Korean War: Blocking the Road to Masan 1950 (14)

 There is still one absolute weapon . . . the only weapon capable of operating with complete effectiveness—of dominating every inch of terrain where human beings live and fight, and of doing it under all conditions of light and darkness, heat and cold, desert and forest, mountain and plain. That weapon is man himself. (GENERAL MATTHEW B. RIDGWAY)

 The impending loss of Chinju had caused Eighth Army to send its reserve regiment posthaste to the southwest. This was Colonel Michaelis’ 27th Infantry, 25th Division, which had been in army reserve only one day at Waegwan after falling back through the 1st Cavalry Division above Kumchon. During the night of 30-31 July, Eighth Army ordered Michaelis to report to General Church at Changnyong, where the 24th Division command post had moved from Hyopch’on. Colonel Michaelis left immediately with Captain Earl W. Buchanan, his S-3, and instructed his executive officer, Major Arthur Farthing, to follow with the regiment. [N14-1 EUSAK WD, G-3 Stf Sec Rpt, 31 Jul 50; Ltr, Michaelis to author, 24 Jan 53; 24th Div WD, 31 Brigadier General John H. Michaelis to author, 24 Jan 53. Jul 50.] 

Michaelis arrived at the 24th Division command post at Changnyong during the morning of 31 July and reported to Brigadier General Pearson Menoher, assistant division commander. General Church was absent.  

General Menoher decided that Michaelis should continue on, and arranged for him to meet General Church that night at Chung-ni, a little railroad and crossroads village four miles northeast of Masan. The regiment itself passed through Changnyong in the early afternoon and continued on toward Chinju. [N15-2 Interv, author with Church, 25 Sep 52; Ltr,]

The Two Roads to Masan

 That afternoon and evening as the 27th Infantry Regiment traveled south, the 19th Infantry sought a defense position between Chinju and Masan where it could reassemble its forces and block the enemy’s advance eastward from Chinju. Colonel Rhea’s 1st Battalion, 19th Infantry, with supporting artillery, was in the naturally strong position at the Chinju pass.  

Four miles east of the Chinju pass was the little village of Muchon. There the road to Masan forked. The northern route arched in a semicircle through Chungam-ni and Komam-ni to enter Masan from the north. The southern route curved in a similar semicircle through Kogan-ni and Chindong-ni to enter Masan from the south. A high mountain mass, Sobuksan, lay enclosed in this oval area circumscribed by the two roads.  The evening of 31 July Colonel Moore established the 19th Infantry’s command post one mile east of Muchon-ni on the northern road. About 2000, a military police courier arrived at his command post with a message from General Church summoning Moore to a meeting with him and Michaelis at Chung-ni. [N15-3] Colonel Moore and his driver, guided by the courier, set out immediately and arrived at the appointed place before midnight. Church and Michaelis were already in the little railroad station.  

Colonel Moore gave a detailed account of the events of the day and the location of the 19th Infantry and attached troops. There is considerable confusion as to just what orders General Church issued to Colonel Moore and Colonel Michaelis at this meeting. Since they were verbal there has been no way to check them in the records. It would appear that Moore was to hold the 1st Battalion, 19th Infantry, in its blocking position west of the Muchon-ni road fork and Colonel Michaelis was to put the 27th Infantry in a reinforcing defensive position at the pass three miles west of Chungam-ni on the northern road to Masan. [N15-4]  

[N15-3 Intervs, author with Moore, 20 Aug 52, and Church, 25 Sep 52; Ltr, Michaelis to author, 24 Jan 53.]

 After the meeting, Moore returned to his command post while Michaelis waited for his regiment, which arrived about 0300 (1 August), tired and wet. Michaelis instructed it to continue on and dig in on the high ground beyond Chungam-ni, fifteen miles westward.  

Colonel Michaelis with a few staff officers left Chung-ni while it was still dark and drove to the Notch, a pass southwest of Chungam-ni, arriving there shortly after daybreak. Colonel Michaelis, Captain Buchanan, Colonel Check, and Lieutenant Colonel Gordon E. Murch were studying the ground there and planning to occupy the position, when Captain Elliott C. Cutler, Acting S-3, 19th Infantry, arrived. He was reconnoitering the ground for defensive positions and had selected four possible sites between the Muchon-ni crossroads and the Notch. He told Michaelis the Notch was the best site and, when he left to return to his command post, he understood that Michaelis still expected to put the 27th Infantry into the Notch position. [N14-5]

 [N15-4 Ltr, Michaelis to author, 24 Jan 53. In discussing this matter with the author, General Church and Colonel Moore had somewhat different recollections from those of Michaelis regarding the orders General Church gave. They recalled the orders as being that the 19th Infantry was to defend the northern road at the pass west of Chungam-ni, and that Michaelis’ 27th Infantry was to move through Masan to a defensive position on the southern road near Chindong-ni. The author has concluded that the sequence of events and troop movements that followed the meeting support Michaelis’ version. ]

 [N14-5 Ltr, Cutler to author, 9 Mar 53. Michaelis says that at the Notch about 0730 he received a message from an officer courier indicating the 19th Infantry would not hold its blocking position in front of him. Comments with ltr, Michaelis to author, 29 Sep 53.] 

The conversation with Cutler apparently convinced Michaelis that the 19th Infantry was on the verge of another withdrawal which would uncover the Muchon-ni road fork. After Cutler departed, Michaelis remarked to his battalion commanders, Check and Murch, “The 19th Infantry has been overrun and won’t be able to do much. They are beaten. I think I will go back and cover the other road. I can’t do much here.” [N15-6] Michaelis went back a mile or so to the 13th Field Artillery Battalion command post which had just been established west of Chungam-ni. There he telephoned Colonel Moore at the 19th Infantry command post.

 In the conversation that followed, according to Michaelis, Moore told him the 19th Infantry could not hold the crossroads and would fall back to the Notch. Michaelis said it seemed to him imperative in that event that some force block the southern road into Masan, otherwise the North Koreans could move through Masan on Pusan and flank the entire Eighth Army. Michaelis proposed that the 19th Infantry endeavor to hold the northern road at the Chungam-ni Notch and that he take the 27th Infantry back through Masan to the vicinity of Chindong-ni to block the southern road to Masan. [N15-7] Michaelis states that Moore concurred. Michaelis then tried, but failed, to establish communication with both the 24th Division and Eighth Army to obtain approval of this plan.  

[N15-6 Interv, author with Check, 6 Feb 53.]  

[N15-7 Ltr, Michaelis to author, 24 Jan 53, and Comments with ltr, 29 Sep 53; Interv, author with Major Jack J. Kron, 1 Aug 51. Kron was formerly Executive Officer, 13th Field Artillery Battalion, and heard Michaelis’ end of the conversation at his command post. He confirms the Michaelis version. Colonel Moore has no recollection of this conversation.] 

His mind made up, however, Michaelis at once gave orders to turn the 27th Regiment around and head for Chindong-ni. It was about noon. [N15-8] In Masan, Michaelis found the newly arrived advance command post of the 25th Division, and from it he tried to telephone General Church at the 24th Division. Unable to get the division, he then tried to reach Eighth Army. Succeeding, he talked with Colonel Landrum, Chief of Staff, Eighth Army, and explained the situation. Landrum approved Michaelis’ move to the southern road in the vicinity of Chindong-ni, and instructed him to continue efforts to communicate with General Church. Later in the day, when General Walker returned to the army command post, Landrum informed him of his conversation with Michaelis. Meanwhile during the day, the Eighth Army G-3 Section succeeded in getting a message to General Church informing him of Colonel Michaelis’ move and the new troop dispositions west of Masan. [N15-9]  

During the afternoon, the 27th Regiment arrived at Chindong-ni. Michaelis halted the troops there while he went forward a few miles with his battalion commanders, Check and Murch, to an observation post where they conferred with General Church, who had just arrived.  

[N15-8 Michaelis says he talked with Moore about 0800, but that hour seems too early. It must have been shortly before noon. Colonel Check, Colonel Murch, and Major Frank V. Roquemore (regimental headquarters staff) agree that Michaelis gave the order to turn around about noon. Interv, author with Check, 6 Feb 53; Interv, author with Roquemore, 6 Feb 53; Ltr and review comments, Murch to author, 2 Jan 58.] 

In the discussion there, General Church ordered Colonel Michaelis to put one battalion on the hills at the low pass where they were standing. Church decided that a reconnaissance in force should proceed westward the next morning to locate the enemy. Both the 27th Infantry and the 19th Infantry were to make this reconnaissance and the two forces were to meet at the Muchon-ni road fork. Michaelis telephoned Colonel Moore and relayed General Church’s order for a reconnaissance in force with all available tanks toward Chinju at 0600 the next morning, 2 August. Moore did not favor making this attack; Michaelis did. [N15-10]

 [N15-9 Ltr, Landrum to author, 21 Mar 53; Ltrs, Michaelis to author, 24 Jan and 29 Sep 53; Interv, author with Roquemore, 6 Feb 53. Roquemore was responsible for preparing the 27th Infantry War Diary.]

 Pursuant to General Church’s instructions, Colonel Michaelis placed Murch’s 2nd Battalion on the high ground at Kogan-ni, where the conversation with General Church had taken place, about seven miles west of Chindong-ni, with E Company in an advanced position astride the road three miles farther west just beyond Pongam-ni. To Colonel Check was given the task of making the reconnaissance attack the next morning with the 1st Battalion. Check placed the battalion in an assembly area back of the 2nd Battalion for the night. Colonel Michaelis established his command post in a schoolhouse under a high bluff in Chindong-ni. [N15-11]  

On the northern road, as Captain Cutler discovered when he returned to the 19th Infantry command post from his reconnaissance, Colonel Moore had ordered the 1st Battalion to move to the Notch in one jump instead of taking several successive delaying positions as Cutler had expected. Moore thought the one move would give the battalion more time to dig in against an expected enemy attack. [N15-12]

 [N15-10 Intervs, author with Church, 25 Sep 52, Check, 6 Feb 53, and Moore, 20 Aug 52; Ltrs, Michaelis to author, 24 Jan and 29 Sep 53; Ltr, Murch to author, 7 Apr 54. ]

[N15-11 2nd Bn, 27th Inf. Opn Rpt, 1 Aug 50; 27th Inf WD, Activities Rpt, Aug 50; 24th Div WD, 1 Aug 50; Brigadier General John H. Michaelis with Bill Davidson, “This We Learned in Korea,” Collier’s, August 18, 1950, p. 39. ]

[N15-12 Ltr, Cutler to author, 9 Mar 53.]

