World War Two: Italy; Salerno; End of the Battle (ISC-2-9)

The Crisis Resolved: Early on 15 September, Vietinghoff described to Kesselring, who was visiting the Tenth Army headquarters, how he still hoped to destroy the Allied beachhead: the 26th Panzer Division would attack northwestward from Battipaglia to Salerno while the Hermann Gӧring Division attacked from the vicinity of Vietri south to Salerno; the juncture of the divisions would mark the first step toward annihilation of the Allied troops.

After approving the plan, Kesselring remarked that the LXXVI Panzer Corps seemed to be exhibiting a tendency to revert to positional warfare. “This must not happen,” he said. If attacks on the level ground of the Salerno plain were impractical because of Allied naval fire and air bombardment, perhaps the corps could attack in the hills around Albanella or even farther south. Vietinghoff was embarrassed. His engineers had carried out extensive demolitions in the Albanella area for defensive purposes and this made offensive operations virtually impossible.

Immediately afterward, Vietinghoff conferred with Herr on the possible chance that the LXX V I Panzer Corps could nevertheless attack near Albanella. Could the parachute regiment en route from Apulia be used? Herr thought not. He was discouraged. Troop and supply movements during daylight hours, he pointed out, were becoming more difficult because of Allied air operations. And the Allied naval fire made Herr doubt that he could ever reach the coast. The strong pressure that the Germans continued to exert during much of 15 September diminished by the end of the day to the point where the VI Corps G-3 could describe the action as “minor contacts and engagements.” That evening General Clark congratulated his troops: “… our beachhead is secure…. and we are here to stay.” In North Africa, General Eisenhower had decided that morning to send a regiment of the 34th Division to Salerno, but had changed his mind that afternoon upon the encouraging news from the beachhead. There was some talk of sending all or part of the division to Bari or Brindisi on the Italian east coast to work with the British Eighth Army, but his final decision was to move the entire division to the Fifth Army beaches, as originally scheduled.

So much better was the Allied situation on the evening of 15 September that the Americans took the initiative, though cautiously. To re-establish contact with the Germans who had pulled back from the juncture of the Sele and Calore Rivers, a battalion of the 179th Infantry entered the corridor and moved forward several miles with ease. The advance eliminated a good part of the German salient between the rivers, straightened the line, and made the Fifth Army command post more secure.

It was not long before Allied commanders began to suspect an impending German retirement from the battlefield. As reconnaissance pilots reported finding no German troops massed around the beachhead perimeter in offensive strength or formation, intelligence officers estimated that the Germans might be ready to withdraw in response to both the growing Allied build-up in the beachhead and the implicit threat posed in the south by the British Eighth Army.

Was it, then, time to think of recapturing Altavilla? When Colonel Forsythe, the commander of the southern sector in the 36th Division area, reported an absence of German activity along his outpost line on the morning of 16 September, General Walker suggested to General Dawley that VI Corps go over to the offense. Walker proposed to attack Altavilla that evening with the two battalions of the 504th Parachute Infantry, supported by a company of tank destroyers. When Dawley agreed, Walker directed Colonel Tucker, commander of the parachute regiment, to jump off from the vicinity of Albanella and seize the dominating hills in the Altavilla area, Hill 424 in particular.

While the paratroopers made their preparations, which included a difficult cross-country movement to an assembly area, the Germans on 16 September were launching what was to be their last major effort against the beachhead. Vietinghoff modified his plan, and early that morning the 26th Panzer Division attacked from Battipaglia northwest toward Salerno, while the 16th Panzer Division gave aid by driving southwest from Battipaglia. Both efforts were soon contained, the first by the 56th Division, which though close to exhaustion fought valiantly with the assistance of contingents of the 7th Armoured Division, the second by the 45th Division, which was hardly aware that it was turning back a German effort. When the Hermann Gӧring Division finally attacked in the Vietri area that afternoon with parts of the 3rd and 15th Panzer Grenadier Divisions in support, it too made little progress against the 46th Division, which was now bolstered by armored elements.

Late that afternoon Vietinghoff came to the conclusion that he could no longer hope to destroy the Allied beachhead. Word from the rear guards of the 26th Panzer Division that the advance guards of the British Eighth Army had at last made contact with roadblocks near Lagonegro, fifty miles south of Paestum, confirmed his judgment. The delaying units had repulsed early British probes, but they could not hold back the British army indefinitely. Vietinghoff ordered the rear guards to withdraw, thus opening the way to a British advance in force. Next Vietinghoff sent a message to Kesselring requesting permission to break off the battle at the beachhead. “The fact,” he reported, “that the attacks (which had been prepared fully and carried out with spirit, especially by the XIV [Panzer] Corps) were unable to reach their objective owing to the fire from naval guns and low-flying aircraft, as well as the slow but steady approach of the Eighth Army” made it essential that he occupy good defensive positions before the British troops came north in strength. Vietinghoff recommended a general withdrawal starting no later than the night of 18 September.

Before giving his approval, Kesselring asked Vietinghoff to send a staff officer to OB SUED to explain the situation in detail. The briefing by a Tenth Army staff officer on 17 September coincided with continuing deterioration of the German situation. On the heights around Salerno XIV Panzer Corps made little progress. Around Altavilla LXXVI Panzer CmjJs had to go over to the defense. The change at Altavilla resulted from the attack by the 504th Parachute Infantry, which started during the night of 16 September on a somewhat dubious note. The Germans had noticed the movement of the Americans and had brought intensive and accurate artillery fire down on the regimental avenues of approach. Small units temporarily lost touch with one another, and Colonel Tucker was driven from his observation post. But against dogged German resistance, the men continued to climb the slopes toward Altavilla. Soon after Tucker established his command post just below Altavilla on the following morning, German troops surrounded his command group.

Throughout much of 17 September the situation at Altavilla remained confused and obscure not only to the American and German troops who were fighting for the high ground but also to the headquarters on both sides that were trying to decide whether to commit additional forces.[n2-9-9] On the American side, Colonel Tucker’s messages were alternately optimistic and pessimistic according to the turn of events and Generals Ridgway and ·Walker discussed the predicament of the paratroopers. General Ridgway had just been appointed deputy commander of VI Corps, in part a reflection of General Clark’s growing dissatisfaction with General Dawley, in part a practical matter designed to give Ridgway a “home” on the beachhead. With his division headquarters still in Sicily, Ridgway as assistant corps commander could exercise some measure of control over his units committed under the command of other headquarters. After Ridgway and Walker talked of using a battalion or more of the 180th Infantry to reinforce the paratroopers, they decided instead to move the 3rd Battalion of the 504th to Albanella as a backup force and to have artillery and naval guns shell the Altavilla area heavily. Naval guns alone placed 350 rounds in the village that day.

[N2-9-9] An excellent description of the details of the combat may be found in Tregaskis, Invasion Diary, pp. 113ff. Colonel Reuben H. Tucker, Major Robert B. Acheson, and Major Don B. Dunham were later awarded the DSC, Major Dunham posthumously]

On the German side, the rear guard regiment of the 26th Panzer Division that had withdrawn from Calabria during the previous night arrived near Eboli; about the same time the regiment of the 1st Parachute Division dispatched from Apulia was arriving at the beachhead.

Vietinghoff might have used these troops to help hold Altavilla. Kesselring had just given his reluctant consent to break off the battle, asking only that Vietinghoff make a last attack with the paratroopers. If this final effort failed to dislodge the beachhead forces, Vietinghoff was to pivot his Tenth Army and withdraw to a temporary line across the Italian peninsula from Salerno to Foggia, the first of a series of defensive lines to be worked out by Kesselring’s headquarters, OB SUED. Kesselring cautioned Vietinghoff to pay particular attention to his right flank around Salerno and Amalfi in order to insure the success of the withdrawal, for he wanted the first defensive line to be held at least until the end of the month.

Since withdrawal was now Vietinghoff’s principal mission, he decided, despite Kesselring’s request, to commit no additional troops at Altavilla. Instead of attacking, the Germans began withdrawing. By late afternoon, as Allied reconnaissance pilots were reporting heavy traffic moving north, the American ground troops at Altavilla became aware of the withdrawal. Although the men of the 504th Parachute Infantry waited until the following day in order to enter the village unopposed, the resistance in the VI Corps sector obviously diminished. When General Eisenhower visited the beachhead on the afternoon of 17 September, he had reason to be cheerful. The battle seemed won.

In the 10 Corps area General McCreery began to feel easier about the 56th Division on the right but was “still anxious” about some of the “very tired” battalions of the 46th Division around Salerno and Vietri, where the German opposition continued strong. Expecting a German attack to cover the withdrawal and wishing to keep the 7th Armoured Division fresh for the subsequent advance to Naples, McCreery asked for the 180th Infantry, the regiment of the 45th Division Clark was keeping in army reserve. Even as he asked, however, he admitted it would be awkward to move the regiment over the poor and congested roads in the beachhead. Actually, he used part of his armored division to relieve troops in the Battipaglia sector, informed Clark that an attack by the 45th Division to clear the tobacco factory would be of inestimable help in cleaning up the Battipaglia area, and alerted Colonel Darby to be ready to buttress the Vietri defenses.

[n2-9-11 Memo. Lieutenant Colonel G. V. Britton. Rpt on Visit to 10 Corps. 17 Sep 43, and Msg. McCreery to Darby. 17 Sep 43, both in Fifth Army G-2 Jnl.]

Despite General McCreery’s concern, the Germans launched no covering attack. When they pulled back from the British right flank on 18 September, British armor entered Battipaglia without opposition.

As Allied intelligence reported a general German withdrawal, General Dawley looked toward pursuit. He instructed General Walker to advance in the Altavilla area during the night of 18 September and General Middleton to clear the Sele·Calore corridor. Awaiting nightfall turned out to be unnecessary. With little contact on the ground American troops pushed beyond Altavilla and Persano on the afternoon of 18 September without incident. When darkness came, the Americans at Ponte Sele were no longer in touch with the enemy.

Elsewhere on 18 September, the 3rd Division started to come ashore and move to an assembly area north of the Sele River. The 82nd Airborne Division headquarters air-landed at Paestum. A liaison party from the British 5th Division, part of General Montgomery’s Eighth Army, arrived at the 36th Division command post to arrange a meeting at Vallo, some twenty miles south of Paestum, between Eighth and Fifth Army staff officers. That evening an LCI transported a company of the 325th Glider Infantry to the island of Ischia, just outside the Bay of Naples, and the troops went ashore without trouble. As supplies and equipment came across the Salerno beaches in ever-increasing amounts, Clark and Dawley began to plan an advance to the north.

[n2-9-12 Msg. Hewitt to Clark. 2151. 18 Sep 43. Fifth Army G-2 Jnl; Msgs, Larkin to Eisenhower. 18. 19 Sep 43. and Alexander to Clark. 18 Sep 43. both in 15th AGp Master Cable File, VI; Dawley Directive,]

On the same day, 18 September, Vietinghoff was praising his troops. Claiming to have taken 5,000 prisoners and to have inflicted a large number of casualties on the Allies, Vietinghoff declared: “Success has been ours. Once again German soldiers have proved their superiority over the enemy.” In agreement with this observation and satisfied with the successful defense, Hitler promoted Vietinghoff to generaloberst and placed him in temporary command of Army Group B in northern Italy to replace Rommel, who was hospitalized with appendicitis. Hube, returning to Italy from leave, assumed temporary command of the Tenth Army.

Of the Fifth Army units on the front, only Darby’s Rangers on the Sorrento peninsula and the 46th Division north of Salerno remained on the defensive on 19 September. The 56th Division extended its lines into the interior to eliminate German artillery fire on the Montecorvino airfield, and American units entered Eboli and out-posted Highway 19 as far as Serre without finding Germans. On the following day, service troops of the XII Air Support Command began to rehabilitate the Montecorvino airfield and set up refueling facilities.

Several planes landed that day for gasoline, precursors of the planes eventually to be based at the field. As the roads in the beachhead, particularly the coastal highway between Paestum and Battipaglia, became jammed with traffic, the vehicles moving bumper to bumper, the 10 Corps took possession of all its initial Invasion objectives and the VI Corps, handing over control of beach operations and base dumps to army, started a new operation. The battle of Salerno, and with it the first phase of the invasion, had come to an end.

