World War Two: Italy; Salerno-Beachhead: German Build-up (ISC-2-7)

How to reinforce the 16th Panzer Division which alone was meeting the Allied invasion at the Salerno beaches, was one of Vietinghoff’s immediate tasks. At hand were two divisions north of Salerno, two divisions to the south.

In the south the 29th Panzer Grenadier and 26th Panzer Divisions) in that order and under the LXXVI Panzer Corps headquarters, were withdrawing from Calabria. They had been on the move since 3 September, when the Eighth Army had landed near Reggio. The 26th Panzer Division was to hold long enough at Catanzaro, about 75 miles from Reggio, to permit the evacuation of heavy materiel.

The 29th Panzer Grenadier Division was to go about 75 miles beyond Catanzaro and assemble near Castrovillari. The British Eighth Army had exerted little pressure against German rear guard units and had thus interfered little with the withdrawal. Then on 8 September, the day before the invasion at Salerno, British troops had made a surprise landing near Pizzo, about 50 miles up the coast from Reggio, and almost caught the rear guard division, the 26th Panzer. A swift German reaction might have defeated the landing forces, but because of poor communications and consequent lack of co-ordination among its subordinate units, the 26th Panzer Division missed the opportunity. Making excuses about the unwillingness of the Italians to fight, the division disengaged and withdrew at once to Catanzaro, the movement probably at least partially prompted by the observation that day of the Allied convoy on its way to Salerno. British pressure again slackened, and while the 26th Panzer Division demolished communications and set up roadblocks, the 29th Panzer Grenadier Division hastened northward.

Expecting the first of the panzer grenadiers to arrive in the Salerno area by the evening of 9 September and the remainder early the following day, Vietinghoff hoped to have at least parts of the 26th Panzer Division soon afterward. Then he planned to divide the battlefield into two corps sectors, the XIV in the north, the LXXVI in the south. On the basis of his projections, Vietinghoff permitted the 16th Panzer Division on the evening of 9 September to withdraw its elements opposing the U.S. VI Corps in order to concentrate against the British 10 Corps.

Not only the expected arrivals but the terrain and the objectives dictated this move. Of greatest importance to the Germans were the heights surrounding the Salerno plain; those in the north, barring access to Naples, were the most vital. As a consequence, few German troops faced the Americans on the 10th.

The German units just north of the Salerno beaches upon which Vietinghoff could draw were two divisions in the Naples and Gaeta areas, the 15th Panzer Grenadier and Hermann Gӧring Divisions, which, together with the 16th Panzer Division, were under the XIV Panzer Corps headquarters. Both had fought in Sicily, where they had taken severe losses, and both were in the process of rehabilitation. The Hermann Gӧring Division, with an effective strength of more than 15,000 men, had only 25 to 30 operational tanks and 21 assault guns but was strong in artillery. Because its panzer grenadier regiment was not yet organized, the division was weak in infantry.

As compensation, Vietinghoff attached to it two infantry battalions of the 1st Parachute Division, which was in Apulia and directly under Tenth Army control. The 15th Panzer Grenadier Division had an effective strength of about 12,000 and a total of 7 tanks, 18 assault guns, and 31 antitank guns of 75-mm. and 88-mm. caliber.

Apart from the question of whether the divisions were sufficiently rested and retrained for commitment to battle, the German commanders had to be ready for additional invasions on the west coast after the Salerno landings. Kesselring still looked for other amphibious operations north of Salerno, and on 10 September ordered a regiment of the 3rd Panzer Grenadier Division shifted from the vicinity of Rome to strengthen the forces around the Gulf of Gaeta.

This eased the problem of coastal defense at Gaeta for the XIV Panzer Corps and made it possible for the corps to utilize the 15th Panzer Grenadier and Hermann Gӧring Divisions more freely in the defense of Salerno. Reserve elements of the two divisions moved against the 10 Corps on 10 September, and as the possibility of other Allied landings declined during the succeeding days, other increments followed.

The concentration of the XIV Panzer Corps thus put into motion against 10 Corps had its effects. On 10 September German patrols probed and small units engaged the Rangers in sharp skirmishes on Monte di Chiunzi on the extreme left of the Allied beachhead.

Strengthened German opposition made it difficult for units of the 46th Division and the Commandos to clear the town of Salerno and advance about two miles inland to the Vietri pass on the main route to Naples. Stubborn German resistance denied the 56th Division the high ground east of Battipaglia, necessary to control not only the village but also the Montecorvino airfield, and though British patrols managed to get into Battipaglia for a second time, German counterattacks drove them out again at nightfall.

In striking contrast were the events on the VI Corps front, where contact with the enemy on the evening of D-day diminished almost to the vanishing point. At 0830, 10 September, the situation in the VI Corps area, according to General Clark, was “well in hand.” By 1100, American troops were no longer in touch with the Germans. Only forty prisoners had been taken, including a few captured on 9 September. The Germans seemed to be withdrawing from the battlefield. “The worst is over,” an enthusiastic regimental commander announced, “we are more than a match for all that can meet us.”

There were few German forces because the 29th Panzer Grenadier Division failed to arrive from the south as expected. The division had been immobilized most of 9 September not far from the Gulf of Policastro for lack of fuel, but Vietinghoff did not know it. Instead of the troops arriving near Salerno, the division commander, Generalmajor Walter Fries, showed up at army headquarters with the bad news.

Part of the trouble over fuel came from the fact that the recently organized Tenth Army headquarters had no organic quartermaster section. OB SUED was still handling logistical matters for the army, and the arrangement was not working out satisfactorily. Tenth Army was not fully informed on the location of the fuel and supply depots in the army area, just one aspect of a generally uncoordinated logistical situation. More to the point, a panicky officer had destroyed a coastal tanker and a fuel depot at Sapri, at the head of the Gulf of Policastro, without proper authority. The depot commander, apparently a naval officer, had been under the mistaken impression that he was about to be attacked. By blowing up the storage facilities to prevent them from falling, so he thought, into Allied hands, he seriously depleted the Tenth Army supplies.

Emergency measures were necessary, not only to get the 29th Panzer Grenadier Division in motion again but also to prevent the 26th Panzer Division from bogging down in Calabria. While gasoline from Italian dumps and small amounts from the rather meager stocks of the 16th Panzer Division were rushed south, Vietinghoff urgently requested Kesselring to ship him fuel by air.

Strenuous efforts got the panzer grenadiers rolling again, but instead of arriving near Salerno on the night of 9 September as a strong striking force, the division came into the battle area piecemeal during the next three days. Units were committed as they arrived, but the entire division was not on hand until the 12th.

Doing his utmost to concentrate forces around Salerno for a major counterattack, Vietinghoff carried out his plan to divide the battle area into two zones on 11 September. He had the XIV Panzer Corps in the north, operating in an area that included the Sorrento peninsula and Salerno, with the 15th Panzer Grenadier and the Hermann Gӧring Divisions; in the south, the LXXVI Panzer Corps took control of the I6th Panzer and 29th Panzer Grenadier Divisions.

To a certain extent the reorganization was a paper change. Though most of the 29th Panzer Grenadier Division had arrived, the division was not able to take responsibility for its zone because of continuing fuel shortages. Late on the afternoon of the 11th, a member of Vietinghoff’s staff flew to Kesselring’s headquarters to try to iron out this and other problems. The lack of an army quartermaster was particularly unsettling-no one, for example, coordinated fuel transfers between the corps-and delays and confusion inevitably resulted. But communications also still troubled and dismayed the Germans. The Tenth Army staff officer visiting Kesselring’s headquarters carried with him copies of most of the radio messages sent that day to OB SUED, and he discovered that most of the originals had not yet been received.

While Kesselring tried to straighten out the various difficulties, he confirmed his approval of Vietinghoff’s intention to employ all available forces at Salerno. Political and military considerations, he advised Vietinghoff, made victory at Salerno imperative, and “every man must know this.” Hampered by internal difficulties and the necessity to commit units piecemeal and intermingled, Vietinghoff could do no more than go through the motions of planning a counterattack at Salerno. Meanwhile, regimental and smaller sized units could and would exert pressure on the Fifth Army by local attacks directed for the most part against 10 Corps. The success they were to achieve by these less than all-out means would demonstrate how correct the Allies had been to characterize the invasion as a risky venture.

The Beachhead Developed

After absorbing the first shock of the landing, the 36th Division pushed east and south on 10 September toward the high ground that forms an arc between Agropoli, five miles south of the landing beaches, and Albanella, seven miles to the east. The 141st Infantry on the right moved steadily to the south toward Agropoli and Ogliastro, while the 143rd in the center sent patrols onto the imposing bulk of Monte Soprano. The 142nd took Albanella and with it control of the ridge line and country road to the village of Rocca d’Aspide. By the end of the second day of the invasion, the 36th Division had fulfilled the immediate requirement imposed on VI Corps-protecting the right flank of the Fifth Army.

To a division expecting to meet strong resistance climaxed by an armored counterattack at daylight of 10 September, the absence of opposition came as a welcome surprise. Aside from the obvious tactical advantages, the 36th gained an opportunity to bring order to the many activities that had, as a natural consequence of the amphibious landing, become somewhat disorganized. The units had come ashore “badly mixed due to sea mines,” according to General Clark, and General Walker bent his efforts “to disentangle the units as much as possible.”

To reinforce the 36th Division, a portion of the floating reserve-part of the 45th Division-had come ashore. Having departed Sicily in a convoy of LCT’s and LCI’s forty-eight hours earlier, the division headquarters, the 179th Infantry, and most of the 157th Infantry had arrived in the Gulf of Salerno with the invasion assault forces about midnight of 8 September; the troops had remained in the cramped quarters of their landing craft. Early on 10 September, the 178th Infantry debarked, moved into an assembly area along the coastal highway north of Paestum, and, together with the rest of the division, passed from army reserve to corps control. The division commander, General Middleton, set up a command post and received as attachments the 645th Tank Destroyer and 191st Tank Battalions, both of which were already in position near the Sele River.

By this time General Dawley had opened his VI Corps command post with a skeleton staff. That afternoon, after communications were established, he assumed responsibility from General Walker for the tactical operations on the beachhead south of the Sele River. The next day Dawley took control of unloading on the beaches, operating the supply dumps, and constructing and maintaining roads.

Visiting the beachhead on 10 September, General Clark found conditions in the VI Corps area satisfactory, morale high. In the 10 Corps area, where morale was equally high, he learned firsthand from General McCreery of the resistance the British were meeting. The German concentration of strength in the northern part of the beachhead, General McCreery estimated, made it doubtful that the corps, at its current strength, could advance eastward the fourteen miles through Battipaglia and Eboli to Ponte Sele, the projected meeting place with VI Corps. The 10 Corps needed assistance, and Clark promised to give it. Two areas were particularly sensitive: the extreme left flank on the Sorrento peninsula, where the Rangers were holding the Chiunzi pass, and the gap on the right flank of the 10 Corps, the low ground between Battipaglia and the Sele River.

Assistance for 10 Corps could come only at the expense of VI Corps, but in view of the differing strengths of the opposition, it was justifiable. To insure the integrity of the Fifth Army left, General Clark told General Dawley to send a battalion task force to support the Rangers. He was specific on the composition of the force and the time of its movement-a battalion of infantry, supported by artillery, engineers, tanks, and 4.2-inch mortars, was to be ready to embark from a VI Corps beach the next day, 11 September. Dawley, who was concerned over his relatively long front and comparatively few troops, protested. But Clark insisted, and on the following afternoon the troops, with three units of fire, three days of Class I and Class III supplies, and organic loads, began embarking on fifteen LCT’s and three LCI (L)’s for the trip across the gulf to Maiori and attachment to Darby’s Rangers.

To close the gap on the 10 Corps right, Clark shifted the VI Corps boundary north of the Sele River, thereby giving the task of filling the hole to Dawley. The VI Corps commander was to use the 179th Infantry, already in the beachhead, and the 157th Infantry, which Clark decided to bring ashore on the afternoon of 10 September. Only the 2nd and 3rd Battalions of the 157th were present because of the shortage of shipping; the 1st Battalion would not arrive from Sicily until 15 September. After ordering the two battalions placed ashore on the British right flank just north of the Sele River, Clark was surprised to discover that the troops were already being unloaded just south of the river. Admiral Hewitt, he later learned, had issued his order earlier because AFHQ had instructed him to release vessels for return to North Africa and Sicily, where they would be reloaded and sent back to augment the build-up in Italy. Hi Fortunately, the regimental landing site was near the place Clark had chosen. The difficulty for the regiment was that the Germans had destroyed the bridge across the Sele. At Clark’s direction engineers, working through the night, put in a new bridge and on the following morning, the 157th was able to cross the river into what had been the 10 Corps zone. Having taken care of the two sensitive areas in the beachhead, the Fifth Army commander assured General Alexander that he would soon be ready to attack north through the Vietri pass toward Naples. Part of his optimism came from the progress of unloading operations.