 The 1st Battalion left its positions at the Chinju pass and arrived at a designated assembly area two miles southwest of the Notch about 1400. Colonel Rhea remained behind at the pass with an M20 armored car to protect the rear of the

battalion. An hour after the battalion had moved off eastward, an American jeep carrying two North Korean scouts came up the hill from the west and stopped just short of the crest. Using small arms fire, Colonel Rhea’s party killed the two enemy soldiers and recovered the jeep. Rhea’s rear guard party then followed the battalion toward the Notch. Below the Notch Rhea received orders to make a reconnaissance of the high ground there. It took him about two hours to do this. Not until about 1700, after he had returned from this reconnaissance, did he receive orders to place his battalion in the position. It was evening before the 1st Battalion started to occupy the Notch position. [N15-13]  

The regimental plan called for the 1st Battalion to hold the Notch and the high ground to the right (northwest), and the ROK troops, commanded by Colonel Min, the high ground to the left (southeast) of the Notch. [N15-14] Colonel McGrail’s battalion, which had withdrawn from Chinju by a route north of the Nam River, crossed to the south side near Uiryong and arrived at the Notch ahead of the 1st Battalion. When the 1st Battalion arrived, the 2nd withdrew to the northern base of the pass in regimental reserve. Late in the afternoon, the 1st Battalion, 29th Infantry, also arrived at Chungam-ni.

 [N15-13 Ltr, Rhea to author, 9 Apr 53.] * [N15-14 Ltr, Cutler to author, 9 Mar 53.]

 As the 19th and 27th Infantry Regiments made their preparations during the evening of 1 August for their reconnaissance the next morning, most welcome reinforcements arrived. They were the first medium tanks in Korea, if one excepts the three ill-fated Pershings at Chinju. About mid-July, Eighth Army activated the 8072nd Medium Tank Battalion, which was to receive fifty-four old World War II medium tanks rebuilt in Japan. Detachment A (A Company) of the tank battalion, under the command of Captain James H. Harvey, arrived at Pusan on 31 July. Railroad flatcars brought them to Masan the morning of 1 August. From there, Lieutenant Donald E. Barnard took the first platoon to the 19th Infantry position near Chungam-ni, and 1st Lieutenant Herman D. Norrell took the second platoon to the 27th Infantry at Chindong-ni. Both platoons entered action the next day. [N15-15]

The Battle at the Notch  

Colonel Moore selected Colonel Wilson’s 1st Battalion, 29th Infantry, to make the reconnaissance westward from the Notch and issued his orders for it at 2000, 1 August. A platoon of five M4 medium tanks and four M8 armored cars and a platoon of engineers were to accompany the battalion. [N15-16] Moore had available at this time a total of about 2,335 men in the 19th Infantry and attached 29th Infantry units, excluding the ROK soldiers under Colonel Min. [N15-17] The tanks were to lead the column. They assembled in front of the 19th Infantry regimental command post in Chungam-ni at 0530 the next morning, 2 August, and the rest of the column organized behind them. Groups of five infantrymen from C Company mounted each of the tanks and armored cars. Next came the motorized battalion in twenty-two trucks and a number of jeeps. The tanks led off from Chungamni at 0615 with the first good light. Half an hour later the head of the column passed through the 1st Battalion, 19th Infantry, defensive position at the Notch, its line of departure.  

[N15-15 EUSAK WD, G-1 Sec, Unit Hist Rpt, 13 Jul 50, p. 5; 8072nd Med Tk Bn WD, 1-7 Aug 50 (in 25th Div WD); GHQ UNC, G-3 Opn Rpts 37, 31 Jul 50, and 38, 1 Aug 50.]

[N15-16 Ltr, Wilson to author, 25 Mar 53; Interv, author with Moore, 20 Aug 52.]

[N15-17 On 1 August the 19th Infantry strength was 1,273; the 1st Bn, 29th Inf, was 745; and the 3rd Bn, 29th Inf, was 317. See 24th Div WD, 31 Jul 50; 19th Inf WD, 31 Jul 50; 19th Inf Unit Rpt 23, 1 Aug 50.] 

Excitement spread among the men at the Notch when enemy fire suddenly struck and stopped the armored column just below their position. Colonel Wilson at the time was well back in that part of the column still on the northeast incline leading up to the Notch. Hearing heavy firing forward, he jumped from his jeep and hurried up the hill. Colonel Rhea ran up as Wilson reached the crest, shouting, “You better be careful—that ground down by the pond is enemy territory. My men were fighting with them when your tanks came by.” [N15-18] Colonel Wilson’s motorized column in passing through the Notch had met head-on an enemy attack just starting against the 19th Infantry.

 The tanks met enemy soldiers crawling up the ditch at the side of the road, 100 yards below the crest of the pass. The tanks moved slowly ahead, firing their machine guns. Some of the enemy soldiers ran into the woods along both sides of the road. The lead tank, with its hatch open, had reached a point about 400-500 yards down the incline when an enemy mortar shell struck it, killing the crew. Fire from an enemy antitank gun hit a truck farther back in the column and set it on fire. Three enemy heavy machine guns along the road 200 yards below the crest started firing on the column as it ground to a halt This machine gun fire almost annihilated the 1st Platoon, C Company, as the men scrambled from the trucks. Twelve or fourteen vehicles had crossed over the pass and were on the southern slope when the enemy opened fire. [N15-19]  

[N15-18 Ltr, Wilson to author, 25 Mar 53; Ltr, Rhea to author, 9 Apr 53; Ltr, Cutler to author, 3 Jul 53. Colonel Rhea states he did not know of the projected reconnaissance attack through his position by the 1st Battalion, 29th Infantry, until tanks passed through the Notch. A written order had been distributed for this attack, but by some inadvertance. Colonel Rhea did not know of it.]

[N15-19 Ltrs to author, Wilson, 25 Mar 53, Rhea, 9 Apr 53, and Cutler, 3 Jul 53; Ltr, Rhea to author, 29 Apr 53; Holliday, Notes for author, 31 Mar 53; 24th Div GO 114, 31 Aug 50.]  

When the American soldiers jumped off their vehicles and ran to the roadside ditches for protection, they found the enemy already there. Several desperate struggles took place. Some North Koreans in the ditches continued to advance slowly uphill, pushing captured Americans, their hands tied, in front of them. This melee along the road resulted in about thirty American casualties.  

Colonel Wilson witnessed this disastrous spectacle from a point just southwest of the Notch. Seeing that the column was effectively stopped, he placed B Company, 29th Infantry (62 men), in position with the 1st Battalion, 19th Infantry. Colonel Wilson displayed great energy and exposed himself constantly in reorganizing scattered and intermingled units west of the Notch.

 As soon as the enemy machine gun positions were located, recoilless rifles took them under fire and either destroyed them or caused the enemy gunners to abandon them. But enemy fire in turn killed three of four crew members of the recoilless rifle on the west side of the Notch. The fourth member, Sergeant Evert E. “Moose” Hoffman, stayed with the gun and fired at every available target throughout the day. He won a battlefield commission. Another courageous noncommissioned officer, Master Sergeant William Marchbanks, D Company, 29th Infantry, placed his two mortars in position at the edge of the Notch and took under fire every burst of enemy fire he could locate. [N15-20]

 When the fight started, Colonel Moore came to the command post of the 1st Battalion on the west side of the Notch and stayed there most of the day, directing the defense.  

The battle soon spread from the road and flared up along the high ground on either side of the Notch. The night before, B Company, 19th Infantry, had started to climb the peak on the west side of the Notch but, tired from the efforts of the past few days and the hard climb, it stopped short of the crest. On the morning of 2 August, enemy troops came upon the men in their sleep. In a swift attack the North Koreans bayoneted the company commander and several others and drove the rest off the hill. The confusion west of the Notch was heightened about noon when three American fighter planes mistakenly strafed and rocketed this company. [N15-21]

 [N15-20 Ltr, Rhea to author, 29 Apr 53; Interv, author with Moore, 20 Aug 52; Notes, Moore for author, Jul 53; 24th Div GO 114, 31 Aug 50.]

[N15-21 Ltrs, Rhea to author, 9 and 29 Apr 53; Ltr, Wilson to author, 25 Mar 53; Ltrs, Cutler to author, 9 Mar and 3 Jul 53.]

 On that (west) side of the Notch, men of the 1st Battalion, 19th Infantry, and of the 1st Battalion, 29th Infantry, became badly intermingled. The enemy force that had driven B Company, 19th Infantry, from the high ground placed cross fire from flank and rear on other units. In an effort to halt this destructive fire, C Company, 29th Infantry, gradually worked its way to a saddle short of the high ground. From there it attacked and drove the enemy force from the heights. In the attack, twelve men of C Company were killed; half of the casualties, in Colonel Wilson’s opinion, were caused by American fire from neighboring positions.

 During the preceding night, plans for covering the left (east) flank of the Notch position had also miscarried. Colonel Min’s troops were supposed to occupy that ground and tie in with the 19th Infantry near the Notch. Morning found them too far eastward, separated by a mile and a half from the 19th Infantry. Snipers infiltrated behind some American soldiers on that side and killed five of them by shots through the back of the head. In the afternoon, enemy mortar fire on the east side also killed and wounded several men.  

From his position west of the Notch, Colonel Moore saw men moving up the valley eastward, following the railroad toward Chungam-ni. Thinking they were enemy troops he directed Captain Cutler, his S-3, to send part of the 2nd Battalion to block them. This force, however, turned out to be Colonel Min’s ROK troops withdrawing because friend and foe alike had them under fire.

 East of the Notch, gaps in the line produced much confusion. The 3rd Battalion, 29th Infantry, had been committed next to Colonel Min’s force, and B Company, 29th Infantry, also went there during the day to help hold the high ground. Enemy troops tried to advance from the railroad tunnel in front of B Company, but a platoon of F Company, 19th Infantry, counterattacked and drove them back. [N15-22] 

The fighting along the road west of the Notch died down during the afternoon. The enemy apparently had moved off to the flanks in his favorite maneuver. At midafternoon a squad from A Company, 19th Infantry, went down the road past the knocked-out vehicles and killed a few enemy soldiers still near them. The men then set up a roadblock 100 yards beyond the tanks. Other groups took out American wounded and recovered most of the vehicles. The rest of A Company swept the adjoining ridge forward of the pass for several hundred yards. By evening, the enemy had withdrawn from close contact with the 19th Infantry.