The Eighth Army Role

In the Eighth Army area, advance elements of General Montgomery’s troops reached Potenza. fifty miles east of Salerno, and cut the lateral highway between Salerno and Bari late on 20 September. At Auletta. twenty miles east of Eboli, American reconnaissance units met British contingents coming up the road from Castrovillari and Lagonegro toward Serre. These events. which might have been heralded with the blowing of trumpets several days earlier when the forces in the beachhead were in distress, now came as anticlimax. It was good, of course. to have the Eighth Army close by, but for Fifth Army the arrival of Eighth Army had no particular significance.

The troops at Salerno had fought it out alone. and they had won. The slow movement of Eighth Army from Calabria was disappointing to many Allied commanders who had hoped that General Montgomery would advance rapidly to Salerno and reduce the German threat to the beachhead.

Because the Germans had given way in Calabria without fighting. leaving only mines and demolitions in their wake, Clark, for one, believed that Montgomery could have done more to help the Fifth Army. He later described the progress of Eighth Army as “a slow advance toward Salerno, despite Alexander’s almost daily efforts to prod it into greater speed.”

From the beginning of Operation AVALANCHE, General Clark had counted on Eighth Army to help the Fifth. BAYTOWN is proceeding with little or no resistance from the Italians,” he remarked in his diary on 6 September, three days before the Fifth Army landings, “and presumably they are ready to help us.” A day later he noted that Montgomery was making good progress against opposition “varying from light to none at all.” The demolitions holding up Montgomery, Clark was told, were not as serious as had been anticipated. Late on 9 September, D-day of the Salerno landings, when Clark learned that two German divisions were reported coming toward Salerno from the south, he saw the movement as ominous, but believed that it would “help bring the Eighth Army north.”

On 10 September, one of General Montgomery’s aides brought a penciled note to General Clark. “I send herewith Captain Chavasce, my A.D.C.,” Montgomery wrote, “to bring you my greetings and best wishes for future successes. Will you give him all details as to your present situation, to bring back to me. Good luck to you.” Whether the favorable prospects of that clay’s developments prompted General Clark to return an optimistic message is not recorded. But two days later, when the Germans threatened the beachhead, Clark turned to Alexander. “I hope that Eighth Army,” he wrote, “will attack with all possible vigor in order to contain 26th and 29th Panzer Divisions to maximum.” A message arriving at the Fifth Army headquarters on 13 September, when the army was fighting for its life at the height of the German attack, created some resentment. The 15th Army Group, in passing along guidance on press censorship problems, established a policy to “play up Eighth Army and particularly Taranto advances. Fifth Army having tough time. Likely continue till Eighth Army can relieve pressure by nearness.”

During a conference at Fifth Army headquarters on the morning of 15 September, before the commander and his staff realized that the crisis was in fact past, a message from General Alexander announced that he was placing all the facilities of Eighth Army at the disposal of the Fifth. There was no comment at the conference beyond the observation that the nearest British troops were then approximately sixty miles south of the beachhead.

On that day, General Montgomery’s aide brought another letter to the beachhead. “It looks as if you may be having not too good a time,” Montgomery wrote General Clark, “and I do hope that all will go well with you.” Declaring that he hoped to have the 5th Division in the Sapri-Lagonegro area, about fifty miles south of Paestum, in two days, with the 1st Canadian Division echeloned behind, Montgomery also informed Clark that he had directed the 5th Division to send detachments out beyond Sapri. “We are on the way to lend a hand.”Please accept my deep appreciation,” Clark replied, “for assistance your Eighth Army has provided Fifth Army by your skillful and rapid advance.” He added: “Situation here well in hand.”

Actually, though Clark was not altogether confident about the security of the beachhead until the following day, he had to let Montgomery know that the Fifth Army had won without help. Yet he also had to keep in mind Eisenhower’s order that the Americans were to get along with the British. And as Clark informed Eisenhower, his relations with the British were excellent. The fact that Montgomery’s reputation and prestige far overshadowed his own made Clark swallow his resentment, and three days later, after he had won his first real battle as an army commander, he wrote Montgomery once more: “Again I want to tell you of our deep appreciation for the skillful and expeditious manner by which you moved your Eighth Army to the north …. we feel it a great privilege to operate alongside of your army.”

To write this note, Clark had to overlook the annoying periodic emanations from Alexander’s public information office. According to at least one BBC broadcast, which had its origin in an army group press release, Montgomery’s army was dashing up the Italian boot to rescue the Fifth Army, which was preparing to evacuate the beachhead. The correction issued a few days later failed to dissipate entirely the incorrect impression. “South flank Fifth Army no full dress withdrawal yet,” this curious message read. “BBC overdid it in bulletins Saturday.”

On 20 September a letter from General Montgomery alerted General Clark to look for British troops in the Potenza-Auletta area that evening, but General Walker, whom Clark had asked to fly over the area in a Cub plane, could find no signs of the British.

When the usual censorship guidance cable arrived from 15th Army Group headquarters on 22 September and expressed again the policy, “play up Eighth Army, mention Americans,” General Clark gave way to irritation. He had expected some support from Eighth Army and some glory for his Fifth, but instead, it seemed as if Fifth Army would have to go on fighting alone.

Yet when Montgomery visited Clark two days later, he found a warm welcome. “The Fifth Army,” Clark told Montgomery, “is just a young Army trying hard to get along, while the Eighth Army is a battle-tried veteran. We would appreciate your teaching us some of your tricks.” The words had the desired effect. Montgomery beamed, and, in Clark’s words, the ice was broken.

A month later, when General Clark felt that he had won his spurs, he received another annoying censorship guidance message to play up the British. This time he was angry enough to protest the guidance and turn down the Eighth Army commander, who wanted to visit him. He wrote Montgomery a courteous note to express his regret that he saw “no great urgency for a personal meeting.”

“Some would like to think-I did at the time-,” Montgomery’s chief of staff. Major General Francis de Guingand, wrote several years later, “that we helped. If not saved, the situation at Salerno. But now I doubt whether we influenced matters to any great extent. General Clark had everything under control before Eighth Army appeared on the scene.” General Alexander saw the battle at Salerno as won before the British Eighth Army arrived. In considering the question whether Montgomery might have provided direct assistance to Clark, he concluded that the Eighth Army, given its logistical problems, could have moved no faster.

The fact was that the mere presence of the Eighth Army in Italy weighed heavily on the Germans. No matter how slowly the army moved, the British would eventually reach the Salerno area. Because Hitler was unwilling to expend more troops to reinforce the units fighting at Salerno and because those committed could not dislodge Fifth Army from the beachhead, the Germans had to give way. With Eighth Army giving them a good excuse to do so, they implemented their original strategy of withdrawing from southern Italy. General Montgomery thus exerted an influence on the German decision to withdraw even though his troops took no direct part in the battle at the beachhead.

Could the Eighth Army have done more? Despite Montgomery’s problems distance, difficult terrain, poor roads, inadequate equipment, and insufficient supplies-and despite his need to push northeastward from the toe to link up with British troops in Apulia while at the same time moving north toward the Fifth Army, could the Eighth Army have reached the Salerno area more quickly?

An unequivocal answer is impossible. It was no mean achievement for the British 5th Division to advance over 200 miles of extremely rough ground and manage to send a patrol ahead to make contact with American troops on the evening of 16 September, thirteen days after the crossing from Messina.

Some indication of the kind of opposition the 5th Division faced can be discerned in the experiences of the public relations officer of the Eighth Army and three British war correspondents. At 1030, 13 September, with several drivers in two reconnaissance cars and a jeep, this party set out from Nicastro, not far from Catanzaro and about 150 miles south of Paestum, with the intention of driving overland to the Fifth Army. Taking to Diamante, 65 miles south of Paestum, where they passed the leading reconnaissance unit of Eighth Army. Twenty-five miles beyond Diamante, at Praia, they met several Italian soldiers. The Italians were friendly. They said they had seen no British vehicles along the road ahead of the party; they knew of no Germans in the area as far north as the Salerno beachhead; and they were sure Italian troops had cleared all the mines along the coastal road. Continuing to drive another 25 miles, the men then spent the night near Sapri. When a destroyed bridge across a river blocked their progress, civilians guided them to a ford.

After the chief of police at Vallo gave them gasoline and a guide, they spent a second night in a nearby village. On the following morning, at 1030, 15 September, forty-eight hours after leaving Eighth Army, without having encountered a single German, the public relations officer and his party met an American scout car about seven miles south of Ogliastro. From there a lieutenant of the 111th Engineer Battalion in charge of a reconnaissance group shepherded the British through channels to the VI Corps headquarters.

By this time, British patrols in front of the army were moving beyond Diamante to a point about 40 miles south of Paestum. Not until the following evening, 16 September, thirty-six hours after the British newspapermen had reached the Fifth Army, did the first patrol of the 5th Division, probably a platoon, make contact with the 36th Division right flank-and this at a point 35 miles south of Paestum. Not until three days later, on 19 September, did a British reconnaissance patrol in some strength, probably a company, reach Rocca d’ Aspide and establish more meaningful contact with the Americans. By then, the head of General Montgomery’s main column had reached Scalea, about 75 miles south of Paestum.

The movement of small groups of men lightly armed is, of course, quite different from the advance of an army, or even a battalion. Yet the absence of Germans in the area between Eighth and Fifth Armies, and the difficult time Fifth Army was having on 13 and 14 September indicate that a greater effort to get at least some Eighth Army troops to the beachhead might have been made. A token force, a battalion of infantry, even a company, arriving at the beachhead on 14 September would have given the troops battling with their backs to the sea a tremendous lift in morale.

If the rough country and other adverse conditions had, in fact, made a quicker advance impossible, thereby nullifying much of the intent of the landing in Calabria, then there was fault in delaying for several days, at General Montgomery’s insistence, the crossing of the Strait of Messina. Had he not held stubbornly to his desire for a full-scale amphibious operation, despite General Eisenhower’s declaration that the crossing could be made in rowboats, an observation later borne out by the lack of opposition, the Eighth Army could have entered the Italian mainland several days sooner. Not only would this have made more shipping available to the Fifth Army, it would also have enabled General Montgomery, assuming the same rate of overland advance, to get some units to the Salerno battlefield several days earlier.

Perhaps the ultimate comment was made by the enemy. As early as 10 September the Germans noted the pattern that characterized General Montgomery’s advance. “The withdrawal of our troops from Calabria continues according to plan,” they reported. “The enemy is not crowding after us.”

The Germans failed to dislodge the Fifth Army primarily because their strategic planning projected a withdrawal from southern Italy regardless of the outcome at the beachhead. The Germans would have liked to repel the invasion for political as well as military reasons, and a total victory would no doubt have changed the strategic plans, but resistance at the Salerno beachhead was postulated on assuring withdrawal. Thus, the Germans denied themselves the advantage of committing additional strength, for example from northern Italy, that might have moved the balance.

Hitler, Kesselring, and Vietinghoff were all satisfied with the results of the operations, which they regarded as a German triumph. They had denied the Allies quick access to Naples. They had inflicted severe losses on the Allied troops. Avoiding the dangers implicit in the simultaneous occurrences of the Italian surrender announcement and the Allied invasion, they had extricated their forces from southern Italy.

By preventing the Allies from breaking out of the beachhead, a feat the Germans accomplished despite shortages of fuel and lengthy lines of communication, they had prohibited the Allies from fully exploiting the Italian surrender. That the Germans were able to disarm the Italian forces and take control of Italy north of Salerno reflected in large measure the promptness and vigor of the German resistance around Salerno. German troops would now be able to pivot on the mountains northwest of Salerno and create a continuous front across Italy from the Tyrrhenian Sea to the Adriatic. “The Germans may claim with some justification,” General Alexander admitted, “to have won if not a victory at least an important success over all.”

They might have gained more. “I still can’t understand,” General Clark wrote several years later, “why such an able general as Kesselring … used his plentiful armor . . . in piecemeal fashion at critical stages of the battle.” The inexperience of the troops who guarded the beaches and the long front they manned prevented the 16th Panzer Division from launching anything more than dispersed thrusts by small groups-ten or fifteen tanks supported by a platoon or a company, in rare instances a battalion, of infantry. These small counterattacks precluded decisive success.