Small convoys departed the Northern Attack Force area at intervals throughout the loth as soon as the ships were emptied. By 2210 the larger APA’s and AKA’s of the Southern Attack Force had been unloaded and were on their way back to North Africa. Shortly before midnight, the contents of 80 percent of the D-day convoy were ashore. Though the beaches were still congested, partly because of the rapid pace of the unloading, partly because not enough troops were on hand to clear the supplies, this seemed relatively unimportant, for a naval party had visited Salerno to see about opening the port facilities.

So favorable did the situation appear that the Northwest African Tactical Air Force headquarters proposed to reduce the fighter cover over the assault area. Admiral Hewitt and General House protested. The planes allotted to AVALANCHE, they felt, were meeting no more than minimum requirements. Since Allied troops had not taken Montecorvino airfield, a change in the air assignments seemed unwise until fighter planes were actually based in the beachhead. The VI Corps was constructing a provisional airstrip near Paestum, but this strip would hardly insure the Allies a firm base for all-weather air support. About the time that Hewitt and House were protesting the proposed reduction of fighter cover, the Germans were deciding to step up their air attacks. Several weeks earlier Kesselring had given Luftflotte 2, the air force headquarters in Italy, a dual mission: to attack Allied shipping and protect Italian cities against air raids; and, in the event of an Allied landing on the Italian mainland, to give close support to the Tenth Army and cover the projected evacuation of troops from Sardinia.

When the British invaded Calabria, Kesselring had correctly judged it a subsidiary operation and ordered the air force to conserve its meager resources for the more decisive action sure to come. By the evening of 10 September, there was no doubt that Salerno was the decisive action, and Luftflotte 2 began to employ all its available aircraft against the Fifth Army. Enemy air activity increased noticeably that night.

German aircraft were far from equal to Allied planes, either in numbers or in performance. Of the 625 German planes based in southern France, Sardinia, Corsica, and the Italian mainland, no more than 120 single-engine fighters and 50 fighter-bombers were immediately available at bases in central and southern Italy. Yet their short distance from the Allied beachhead made it possible for a plane to fly several sorties each day. Thus, on 11 September Allied observers reported no less than 120 hostile aircraft over the landing beaches.

Barrage balloons, antiaircraft artillery, and Allied fighter planes markedly reduced the effect of the German air raids, but the threat could not be ignored even though the lack of mass air attacks seemed to indicate that the Germans were not holding a large air fleet in reserve to repel the invasion.

Despite the request of Hewitt and House to maintain the level of the Allied air effort, there were fewer Allied fighter planes in the air over Salerno on 11 September to oppose the increased German effort. “Admiral Hewitt protesting reduction of coverage,” General House radioed to the Tactical Air Force headquarters. “Suffering losses that cannot be replaced. Urgently recommend original plan until further instructions.” To the Tactical Air Force headquarters, this message was incomprehensible. “Our information from you,” the headquarters replied, “indicates light enemy air attack which has been well handled by patrolling fighters.” Yet the headquarters agreed “very reluctantly,” according to Hewitt, to return a P-38 squadron to patrol duty over Salerno. From Admiral Vian, who commanded the carrier force, came a more positive response. Hewitt had radioed to him: “Air situation here critical. Status air field ashore uncertain.” Could Vian remain on station and furnish early morning cover on 12 September? Vian’s reply was prompt: “Yes, certainly.”

Although Vian’s naval aircraft, along with those of Willis, maintained umbrellas of fighter cover over the invasion area, both commanders were becoming concerned about their diminishing supplies of fuel. The Montecorvino airfield provided the solution to the problem of air support, but the Germans hardly seemed disposed to oblige.

With at least the reconnaissance battalion of the Hermann Gӧring Division and probably additional units strengthening the 16th Panzer Division’s concentration of force against to Corps, the fighting in the British zone on 11 September, the third day of the invasion, became more intense, particularly in the Battipaglia area. Supported by effective naval fire, British troops finally captured the Montecorvino airfield at the end of the day, but German infantry on nearby hills and German artillery within range denied its use.

On that day VI Corps began its effort to bolster the 10 Corps right flank. While the two regiments of Middleton’s 45th Division moved to close the gap between British and Americans, a regiment of Walker’s 36th Division was to provide an assist.

The terrain in question was the flood plain of the Sele and Calore Rivers, a corridor of low ground. Starting about twelve miles inland near the village of Serre, at the edge of rugged hills, the corridor descends gently as it carries the Sele and Calore Rivers to their juncture five miles from the shore. The planners in defining initial objectives had bypassed this low ground, focusing their attention instead on the high ground dominating the plain. If 10 Corps seized the heights first around Battipaglia, then around Eboli on the northern rim of the plain, and if VI Corps captured high ground near Altavilla, specifically Hill 424, on the southern edge, British and Americans could move quickly to a meeting at Ponte Sele,

and the Sele-Calore plain would be pinched off in the process. Events had developed differently. The Germans stubbornly denied Battipaglia to the British, while the Americans erected a defensive barrier facing southeast to protect the beachhead against the German forces moving up the boot. Since the Germans possessed the dominating ground, particularly Battipaglia and Hill 424, they could, it became apparent, strike through the relatively open ground of the Sele-Calore corridor and split the beachhead forces. The VI Corps, having rather easily established the barrier on instructions.

The VI Corps plan for 11 September envisaged three separate but related attacks. On the left, the 157th Infantry was to cross the Sele River downstream from its junction with the Calore and attack north to Eboli. Seizure of Eboli, about eight miles from the Sele, would strike the German flank and rear and perhaps pry loose the German hold on Battipaglia; it would also facilitate 10 Corps’ capture of the heights immediately overlooking the Montecorvino airfield. In the center, the 179th Infantry was to enter the Sele-Calore corridor near the juncture of the two rivers. Covering the right flank of the 157th, the 179th was to drive seven miles northeast across the flood plain to seize a bridge, Ponte Sele, and cut Highway 19, a good lateral route still open to the Germans. On the right of the low ground, a regiment of the 36th Division was to secure Hill 424 near Altavilla and deprive the Germans of a commanding view over much of the beachhead, as well as the flood plain, the valleys of the upper Sele and Calore Rivers, and portions of Highways 19 and 91.

The attacks met with varying success. In the left of the VI Corps zone, a company of the attached 191st Tank Battalion led the two battalions of the 157th Infantry across the Sele River toward Eboli and moved into an area of undulating ground with small patches of woods. About four miles north of the river crossing site, having advanced without incident but somewhat suspicious because of the heavy fire in the Battipaglia area, the tankers cautiously approached a tobacco factory-five large buildings constructed in a circle. On the flat top of a gently sloping hill, the factory controlled access not only to Eboli and Ponte Sele but also to the Battipaglia-Eboli road, a German supply route.

Just that morning, 11 September, as a result of the increased strength available, the 16th Panzer Division had moved a battalion from Battipaglia to outpost positions in and around the factory. Letting the American tank company come close, the Germans struck with machine guns and antitank weapons and knocked out seven tanks. From positions dug along the railroad paralleling the coastal highway and from strongpoints in the factory buildings, as well as in the farmhouses nearby, German troops halted the advance of the 157th Infantry. By evening the Americans were digging in. The factory remained in German hands, as did Eboli, four miles away.

For its effort in the Sele-Calore corridor, the 179th Infantry divided its attack. Two battalions were to drive directly to Ponte Sele, while the third protected the regimental right flank in the shadow of Hill 424 and Altavilla. The main regimental body, the 3rd and 1st Battalions, in that order, followed by tanks and tank destroyers advancing by bounds, crossed the Calore River near its juncture with the Sele and entered the corridor against no opposition. By midmorning the infantry battalions had bypassed the village of Persano and were seemingly well on their way to Ponte Sele when machine gun fire suddenly erupted from Persano and artillery fire began to fall from the direction of Eboli. The fire cut communications between the infantry and its armored support. Tanks and tank destroyers tried to push to Persano, but German fire halted them. Remaining where they were, the armored troops protected the Cal ore River crossing site to prevent the entire force in the corridor from being cut off and isolated.

With neither communications nor fire support, the 1st Battalion turned back to mop up the Persano area, where it became heavily engaged for the rest of the day. The 3rd Battalion pushed on against increasing resistance to within a mile of Ponte Sele before coming to a halt. Wary of being isolated by German troops, the 3rd Battalion commander, upon the approach of darkness, withdrew to join forces with the 1st Battalion near Persano. Both battalions set up defensive positions a few miles east of the village. Four miles to the northeast, Ponte Sele remained in German hands.

Meanwhile, protecting the regimental right flank, the 2nd Battalion advanced over the low ground between the Calore River and the Altavilla heights. With a platoon of the 191st Tank Battalion at the head and the 160th Field Artillery Battalion in support, the battalion combat team crossed La Cosa Creek and moved toward that part of Highway 19 between Ponte Sele and Serre. By midmorning the battalion had reached a destroyed bridge across the Calore. Building a ford in the shallow stream was not difficult, and tanks and vehicles soon crossed, only to run into concerted fire from German tanks and artillery that forced the troops to take cover. There they remained until dark. Since the positions on the low ground seemed far too advanced and much too exposed, the battalion withdrew during the night almost three miles and dug defensive positions along La Cosa Creek.

In contrast with the opposition met by the two regiments of the 45th Division, a battalion of the 142nd Infantry took Altavilla and the nearby hills with no trouble at all. Troops entered the village during the morning and occupied dispersed positions on the heights without resistance. That afternoon, when patrols reconnoitered eastward as far as the Calore River, they found no German forces. American domination of the Sele-Calore corridor from the south now seemed established.

Ashore again on 11 September, General Clark was concerned by the manifestation of German strength against the British. Not only were the Germans exerting pressure in the Battipaglia area, they had pushed into the outskirts of Vietri and had come within twelve miles of Salerno. In the process they were inflicting heavy casualties. On that day alone, Tenth Army captured almost 1,500 prisoners, most of them British. General Clark was also impressed by the resistance the 45th Division met. To counter the German strength in the northern portion of the beachhead, Clark talked with General Dawley about shifting troops from the south. Although reconnaissance pilots ranging east of Eboli had only negative reports on German troop movements that evening, Clark advised Dawley to be alert to the danger of counterattack along his north flank. Use plenty of mines, Clark urged.

Late on the evening of 11 September when General McCreery requested General Clark to move the inter-corps boundary again to narrow still further the 10 Corps area, Clark responded. Reluctant to adjust his front-line dispositions, Dawley moved a battalion of the 36th Engineer Regiment into the line during the night. On the left of the 157th Infantry, the engineers occupied defensive positions around Bivio Cioffi, a few miles north of the mouth of the Sele, and there established tenuous patrol contact with British units at daylight. Paralleling the disturbing developments on the ground were conditions offshore. As Luftflotte 2 continued its all out effort, launching a total of more than 450 sorties by fighters and fighter-bombers and almost 100 by heavy bombers during the first three days of the invasion, German planes menaced the invasion fleet.

The aircraft were responding to urgent pleas passed up the chain of command from the XIV Panzer Corps commander, Balck. to concentrate the planes not against the Allied air forces or ground troops but against the ships. According to Balck, who was supported by Vietinghoff. eliminating the devastating Allied naval gun-fires was the prime prerequisite for success in repelling the invasion.

German pilots sank 4 transports, 1 heavy cruiser, and 7 landing craft, and scored a total of 85 hits on the Allied fleet. They had particular success with two new radio-controlled glider and rocket bombs. Introduced at Salerno, the bombs were carried by specially equipped DO-217 bombers and perhaps also by HE-111 bombers. The planes averaged one hit per fifteen sorties. Though the bombs had been available since July, shortly after the invasion of Sicily, Hitler had prevented their use “lest we give away our secret.”

[n2-7-2828 British Air Ministry Pamphlet No. 248, The Rise and Fall of the German Air Force (London: His Majesty’s Stationery Office, 1948), p. 262; Führer Conferences, 1943, p. 95 (17 Jul 43). Fitted with wings, the bombs were assisted by rockets. Radio control or a homing device directed them. Nineteen inches in diameter, the bombs had low velocity, were armor piercing, had a delayed fuze, and weighed 1400 kilograms. AFHQ Ltr, 22 Sep 43, AG 471.]

On 11 September a near miss by a glider or rocket bomb damaged the cruiser Philadelphia, another severely damaged a Dutch gunboat, and a direct hit on the cruiser Savannah put it out of action. These losses, Admiral Hewitt judged, made his situation critical. He requested assistance from Admiral Cunningham, who promptly dispatched two cruisers, the Aurora and the Penelope, from Malta.