[N15-22 Interv, author with Moore, 17 Feb 53; Ltr, Cutler to author, 9 Mar 53; Ltr, Wilson to author, 25 Mar 53; Holliday, Notes for author, 31 Mar 53]  

American casualties in the Notch battle numbered about ninety. North Korean losses are unknown. Nor is it known how large an enemy force was engaged there. Estimates ranged among officers present from two companies to a regiment. From information gained later concerning the location of the 6th Division, it appears that the enemy was at least in battalion strength at the Notch on 2 August, and he may have had the greater part of a regiment.

 The day’s events disclosed that from Chinju elements of the enemy 6th Division had followed closely behind the withdrawing 19th Infantry, sending the bulk of its advance units up the northern road toward Masan.

Colonel Check’s Reconnaissance in Force Toward Chinju  

That same morning, 2 August, Colonel Check at 0400 led the 1st Battalion, 27th Infantry, with A Battery of the 8th Field Artillery Battalion attached, westward from Chindong-ni on the southern leg of the two-pronged reconnaissance. At the head of the column a platoon of infantry rode four medium tanks (Shermans). Colonel Check’s immediate objective was the road juncture at Muchonni.  

Check’s column was unopposed at first. After traveling several miles, the tanks and the lead platoon forming the point caught an enemy platoon still in their blankets along the road. When the startled North Koreans jumped up and started to run, tank machine guns and riflemen killed all but two, and these they captured. [N15-23] Soon, enemy opposition began to develop, but it was mostly from snipers and scattered patrols.

[N15-23 Interv, author with Check, 6 Feb 53; 27th Inf WD, 2 Aug 50; 1st Bn, 27th Inf, Opn Rpt, Aug 50.]

At the Muchon-ni road fork about midafternoon, Check’s column met and surprised a number of enemy soldiers. The surprise was evident, as a column of enemy supply trucks had just descended from the Chinju pass. Drivers were able to turn some of the vehicles around and escape, but the North Koreans abandoned about ten vehicles, ranging from jeeps to 2½-ton trucks. These were loaded with uniforms, food, ammunition, medicine, and other supplies. Pilots of F-51 planes overhead reported later that the appearance of Check’s column caused many other vehicles to turn around at the top of the pass and head toward Chinju. They made good targets for the planes. [N15-24]  

Enemy resistance now increased. Just beyond the road fork Check dismounted his motorized battalion and sent the trucks back. He did not want to run the risk of having them captured, and he believed his men could fight their way out on foot if necessary. Only the mortar platoon and the artillery battery retained their vehicles. Having no communication with the regiment, Colonel Check sent runners back to Colonel Michaelis, but none reached their destination. Enemy forces had closed in behind Check and cut the road.

 Check’s battalion, now afoot, advanced westward with the tanks in the lead. In the low hills at the foot of the Chinju pass, a long hard fight with the enemy began. The North Koreans held the pass in force. Sniper fire from the right (north) caused the infantry on the tanks to dismount and take cover behind them. Suddenly, Lieutenant Norrell, tank platoon leader in the third tank, saw enemy fire hit the tank ahead of him. He could see that it was coming from three antitank guns about seventy-five yards off the road to the right. His own tank then received three hits almost immediately and started to burn. In leaving his tank, Lieutenant Norrell received machine gun and shrapnel wounds. [N15-25] This quick burst of enemy antitank fire killed the gunner in the second tank and wounded seven other enlisted tank crew members. Very quickly, however, the artillery battery took the antitank guns under fire and silenced them. The infantry then captured the pieces. There were many enemy dead in this vicinity, and others feigning death. Check walked over to the guns and noted that they were 76-mm. [N15-26]

 [N15-24 Interv, author with Check, 6 Feb 53; Ltr, Colonel Gilbert J. Check to Lieutenant Colonel Carl D. McFerren, 26 Jun 53, in OCMH files.] 

Colonel Check called for volunteers to form crews for the two partly disabled but still operable tanks. Men who had operated bulldozers volunteered to drive the tanks. They received quick instruction from the drivers of the two undamaged tanks. Check used riflemen as improvised tank machine gunners. The advance continued, but in the next hour gained only a few hundred yards. About 1700 or 1730, a liaison plane reappeared and dropped a message. It was from Colonel Michaelis and read, “Return. Road cut behind you all the way. Lead with tanks if possible. Will give you artillery support when within range.” [N15-27]

[N15-25 8072nd Med Tk Bn WD, 2 Aug 50.]

[N15-26 Ibid.; Interv, author with Check, 6 Feb 53. The statement by Norrell in the report that this enemy fire came from three captured U.S. 105-mm. howitzers is incorrect. ]

[N15-27 Interv, author with Check, 6 Feb 53; 8072nd Med Tk Bn WD, 1-7 Aug 50; 27th Inf WD, 2 Aug 50; 1st Bn, 27th Inf, Opn Rpt, Aug 50; 24th Div WD, 2 Aug 50. The records erroneously have this final action taking place at Muchon-ni.]

 That morning about 1700, Colonel Michaelis at Chindong-ni received word from Colonel Moore that enemy troops had stopped his part of the reconnaissance just beyond its line of departure. Moore reported that he would have all he could do to hold his defensive positions. Late in the morning and in the early afternoon, Michael is received reports that the enemy had cut the road between Check and the rest of the regiment, and that E Company in its advance blocking position was heavily engaged. It was apparent, therefore, that strong enemy forces had moved toward Masan. He thereupon, sometime after 1600, dispatched to Colonel Check the message by liaison plane to return with the 1st Battalion.

 Upon receiving Colonel Michaelis’ message, Colonel Check immediately set about disengaging the battalion and started back. The two damaged tanks gave trouble and had to be towed by the other tanks to start them. Check put them in the lead. The two undamaged tanks brought up the rear, behind the mortar and artillery vehicles. The infantry, moving along the sides of the ridges parallel to the road, engaged in a fire fight as the withdrawal started. Just before dark, and still west of the Muchon-ni road fork, Check decided he would have to mount his infantry on the tanks and vehicles and make a run for it. Thirty to thirty-five men crowded onto the decks of each of the four tanks. The mortar and artillery trucks likewise were loaded to capacity, but every man found a place to ride.

 The tank-led column went back the way it had come, almost constantly engaged with the enemy along the road. Several times the lead tanks stopped and infantry riding the decks jumped off to rush enemy machine gun positions. Until dark, the withdrawing battalion had air cover and, when it came within range, the 8th Field Artillery Battalion and a battery of 155-mm. howitzers fired shells on either side of the road, shortening the ranges as Check’s battalion neared Chindong-ni. Exhausted, the 1st Battalion reached Chindong-ni at midnight. It had suffered about thirty casualties during the day. Colonel Check’s leadership on this occasion won for him the Distinguished Service Cross.29

 During the day, an estimated enemy battalion had come in behind Check’s column and attacked E Company, which held the line of departure at Pongam-ni. A relief force sent from the 2nd Battalion helped E Company fight its way back to the battalion’s main defensive lines at Kogan-ni, three miles eastward. Still another enemy force ambushed a platoon from A Company, 65th Engineer Combat Battalion, south of Chindong-ni on the Kosong-Sachon road, with resulting heavy personnel losses and destruction of much equipment. Obviously, North Koreans were moving east from Chinju toward Masan on all roads. [N15-30]

The Affair at Chindong-ni

 The town of Chindong-ni, where Colonel Michaelis had his command post, lies astride the south coastal road at a point where mountain spurs from the north come down to meet the sea. High finger ridges end at the northern edge of the town, one on either side of the dirt road from Chindong-ni via Haman and Komam-ni to the Nam River. The ridge on the east side of this north-south road terminates in a high, steep bluff at the northeast edge of Chindong-ni. The 27th Infantry regimental command post was in a schoolhouse under the brow of this bluff. In the school courtyard a battery of 155mm. howitzers (A Battery, 11th Field Artillery Battalion) had emplaced. Close by was the 8th Field Artillery Battalion. Colonel Check’s tired 1st Battalion and the attached four medium tanks had bivouacked there at midnight.

 [N15-29 Interv, author with Check, 6 Feb 53; Ltrs, Michaelis to author, 24 Jan and 29 Sep 53; 27th Inf WD, 2 Aug 50; 1st Bn, 27th Inf. Opn Rpt, Aug 50; EUSAK WD, GO 68, 15 Sep 50. ]

[N15-30 27th Inf WD, Hist Rpt, Aug 50; 2nd Bn, 27th Inf, Summ of Activities, Aug 50; Ltr with comments, Murch to author, 7 Apr 54.] 

It was a stroke of the greatest good fortune for Colonel Michaelis and the 27th Infantry regimental headquarters that Colonel Check and his 1st Battalion had returned to Chindong-ni during the night. The next morning, 3 August, just after the regimental staff had finished breakfast in the schoolhouse command post, a sudden fusillade of small arms fire hit the building and came through the open windows. [N15-31] This first enemy fire came from the top of the bluff above the schoolhouse. It heralded an enemy attack which came as a complete surprise.

 [N15-31 27th Inf Activities Rpt, S-3 Sec, Aug 50; Higgins, War in Korea, pp. 123-30; Harold Martin, “The Colonel Saved the Day,” The Saturday Evening Post, September 9, 1950, pp. 32-33; Michaelis with Davidson, “This We Learned in Korea,” op. cit. Both Higgins and Martin were present. Their accounts of the Chindong-ni action are somewhat colored. ] 

When the attack hit Chindong-ni, some of the security guards apparently were asleep. A few outpost troops mistook some of the enemy for South Koreans from other nearby outpost positions.[N15-32] Several Americans came running shoeless down the hill to the courtyard. Colonel Michaelis and his staff officers pulled men from under jeeps and trucks and forced them into position. One soldier went berserk and started raking his own companions with machine gun fire. [N15-33] An officer, by a well-placed shot, wounded him and stopped his murderous fire. Michaelis and Check with other officers and noncommissioned officers gradually brought order out of the chaos.  