The Italian surrender had had its effect on the Salerno landings. General Clark later felt that the armistice had actually hindered the Allied troops corning ashore, for Italians on the beaches would not have resisted as effectively as did the Germanys. On the other hand, some Italians would undoubtedly have manned the coastal defenses and the Germans might have had time to mass the 16th Panzer Division for an effective counterattack.

Yet the surrender, followed by the dissolution of Italian military forces, had been advantageous for the Germans. They were able to deal with Italian “traitors” in a way impossible to treat Italian “allies.” Having previously fought on Italian soil ostensibly to help the Italians defend their homeland, they were now freed of the necessity of catering to their former allies. They could act decisively and expect the swift execution of their orders. And according to Kesselring’s chief of staff, they were liberated “from the nightmare necessity of using their weapons against their former allies.”

Fighting with limited forces for a limited objective, the Germans suffered fewer losses during the battle of the beachhead than the Allies. The Hermann Gӧring Division sustained 1,000 casualties, the 16th Panzer Grenadier Division approximately 1,300. The 29th Panzer Grenadier Division probably incurred similar losses, while the 26th Panzer Division, controlling only one regiment and in action only two days, could not have been greatly affected. Altogether, casualties probably totaled about 3,500 men. In contrast, the American losses totaled about 3,500 men, British casualties somewhere around 5,500.[n2-9-42]

The Allies were vulnerable to heavy losses, according to the commander of the 16th Panzer Division, Sickenius, not only because they were on the offensive but also because of what he considered to be the poor combat value of the British and American troops. The Allied soldier, Sickenius believed, lacked aggressiveness and was afraid of combat at close quarters, Although he knew how to make skillful use of terrain features and would usually try to penetrate German lines by infiltration, he normally depended on extensive artillery preparations, which precluded daring thrusts.

If Sickenius’ observation was true, it might be explained by a concern on the part of the Allied soldiers for their security. The knowledge of how few follow-up troops were available to bolster the first units ashore made the Americans, despite the paucity of opposition in the VI Corps zone, less than aggressive during the first days on the beachhead. The critical period of the invasion had occurred on the fourth and fifth days, when the troops ashore were tired, when they held as long a front as could be expected of them, and when the enemy had deduced their plan and was concentrating strength against the beachhead, That was when more ships on the horizon were necessary, when more men, more artillery, more supplies in follow-up convoys were required.

[n2-9-42 Fifth Army History, Part I, pp, 97-98; 9th Machine Records Unit. Fifth Army American Battle Casualties, 10 Jun 45, OCMH, American losses were approximately 500 killed, 1,800 wounded, 1,200 missing.]

The presence of the 82nd Airborne Division in Sicily and its readiness for commitment had been the fortunate result of the cancellation of its mission to seize the airfields around Rome; the use of the 82nd to reinforce the beachhead by drops behind friendly lines was a brilliant expedient. The value of the reinforcement stemmed less from the actual number of troops than from its psychological lift to the commanders and men in the beachhead who were beginning to feel uneasy; they had no way of knowing that the worst had passed. The two battalions of the 504th Parachute Infantry, nevertheless, provided valuable security to the beachhead perimeter, and their pressure around Altavilla on 17 September had hastened the German withdrawal.

How bad was the worst hour? Given the small size of the beachhead, which made almost every part vulnerable to enemy observation and fire, deeper penetrations in the areas where the Germanys mounted their strongest attacks-Salerno, Battipaglia, the Sele-Calore corridor, and Altavilla might well have proved fatal to the Fifth Army. That the Germans were unable to crack the Allied defenses is a tribute to troops who demonstrated their ability to take punishment.

With the support of artillery, tanks, tank destroyers, naval gunfire, and air attacks, they held the defensive line established during the critical night of 13 September against German pressure for five days.[n2-9-45] Some participants felt that the Fifth Army had come close to defeat. Yet others depreciated the extent of the German threat. One qualified observer stated categorically that the enemy attacks never seriously endangered the beachhead. General Walker himself later asserted that he never doubted the ability of his troops to hold. The small size of the beachhead made supply operations easier. The Allied forces lacked enough transportation facilities, particularly Quartermaster truck units, and therefore the short hauling distances were a boon. In control of logistics, the VI Corps headquarters established supply dumps about one mile inland and along the main roads to enable the divisions to draw their supplies directly from them. On 25 September, with more trucks ashore, truck heads were established and the Fifth Army took charge of unloading supplies over the beaches, moving them to the dumps, and transporting them forward to the di visions.

[N2-9- 45 Between 9 and 17 September, the 151st Field Artillery Battalion expended 10,500 rounds, over 2,500 shells more than the total fired by the battalion during the entire Tunisia Campaign. 151st FA Bn AAR, Sep 43. See also 645th and 601st Tank Destroyer Bn AAR’s, Sep 43. and 751st Tank Bn History, 1943. Engineers performing as infantrymen]

Naval gunfire played an obvious role in the battle of the beachhead, but some observers had serious reservations as to its usefulness. “The moral effect is, of course, terrific,” one officer noted, “as the shell is large and the muzzle velocity astonishing.” Though naval gunfire gave great psychological support to the Allied troops and adversely affected the Germans, the relatively flat trajectory of the shells limited their effectiveness in close support because of the larger safety distance required between shell-burst and friendly troop locations. And except in the case of masonry buildings, the usefulness of naval shells against ground targets was questionable. The fire was particularly satisfying when directed against towns because any fire direction center could hit a town every time, and the flying debris and dust, which proved the accuracy of the flight of the missile, gave observers and spotters a feeling of accomplishment and pride. Unfortunately, the resulting destruction, which brought misery and loss to noncombatants, usually had little effect on enemy military personnel, who were usually well dug in away from the obvious targets.

[NOTE: Units were from the 531st Engineer Shore Regiment; the 2nd Battalion, 337th Engineer General Service Regiment; The111th and 120th Engineer Combat Battalions; and the 36th Engineer Combat Regiment. Engr History, Fifth Army,]

The destroyed village of Altavilla, shelled by artillery and naval guns and bombed by planes, appalled General Walker. “I doubt very much,” he wrote in his diary, “if this bombardment of a village full of helpless civilian families, many of whom were killed or injured, contributed any real help in capturing the dominating ground in that vicinity.”

When he visited Battipaglia, he was greatly depressed at the complete destruction of this old town by our Navy and Air Force. Not a single building was intact. The town will have to be rebuilt, it cannot be repaired. One could smell the odor of dead bodies, not vet recovered from the rubble. Such destruction of towns and civilians is brutal and quite unnecessary and does not assist in furthering the tactical program… Italian people stood about looking at their destroyed homes in bewilderment. In the midst of their destruction and grief they tried to be cheerful.

American and British planners had, before the invasion, discussed and studied the possibility of using planes to spot naval gunfire, that is, to observe and direct the shells on target. They concluded that the technique was impractical.

In areas where enemy fighter aircraft were active, naval planes would be too vulnerable. To give naval spotting planes fighter protection was hardly worthwhile-fighters were unsuitable for prolonged escort missions at low altitudes, they had more important missions, and over Salerno they would be far from their land bases, But the attractiveness of getting accurate naval shelling on distant ground targets outside the range of artillery prompted the Americans to try. The plane judged best for the task was the P-51, but there was not enough time before the invasion to train naval observation pilots to fly this aircraft. Consequently, the pilots of an Army Air Forces squadron earmarked for tactical reconnaissance received some training in how to use the communications and codes involved in directing American naval gunfire. Two flights of two P-51’s each came over the assault area to spot for the naval gunners between 0800 and 1000 on D-day, but the planes could remain in the target area only thirty minutes.

A pilot needed this amount of time to become oriented. By the time he obtained some impression of the ground situation, he had to fly back to Sicily, Not until 16 September did P-51 pilots first successfully spot naval gunfire; by then the battle for the beachhead was about over and few opportunities remained for further application of the technique.

The difficulty of ground observation during the early days of the invasion had limited the ability of observers to adjust artillery fire at medium and long ranges, and the Fifth Army artillery officer consequently arranged with the 111th Reconnaissance Squadron to have P-51 pilots work with the 155-mm. howitzers of the 6th Field Artillery Regiment.

Two planes were to operate together, one pilot to observe and direct, the other to guard against the approach of enemy aircraft. This method was first used successfully on 18 September. Still later in the month, after reconnaissance aircraft were based in the Salerno area, P-51 artillery spotting missions became more frequent, yet they were never regularly used, even though the P-51 planes were better than either Cub planes or forward ground observers for directing artillery at extreme ranges with a reasonable degree of accuracy. During the next eight months of the Italian campaign, Allied planners would discuss whether they might secure special equipment and give special training to improve the P-51 method of artillery spotting. The reluctance of air commanders to divert planes from what they considered their more important missions inhibited planning to this end.

Two of these more important missions, providing fighter cover and close air support to the ground troops, together constituted, according to General Eisenhower, a serious problem of the invasion. Since a fighter plane based in Sicily needed about thirty minutes to reach the Salerno area, and since a fighter pilot engaging an enemy plane over the beachhead had to jettison his long-range gasoline tanks, thereby reducing his effective operational capability from thirty to ten minutes, the burden of meeting enemy aircraft attacking in quick successive waves fell on the naval fighters. Even though Sea fires operating from naval carriers flew more than 700 sorties during the first four days of the invasion to supplement the more than 20,400 sorties by aircraft based in Sicily, and even though naval and land-based planes prevented effective German air reconnaissance-Tenth Army complained on 13 September that no air reports had been received for more than twenty-four hours-they failed to stop the bombers.

Bombing the Allied anchorage in the Gulf of Salerno nightly and raiding the beachhead three or four times every day with low-flying fighter-bombers, the Germans, despite relatively few operational planes and comparatively antiquated equipment, flew more missions against targets in a given area than at any time since their attacks against Malta in 1942.

The construction of improvised landing fields in the beachhead, begun soon after the landings, did little to solve the problem of providing effective land-based fighter cover. A strip opened near Paestum on 13 September received two Army Air Forces reconnaissance planes, which remained only briefly. A second strip was opened near the Sele River two days later to receive twelve planes (half the aircraft strength of the 111th Reconnaissance Squadron), and a third strip was ready in the 10 Corps area to take eight RAF planes the same day.

All three were used only for emergency landings. Except for the twenty-six naval aircraft based near Paestum, no land-based planes landed in the beachhead until 16 September, and those were fighter-bombers rather than fighter-interceptors. The deficiency in Allied air cover permitted German planes to damage, by means of radio-controlled bombs, the British battleship HMS Warspite and cruiser HMS Uganda and the American cruiser USS Savannah in the Gulf of Salerno. In addition to the Liberty ship USS Bushrod Washington destroyed on 14 September, the Liberty ship USS James Marshall was seriously damaged on the following day by a rocket bomb. Other losses were sustained among lesser vessels in the gulf.

In giving close support to the ground forces, tactical air force planes flew more than 9,000 sorties during the first nine days of the invasion. Over 5,000 of these occurred on three days, 14, 15, and 16 September. During this period, more than 1,000 tons of bombs were dropped daily on an area within a radius of fifteen miles from Salerno, Battipaglia and Eboli receiving the bulk of the loads. All these flights originated in Sicily and North Africa, except for a squadron of fighter-bombers, which started to operate from the Paestum airfield on 16 September.

On that day alone, this squadron flew 46 missions and 301 sorties for reconnaissance and bombardment-bombing road intersections, railroad tracks and stations, towns, enemy vehicles, and suspected strongpoints-before returning to Sicily before nightfall. Air commanders were reluctant to base aircraft in the beach head chiefly because the improvised airfields could not be used in bad weather. Not until pierced steel planks could be requisitioned from North Africa late in September to make possible all-weather fields would substantial numbers of planes be based in the area.

During the critical days at the beachhead, strategic bombers added their tonnages to the bombings even though Air Marshal Tedder disliked diverting them from their normal long-range missions. What concerned Tedder and other air commanders was not only the scale of the air effort at the beachhead, which exceeded planners’ estimates and seriously taxed crews and equipment, but also the violation of the precepts of air doctrine, which stipulated that air bombardment should be used only against those targets beyond the range of artillery. Not until late in the campaign, after the turn of the year, would Allied commanders gain the benefits of using air power, both strategic and tactical, together with artillery, and only then would the ground troops obtain what is now considered normal close air support.