The most conspicuous target immediately offshore was Admiral Hewitt’s flagship, the Ancon. It had to be in the gulf because it was the center of naval, air, and ground command communications. Apprehensive over its safety during the night, Hewitt decided that defending the Ancon with the usual measures of smoke and massed antiaircraft fire would be too risky. He put out to sea for the night.

At daylight, 12 September, the Ancon was back on station to resume not only fighter direction control but also its place in the command network. Against the beachhead itself, the Germans continued to augment their strength and pressure. Enough of the 29th Panzer Grenadier Division from Calabria was on hand to make its presence felt, and on 12 September troops of the 29th appeared in the American sector. Their first action took place at Altavilla.

The 1st Battalion, 142nd Infantry, had moved into Altavilla and had established positions on Hill 424 without any trouble, but the American troops were not so firmly in place as they might have seemed. Not only were they spread thin over a large area, but the broken ground around Altavilla-terraced slopes covered with scrub growth and cut by ravines-restricted fields of fire and sharply limited visibility. Central control was a problem, and each rifle company had difficulty finding suitable ground for adequate defensive positions. In addition, the consolidation of the 179th Infantry on the left near Persano and along La Cosa Creek placed the infantry battalion around Altavilla in the most advanced position along the VI Corps front.

German troops infiltrated the battalion positions during the night, and soon after daylight, 12 September, they opened fire on the dispersed American units. Although the broken terrain gave many Americans the impression they were fighting alone and unaided, they resisted stubbornly. Yet their situation soon became critical. The regimental commander, Colonel Forsythe, tried to get trucks from division and corps to rush another battalion to Altavilla as reinforcement, but vehicles were not available. As the battalion commander headed forward to direct the most hard-pressed of his companies, he was cut down by German fire. Shortly thereafter, German troops pushed into the village and split the battalion in two. In splinters and with Germans apparently on all sides, the men fell back from Altavilla and the neighboring hills.

Loss of the Altavilla heights jeopardized the American positions in the SeleCal are corridor, where the 179th Infantry had tried again on 12 September to advance to Ponte Sele and Highway 19. Though tanks and tank destroyers forced a passage to Persano and re-established contact and communications with the two battalions of infantry, no further advance was possible. [NOTE 2-7-29 Captain Richard M. Strong, who was largely responsible for regaining contact, was awarded the DSC.] The 2nd Battalion, protecting the regimental right Rank, guarded the area between the Cal are River and Altavilla against German incursion from the heights. The loss of Altavilla exposed the 179th Infantry right Rank. However, the regimental left Rank became somewhat more secure after the 157th Infantry attacked the tobacco factory. Men of the 157th took the buildings and the commanding ground on which they stood, then fought a seesaw battle against a series of fierce German counterattacks. At the end of the day, the regiment was holding firm, blocking the Sele River crossing site immediately west of Persano and thus denying the Germans at least this access to the corridor.

The battalion of the 36th Engineer Regiment in the line on the left of the 157th Infantry helped sustain the corps’ left Rank. With the help of excellent naval gunfire, the fire of a few tank destroyers that had just come ashore, and the support of a battery of artillery, the engineers held at Bivio Cioffi against a German probe.

The defensive success on the VI Corps left could not obscure the seriousness of the loss of Altavilla. Without the high ground around Altavilla the 45th Division could make little progress toward Ponte Sele and Eboli and could give little assistance to 10 Corps. When General Dawley conferred with General Middleton around noon on 12 September, the division commander made this point. Agreeing, Dawley instructed General Walker to retake Altavilla. As Walker started to plan an attack, General Clark set into motion a reorganization of the front.

To General Clark, who came ashore again on 12 September and who found the 45th Division “badly bruised,” the German strength near Persano seemed to be a spear pointing toward the center of the beachhead. If the Germans pushed to the sea, they could turn the inner Rank of either or both of the corps. Uneasy over the threat, Clark began to question Dawley’s ability to handle the operations.

Enemy pressure that had for the most part been exerted against 10 Corps had obviously spread now to include part of the VI Corps sector, yet Dawley seemed unaware of the German concentration on his left Rank. Dawley, Clark believed, had either misinterpreted the failure of the 45th Division’s thrusts toward Ponte Sele and Eboli or was oblivious to its meaning. To Clark, it was clearly evident that the enemy intended to launch a major attack in that area, and that adequate measures had to be taken to meet it. Dawley had already committed all his troops in a cordon defense that left none in reserve to meet an emergency, though it is perhaps difficult to see what he might have otherwise done. Concerned because there had been no contingency planning for the possibility that Fifth Army might be driven into the sea, Clark thought of alerting the troops to the need of destroying equipment and supplies in the event of a German breakthrough to the beach.

[NOTE: Captain John T. Kershner, the artillery battery commander who lost his life after exposing himself to enemy fire for three hours in order to adjust his hattalion’s fires effectively, was posthumously awarded the DSC]

He did not issue the order for fear of the effect it might have on morale. General Clark made known his concern

to General Dawley, and during the afternoon of 12 September Dawley started what “‘as to be a considerable shift of forces into the gap on his left. Middleton was to move all his 45th Division troops north of the Sele to gain and maintain firm contact with the British troops still trying to take Battipaglia. When the 179th Infantry moved from the Sele-Calore plain to join the 157th Infantry north of the river, Walker’s 36th Division would therefore have to extend its left flank as far north as the Sele.

This extension gave General Walker a front of about thirty-five miles, an inordinate length for a division, particularly since the 36th, like the 45th, which had only five infantry battalions ashore, was well understrength. The 1st Battalion, 157th Infantry, after Altavilla, had only 260 men, and they were badly shaken; and the 1st Battalion, 143rd Infantry, had been sent to the Sorrento peninsula to bolster the Rangers, with only seven effective infantry battalions and a mission to recapture Altavilla, General Walker could spare few troops to replace the 179th Infantry in the Sele-Calore corridor. General Dawley assured him that an infantry battalion would be enough. Middleton’s forces would provide strong protection on the left, and the recapture of Altavilla would secure the right.

Because the 142nd Infantry was stretched thin around Albanella in the center of the 36th Division zone and the 141st was stretched equally thin in the Agropoli area in the south, General Walker gave the task of retaking Altavilla to the 143rd Infantry. Colonel Martin, the regimental commander, had been moving a battalion into defensive positions to cover the Altavilla area when he was called to the division command post to receive his instructions. He learned that Walker was planning to send his division reserve, the 2nd Battalion, 143rd Infantry, to the Sele-Calore corridor to replace the 179th Infantry.

Since the 1st Battalion was operating with the Rangers, Martin had only the 3rd Battalion with which to retake the Altavilla heights. Because a single battalion had been unable to hold the high ground that morning, Walker borrowed a battalion of the 142nd Infantry to augment Martin’s attack force. He directed Martin to employ the two battalions in a pincer movement. While one battalion ascended the northern edge of the Altavilla hill mass and moved on the village, the other was to advance along the ridge line from Albanella and attack Hill 424. The depleted 1st Battalion, 142nd Infantry, might, if necessary, also be used.

Colonel Martin’s preparations for the attack on Altavilla consumed most of the afternoon of 12 September. Bridges had to be repaired before trucks could be moved to assembly areas, and a shortage of trucks in the beachhead slowed supply movements.

By the time Martin had set up a new command post and conferred with artillery and tank commanders to co-ordinate the fire support, it was too late for daylight reconnaissance. That evening ‘Walker ordered Martin to launch his attack anyway, but Martin, still not ready, did not issue his field order until midnight. By then the battle that had raged over Battipaglia had turned definitely in favor of the Germans. Enemy troops drove contingents of the 56th Division out of the edge of the village, inflicting heavy casualties and exposing the north flank of VI Corps.

This reverse emphasized what was already apparent. After four days the beachhead was still dangerously shallow, and the number of troops available to man the long front was dangerously small. Despite Vietinghoff’s difficulties in building up the German troops in the Salerno area, his force seemed to be growing at a faster rate than that of the Allies.

The instability of the beachhead undoubtedly contributed to General Clark’s decision on 12 September to establish his

army headquarters ashore. It would indicate to the troops, as no amount of exhortation could, that the commander had no intention of quitting. There were other reasons, of course. A command poston the ground was more convenient than a headquarters aboard ship, and Clark was impatient to get ashore where he could see things for himself and where he could be available to his subordinates at all times. In addition, Admiral Hewitt’s flagship, which accommodated General House’s air staff as well as Clark’s headquarters, was conspicuous in the Gulf of Salerno, an inviting and tempting target. When the ground and air staffs moved ashore, Hewitt could transfer his flag to a smaller ship and release the Ancon for return to more tranquil waters.

Though Admiral Hewitt had been charged with exercising over-all command of the operation until the ground troops established a secure beachhead, the security of the beachhead was not the controlling criterion when the command shift took place. The beachhead was far from secure on 12 September when General Clark disembarked his headquarters, yet at that time Admiral Hewitt’s role became strictly one of support. “The Army having been established on shore and Clark having succeeded to the overall command,” Admiral Hewitt later wrote, “it became my duty … to comply as best I could with his wishes.”

[n2-7-31 Reverting to the command of the naval forces only, Hewitt moved to a smaller ship after dark on 12 September and dispatched the Aneon to Algiers. He also released Admiral Vian’s carrier force, even though the Montecorvino airfield was still under German fire and unusable for air operations. Some of Vian’s Sea fire fighters flew to a fighter strip constructed near Paestum and became the first land-based planes available for direct support of the ground operations.]

Finding a suitable location for the Fifth Army headquarters was no easy matter. An obviously good place centrally located was not to be found; indeed, adequate space anywhere in the constricted beachhead was hard to come by. The town of Salerno was receiving increasing numbers of German artillery shells and was too close to the front, while Paestum, the other most likely site, was full of administrative headquarters and supply dumps and was also some distance from the 10 Corps headquarters.

General Clark finally chose Bellelli Palace, a mansion in a large grove of pine trees not far from the inter-corps boundary. Here, about a mile southwest of the juncture of the Sele and Calore Rivers, near the Albanella Station. here the railroad and coastal highway come together-the Fifth Army headquarters opened.

To some observers it seemed that General Clark chose to establish his headquarters in the VI Corps area rather than with the 10 Corps because he had less confidence in Dawley than in McCreery. True or not, Clark’s choice was natural on other grounds. It was more convenient for an American headquarters with American personnel to be in an American area simply in terms of staff procedures, food habits, and human relations. Also, Clark’s command relationship with McCreery could not be the same as it was with Dawley. National considerations and the subtleties of coalition warfare dictated that Clark be much more directly concerned with Dawley’s operations than with McCreery’s. With Dawley he could, if necessary, be brutally frank; with McCreery he had to be tactful and discreet.

The site of the Fifth Army command post proved unfortunate. Telephone communications were difficult to establish and, once installed, not particularly good. Control of both corps thus remained less than satisfactory and always a problem, and partly for this reason the army temporarily left administrative responsibility for the beachhead in the hands of the corps. Only one good lateral road connected the VI and 10 Corps, and that road ran through Battipaglia. Although it was possible to travel from one corps to the other along a series of trails and tracks near the shore, the quickest route was by speedboat.

The main reason why the army headquarters was not well placed was its proximity to the front. Not only was it within range of German artillery, it was menaced by German infantry shortly after setting up. During one of the counterattacks launched against the tobacco factory during the afternoon of 12 September, eight German tanks and about a battalion of infantry temporarily forced the I st Battalion, IS7th Infantry, out of its positions. For an hour or so, until the Americans counterattacked and regained their positions, the army command post was in the unenviable position of sitting in the direct path of the German attack.

That evening General Clark decided that the location was unsatisfactory-the baronial mansion was too small for the headquarters personnel and too conspicuous a target for air attack. Together with a few of his closest staff members, he drove south on Highway 18 toward Paestum. Just north of the VI Corps headquarters, in a house surrounded by a thick growth of underbrush, General Clark set up his personal command post. The events of the day were somewhat

unnerving to most members of the headquarters

The German Attack

Still gathering forces to launch a massive attack, Vietinghoff on the morning of 13 September believed he would have enough troops by the following day. He informed General der Panzertruppen Traugott Herr, the LXXVI Panzer Corps commander, that he wished to discuss with him on the evening of the 13th how they might go about overwhelming the Allies and destroying the beachhead.

Shortly after his conversation with Herr, sometime during the morning of the 13th, Vietinghoff suddenly discovered the gap between the two Allied corps. With some astonishment he inferred that the Allies had voluntarily “split themselves into two sections.” To Vietinghoff this meant that the Allies were planning to evacuate their beachhead, and he seized eagerly upon that conclusion. The arrival of additional ships off the Salerno beaches he construed as those necessary for the evacuation.

