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

Problems and Plans: With the Fifth Army in firm possession of lodgment, Operation AVALANCHE moved into its second phase: the capture of Naples. Once captured and transformed into a logistical base, Naples would have to be made secure. This the Fifth Army would do by advancing twenty-five miles beyond Naples to the Volturno River, which was far enough beyond the city to provide protection against hostile attack, infiltration, artillery fire, and raids.! Before the invasion, Allied planners had given some thought to the idea of capturing Naples by driving across the Italian peninsula from the heel, a maneuver the road net would have facilitated. But now the Fifth and Eighth Armies, co-ordinated by the 15th Army Group, would move up the boot of Italy abreast, their first objectives, respectively, Naples and the airfields around Foggia.

As early as 17 September, when General Alexander suspected the impending German withdrawal from the Salerno beachhead, he passed along some thoughts to guide his subordinate commanders on future operations. His ideas differed from those advanced by Allied planners a month before the invasion.

Then, the Allies had expected the Germans to hold tenaciously to Naples and Foggia. But now Alexander guessed that they would be unable to retain Naples for long because of their need to withdraw to the north to shorten their lines of communication. Nor would they, he estimated, be able to preserve control over Foggia because of their lack of strength in Apulia. Thus, General Clark and General Montgomery could start immediately toward their objectives, even though a pause would probably occur somewhere in the process to allow bringing up additional supplies and troops necessary to complete the advances.

While Fifth Army was bringing the battle of Salerno to a close, Eighth Army was consolidating its forces along the eastern shore of the peninsula. When the 1st British Airborne Division, ashore at Taranto on 9 September and beyond Bari two days later, made contact on its left with the 1st Canadian Division coming up from Calabria, the meeting represented the first step in bringing together the SLAPSTICK and BAYTOWN troops. The 5 Corps headquarters came ashore at Taranto on 18 September and made ready to receive at Bari both the 78th British Division, expected from Sicily in the next few days, and the 8th Indian Division, due to arrive from Egypt in the next few weeks. By 19 September, the 13 Corps had the 1st Canadian and 5th Divisions moving into the Auletta and Potenza areas and coming abreast of the Fifth U.S. Army.

Although only about 8,000 men of the 1st Parachute (Fallschirmjäger) opposed Eighth Army on the approaches to Foggia, Montgomery was unable to advance rapidly. The distance of his units from the Calabrian ports of Reggio and Crotone caused him serious logistical problems, and the tasks of switching his logistical base from Calabria to the Adriatic ports and of regrouping his forces required time.

General Montgomery organized his immediate operations into two parts. He would capture the Foggia airfields, then cover them by seizing ground about forty miles beyond-the hills north and west of the Foggia plain and the lateral Vinchiaturo-Termoli road running along the Biferno River. These operations would get under way in the last days of September. The Germans, for their part, were reexamining their original strategy of delaying the Allies in southern and central Italy until they could construct a strong defensive line in the Northern Apennines.

In consonance with the original concept, Kesselring, on the day after the Salerno landings, had drawn on a map a series of successive lines across the Italian peninsula suitable as delaying positions. A few days later, having mastered his temporary difficulties with the Italians around Rome, he began to consider the possibility of going over to the defensive altogether somewhere south of Rome. One of the lines he had drawn was through Mignano, about fifty miles north of Naples and ninety miles south of Rome; this line, sometimes called the Reinhard Line, more often referred to as the Bernhard Line, offered excellent ground for defensive works. A dozen miles north of Mignano, the terrain around Cassino, to be known as the Gustav Line, provided an even better prospect for prolonged defense. If Tenth Army could gain enough time for Kesselring to construct fortifications along these lines, Kesselring might be able to halt the Allies far below the Northern Apennine position. Fighting the Allied forces below Rome had certain obvious strategic and tactical advantages. In addition, it would preserve the integrity and independence of Kesselring’s command, for otherwise his forces would go under Rommel. The final decision on whether to defend below Rome rested, of course. with Hitler. Until he made his decision, the original plan of withdrawal remained in effect. Instructing Vietinghoff to retire slowly to the Volturno River, Kesselring directed him to hold there until at least 15 October in order to allow time to construct defensive positions on the next line farther to the north.

Withdrawing to any defensive line across the entire Italian mainland meant that Vietinghoff had to bring the 1st (Fallschirmjäger) Parachute Division north to align it with the troops on the west coast. Since OKW refused to release troops from northern Italy to reinforce the paratroopers in the Foggia area, he instructed Heidrich, the division commander, to fight a nominal delaying action as he withdrew. The first good line on which to anchor a withdrawal even temporarily was the Biferno River, just north of Foggia.

More ticklish was the job of withdrawing from close contact with the Allied divisions in the Salerno beachhead. Not only did Vietinghoff have to break off operations without exposing himself to immediate pursuit, but in accordance with Kesselring’s order he had to withdraw very slowly. At the same time, he had to extend his front across the Italian mainland to link up with the 1st Parachute (Fallschirmjäger) Division. Vietinghoff settled the conduct of these operations on 17 September. Estimating that the dispersal of the Eighth Army had left Montgomery incapable of exerting strong pressure for several days, he decided to retain the bulk of his strength on the right (west) opposite the Fifth Army. These right flank forces, holding the Sorrento peninsula as pivot for a wheeling withdrawal, would enable him to evacuate the large supply dumps in and around Naples and to destroy the harbor and supply installations useful to the Allies.

As Vietinghoff planned to deploy his units under the XIV Panzer Corps to the west and the LXXVI Panzer Corps to the east, the 29th Panzer Grenadier Division began to disengage on 17 September for withdrawal northeast and north behind strong rear guards. The 26th Panzer Division broke contact with the Allies two days later and fell back to the north from the Battipaglia area, also leaving strong rear guard forces. By the end of September, these two divisions, along with the 1st Parachute (Fallschirmjäger) Division, would be under the LXXVI Panzer Corps in the eastern part of the Italian peninsula.

The task of defending the pivot area devolved upon the XIV Panzer Corps, more specifically on the Hermann Gӧring Division, which controlled units of the 3rd and 15th Panzer Grenadier Divisions and two battalions of the 1st Parachute (Fallschirmjäger) Division. Vietinghoff transferred

the 15th Panzer Grenadier Division to the western portion of the Volturno line, not only to start constructing defensive positions but also to guard against Allied amphibious operations along the coast. He assembled the 16th Panzer Division, whose units were mixed with all the other divisions in the Salerno area, and sent it to the Volturno to prepare defenses in the difficult hill terrain near Capua.

For the conduct of operations between the Salerno beachhead and the Volturno River, Vietinghoff designated intermediate defensive lines and dates to denote the minimum time they were to be held by rear guard forces. Since the major task was to begin building field fortifications along the Volturno, he ordered that the Allied advance be delayed by a methodical destruction of all the lines of communication leading to the river. Kesselring was more than specific on the destruction he wanted. He directed Tenth Army to evacuate all rolling stock, trucks, buses, automobiles, and cables, and to dismantle and evacuate the war industry installations, including those manufacturing tools, typewriters, and accounting machines. The troops were to spare historic buildings, museums, churches, monasteries, and hospitals.

They were to demolish railroad sections, power plants, bridges, switch points, and water lines; to mine bridge approaches and roads; to destroy all transportation and communications facilities that could not be moved-harbor installations, docks and moles, radio and meteorological stations-water supplies and reservoirs, food supplies and storage centers, canning plants, breweries, and distilleries. Kesselring promised to send some demolition experts to help in the destruction, but if there were not enough to do the entire job, the army was to do the best it could.

The German intention to withdraw was apparent to Fifth Army intelligence officers, who noted the enemy “entrenching north of River Volturno and west of Capua.” The Allies expected the Germans to withdraw by pivoting on Salerno; to hold firm in the areas north of Salerno and Vietri; and to be well dug in near Nocera in order to block the road to Avellino and Foggia. Although strong opposition had been anticipated on the direct approaches to Naples, air reconnaissance reports indicated extremely heavy traffic going north into the interior. Of the different courses the enemy might adopt, it seemed most likely that he would choose to delay the Allied advance by what was termed “offensive-defensive tactics” at various locations. The pattern of motor movements, the German dislike of giving up ground, and a critical need for troops in other areas, which made reinforcement of southern Italy seem impractical, bolstered the Allied estimate.

Hoping for an opportunity to seize Naples quickly-for example, should the enemy front collapse suddenly, or the Allies make a decisive breakthrough General Clark had held a regimental task force of the 36th Division in readiness for a swift thrust on the right flank to Benevento, thirty miles north of Salerno. This giant step was designed to outflank Naples and cut the communications east of the city while avoiding a fight through the narrow, readily defended passes of the Sorrento ridge. But almost from the first it became all too apparent that the Fifth Army drive north from Salerno was destined to be slow.

General Clark called a conference of major commanders and key staff officers on 18 September to discuss future plans. All were soon agreed that the few available roads dictated in large measure what Fifth Army could do. The 10 Corps would have to fight through the two major mountain passes to the Naples plain, where General McCreery might commit armor to capture Naples and drive north to the Volturno. The VI Corps would have to make a flanking movement through the mountains on the right, use the two roads in its zone to cut the east-west highway, Route 7, from Naples through Avellino to Teora, and keep contact with Eighth Army on the right.

This was what General Clark ordered. Placing the 82nd Airborne and 36th Divisions in army reserve, the 36th prepared for commitment, if necessary, against Naples, he instructed the 10 Corps to make the main effort to secure the Vietri-Nocera and Salerno-San Severino passes and push on to the plain for a drive on Naples, while the VI Corps plunged into the interior with two divisions to seize the Ave Uino-Montemarano-Teora line. General Alexander imposed one restriction: Fifth Army was to keep its right flank in close touch with the Eighth Army. The rate of the British army advance would thus determine in part the speed of American progress.

The Flanking March

The new VI Corps operation started on 20 September, when General Middleton’s 45th Division on the right, already through Eboli , moved toward Oliveto, ten miles away, and General Truscott’s 3rd Division began to move through Battipaglia toward Acerno, a dozen miles distant. On that day Major General John P. Lucas took command of the VI Corps. He had commanded the 3rd Division at Fort Lewis, Washington, had been a War Department observer in North Africa early in 1943, and had commanded III Corps at fort McPherson, Georgia. In May 1943, sent by General Marshall to North Africa again , this time to help General Eisenhower keep in touch with the com bat troops, General Lucas became in Eisenhower’s words, his “American Deputy.” Characterized by Marshall as having “military stature, prestige, and experience,” Lucas in early September replaced General Bradley as commander of II Corps in Sicily. From there he went to the Salerno beachhead.

