged during the Kum River battle and that night received orders to withdraw.

 When Captain Barszcz encountered Colonel Meloy at the stalled tank the latter had ordered him to dig in across the road at the first good defensive terrain he could find. Barszcz selected positions at Yusong. There G Company dug in and occupied the most advanced organized defense position of the U.S. 24th Division beyond Taejon on the morning of 17 July.

 The North Korean 3rd Division fought the battle of the Kum River on 16 July without tanks south of the river. Most of the American light tanks in the action gave a mixed performance. At the roadblock on one occasion, when Major Logan ordered two tanks to go around a bend in the road and fire on the enemy machine gun positions in an attempt to silence them while the regimental column ran through the block, the tankers refused to do so unless accompanied by infantry. Later these tanks escaped through the roadblock without orders. An artillery officer meeting General Dean at the south end of the roadblock asked him if there was anything he could do. Dean replied, “No, thank you,” and then with a wry smile the general added, “unless you can help me give these tankers a little courage.”

 [N10-68 Ltr, Meloy to author, 29 May 52; Notes, Logan for author, Jun 52; Interv, author with Majoe Leon B. Cheek, 5 Aug 51.]

 The 19th Infantry regimental headquarters and the 1st Battalion lost nearly all their vehicles and heavy equipment north of the roadblock. The 52nd Field Artillery Battalion lost 8 105-mm. howitzers and most of its equipment; it brought out only 1 howitzer and 3 vehicles. The 13th and 11th Field Artillery Battalions, two miles south of the 52nd, withdrew in the late afternoon to the Taejon airstrip without loss of either weapons or vehicles.

 [N10-69 Ltr, Colonel Perry to author, 6 Nov 52; 52nd FA Bn WD, 16 Jul 50; 13th FA Bn WD, 16 Jul 50; Interv, author with Major Jack J. Kron (Ex Off, 13th FA Bn), 4 Aug 51. The 11th Field Artillery Battalion on 14 July received a third firing battery, thus becoming the first U.S. artillery battalion in action in the Korean War to have the full complement of three firing batteries. Interv, author with Cheek, 5 Aug 51; 19th Inf WD, 16 Jul 50.]

The battle of the Kum on 16 July was a black day for the 19th Infantry Regiment. Of the approximately 900 men in position along the river only 434 reported for duty in the Taejon area the next day. A count disclosed that of the 34 officers in the regimental Headquarters, Service, Medical, and Heavy Mortar Companies, and the 1st Battalion, 17 were killed or missing in action. Of these, 13 later were confirmed as killed in action. All the rifle companies of the 1st Battalion suffered heavy casualties, but the greatest was in C Company, which had total casualties of 122 men out of 171. The regimental headquarters lost 57 of 191 men. The 1st Battalion lost 338 out of 785 men, or 43 percent, the 2nd Battalion, 86 out of 777 men; the 52nd Field Artillery Battalion had 55 casualties out of 393 men, or 14 percent. The total loss of the regiment and all attached and artillery units engaged in the action was 650 out of 3,401, or 19 percent.

 [N10-70 Table, Confirmed KIA as of August 1, 1951, 19th Infantry, for 16 Jul 50, copy supplied author by Gen Meloy; Intervs, Blumenson with Early and Orr, 26 Aug 51; The Rand Corporation, Dr. J. O’Sullivan, Statistical Study of Casualties 19th Infantry at Battle of Taepyong-ni, 16 July 1950.]

 During 17 July, B Company of the 34th Infantry relieved G Company, 19th Infantry, in the latter’s position at Yusong, five miles northwest of Taejon. The 19th Infantry that afternoon moved to Yongdong, twenty-five air miles southeast of Taejon, to re-equip.

 In the battle of the Kum River on 16 July one sees the result of a defending force lacking an adequate reserve to deal with enemy penetrations and flank movement. Colonel Meloy never faltered in his belief that if he had not had to send two-thirds of his reserve to the left flank after the collapse of the 34th Infantry at Kongju, he could have prevented the North Koreans from establishing their roadblock or could have reduced it by attack from high ground. The regiment did repel, or by counterattack drive out, all frontal attacks and major penetrations of its river positions except that through C Company on Hill 200. But it showed no ability to organize counterattacks with available forces once the roadblock had been established. By noon, demoralization had set in among the troops, many of whom were near exhaustion from the blazing sun and the long hours of tension and combat. They simply refused to climb the hills to attack the enemy’s automatic weapons positions.

 The N.K. 3rd Division, for its part, pressed home an attack which aimed to pin down the 19th Infantry by frontal attack while it carried out a double envelopment of the flanks. The envelopment of the American left flank resulted in the fatal roadblock three miles below the Kum on the main supply road. This North Korean method of attack had characterized most other earlier actions and it seldom varied in later ones.

SOURCE: South to the Naktong, North to the Yalu; BY: Colonel Roy E. Appleman (United States Army Center of Military History)

Korean War: United Nations Takes Command (9)