The Allied use of smoke near Battipaglia he regarded as a measure designed to cover a retreat. The translation of an intercepted radio message, which seemed to indicate an Allied intention to withdraw, made him certain that the Allies had been unable to withstand the heavy and constant German pressure and were in fact about to abandon their beachhead. He interpreted German propaganda broadcasts claiming another Dunkerque as support for his conviction. Sensing victory, Vietinghoff wanted all the more to launch a massive attack, no longer to drive the Allies from the beaches but now to prevent their escape. More and more pressure, he urged his subordinates.

Shortly after midday on 13 September, LXXVI Panzer Corps complied. Elements of the 29th Panzer Grenadier and 16th Panzer Divisions struck from Battipaglia, Eboli, and Altavilla. Not long afterward the corps commander, Herr, reported his troops in pursuit of the enemy.

From the American point of view, the German efforts that day were at first less a concentrated attack than a sharp increase in resistance. Early that morning, when Colonel Martin finally launched his attack to recapture Altavilla with an artillery preparation beginning at 0545, the 3rd Battalion, 142nd Infantry, moving northwest along the ridge from Albanella, ran into fierce opposition. The battalion fought all day long, trying vainly to reach the village. The 3rd Battalion, 143rd, advancing up the other side of the Altavilla heights, had better success and was able to send a company into the village of Altavilla to protect the battalion flank. But when the battalion started toward Hill 424, the men were stopped by German infantrymen effectively using small arms and machine guns and calling in accurate artillery fire.

With the assault battalions bogged down, General Walker released the depleted 1st Battalion, 142nd, to Colonel Martin, who tried all afternoon to move the battalion to assault positions. Transportation difficulties and German artillery fire imposed delays. Not until late afternoon was the battalion ready to attack, and then, as the men were passing through a defile, a rain of German artillery shells cut the already battered unit to pieces.

This marked the change in the German tactics from those of defense to a more active response. While the 3rd Battalion, 143rd Infantry, still in possession of Altavilla, was making ready to attack Hill 424 without its reinforcements, it received a counterattack at 1700, fifteen minutes before the scheduled jump-off. German troops who had bolstered the defenders of Hill 424 drove the Americans from their line of departure. As darkness approached, Germans infiltrating around the flanks of both battalions on the high ground threatened to encircle and isolate them. Allied artillery fire might have nullified the threat, but German shelling thwarted all efforts to maintain wire communications to the artillery, and radio reception proved too poor to enable forward observers to obtain accurate artillery support. His attack collapsing, Martin instructed both battalions to withdraw. This the 3rd Battalion, 142nd, did without difficulty. The 3rd Battalion, 143rd, had to wait until darkness, and even then Company K could not make it. Encircled in Altavilla, the company set up a perimeter defense. Not until the following night were the men able to break away and infiltrate by small groups back to American lines.

There was failure at Altavilla, but in the Sele-Calore corridor the situation came close to disaster. Here the 2nd Battalion, 143rd Infantry, had arrived during the night of 12 September and relieved the 179th Infantry. Assuming defensive positions two and a half miles northeast of Persano, the battalion set up antitank guns and laid a few hasty mine fields. Any uneasy feelings the men on the low ground of the Sele-Calore flood plain might have had were heightened when reconnaissance patrols reported no contact with friendly units on either flank.

On the right the nearest American units were three miles away and engaged at Altavilla. On the left the 157th Infantry on the north bank of the Sele was protecting the Persano crossing two and a half miles to the rear. Though Middleton had informed Dawley that the 157th Infantry covered the positions in the Sele-Calore corridor, he was mistaken, and Walker had accepted Middleton’s word without checking. But during the morning of 13 September and through most of the afternoon nothing happened in the corridor except the arrival of an occasional incoming round of artillery.

At the LXXVI Panzer Corps command post, Herr’s chief of staff was reaching the firm conclusion at 1430 that the Allies were in the process of evacuating during these attacks and withdrawals, three men in particular distinguished themselves. Corporal Charles E. Kelly (awarded the Medal of Honor.) was instrumental in the success of a small group of men who eliminated numerous enemy machine gun positions. Private William J. Crawford (awarded the Medal of Honor.)knocked out three machine guns after crawling under enemy fire to positions close enough to throw hand grenades. 1st Lieutenant Arnold L. Bjorklund (awarded the Medal of Honor.)similarly destroyed several machine gun and mortar positions at the beachhead. German troops, he reported to Vietinghoff, were in close pursuit of the retreating Allied forces. This optimism prompted Vietinghoff to instruct the LXXVI Panzer Corps to cease destroying supplies that for the moment could not be moved out of Calabria; the movements of Tenth Army, not only out of Calabria but north to the Rome area, were no longer, according to Vietinghoff, subject to the pressure of time.

As for the more immediate situation at the beachhead, Vietinghoff ordered the XIV Panzer Corps to assemble all available forces for an attack south of Eboli to hasten and disrupt the Allied withdrawal. About an hour later, more than twenty German tanks, a battalion of infantry, and several towed artillery pieces moved from the Eboli area toward the tobacco factory just north of the Sele River, where the 1st Battalion, 157th Infantry, occupied defensive positions. As artillery shells began to fall in ever-increasing numbers among the Americans, about half a dozen German tanks struck the American left flank and some fifteen hit the right.

Counteraction was immediate. Tanks and tank destroyers, Cannon Company howitzers and 37-mm. antitank guns rushed forward and opened fire. Division artillery, directed not only by forward observers but by two aerial observers, fired almost continuously.

The German attack rolled on. When two mark IV tanks and several scout cars suddenly appeared within 150 yards of the battalion positions, some American infantrymen gave way. Not long afterward, when German tanks temporarily encircled the battalion headquarters, control vanished. As men of the 1st Battalion straggled back into the positions of the 3rd Battalion, 157th, which by then was also engaged, the Germans pushed to the Persano crossing and drove the 1st Battalion from the tobacco factory.

Having uncovered the crossing over the Sele River, the Germans entered the Sele-Calore corridor and struck the left rear of the 2nd Battalion, 143rd Infantry. Other German tanks and infantry had by this time come into the corridor near Ponte Sele and cut around the battalion right. Both German thrusts outflanked the battalion. Improperly deployed, holding poor positions on the low ground, told by the battalion commander to remain under cover, the men stayed hidden while requests went out for artillery fire. Because calls were coming in from Altavilla at the same time and because the artillery was not altogether sure of the battalion’s location, the volume of fire did not arrive in the amount necessary to break up the attack. Nor was there much, if any, small arms fire from the men of the battalion. Continuing to push from both flanks, the Germans overran the American positions. More than 500 officers and men were lost, most of them captured. Only 9 officers and 325 men eventually made their way back to American lines.

By 1715 a sizable force of German tanks and infantry was in the corridor unopposed, and by 1800 enemy artillery was emplaced around Persano. Soon afterward, fifteen German tanks headed straight toward the juncture of the Sele and Cal ore Rivers. Their advance was accompanied by a display of fireworks an extensive use of Very pistols, pyrotechnics, and smoke-intended either to create the appearance of larger numbers or to denote the attainment of local objectives. By 1830 German tanks and infantry were at the north bank of the Calore.

Between them and the sea stood only a few Americans, mainly the 180th and 158th Field Artillery Battalions. In positions on a gentle slope overlooking the base of the corridor, the batteries of these battalions opened fire at point-blank range across the Cal ore and into heavy growth along the north bank of the river. At General Walker’s command, a few tank destroyers of the 636th Battalion coming ashore that afternoon hastened to the juncture of the rivers to augment the artillery. Howitzers of other battalions and tanks in the area added their fires where possible. Immediately behind the artillery pieces, only a few hundred yards away, was the Fifth Army command post. While miscellaneous headquarters troops-cooks, clerks, and drivers-hastily built up a firing line on the south bank of the Cal ore, others hurriedly moved parts of the command post to the rear. The spear that General Clark had visualized poised at the center of the beachhead had struck.

Finding the situation “extremely critical,” facing squarely the possibility “that the American forces may sustain a severe defeat in this area,” General Clark arranged to evacuate his headquarters on ten minutes’ notice and take a PT boat to the 10 Corps zone, where the conditions were better for maintaining what he called a “clawhold” on Italian soil. Events elsewhere intensified everyone’s concern. Offshore, a glider bomb severely damaged the British cruiser HMS Uganda that afternoon, while two near misses damaged the cruiser USS Philadelphia. Enemy planes bombed and struck two hospital ships, setting one on fire and causing its abandonment.

Opening Port of Salerno

The port of Salerno, opened on 11 September to receive supplies, had come under increasingly heavy artillery fire on the evening of the next day, and by the afternoon of 13 September, the waterfront installations were so extensively damaged and the enemy shelling was so continuous that it was no longer practical to continue unloading operations. The harbor was closed at 1500 and the men operating the unloading facilities were withdrawn. Almost two weeks would go by before the port could be reopened.

In the 10 Corps area, where units were much extended, the situation around Vietri became critical as contingents of the Hermann Gӧring Division entering the town threatened to split the main body of British troops from the Rangers. Without reserves, General McCreery could only make a hopeful request: could a Ranger battalion counterattack from Maiori to clear small groups of Germans who had infiltrated through Vietri as far forward as the coastal road?

The VI Corps situation near the juncture of the Sele and Calore Rivers, tense throughout the evening of 13 September, was the worst in the beachhead. At 1930 came word from the tank destroyers that a withdrawal might soon be unavoidable. At that moment, General Clark called Generals Dawley, Walker, and Middleton to the VI Corps command post. As the senior American commanders met, Fifth Army staff officers were preparing plans to evacuate the beachhead

should it become necessary. They drew two plans, code-named SEALION and SEATRAIN) one for each corps. Whether the planners were thinking of withdrawing one corps to reinforce the other, as was later claimed, or whether this was the ostensible rather than the real purpose of the planning, General Clark had, in General Dawley’s presence and despite Dawley’s protest, directed his chief of staff, Major General Alfred M. Gruenther, “to take up with the Navy” the task of evacuating the beachhead.

In North Africa, General Eisenhower remained determined if not altogether optimistic. Generals Clark and McCreery had reported the situation as being “unfavorable,” he informed the CCS, “tense but not unexpected.” The next few days would probably be “critical,” but “if the job can be done,” he promised, “we will do it.” To Vietinghoff, German success seemed to be within grasp. He was so sure of victory by 1730 that he sent a triumphant telegram to Kesselring. “After a defensive battle lasting four days.” he announced, “enemy resistance is collapsing. Tenth Army pursuing on wide front. Heavy fighting still in progress near Salerno and Altavilla. Maneuver in process to cut off the retreating enemy from Paestum.” Thirty minutes later, in conference with Herr, the LXXVI Panzer Corps commander, Vietinghoff was surprised to hear Herr express doubt over the collapse of the Allied beachhead. Resistance, Herr pointed out, had stiffened, and Allied tanks were countering the German attacks.

Vietinghoff refused to be shaken. It was obvious, he thought, that the Allies would guard their retreat with all possible strength; they might even essay a counterattack. But if they had voluntarily split their forces into two halves, he repeated, it was a sure sign of defeat. Again he urged both corps to throw everything into the battle to insure the complete annihilation of the Fifth Army.

The XIV Panzer Corps commander, Balck, meanwhile had received news of the impending Allied collapse with considerable skepticism. He could make out no signs of Allied withdrawal. Though he had orders from Vietinghoff to attack at once with two newly arrived regimental groups from the 15th Panzer and 3rd Panzer Grenadier Divisions, Balck did not see how he could commit them before the following night, 14 September, at the earliest. Despite the skepticism of his corps commanders, Vietinghoff remained persuaded of Allied defeat. A message from Kesselring that day reinforced his belief. Radio intercepts at OB SUED, Kesselring reported, seemed to confirm that the Allies were in the process of evacuating the beachhead. “The battle of Salerno,” the Tenth Army war diarist wrote that evening, “appears to be over.”

SOURCE: SALERNO TO CASSINO; by Martin Blumenson (United States Army Center of Military History)

World War Two: Italy: Salerno-Beachhead; The Crisis (ISC-2-8)

World War Two: Italy; Salerno-The Landings (ISC-2-6)

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World War Two: Biak: The Plan, the Landing, the Enemy (AP-12) May 1944

When, on 10 May 1944, General Headquarters, Southwest Pacific Area, changed the original concept of the Sarmi-Wakde-Biak plan no significant changes were made in the assignment of units to the operations for the seizure of Wakde and Biak Islands. The 163rd Regimental Combat Team of the 41st Infantry Division was ordered to capture Wakde Island and the adjacent New Guinea mainland beginning on 17 May. Ten days later, on 27 May, the remainder of the 41st Division was to land on Biak Island, 180 miles northwest of Wakde. The target date for the landings at Biak was designated Z Day.