General Lucas was a firm believer in making maximum use of artillery to speed his advance and reduce American casualties. But artillery could not solve his problems north of Salerno. The German delaying forces proved elusive in the mountainous terrain of the VI Corps zone, ground penetrated only by secondary roads with steep grades, innumerable switchbacks, and bridges difficult to bypass. Although resistance was not always strong or stubborn, the German delaying action was exceptionally well organized. Machine guns and small artillery emplacements were cleverly concealed, and units in the rear and on higher ground protected them by small arms fire. To advance, American infantry had to work slowly up the slopes and outflank the rear guard detachments.

By then the Germans had usually broken contact and withdrawn to the next prepared delaying position. The 3rd and 40th Divisions on 21 September ran into opposition that held up their advance guards for a day. A destroyed bridge covered by riflemen and machine gunners stationed on the opposite side of a gorge stopped the 3rd Division just south of Acerno. and it took cross-country marches through the mountains for the leading regiment to disperse the enemy and occupy the town. Similarly, before the advance regiment of the 15th Division could take Oliveto, it had to outflank positions defending the town and mount an organized assault.

Relying heavily on demolitions to delay the Americans, the Germans destroyed more than twenty-five bridges between Paestum and Oliveto. To repair the bridges or construct bypasses was time consuming, even with the invaluable Bailey bridge-“a knock-down steel bridge Which is put together like a boy’s E rector Set and is then pushed out across the span to be bridged.” Any hope for a rapid advance soon faded, although the engineers, on whom a great part of the burden of the advance fell, performed epic feats. “There was no weapon more valuable than the engineer bulldozer,” 2nd Lieutenant Ernest Childers, though he had fractured his instep, led eight men up a hill near Oliveto toward two German machine gun positions; while his men covered his advance, he crawled to one and destroyed it with a grenade, then crawled to the other, where he threw rocks until the gunners raised their heads. whereupon he killed them with rifle fire. Corporal James D. Slaton, lead scout of an infantry squad. eliminated three machine gun positions with bayonet, rifle fire. and a grenade. There by making it possible for two assault platoons to advance to objectives near Oliveto. Both Childers and Slaton were awarded the “Medal of Honor.” General Truscott later wrote, “no soldiers more effective than the engineerswho moved us forward.”

The American mechanized forces for the most part fought the terrain rather than the enemy. The high, steep banks along the narrow roads prevented proper deployment of vehicles; canals, irrigation ditches, and streams hindered movement; thick foliage impeded visibility; and debris from shelled buildings blocked the narrow streets in the villages. As a result, the artillery, tank destroyers, and tanks were often a liability rather than an asset.

Battle became a matter of infantry maneuver by small units operating with a minimum of support. The normal method of advance was by regiment, along a road, with a small advance party on foot accompanied by a few vehicles transporting weapons, ammunition, and communications. The troops brushed aside light resistance. When halted by larger forces, usually defending at an obstruction, for example a demolished bridge, the regiment kept one battalion on the axis of advance to maintain contact and protect the deployment of artillery, while the other battalions took to the hills to outflank the enemy position.

When the enemy was dispersed and the site was clear of small arms fire, engineers removed any other obstacles and built a bypass or repaired the bridge. The advance then began again, generally with another regiment taking the lead.

It was difficult for some to understand why progress was so slow. Air force commanders, for example, were impatient because they wanted to establish air units on the fields in the Naples area. General Clark also showed impatience, for he looked to VI Corps to outflank Naples and loosen the German hold on the port area. “Absolutely essential,” he told General Lucas on 24 September, “that they [Middleton and Truscott] continue full speed ahead in order to influence decisively our attack on Naples.” Not much could be done. The same problems hampered progress beyond Ceerno and Oliveto on the roads, respectively, to Montemarano and Teora. The terrain channeled mechanized movements to the few narrow roads. Bridging material became critically short. The delaying actions of only a few German detachments slowed the advance out of all proportion to the number of German troops actually involved. The additional requirement imposed on the 45th Division, to keep contact on the right with the Eighth Army, also retarded the advance by making necessary extensive patrolling on the flank.

Keeping supplies flowing to the front became a nightmare. For example, in advancing beyond Acerno, the 3rd Division had two regiments in column, the leading one attacking along the road, while the men of the third regiment moved on foot across trackless mountains. To keep the third regiment supplied with food and ammunition, General Truscott had his engineers cut a trail for pack animals, no mean achievement. Fortunately, the division had formed a provisional pack train in Sicily and had brought its mules and drivers to the mainland.

When it was apparent that mules would be necessary to insure supply movements, General Clark began to look into the possibility of obtaining pack animals for the other Fifth Army divisions, which required a minimum of 1,000 animals. Only a few were available [rom local sources and from Sicily and North Africa. As divisions scoured the countryside for enough animals to organize pack train units of 300 to 500 beasts per division, corps and army headquarters requested overseas shipments from the United States. Equipment and feed for the animals were additional requirements hard to come by. Within a month, however, even though the Germans had slaughtered mules they could not take with them, each Fifth Army division had acquired a collection of nondescript beasts of burden, as well as gear of all descriptions-shoes, nails, halters, and saddles. Soldiers who knew how to take care of the animals became precious assets.

From the vantage point of the corps headquarters, General Lucas thought operations were going well-so well that he looked forward to fighting in more open country where he could use tanks. He found the dust on the roads a “terrible problem,” but probably, he philosophized, no worse than rain and mud.

Part of the 34th Division was becoming available for commitment between the 3rd and 45th Divisions, but Lucas was unable to see how he could possibly employ additional troops-how could he supply two divisions over one available road?

General Lucas’ outlook suddenly changed on 26 September-“everything has gone to hell,” he wrote in his diary. The road in front of the 3rd Division was blocked by three destroyed bridges, one go feet long, one 85 feet long, the third 125 feet long. Yet here too Lucas could see the silver lining-at least the infantry would get some rest while engineers repaired the damage.

General Clark visited General Lucas on the morning of 26 September to tell him he wanted Avellino. About twenty miles north of Salerno and twenty-five miles east of Naples, Avellino was on the main Foggia-Naples road. Seizure of Avellino, which Lucas called “the key to the situation,” would threaten to outflank the German defenders of Naples.

Since the 3rd Division would have to fight across roadless mountains to get to Avellino, Lucas tried to get part of the 34th Division forward. If the 133rd Infantry, which was ashore in its entirety, could reach the front that night, perhaps it could get within immediate striking distance of Avellino. And that, as Lucas understood the situation, would take the pressure off the British who were attacking through the Sorrento ridge and “seem rather badly stuck.”

The 34th Division commander, General Ryder, had lunch with General Lucas on the 26th and they discussed the complicated arrangements required to move the 133rd Infantry forward. The regiment, using only blackout lights, would have to travel over a narrow mountain road on a dark night, through thick dust, while supply trucks were using the same road to go in the opposite direction; it would then have to pass through the 45th Division. If the 133rd Infantry could reach Montemarano, the regiment could drive west along the main road toward Avellino and not only help the 3rd Division but also begin to threaten Naples from the east. What made the attempt particularly worthwhile was the fact that the 3rd and 45th Divisions had that day temporarily lost contact with the withdrawing Germans.

On the night of the 26th, despite a heavy rain that washed out several of the mountain bridges engineers had so laboriously constructed and also carried dirt and rocks down the mountains and across the roads in many places, the 133rd Infantry moved in seventy 2-1/2-ton trucks to an assembly area not far from Montemarano. One of the units in the regiment was the 100th Infantry Battalion, composed originally of Japanese Americans from Hawaii; it had replaced the 2nd Battalion of the 133rd Infantry, which remained in Algiers as AFHQ security guard.

While the regiment prepared on 27 September for commitment, the 45th and 3rd Divisions inched painfully forward over difficult ground to get into position for a converging attack on Avellino. To help the engineers, who were nearing exhaustion, General Lucas dispatched corps engineers to the division area. And to insure a flow of supply to the combat troops because he feared that more rain might wash out more bridges, he moved supply dumps well forward, far closer to the front than normal. On the immediate approaches to Avellino, the VI Corps re-established contact with the Germans on 28 September. The 3rd Division and 133rd Infantry prepared to assault the German defenses blocking entrance into the town. But when “it rained like hell all night,” the plans went awry. The roads became impassable. “Am running this thing on a shoestring,” General Lucas wrote in his diary, “and a thin little shoestring at that.”

When on 29 September General Alexander removed the restriction that had held the advance of the Fifth Army right flank to the progress of Montgomery’s Eighth Army, he gave General Clark another objective. “You should get Benevento early,” the army group commander directed. This objective, about fifteen miles north of Avellino, changed General Lucas’ plans. Sending the 3rd Division alone against Avellino, Lucas ordered the 133rd Infantry to cut the Avellino-Benevento highway and sent the 45th Division directly against Benevento itself.

While the 133rd Infantry and the 45th Division drove generally north, the 3rd Division on 30 September took Avellino, then turned westward toward 10 Corps. Truscott’s troops had just come through sixty miles of mountainous terrain and the men were tired, “but there can be no stopping to rest now.” German opposition was extremely light, sometimes nonexistent, evidence that the Germans were again retiring. Their hold on Naples had been loosened. and before they could dig in on new defenses, they had to be driven to the Volturno River.

The Main Effort

The main effort against Naples was carried by the British 10 Corps, which made a 2-day shift of forces to the left to mark the transition from the battle of the Salerno beachhead to the drive on Naples. By moving the 46th Division to Vietri and the 56th Division to Salerno, General McCreery relinquished the Battipaglia-Eboli area to the VI Corps and permitted the Americans to come abreast and start their flanking march through the mountains. He also placed his infantry divisions in position to attack through the two major passes of the Sorrento hill mass-the Vietri-Nocera and Salerno-San Severino roads. Once the infantry divisions were through the Sorrento barrier and on the Naples plain, he hoped to pass the 7th Armoured Division through the 46th at Nocera for the final strike toward NapIes. The U.S. Rangers on the left were to assist.

General McCreery had looked for a quick way of getting through the high ground of the Sorrento peninsula when the Germans retired from the Battipaglia area on 18 September and air reconnaissance showed definite German movement to the north. He thought he might be able to send the Rangers through a third and smaller pass, the Maiori-Pagani road through the Chiunzi pass. If the Rangers could secure Pagani, a suburb of Nocera, and could hold dominating ground nearby. they might open the Vietri pass for the 46th Division. With this in mind, McCreery attached to Darby’s command a mobile regimental force, the 2nd Armoured Brigade, which was to debouch on the plain of Naples for operations in conjunction with the troops emerging from the Nocera defile.