Some Allied problems at the beachhead derived from the command. Like all successful commanders of coalition forces, General Clark exercised his authority over General McCreery and the British 10 Corps with discretion and tact. He tended to supervise and inspect rather than to direct, even though the operations on the 10 Corps front were the more critical. He gave his major attention to VI Corps and General Dawley. What complicated his position in American quarters was that his senior American subordinates, Generals Dawley, Walker, and Middleton, were older than Clark and had seniority in the Regular Army.

Sensitive of his prerogatives and understandably anxious to make good in this, his first command of combat operations in World War II, General Clark placed between himself and his American subordinates a distance that was perhaps more than the normal reserve consciously adopted for command purposes. He rarely, if ever, requested advice from his subordinate commanders or talked things over with them. His habit was to stride into command posts, receive reports, and issue instructions. While this may have conformed to the stereotype model of how a commander should act, it seemed to some to be an overdrawn portrait, and those who may have expected him to seek their guidance were disappointed that he did not.

When General Alexander visited the beachhead, he was impressed by General Clark’s calmness. Clark, he judged, was steady. General Eisenhower came to the beachhead a week after D-day and although he thought Clark not so good as Bradley at winning the confidence of everyone around him, including the British, and not so good as Patton in refusing to see anything but victory, he found Clark, as he said, “carrying Weight.”

In contrast to the Fifth Army commander, General Dawley relied to a much larger extent on his division commanders. He had great confidence in Walker and Middleton, both of whom had commanded troops in combat during World War I, and he welcomed their suggestions. But as Clark devoted increasing attention to VI Corps affairs and in the process indicated dissatisfaction with Dawley’s exercise of control, Dawley became harassed and nervous.

Always concerned about the lack of reserves, Clark was disturbed by Dawley’s seeming indifference to the threat to the corps’ left flank. It was Clark who instructed Dawley to lighten his forces on the right in order to strengthen those on the left, and it was Dawley who later suffered because his troop dispositions resembled a hodgepodge of units.

[n2-9-5959 At 0600, 11 September, the units on the VI Corps front were deployed from left to right as follows: 3rd Battalion, 141st Infantry; 3rd Battalion, 36th Engineers; 2nd Battalion, 179th Infantry; 3rd Battalion, 179th Infantry; 1st Battalion, 157th Infantry; 3rd Battalion, 157th Infantry; 1st Battalion, 141st Infantry; the 142nd Infantry; 2nd Battalion, 141st Infantry; 1st Battalion, 39th Engineers; Company A, 751st Tank Battalion; 504th Parachute Infantry; 505th Parachute Infantry. VI Corps C-3 Sitrep, 0600, 18 Sep 43.]

On 20 September, after the battle of the beachhead had come to an end, General Clark relieved General Dawley from command of the VI Corps. The reasons since given for the relief have been various.

According to General Clark’s recollections after the war, General Dawley had been an impressive commander during training; he had caught the attention of Generals Marshall and McNair, and Clark himself had thought him vigorous and aggressive. General Eisenhower, who was skeptical about Dawley’s ability, asked Clark more than once whether Dawley would measure up, and Clark assured him that the corps commander was doing a good job in North Africa. Shortly before the Salerno invasion Clark saw the first sign that gave him pause and made him doubt Dawley’s capacity: Dawley told Clark that the V1 Corps might not be able to carry out its mission. As General Dawley remembered the incident, he had, during a planning conference, quoted Brigadier General Fox Conner, General John J. Pershing’s G-3, as having once said, “Don’t bite off more than you can chew and chew damn little.”

Under the stress of the battle at the beachhead Dawley appeared to Clark to grow increasingly nervous and shaky, and seemed unable to take decisive action.” One night, Dawley reported his situation to Clark over the telephone. “Well, Mike,” Clark said, “what are you doing about it?” ”I’m praying,” Dawley said. “That’s OK,” Clark said, “but you better do something else besides.” Clark reached his decision to relieve the corps commander with difficulty, for he and Dawley had both been protégés of General McNair. and Clark felt uncomfortable about recommending the relief of a man who was in some respects his senior.

During General Alexander’s visit to the beachhead, the army group commander received the impression that General Dawley was not meeting the required standard of performance. Dawley’s briefing of the situation confirmed Alexander’s feeling, for, unlike McCreery, who seemed to Alexander to have his corps under control and to know what he was doing, Dawley was nervous; his voice shook, and his hands trembled. To Eisenhower, Alexander recommended that Dawley be relieved but suggested that Eisenhower see for himself first.

General Alexander’s American deputy, General Lemnitzer, who had accompanied the army group commander to the beachhead, later remembered that “General Clark was worried, especially about the VI Corps set-up.” In Lemnitzer’s presence, Clark informed Alexander that he had personally had to place some infantry battalions in the line because Dawley seemed unable to handle the matter. At the VI Corps command post, when Alexander asked Dawley what his future plans were, the response was embarrassing. “Obviously under great strain,” Lemnitzer recalled, “with his hands shaking like a leaf, General Dawley made a pitiful effort to explain the disposition of his troops and what he planned to do.” The explanation confirmed the impression that Alexander and Lemnitzer had sensed around the corps headquarters-the staff lacked confidence in the corps commander’s ability.

Not long afterward General Lemnitzer saw General Eisenhower in Algiers. When Eisenhower asked about the beachhead, Lemnitzer told him of Clark’s difficulty with the VI Corps. Eisenhower exploded. “Well, why doesn’t he relieve Dawley?” Lemnitzer supported Alexander’s recommendation that Eisenhower visit the beachhead to judge for himself.

During his visit, Eisenhower concurred in what by then was a unanimous opinion among the senior commanders. Eisenhower assured Clark he would arrange for someone to replace the corps commander. There is evidence that Dawley’s relief had been decided several days earlier, before Eisenhower’s visit.

The relief came as a surprise to General Walker, who had worked closely with the corps commander and who had heard Clark express no disappointment over Dawley’s conduct of operations. As he looked back after the war, Walker thought that two incidents might have contributed to the decision. When Eisenhower, Clark, Dawley, and Admiral Hewitt visited his 36th Division command post and received a briefing from Walker, the division commander had the feeling that Eisenhower was paying little attention to his words. At the end of Walker’s presentation, Eisenhower turned to Dawley and said, “How did you ever get your troops into such a mess?” Instead of explaining that there was no mess at all, Dawley replied in a manner that gave Eisenhower no inkling of the pains Dawley and Walker had taken to insure proper tactical control and co-ordination. Walker was about to add his explanation when Eisenhower changed the subject. Another time, when Walker accompanied Dawley, Clark, and Ridgway to Albanella, the generals drove in two jeeps, Walker riding with Ridgway. For their return trip, Clark asked Walker to ride with him and Dawley. On the way, Clark and Dawley engaged in what soon became an unfriendly discussion over a trivial matter. When Dawley intimated his disapproval of certain measures taken by Eisenhower and Clark, the army commander became ominously silent. General Marshall was also surprised to learn of Dawley’s relief, but he backed Eisenhower and Clark even before he had full knowledge of the facts.

When Dawley returned to the United States, he visited the Army Chief of Staff and explained what had happened. General Marshall had the impression that Dawley should have been relieved even sooner. There is something to be said in General Dawley’s defense. The VI Corps commander had not expected to assume command of operations ashore until after the beachhead was securely established. Clark had told Dawley before the landings to stay aboard ship and not to take command until D plus 2 or thereabouts, since Clark thought that the single American division in the assault was already overloaded with commanders. Furthermore, the 36th Division carried three days’ supplies, and the end of that 3-day period, Walker and Dawley estimated, would be the logical moment for the corps to take command of the operation. Thus, Dawley was not entirely prepared when ordered on D-day to take command-his staff was scattered and his headquarters and communications were scheduled for a later unloading. Trying to make do with what he had. he used the 36th Division facilities and strained them. “Neither Dawley nor Walker were very happy about the situation,” General Truscott later wrote, “and both attributed much of the early confusion to the disorganization of Command.” Finally, lacking an organized and fully staffed headquarters, General Dawley found it difficult to delegate authority to subordinates and equally difficult to get enough rest himself.

The inevitable confusion of the beachhead, the intermingling of units and the consequent lack of neat dispositions on a situation map. Dawley’s failure to impress visiting officers of high rank, his fatigue after several days and nights of strenuous activity and little sleep-these raised doubts in the minds of his superiors. On 16 September, Clark informed Eisenhower that Dawley “should not be continued in his present job. He appears to go to pieces in the emergencies.” On 17 September, when Clark appointed Ridgway deputy corps commander, Dawley’s relief was as good as accomplished, and three days later a replacement arrived from Sicily to take over.


Despite deficiencies and misfortunes, the Fifth Army had secured lodgment on the Italian mainland by 20 September and began to marshal its strength for the concluding episode of AVALANCHE, the capture of Naples. By that date, British units were occupying the east coast of southern Italy-several British naval officers had entered Brindisi on 16 September and found it empty of German troops-and were increasing their strength in that area. While General Montgomery sought to concentrate his widely dispersed forces for an attack to Foggia to secure the airfield complex there, General Clark prepared to drive to Naples to secure the port.

Additional gains of the three-pronged invasion of southern Italy were Sardinia and Corsica, which the Germans abandoned. The 90th Panzer Grenadier Division began to leave Sardinia on 11 September, moving to Corsica first. This movement was completed by the morning of 18 September. Italian troops on Sardinia did little to impede the German forces, but Corsican patriots, armed with submachine guns and aided by a small Allied contingent, both dropped to them from Allied planes. harassed the Germans.

Concerned even before the German evacuation that the Corsican irregulars would be too weak to cope with the Germans, General Giraud, commander of the French troops in North Africa, pressed General Eisenhower to dispatch French units to the island. Eisenhower favored encouraging the local resistance forces in Corsica by sending French troops, but he had no vessels to transport them. The requirements of the battle of the beachhead were overriding.

He nevertheless approved establishing an improvised ferry service. On 11 September, a French submarine sailed from Algiers for Corsica with 100 French soldiers aboard. Two days later two French destroyers, the Le Terrible and the Le Fantastique, loaded several hundred men, somewhere between 500 and 800 according to estimates, and about 50 tons of supplies and sailed for Ajaccio, principal port of Corsica. Two French cruisers, the Jeane d’Arc and the Montcalm, recalled from duty in the Atlantic, two Corsican schooners pressed into service, and later two Italian cruisers formed a fleet that, for the next two weeks, nightly ferried men to the island. The underground fighters and the French troops failed to halt the German movement to the mainland, which was completed on 1 October.

Two small British ships had entered the harbor of Cagliari on 18 September, bringing General Eisenhower’s representative, Brigadier General Theodore Roosevelt, Jr., and a small staff to assume Allied control over Sardinia. General Eisenhower placed Corsica under the control of French military authorities and later sent a small liaison staff to represent him at the office of the military governor appointed by General Giraud.

Sardinia and Corsica, by virtue of their strategic location, represented a great prize won at slight cost. Allied possession of the islands made the Mediterranean still more secure for shipping. More important, the airfields, particularly those on Corsica, would bring Allied bombers close to enemy targets along the southern approaches to the Continent, especially those in southern France and northern Italy.

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

World War Two: Italy; Beyond Salerno (ISC-2-10)

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


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

After spending a night disturbed only by a few Japanese mortar shells, the 162nd Infantry resumed its westward advance at approximately 0730 on 28 May. Just past the Parai Defile the seaward side of the main coastal ridge gives way to an inclined terrace about 500 yards wide and a mile and a half long. Slanting toward the shore, this terrace ends in the twenty-foot-high cliff located along or near the water line from Parai west beyond Mokmer village. The 162nd Infantry planned to send part of its 3rd Battalion along the terrace, inland, while the rest of the unit advanced along the coastal road, which runs from the Parai Defile partly beneath the cliff and partly along its crest. The 2nd Battalion was to move along the terrace to the right rear of the 3rd, while the 1st Battalion was to take up reserve positions at Parai. The advance was to be supported from the shore by the 146th Field Artillery and the 603rd Tank Company. Destroyers were to stand offshore to provide fire support on call.