Captain Logan E. Weston, A Company commander, led an attack against the enemy positions on the hill overlooking the command post. He assaulted two enemy machine guns on the crest and eliminated their crews by accurate M1 rifle fire. Enemy fire wounded Weston in the thigh during this action, but after receiving first aid treatment he returned to the fight and subsequently was wounded twice more. Despite three wounds he refused to be evacuated. Ten days earlier he had likewise distinguished himself in leadership and in combat near Poun. [N15-34] 

Soon the 1st Battalion had possession of the high ground near the command post. Its mortars and recoilless rifles now joined in the fight. Before long the 105mm. howitzers were firing white phosphorus shells on concentrations of enemy troops reported from the newly won infantry positions. [N15-35]

[N15-32 Higgins, War In Korea, p. 124; Martin “The Colonel Saved the Day,” op. cit., p. 190.]

[N15-33 Interv, author with Check, 6 Feb 53.]

[N15-34 General Order 68, 15 September 1950, awarded the Distinguished Service Cross to Weston. EUSAK WD. See also Higgins, War in Korea.] 

At the time they launched their attack, the North Koreans undoubtedly knew that artillery was at Chindong-ni, because small groups had brought it under small arms fire during the afternoon of 2 August. But infantry were not there then, and apparently the enemy did not expect to find any there the next morning. If the North Koreans surprised the 27th’s command post with their attack, they in turn were surprised by the presence of Colonel Check’s battalion. Once engaged in the fight, and the initial attack failing, the local North Korean commander sent at least a second battalion to Chindong-ni to reinforce the one already there and tried to salvage the situation.  

Lieutenant Colonel Augustus T. Terry, Jr., commanding officer of the 8th Field Artillery Battalion, discovered the reinforcing battalion approaching in trucks about one thousand yards away on the Haman road from the north. The trucks stopped and the enemy battalion began dismounting. [N15-36] Colonel Terry’s artillery adjusted time fire on it. After the artillery shells began falling on them, the enemy soldiers dispersed rapidly into the hills and the threatened enemy counterattack did not materialize.

 By 1300 the North Koreans had withdrawn from the immediate vicinity of Chindong-ni. American patrols counted 400 enemy dead, a large number of them in the area where the 8th Field Artillery Battalion had taken the detrucking enemy soldiers under fire. The defenders of Chindong-ni estimated they had killed and wounded 600 enemy soldiers. American casualties at Chindong-ni on 3 August were 13 killed and nearly 40 wounded in the 1st Battalion, with a total of 60 casualties for all units. [N15-37]

 [N15-35 1st Bn, 27th Inf, Opn Rpt, 23 Jul-3 Aug 50.]

[N15-36 8th FA Bn WD, Aug 50, entry for 3 Aug and Summ.] 

Interrogation of prisoners later disclosed that two battalions of the 14th Regiment, N.K. 6th Division, made the attack on Chindong-ni. One battalion, with the mission of establishing a roadblock at the town, made the initial early morning attack. The other two battalions of the same regiment detoured farther to the east, with the mission of establishing roadblocks closer to Masan. One of them turned back to Chindongni and was dispersed by artillery fire as it was detrucking. The enemy base of operations was on Sobuk-san, north of Chindong-ni. During this engagement, the enemy used commercial telephone lines. Signal officers, tapping them through the 27th Infantry regimental switchboard, monitored the enemy conversations. That night (3 August), an operations officer and a translator heard the commanding general of the N.K. 6th Division reprimand the commander of the 14th Regiment for losing so many men. 

While the prime objective of the14th Regiment had been to cut the Masan road, another regiment, the 15th, apparently had the mission of capturing Masan or the high ground around it. [N15-39]  

[N15-37 Ibid., 1st Bn, 27th Inf, Opn Rpt, 23 Jul-3 Aug 50; 27th Inf S-3 Activities Rpt, Aug 50.]

[N15-38 27th Inf S-3 Activities Rpt, Aug 50; 1st Bn, 27th Inf, Opn Rpt, 4-30 Aug 50; 25th Div WD, 2-3 Aug 50; Michaelis with Davidson, “This We Learned in Korea,” op. cit. ]

[N15-39 8th FA Bn WD, Aug 50.] 

When the attack on Chindong-ni failed, the 15th Regiment withheld the attack on Masan but did infiltrate the high ground southwest of the town.  

The enemy 6th Division, which had driven so rapidly eastward from Hadong, where it first encountered American troops on 27 July, had by now, in the course of a week, suffered heavy casualties which reduced it to about half strength. [N15-40] After the battles of the Chungam-ni Notch and Chindong-ni, both sides regrouped and made ready for a new test of strength on the approaches to Masan.

 [N15-40 ATIS Res Supp Interrog Rpts, Issue 100 (N.K. 6th Div), pp. 37-38.] 

The movement around the left flank of Eighth Army in late July had been the most brilliantly conceived and executed of the North Korean tactical operations south of the Han River. It had held within it the possibilities of victory—of driving U.N. forces from the peninsula. It had compelled Eighth Army to reinforce its units in the southwest at the expense of the central front, and to redeploy the U.N. forces along a shorter line behind the Naktong River, in what came to be called the Pusan Perimeter.

In early August, General Walker received what he regarded as conclusive intelligence that the enemy plan had been to supply the North Korean enveloping force in southwestern Korea by water from the port of Kunsan and other ports southward to and including Yosu. Walker said that had the enemy force driven straight and hard for Pusan instead of occupying all the ports in southwestern Korea, he would not have had time to interpose the strength to stop it. [N15-41]

 Never afterward were conditions as critical for the Eighth Army as in the closing days of July and the first days of August 1950. Never again did the North Koreans come as close to victory as when their victorious 6th and 4th Divisions passed eastward through Chinju and Kochang. Costly, bloody battles still remained, but from a U.N. strategic point of view, the most critical phase had passed. Heavy U.N. reinforcements were then arriving, or on the point of arriving, in Korea.  

[N15-41 Memo, Maj Gen Doyle O. Hickey (Dep CofS, FEC) to CofS, FEC, 7 Aug 50, sub: Report of Visit to Korea.]

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

Korean War: Establishing the Pusan Perimeter (15)

Korean War: Enemy Flanks Eighth Army in the West 1950 (13)

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World War Two: Sicily (2-18)Breaking the San Fratello Line

On the same day (31 July) that Colonel Flint’s 39th Infantry opened the battle for Troina, Truscott’s 3rd Infantry Division arrived at Santo Stefano di Camastra to take the place of the 45th Division on the II Corps northern axis of advance. Like Allen, Truscott faced difficult terrain and a stubborn enemy. From Licata to Palermo, the 3rd Division had operated generally in terrain where it had space for maneuver, sufficient roads and trails to accommodate supporting artillery and supply trains, and alternative routes forward. 

Now all this changed. Highway 113, the coastal route, is a good, hard-surfaced road, capable of carrying two-way military traffic. As Sicilian roads go, it is not crooked. But it has numerous curves, ideal places for roadblocks. On the inland side of the highway there are few lateral roads except the four that cross the mountains-usually they dead-end in the mountainous interior at typical Sicilian ridge-end towns, medieval in origin, and built on sites chosen because they were almost inaccessible. Thus, General Truscott had a choice of making his main effort either along the highway or across the northern slopes of the Caronie Mountains to outflank German coastal defensive lines. Either way, the defenders possessed the advantage: they could deny use of the highway by fire, by demolitions, and by liberal use of mines; they could delay inland movement by plotting defense positions along the several well-defined ridge lines which lie behind deep-cut mountain streams. Faced with this choice, Truscott decided that the 3rd Division would make its Major effort through the mountains while units along the road would keep constant pressure on the enemy. 

To supply and to communicate with the units operating in the mountains, Truscott organized a Provisional Pack Train (mules) and a Provisional Mounted Troop (horses) [N2-18-1] under the command of Major Robert W. Crandall, a former cavalryman who had served under Truscott before the war. Some of the animals had been brought with the division from North Africa; the others had been acquired during the preceding three weeks of campaigning. Some had already seen action with the 179th Infantry the week before during that regiment’s advance to Mistretta. 

[N2-18-1 Truscott, Command Missions, p. 230. Before reaching Messina the 3rd Division would use more than 400 mules and over 100 horses. “See Comments of Colonel Robert B. Hutchins (Ret.) (former Commanding Officer, 179th Infantry) on MS. The I79th at first had considerable trouble with the Sicilian animals, but after some experimentation found the correct way of handling them.]

Despite the similarities of terrain and enemy, General Truscott had one trump card not available to General Allen. This was the possibility of amphibious landings-seaborne end runs. The enemy in the Caronie Mountains. along the north coast, almost no latter where he chose to make a stand, was vulnerable to this type of operation. As early as 30 July, Generals Patton and Bradley had taken note of this valuable military asset. In fact, they had considered an amphibious operation to assist the 45th Division in cracking the enemy’s Santo Stefano position, but enemy withdrawal had canceled this plan. By 2 August, General Patton had definitely decided to utilize his “Navy“-Rear Admiral Lyal A. Davidson’s Task Force 88-to assist the 3rd Division’s advance. But Davidson had sufficient landing craft to lift one reinforced infantry battalion, no more.

 Accordingly, the Seventh Army selected four tentative landing places, each behind a predicted enemy defense line, where a battalion-size amphibious end run might be executed. At General Bradley’s request, General Patton agreed to let the II Corps commander time any such operation so that an early link-up between the relatively small amphibious force and the main body of the 3rd Division would be assured. Bradley apparently felt that the Seventh Army commander might be hasty and rash in deciding missions to be executed, and he wanted the II Corps, in co-ordination with Truscott, to exercise full control over the forces involved.

The four possible landing areas selected by the Seventh Army were: just east of Sant Agata ; west of Brolo ; near Patti; and at Barcellona. Each of these areas was behind an anticipated German defense line.

 For the first amphibious operations General Truscott selected Lieutenant Colonel Lyle A. Bernard’s 2nd Battalion, 30th Infantry (which had been one of the assault battalions on 10 July), reinforced by Batteries A and B, 58th Armored Field Artillery Battalion, a platoon of medium tanks, and a platoon of combat engineers. The first mission of the task force was to plan a landing near the small town of Sant Agata east of the Furiano River. Immediately beyond the Furiano River (fifteen miles east of Santo Stefano) lay the San Fratello ridge. If the Germans were going to fight anywhere on the north coast, Truscott judged that this would be the place.