The Rangers had been considerably reinforced even before the attachment of the armored brigade. To the three Ranger battalions had been added a battalion of the 143rd Infantry, a battalion (less a company) of the 325th Glider Infantry, and tank, tank destroyer, artillery, and 4.2-inch mortar elements. On 20 September General Clark further attached to Darby’s command the rest of the glider regiment, a battalion (less a company) of the 504th Parachute Infantry, and additional artillery and signal troops. Darby thus had about 8,500 troops under his command.

Even with these reinforcements, Colonel Darby could only hold the ground he had already seized. Operating from positions over 4,000 feet high, where a good part of the command could do little more than carry rations and ammunition for the others, the Rangers were thinly spread over a large area on the precipitous slopes high above the Gulf of Salerno. Darby’s troops were less than three miles from Castellammare on the Gulf of Naples-on the northern shore of the Sorrento peninsula-but plans to attack and capture this port were shelved because of German strength.

Abandoning his hope for a quick penetration through the Chiunzi pass, General McCreery relied instead on power. The 46th Division would make the main effort on the Vietri-Nocera axis while the 56th Division launched a subsidiary attack along the Salerno-San Severino road and the reinforced Rangers engaged the Germans in the Nocera-Scafati area and reconnoitered river crossings near Scafati. The 7th Armoured Division was to pass through the 46th Division at Nocera and capture high ground near Pagani, earlier designated as a Ranger objective. When Clark talked to McCreery about continuing his advance to the Volturno even as he drove to Naples, he suggested that the Rangers, after helping to seize Naples, could police the city until relieved by the 82nd Airborne Division. which would then be responsible for restoring and maintaining order.

The 10 Corps attack jumped off at first light, 23 September. What happened in one pass had little effect on the action in the others. Only a few miles interposed between lines of departure and emergence onto the plain of Naples, but in the narrow defiles. flanked by steep hillsides. the Germans defended stubbornly. The 56th Division made hardly any progress. The 10th Division with very heavy artillery support. gained less than a mile. The Rangers moved forward very little.

After several days of attack, it became obvious that the 10 Corps would need reinforcement, and General Clark began to move units of the 82nd Airborne Division by truck and by landing craft to the Sorrento peninsula. Except for Company G, 325th Glider Infantry, which was occupying the island of Ischia in the Bay of Naples, the units of General Ridgway’s division in Italy were assembled on 26 September. Ridgway took control of the Rangers and all units attached to them; his forces totaled about 13,000 troops-including 600 Rangers, 1,700 men of the 23rd Armoured Brigade, and supporting personnel. He placed the forces in the eastern part of his division zone under Colonel Darby, the forces in the western part under Colonel James M. Gavin, who commanded the 505th Parachute Infantry. Ridgway’s first report indicated “no substantial contact” with the enemy.

With the mission of helping the 46th Division by seizing dominating ground in the Egidio-Sala area to permit the 23rd Armoured Brigade to debouch on the plain, Ridgway planned to attack on 27 September at dusk, This would give his troops all night to secure a bridgehead across a small mountain stream between Sala and Egidio, prepare bridges and fords, and get am on the plain around Pagani before daylight. If the attack started to move and needed additional impetus, a regiment of the 36th Division. which was being readied by General O’Daniel, was prepared to land at Torre Annunziata, a dozen miles south of Naples.

The amphibious hook proved unnecessary. Vietinghoff, who had established his first line across the Italian mainland, was pulling back to it according to schedule. On the night of 27 September, the 82nd Airborne Division jumped off, making its main effort through the Chiunzi pass. The troops met only light opposition and reached the Maples plain by morning. Their progress helped the 46th Division move three miles, Although the 46th was still several miles short of Nocera, the terrain was such that McCreery could commit the 7th Armoured Division through the infantry. With British tanks then approaching Nocera and American infantry of the VI Corps at this point threatening Vellino, the Germans fell back from San Severino and permitted the 56th Division to advance north from Salerno. On 28 September, the 23rd Armoured Brigade came through the Chiumi pass and made contact with the advance units of the armored division.

General McCreery directed the 7th Armoured Division to drive west and secure bridgeheads across the Sarno River at Scafati. Once across the river, the main body of the armored division, as to skirt Mount Vesuvius on the east and north and drive to the Volturno at Capua while the other elements and the 23rd Armoured Brigade took the coastal road to Naples. If the Germans had left Naples, the smaller force was to skirt the city on the east and drive north along the coast to the Volturno, leaving the occupation of Naples to the 82nd Airborne Division.

Opposition was scattered, but the westward drive toward Scafati and the Sarno River across the Naples plain, which was covered with fruit trees and had many villages, posed its problems. Confined to a single road, the 7th Armoured Division was extended over fifty-five miles. Unable to deploy satisfactorily, the tankers found it difficult to clear the villages and the thickly wooded country. When foliage covered tank turrets, the tankers became virtually blind. Concerned about traffic congestion, particularly at bridges. McCreery warned his commanders to keep their troops well in hand.

Early on 20 September the 7th Armoured Division seized the bridge at Scafati intact, although the other bridges across the Sarno had been destroyed. That day heavy rain and demolitions rather than active enemy opposition held back the armor. In order to bring up the tail of some 7,000 vehicles still in the Salerno area, the division constructed three bridges across the river. The roads, in the words of one report, became “literally packed” with traffic as the corps moved beyond the restricting barrier of the Sorrento hill mass. That evening patrols of the 23rd Armoured Brigade and American paratroopers swept past the ruins of Pompeii and entered Torre Annunziata.

General McCreery had planned to protect his right flank by holding back the 56th Division, once it was through the San Severino pass. But when the VI Corps took Avellino on 20 September and thereby cut the Salerno-Avellino highway, McCreery dispatched the entire division to the north.

A German rear guard held up the advance along the coastal road to Naples on the evening of 20 September but not for long. On the following clay, as opposition melted away, British troops went through the eastern outskirts of Naples and continued up the coastal road to the Volturno. The 82nd Airborne Division moved into Naples on 1 October, followed next day by the Rangers.

After meeting the U.S. 3rd Division on 2 October, the 56th Division swung northwest and together with the 7th Armoured Division, against decreasing resistance, marched through Caserta toward the Volturno River in the Capua area. Tanks and vehicles moved in closely packed columns. Three days later patrols were at the Volturno, and by 7 October the 10 Corps had closed to the river in strength.

By then the VI Corps was also at the Volturno. The 3rd Division had moved through Cancello and Maddaloni and patrols arrived at the river above Capua by 6 October. The 45th Division on 2 October had captured Benevento, which was by then no more than a mass of rubble smelling of the bodies buried under the masonry. Crossing the damaged but usable Benevento bridge that had been seized by the 133rd Infantry, the 45th moved during the next few days toward the river. The 36th Division, having arrived in Italy in entirety, marched to Montesarchio in the rear of the 3rd Division; Lucas hoped to keep its presence hidden for the moment from the Germans.

By the end of the first week of October, the Fifth Army stood at the Volturno, with Naples and its satellite ports captured, the airfields of Capodichino and Pomigliano in hand. Holding a firm base “for further offensive operations,” General Clark hoped to get across the Volturno at once and continue into the next phase of the Italian campaign. When he talked with General Lucas on 3 October about future operations, he expected the 10 Corps to be pulled out soon for assignment to the Eighth Army, while the U.S. II Corps headquarters came from Sicily to operate in the coastal area. Clark decided that the VI Corps would remain in the mountainous interior of Italy: “You know how to fight in the mountains,” he told Lucas. Maybe he did, Lucas observed, but he had had all of it he wanted already.

Naples

Like Garibaldi, the Allies had needed three weeks to get to Naples; one more week and they were at the Volturno, bringing Operation AVALANCHE to an end. The cost of establishing a beachhead at Salerno, which had taken eleven days, of capturing Naples, which had required ten more days, and of advancing to the Volturno was more than 12,000 British and American casualties, of whom approximately 2,000 were killed, 7,000 wounded, and 3,500 missing.

The prize of the operation, the city of Naples, was utterly destroyed. Allied bombing had flattened industrial Naples into a mass of rubble and twisted girders. More systematically, the Germans, too, had taken their toll. They had destroyed or removed all transportation facilities, blasted communications installations, knocked out water and power systems, and broken open sewer mains. They had demolished bridges, mined buildings, fired stockpiles of coal, burned hotels and university buildings, looted the city, ripped lip the port railroads, and choked the harbor with sunken ships and the wreckage of port installations.

It would be no easy task to establish a military base in a shattered city inhabited by hungry, unemployed people. German artillery continued to shell Naples for several days after its capture; half the population of 800,000 had fled into the countryside and those remaining had had little food for nearly ten days. The Allies would need three months to restore city life to conditions approaching normal, somewhat less time to set up a military base.

The task of restoration belonged to the Fifth Army Base Section, which was re-designated at the end of October as the Peninsular Base Section. A logistical command formed to support Fifth Army operations, the base section moved into Naples on 2 October and functioned as an advance communications zone. Although the headquarters had somewhat fewer than 600 men, it eventually directed the administration and operations of more than 33,000 assigned and attached personnel.

AFHQ had provided shipments of food for the civilian population, but in order to get the ships unloaded and the supplies distributed, the city and port had first to be cleaned up. Two engineer regiments, the 540th and 343rd, assisted by Italian laborers, cleared the streets of obstructions at more than two hundred separate locations, mended breaks in the sewers at some fifty places, and repaired the Napoleonic aqueduct, the major source of water for the city. In mid-October three Italian submarines put in and anchored at Naples to give power for pumping water in an ingenious scheme that used a trolley substation as another part of the improvised system.

In the midst of the work, a delayed fuze bomb exploded in the post office around noon, 7 October, killing and injuring about 35 soldiers and an equal number of civilians. Four days later an exploding bomb or mine in an Italian Army barracks occupied by members of the 82nd Airborne Division killed 18 men and injured 50. Beginning on 21 October, a series of German air raids struck the city. Although the air attacks were neither frequent nor particularly severe, they inflicted casualties on both troops and civilians.

By far the largest task was rehabilitating the port, which had sustained the worst destruction. Thirty major wrecks were visible in the Naples harbor, but beneath the surface the hulls of more than a hundred scuttled and sunken ships ranging in size from small harbor craft to large ocean-going liners blocked the wharfs-destroyers, tankers, tugs, sloops, corvettes, trawlers, floating cranes, tank barges. Most of the vessels had been reduced to junk before sinking. On top of them the Germans had piled lighters, cranes, locomotives, trucks, loads of ammunition, oxygen bottles, and small arms. Of seventy-three electric cranes at dockside, only one remained standing and that was badly damaged. Charges exploded under the pier cranes had blown them into the harbor and smashed the quay walls. The piers and wharves had been turned into a mass of twisted steel and debris. Harbor warehouses, grain elevators, office buildings, and railroad facilities had been dynamited into piles of ruin. Huge mountains of coal were burning.