The Biak Plan The Objective

Biak is shaped roughly like an old-fashioned high-topped shoe. The sole is on the south, the back of the shoe on the west, and the instep runs southeast to northwest. Off the northwest corner of Biak (and about one third its size) lies Soepiori Island. The two are separated by a small creek-like strait. Off southeastern Biak lie a number of islets, including Owi, Aoeki, Mios Woendi, and others of the Padaido Group. In May 1944 Biak’s principal towns lay along its southern shore. About fourteen miles west of the southeast tip was Bosnek, prewar administrative and commercial center.

Biak was formed as the result of underwater disturbances which in prehistoric times had brought part of the ocean’s floor above the surface. Much of the island is cut by broken coral terraces, ridges, and shelves which in the course of centuries acquired a thick cover of tropical rain forest and dense jungle undergrowth. There are some extensive inland flat areas at the southeastern third of the island. Little fresh water is readily available on Biak, since most of the streams run through underground channels that drain even the heaviest rainfall from the surface. The island lacks good harbors, almost all its shore line being fringed by rough coral reefs.

With regard to terrain on Biak it is necessary to bear in mind that many of Biak’s coral ridges are very similar to levees, while many others are actually steps of a series of terraces which rise to inland heights. But the Allied forces which fought at Biak usually referred to all terrace steps or levee-like formations as ridges, and the latter term is generally employed in these chapters. The term terrace is generally reserved for flat though sometimes gradually sloping areas between the steps or ridges.

A high, rough, and narrow coral ridge, lying in front of a generally flat inland terrace in levee-like fashion, parallels Biak’s southern shore from a point about five miles east of Bosnek to Mokmer, a village located ten miles west of Bosnek. The seaward face of this ridge is from 180 to 250 feet high, while its landward slope rises only 100 feet or so above the flat but rough-surfaced inland terrace. Near Mokmer the coral ridge turns northward and inland for about a mile and a half, and then west again toward Biak’s southwestern corner. At Parai, some 2,000 yards east of Mokmer, one spur of this coastal ridge comes down almost to the shore line to form a twenty-foot-high cliff. This cliff runs along the water line from Parai to a point about 1,000 yards west of Mokmer.

The turning of the main coastal ridge combines with a protrusion of the coast line beginning near Parai to form a plain about eight miles long and up to one and a half miles wide. The Japanese had begun to construct airfields on this plain late in 1943, and by April 1944 had completed two strips. The most easterly was Mokmer Drome, near the village of Mokmer. About two and one-half miles west was Sorido Drome, located near the village of the same name. Both these strips were close to the southern shore of Biak. Between them, but about three quarters of a mile inland, was Borokoe Drome, which became operational early in May 1944. A site for a fourth airfield had been surveyed on flat land north of the coral ridge behind Bosnek, and for a fifth between Sorido and Borokoe Dromes.

There were few good localities for amphibious assaults along the shores of Biak, and the best lay far from the airstrips. Since these airfields were the principal Allied objectives, it was necessary to choose relatively poor landing points in order to put assault forces ashore close to the fields.

ALAMO Force knew that reasonably good beaches, though fronted by coral reefs, were located at Bosnek, Mokmer, and along the coast between those villages. But the Mokmer area was known to be the most heavily defended on Biak. It would be foolhardy to land at the point of the enemy’s greatest strength if other usable beaches could be found at near-by but more lightly defended areas. East from Mokmer, coral cliffs or mangrove swamps lie immediately behind the beach. These obstacles would prevent a landing force from maneuvering or finding room to disperse its supplies. The lessons of the Hollandia campaign were fresh in the minds of planners, who had no desire to find the troubles of the 24th Division at Tanahmerah Bay or those of the 41st Division at Humboldt Bay repeated on Biak. From aerial photographs, Bosnek appeared to be the point nearest to Mokmer Drome where cliffs or swamps did not back the beach. It was also known that some roads or trails led both inland and along the coast in both directions from Bosnek. Moreover, at Bosnek two possibly usable jetties led to deep water beyond the coral reef which fringed the entire southern coast.

The men planning the Biak operation could obtain little definite information about this fringing reef, which was estimated to vary from 200 to 600 feet in width. According to aerial reconnaissance, much of the reef was dry at low water, but no information was available concerning the amount of water over the reef at high tide.

In any case, reef conditions off Bosnek appeared to be no worse than elsewhere along the south coast of Biak. Since this was true, and because jetties, apparent lack of strong enemy defensive installations, and maneuver room on shore offered advantages not found any place else, General Krueger, in agreement with the air and naval commanders, decided that the initial landing would be made at Bosnek.

Organization, Logistics, and Intelligence

The organization designated to secure Biak was named the HURRICANE Task Force, the principal combat component of which was the 41st Infantry Division, less the 163rd Regimental Combat Team. Both the task force and the division were commanded by Major General Horace H. Fuller, who had commanded a similar organization at Humboldt Bay. For Biak, the 41st Division was reinforced by two field and two antiaircraft artillery battalions, a 4.2-inch mortar company, a medium tank company (less one platoon), an engineer boat and shore regiment (less one boat company), and a number of antiaircraft batteries. Service troops assigned to the HURRICANE Task Force, in addition to those organic to the 41st Division, were three engineer aviation battalions (for airfield construction work), other miscellaneous engineer units, and many medical, quartermaster, and signal corps organizations.

Control of the amphibious phases of the operation was vested in Rear Admiral William M. Fechteler (USN) as the Commander, Attack Force. Admiral Fechteler divided his combat vessels into four support groups, which totaled 2 heavy cruisers, 3 light cruisers, and 21 destroyers. Assault shipping, comprising 5 APD’s, 8 LST’s, 8 LCT’s, and 15 LCI’s, was placed in a separate unit which Admiral Fechteler designated the Main Body. Smaller craft, such as LVT’s, LVT(A)’s, DUKW’s, and LCVP’s were to be carried to Biak aboard LST’s and APD’s. A Special Service Unit of the Main Body contained 4 SC’s, 3 rocket-equipped LCI’s, 1 LCI carrying underwater demolition teams and their equipment, and 1 seagoing tug (ATF). The Special Service Unit, among other duties, was to provide close support and control for landing waves. A naval beach party, which was to control the landing of troops and supplies once the first waves were ashore, was also part of the Attack Force.

The First Reinforcement Group, consisting of 3 LST’s and 8 LCI’s, protected by 3 destroyers and 2 destroyer escorts, was to arrive at Biak on 28 May, Z plus 1. On the next day the Second Reinforcement Group, made up of 7 LST’s, 3 destroyers, and 2 frigates (PF’s), was to reach Biak. Aboard the cargo vessels of these two convoys were to be artillery units, service troops, and supplies of all kinds.

Close air support for the invasion of Biak was primarily the responsibility of the Advanced Echelon, Fifth Air Force, which was to operate from bases at Hollandia and Wakde Island. The Fifth Air Force, the Thirteenth Air Force, and Australian and Dutch aircraft were assigned long-range and strategical support missions similar to those they had undertaken prior to the landings at Wakde-Sarmi.

ALAMO Force Reserve for Biak consisted of the 128th and 158th Regimental Combat Teams, which had also been in reserve for the Wakde-Sarmi operation. HURRICANE Task Force Reserve consisted of two units. The first of these was a battalion (less one rifle company and the heavy weapons company) of the 186th Infantry, and the other was the 41st Cavalry Reconnaissance Troop.

Those elements of the HURRICANE Task Force scheduled to land on Biak on 27 and 28 May were to carry with them to the objective ten days’ supply of rations, clothing, equipment (but only organizational sets of spare parts), fuels, and lubricants. Sufficient engineer construction equipment was to be landed on Biak during the first two days of the operation to assure a rapid start on airfield rehabilitation, road construction, and clearance of dispersal areas.

All weapons except 4.2-inch mortars arriving at Biak through Z plus 1 were to be supplied with two units of fire, while the mortars were to be supplied with six units of fire. Organizations arriving at Biak after 28 May were to bring with them thirty days’ supply of rations, clothing and equipment, fuels and lubricants, medical, engineer, and motor maintenance supplies, and three units of fire for all weapons. Initial responsibility for the transportation of troops and supplies to Biak rested with the Allied Naval Forces. It was planned that the Services of Supply would relieve the Navy of this duty late in June.

ALAMO Force was able to supply the HURRICANE Task Force with little detailed information concerning the enemy situation on Biak Island. It was known that early in May the Japanese had ordered the defenses of Biak to be strengthened. Aerial reconnaissance disclosed that some effort was being made on Biak to comply with these orders and that a large amount of matériel had reached the island during the early months of the year. The extent of the Biak defenses however, was unknown. The enemy garrison on Biak was thought to total about 4,400 men, including the bulk of the 222nd Infantry Regiment, 36th Division, and the effective combat strength of the 222nd Infantry would probably not exceed 2,500 men. It was further believed that the principal Japanese strength was concentrated in the vicinity of Mokmer Drome, and it appeared likely that enemy troops which had once been stationed in the Bosnek area had been moved west to Mokmer early in May.

The landing on Biak was expected to elicit a strong aerial reaction from the Japanese. However, it was not probable that the enemy air attacks could reach very damaging proportions because all Japanese fields within range of Biak could be subjected to heavy bombardment by Allied aircraft. Allied Naval Forces did not believe that the enemy would risk major fleet units in an attempt to retake Biak once Allied forces had established a firm foothold on the island. Finally, though the seizure of Wakde might give the Japanese some indication that the next Allied target would be Biak, it was thought possible that the HURRICANE Task Force might achieve local tactical surprise as to the date and place of landing.

The Landing Plan

The HURRICANE Task Force was to land in the Bosnek area on beaches designated Green 1, 2, 3, and 4. Green Beach 1, 200 yards long, began at a point about 500 yards east of Bosnek. Green Beach 2 was 300 yards long and extended west from Green 1 to the most easterly of the two jetties which crossed the coral reef in front of Bosnek.

Green Beach 3 was located between the two jetties and was about 750 yards long. Green Beach 4 extended 300 yards along the shore beyond the western jetty. Since little was known about the coral reef fronting the four Biak beaches, the landing plans differed from those for most previous operations within the Southwest Pacific Area. Amphibian vehicles such as LVT’s and DUKW’s were to make up the initial waves, because it was obvious that standard landing craft could be counted on for only limited use. The amphibian vehicles of the first waves were to be carried to Biak aboard LST’s and were to unload in the stream outside the reef. After putting the initial waves ashore, the vehicles were to return to the LST’s and shuttle supplies to the beaches. LCPR’s, considered light and small enough to find channels through the reef, were to take some troops ashore after the first few waves had landed.

Eight LCT’s were supplied by Allied Naval Forces for the express purpose of taking ashore tanks, 105-mm. howitzers, trucks, and bulldozers. The LCT’s were to be driven as far up on the reef as possible and over it it feasible, and it was hoped that there would be enough water shoreward of the reef to float them. The equipment these craft were to take ashore was so important to the success of the operation that the risk of damage to them on the coral reef had to be accepted. The LCT’s and LCPR’s were to be Navy manned while the DUKW’s were to be driven by men of the 3rd Engineer Special Brigade. Some of the LVT’s were to be manned by the latter unit and others were to be driven by specially trained men of the 41st Division.

At first, H Hour was set for 0745. But the planners lacked knowledge of wind, tide, current, and offshore conditions at Biak, and therefore decided to keep the landing time flexible, dependent upon the conditions found at Biak on Z Day. Therefore, the naval and ground commanders objected to a Fifth Air Force plan to support the landing by having twelve B-24’s bomb the beaches immediately before H Hour. However, General MacArthur’s headquarters considered it inadvisable to eliminate the air bombardment, and the Fifth Air Force offered to increase the number of B-24’s from twelve to fifty-two. The Biak planners thereupon decided that it was worth while to sacrifice H-Hour flexibility to secure the additional air support, a decision which General Krueger quickly approved.

Some conditions, accepted by the Fifth Air Force, were made in the final agreement between the air, naval, and ground force commanders. First, bombs were to be dropped from a high level in order to avoid having the B-24’s interfere with naval fire. Second, the bombers were not to hit the two jetties, which might be found in good enough condition for use by assault ships. Finally, no bombs were to be dropped on the reef lest chunks of coral be dislodged and, rolling in the surf, endanger landing craft and amphibian vehicles. The aerial bombardment was to be co-ordinated with an H Hour which was finally set for 0715.

Even at this earlier time the bombers would be able to see their targets (sunrise at Biak being at 0655) and the change in H Hour would gain a half hour of daylight for ship unloading. The half-hour change would also reduce the time the assault shipping would have to remain off Biak during daylight and might increase chances for tactical surprise.

Other than the beach bombardment by B-24’s, close, air support for Biak on Z Day was similar to that undertaken for the Wakde landing. Medium bombers and fighters were to maintain an air alert over the Biak landing area from first light to dusk on Z Day. The convoys from eastern ports to Biak were to be given cover by Fifth Air Force planes. At Biak the medium bombers and fighters would fly close support missions for the forces ashore and would also undertake artillery spotting roles until an artillery liaison plane strip could be constructed on the island.