An Initial Reverse: Prelude to Retreat

The 3rd Battalion, 162nd Infantry, proceeded through Mokmer village without opposition. Company L and some of Company M’s heavy machine guns then moved on to the terrace above Mokmer, leaving the rest of the battalion to continue toward the airdromes along the coastal road. By 0930 the main body of the battalion was at a road junction nearly 1,500 yards west of Mokmer. Slight resistance along the road from Mokmer had been easily brushed aside, but at the road junction enemy resistance stiffened sharply and machine gun and mortar fire pinned down Company K, which was leading the advance. As the 146th Field Artillery Battalion tried to silence this fire elements of Company K pushed westward to within 200 yards of Mokmer Drome. This was as close as any troops of the HURRICANE Task Force were to approach that airfield for over a week.

About 1000 hours, Japanese infantry, elements of the 2nd Battalion, 222nd Infantry, counterattacked from the west.[n13-3] The forward units of the 3rd Battalion, 162nd Infantry, withdrew 600 yards along the coastal road to the point at which the twenty-foot cliff left the shore line, but Japanese infantry attacks, which were supported by automatic weapons fire, continued. The enemy threw more troops into the battle (more of the 2nd Battalion, 222nd Infantry) from the East Caves area until the attackers were coming not only from the west but also from the northwest and north. The Japanese split the 3rd Battalion by driving a wedge along the cliff between the troops on the shore and those on the terrace. Companies L and M were cut off. The 2nd Battalion, attempting to get on the terrace to the north of the 3rd Battalion, was pinned down by Japanese fire from the East Caves and was unable to advance.

[n13-3 Identifications of enemy units in this and the following subsections are based on: Opns of Yuki Group, p. 4; MID WD, Military Reports, 24, p.14; 2nd Army Opns at Sarmi and Biak (Rev), pp.56-59, 62.]

By 1100 the 3rd Battalion was in sore straits. The main body was on the coast in an area about 200 yards deep and about 500 east to west. Behind the battalion, the shore line was a twenty-foot cliff. The entire area was covered with secondary growth thick enough to prevent good observation along the ground but open enough to allow the Japanese in their higher East Caves position to view every American movement. The Japanese had excellent cover and concealment in the thick vegetation, coral caves, and crevices of the East Caves area and, at the same time, were able to subject the 3rd Battalion to intense mortar, grenade, machine gun, and rifle fire. Because of poor observation and the defiladed enemy positions, the fire of neither the 146th Field Artillery Battalion nor the offshore destroyers was able to silence the enemy’s weapons. Most of Company L and the Company M detachment which was also on the coral terrace managed to find a covered route back to the rest of the 3rd Battalion on the shore, but one platoon, initially surrounded, had to fight its way eastward into the lines of the 2nd Battalion, north of Mokmer village. Company G, on the terrace north of the main road and between the 2nd and 3rd Battalions, was also cut off and withdrew to the 2nd Battalion only with difficulty, and after it had suffered many casualties from Japanese fire. The 1st Battalion was ordered to move north from Parai onto the main coastal ridge to outflank the enemy positions, but efforts to do so were halted by enemy fire from the East Caves. Two companies patrolled in the broken terrain along the main ridge but were unable to move westward.

During the afternoon the 3rd Battalion stood off two more concerted enemy counterattacks, one at 1200 and another shortly after 1400, and suffered more casualties from the enemy mortar and artillery fire. During the latter attack, the Japanese began moving some light tanks forward from the Mokmer Drome area. The 3rd Platoon, 603rd Tank Company, engaged these tanks at a range of 1,200 yards and, with the aid of fire from destroyers lying offshore, drove the enemy tanks back into defilade positions. Three tanks of the 603rd were damaged by Japanese artillery fire and three men of the same organization were wounded during the action.

Meanwhile, General Fuller had decided to reinforce the 3rd Battalion, 162nd Infantry. The 1st Platoon, 603rd Tank Company, moved west along the coastal road. At the same time small boats manned by the 542nd Engineer Boat and Shore Regiment were also sent forward with ammunition and medical supplies, both dangerously low. The small craft moved along the shore out of range of Japanese mortar and artillery fire until opposite the 3rd Battalion’s position and then shot inshore at full speed, one by one. Supplies were replenished and the worst casualties evacuated despite continued shelling of the 3rd Battalion’s position by the Japanese. The 1st and 2nd Battalions continued their efforts to clear the Japanese from the terrace behind the 3rd but met with little success.

By late afternoon the 3rd Battalion’s position was becoming untenable. Japanese mortar and artillery fire increased and enemy patrols cut the coastal road to the rear. Obviously, no further advance could be made until the enemy fire from the East Caves area could be stopped by ground attack from the north, by naval fire from the south, or by artillery fire from emplacements to the east. Thus far, artillery fire had had little apparent effect upon the volume of Japanese fire. Only one artillery battalion was in position to fire on the East Caves area and the effect of its fire was limited by the location of the Japanese emplacements, most of which were either in deep defilade or were in caves and crevices facing seaward. Offshore destroyers and rocket LCI’s were in the best position to fire on the Japanese emplacements. The best expedient would have been increased fire from these naval vessels, but such fire was now impossible to obtain.

The naval fire support officer with the 162nd Infantry had been killed at the 3rd Battalion’s position about noon. Direct ship-to-shore communications immediately broke down, and no replacement for the liaison officer was immediately available. Communications to the offshore destroyers and rocket LCI’s remained erratic and slow throughout the 28th and the next day—messages had to be passed back from the 3rd Battalion to regiment, then to HURRICANE Task Force headquarters, to naval attack force headquarters, and finally to the naval fire support groups and individual ships. It was impossible to concentrate sufficient support fire on the Japanese positions to neutralize the artillery, mortar, and machine gun fire still falling on the 162nd Infantry’s forward elements.

About 1600 General Fuller gave up plans for further attempts at reinforcement of the forward units and ordered Colonel Haney to withdraw his 3rd Battalion to the positions held the previous night. The withdrawal started slowly because communications difficulties still prevented concentration of supporting fires. However, at 1700 the regimental commander finally ordered the 3rd Battalion to start moving back along the coastal road. Tanks were to act as point, and rear guard and close-in artillery fire was substituted for a disengaging force. The battalion was to continue eastward until it had passed through the 2nd, which was setting up a new defensive position east of Mokmer village.

The men of the 3rd Battalion moved in small parties along the beach and main road, which was intermittently swept by Japanese mortar, machine gun, and rifle fire. Many troops were unable to use the main road, but had to drop down to the beach below the overhanging cliff. Four tanks brought up the rear and protected the north flank. Between 1830 and 1900 all elements of the 3rd Battalion reached safety beyond the 2nd Battalion’s lines and began digging in for the night east of the latter unit. Casualties for the day, almost all of them suffered by the 3rd Battalion, were 16 killed and 87 wounded.

The First Attack Ends in Retreat

Sometime between dawn on 28 May and first light on the 29th, the 1st Battalion, 222nd Infantry, and the headquarters of the Biak Detachment had moved overland to the West Caves from their previous positions north of the surveyed drome behind Bosnek. With the 1st Battalion in reserve, Colonel Kuzume could throw the entire 2nd and 3rd Battalions against the 162nd Infantry. For the American regiment the night of 28-29 May proved quiet in comparison with the action during the previous day, but the Japanese were ready to launch strong counterattacks against it on the morning of the 29th.

The first Japanese attack began at 0700 on the 29th and was directed against the 2nd Battalion, 162nd Infantry. This attack, which was carried out by men of the 2nd and 3rd Battalions, 222nd Infantry, was beaten off by mortar, machine gun, and rifle fire without loss to the American unit. About 0800, new waves of Japanese infantry, now supported by four tanks, appeared west and north of the 2nd Battalion, thus beginning the first tank battle of the war in the Southwest Pacific Area.

The 2nd Battalion, 162nd Infantry, with the 1st Platoon, 503rd Tank Company, in support, was astride the main coastal road 1,000 yards east of Mokmer. The battalion’s left flank was on the beach while its right was against the coastal cliff and less than forty yards inland. (The right had been drawn in from an initial position on the terrace above the cliff after the 0700 attacks.) Between the beach and the cliff was a coconut grove. The main coastal road crossed the rise of the cliff at a point about 475 yards west of the 2nd Battalion’s lines.

Shortly after 0800 the Japanese tanks, followed by an infantry column, advanced down the incline where the main road crossed the cliff and deployed in echelon left formation in the coconut grove. The Japanese vehicles were light tanks, Model 95 (1935), weighing about nine tons, carrying a crew of three men, and armed with one 37-mm. cannon and two 7.7-mm. machine guns. They were opposed by two General Sherman M4A1 medium tanks, the heaviest armament on which was the 75-mm. gun. Each Japanese tank was stopped by one round of 75-mm. armor-piercing ammunition, while the enemy infantry was literally mowed down by the machine guns and mortars of the 2nd Battalion, 162nd Infantry. Armor-piercing 75-mm. shells passed right through the Japanese light tanks, and the Sherman’s followed with a few rounds of 75-mm. high explosive, which tore holes in the Japanese vehicles and blew lose their turrets. During this action several hits scored on the Sherman’s by the Japanese 37-mm. guns caused no damage.

About thirty minutes after the first attack the Japanese sent in a second wave of three tanks, which used the same route of approach and the same formation in the coconut grove. These three were quickly destroyed by three Sherman’s. One enemy 37-mm. shell locked the 75-mm. gun of one Sherman in place, but the American tank backed part way into a shell hole to obtain elevation for its weapon and, despite the damage, managed to destroy one of the enemy tanks. The Japanese tanks having been stopped and the leading elements of the second infantry wave killed, the attack disintegrated and the enemy withdrew.

For an hour or so the Japanese were quiet, but late in the morning, under the cover of machine gun fire and mortar barrages, they began to circle north of the 2nd and 3rd Battalions, 162nd Infantry. New infantry attacks began about 1200. The enemy was unable to dislodge the 162nd Infantry, but his mortar fire caused many casualties within the regimental perimeter and the Japanese managed to cut the coast road east of a large T-jetty at Parai. Company B and the Cannon Company (which was not armed with its usual 105-mm. howitzers but acted as an additional rifle company throughout the Biak operation) counterattacked the Japanese road block behind close-in mortar support and succeeded in dislodging the enemy by fire and movement.

By noon it had become apparent that no attack launched against the airdromes would be successful until the Japanese could be cleared from the high ground overlooking the fields and the approaches thereto or until Japanese fire from the East Caves area and the ridge line east of that position could be neutralized. On 29 May it was impossible to neutralize these enemy installations because the infantry troops were so close to them as to prevent effective artillery fire and because communications from the ground to support aircraft and naval vessels were, at best, sporadic. In view of these facts, Colonel Haney instructed his staff to prepare plans for withdrawal to Ibdi and Mandom by amphibious craft or by march through the Parai Defile. He then returned to the HURRICANE Task Force command post near Mandom to explain the situation to the task force commander and to confer on possible lines of action. At 1200 Colonel Haney returned to the forward area with approval for a withdrawal.

Colonel Haney’s plan was to have his 1st Battalion cover the withdrawal from positions at Parai, while the other two battalions and attached units moved both overland and by water back to Ibdi. One platoon of Company D, 641st Tank Destroyer Battalion (4.2-inch mortars), was to remain in place to maintain supporting fire during the withdrawal. The 542nd Engineer Boat and Shore Regiment was to supply small craft and amphibian vehicles for the overwater withdrawal. It was some time before all elements of the 162nd Infantry could get ready for the withdrawal, and Colonel Haney could not issue orders to execute his plan until 1350.