It took three days just to extinguish the fires burning in the piles of coal. Meanwhile, Army engineers cleared passages from the city to the piers, bulldozing alleys to gain access to the port. They repaired railroads and opened truck routes. With dynamite, bulldozer, crane, and shovel, they filled craters, hacked roads through debris, cleared docks, and leveled buildings for storage space. On the fifth day of work, the first engine ran from the railroad yard along the main line of the port to Pier A.

During the same period of time, American and British naval groups were dragging mines and wreckage from the waterways and cleaning the piers to make them accessible from the ocean side. Divers, hampered by thick fuel oil covering the water, floating wreckage, and submerged cranes, worked on the underwater obstacles, while naval salvage crews removed the smaller sunken craft in order to open passageways to berthing spaces for ships waiting outside the harbor to be discharged. Larger vessels that had been scuttled adjacent to piers were left in place, and the piers were extended across the wrecks with steel and wooden bridging to provide eventual berthing for 26 Liberty ships, 0 coasters, and 11 LST’s.

While rehabilitation and restoration continued, a fleet of DUKW’s brought supplies from transports anchored offshore. As early as 3 October, landing craft were docking at berths scattered throughout the port. On 1 October a Liberty ship pulled bow-to against a pier and unloaded front hatches, then backed out, turned, and came in stern first to complete unloading. Not long afterward, berths for Liberty ships, 6 for coasters, and 8 holding berths were opened.

Two weeks after the capture of Naples, the Allies were unloading 3,500 tons of cargo daily at the port, not quite half of the average 8,000 tons discharged per day before the war. By the end of October, with about 600 DUKW’s being used in port operations, Naples was receiving 7,000 tons daily. All American and some British supplies were coming into Naples, while additional items for 10 Corps were being unloaded at the satellite ports of Salerno, Torre Annunziata, and Castellammare. Discharging operations across the Salerno beaches were also providing cargo tonnages. Between 9 September and 1 October, more than 190,000 troops came ashore, around 30,000 vehicles were landed, and about 120,000 tons of supplies were unloaded by an average daily employment of 60 LCT’s, 30 LCM’s, and 150 DUKW’S. This success was achieved despite a violent, 2-day wind and rain storm starting during the night of 27 September, which stopped all unloading. During the storm all the LCI’s and LCVP’s in use, a total of 56, plus 21 LGT’s, 3 LST’s, and a merchant ship were driven ashore; 1 British LST’s, seeking shelter in un-cleared offshore waters were badly damaged by mines; and all of the double pontoon bridge unloading ramps were swamped.

Despite the remarkable and somewhat surprising tonnages un loaded over the beaches, in the satellite pons, and in the restored harbor of Naples, supply levels in the army dumps diminished. Ships at Naples, for example, were bursting with rations, but on 6 October the Fifth Army had only four days’ supply. Millions of cigarettes were awaiting discharge, but troops received only an occasional issue of tobacco. By 12 October, gasoline levels had Sunk to three days’ supply on hand. This condition came about because of the difficulty of transporting supplies to the forward areas. Demolitions at bridges and culverts, an inadequate road network.

and the limited use fullness of the railroads clogged the roads with traffic and overworked the limited number of trucks ashore. Repairing the railroad from Naples to Caserta took longer than anticipated, and not until mid-November was the line opened for traffic along the entire road. The Germans had also destroyed at Naples the petroleum storage tanks that had a capacity of 1 million barrels. They had ripped lip pipelines and turned unloading machinery into a mass of scrap iron. Thus, it was the end of October, after storage tanks capable of holding 100,000 barrels had been repaired, before tankers could unload directly into the storage facilities. Only then could work start on a pipeline from the port to the front.

By the end of October the Peninsular Base Section had rehabilitated the facilities in the Naples area to the extent that Fifth Army could anticipate with confidence firm logistical support for further operations.

Foggia

On the other side of the Italian peninsula, Eighth Army had sent advance elements, with almost no enemy contact, to Foggia. which the Germans had abandoned on 27 September. By 1 October British troops were occupying Foggia and the nearby airfields.

To clear the Germans from the hills north and west of the Foggia plain and to reach the lateral Vinchiatnro-Termoli road near the Biferno River, General Montgomery sent 10 Corps beyond Foggia on a 2-division drive, the 78th Division moving on the coastal road to Termoli. the 1st Canadian Division striking inland through the mountains along the road to Vinchiattlro. The 5 Corps followed, protecting the west flank and the rear.

Since the 1st Parachute Division had withdrawn to the Birerno River. Where the paratroopers dug in, elements of the 78th Division had no trouble until they approached the river and reached the outskirts of Tennoli. There they met serious resistance. Launching a quick amphibious strike to secure the small port of Termoli, General Montgomery dispatched Commando forces, which were ferried by LCI (L) ‘s from Sicily, to the town. The Commandos gained surprise by landing during the night of 2 October and soon captured and cleared Termoli. However, their hold on the beachhead remained somewhat precarious until a brigade of the 78th Division came by water to Termoli on the following night.

The capture of Termoli invalidated the Biferno defensive line, and the enemy reaction was swift. The 16th Panzer Division rushed from the west coast, arrived at Termoli on 4 October, and counterattacked on the 4th, 5th, and 6th, striking not only the Termoli beachhead defenders but also the main British forces coming up the coastal road.

Flood waters of the river interfered with British bridging operations and prevented tanks and heavy supporting weapons from making firm contact with the beachhead. But on 7 October, when an additional brigade of the 78th Division was transported to Termoli by sea, the Germans disengaged and fell back to positions covering the Trigno River, the next natural line of defense. Logistical difficulties prevented an immediate British pursuit.

Meanwhile, after hard fighting in the mountains, the Canadians took Vinchiaturo. A paucity of supplies, particularly of gasoline. prevented further progress. Because the two divisions had advanced on divergent lines, General Montgomery reorganized his front on 9 October.

The 5 Corps took over the coastal area and assumed control not only of the 78th Division but also of the 8th Indian Division, which was assembling in the rear. The 13 Corps operated inland with the 1st Canadian Division and the 5th Division in column. The 2nd New Zealand Division, due to arrive in Taranto by mid-October, Montgomery decided to hold initially in army reserve.

By 11 October, with Eighth Army at Termoli and Vinchiaturo, the Foggia airfields were secure. As the air forces made ready to base heavy bombers on the fields for attacks against targets in Austria, southern Germany. and the Balkans, the invasion of southern Italy came to an end. With the Fifth Army standing at the Volturno River and the Eighth Army able to move beyond the Biferno toward the Trigno River, the Allies were on the Italian mainland to stay. The question of how far to go up the Italian peninsula was unclear debate.

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

World War Two: Italy; Winter Campaign; The Strategy (ISC-3-11)

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

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

Reinforcements for the 186th Infantry – Japanese Reactions to the Westward Advance: During its advance west from the surveyed drome, the 186th Infantry had met little opposition after 2 June. While it is inconceivable that the Biak Detachment had not anticipated the possibility of an American flanking maneuver through the inland plateau, there are many possible explanations for the failure of the Japanese to oppose this movement strongly after the initial battle at the surveyed drome. Colonel Kuzume and General Numata had reason to believe that the Americans might make an amphibious attack at Mokmer Drome.

Small craft of engineer and artillery units attached to the HURRICANE Task Force continuously patrolled along the coast west of Bosnek to Sorido, and Seventh Fleet fire support vessels kept up harassing fires on all known and suspected enemy installations in the airfield area. Therefore, the Biak Detachment kept the 2nd Battalion, 222nd Infantry, and most of the armed service personnel immobilized on the low ridge and terraces north of Mokmer Drome and at the West Caves. Colonel Kuzume’s principal responsibility was the defense of the airfields. While the best defense is usually a good offense and while it is often more sensible to defend an area from a distance, the Biak Detachment had strength neither to launch a large-scale offensive nor to defend every approach to the airfields. The attacks against the 162nd Infantry on 28 and 29 May had resulted in the loss of most of the Biak Detachment’s armor and had cost the 2nd Battalion, 222nd Infantry, many casualties, including its commander. Colonel Kuzume could ill afford any more such Pyrrhic victories.

The 1st Battalion, 222nd Infantry, had made no serious attempt to stop the 186th Infantry’s progress westward because the inland plateau was nearly indefensible and because the battalion would have been decimated in battle with the superior strength of the reinforced American regiment. The 1st Battalion was withdrawn from the surveyed drome area on 2 June, initially in preparation for counterattack against the Bosnek beachhead. While no such counteroffensive was mounted, the withdrawal of the 1st Battalion at least had the advantage of keeping the unit intact.

Upon the arrival of the 186th Infantry at Mokmer Drome, the 1st Battalion, 222nd Infantry, began moving back to the West Caves area, after a long march through the jungle and rising ground north of the inland plateau. Colonel Kuzume and Headquarters, Biak Detachment, reached the West Caves during the night of 9-10 June, and the 1st Battalion began closing in the same area the next day. On the evening of 9 June, General Numata transferred the control of further operations on Biak to Colonel Kuzume. The general left next day for Korim Bay, whence he was evacuated by seaplane and returned to the 2nd Area Army’s command post at Manado, in the Celebes.

Colonel Kuzume knew that as long as he could hold the low ridge and terrace north of Mokmer Drome, he could prevent the HURRICANE Task Force from repairing and using that field or Borokoe and Sorido Dromes. To conduct his defense he had under his control north of Mokmer Drome by the evening of 10 June the remaining elements of the 1st and 2nd Battalions, 222nd Infantry, totalling about 1,200 men; most of his armed service troops; the bulk of the 19th Naval Guard Unit; and most of the field and antiaircraft artillery pieces, mortars, and automatic weapons still serviceable. Some naval troops and a 222nd Infantry mortar unit manned the East Caves positions, while the 3rd Battalion, 222nd Infantry, remained isolated at the Ibdi Pocket. Even without the Ibdi Pocket and East Caves groups, the Biak Detachment was well disposed to conduct a stubborn defense of the airfields, as the HURRICANE Task Force was soon to learn.