Naval fire support was to begin at H minus 45 minutes, 0630. From that time until H Hour, cruisers and destroyers were to expend 400 rounds of 8-inch, 1,000 rounds of 6-inch, 3,740 rounds of 5-inch, and 1,000 rounds of 4.7-inch ammunition on targets in the airfield area west of the landing beaches. After H Hour the cruisers were to continue intermittent fire on the airfields, bombard targets of opportunity, and respond to calls for support from the forces ashore. Because there were many known or suspected Japanese gun emplacements along the south shore of Biak, counterbattery fire was to take precedence over all other types of fire. Bombardment of the landing beaches was also to begin at H minus 45 minutes. Five destroyers were to bombard the beaches and adjacent areas until H minus 30 minutes, when they were to move westward to join the cruisers firing on the airfield area.

Then four other destroyers were to continue beach bombardment until H minus 3 minutes. Total ammunition allowance for beach bombardment was 4,900 rounds of 5-inch and 4.7-inch shells, while 40-mm. and 20-mm. ammunition was to be expended at the discretion of individual ship commanders. Rocket and automatic weapons fire from three rocket-equipped LCI’s and two SC’s was to provide close support for the assault waves. This fire was to begin at H minus 5 minutes and was to last until H Hour or until the initial wave was safely ashore.

The first landings on Biak were to be made by the 186th Infantry of the 41st Division. The regiment was to land in column of battalions, the 2nd Battalion leading, on Green Beaches 2 through 4. The first three waves, consisting of sixteen LVT’s each, were to land at five-minute intervals beginning at H Hour. DUKW’s, with Company D, 641st Tank Destroyer Battalion (4.2-inch mortars), and the 121st Field Artillery Battalion (75-mm. pack howitzers) aboard, were to follow the 2nd Battalion ashore beginning at H plus 15 minutes. Twelve LCPR’s were to take elements of the 3rd Battalion to the two jetties at H plus 20 minutes.

Simultaneously, Green Beach 1 was to be seized by a rifle company and the heavy weapons company of the 1st Battalion. Once the two jetties were secured, LCI’s bearing the 162nd Infantry, supporting troops, and the task force reserve were to move inshore and unload. LST’s were also to move to the jetties when the beach area surrounding them had been cleared by the 186th Infantry. LCM’s bearing artillery, tanks, and engineering equipment were to move to the beaches as soon as channels through the coral were found or made, or to the jetties in waves following the 186th Infantry’s assault companies.

As soon as it reorganized ashore, the 162nd Infantry was to advance rapidly west along the coast from Bosnek to seize the three airdromes. This drive was to be supported by eight tanks of the 603rd Tank Company and the 146th Field Artillery Battalion (105-mm. howitzers). The fields were to be repaired quickly to accommodate one fighter group and then expanded to receive an additional fighter group, a heavy bomber group, a reconnaissance group, a night fighter squadron, and one photo reconnaissance squadron. Mokmer Drome was to be the first field developed.

It was obviously impossible, for tactical reasons, to set a specific date by which the HURRICANE Task Force was to seize the Biak airfields. However, the urgency of quickly securing these fields was impressed upon General Fuller. One of the reasons for scheduling the Biak operation only ten days after the Wakde-Sarmi landing was to provide, from Biak, additional air support for the Central Pacific’s invasion of the Marianas on 15 June. The Allied Air Forces intended that one heavy bomber group and, apparently, some reconnaissance aircraft would be in operation from Biak before that date. The inadequate size of Wakde Island and the terrain and geographical position of Hollandia inclined Southwest Pacific planners toward the belief that only from Biak could all the bombing and reconnaissance missions necessary to the support of the Marianas operation be properly executed.

Finally, the faster the Biak fields were secured and made operational the more rapidly could Allied forces of the Southwest Pacific undertake subsequent advances in their own theater.16 While it is not clear how soon after its landing the HURRICANE Task Force was expected to secure the Biak fields, it is probable that General Headquarters anticipated that at least one of the fields would be operational by 10 June.

The Landing: Preparations and Approach

Most of the HURRICANE Task Force staged at Humboldt Bay, where preparations for departure were made under difficult circumstances. Terrain considerations forced most of the task force to assemble on the southern of the two sandspits dividing Humboldt and Jautefa Bays. On this spit the beach had a steep slope which made it impossible for more than a very few LST’s to be held against the shore line long enough to load bulk stores. The LST’s had to beach on the northern spit, where clearing and salvage after the fires and explosions which had ravaged that beach during the early phases of the Hollandia operation had not been completed. In addition, the northern spit was being used to unload supplies destined to be used at Hollandia, to load supplies being sent to the TORNADO Task Force at Wakde-Sarmi, and to unload cargo for the HURRICANE Task Force.

No road connected the northern and southern sandspits. Consequently, most of the supplies and equipment, as well as many of the troops, had to be transported by water from the southern to the northern loading area. There were only a few LCT’s available for this work and only by working twenty-four hours a day from 15 May on were all the troops and supplies transported to the loading beach in time for departure on the 25th. Some elements of the HURRICANE Task Force, principally the 1st and 3rd Battalions, 186th Infantry, were loaded by small craft from the southern spit onto the LCI’s and APD’s which were to take them to Biak.

Most of the assault troops of the HURRICANE Task Force were trained and experienced in amphibious operations but not in landing on a hostile shore from LVT’s and DUKW’s launched from LST’s in deep water. Rehearsals for the assault waves were therefore desirable, but there was time only for limited drills. A rehearsal with about 65 percent of the LVT’s and DUKW’s (the rest were either undergoing repairs or being used for lighterage at Humboldt Bay) was held at Humboldt Bay on 23 May, Z minus 4. Serious deficiencies were discovered in forming waves, timing, and communication between control vessels (SC’s and LCI’s) and the amphibian vehicles.

There was no time for more rehearsal. Therefore a conference of amphibian-vehicle drivers, assault-unit officers, and naval control-boat officers was immediately held. Detailed methods of control were planned, and illustrated by rehearsing on dry land with a few vehicles. It was decided that the timing of assault waves could best be accomplished by having each LST control the moment of launching of its component of each wave.

The HURRICANE Task Force left Humboldt Bay on the evening of 25 May. Supporting cruisers and their accompanying destroyers joined the assault shipping offshore the following morning. Thereafter, since it seemed futile to attempt to evade enemy search planes (the large convoy moved at only 8.5 knots) the force proceeded to Biak by the most direct route. No contacts, visual or by radar, were made with enemy aircraft on 26 May. During the following night some radar contacts were made with Japanese planes, but none of the aircraft so spotted seemed to have discovered the Allied convoy and the force arrived off Biak early the next morning apparently without having been detected by the enemy.

A westerly current had been expected in the Biak area and, on the basis of available hydrographic information, some allowance had been made for it. Long before first light on 27 May, the convoy found itself in the current. The hydrographic information now proved to be wrong. The current was stronger than anticipated, and despite subsequent reduction of cruising speed the convoy arrived off Bosnek about fifteen minutes early. In an amphibious operation, better early than late. Assault shipping and combat vessels immediately deployed in the transport and fire support areas. At 0629 Admiral Fechteler ordered the landing plan to be executed.

The Assault

The naval fire support and the air bombardment were carried out as planned. All targets were well covered and there was little answering fire from Japanese shore installations. Local tactical surprise was complete. The first wave of LVT’s, with elements of the 2nd Battalion, 186th Infantry, aboard, formed rapidly and crossed the line of departure exactly on schedule.20 From that time on, the landing operations did not proceed according to plan.

Since the westerly current off Biak proved to be much stronger than had been anticipated, during the air and naval bombardment the transport group had been set over 3,000 yards west of its proper location. Although some of the ships’ officers realized that the transport group was being carried west, nothing could be done to rectify the situation without causing a great deal of confusion and delaying the landing. More difficulties were caused by the morning twilight and the smoke and dust raised by the preliminary bombardment. The correct beaches were obscured, and the shore line could not be seen from more than 400 yards out.

A rocket-equipped LCI, which began firing on the beaches about H minus 4 minutes, led the first LVT wave toward the shore. The LCI fire, consisting of rockets and fire from automatic weapons, continued until H plus 2 minutes, when it was lifted because it began to endanger the troops who were unloading and pushing inland. Then it was discovered that the LVT’s had touched shore at a mangrove swamp almost 3,000 yards west of Green Beach 4. The next two LVT waves of the 2nd Battalion also landed at the mangrove swamp, as did the fourth wave’s DUKW’s. Nevertheless, the entire battalion was ashore by 0730 and was pushing beyond the mangrove swamp to the main coastal road connecting Bosnek and the airfields. Five minutes later, Companies I and K of the 3rd Battalion, 186th Infantry, landed about 700 yards east of the 2nd Battalion.

By this time the effect of the westerly current had been realized by all commanders, and naval control boat officers had started to turn succeeding waves eastward to the proper beaches. Some thirty minutes passed before the resultant confusion could be straightened out. For instance, part of an LCPR wave which was scheduled to land Company B of the 186th Infantry on Green Beach 1 at 0735, hit Green Beach 3 at 0742. The jetties, scheduled to be seized by Companies I and K at 0735, were not secured until after 0800, when the rest of the 3rd Battalion began landing on them.

Colonel Oliver P. Newman, commanding the 186th Infantry, had the 2nd Battalion and most of the 3rd Battalion organized under his direct control near Mandom, 2,000 yards west of Bosnek, by 0740. With more than half of his regiment already far west of the proper landing beaches, and knowing that the landing had become disorganized and that the rest of the boat waves were being delayed, he asked the task force commander if the 186th Infantry should continue with its original mission (securing the beachhead) or whether it might be feasible to switch missions with the 162nd Infantry and start moving west toward the airfields.

General Fuller, the HURRICANE Task Force commander, ordered the 186th Infantry to continue with its original mission. As events turned out, it might have been better had the regiment continued west, and it is possible that a great deal of time might have been saved if the missions had been switched. In the first place, the maps with which the task force was supplied were so inaccurate that both regiments soon came upon terrain features that threw much planning out of gear. Secondly, most of the 186th Infantry had landed so far west that both it and the 162nd (the latter had to cross the 186th’s line of march) consumed much valuable time getting to their proper locations. Finally, an exchange of missions might have been executed without much difficulty, for, in amphibious training, the 41st Division had learned to switch missions when such mistakes were made.

By 0745 the 2nd Battalion, 186th Infantry, and the two companies of the 3rd Battalion had started moving eastward. Meanwhile, the proper beaches had been located and waves going ashore after 0745, although late, proceeded to the right beaches at correct intervals. These waves had to land without the anticipated cover of the first waves and the results might have been serious had there been strong enemy opposition in the Bosnek area. But Japanese resistance was only nominal, and the temporary disruption of the 186th Infantry did not prove dangerous.

Companies I and K moved east to their planned location 1,000 yards west of Old (west) Jetty, arriving there about 1030. As the two companies took up their positions and began probing inland to the coral ridge behind Bosnek, the 2nd Battalion passed through them on its way to the east flank of the beachhead. As the 2nd Battalion approached the jetty area, the rest of the 3rd Battalion, together with regimental headquarters personnel, began moving west and inland from the jetties to their proper positions, crossing the 2nd Battalion’s line of march. To add to the difficulties of movement, at 0915, just as the 2nd Battalion was clearing New Jetty, the task force reserve and task force artillery units began landing.

It was 0930 before the 2nd Battalion, the 3rd Battalion, and the task force reserve were completely untangled and could move without further confusion to the planned limits of the initial beachhead. The line marking these limits was an arc centering on Bosnek and curving inland from a point on the beach 1,000 yards west of Old Jetty to the top of the ridge behind Bosnek. Thence it swung back to the beach 1,500 yards east of New Jetty. The area thus enclosed was secured by the 186th Infantry by noon on Z Day.

The face of the coral ridge behind Bosnek was found to be rough and honeycombed with small caves. Companies F and G, aided by elements of the Support Battery, 542nd Engineer Boat and Shore Regiment, sent patrols along the steep slope and to the top of the ridge to investigate many of the caves, most of which proved to be unoccupied, though three Japanese were killed near caves directly north of New Jetty. The companies moved over the first slope to a second ridge line which was parallel to and about seventy-five yards north of the first. Company G started looking for a trail which was thought to lead over the ridges to the plateau north of Bosnek, but it was Company E which, shortly after noon, found the ill-defined track. A few Japanese in a pillbox temporarily prevented the two companies from securing the trail, which was not cleared until 1400 hours, after the pillbox had been destroyed. During the late afternoon, patrols were sent north of the ridges to the area which the Japanese had surveyed for an airdrome. A few Japanese, most of whom fled upon being sighted, were found at the airdrome site, but there were no signs of large organized enemy groups north, northeast, or east of Bosnek insofar as the 186th Infantry could ascertain during 27 May.