Ten minutes later all troops had begun moving eastward. The 2nd Battalion, less Company G, loaded on LVT’s and DUKW’s at Parai Jetty, was shuttled to LCM’s and LCT’s lying offshore, and moved back to Bosnek. Company L and part of Company I were withdrawn by the same method. The rest of the 162nd Infantry led by the 3rd Platoon, 603rd Tank Company, moved overland through the Parai Defile and took up positions at Ibdi. The 1st Platoon, 603rd Tank Company, brought up the rear of this echelon. The 2nd Platoon, Company D, 641st Tank Destroyer Battalion, destroyed its mortars and ammunition and moved eastward with the tanks, while the 1st Platoon of the same mortar unit managed to get its weapons out. Company D, 542nd Engineer Boat and Shore Regiment, armed with rifles and light machine guns, was sent up the cliff north of the Parai Jetty as a holding force. After the overland echelons of the 162nd Infantry had moved east through the Parai Defile, the engineer company joined the rearguard tanks and mortar units on the main road.

Close support for the withdrawal was provided by task force artillery and by two amphibious tanks, an antiaircraft LCM (these three manned by the 542nd Engineer Boat and Shore Regiment), and a Seventh Fleet rocket-equipped LCI. By nightfall the 1st Battalion, 162nd Infantry, regimental headquarters, the Cannon and Antitank Companies, a few tanks, the 205th Field Artillery Battalion, Company G of the 186th Infantry, and Company D of the 542nd Engineer Boat and Shore Regiment were in a thousand-yard-long perimeter beginning about 500 yards west of Ibdi. The 3rd Battalion had moved on to Mandom, while the 2nd Battalion remained in the Bosnek area. The 162nd Infantry’s casualties during the day were 16 killed, 96 wounded, and 3 injured. The regiment estimated that it had killed over 500 Japanese during the day. The enemy, despite his losses, followed up the advantage he had gained and quickly pushed troops forward to Parai and into the cliffs along the Parai Defile. This action clearly indicated that the Biak Detachment-intended to take advantage of the natural defensive position in the Parai Defile area.

Preparations for a New Attack: Reinforcement of the HURRICANE Task Force

Even before the 162nd Infantry had been forced to retreat on 29 May, General Fuller had begun to feel that the situation on Biak was serious. He, like Colonel Haney, believed that an advance along the coast to the airdromes would be impossible until the ridges north of Mokmer and Parai could be cleared of enemy troops. The task force commander further considered it impossible, because of the danger of overextending his lines and thereby jeopardizing the beachhead, to outflank the Japanese positions along the ridges unless he could obtain reinforcements. On 28 May General Fuller had therefore asked for at least one infantry regiment, one 105-mm. artillery battalion, a battalion of combat engineers, and another tank company.

General Krueger had already planned to send two battalions of the 163rd Infantry from the Wakde-Sarmi area to Biak to arrive at the latter island on 3 June. Now it was planned to speed the shipment so that the two battalions would reach Biak on 1 June. They were to be shipped from Wakde-Sarmi by LCI and were to carry with them ten days’ rations and three units of fire for all weapons. The additional units that General Fuller had requested could not be dispatched to Biak right away, although one 155-mm. gun battery could be sent immediately. At the same time, General Krueger made plans to move the 503rd Parachute Regiment from eastern New Guinea to Hollandia where it was to remain on the alert for movement by air to Biak in case of need. The ALAMO Force commander also pressed for quick movement of 6th Division units from Milne Bay to Wakde-Sarmi to replace the elements of the 163rd Infantry which were scheduled to leave the latter area for Biak.

Pending the arrival of reinforcements, General Fuller planned to use his available troops to hold the west flank at Ibdi and expand the beachhead at Bosnek. The 162nd Infantry was to establish a semicircular perimeter beginning on the beach west of Ibdi, reaching north to the main ridge, and returning to the beach at the village. The 1st Battalion, 186th Infantry, would maintain a perimeter around Mandom, where Headquarters, HURRICANE Task Force, was located, while the 3rd Battalion moved over the ridge behind Bosnek to set up defenses on the inland plateau. The 2nd Battalion, with part of the 3rd attached, would remain at the Bosnek beachhead. When the first two battalions of the 163rd Infantry arrived, they would take over the 186th Infantry’s beachhead positions, and the beachhead area was then to be extended to include the surveyed airdrome on the flats north of Bosnek. Upon completion of these redisposition’s, the HURRICANE Task Force would make final preparations for a new drive to the west.

On 30 and 31 May the 162nd Infantry patrolled around the main ridge near Ibdi for a route over which large bodies of troops might move north to the inland plateau in preparation for the second attack westward. During the course of this patrolling, it was discovered that the main ridge from Bosnek to the Parai Defile actually comprised a series of seven sharp coral ridges, the crests of which were 50-75 yards apart and separated by gullies 50-100 feet deep. These separate ridges were honeycombed with small natural caves, potholes, and crevices. There was little soil on most of the coral, yet the area maintained a cover of dense rain forest containing trees 8-20 inches thick and 100-150 feet high.

The 162nd Infantry discovered two native trails over the ridges. The most easterly of these, designated “Old Man’s Trail,” began on the beach road about 1,200 yards west of Mandom. It was a fairly well defined track which swung north over the seven ridges along a comparatively easy route. Another track began 1,200 yards to the west, near Ibdi. Called “Young Man’s Trail,” the latter followed a very difficult route over the ridges to the inland plateau. Both of these trails ran through the outer defenses of the Ibdi Pocket, into which the Biak Detachment, on 30 May, moved the 3rd Battalion, 222nd Infantry. On 30 and 31 May the 162nd Infantry’s patrols along the ridges north of Ibdi and Mandom were harassed by the Japanese in the Ibdi Pocket, which had not yet been recognized as a major enemy strong point.

On 30 May the 162nd Infantry located a water hole near the beach terminal of Old Man’s Trail. A regimental water point established there was constantly harassed by Japanese rifle fire from the Ibdi Pocket area or by small enemy parties which moved down out of the ridges north of Ibdi and Mandom. The Cannon Company, 162nd Infantry, was therefore assigned the missions of clearing the enemy from the water point area and protecting that important installation from Japanese attacks.

Halfway through the Parai Defile, a little over a mile west of the 162nd Infantry’s main perimeter, an underground stream ran from the base of the cliff into Soanggarai Bay. At the point where the main road crossed the stream, the 162nd Infantry set up an ambush to prevent Japanese infiltration from the west along the beach. The ambush site was also used as a patrol base from which small parties reconnoitered along the cliffs of the Parai Defile to discover enemy dispositions in the area. Patrolling on 30 and 31 May cost the 162nd Infantry 6 men killed, 17 wounded, and 4 injured.

While the 162nd Infantry had been meeting reverses near Mokmer, the 186th Infantry had been expanding the Bosnek beachhead. On the 28th, patrols secured Opiaref (on the coast about four miles east of Bosnek) where a number of well-prepared but deserted enemy positions were found. Other patrols were sent north to the surveyed drome behind Bosnek. A few Japanese were killed in that area, but no signs of organized resistance were found. Other elements of the regiment patrolled along the ridge north of Ibdi and Mandom, finding that area strongly held, while still more patrols maintained contact with the 162nd Infantry along the coastal road. On 29 and 30 May the 186th Infantry continued patrolling from the Parai Defile east to Opiaref, from which village a motor road was discovered to run inland to the surveyed drome. In all this activity few contacts were made with organized Japanese forces, and during the three-day period the regiment lost but 2 men killed and 18 wounded. [n13-12]

On 28 May the 205th Field Artillery Battalion and the rest of the 947th arrived on Biak. Elements of these two units, together with the 146th Field Artillery Battalion, had moved forward to the Ibdi area to support the drive of the 162nd Infantry and had been withdrawn to Bosnek when the latter regiment was forced back. An antiaircraft battalion (less one battery) and two batteries of another antiaircraft battalion also landed on Biak during the period. These units rapidly went into position to supplement the fires of the antiaircraft units already protecting the beachhead and dump areas. Enemy air raids were a daily occurrence and, although causing little damage and few casualties, demanded augmented antiaircraft protection. The antiaircraft units and Seventh Fleet ships lying offshore shot down most of the enemy raiders.

[n13-12 186th Inf Opns Rpt Biak, 27 May-19 Aug 44, pp. 2-5; Company L, One Hundred and Eighty-Sixth Infantry, APO #41, Rec of Events, Co L, from 25 May 44, p. 1, in ORB RAC AGO collection (hereinafter cited as Co L 186th Inf, Rec of Events, Biak) ; Hist of Biak Campaign, Co K 186th Inf, pp. 1-2, in ORB RAC AGO collection (hereafter cited as Co K 186th Inf Hist of Biak Campaign, and not to be confused with Co K 186th Inf, Rec of Events, 18 Apr-16 Jul 44) ; Co I 186th Inf, Hist of Biak Campaign, n. p., in ORB RAC AGO collection; 1st Bn 186th Inf Hist, 27 May-2 Jun 44, pp.1-3.]

During the period in which the HURRICANE Task Force was awaiting reinforcements, the Biak Detachment redisposed its troops to meet new Allied attacks. The 800 well-armed men of the 3rd Battalion, 222nd Infantry, in the Ibdi Pocket, made only harassing attacks with small groups against the positions of the 162nd Infantry. Colonel Kuzume moved most of his 1st Battalion back into the cave and garden area north of the surveyed strip, a position which the bulk of those units had vacated on 28 May. The 2nd Battalion was left in the Mokmer Drome area to reorganize after its heavy losses on the 28th and 29th and to hold the coastal approach to the airfields. Naval troops and a mortar company of the 2nd Battalion manned the East Caves, north of Mokmer village.

On 31 May the 1st and 3rd Battalions, the Antitank Company, and Headquarters, 163rd Infantry, arrived on Biak. The planned redisposition of the HURRICANE Task Force began immediately and was completed by 1800. The task force was ready to execute a new plan of attack on 1 June.

Plans for a New Attack

Upon the arrival of the two battalions of the 163rd Infantry on Biak, General Krueger radioed to General Fuller that the HURRICANE Task Force was expected to regain the initiative with a new offensive. This offensive, said General Krueger, was to be pushed vigorously “with a view to carrying out your mission effectively and expeditiously.” To execute these instructions, General Fuller planned a two-pronged attack. One regiment, the 186th Infantry, was to advance west over the inland plateau, while the 162nd Infantry was again to attack west along the coast. The two battalions of the 163rd Infantry were to remain in reserve at the Bosnek area. Essentially, this was a return to and an enlargement of the alternative regimental attack plan discarded as unnecessary by the 162nd Infantry on Z Day, 27 May. The 162nd Infantry had originally proposed using battalions as General Fuller now intended to employ regiments.

On 1 June the 3rd Battalion, 186th Infantry, was to move directly over the ridge behind Bosnek to the surveyed airdrome. There it would be joined by the 2nd Battalion, which was to advance west along the inland road from Opiaref, and by the 1st Battalion on the morning of 2 June. Five tanks of the 603rd Tank Company, one platoon of the 116th Engineers, and the 12th Portable Surgical Hospital were to be attached to the regiment. Close support would be provided by the 121st Field Artillery Battalion (75-mm. pack howitzer), which was to follow the 186th Infantry to the surveyed airfield area.

While the 186th Infantry moved into position, the 162nd Infantry was to patrol west along the coastal road and north into the ridges behind Ibdi and Mandom. On 2 June the 2nd Battalion, 162nd Infantry, would move north across the ridge at Ibdi and then west along the inland plateau and ridges, maintaining contact with the 186th Infantry. The rest of the regiment was to push through the Parai Defile again in preparation for another concerted attack toward Mokmer Drome. The 162nd Infantry’s operations were to be supported by Company C, 116th Engineers; seven tanks of the 603rd Tank Company; the 146th and 947th Field Artillery Battalions; Company D, 641st Tank Destroyer Battalion, with 4.2-inch mortars; 1 antiaircraft LCM; two LVT (A)’s, with 37-mm. guns; and two rocket-equipped LCV’s and one LCI (G). The 205th Field Artillery Battalion and offshore destroyers were to be in general support for both regiments.

The 186th Infantry was to sweep the inland plateau and, securing a route over the main ridge north of Mokmer village, clear the high ground north and northeast of Mokmer Drome. The 2nd Battalion, 162nd Infantry, would seize part of the high ground northeast of the airfield. When the other two battalions of the latter regiment, attacking westward along the shore south of the ridge, began approaching Mokmer Drome, the 2nd would aid them in seizing the airstrip. The two battalions of the 163rd Infantry were to protect the beachhead and supply installations and patrol behind the 186th Infantry.