 The switch of American divisions gave General Fries’ 29th Panzer Grenadier Division ample time to retire along and near the coast to the Etna line, which ran roughly along the San Fratello-Cesaro road. The withdrawal was hampered, however, by heavy American artillery and naval gunfire and by repeated Allied air strikes. Naval gunfire bothered Fries’ units most, as Admiral Davidson’s warships busied themselves with numerous fire support missions along :.he coast from Santo Stefano eastward to Cape Orlando. To delay the 3rd Division’s advance to the new line, Fries deployed strong rear guards, units which included Italian troops. 

By morning of 3 August, Fries’ outpost line had been driven in. The 15th Infantry, with the 2nd Battalion under Major Frank J. Kobes, Jr., operating on the road, and the 3rd Battalion under Lieutenant Colonel Ashton Manhart paralleling the advance on the slopes of the mountains, hit the Furiano River during the afternoon. Here, the 2nd Battalion came under heavy fire, found the river bank and all likely crossing sites heavily mined, and halted. 

Though Colonel Johnson, the regimental commander, sent his Ammunition and Pioneer Platoon and the Anti-tank Company’s mine platoon forward to clear lanes, heavy fire from across the river put a stop to these efforts. It was obvious that a bridgehead would have to be established before the mines could be cleared. In preparation for seizing such a bridgehead the next morning, Johnson moved the 1st Battalion (Lieutenant Colonel Leslie A. Prichard) up on line with, and inland from the 2nd Battalion. Farther inland some three miles, the 3rd Battalion had also arrived at the river, some two miles west of the town of San Fratello, after a slow and grueling march across deep gorges and over mountain trails so precipitous that several of the mules carrying rations and ammunition had lost their footing and tumbled to their deaths hundreds of feet below.

 At San Fratello, Fries had terrain scarcely less formidable than Rodt had at Troina, where, on this same day, the 15th Panzer Grenadier Division was throwing back every 1st Division thrust. Near its mouth the Furiano River is wider than most Sicilian rivers. Completely dominated by the ridge beyond, the river bed provided the Germans with a wide field of fire, as well as an ideal setting for liberal use of mines. The San Fratello ridge across the river has a seaward face about a mile and a half long, rising from a point six hundred yards from the beach and reaching a climax in the stony plug of Monte San Fratello, a rugged, flat-topped mountain some 2,200 feet high. The ridge then descends into a saddle to the town of San Fratello, a thousand yards farther south, before rising again into the Caronie Mountains. The road leading southward to Cesaro, one of the four transverse roads across the mountains between Santo Stefano and Messina, twists and turns up the northeast angle of the ridge, and about halfway up turns west directly across the end of the ridge. It continues on this course for about a mile then turns south around the west face of Monte San Fratello against a sheer rock cliff, hairpins up the ridge crest, and then passes through the town. It is about eight miles by road from the coast to the town; it is another sixteen miles to Cesaro.

 Along the entire face of the San Fratello ridge, pillboxes, trenches and gun emplacements made things tough for the 3rd Division. Particularly strong was a pillbox area near San Fratello, a strongpoint that extended along the road and up the mountainside against the cliff. Connected by trenches, these pillboxes blocked the approaches on the road from any direction and completely covered the Furiano River below. South of San Fratello, the ridge rises up as distinct as a camel’s back and is covered with large boulders and rock fences. Not far west of the town where Manhart’s 3rd Battalion ended its march on 3 August in a state of exhaustion-the Nicoletta River comes into the Furiano River from a southwesterly direction.

 Between the two rivers, the Nicoletta ridge runs north and south along the approaches to the Furiano River. This high piece of ground, almost indispensable to an attacker before he could jump the Furiano River, was enfiladed from the north by Monte San Fratello, from the south by higher ground along the Cesaro road.

 Just west of the Furiano River, Highway 113 passed southward around a prominent spur, about one-third the height of Monte San Fratello, and crossed the river on a high stone-arched bridge, now blown from end to end. From the bridge north to the sea, a distance of about a mile, the river bed widened out. From the high ground east of the river the defenders could observe the narrow coastal plain as far west as Caronia. This advantage the Germans put to good account, and in the days ahead accurate enemy artillery fire played havoc with any movement eastward along the highway inland, a flanking movement might be covered from the enemy’s view, but the roughness of the terrain would make progress slow and co-ordination difficult. This was by far the toughest enemy position the 3rd Division had as yet encountered in Sicily. Like Middleton’s men on Bloody Ridge, Truscott’s regiments were to learn to stay “with the damn fight till it’s over.” 

At 0600 on 4 August, after spending the night in developing the enemy’s defenses along the river, the 1st and 2nd Battalions, 15th Infantry, jumped off in the attack. A scheduled thirty-minute artillery barrage failed to come off because the supporting artillery battalions had displaced forward only during the night and had had no chance to register. On the left, Kobes’ 2nd Battalion tried first to cross the river to the left of the demolished highway bridge, between the bridge and the sea. Within forty minutes the battalion was stopped cold by heavy enemy fire pouring down from the ridge, and by the dense mine fields in the river bed. For almost four hours the battalion tried to get across the open area. Every attempt failed. Even naval gunfire support and the smoking of Monte San Fratello did little to help.

 In the middle of the afternoon, Kobes changed the direction of his attack, lunged to the right of the bridge site, and sent two companies to attack Hill 171, just across the river and an apparent German strongpoint. All went well on the near bank. But when the two companies came into the open river bed, the Germans met them with a withering hail of machine gun and mortar fire. A few men of the forward platoons managed to get across the river to huddle under the steep river bank. At dark, Kobes called them back. Prichard’s 1st Battalion suffered much the same fate; it too had been unable to get across the river.

 It had been a costly day for the 15th Infantry-103 casualties, no ground taken. But this action showed General Truscott that the San Fratello ridge was not to be taken by a frontal attack executed by only two infantry battalions, no matter how much fire support those battalions were given.

 The next day (5 August) turned out to be more a day of preparation than of progress. Truscott decided to shift the division’s main effort to the right, through the mountains, to strike at the San Fratello ridge from the south and roll the defenders into the sea. Truscott ordered Colonel Rogers to take the two remaining battalions of his 30th Infantry to the area then occupied by the 3rd Battalion, 15th Infantry, west of San Fratello, to attack the next day with all three battalions to take the town and cut the road to Cesaro. At the same time, the two 15th Infantry battalions near the coast were again to storm the west slope of Monte San Fratello.

Across the river, however, General Fries was already taking steps to evacuate the San Fratello ridge. The withdrawal of the 15th Panzer Grenadier Division from Troina during the night had uncovered Fries’ left flank. Farther south the British 78th Division was nearing Adrano, the key to the center of the Axis front, while on the east coast, the British 50th Division had entered Catania. The entire central and eastern sectors of the front were pulling back slowly in accordance with General Hube’s decision to form a shorter defensive line nearer Messina. 

Though American units on the south had not yet reached the Cesaro road, General Fries feared that they would do so shortly, thus making an envelopment of his San Fratello positions possible. Too, ever since the commitment of his division on the north coast, Fries had been worried about the possibility of an Allied attack from the sea behind his main lines of resistance.

 He had tried to provide some safeguard against such an attack, but he could never spare more than one battalion for this purpose. It was a lengthy coast line with numerous suitable landing places, and Fries knew he could not guard them all. He had instructed all service troops and other units committed on or near the coast to guard against a surprise Allied landing, but even this measure afforded little real security; it only provided a watch at the most dangerous points.

Because of the lack of adequate roads through the mountains, Fries’ units south of San Fratello, as well as some of those in Rodt’s sector, had to use the Cesaro-San Fratello road to reach the coastal highway to withdraw to the east. Realizing this, Fries kept one reinforced battalion in the Monte San Fratello positions to hold until all troops and vehicles to the south had passed around the mountain on their way to the east. He also deployed a reinforced Italian regiment from the Assietta Division to hold the ridge line south of the town. The remainder of the two divisions, less the artillery which stayed in position to cover the withdrawal, began moving eastward during the night. 

General Truscott had not fully appreciated the difficulty of the mountainous terrain over which the 30th Infantry would be operating. What was supposed to be a co-ordinated attack on the morning of 6 August turned into a series of un-co-ordinated battalion-size thrusts. 

At the highway bridge, following a half-hour artillery and smoke preparation, both Prichard’s 1st Battalion and Kobes’ 2nd Battalion, 15th Infantry, jumped off at 0600. The belts of German fire proved to be so effective that progress was limited to only a few yards. Prichard’s battalion on the right managed to get across the river and to within a thousand yards of the Cesaro road. But this cost heavy casualties and by 1400 the battalion was barely hanging on. On the left, Kobes’ battalion met much the same fate trying to take Hill 171. Company G, followed by Company F, crossed the river and went 600 yards up the slopes of the hill before the Germans began firing automatic weapons, following this up with deadly accurate mortar fire. If the small arms fire lacked the intensity of previous days, the German mortar fire proved to be as effective as before. Company G stalled.

 A flanking maneuver by Company F offered more promise. Swinging around the stalled Company G, passing along the river bank for a short distance, Company F turned right and advanced up a draw toward a German outpost line. Though eventually spotted, the troops were close enough to leap into the German positions before heavy fire could be brought to bear. But even this success was not sufficient to drive the Germans from the crest of the hill. While reorganizing in a small grove of trees preparatory to going for the top, Company F was hit by a small counterattack supported by mortar fire. The last two company officers were hit, and though the company, under its noncommissioned officers, beat off the German threat, it could not get moving again. 

Kobes, feeling that his two companies could not gain the hill, sent word for them to hold until nightfall, then to pull back across the river. Despite strong German combat patrols that ranged the slopes of the hill that night, Companies F and G, after several fire fights, re-crossed the Furiano where the 2nd Battalion, 7th Infantry, had moved up to cover their withdrawal. Just a little earlier, the 1st Battalion had also re-crossed the river. At a cost of thirty dead and seventy wounded, the 15th Infantry had failed to gain any ground. 

While this action was taking place near the highway bridge, Colonel Rogers’ attempt to roll up the German flank also bogged down. It had taken Colonel Rogers’ two battalions until 2200 on 5 August to get even as far as a forward assembly area, well to the west of the Nicoletta River. Colonel Manhart’s 3rd Battalion, 15th Infantry-attached to Colonel Rogers for this operation-had crossed the Nicoletta River earlier that evening and had gained a foothold on the Nicoletta ridge overlooking the Furiano River, a good position from which to start an assault on San Fratel10 at the prescribed time the following morning. Having gained this position, Manhart sent guides back to lead Colonel Rogers’ two 30th Infantry battalions to the ridge. 