The Decision to Reinforce the: 186th Infantry

On the morning of 8 June the 186th Infantry consolidated its positions around Mokmer Drome and cleared a number of small caves on a coral shelf located along the water line.2 At 0830 the 2nd Battalion, 162nd Infantry, started to move east to rejoin its parent regiment. The battalion had marched scarcely 800 yards east of Mokmer Drome when it was pinned down by Japanese automatic weapons and mortar fire from the East Caves. Finally, the 81-mm. mortars of Company D, 186th Infantry, from emplacements near Sboeria, stopped enough of the Japanese fire to permit the 2nd Battalion to push on. Company G, 186th Infantry, was sent northeast from Mokmer Drome to find the source of the Japanese fire and to protect the left of the 162nd Infantry’s Battalion. The latter dug in for the night only a few yards east of the point where it had first halted, while the 186th Infantry’s company set up defenses on the main ridge north of the East Caves.

Japanese mortar fire fell into the area held by the 2nd Battalion, 162nd Infantry, intermittently throughout the night. Many minor casualties occurred until, toward morning, the battalion’s 81-mm. mortars succeeded in silencing most of the enemy weapons. Japanese from the 2nd Battalion, 222nd Infantry, harassed the battalion rear all night, and small parties made abortive attacks from the north. All these Japanese groups were beaten back with mortar, machine gun, and rifle fire, and during the scattered firing the new commander of the 2nd Battalion, 222nd Infantry, was killed.

[n14-3 Company H, 162nd Infantry (the heavy machine guns and 81-mm. mortars), had not gone over Young Man’s Trail with the 2nd Battalion on 2 June but had rejoined the battalion on the inland plateau]

On the west flank the 3rd Battalion, 186th Infantry, also had some trouble during the night. Shortly after dark, Japanese mortar fire began falling on the elements of the battalion dug in north of the coastal road, and later this fire shifted to the battalion positions south of the road. By either accident or design, a number of native dogs, running around and barking outside the battalion perimeter, helped the Japanese locate the unit’s lines and, about 2100, as the enemy mortar fire moved eastward, troops of the 2nd Battalion, 222nd Infantry, attacked from the west and northwest. A few Japanese managed to infiltrate the battalion’s outposts and several American soldiers were bayoneted before the battalion’s 60-mm. mortars, together with machine gun and rifle fire, broke up the Japanese attack.

The Japanese continued to harass the perimeter until 0530. Japanese losses were 42 counted dead, while the 3rd Battalion, 186th Infantry, lost 8 killed and 20 wounded. Total casualties for the 186th Infantry and attached units during the night were 13 men killed and 38 wounded.

On the morning of 9 June Company B, 186th Infantry, was sent from the beachhead to a point on the low ridge directly north of the center of Mokmer Drome to clear that ridge westward 1,200 yards and secure the point at which a motor road ran northwestward over the ridge. It soon became evident that the company was trying to bite off more than it could chew. Hardly had the leading platoon arrived atop the low ridge than it was pinned down by Japanese machine gun fire and then almost surrounded by Japanese infantry.

When Japanese patrols threatened the rear of the company, all elements were withdrawn 400 yards south to set up a new base, from which patrols moved along the foot of the ridge in an attempt to determine the extent of the enemy’s defenses. Results were inconclusive, and at dusk the unit moved back to the beachhead. It could report only that the low ridge was strongly held. Meanwhile, another company patrolled northeast to the point at which the regiment had crossed the main ridge, and established contact there with units of the 163rd Infantry, which had pushed over the inland plateau behind the 186th. Tank-infantry patrols were sent west along the beach from Sboeria. A few bunkers and some small ammunition dumps were destroyed, but few Japanese troops were seen and there was no opposition. On the east flank, Japanese fire from the East Caves again kept the 2nd Battalion, 162nd Infantry, immobilized. Patrolling by elements of the 162nd, 163rd, and 186th Infantry Regiments in the East Caves area was productive of little information concerning the location of the principal Japanese positions.

[NOTE: on or about 5 June, after it had marched overland from Ibdi, through Opiaref, and west along the inland road the original commander of the Japanese unit had been killed in action on the coast at the end of May.]

On 10 June the 1st Battalion, 186th Infantry, sent two companies to the point on the low ridge where Company B had been halted the previous afternoon. Despite artillery support, the two units could make little progress and were themselves pinned down about 1030. Japanese rifle and mortar fire was silenced by the 1st Battalion’s 60-mm. mortars, but the Japanese continued to pour machine gun fire from a number of bunkers and pillboxes which proved impervious to bazooka and 75-mm. tank fire. The units withdrew while more artillery fire was placed along the low ridge. On the east flank, enemy fire from the East Caves had died down, and the 2nd Battalion, 162nd Infantry, was able to move on eastward. But before that battalion had gone very far, and before the 1st Battalion, 186th Infantry, could mount another attack against the low ridge, Headquarters, HURRICANE Task Force, had evolved a new plan of operations. During the period 7-10 June little progress had been made in securing the Mokmer Drome area, and aviation engineers, brought forward by water from Bosnek on the 9th and 10th, had so far been unable to work on the strip because it was still exposed to Japanese fire from the low ridge and terrace north of the field. General Fuller had therefore decided to throw two infantry regiments against the enemy defenses north of the field. For this purpose the 2nd Battalion, 162nd Infantry, was returned to regimental control, and the remainder of the 162nd Infantry started westward from the Parai area toward Mokmer Drome.

The 162nd Infantry Moves to Mokmer Drome

While the 186th Infantry had been driving to the airfield over the inland plateau, the 162nd Infantry, less the 2nd Battalion, and with Company A, 186th Infantry, attached, had been attempting to move westward in a co-ordinated drive along the coastal road. This attempt had not proved successful, for Japanese opposition at the Ibdi Pocket and the Parai Defile kept the 162nd Infantry tied up.

On 7 June, when the 186th Infantry reached Mokmer Drome, it became a matter of urgency to open an overland line of communications to the airfield area. The 186th Infantry could be supplied overwater with some difficulty, but overland movement was faster and more efficient. Therefore General Fuller initially decided to outflank the enemy’s positions in the Parai Defile by a drive from west to east along the cliffs above the road through the defile. For this purpose two companies of the 3rd Battalion, 162nd Infantry, were to be transported overwater from Ibdi to the Parai Jetty, whence they were to drive east in conjunction with a westward push by the rest of the battalion.

On 7 June the proposed landing area at Parai Jetty (but not the jetty itself) was subjected to artillery and naval preparation fires. Three LVT (A)’s and eighteen LVT’s picked up Companies I and K (reinforced) at the 3rd Battalion position. They moved far out in the stream to avoid enemy mortar or artillery fire and, at 1315, started moving inshore toward the jetty. The first wave was delayed when two LVT’s stuck on the reef fronting Parai, and the first amphibian tractors did not reach the beach until 1420.

Fifteen minutes later, both the reinforced companies were ashore. As soon as the two companies landed they came under fire from Japanese weapons in the East Caves and along the ridge between that position and the Parai Defile. They then called for reinforcements. The Cannon Company arrived at the jetty about 1610 and six tanks of the 603rd Tank Company reached the area about 1730. Patrols were then sent into the Parai Defile, meeting opposition which steadily increased as they moved eastward.

A concerted drive could not be organized before dark, and plans had to be made to continue the attack on the morrow. Meanwhile, General Fuller had evolved his plan to move all the 162nd Infantry to the Mokmer Drome area. By this time it had become evident that the 1st Battalion had isolated the principal remaining enemy strong points in the Ibdi Pocket and the task force commander had decided to leave only one company as a holding force in that area to prevent the Japanese from cutting the coastal road. The remainder of the 1st and 3rd Battalions were to move to Parai and push west toward Mokmer Drome to establish contact with the 186th Infantry and the 2nd Battalion, 162nd Infantry.

At 0900 on 8 June, Companies C, I, and K, supported by tanks, began moving west from Parai into the ground where the Japanese had counterattacked the 162nd Infantry on 28 and 29 May. Company C advanced along the coastal road, while Companies I and K pushed up the low cliff at the coast from Parai to Mokmer village and attacked along the terrace above Company C. By noon, when they stopped to lunch and rest, the three companies were within 500 yards of Mokmer village and in the coconut grove through which the Japanese had launched the 29 May tank attack. At 1330, just after the advance companies had resumed their attack, they were pinned down by heavy mortar fire from the East Caves. Another infantry company was requested, and Company B moved forward to the right of the units on the terrace.

There were indications that the enemy was preparing a counterattack similar to the one he had launched in the same area ten days earlier, but such an offensive did not develop.

Meanwhile, it had been discovered that the Japanese had mined the main road west from Parai. Tank progress was slowed as the mines (most of them actually 6-inch naval shells) were removed or the vehicles guided around them. As the tanks approached Mokmer village, they came under mortar and automatic weapons fire from the East Caves. Since these weapons were masked by trees, the tanks were unable to deliver counterbattery fire against the enemy positions and were finally forced to seek cover. Continuing mortar and small arms fire made the forward units of the 162nd Infantry seek shelter also and they dug in for the night along a curving perimeter which began on the beach 500 yards east of Mokmer and stretched northeastward some 800 yards almost to the base of the main ridge. A gap of about 1,800 yards remained between these forward companies and the 2nd Battalion, 162nd Infantry, west of Mokmer.

On the morning of 9 June the 1st and 3rd Battalions again began pushing westward. Despite heavy concentrations by the regiment’s 81-mm. mortars, the 4.2-inch mortars of Company D, 641st Tank Destroyer Battalion, and the 105-mm. howitzers of the 205th Field Artillery Battalion, Japanese fire from the East Caves steadily increased. The infantry could move forward only in small groups and were forced to seek cover behind every slight rise in the ground. At 1330 Company C established patrol contact with the 2nd Battalion at a point 500 yards west of Mokmer village, and at 1700 the 2nd Battalion reverted to regimental control after a week’s operations under the 186th Infantry. More than 1,000 yards still separated the main body of the 2nd Battalion from the 1st, which dug in for the night at Mokmer village. The 3rd Battalion, in reserve during the day, had not moved far beyond its bivouac of the previous night.

On 10 June Company L and rear detachments of the 3rd Battalion were moved forward by small craft to Parai. The 2nd and 3rd Battalions then began moving west along the coastal road to Mokmer Drome while the 1st Battalion was left at Parai with the mission of defending that area and clearing the remaining enemy from the Parai Defile. West from Mokmer village the coastal road was still subjected to heavy interdictory fire from the Japanese in the East Caves. Therefore, the 2nd and 3rd Battalions had to move along the beach under the protection of a low coral shelf. The march was accomplished in column of files and most of the troops waded through the edge of the surf, which was waist deep much of the way. The movement therefore progressed very slowly, and it was not until 1600 that the two battalions reached an assembly area at the eastern end of Mokmer Drome. The next day there began a new offensive which was aimed at clearing the Japanese from the ridges and terraces north and west of the airfield.