The Seizure of Mokmer Drome Action at the Surveyed Strip At 0830 on 1 June the 3rd Battalion, 186th Infantry, left its bivouac area near Bosnek and marched north over the coastal ridge. By 1100 the unit had reached the west end of the surveyed strip and had set up a defensive perimeter. Company K, together with two guns and crews from the Antitank Company, established defenses at a trail crossing some 400 yards northwest of the rest of the battalion. The 2nd Battalion left Opiaref about 0800 and by 1100 was preparing positions near the center of the surveyed airfield. Company F and the Cannon Company arrived from Opiaref, where they had remained until relieved by the 163rd Infantry late in the afternoon.

The Cannon Company, operating as a rifle unit, protected the 121st Field Artillery Battalion, which had also displaced forward to the surveyed drome. The 1st Platoon, 603rd Tank Company, joined the two battalions of the 186th Infantry at the airstrip about 1530. All these units used the road which ran east and west along the inland plateau on the north side of the surveyed strip. Company B, 116th Engineers, worked all day to repair the road from Opiaref to the forward units. By 1630 the most urgent repairs had been made, and wheeled vehicles could laboriously make their way east along the coast from Bosnek, over the ridge at Opiaref, and thence west to the surveyed area.

The Biak Detachment had no intention of allowing the 186th Infantry to advance unopposed and at 1330 had sent about twenty-five men of the 1st Battalion, 222nd Infantry, against Company K. These Japanese, who were supported by machine guns and mortars emplaced northwest of the trail crossing, continued attacks until 1700, when a platoon of Company K, by a flanking movement, forced their withdrawal northward. Company K and two platoons of the Antitank Company remained at the trail crossing for the night. Company I was moved forward to K’s left and left rear and Company L extended K’s perimeter east along the main road toward the surveyed drome. Battalion headquarters and Company M stayed near the strip’s western end. The 121st Field Artillery Battalion, the Cannon Company, the 2nd Battalion, regimental headquarters, the attached engineers, and the tanks remained near the center of the airfield.

The first part of the night passed without incident, but at 0330 the entire area held by the 3rd Battalion, 186th Infantry, flamed into action. About a company and a half of the 1st Battalion, 222nd Infantry, moved from the south against the semicircular perimeter held by Companies I, K, and L, having outflanked the 3rd Battalion on the west.

Simultaneously, other elements of the 1st Battalion attacked from the northwest, attempting to drive a wedge between Companies L and K. By rapid adjustment of its lines, the 3rd Battalion trapped most of the enemy group which had attacked from the south. Under the support of mortar and machine gun fire from both the northwest and southwest, the encircled Japanese desperately tried to fight their way north. Four hours of confused hand-to-hand fighting, marked by the use of bayonets, machetes, and grenades, ensued. At daylight a count revealed that 86 dead Japanese were within and around the 3rd Battalion’s perimeter. The dead included the commander of the 1st Battalion, 222nd Infantry. Losses to the American unit (including attached Antitank Company men) were 3 men killed and 8 wounded.

Despite the confusion resulting from the night action, the 186th Infantry was ready to resume the westward advance by 0900 on 2 June. The 1st and 3rd Battalions, supported by five tanks and an antitank platoon, were to advance abreast, while the 2nd protected the right flank by patrolling north of the main road. The 121st Field Artillery Battalion was to provide continuous close support and was to displace forward with the infantry. Neither artillery nor air bombardment seems to have been provided for or delivered prior to the attack. However, both the 121st and 146th Field Artillery Battalions (the latter from emplacements south of the ridge, near Bosnek) were registered on targets north and west of the 186th Infantry. Air support was available from Wakde Island upon call.

The speed of the advance was contingent upon the arrival of water from Bosnek and upon improvements which engineers could make on the supply road west of the surveyed drome. The inland plateau was devoid of water, and extensive repairs were necessary before the road could bear wheeled vehicles. Tentatively, the objective for 2 June was set at a point on the road 5,000 yards west of the surveyed strip. Upon reaching this point, the 186th Infantry would be about 1,500 yards north of the 3rd Battalion, 222nd Infantry, which was located in the Ibdi Pocket.

West Toward the Airdromes

The 1st Battalion, 186th Infantry (less Company A, attached to the 162nd Infantry) broke camp at its beach defense area at 0800 on 2 June and moved north over the ridge to join the rest of the regiment. The 1st and 3rd Battalions then advanced with two companies abreast against scattered but determined opposition from elements of the 1st Battalion, 222nd Infantry. Small enemy patrols aimed machine gun and rifle fire at the advancing American units and held their positions until killed or dispersed by tank or artillery fire. Most of the enemy parties were located on the north flank and apparently many of them had been driven westward out of the cave and garden area north of the surveyed drome by fire from the 121st Field Artillery Battalion, which destroyed Biak Detachment headquarters installations in that area. By nightfall the 186th Infantry had killed 96 Japanese and had itself lost 6 men killed and 10 wounded. The unit halted shortly after 1600 and began digging in at a point about 600 yards northeast of the day’s objective. The advance had carried the regiment west until it was almost abreast and north of the 162nd Infantry, at the Ibdi Pocket.

The latter regiment had attempted to move west along the coast from Ibdi during the day. The 2nd Battalion had been dispatched on 1 June into the ridges north of Ibdi with orders to clear Young Man’s Trail and, maintaining contact with the 186th Infantry, advance west along the ridges toward Mokmer Drome. Companies E and G had started over the trail on 1 June and by 1300 had reached the crest of the third of the seven parallel ridges which formed the main ridge above Ibdi. Further progress during the afternoon was rendered nearly impossible by increasingly rough terrain and intensifying Japanese small arms fire, which kept the companies pinned down. Company E remained on the third ridge for the night and set up an outpost at the base of the fourth. The company had bypassed a few small parties of Japanese, while other enemy troops moved around its flanks to cut the trail south of the third ridge. To protect the line of communications over the Young Man’s Trail, Company G moved its forward elements back to the first ridge, and Company F pushed up that ridge to G’s right. Company E was left isolated for the night.

The advance northward had been resumed on 2 June against increasingly strong opposition from the 3rd Battalion, 222nd Infantry, and various service units armed as infantry. Communications between Company E and other elements of the 2nd Battalion were re-established early in the morning, and the company had pushed on to the crest of the fifth ridge by 0930. There the unit was pinned down by enemy fire from both flanks. Company F was ordered forward to E’s right, and arrived on the fifth ridge about 1150. Thereafter, better progress was made as the combined fire power of the two rifle companies kept most of the Japanese under cover. In the afternoon Company G moved forward also and the three rifle companies pushed on over the seventh ridge, bypassing numerous enemy strong points, to establish contact at 1500 with Company E, 186th Infantry, on the inland plateau.

By the time this contact was made, two facts had become obvious. First, it was evident that only by a long series of laborious small unit infantry assaults could the Japanese be cleared from the Ibdi Pocket, which was now recognized by the HURRICANE Task Force as a major enemy strong point. Second, the terrain along the main ridge had been found so rugged that it was evident that no large body of troops could move west along it as long as the Japanese retained any control of the Ibdi Pocket. Therefore the 2nd Battalion (less Company H) was attached to the 186th Infantry for use as the commander of that regiment saw fit. Company H remained south of the ridge.

The addition of the 2nd Battalion, 162nd Infantry, to the 186th Infantry helped to complicate the supply problems of the troops on the plateau. No water had yet been found inland. Heat and humidity were intense, and thick scrub growth, about twelve feet high, stopped any breezes. Despite the best efforts of Company B, 116th Engineers, the supply road could not be repaired fast enough to keep pace with the advancing infantrymen. Water had to be brought around from Bosnek via Opiaref to the forward units, and there were not enough water trailers nor five-gallon cans available to supply all the water needed. At night each man received only one canteen of water for the next day, an inadequate amount under the conditions which prevailed inland. The water situation and the necessity for hauling all other supplies north through Opiaref did more to delay the 186th Infantry’s progress westward than did the opposition of the 1st Battalion, 222nd Infantry.

The advance was to be resumed at 0730 on 3 June, the first objective being the point at which the main ridge left the coast and turned inland near Mokmer village. To gain this point, which lay about three miles west-southwest of the night bivouac, three battalions were to advance along a front 900 yards wide, with the 1st Battalion, 186th Infantry, on the north, the 3rd in the center, and the 2nd Battalion, 162nd Infantry, on the south. The latter unit was to look for trails over the ridge to Parai and was to be ready to cross the ridge to the south upon order from Colonel Newman. The 2nd Battalion, 186th Infantry (less Company F), was to assist the engineers and the 41st Quartermaster Company to move supplies forward. Company F was to be regimental reserve.

The reinforced regiment moved off on schedule, but progress was painfully slow. The road over the plateau deteriorated into a mere footpath, the high scrub growth limited visibility to ten yards, and no landmarks, not even the main ridge along the coast, could be seen from the flat inland plain. Again, no water could be found, although the engineers tried blasting for wells. The 2nd Battalion, 186th Infantry, brought a few supplies forward by hand, and the engineers worked feverishly to extend the road behind the forward troops so that wheeled vehicles could be sent westward: The 2nd Battalion, 162nd Infantry, was unable to find any trails over the ridge to the south. Neither that unit nor the 186th Infantry suffered any battle casualties during the day. The 1st Battalion, 222nd Infantry, had disappeared. Only three Japanese were killed and but few more had been sighted. At 1500 all units began digging in at a point a good half mile short of their objective.

General Fuller instructed the 186th Infantry to send one battalion over the main ridge between Mokmer and Parai on 4 June. The battalion, once over the ridge, was to advance east along the coastal road to take from the rear enemy positions which had been holding up the 162nd Infantry’s advance westward from Ibdi. Colonel Newman replied that all trails leading south from his regiment’s night position had been thoroughly investigated and that none led over the main ridge, the north side of which was precipitous and thus impossible for a large body of men to scale. The regimental commander’s own plan was to move west and slightly north from his night position to find a crossing over the main ridge at some point northeast of Mokmer Drome. One element of his command he planned to send southwest to the bend of the main ridge behind Mokmer village, whence it was to patrol northwest along the ridge toward the rest of the regiment.

Before this disagreement was resolved, General Fuller was prompted to change his orders on the basis of information received from ALAMO Force and aerial reconnaissance indicating that the Japanese were about to attack Biak from the sea. The night of 3-4 June proved quiet in the 186th Infantry’s area, but the next morning’s advance was delayed until supplies and water arrived from Bosnek. Then, about 1000, just as the regiment was starting forward, General Fuller instructed it to hold its positions pending the outcome of the possible Japanese attack. The 186th Infantry there-fore limited its operations to patrolling during which no enemy troops were located. Colonel Newman’s plan for the 5th of June entailed sending three battalions forward toward the north-south section of the main ridge northwest of Mokmer village.

The three units were to halt about 500 yards from the base of the ridge while one company pushed on to find a route up the high ground. As soon as the company’s mission was accomplished, a battalion was to follow it to the ridge top and secure the crossing point. From the crossing, patrols were to be sent north and south along the main ridge.

The 2nd Battalion, 186th Infantry, was to remain in reserve, ready to reinforce any of the three leading battalions or to bring supplies forward. The 121st Field Artillery Battalion, which had already displaced westward once from the surveyed drome, was to move forward again on the 5th. Late at night on 4 June, the threat of Japanese attack from the sea having passed, the G-3 Section of Headquarters, HURRICANE Task Force, gave Colonel Newman permission to execute his plan. Warned by the regimental commander that it was important to secure a foothold on the ridge before the Japanese could deny it to the 186th Infantry, the three assault battalions started westward about 0800 on 5 June. Lack of water again slowed the advance.

No water had been received in the forward area since the morning of the 4th, and Colonel Newman had ordered the troops westward against the advice of his staff and battalion commanders. About noon, however, a heavy rain fell. The regimental commander ordered all troops to halt, catch the rain in ponchos, and fill their canteens. “Had it not been for this lucky break, we would undoubtedly have had to halt in midafternoon.” As events turned out, no Japanese opposition was encountered, and by 1500 the 3rd Battalion, 186th Infantry, was within 500 yards of the main ridge. The 1st Platoon of Company K was sent forward and found a rough approach to the ridge top. Following this route, the entire 3rd Battalion moved up the ridge and dug in for the night. Through the thick jungle growth atop the ridge, the men of the 3rd Battalion could catch occasional glimpses of Mokmer Drome, 2,500 yards to the southwest.