When the guides arrived, Lieutenant Colonel Fred W. Sladen, Jr.’s 1st Battalion and Lieutenant Colonel Edgar C. Doleman’s 3rd Battalion prepared to move forward. The early morning hours turned out to be nightmarish for both battalions. Leaving their assembly area at 0200, the battalions moved slowly through murky darkness preceded by Manhart’s guides. Unfortunately, the guides had trouble picking their way through the woods and down the rocky ridges, and the 3rd Battalion, leading the way, soon became badly strung out. Not until 0530 did the head of Doleman’s battalion arrive at Manhart’s positions on the Nicoletta ridge; it took another hour and a half (until 0700) for the rest of the battalion to come in. Sladen’s 1st Battalion had even tougher going. Its guides lost their way, and the battalion wasted thirty minutes backtracking to the correct trail After several more delays caused by the rough terrain and by the need to wait for the mule train to catch up, the head of the 1st Battalion finally arrived on the west slopes of the Nicoletta ridge-south of the other two battalions at 0630. But not until 0800 did Sladen have all of his men together. 

In the meantime, Manhart’s battalion had jumped off at 0730. Despite heavy enemy fire, it reached and crossed the Furiano River, and began working its way up Hill 673, the key to the enemy’s ridge positions on the south. It got only part way up the southern slopes of the hill before being stopped by enemy fire.

 As soon as Manhart’s battalion cleared the ridge, Doleman began to move, echeloned to the right rear. But Doleman’s battalion was delayed an hour when one company strayed off course and was punished severely by enfilading fire along the Nicoletta ridge. At 0800, Doleman’s battalion finally crossed the Nicoletta ridge and went down the eastern slopes toward the flver. Below the crest the going was easier. A crossing was made and Doleman came up on line with the 15th Infantry battalion. Here it too was stopped by enemy fire. Though Manhart finally managed to get one platoon to the crest of the hill later in the afternoon, it was promptly forced back by the Italian and German defenders. At midnight, the two battalions still lay along the lower slopes of Hill 673. 

Sladen’s 1st Battalion, 30th Infantry’s the farthest to the right of the three battalions-was out of touch with the other two American units for most of the day and had little idea of what was happening on its left. At 0930, Sladen finally was able to send his men up and across the Nicoletta ridge, two companies leading, two companies behind. But as with Doleman’s one company, enfilading fire from Monte San Fratello and from positions south of the Nicoletta ridge played havoc with the companies. For almost an hour the battalion suffered under a rain of heavy explosives. Both leading companies became badly disorganized. Finally, one of the companies, plus about half of the other one-the rest of the unit had gone astray while moving through thick brush-reached the Furiano River.

 The depleted company never did get across because of heavy artillery fire and it remained for the rest of the day in a draw at the bottom of the ridge. The other company did get across the river at 1530, got to within six hundred yards of the crest of the ridge, but could progress no further. Since the company’s effort was isolated, Sladen called the men back.

 Several hours before this, General Truscott, after touring the area in which the 30th Infantry was operating and realizing just how difficult the terrain was, decided to outflank the San Fratello line by sea: to land Colonel Bernard’s small task force behind the enemy’s line in conjunction with a renewal of the division’s attack the next morning. Just after noon, Truscott ordered Bernard’s force to an embarkation point a mile west of Santo Stefano. Unfortunately, the Luftwaffe picked this particular time to interfere with Truscott’s operations. Even as Bernard marched his infantrymen, artillerymen, and engineers toward Santo Stefano, four German aircraft swooped out of the sky over Santo Stefano’s beaches, bombing and strafing the loading area. Although two of the attackers were shot down by antiaircraft fire, one LST was badly damaged. Because this was a key landing vessel, General Truscott postponed the amphibious end run for twenty-four hours while the Navy brought up another LST from Palermo.

 With the amphibious end run postponed for at least a day, General Truscott turned again to the job of keeping the pressure on the San Fratello defenders, hoping that the limited successes gained on the far right might be exploited. He sent General Eagles, the assistant division commander, to supervise the 30th Infantry’s operations on that flank, and he ordered Colonel Sherman’s 7th Infantry into position along the Furiano River near the coast to exploit any successes the 30th Infantry might gain.

 Both Manhart’s 3rd Battalion, 15th Infantry, and Doleman’s 3rd Battalion, 30th Infantry, launched another attack on Hill 673 early in the morning of 7 August. This time, Doleman’s battalion made the main effort. Again there was difficulty in maintaining contact, and again units became disorganized. Using one platoon from Company I in the lead-the rest of the company had disappeared during the previous day’s fighting-and pushing Company K after it, Doleman started his attack at 0530.

 Almost immediately the infantrymen received heavy fire. As daylight broke, Doleman could see that the face of the hill on which his two companies were trying to move forward was subject to enfilading fire from the south. This fire, combined with the defenses on the hill itself, made an advance to the top seem most unlikely. Doleman accordingly called off these two companies, started them back down the hill, and dispatched his last unit, Company L, to work up the hill farther to the west. But during the withdrawal, the two forward units became even more scattered, so that by the time they returned to their starting position, Doleman could count-in addition to Company L-only one platoon from Company K, one squad from Company I, and two platoons from Company M. Company L attacked up the west slopes of Hill 673 only a short distance before being halted by heavy enemy fire pouring down from the summit. Doleman left the company on the slopes while he tried to reorganize his battalion for another attack. 

Late in the afternoon, the two battalion commanders, Colonel Rogers, and General Eagles worked out a new plan for a co-ordinated attack on Hill 673. Manhart agreed to turn over to Doleman his Company K and a mortar platoon, and to send his other two companies in on Doleman’s left when the attack went off. Doleman was to make the main effort, this time just before total darkness set in. 

At 1930, the battalions jumped off, with Company L, goth Infantry, leading the way. Despite heavy enemy fire, the rifle companies moved slowly up the slopes, maintaining contact with each other, fighting a truly co-ordinated battle. The line that had held for so long began giving way and finally cracked. Just before midnight, Company L, goth Infantry, gained the crest of the hill, closely followed by the rifle companies of the 15th Infantry. Once on top, the Americans began digging in, as Doleman and Manhart pushed up their supporting heavy weapons companies to provide close fire support. 

This proved fortunate because the Italians and Germans, under a withering forty-five minute artillery barrage, moved back against the two depleted American battalions on Hill 673. For almost two hours, a savage, close-in, sometimes hand-to-hand battle raged across the top of the hill. Manhart and Doleman committed everything they had in the effort to hold on, even distributing machine gun ammunition to the riflemen to keep them firing. Grenades, bayonets, even rocks, played a part in the struggle. Finally, at 0200 on 8 August, the enemy pulled away from the hill, going north toward the coast.

[N2-18-11 War Department General Order 15, 5 February 1946, awarded the Distinguished Unit Citation to the 3rd Battalion, 15th Infantry, for the period 3-8 August 1943.]

 To the south of Hill 673, an area from which enemy fire had plagued Doleman and Manhart all day, Sladen’s 1st Battalion, goth Infantry, had tried hard to cover the other units by going for the high ground to knock out the enemy guns. The battalion’s attempt was unsuccessful, as the men from the other two units could testify. It took Sladen’s rifle companies until the middle of the afternoon to get organized, and even then Sladen could not find all of his small units. Except for a platoon from Company C that managed to get a short way beyond the river and annoy the Italians along the ridge-taking a beating for its pains and for another patrol that eventually contacted the units on Hill 673, the 1st Battalion, 30th Infantry, did little to assist in reducing the San Fratello positions. By this time, however, Colonel Bernard’s small task force was nearing the beaches east of Sant’ Agata. At noon, 7 August, General Truscott, with General Bradley’s approval, had decided to launch the once-postponed end run early on the morning of 8 August. Sherman’s 7th Infantry was to penetrate the enemy’s defenses on the coast to effect the link-up, which Truscott hoped would take place before noon. 

At 1700, then, Bernard’s force again moved from its bivouac area to the beaches west of Santo Stefano. Another LST had arrived from Palermo. But again the Luftwaffe almost knocked out the operation. Just before the ground troops began loading, German aircraft dropped out of the clouds in a bombing and strafing attack aimed at the beached landing craft. This time the Luftwaffe did not succeed. Though an LST and an escort vessel were damaged, hurried repairs made the LST sufficiently seaworthy to go on with the operation. At 1940, the ten landing craft pulled away from the beaches as Admiral Davidson’s two cruisers and six destroyers moved in to provide cover.

 At the San Fratello line, despite shelling from Davidson’s warships during the day, General Fries’ rear guards had begun pulling out of their positions, covered by the defenses on Hill 673. That evening, one of the warships laid a barrage on the highway bridge across the Rosmarino River, some two and a half miles east of Sant Agata, and set off demolitions which the Germans had placed to blow the bridge after passage of the last group of defenders from the San Fratello ridge. Since the river bed had already been heavily mined, the withdrawal of the rear guard units had to be halted until engineers could clear a route.

 By 0300, German engineers completed the bypass across the river. The 2nd Battalion, 71st Panzer Grenadier Regiment, plus part of the Assietta Division’s 29th Infantry Regiment (most of this regiment was left along the San Fratello ridge to delay American follow-up movements) started across the bypass. At this very moment, Bernard’s infantrymen came across the beaches.

 According to General Truscott’s concept of Bernard’s operation, the amphibious force was to land near Terranova (east of the Rosmarino River), attack inland to seize Monte Barbuzzo (about a mile to the southwest), cut the coastal highway, and trap the defenders holding the San Fratello ridge. At 0150, 8 August, the small naval force hove to off the coast, its presence undetected. Companies F and G, 30th Infantry (the first wave) and one tank platoon and an engineer platoon (the second wave) immediately began loading into LCVP’s from the two LST’s. At 0230, the two waves started their final run in from about six thousand yards out. The LST’s and the one LCI (which carried Company E) followed to about 1,500 yards offshore, where the LST’s launched sixteen Dukws loaded with Bernard’s headquarters personnel and Company H. 

At 0315, Companies F and G touched down and started inland toward the high ground less than a mile away. The other waves followed at fifteen-minute intervals, with all troops and vehicles unloaded by 0415. 