The 162nd Infantry on Z Day

The 162nd Infantry had begun landing shortly after 0900 on Z Day. The regiment quickly assembled and immediately started moving west along the main coastal road toward the task force objectives, the three Japanese airdromes. Two alternatives had been planned for this advance. The first was to send the three battalions in column along the coastal road in the order 3rd, 2nd, and 1st. The other was to have only the 3rd Battalion attack along the road while the 2nd Battalion moved over the ridges to the inland plateau and pushed west, echeloned to the right rear of the 3rd. In case the latter plan was used, the 1st Battalion was also to advance over the inland plateau on the 2nd Battalion’s right rear. This second plan was to be used only if the Japanese appeared to be holding the ground behind the initial beachhead in great strength, for it was realized that the echelon movement would probably be more time consuming than a column attack along the road, and speedy occupation of the airdromes was the principal mission of the 162nd Infantry.

Since there had been few contacts with the enemy by the time that the 162nd Infantry was ready to start its attack westward, it was decided that only one company of the 2nd Battalion need be sent inland to protect the right flank. The rest of that battalion and all of the 1st were to follow the 3rd along the main road. The 1st Battalion was to maintain contact with the 186th Infantry in the Bosnek area until such time as the tactical situation permitted this contact to be broken. Should the advance of the 2nd and 3rd Battalions be rapid, the 1st would have to stretch its companies west along the road from the positions of the 1st Battalion, 186th Infantry, at Mandom.

It was 0930 before the 3rd Battalion had passed the point at which the first assault waves of the 186th Infantry had come ashore about 0715. An hour later, the battalion had passed through the village of Ibdi, west of the 2,000-yard-long mangrove swamp. Beyond Ibdi the coral ridge which paralleled the southern shore of Biak fell steeply to within 100 feet of the beach. At this point the ridge was a vertical cliff about 200 feet high, below which the main road ran along the coast. The defile between the beach and the cliff, not shown on any maps then available to the 162nd Infantry, began about 1,500 yards west of Ibdi and ran in a generally southwesterly direction for almost 2,000 yards along the shore of Soanggarai Bay. At the village of Parai, on the beach just beyond the western end of the defile, the cliff broke into a series of parallel ridges which formed a continuation of the main coastal ridge.

It was about 1115, when the regimental Intelligence and Reconnaissance Platoon discovered an enemy position on the face of the cliff west of Ibdi, that the 162nd Infantry first learned of the existence of the Parai Defile. At 1300 the 3rd Battalion, with six tanks of the 603rd Tank Company leading the advance, arrived at the eastern entrance to the defile. There was no large Japanese force stationed along the cliff, but the few Japanese had such a tactical advantage over troops moving along the coastal road that they were able to delay the 162nd Infantry’s advance for some time. The tanks fired on enemy-occupied caves along the cliff, and rocket-equipped LCI’s, lying offshore, pounded the main road and ridge west of Parai. By 1500 the 3rd Battalion had pushed through the defile and had secured Parai and a large jetty at that village. Meanwhile Company E, which had been attempting to advance along the ridge north of the rest of the regiment, had found that the terrain and thick vegetation made progress along that route next to impossible.

Since the company was lagging far behind the rest of the advance and since strong enemy opposition had not yet been encountered either inland or on the coastal route, it withdrew to join the rest of the 2nd Battalion on the beach, and by the time that battalion had reached Parai, Company E was back in place. Progress west of the Parai Defile was without noteworthy incident during the rest of the afternoon, though scattered small groups of Japanese were seen and fired upon. At the close of the day the 2nd and 3rd Battalions started digging in around Parai and along the coast west toward the village of Mokmer. The 1st Battalion remained at Ibdi.

Supporting Arms and Services, Z Day

The first artillery unit ashore on 27 May was Battery C, 121st Field Artillery Battalion, which, landing from amphibian vehicles, was set up and ready to fire by 0730. The rest of the battalion, together with the entire 146th Field Artillery Battalion, was ashore by 1100. Battery C, 947th Field Artillery Battalion (155-mm. howitzers), in general support, came ashore during the morning and went into position east of New Jetty early in the afternoon. The 121st Field Artillery Battalion was prepared to support the operations of the 186th Infantry, but only Battery C, which did some firing on the coral caves behind Bosnek, got into action.

By early afternoon the westward advance of the 162nd Infantry had progressed so far that two batteries of the 146th Field Artillery Battalion were displaced to Ibdi. Other than the few shots by Battery C of the 121st, artillery fire during the day was limited to registration on check points, and no defensive or harassing fires were requested until 0115 on 28 May. Company D, 641st Tank Destroyer Battalion, landed its 4.2-inch mortars at the jetties at 0815. The company followed the 162nd Infantry to the west and bivouacked for the night near the 1st Battalion, 162nd Infantry. It did no firing during the day. [n12-27]

Naval support vessels, in addition to furnishing rocket fire west of the Parai Defile, hit other targets. The cruisers and destroyers of Fire Support Groups A and B kept up harassing fire on the airdrome areas throughout the day until 1700. One destroyer sank six enemy barges west of Bosnek during the morning. Another destroyer, operating east of the beachhead, fired on many targets of opportunity, including enemy troops in caves along the water line and supply, ammunition, and fuel dumps. [n12-28] Not all the B-24’s scheduled to engage in the pre-landing bombardment reached Biak, but the principal targets were adequately covered by the planes which did reach them. The medium bombers, whose action was controlled by the Naval Attack Force commander on Z Day, arrived over Biak on time. These support aircraft delivered requested attacks accurately and promptly. Fighter cover could not be established over Biak until 1110 because a front of bad weather west of Wakde Island, where the fighters were based, delayed the planes’ arrival. Fortunately, no determined enemy air attacks were made before 1110.

Antiaircraft artillery, under the control of Headquarters, 208th Antiaircraft Artillery Group, quickly set up its guns in the beachhead area during the morning. A few enemy planes which flew over Biak around noon fled before antiaircraft guns from ship or shore could be brought to bear. But all antiaircraft crews were on the alert to expect further Japanese air action late in the afternoon. Because of the difference in time of sunset at the closest Allied and Japanese bases, Japanese aircraft could remain in the Biak area about half an hour after Allied planes had to leave.

[n12-27 41st Inf Div [MTF] Artillery, Opns Rpt Biak, 27 May-20 Aug 44, pp. 2-3; 947th FA Bn Jnl Biak, 23 May-20 Aug 44; 121st FA Bn Opns Rpt Biak, 27 May-18 Jul 44, pp. 1-2; Co D 641st Tank Destroyer (TD) Bn Jnl, 24 May-7 Jul 44 (this unit’s records are variously entitled: Reconnaissance Co, 641st TD Bn; Co D, 641st TD Bn; Co C, 98th Chemical Mortar Bn; Co D, 98th Chemical Mortar Bn), in ORB RAC AGO collection; 146th FA Bn Opns Rpt Biak, 22 May-20 Aug 44, pp. 3-4.]

[n12-28 CTF 77 Opns Rpt Biak, p. 9; CO USS Reid (DD 369) Opns Rpt Biak, 27-28 May 44, p. 1; CO USS Kalk (DD 611) Opns Rpt Biak, 25 May-4 Jun 44, p. 2.]

The expected attacks developed shortly after 1600, when four Japanese two-engined bombers, accompanied by three or four fighters, approached the beachhead from the north, flying low over the ridge behind Bosnek and thus escaping radar detection.

Some excellent targets were ready for the Japanese. Admiral Fechteler had permitted four LST’s to tie up side by side at one of the jetties. Although he knew this move to be tactically unsound, he considered it justified because of the importance of the cargo aboard the LST’s and because the jetty provided the only good spot for LST beaching. The Japanese bombing was accurate, but the LST’s were lucky. None of the Japanese bombs exploded!

Though the Japanese planes also bombed and strafed the beaches, none of the bombs

dropped ashore exploded, while the strafing runs killed only one man and wounded two others. All four bombers were shot down by ground or ship-based antiaircraft, and the Japanese fighters were driven off by some Allied fighter planes which had remained late in the area. One Japanese bomber crashed into the water, sideswiping an SC which was standing offshore. Two of the ship’s crew were killed and nine wounded. The SC had to be towed away for repairs, and a few other naval vessels suffered minor damage from strafing. There was negligible damage to supplies and equipment ashore. Total Allied losses as a result of the air raid were three killed and fourteen wounded, most of them naval personnel.[n12-30]

Unloading on Z Day was accomplished by a variety of means. Some of the LCT’s were able to reach the beach over the coral reef, from which the craft received little damage during the day. Other LCT’s, after a partially destroyed wooden pier off one of the large jetties was knocked down, unloaded artillery, tanks, trucks, and engineering equipment on the earth and rock section of the jetty. All LCT unloading was completed by 1000, after which hour the LCT’s aided the LVT’s and DUKW’s to unload LST’s still standing in the stream outside the reef. Calm water permitted the LCT’s to fasten ramp to ramp with the LST’s, allowing cargo to be transferred directly from the larger craft to the smaller. Most of the cargo so handled was brought ashore over the reef to Green Beach 1. Five of the LST’s were unloaded at the two jetties, as were most of the LCI’s. After they had put troops ashore, some the LCPR’s which had been brought to Biak aboard APD’s aided in unloading LST’s. These LCPR operations ceased at 1000, when the APD’s formed a convoy to return to Hollandia.

[n12-30 Ltr, Admiral Fechteler to Gen Ward, 8 Nov 50; CO LCT Gp 23 Opns Rpt Biak, p. 2; CO USS Kalk Opns Rpt Biak, 25 May-4 Jun 44, p. 2; CTF 77 Opns Rpt Biak, p. 10; CO USS LST 463 AA Opns Rpt Biak, 27 May 44, pp. 1-2; HTF G-3 Jnl, 15 May-21 Aug 44; History of First Battalion, One Hundred Eighty-Sixth Infantry, While Detached From Regimental Control, Task Force Reserve, 27 May-2 June 44 (hereafter cited as 1st Bn 186th Inf Hist, 27 May-2 Jun 44), p. 1, in Annex 4 to 186th Inf Opns Rpt Biak, 27 May-19 Aug 44, pp. 1-2.]

Unloading stopped at 1715, about half an hour earlier than had been planned, because of the threat of more Japanese air attacks. By that time all the Z-Day troops of the HURRICANE Task Force, some 12,000-odd, were ashore, as were twelve medium tanks, five 155-mm. howitzers, twelve 105-mm. howitzers, twelve 75-mm. pack howitzers, and about 500 vehicles of all types. An estimated 3,000 tons of bulk cargo (including about 600 tons aboard vehicles) had been landed, and only 300 tons of bulk cargo had not been put ashore when unloading operations ceased for the day.

Principal responsibility for moving the supplies ashore and establishing dumps was assigned to the 542nd Engineer Boat and Shore Regiment, which operated under the supervision of the Shore Party commander. Attached to the regiment for these purposes were the Cannon and Antitank Companies, 162nd Infantry; the Cannon Company, 186th Infantry; Company B, 116th Engineers ; four quartermaster companies of various types; a port company; an amphibian truck company; and an ordnance company.

The Bosnek beachhead held by the 186th Infantry was ideal for the location of the initial task force supply dumps and there was no difficulty finding dispersal areas. Movement of supplies from the beach to the dump areas was initially somewhat hampered by lack of wheeled vehicles, but the Japanese air raids had no effect upon these activities.

The 116th Engineers (less Company A) upon landing devoted its attention to constructing and improving roads in the beachhead area and clearing the ground for supply dumps. Company C supported the westward advance of the 162nd Infantry by repairing the road bed and bridges along the main coastal track. These repairs were necessary so that motor vehicles and the 603rd Tank Company (which, coming ashore at H plus 50 minutes, had been attached to the 162nd Infantry) could follow the infantry toward the airfields. Company B, 116th Engineers, in addition to working with the 542nd Engineer Boat and Shore Regiment, devoted some of its time to clearing and repairing the two jetties at Bosnek. The 116th Engineers also established task force water points on the beachhead. [n12-33]

By nightfall General Fuller, who had assumed command ashore at 0930, had good reason to be optimistic about the outcome of the Biak operation. [n12-35] The landing, although confused, had been unopposed. Troops and supplies had come ashore without undue difficulty and had been well-dispersed. Japanese air defense had been ineffective. The 162nd Infantry, although it had discovered unmapped terrain features and had been temporarily delayed at the Parai Defile, was well on its way to the airfields. The ridges behind Bosnek had been cleared. Artillery was well emplaced to support further advances both to the west and north. No large, organized bodies of Japanese had been encountered. Despite the fact that information gathered on Z Day indicated that the Japanese garrison on Biak was larger than had been estimated prior to the landing, no determined enemy ground defense had been encountered.