Operations North of Mokmer Drome: The Plan of Attack

The new attack to secure the Mokmer Drome area was to start at 0930 on 11 June with two regiments abreast, the 162nd Infantry on the right, or north. The line of departure began on the beach at Menobaboe, whence it ran north-northeast through the western end of Mokmer Drome and over the low ridge. The boundary between regiments paralleled the coast and lay about 400 yards north of Mokmer Drome’s main runway. The first objective was a first phase line lying about 1,350 yards beyond the western end of the runway. A second phase line was roughly 1,000 yards farther west and included Borokoe village, on the beach some 2,300 yards west of Menobaboe. The inland end of the second phase line lay about 2,000 yards north of the coast. Occupation of the third phase line would bring the two attacking regiments into line with the eastern end of Borokoe Drome.

The 3rd Battalion, 162nd Infantry, was responsible for clearing the low ridge. The 1st Battalions of both regiments were to remain in reserve. Details of artillery support are not clear but it appears that at least initially the 121st Field Artillery Battalion was to give close support to the 186th Infantry while the 205th, from positions near Ibdi, was to support both regiments. The 205th’s fire would be directed from a floating observation post in an LCV furnished by the 542nd Engineer Boat and Shore Regiment. The 947th Field Artillery Battalion was also assigned general support missions.

While the attacks in the Mokmer Drome area were under way, the 3rd Battalion, 163rd Infantry, would continue patrolling west and south along the main ridge. One company of that battalion and Company G, 186th Infantry, were to maintain pressure on the East Caves from the north and west. The 1st Battalion, 163rd Infantry, was to patrol north, east, and west from the surveyed drome on the inland plateau behind Bosnek, while the 2nd Battalion cleared remaining Japanese from the Ibdi Pocket. Support for the operations of the 1st and 2nd Battalions, 163rd Infantry, was the responsibility of the 146th Field Artillery Battalion, emplaced near Bosnek. The 3rd Battalion, 163rd Infantry, was apparently to be supported by those artillery units supporting the attacks in the Mokmer Drome area.

Meeting Resistance on the Low Ridge At 0830 on 11 June the two assault battalions of the 186th Infantry began moving out of their bivouacs up to the line of departure, which they reached by 0915. The 3rd Battalion, 162nd Infantry, started moving forward from the eastern end of Mokmer Drome toward the line of departure about the same time that the 186th Infantry got underway. The 162nd Infantry met stiff resistance before it could get to the line of departure, and the 186th Infantry’s attack was therefore halted until the 162nd Infantry could move its two leading battalions up to the line. The principal Japanese forces along the low ridge were the 1st Battalion, 222nd Infantry, now reduced to about 120 effectives; a company or two of the 2nd Battalion, 222nd Infantry; elements of various engineer units, fighting as infantry; and some field and antiaircraft artillery weapons and crews. All in all, there were probably some 600-700 Japanese along the ridge.

The 162nd Infantry, employing close mortar support and steady rifle fire from the leading troops, appeared to be breaking through the resistance to its front about 1330, and the 186th Infantry was thereupon ordered to renew its attack. Accordingly, at 1345, the 2nd and 3rd Battalions, 186th Infantry, pushed across the line of departure. The 3rd Battalion, moving along the coastal road, encountered no enemy opposition and closed along the first phase line in its zone at 1530. The 2nd Battalion met little Japanese resistance on its front but was intermittently forced to seek cover from enemy fire which came from the low ridge on the battalion’s right. The unit therefore did not reach the first phase line until 1620.

The two 186th Infantry battalions dug in for the night about 600 yards apart, both on the east side of a trail marking the first phase line. The terrain there was solid coral with only a thin layer of topsoil covering it. In such ground three hours was the minimum time a man needed to prepare a satisfactory slit trench, and darkness arrived before all the units could dig in. Colonel Newman therefore recommended that on subsequent days forward movement cease at 1500 so that time would be available to prepare night defenses and to undertake essential evening reconnaissance. This recommendation was approved by Headquarters, HURRICANE Task Force.

For the night of 11-12 June, the headquarters of the 186th Infantry, the 1st Battalion, and an advanced command post of the HURRICANE Task Force dug in at Sboeria village, on the beach south of Mokmer Drome. Company G, 186th Infantry, came down off the ridges near the East Caves during the day and set up its bivouac at Sboeria. At the same location were the Cannon and Service Companies, 186th Infantry, and the 863rd Engineer Aviation Battalion, which was responsible for repairing Mokmer Drome.

In the 162nd Infantry’s zone of responsibility, the day’s action had been marked by stubborn Japanese resistance. The 3rd Battalion, trying to gain the top of the low ridge and to move west along that ridge to the line of departure, was halted and forced to seek cover almost the moment it started to move. Even with support from the 947th Field Artillery Battalion, it was midafternoon before the battalion’s attack really got under way. Then the unit found that the terrain along the top and southern slope of the low ridge was rough and covered by dense rain forest and thick scrub growth. Visibility and maneuver room were severely limited, and the Japanese defenders made excellent use of every advantage the terrain offered.

The 2nd Battalion had been halted about 600 yards short of the line of departure to await the outcome of the 3rd’s efforts, but about 1245 was ordered to push on. The 2nd Battalion reached the line of departure about 1320 and moved on to the first phase line, drawing abreast of the 2nd Battalion, 186th Infantry, at 1720. The 3rd Battalion fought doggedly forward during the afternoon, discovering an ever increasing number of Japanese pillboxes, bunkers, and hasty automatic weapons and rifle emplacements of all kinds. Dusk found the unit still some 100 yards short of the line of departure and about 1,300 yards east of the 2nd Battalion. The 1st Battalion, taking no part in the action during the day, moved forward to Mokmer Drome from Parai.

For 12 June, Colonel Haney planned to put his 2nd and 3rd Battalions on the low ridge, while the 1st took over the 3rd’s positions near the line of departure and patrolled west, north, and east. During the afternoon of the 11th, the 162nd Infantry had learned from Javanese slave laborers who had come into the lines that the Japanese headquarters installations were located in large caves approximately 1,000 yards northwest of the 3rd Battalion’s lines. This, apparently, was the first information obtained by the HURRICANE Task Force concerning the enemy’s West Caves stronghold. The significance of the information was not yet realized, but the 1st Battalion, 162nd Infantry, was ordered to patrol north on the 12th to attempt to confirm the Javanese reports.

In order to permit the 162nd Infantry to place more troops on the ridge, the 186th Infantry was instructed to assume responsibility for an additional 300 yards on its right flank. On the 12th that regiment was to advance as far as the second phase line, maintaining close contact with the 162nd Infantry. The latter was also expected to reach the second phase line, but no advance beyond that line was to be undertaken until Headquarters, HURRICANE Task Force, so ordered.

On the morning of the 12th, the 186th Infantry had already started moving toward the second phase line when, at 0830, it received orders to halt until the 3rd Battalion, 162nd Infantry, could reach the first phase line. Although no Japanese were to be found in the 186th Infantry’s sector, an advance by that regiment without concurrent progress by the 162nd Infantry would leave a large and dangerous gap in the lines. Through such a gap the enemy could move to outflank and cut off the 162nd Infantry. But the 162nd Infantry was able to make little progress during the day. As a result, the 186th Infantry remained on the first phase line and limited its operations to patrolling.

The 2nd Battalion, 162nd Infantry, had started moving both toward the low ridge and westward about 0830, but it also had been halted until the 3rd Battalion could fight its way up to the first phase line. The 3rd Battalion sent Company L north of the ridge to outflank troublesome Japanese positions while the rest of the battalion continued a frontal assault. But Japanese resistance was even stronger than it had been the previous afternoon, and the battalion was again unable to make any progress. At 0940 it pulled back some 300 yards southeast of its previous night’s bivouac to allow Company M’s 81-mm. mortars to lay a concentration on enemy bunkers and foxholes at the point where the line of departure crossed the low ridge.

At 1035 the advance was resumed with Company I on the ridge, Company L on the terrace north of I, and Company K along the ridge slopes south of I. Company K moved forward 200 yards by 1100, having encountered little opposition, and then halted to wait for the other two companies to draw up. Company I, meanwhile, had found that the mortar fire had been effective but that new Japanese positions were located west of the mortar impact area. From 1100 to 1130 the company fought its way through these second defenses, but no sooner had it broken through when a third set of positions was discovered 50 yards farther west along the ridge. It was also learned that a fourth strong point was located beyond the third. Company L, north of the ridge, met few Japanese and by 1230 had passed through some minor opposition to a position north of but opposite Company K. Company L then cautiously probed southwestward and southward to locate the flanks and rear of the positions in front of Company I.

Meanwhile, Company L, 163rd Infantry, had established an observation post on Hill 320, a high point on the main ridge about 1,500 yards northwest of the lines of the 3rd Battalion, 162nd Infantry. At 1530 this observation post reported that Japanese were occupying a number of antiaircraft gun positions along the low ridge west of the 162nd Infantry unit. Fearing immediate enemy artillery fire, the 162nd Infantry withdrew all its troops from the low ridge into defilade positions.

After American artillery had fired a short concentration on the suspected enemy gun emplacements, the 3rd Battalion, 162nd Infantry, returned to the low ridge. By nightfall Company L was dug in on the ridge about 300 yards west of the line of departure, and Company I was almost 100 yards to the east. In order to prevent the Japanese from reoccupying their defensive position near the line of departure—positions which had been so laboriously cleaned out during the day—two platoons of Company K moved into the vacated enemy defenses. The rest of Company K, together with 3rd Battalion headquarters and Company M, remained south of the ridge about 400 yards east of the line of departure.

During the late afternoon the 2nd Battalion had sent a number of patrols north from its position on the first phase line to the low ridge, and Company F set up night defenses on the ridge at the point where the first phase line crossed. A gap of almost 900 yards, in which were many strong Japanese defenses, separated Company F from Company L. For the next day, plans were made for the 162nd Infantry to close this gap while the 186th Infantry remained in position along the first phase line.

The 162nd Infantry resumed its attack about 0730 on 13 June when Company L started pushing east and west along the low ridge in an attempt to establish contact with both the 2nd Battalion and Company I.