Surprise was complete, but reaction was swift from the German battalions spread from the Rosmarino River all the way back to San Fratello. Company G on the right drew the first German fire just after crossing the railroad, some two hundred yards inland. A short while later, Company F jumped a small group of Germans drowsily awakening from a sound sleep. By 0430 the beach was secured, and the lead companies began moving inland for what they thought was Monte Barbuzzo. But Colonel Bernard now realized that his force had not landed where it was supposed to land. Rather than being east of the Rosmarino River near Terranova, he had been put ashore west of the river, nearer Sant’ Agata, and he began to change his plans. Since his force could not get to Monte Barbuzzo before the 7th Infantry jumped off to link up, Bernard determined to occupy high ground on both sides of the river. This would give him good defensive terrain and would also provide cover for the oncoming 7th Infantry.

 At just about this time, however, the Germans launched their first counterattack. Part of the German battalion had already crossed to the east side of the river, but the elements in and near Sant Agata, delayed by the demolished bridge, now found themselves between the 7th Infantry-which had jumped off at 0600-and Bernard’s task force. Fighting in two directions, the Germans sent a small infantry detachment supported by two Italian Renault and two German Mark IV tanks to open a route to the east along the coastal highway. It was a short-lived effort. Bernard’s armored field artillery batteries and the platoon of medium tanks took the German counterattack under fire and quickly destroyed both Italian and one of the German tanks. At this, the Germans pulled back into Sant’ Agata. The American artillery pieces and the tanks moved into position in a lemon grove north of the highway. From here they could cover the coastal road east and west.

 Meanwhile Company G, having finished off the small pocket of German resistance which had been opposing its advance, moved up to the highway. One platoon established a roadblock covering the eastern exits from Sant’ Agata, another took up security positions around the artillery and tanks, while the remainder of the company established a block on the secondary road which winds inland to Militello. At the same time, Company F farmed out toward the Rosmarino River, crossed it without difficulty, and secured the high ground on the east bank blocking the highway and the trail which leads inland to San Marco d’ Alunzio. Both of Company H’s machine gun platoons went into position to cover Company F’s right flank.

 Hardly had these dispositions been completed when the Germans, trying to find an inland route around Bernard’s coastal positions, struck at Company F. One German group with two motorcycles, a vehicle loaded with cans of gasoline, and two troop carriers filled with soldiers, moved down the trail from San Marco. At the same time, another small column came down the coastal highway from the east. With Company H’s machine guns sending out steady streams of flanking fire at both German columns, Company F held fast. The German gasoline vehicle was hit and burned; all other German vehicles were put out of action. Again the armored artillerymen came into action.

 This combination of American fires proved too much. As the German column on the coast road pulled back toward Terranova, a few Germans from the San Marco column managed to get past Company F’s roadblock and to escape to the east. Bernard’s third rifle company, Company E, met problems of a different nature. Late in receiving Bernard’s change of plans, the company had moved inland from the beaches toward what the company commander mistook for Monte Barbuzzo.

 But in the rough terrain, the company broke in half. Two of the rifle platoons stayed with the company commander; the other rifle platoon and most of the weapons platoon went off to the south, still moving inland toward what the rifle platoon leader thought was his objective. The company commander then learned of Bernard’s change of plans and he took his two rifle platoons to a position on Company F’s right flank and helped that company fend off the German counterattacks. The rest of the company, which did not learn of the change in plans, continued up the river bed and finally turned east, well inland from the rest of the battalion. The men entered San Marco at 1130, passed through, and climbed up to a high ridge about a mile northeast of the town. This the platoon leader took to be Monte Barbuzzo, and dug in to hold on until the rest of the battalion arrived.

 At San Fratello, meanwhile, the thinning out of the German and Italian defenders made the task of clearing the ridge a relatively easy one for the 7th Infantry. By 1130, the 2nd Battalion, 7th Infantry, was in Sant’ Agata after overcoming the remnants of the small force that had previously tried to break out of Bernard’s trap. What was left of the 2nd Battalion, 71st Panzer Grenadier Regiment, moved inland to circle past the American block east of town. At 1230, 7th Infantry patrols made contact with Bernard’s Company G east of Sant’ Agata. By this time, too, Colonel Rogers’ 30th Infantry, with Manhart’s battalion still attached, was in San Fratello and on Monte San Fratello.

 This day, the Italians did not seriously contest the American advance. Either because they knew they were being left behind by the Germans, or because they had fought themselves out, the Assietta men surrendered in droves, almost a thousand to Doleman’s battalion alone.

 For Bernard’s Companies E, F, and H, the fighting was not over, for they lay in the line of German withdrawal to the east. Concentrating on the hill mass in and near San Marco, the Germans, usually in small parties, pushed continuously at the three American companies, and at the two American platoons northeast of San Marco. Sometimes small enemy counterattacks came down the coastal highway from the east, in an evident attempt to co-ordinate attacks with withdrawals inland. Eventually, except for about one company and a few vehicles, the German battalion succeeded in making good its escape. 

Truscott’s first amphibious end run, while achieving surprise, had failed to cut off the German 29th Panzer Grenadier Division. Most of that division had already retired by the time Bernard’s force landed. At best, the end run deprived the Germans of the use of the Rosmarino River as a defensive phase line. It probably did encourage the Germans to give up the San Fratello ridge a few hours earlier than they had intended. Even a landing on the correct beaches east of the Rosmarino River would have done little better.

Late in the afternoon of 8 August, the 7th Infantry closed up to the Rosmarino River. That evening it resumed the advance along the north coast road.

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 (2-19) Axis Evacuation

World War Two: Sicily (2-17) Battle of Traina

World War Two: Retaking Guam (4-16) The Japanese

The Japanese defense of Guam was much less effective than that of Saipan. Not only did the Japanese have fewer men, less artillery, and fewer tanks than their compatriots on Saipan but they also had a much larger area of land to defend. Nevertheless, they had ideal terrain for the defense and a sufficient force to prevent a rapid or easy conquest of the island.

Guam’s defense was commanded initially by General Takashima, Commanding General, 29th Division and Southern Marianas Army Group. In the middle of June General Obata, Commanding General, 31st Army, reached Guam with his two senior staff officers. He had been in the Palaus, probably because the Japanese expected the next American thrust to be in that area. Once it became apparent that the blow would come farther north, he had hastened to the Marianas, too late, however, to reach his headquarters on Saipan. Instead, he landed on Guam to linger in forced inactivity while the garrison on Saipan went down to defeat. His presence on Guam had very little influence on Japanese tactics there until the death of General Takashima on 28 July, after which Obata assumed direct command.

Troops and Troop Dispositions

In mid-July, on the eve of the American invasion of Guam, the Japanese defenders numbered about 18,500 men. The early preponderance in air and naval strength that the Americans were able to establish in the area resulted in the loss to the Guam garrison of about 900 much needed men, including the 1st Battalion, 10th Independent Brigade. These troops had been temporarily stationed on Rota and on 8 June had been ordered to return to their parent commands on Guam. By the time the move could be organized, however, the 38-mile stretch of water between the two islands was under close American surveillance, and the transfer was never made.

Altogether, the American invaders faced an understrength garrison composed of eleven Army infantry battalions, two and two-thirds Army artillery battalions, three tank companies, two Army antiaircraft companies, Army engineers, service troops, and so forth, together with various Navy units, the most important of which were the 54th Naval Guard Force and the 60th Antiaircraft Defense Unit.

In early June these forces were spread all over the island as a precaution against an invasion from any direction. Guam was divided into four sectors for purposes of defense. In the Agana sector were stationed the four battalions of the 48th Independent Mixed Brigade and the 3rd Battalion, 38th Infantry; in the area around Agat were the 1st and 2nd Battalions, 38th Infantry; on the south coast in the Inarajan sector were two battalions of the 10th Independent Mixed Brigade; and in the northern sector, with headquarters at Finaguayac, was the 2nd Battalion, 18th Infantry.

[N4-16-3 TF 56 Rpt FORAGER, Incl D, G-2 Rpt, p. 47. The locations of the 3rd Battalion, 18th Infantry, and of the several naval units were unknown.]

By July this picture had radically changed. The American naval shelling of Agat on 16 June had tipped off the Japanese as to the probable place of the forthcoming landings, and the postponement of W Day gave them ample opportunity to reorganize their defenses. By mid-July almost the entire garrison had been moved to the west coast between Agat and Tumon Bay.

At the time of the American amphibious assault, Headquarters, 29th Division, and most of the division’s service troops were located at Fonte, as was the headquarters of the 48th Independent Mixed Brigade. General Shigematsu, Commanding General, 48th Independent Mixed Brigade, commanded the Agana sector, which stretched along the west shore from Piti to Tumon Bay and included the great majority of the Japanese forces on the island.

For purposes of shore defense, the Agana sector was divided into three, perhaps four, beach defense areas. From northeast to southwest, the first of these was at Tumon Bay, where the 322nd Independent Infantry Battalion was located. The 321st Independent Infantry Battalion defended the area around Agana Bay, and the 320th Independent Infantry Battalion manned the defenses between Adelup Point and Asan Point, where the 3rd Marine Division was to land. In the Piti area was the 18th Infantry Regiment, less the 1st Battalion, which was on Saipan. The unit was considerably understrength since some of its personnel and much of its equipment had been lost when one of its ships en route from Japan had been sunk by an American submarine. The 18th Regiment also had partial responsibility for Asan Point in case the Americans should land there.

The 10th Independent Mixed Regiment, less its 1st Battalion and 9th Company, was in the Fonte-Ordot area. The 319th Independent Infantry Battalion was inland, east of Agana, in reserve. Two of the three tank units on the island were also in reserve, poised to strike the beachhead with the infantry. These were the 29th Division Tank Unit at Ordot and the 2nd Company, 9th Tank Regiment, at Sinajana. Also in general reserve was the Otori Unit, composed chiefly of naval air personnel reorganized into a jerry-built unit for ground combat. Most of the Army artillery, including the 48th Independent Mixed Brigade Artillery Unit, formerly the 3rd Battalion, 11th Mountain Artillery Regiment, was disposed throughout the Agana sector.

The two batteries of the 10th Independent Mixed Regiment Artillery Unit had been removed from regimental control and placed directly under the 48th Independent Mixed Brigade. Certain guns of these batteries were located just inland of Tumon Bay, but the majority were in the vicinity of Agana. The 38th Infantry’s Artillery Battalion was broken up, one battery attached to each infantry battalion, so that the 3rd Battery, attached to the 3rd Battalion, was also in the Agana sector force.