The 2nd Battalion, 186th Infantry (less Companies F and G), moved up to the base of the ridge below the 3rd Battalion to protect the latter’s rear. The 1st Battalion bivouacked near the base of the ridge about 700 yards south of the 2nd, while the 2nd Battalion, 162nd Infantry, remained in the flats 700 yards to the southeast. Company F, 186th Infantry, was placed astride the supply road, 1,000 yards east of the rest of the 2nd Battalion, in order to protect the line of communications. Company B, 116th Engineers, harassed by occasional Japanese rifle fire but protected by Company G, 186th Infantry, labored far into the night to extend the supply road westward to each battalion perimeter. The 121st Field Artillery moved forward again during the afternoon and took up new firing positions about 3,500 yards east of the ridge.

To the Beach

Before his men could start the planned ridge-clearing maneuvers on the morning of 6 June, Colonel Newman received a telephone call from General Fuller which forced the 186th Infantry commander to change his plans. The task force commander ordered the 186th Infantry to seize Mokmer Drome and a beachhead on the coast directly south of that strip. Neither Colonel Newman nor the Assistant Division Commander, Brigadier General Jens A. Doe, liked this plan, for they considered it more important to secure the dominating terrain north and northwest of the airfield before seizing the strip. Colonel Newman put it later: “I objected very strenuously to this plan and told [General Fuller] of my prior planning. However, I was overruled.” But General Fuller was anxious to seize at least one of the airstrips—and according to plans Mokmer Drome was to be the first developed—as soon as possible and, in fact, he was under pressure from General Krueger to do so. His orders stood.

The 186th Infantry’s right flank was to be protected during the move to the airfields by Fifth Air Force aircraft strikes against the Borokoe Drome area, while the 163rd Infantry was to safeguard the line of communications back through the inland flats. As soon as the 186th Infantry secured a beachhead at Mokmer Drome, tanks and general supplies would be sent overwater from Bosnek in preparation for subsequent advances to Borokoe and Sorido Dromes.

Throughout the morning of 6 June the 186th Infantry directed most of its efforts to bringing supplies up to the forward units. Almost the entire 2nd Battalion was engaged in hand-carrying supplies to the 3rd Battalion atop the ridge, while the latter unit sent patrols toward Mokmer Drome seeking good routes of approach to that objective. About noon Colonel Newman reported to task force headquarters that no good route had been found and that supplies, especially the ever-needed water, had not been brought forward in sufficient quantities to allow a regimental attack to be launched that day, and he therefore recommended that the attack be postponed until 7 June. General Fuller approved this suggestion.

About 1430 on 6 June, 3rd Battalion patrols finally found a reasonably good trail leading toward Mokmer Drome and, about the same time, water arrived at the forward area after the long trip overland from Bosnek. At 1500 the 3rd Battalion, followed by the 1st, began moving down the west side of the main ridge to take up positions along a line of departure for the next morning’s attack. The 2nd Battalion, 162nd Infantry, was to follow the first two closely, and the 2nd Battalion, 186th Infantry, was to bring up the rear, after carrying supplies to the top of the ridge. The Cannon, Service, and Headquarters Companies were to aid the 2nd Battalion and were to move with it to Mokmer Drome. The 12th Portable Surgical Hospital (which had been accompanying the 186th Infantry), the Antitank Company, the 121st Field Artillery Battalion, and the regimental trains were to move back to Bosnek. Thence they were to move either along the coastal road or overwater to rejoin the regiment at Mokmer Drome.

In preparation for the infantry attack on 7 June, a thirty-minute artillery concentration began at 0700 that morning. The 146th, 205th, and 947th Field Artillery Battalions, from positions along the coast to the east, were registered on targets in the airfield area ready to support the advance, but most of the firing was undertaken by the 121st Field Artillery from its location behind the 186th Infantry. While the artillery fired on Mokmer Drome and along the low ridge between that field and the 186th Infantry, Fifth Air Force bombers attacked the Borokoe Drome area and also struck some targets along the low ridge. The two assault battalions jumped off at 0730, and by 0850 both had crossed Mokmer Drome and had reached the beach. Neither had encountered any resistance. The 2nd Battalion of the 162nd Infantry arrived at the shore about 0930. The 2nd Battalion, 186th Infantry, together with the Cannon, Service, and Headquarters Companies of the same regiment, all hand-carrying supplies and water, began moving south from their night positions at 0915. All closed at the beach before noon.

When, on 5 June, the 186th Infantry had reached the crest of the main coastal ridge, it had been on the left rear of the Japanese defenses on the low ridge and terraces above Mokmer Drome. Thus, the regiment had been in a favorable position to take these defenses from the rear. But in its move to the airfield, the 186th Infantry had bypassed the Biak Detachment’s principal defensive positions. The bypassing had not been intentional. Colonel Newman had instructed both leading battalions to halt on the low ridge, reconnoiter along it in both directions, and report on Japanese defenses before moving on. According to Colonel Newman: “I received a negative report from both [battalions], and ordered the movement to the airdrome. Evidently, the right [battalion had] failed in this patrolling effort.”

As a result of the failure of reconnaissance on 6 and 7 June to discover the Japanese positions, the 186th Infantry had lost a grand opportunity to outflank the Japanese. Indeed, had even one battalion halted on the low ridge, the story of later operations in the Mokmer Drome area would probably have been far different. Instead, when it reached the beach on the 7th and turned around, the 186th Infantry found itself facing the Biak Detachment’s strongest defenses. As fate would have it, the attacker had placed himself where the defender most wanted him to be. This was soon to become obvious.

No fire had been received by the 186th Infantry from the Japanese ridge and terrace positions during the advance south to the beach, nor had any fire come from the Japanese in the East Caves area, the source of trouble to the 162nd Infantry during the first, abortive attempt to seize Mokmer Drome. But suddenly, about 0945 on the 7th, the entire Mokmer Drome area was subjected to Japanese artillery, antiaircraft, mortar, and automatic weapons fire from the northwest, north, northeast, and east.

This fire, coming from emplacements which were well-camouflaged, concealed in dense scrub growth, or protected in defilade or caves, continued for about four hours. Almost all the HURRICANE Task Force’s artillery was called upon to fire on known or suspected Japanese installations in the area, while the 186th Infantry’s mortars blasted away whenever a Japanese gun flash disclosed the location of a position. Japanese mortar and 20-mm. fire from the area of the East Caves was especially troublesome, for the task force’s artillery could not reach those weapons. From the northwest, along the low ridge beyond the West Caves, came 75-mm. artillery or dual-purpose antiaircraft artillery fire, the point of origin of which could not be located.

The 121st Field Artillery fired over 2,000 rounds during the 7th, and it adjusted fire for the 205th and 947th Field Artillery Battalions, also engaged in the counterbattery fire. Late in the afternoon it was estimated that the Japanese fire had been decreased by about 40 percent. At least six enemy gun positions had been silenced and mortar fire had become lighter. Before dark the Japanese, apparently feeling that they had received enough counter-fire, began moving to new locations most of the mobile weapons they had emplaced north of the airdrome. Indications were that HURRICANE Task Force artillery would probably be called upon for heavy concentrations again on the 8th.

Meanwhile, the 186th Infantry had completed occupation of the airdrome area and had organized the beachhead, flushing a few Japanese from small caves along the shore line. It had been planned that the 2nd Battalion, 162nd Infantry, would push east from the airfields to aid its parent regiment to eliminate Japanese resistance at the Parai Defile. However, Japanese in the East Caves covered the road from Mokmer Drome to Parai with automatic weapons fire. Colonel Newman therefore recommended to Headquarters, HURRICANE Task Force, that the 162nd Infantry’s battalion remain in place until this fire could be reduced. He pointed out, moreover, that the 186th Infantry did not have enough rations or ammunition to supply such an attack. General Fuller approved this recommendation and the battalion remained at the Mokmer Drome beachhead for the night.

By evening of the 7th, it had become impracticable to supply the 186th Infantry over the inland plateau road, which ended on the east side of the main ridge. From that point all supplies would have to be hand-carried to Mokmer Drome, and supply parties would be endangered by Japanese patrols, a few of which moved in behind the 186th Infantry as the regiment moved to the beach. Overwater supply appeared easier, and the main supply line was therefore changed to a water route which ran from Bosnek to the village of Sboeria, located on the beach south of Mokmer Drome.

The first attempt to run supplies over this water route was undertaken during the late afternoon of 7 June by three LCM’s and a few LCV’s, each of the former carrying a Sherman tank. These craft were supported by an antiaircraft LCM and an LCS, and all were manned by the 542nd Engineer Boat and Shore Regiment. As the first boats approached the shore they were greeted by machine gun and rifle fire from Japanese whom the 186th Infantry had not yet cleaned out of caves along the water line in front of Mokmer Drome. The small craft returned the fire, but were finally forced to withdraw. The 186th Infantry, according to Colonel Newman, was “glad to see them withdraw since they had our troops running for cover.”

At 1400 another attempt was made to land supplies at Sboeria. The three LCM’s managed to put their tanks ashore in the face of continuing Japanese fire, but accompanying LCT’s were driven off by Japanese artillery. Two of the LCM’s were so damaged by enemy fire that they could not fully retract their ramps and had to proceed the nine and a half miles back to Bosnek in reverse. Plans were made to effect all delivery of supplies and evacuation of casualties at night until the enemy fire on the Sboeria beachhead could be neutralized.

The tanks which had been landed lumbered along the shore road fronting Mokmer Drome, destroying several small bunkers along the beach. Then they wheeled toward the low ridge north of the airfield, taking under fire a Japanese 75-mm. mountain gun and a 20-mm. piece which had opposed their landing. These two weapons were silenced. Moving cautiously northwestward from the field along a road which crossed the low ridge, the tanks destroyed two large pillboxes. By the time this operation was completed, dusk was approaching, and the tanks returned to the beach to bivouac with the 186th Infantry.

The regiment dug in along a semicircular perimeter. The 3rd Battalion was on the western edge of Sboeria, extending from the beach to the south side of the airfield, while the 1st Battalion occupied a similar line east of Sboeria. The 2nd Battalion, 186th Infantry, and the 2nd Battalion, 162nd Infantry, were between the first two, but on the north side of the field. As night fell, the enemy fire slackened and a count could be made of casualties. It was found that the day’s operations had cost 14 men killed and 68 wounded, almost all as a result of Japanese artillery and mortar fire.

During the night of 7-8 June more badly needed supplies were brought forward to Sboeria by small craft of the 542nd Engineer Boat and Shore Regiment in an operation concerning which widely different stories are told. According to the engineers’ reports, no one from the 186th Infantry was on hand at the beach when, about 2330, a convoy of 1 LCS, 14 LCV’s, and 8 LVT’s arrived at Sboeria. After waiting almost half an hour for unloading aid, the engineers transferred the LCV cargo to LVT’s which pushed ashore and finally found some representatives of the 186th Infantry, who were eagerly awaiting the rations and ammunition.

The commander of the 186th Infantry tells a different tale: I personally was at the beach, with my S-4. . . . We had given Division Headquarters flashlight recognition signals, but evidently these were probably not communicated to the boat group commander. . . . They [the boats] did not reply to our signals and proceeded on down the coast before returning and sending in the LVTs. Failure to properly coordinate signals and over caution on the part of the boat commanders was apparently responsible. . . .Whatever the case, the welcome supplies were put ashore, and the LVT’s returned to Bosnek with the most seriously wounded men of the 186th Infantry.

Thus, by daybreak on 8 June, the 186th Infantry was firmly established on Mokmer Drome, and, despite difficulties incident to moving supplies forward by water from Bosnek, it was obvious that the regiment could be supplied. The first of the three Japanese airfields on the southeast shore of Biak had been seized, but the area north of the airfield had not yet been secured. Until it was, Mokmer Drome could not be repaired and Allied planes could not use the field.

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

World War Two: Biak: Frustration at Mokmer Drome (AP-14)

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