Contact was made with the latter unit about 1300, after a small Japanese pocket had been cleaned out. Company K, meanwhile, had been forced to mop up a few enemy stragglers near the line of departure and had sent one platoon westward to help Company I. Late in the morning, the 1st Battalion moved on to the low ridge east of the 3rd in order to protect the regiment’s right and rear and relieve 3rd Battalion troops from that duty. Though this realignment freed 3rd Battalion units for a new drive westward, by the end of the day little progress had been made in closing the 900-yard gap between that battalion and the 2nd. Not only had the 3rd Battalion been unable to move westward, but 2nd Battalion units had also been unable to make any progress eastward.

During the 13th, the 186th Infantry had limited its activities to patrolling while it again awaited the outcome of the 162nd’s attack. The regiment had also provided local security for engineers who were working hard to repair Mokmer Drome. The engineers had begun steady work about 1030 hours on 12 June, and by evening of that day they expected to get the strip into shape for fighter aircraft before noon on the 13th. But work on the latter day was thrice interrupted by Japanese artillery or mortar fire, most of which originated along the ridge between the lines of the 2nd and 3rd Battalions, 162nd Infantry. Despite these interruptions, about 2,300 feet of the eastern end of the airfield had been repaired sufficiently for use by fighter planes by evening of 13 June. More of the strip had been cleared, filled in, and prepared for final grading by the same time. The first plane to land on the field was an artillery liaison aircraft, which came down about 1000 hours on the 13th. Because of Japanese harassing fire, the airstrip still could not safely be used by larger planes.

To the Rim of the West Caves

General Doe, assistant commander of the 41st Division, had inspected the forward combat area during the afternoon of 13 June. After his trip he advised the task force commander that the 3rd Battalion, 162nd Infantry, was becoming worn out and had already lost much of its effectiveness. To relieve the 3rd Battalion, General Doe recommended sweeping changes in the attack plan which had been in effect since 10 June.

He proposed that the 1st Battalions of the 162nd and 186th Infantry Regiments move around the right flank of the 3rd Battalion, 162nd Infantry, to the terrace above the low ridge. Reports from friendly natives indicated that the Japanese were guarding a water hole—the last one remaining in the area—near a Japanese encampment about midway between the positions of Company L, 162nd Infantry, on the low ridge, and those of Company L, 163rd Infantry, on Hill 320 to the north. Although the HURRICANE Task Force had not yet located the West Caves, the reported existence of the water hole and other miscellaneous bits of information prompted General Doe to believe that a major enemy strong point existed near the Japanese encampment. He felt that if the new two-battalion attack succeeded in eliminating this strong point, the remaining enemy positions along the low ridge would be untenable and the Japanese might retire. Then the 3rd Battalion, 162nd Infantry, would not have to continue its attacks and, indeed, would be pinched out by the new advance and could revert to a reserve role.

The 1st Battalion, 162nd Infantry, was to move north over a trail which would take it through the rear of the 3rd Battalion. When the 1st Battalion had reached a point on the terrace about 500 yards north of the low ridge, it was to turn and attack to the west and southwest. The 1st Battalion, 186th Infantry, was to follow a trail leading north from the eastern end of Mokmer Drome and, making a wider envelopment, was to follow an azimuth taking it east of the 1st Battalion, 162nd Infantry. Then it was to draw up on the right of the latter, ready to attack westward.

For the 1st Battalion, 162nd Infantry, operations on 14 June began about 0600 when Company B, at the base of the low ridge about 800 yards east of the 3rd Battalion’s lines, was attacked by about fifteen Japanese infantrymen. Within ten minutes nine Japanese were killed, but patrolling and reorganizing after the attack delayed the battalion’s movement to the line of departure for the new attack. Following the infantry assault, the Japanese began to throw antiaircraft, small arms, and mortar fire into the American unit’s positions, keeping it pinned down on the southern slopes of the low ridge until 1100. The battalion was further delayed when American artillery fire was placed on Japanese troops seen maneuvering on the terrace north of the 3rd Battalion. Meanwhile, the 1st Battalion, 186th Infantry, had also been delayed. The 162nd Infantry unit had to wait for the 186th’s battalion to come into line before the attack westward could begin.

With Company C leading, the 1st Battalion, 186th Infantry, had started its advance at 0800, crossing the low ridge at a point about 500 yards east of the 1st Battalion, 162nd Infantry. Then it moved northeast over the terrace along a rough trail leading toward the main ridge-crossing employed by the 186th Infantry on 7 June. First contact with the enemy came at 0930, when Company C killed two Japanese on the trail about 800 yards north of the low ridge. The march continued until 1030 when, as the units began to turn westward, Company C was pinned down by fire from rising ground 100 yards east of the trail. Company A patrols undertook to stop this fire, but it was two hours before the advance could be continued.

Only 400 more yards had been gained by 1300 when the advance was again held up by a small group of Japanese dug in across the trail. But this opposition was broken through within half an hour, and by 1430 Company C had moved another 800 yards west and was in line with Company B, 162nd Infantry, 300 yards to the south. Both 1st Battalions now resumed the advance abreast.

The 1st Battalion, 162nd Infantry, continued to meet opposition on its right and front during the afternoon, and did not establish physical contact with the 186th Infantry’s battalion until 1735. The 162nd Infantry unit then dug in northeast of the West Caves and about 250 yards north of Company L, on the low ridge. The battalion’s perimeter was about 400 yards short of its objective for the day, as was that of the 1st Battalion, 186th Infantry, now located on a slight rise 50-75 yards to the right rear of the 1st Battalion, 162nd Infantry. Patrols sent out before dark brought back proof that the 1st Battalion, 162nd Infantry, was on the periphery of the West Caves, now recognized by the HURRICANE Task Force as a major Japanese strong point. The task force G-2 Section estimated that the West Caves held about 1,000 Japanese, including naval and army headquarters.

Colonel Kuzume, realizing full well the value of the West Caves position as a base for counterattacks, was determined to hold that area. At 1930 on the 14th, he sent available elements of the Biak Detachment against the two forward American battalions in an attempt to drive them southward and eastward away from the caves. A combined infantry-tank attack drove Company B of the 162nd Infantry out of its semi-isolated position at the northwestern end of the 1st Battalion’s perimeter. The company withdrew in an orderly fashion into the battalion lines. The Japanese now turned their attention to the 1st Battalion, 186th Infantry. Small Japanese groups, moving along a road which entered the battalion’s perimeter from the west, harassed the unit all night. No attacks were pressed home, but the Japanese maneuvers were interpreted as presaging a more determined counterattack on the morrow.

At 0730 on the 15th the expected counterattack began, just in time to disrupt plans for the 1st Battalions of the 162nd and 186th Infantry Regiments to continue advances north and west. Three Japanese tanks started south down a road running below the western slope of Hill 320. Two tanks, each accompanied by an infantry platoon, swung onto an east-west road north of the West Caves and into the positions of the 1st Battalion, 186th Infantry. The tanks opened fire with their 37-mm. guns from a range of 250 yards, but before they could move closer were driven off by .50-caliber machine guns of the 1st Battalion’s Antitank Platoon. The third tank and more infantrymen charged the lines of Company B, 162nd Infantry, then attempting to close the gap between the two harassed battalions.

In the ensuing melee, Company B suffered heavy casualties, for it had no weapons with which it could easily drive off the tank and stop its 37-mm. and machine gun fire. However, when the accompanying infantrymen were scattered by Company B’s fire, the tank maneuvered out of range. At 1400 the same day, two more tanks advanced toward the 1st Battalion, 186th Infantry. The tanks again moved along the east-west road north of the caves but did not press home their attack. Apparently, no Japanese infantry accompanied these tanks.

During the day three Japanese tanks were knocked out—two by bazookas of Company C, 186th Infantry, and the other by a combination of .50-caliber and small arms fire. The 121st Field Artillery Battalion, while it had hit no tanks, had proved a real aid during the battle. It prevented Japanese infantrymen from forming for the attack and neutralized a number of enemy machine guns by firing 600 rounds into the area northwest of the 1st Battalion, 186th Infantry.

In the time intervals between the various enemy attacks only local advances could be made, but the two forward battalions managed to establish one continuous line. Patrolling south was forestalled during the morning when artillery and automatic weapons fire was placed on enemy positions between the 2nd and 3rd Battalions, 162nd Infantry, on the low ridge. When this fire was finished, the day’s plans were changed. The 1st Battalion, 162nd Infantry, was ordered to move south onto the low ridge west of the3rd Battalion. Once on the ridge, the 1st Battalion was to do an about-face and extend its left to the 2nd Battalion’s lines. The 1st Battalion, 186th Infantry, was to protect the rear of the 1st Battalion, 162nd Infantry, during the latter’s displacement southward.

The new plan proved impossible of execution. Fighting in the area between the 2nd and 3rd Battalions, 162nd Infantry, on the low ridge continued unabated all afternoon. Steady fire from friendly artillery and mortars, combined with Japanese automatic weapons and mortar fire from positions between the West caves and the low ridge, kept the 1st Battalion, 162nd Infantry, pinned down much of the time and slowed its movement southward. The 2nd and 3rd Battalions continued to try to close the gap and managed to overrun or destroy a number of enemy defensive positions. They were unable to entirely clear the area, however, and by nightfall the gap was still some 500 yards wide and was apparently occupied by a strong enemy force which was well dug in.

The 15th of June, on which date forces of the Central Pacific Area landed in the Mariana Islands, had come and gone, and still no planes of the Allied Air Forces, Southwest Pacific Area, had been able to support the Central Pacific’s operations from an airfield on Biak Island. The 863rd Engineer Aviation Battalion, which had managed to repair about 2,300 feet of Mokmer Drome by evening of 13 June, had been forced to stop work on the morning of the 14th, when Japanese fire on the strip became so intense that the engineers could not stay on the field and Allied planes could not use it. The 15th had ended on a note of frustration in the Mokmer Drome area. The Japanese still held part of the low ridge, and from their positions there and on the terrace to the north, could continue to prevent the Allies from using the Biak fields.

Allied Command at Biak: Air and Naval Base Development to Mid-June

Almost from the outset of the Biak operation, delays in seizing and repairing the Biak Island airfields had worried Generals MacArthur and Krueger. After the initial reverse suffered by the 162nd Infantry, the tactical situation on Biak had made it appear to General Krueger that it might be some time before the HURRICANE Task Force would capture Mokmer Drome. Therefore, on 30 May, he instructed General Fuller to investigate the possibility of quickly constructing a fighter strip at the surveyed drome area on the inland plateau north of Bosnek. The task force completed an engineer reconnaissance of the surveyed drome the next day. General Fuller decided that an airfield could not be completed there in less than three weeks. He considered it undesirable to assign any of his few engineer units to such extended work at the surveyed drome, for he still expected that Mokmer Drome could be seized and repaired much sooner.