The Agat sector was commanded by Colonel Tsunetaro Suenaga, commanding officer of the 38th Infantry Regiment, whose command post was on Mount Alifan. The 1st Battalion, 38th Infantry, covered the beaches in the Agat area, and the 2nd Battalion of the same regiment occupied the base of Orote Peninsula. To the rear of the Agat beaches, the 1st Company, 9th Tank Regiment, was in readiness to counterattack in case of a landing. Also in reserve for the Agat beaches was the 9th Company, 10th Independent Mixed Regiment.

Orote Peninsula was garrisoned by the main body of the 54th Naval Guard Force; the 755th Air Unit, reorganized for ground combat; and the two batteries of the 52nd Antiaircraft Artillery Battalion, which was charged with antiaircraft defense of Orote airfield. Since this unit’s guns, which were 75-mm. antiaircraft, could be depressed as low as minus seven degrees, they were in effect dual purpose and could be used to supplement the conventional field artillery and anti-boat weapons.

Other units, such as service, engineer, and construction units, were scattered throughout the island, some on the west coast, and some inland as far as Santa Rosa. None of these, however, had any significant combat value. Nor could the Japanese arm the civilian population, most of which appears to have remained at least passively loyal to the United States. As of 10 January 1944, the native Guamanians numbered about 24,000. Slightly over a hundred were of mixed American and Chamorro parentage and had been jailed as soon as the Japanese occupied the island. The rest of the population suffered some organized maltreatment and abuse in the early days of Japanese rule, but this appears to have gradually tapered off.

However, rigid food rationing, forced labor, confiscation of property without compensation, exclusion from business enterprises, and a score of lesser deprivations and humiliations kept the native population sullen and restive during the period of Japanese occupation. In June 1943 all able bodied men between the ages of fourteen and sixty were forced to work for the occupation army and women were ordered to replace the men in the fields. After the American air raid of 11 June, large numbers of natives fled to the hills. Many were rounded up by Japanese military police and placed in camps near Asinan, Manengon, and Talofofo. The Guamanians were clearly poor raw material for collaborationism, and there is no evidence that the Japanese made any successful attempt to reconstruct them to that end.

[N4-16-6 Sources for the description of the lot of Guam’s civilians under Japanese rule are William Hipple’s report in Newsweek, August 21, 1944, p. 35, and Thompson, Guam and Its People, p. 160.]

Japanese military doctrine for the defense of Guam was essentially the same as that for Saipan. Emphasis was placed on meeting and annihilating the enemy at the beaches. If that failed, an organized counterattack was to be delivered against the beachhead soon after the landing. Finally, if the invaders succeeded in establishing and holding their beachhead line, the Japanese would retire to the hills and fight on from there.

Thus General Shigematsu, in command of the Agana sector garrison unit, which contained the majority of troops on the island, declared on 15 July, “It has been decided that the enemy is going to launch an attack in force at dawn in the region of the Agana sector. When he lands, the Division will be quick to seize the opportunity to attack him in this sector with a powerful force and crush him at the beaches. . . . The Garrison Unit will await its initial opportunity and will completely destroy the enemy landing force upon the beaches.” If the infantry units at the shore line failed in their mission, the 10th Independent Mixed Regiment, two battalions of the 18th Infantry, and the 3rd Battalion, 38th Infantry, were ordered to carry out the second phase of the plan—a counterattack in force against the American beachhead in this area.

Supporting Weapons

Artillery on Guam, including coast defense, field artillery, and antiaircraft and antitank weapons, was manned by both Army and Navy personnel. As indicated above, the bulk of the field artillery pieces in July were situated to command the western shore line from Tumon Bay to Agat. Table 2 gives two estimates of the number and type of these weapons. Just how many were still operational at the time of the American landings is not known, and even a comparison of these figures with the assessment of damage wrought by the preliminary bombardment cited above will provide only a hazy idea of Japanese artillery strength on 21 July.

Japanese tank strength was considerably lower than it was believed to be by American intelligence staffs, both before and after the battle. Although the Americans claim to have destroyed or captured fifty-nine enemy tanks by 11 August, actually there were no more than thirty-eight present at any time, and possibly even fewer. The 1st Company, 9th Tank Regiment, which was located in the Agat-Orote area, had from twelve to fifteen light tanks. The 2nd Company of the same regiment and the 29th Division Tank Unit, both situated so as to support the defense of the Asan beaches, had a total of from twenty-one to twenty-three tanks, of which at least ten were mediums.

Fortifications

The main fortified area ran along the west coast from Tumon Bay to Facpi Point and included, of course, Orote Peninsula. Other fortified beaches, on the south and east coasts from Merizo to Pago Bay, had been abandoned before W Day, their defenders having moved to the north. Outside the main fortified area, the airfields were provided local defense by antiaircraft and dual-purpose guns.

The most notable and certainly the most effective fortifications on the island were constructed across the neck of Orote Peninsula, which contained a fairly elaborate system of trenches and foxholes arranged in depth, together with large numbers of pillboxes and heavy-caliber weapons. Outside of Orote, the prepared defenses were generally hastily constructed and often incomplete. The typical beach defense was arranged, from the seaward side, in four parallel lines: first were obstacles and mines on the fringing reef offshore; second came beach obstacles and tank traps; third were trenches, machine gun positions, pillboxes, heavy weapons, artillery, and coast defense guns on the beaches or immediately inland; and, finally, came the machine guns, heavy weapons, and artillery emplaced on the high ground inland.

Insufficient advantage was taken of the high ground, and except on Orote little provision was made for defense in depth. Even as late as the five-week period of pre-invasion bombardment, the Japanese continued to work frantically on improving offshore obstacles and beach defenses, to the neglect of positions in the rear.

During the first two years of the war, the Japanese had slighted the military development of the Marianas in favor of more forward areas, and almost nothing was done to fortify Guam until early 1944. The beaches had to be protected first, and Guam’s large size and numerous possible landing points meant that proportionately greater effort had to be expended at the shore line before work could be commenced on defenses in depth. The time, effort, and materials expended on the south and south-east shores was ultimately wasted when these positions were abandoned. After the assault on Saipan, Guam was entirely cut off from its sources of materiel, and the five-week period of bombardment not only destroyed many of the existing fortifications but also severely hampered efforts on the part of the Japanese to continue construction.

As has been already mentioned, the Japanese relied heavily on coral-filled palm cribs and wire cages to interrupt and impede the approach of landing craft to and over the offshore reef. In addition to these, which were all blown up by American underwater demolition teams, a series of anti-boat mines of about forty to fifty pounds was placed along the reef or between the obstacles. The beaches themselves were strung with barbed wire and in some places aerial bombs were embedded in the sand just inland of the wire. Antitank obstacles also were installed on the beaches by lashing coconut logs across trees or setting them vertically in the ground.

The Agat beach defenses were typical of the others. Here was an almost continuous line of open trenches about two feet wide and three and a half feet deep. Running parallel to the shore line approximately fifty feet inland of the high-water mark, these trenches were supplemented by an occasional rifle or machine gun pit about eight feet to their front and by shelters to their rear. Distributed along the beach between Agat and Bangi Point were about twenty-five pillboxes. A strong concrete blockhouse on Gaan Point held two 75-mm. mountain guns, one 37-mm. gun, and positions for machine guns and riflemen. Two concrete emplacements of 40-mm. guns were located between Gaan Point and Agat only about five feet inland of the high-water mark.

Pillboxes here were constructed of palm logs, sandbags, reinforced concrete, earth, and coral rocks, the majority being simple structures of palm logs covered with earth. They averaged about eight feet square and three feet high, with roofs two feet thick in the center and one foot at the edge. Usually, they had two firing ports about twelve by four inches in size, which allowed only a fairly narrow traverse. The reinforced concrete types were either square or octagonal and located chiefly along the roads. About eight feet across and two to three feet high, their walls were about six inches thick. There were a few masonry pillboxes of coral rocks with walls a foot thick. All the pillboxes on the beaches were mutually supporting against attack from the seaward side, but not against attack from the flanks or rear.

Japanese Situation on the Eve of Battle The effects of American preliminary bombardment on Japanese defenses has already been described in as much detail as surviving records permit. The devastation was great and widespread, if not as effective as the invaders at first believed. Moreover, the accelerating tempo of naval shelling and aerial bombing and strafing made it almost impossible for the Japanese to repair the damage or to engage in new construction.

Notwithstanding these difficulties, the defenders bent every effort to shore up their crumbling defenses to the last minute before the invasion. But most of the labor, at least along the beaches, had to be performed at night when darkness and the physical exhaustion of the troops slowed progress to a snail’s pace. The dilemma was inescapable, as is attested by one Japanese Army lieutenant who complained, “Our positions have been almost completed but they have not been done as we had hoped . . . great effort was put into the construction but we still have been unable to complete the cover. We are in a terrible fix.”

[N4-16-13 Imanishi Diary; see also CINCPAC – CINCPOA Trans 10802, extracts from the diary of Corporal Suzuki, Tai; CINCPAC-CINCPOA Trans 10410, diary of an unidentified soldier.]

The weeks of American bombardment, the prolonged uncertainty, the anxious waiting from day to day while explosions rent the air but no American soldier came into view to be shot at or stabbed with bayonet—all these factors took their psychological toll even on the martial-minded Japanese. They suffered greatly in seishin —a word that means not so much “morale” as “psychological well-being.” After several days of successive attacks, “scattered outbreaks of serious loss of spirit” occurred. After another week the spirit of some of the men deteriorated so badly that they “could not perform their duties in a positive manner.”

This cumulative physical and psychological exhaustion would show up in the days of battle to come. The troops on Guam tended to become more easily disorganized than had their compatriots on Saipan and Tinian. They turned more readily from organized combat to futile and suicidal individual displays of fanaticism.

But if their seishin was ebbing, the Japanese on Guam remained high in shiki—meaning morale in the sense of a willingness to die in combat. This spirit is reflected, with the usual rhetorical flourishes, in the diary of one enlisted man: “I will not lose my courage, but now is the time to prepare to die! If one desires to live, hope for death. Be prepared to die! With this conviction one can never lose . . . . Look upon us! We have shortened our expectancy of 70 years of life to 25 in order to fight. What an honor it is to be born in this day and age.” Against this kind of determination, the task facing the marines and soldiers of the III Amphibious Corps would by no means be light.

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

World War Two: Retaking Guam (4-17) Fight for the Beachhead

World War Two: Retaking Guam (4-15); Plans and Preparations