The Japanese were soon to change to pessimism any optimism the HURRICANE Task Force may have possessed on the evening of Z Day. The Japanese, who had occupied Biak in early 1942, had paid little attention to the island until late 1943. Then they decided to convert Biak into a key air base which would be within fighter range of many other of their air bases in western Dutch New Guinea. To protect and hold the island, the Japanese sent to Biak one of their best regiments, the veteran (of China) 222nd Infantry, 36th Division, which arrived on Biak in December 1943. It is probable that the Japanese initially intended to make Biak into a tremendous ground stronghold as well as a major air base. However, when on 9 May Imperial General Headquarters moved the southeastern strategic main line of resistance west of Biak to Sorong and the Halmaheras, Biak was left as an outpost which was to be held as long as possible.

[n12-33 HTF Opns Rpt Biak, 17 May-20 Aug 44, p. 5; 116th Engr Opns Rpt Biak, 10 May-20 Aug 44, Ch. III, pp. 1-2; Ltr, CO 162nd Inf to CO 116th Engrs, 13 Sep 44, sub: Commendation of Company C, 116th Engrs, in 116th Engrs Opns Rpt Biak, 10 May-20 Aug 44, Ch. I; 603rd Tank Co Opns Rpt Biak, p. 1, copy in OCMH files.]

[n12-35 Rad, ALAMO Rear Hq to ALAMO Adv Hq, WF-4546, 28 May 44, in ALAMO Adv Hq G-3 Jnl Wakde-Biak, 28-29 May 44, states that General Fuller had some hope of taking the airstrips on 28 May. 36 G-2 HTF, G-2 Hist of HTF, Vol. I, Part I. Historical Narrative, p. 4.]

Japanese Defenses on Biak

The command of Japanese Army troops on Biak was vested in the commander of the 222nd Infantry, Colonel Naoyuki Kuzume. As Commander, Biak Detachment, Colonel Kuzume had under his control approximately 3,400 men of the 222nd Infantry, company of the 36th Division’s light tanks, miscellaneous field and antiaircraft artillery units, and numerous service organizations, the largest of which were the 17th, 107th and 108th Field Airdrome Construction Units of about 500 men each. Also stationed on Biak and under Colonel Kuzume’s operational control were about 1,500 naval troops, among whom the senior officer was Rear Admiral Sadatoshi Senda, the commanding officer of the 28th Naval Special Base Force. Most of the naval troops were members of service organizations, but the approximately 125 men of the 19th Naval Guard Unit had received some combat training. The strength of Colonel Kuzume’s command on 27 May was some 11,400 men, of whom about 4,000 were combat effectives. Insofar as supplies allowed him to do so, Colonel Kuzume armed his service troops as auxiliary infantry and so used them throughout the Biak operation.

[n12-38 Incl 2, List of Corrections, to Ltr, Major General Charles A. Willoughby, ACofS G-2 FEC, to General Ward, about 10 Mar 51, no sub, in OCMH files. According to this list, there were at least 12,000 Japanese on Biak on 27 May, but this figure seems high.]

The Allied landings at Aitape and Hollandia on 22 April had prompted the Biak Detachment commander to draw up detailed defense plans and to begin work on fortifications which would help his troops to hold the island. About mid-May Colonel Kuzume was warned by the 2nd Area Army that an Allied advance to the Schouten Islands was a certainty. After the landings of the TORNADO Task Force at Wakde-Sarmi on 17 May, Colonel Kuzume ordered a cessation of all work on the Biak airdromes, started an ambitious program of fortification, and began deploying his troops for a protracted land defense.

Colonel Kuzume based his plans on the sound assumption that the principal Allied objective would be the airfield area along Biak’s southern coast. Faced with the problem of defending an extensive coast line with a small body of troops, he chose to concentrate his defenses on terrain from which he could prevent Allied use of the airstrips for the longest possible time. For this purpose, he placed emphasis on high ground immediately north and northwest of Mokmer Drome.

Where the main coastal ridge turns sharply north just west of Mokmer village, it leaves in its wake a series of gradually rising small terraces, many of which have steep seaward sides and some of which have a levee-like formation similar to that of the main ridge. The forward edge of the first prominent terrace rises steeply from the coastal plain in the form of a narrow ridge averaging sixty feet in height and lying a few hundred yards north of Mokmer and Borokoe Dromes. From this ridge and the rising terraces beyond it, the Japanese could look down on any activity along the coastal road west of Mokmer village and could observe activity at and near the three airfields.

In this amphitheater-like terrain and along the low ridge, both of which were covered with thick growth (scrub on the terrace and rain forest on the ridge), the Biak Detachment emplaced many field artillery and antiaircraft weapons. There were also many automatic weapons and a few mortars. All these weapons were located within range of Mokmer Drome and most of them could also fire on Borokoe Drome. The key to Colonel Kuzume’s defenses in this area was the West Caves area, located about 50 yards north of the low ridge and about 1,200 yards north of the western end of Mokmer Drome.

The West Caves were actually three large sumps, or depressions in the ground, which were connected by underground tunnels and caverns. The caves were ringed with pillboxes, bunkers, and foxholes, and an extensive system of coral and log emplacements was built along the spur ridge above Mokmer Drome. Biak naval headquarters was originally located in the West Caves, which could shelter 1,000 men, and Colonel Kuzume planned to move Biak Detachment headquarters to the caves for the final defense of the airdromes. As long as the West Caves and the positions along the low ridge were occupied by the Japanese, Allied planes could not safely use the airfields.

On the main coastal ridge between the village of Ibdi and the Parai Defile the Biak Detachment developed another center of resistance which came to be known as the Ibdi Pocket. The terrain in the area was a series of knifelike east-west ridges separated by depressions and crevices up to fifty feet deep. These ridges were connected in places by cross-ridges, and the entire area was covered with thick rain forest and dense jungle undergrowth which had found a foothold in the coral. Pillboxes of coral and logs, hasty emplacements of the same materials, small caves and crevices, and foxholes at the bases of large trees were all utilized by the enemy to defend the area.

On the main ridge north of Mokmer the Japanese constructed a third strong point, which was called by the Japanese the East Caves. Behind Mokmer the ridge rose to a height of 240 feet. It was not so steep a cliff as the Parai Defile barricade, but it could not be climbed without the use of hands.

About three quarters of the way to the top was a flat ledge from which two large caverns, similar to those in the West Caves area, could be entered. The Japanese constructed pillboxes on the ridge both below and above the ledge, and in the caverns they emplaced mortars, 20-mm. guns, and heavy machine guns. Observation posts were also set up at the East Caves, from which an unobstructed view of the coast from Parai to the west end of Mokmer Drome could be obtained. The Biak Detachment used the East Caves principally as living quarters, supply dumps, and as a connecting link between the Ibdi Pocket and the West Caves. Continued Japanese occupation of the East Caves would endanger Allied troop and supply movements along the coastal road from Parai to Mokmer Drome.

Surprisingly, Colonel Kuzume made no attempt to set up a defense in depth along the road from Bosnek to the airfields. A haphazard beach defense, based on improved natural caves along the water line, was established west of Mokmer and east of Bosnek.

Between Opiaref, 6,000 yards east of Bosnek, and Saba, 3,000 yards west of Opiaref, such shore-line positions were well constructed and camouflaged. They could be entered from defilade and they were backed by prepared mortar positions. However, these beach defenses had no depth, and the pillboxes or improved caves along the water line consisted of a single line of positions, not all of which had overlapping fields of fire. Four large steel pillboxes, only one of which had been emplaced by 27 May, were to cover the open beach at Bosnek.

Dispositions of the Biak Detachment Colonel Kuzume’s initial plan for the defense of Biak was published on 27 April, just five days after the Allied landings at Hollandia and Aitape.39 The 1st Battalion, 222nd Infantry, was responsible for the defense of the southeastern section of the island east of a line drawn northwestward from Opiaref.

The 10th Company, 222nd Infantry, reinforced with artillery and mortar units, was to secure Korim Bay, located halfway up the southeast-northwest side of Biak. The area between Opiaref and Bosnek was assigned to the 19th Naval Guard Unit. The bulk of the 2nd Battalion, 222nd Infantry, was to defend the airfields and the coast from Bosnek west to Sorido. The 3rd Battalion (less two companies and some artillery and mortar detachments) was to be held in reserve near the airfields, and the tank company was ordered to assemble near Saba.

The Biak Detachment was not in its selected defensive positions on Z Day but was apparently being held mobile. Detachment headquarters, the 1st Battalion of the 222nd Infantry (less elements), about half of the 19th Naval Guard Unit, and miscellaneous service organizations were all located in a cave and garden area on the inland plateau about 3,000 yards north-northwest of Bosnek.

Outposts at Saba and Opiaref were held by the 1st Company, 222nd Infantry, and a platoon of the 2nd Company was stationed along the main ridge behind Bosnek. The bulk of the 2nd Battalion, the rest of the naval guard unit, and some naval antiaircraft organizations were located at the East Caves. Naval headquarters, various naval service units, and the 6th Company, 222nd Infantry, were at the West Caves. Most of the army service units were at Mokmer Drome or disposed along the low ridge north of that field. The bulk of the 3rd Battalion was posted at the west end of the same airfield. One platoon of the 10th Company was at Sorido, guarding the southern terminus of a trail which led north across the island to Korim Bay. The tanks had not yet moved to Saba but were assembled on the terrace north of the eastern end of Mokmer Drome.

At various points along the terrace and low ridge were emplaced a battery of mountain guns, four 120-mm. naval dual purpose guns, three or four 3-inch antiaircraft guns, and a large number of mortars and automatic weapons of all calibers. One 6-inch naval coast defense gun was located on the beach south of Mokmer Drome, from which position it could cover the coast line for about five miles to the east and west. Some large guns were awaiting emplacement on the Bosnek beaches, while others in the same area, including a second 6-inch coast defense gun, had been destroyed by Allied air and naval bombardment prior to the landings. At least one mortar company was at the East Caves and a few more mortars, together with a small body of riflemen, were in the Ibdi Pocket area.

Reactions to the Allied Landings

Despite the fact that Colonel Kuzume had been warned that an Allied attack on Biak was imminent, the Biak Detachment was unprepared on 27 May. The troops were not in the best available positions, units were scattered, and the emplacement of artillery had not been completed. The bulk of the 2nd Company platoon which was stationed on the ridges overlooking Bosnek committed suicide during the morning of Z Day, and survivors were either killed by 186th Infantry patrols or fled inland. The wasteful suicide of the 2nd Company platoon was apparently the only action taken by any part of the Biak Detachment until the night of 27-28 May.

Caught out of position as he was, it is doubtful whether Colonel Kuzume either could or would have carried out his original defense plans. However, the problem was soon taken out of the colonel’s hands. The 27th of May found on Biak Lieutenant General Takazo Numata, Chief of Staff of the 2nd Area Army, who happened to be present on an inspection trip from army headquarters. General Numata, who remained on Biak until 15 June, immediately assumed direction of the island’s defense. It is probable that many of the sweeping changes which were later made in the Biak Detachment’s original plans were undertaken upon his orders.

The first offensive reaction on the part of the Biak Detachment was a night raid on the positions of Batteries B and C, 146th Field Artillery Battalion, which were located near Ibdi in thick scrub growth north of the main coastal road. Sometime before midnight a Japanese patrol of the 3rd Battalion, 222nd Infantry, had crossed the road to the south, and shortly after that time parts of this group charged with fixed bayonets into Battery C’s wire section. Two artillerymen were immediately stabbed to death and others were wounded before the enemy was driven back by American machine gun fire which was aimed along the road. More men of the 3rd Battalion, 222nd Infantry, renewed the attack with grenades and rifle fire, some circling to the north around Battery C and a few others moving against Battery B, located 200 yards to the east. Attacks on Battery C continued until daylight, when the last Japanese withdrew. The action cost Battery C 4 men killed and 8 wounded, while a near-by antiaircraft detachment lost 1 man killed and 1 wounded. Over 15 of the enemy had been killed during the night and an unknown number wounded. The action was but a minor prelude to a larger battle in which the 162nd Infantry, continuing its advance west on the 28th, was soon to become involved.

[n12-40 The story of this night action is from: 146th FA Bn Opns Rpt Biak, 22 May-20 Aug 44, pp. 4-6; Opns of Yuki Group, p. 3; 2nd Army Opns, at Sarmi and Biak (Rev), pp. 55-56.]

Source: Approach to the Philippines: BY; Robert Ross Smith (United States Army Center of Military History)

World War Two: Biak: West to Mokmer Drome (AP-13)

World War Two: Wakde-Sarmi; Lone Tree Hill and Beyond (AP-11)