The attention of air force planners then turned to the Paidado Islands, off the southeast corner of Biak. Allied Naval Forces had already planned and secured approval from General MacArthur’s headquarters to establish a PT and seaplane base in a reef-fringed lagoon on the eastern side of Mios Woendi Island, which lies about twelve miles east- southeast of Bosnek. On 28 May ALAMO Force instructed the HURRICANE Task Force to secure not only Mios Woendi but also the entire Paidado group.

Reconnaissance was made of Mios Woendi, Aoeki, and Owi Islands in the Paidado group by naval and engineer personnel of the HURRICANE Task Force on 1 June. The next day Company A, 163rd Infantry, secured Owi and Mios Woendi, and a more detailed engineer reconnaissance of Aoeki and Owi was made a few days later. Aoeki proved unsuitable for an airfield, but Owi was found to be an excellent site. Beginning on 3 June, engineers, together with antiaircraft and radar units, were taken to Owi. Heavy artillery (155-mm. guns) was also set up on the island to support operations on Biak.

The 860th and 864th Engineer Aviation Battalions started constructing a strip on Owi on 9 June but it was not until the 17th that enough of the field was completed to allow some P-38’s, blocked by a front of bad weather from reaching their base on Wakde Island after a strike on Sorong, to land at Owi. On 21 June two P-38 squadrons of the 8th Fighter Group, Fifth Air Force, started arriving at Owi to remain for future operations. Meanwhile, naval construction battalions (CB’s) had cleared the land and beach at Mios Woendi in time for Seventh Fleet PT boats to begin operating from that base on 8 June.

The Owi Island strip was not ready in time to support Central Pacific operations and, despite expectations to the contrary, neither was any other field at Biak. The Wakde Island airfield had to bear a larger share of such support than had been planned. Moreover, the delay in making ready the fields on Biak threatened the speed of subsequent operations within the Southwest Pacific. The HURRICANE Task Force had failed in its principal mission—rapid seizure and repair of airfields from which the Allied Air Forces could support the Mariana operation and further advances along the New Guinea axis.

Changes in Command

General Krueger had been dissatisfied with operations on Biak ever since the 162nd Infantry had been forced to withdraw from the Mokmer village area on 29 May. At first he was dissatisfied because he believed that the 162nd Infantry’s advance had been imprudently conducted without adequate reconnaissance. Later, he had expected that the reinforcement of the HURRICANE Task Force by the 163rd Regimental Combat Team would have permitted General Fuller to resume the offensive with renewed vigor and rapidly to seize the airfields. Events did not so transpire. On 5 June, five days after the two battalions of the 163rd Infantry had reached Biak, General MacArthur indicated that he, too, was concerned over the continued delay in securing the Biak airfields.

The theater commander asked General Krueger if he thought operations on Biak were being pushed with determination, and he requested General Krueger’s views on the situation.

As a result of these queries, General Krueger was again prompted to inform General Fuller that progress on Biak was disturbingly slow and to instruct the task force commander to make new efforts to seize the airfields quickly. At the same time, the ALAMO Force commander told General MacArthur that he had for some time felt that operations on Biak were not going well and that consideration had even been given to putting in a new commander. However, said General Krueger, he had been dissuaded by his observers on Biak, who had told him that replacement of the task force commander would be unwarranted. The terrain and stubborn Japanese defense had slowed the attack, General Krueger went on, and he had therefore decided to await more complete information before taking any further action.

On 6 June General Krueger received somewhat disturbing reports from new observers whom he had sent to Biak. These officers indicated that there had been some lack of determination in the execution of HURRICANE Task Force plans, especially at the battalion and company level. The troops striving to clear the Ibdi Pocket and the Parai Defile were reported to be “herd-bound.” The observers’ reports also indicated that reconnaissance had been ineffective; and that little definite information had been obtained concerning the Japanese strength and dispositions. Finally, the observers stated, General Fuller was not making full use of his assistant division commander (General Doe) and, moreover, so few members of the task force staff had visited the front lines that General Fuller could not possibly have obtained complete and accurate information concerning the fighting.

Despite these unfavorable reports General Krueger, probably influenced by the fact that the 186th Infantry had established a foothold on Mokmer Drome on 7 June, again decided to take no action for a few days. But by 10 June he had received new information telling of the strong resistance the Japanese were maintaining along the low ridge north of Mokmer Drome. Three days of fighting had failed to eliminate this resistance, and General Krueger again urged upon General Fuller the importance of rapid rehabilitation of the Biak airfields, impossible as long as the Japanese held their positions on the low ridge. Then, on 13 June, General Fuller, on the grounds that the HURRICANE Task Force troops were suffering from fatigue and that he suspected the Japanese had landed sizable reinforcements on the island, requested ALAMO Force to send a fresh infantry regiment to Biak.

While at this time General Krueger placed little credence on the reports of enemy reinforcements, he decided to approve the HURRICANE Task Force’s request for additional strength. Accordingly, on 13 June, he alerted the 34th Infantry, 24th Division, then at Hollandia, for shipment to Biak, where it was to arrive on 18 June.

By this time General Krueger had come to the conclusion that General Fuller was overburdened by his dual function of task force and division commander. He had thus far deferred taking any action, hoping that the airdromes would soon become available.

But by 14 June it had become obvious that this hope would not materialize. Moreover, General Krueger was himself under pressure from General MacArthur, who had indicated to the ALAMO Force commander that the delays on Biak were seriously interfering with the execution of strategic plans and who had already publicly announced that victory had been achieved on Biak. Finally, on 14 June, General Krueger decided to relieve General Fuller of the command of the HURRICANE Task Force, apparently with the idea that General Fuller would remain on Biak to devote his full time and attention to the operations of the 41st Division. General Krueger took this step, he asserted, because of slowness of operations on Biak and the failure to secure the Biak airdromes at an early date. Lieutenant General Robert L. Eichelberger, commanding general of the U. S. I Corps (and of the RECKLESS Task Force, at Hollandia) was ordered to Biak to assume command of the HURRICANE Task Force.

General Eichelberger arrived at Biak late on the morning of 15 June and at 1230 assumed command of the HURRICANE Task Force.24 It was an angry and unhappy General Fuller who greeted General Eichelberger at Bosnek. The division commander felt that General Krueger had been unjustifiably critical of the operations on Biak, and he believed that his relief as task force commander indicated that his services had proved unsatisfactory to his superiors. General Fuller had already requested in a letter to General Krueger that he be relieved of the division command as well as that of the task force and he asked for reassignment outside the Southwest Pacific Area.

General Eichelberger was in an embarrassing position, for he had been a classmate of General Fuller at West Point, and the two had been life-long friends. Believing that the division commander still had a good chance to receive a corps command, he tried to persuade General Fuller to change his mind. But General Fuller was adamant, and followed his letter with a radio asking for quick action on his relief from the division command.

This tied General Eichelberger’s hands and left General Krueger no choice but to approve General Fuller’s request—step he was extremely reluctant to take—and forward it to General Headquarters, where it was also approved by General MacArthur. General Fuller left Biak on 18 June, and, after departing from the Southwest Pacific Area, became Deputy Chief of Staff at the headquarters of Admiral Lord Louis Mountbatten’s Southeast Asia Command. At General Eichelberger’s suggestion, command of the 41st Division on Biak passed to General Doe.

Upon leaving Biak, General Fuller addressed the following letter to his former command: To the Officers and Men of the Forty-first Infantry Division.

  1. I am being relieved of command for my failure to achieve the results demanded by higher authority. This is in no way a reflection upon you or your work in this operation. I, and I alone, am to blame for this failure.
  2. I have commanded the Forty-First Division for better or worse for over two years and one-half. During that period I have learned to respect you, to admire you, and to love you, individually and collectively. You are the finest body of men that it has been my privilege to be associated with in thirty nine years of service.
  3. I part with you with many pangs of heart. I wish all of you the best of luck and God Bless You, for I love you all.

Whether General Fuller’s relief as commander of the HURRICANE Task Force was entirely justifiable is a question which cannot be answered categorically. At the time of his relief, the task force had seized Mokmer Drome. Patrols sent westward to Borokoe and Sorido Dromes had found no enemy at those two fields, and General Fuller knew they could be occupied with ease. But he had not sent more troops beyond Mokmer Drome because he believed it more important to secure an overland line of communications to that field and to clear the low ridge so that repair work could continue and at least one strip could be put in service.

By 14 June it was only a question of time before the West Caves area and the low ridge would be secured. Indeed, General Eichelberger, who took three and one-half days to acquaint himself with the situation at Biak, drew up new attack plans according to which the 162nd and 186th Infantry Regiments were to be employed in the same area and in much the same manner as General Fuller had been using them. General Eichelberger realized, as had General Fuller, that Borokoe and Sorido Dromes would be no safer than Mokmer Drome as long as the Japanese held the low ridge and West Caves positions. But, in the last analysis, the mission of the HURRICANE Task Force, quick seizure and rehabilitation of the Biak fields, had not been accomplished by 15 June. No airfield in the Biak area was yet available for use by the Allied Air Forces.

There can be no doubt that the two forward regiments were becoming fatigued—they had been in continuous combat for eighteen days in an enervating climate—but it is doubtful that this fatigue was the only trouble. There is some evidence that there was a lack of aggressiveness at the battalion and company levels of the command, and there are definite indications that General Fuller may not have put as much pressure on his regimental commanders as he might have. One regimental commander later stated: I was never informed that there had been a deadline set for the capture of the Biak Airfields, nor that there was any pressure being applied on General Fuller from higher headquarters. I only learned of this after his relief. As far as I knew the operation was proceeding with fairly satisfactory speed. Had I known of the need for speed in supporting the Marianas attack I might have acted differently on several occasions.

One of the reasons that the HURRICANE Task Force had had such difficulty in securing the Mokmer Drome area was that fresh Japanese troops had been arriving on Biak since 27 May and had been thrown into the action at the airfields. General Fuller, on the basis of aerial reconnaissance reports and intelligence received from ALAMO Force, had for some time suspected that Japanese reinforcements were reaching Biak. This suspicion, coupled with the growing fatigue of 41st Division troops on the island, had, on 13 June, prompted the HURRICANE Task Force commander to request ALAMO Force for an additional American regimental combat team. General Fuller’s suspicions concerning Japanese reinforcements were correct. Unknown to the HURRICANE Task Force, the Japanese had developed and partially executed ambitious plans for the reinforcement of Biak.

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

World War Two: Biak: Japanese Reinforce (AP-15)

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