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

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

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

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

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

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

Action of 19 June

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Action of 20 June

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Action of 21 June

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Action of 22 June

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Stalemate on Nafutan 23-24 June

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nafutan Secured 25-28 June

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

SOURCE: Sicily and the Surrender of Italy: BY; Lieutenant Colonel Albert Nutter Garland & Howard McGaw Smyth (United States Army Center of Military History)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The 63rd Field Artillery Battalion Overrun  

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Roadblock Behind the 19th Infantry  

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Korean War: United Nations Takes Command (9)

Korean War: United Nations Takes Command (9)

By 6 July it was known that General MacArthur planned to have Eighth Army, with General Walker in command, assume operational control of the campaign in Korea. General Walker, a native of Belton, Texas, already had achieved a distinguished record in the United States Army. In World War I he had commanded a machine gun company and won a battlefield promotion. Subsequently, in the early 1930’s he commanded a battalion of the 15th Infantry Regiment in China. Before Korea he was best known, perhaps, for his command of the XX Corps of General Patton’s Third Army in World War II. General Walker assumed command of Eighth Army in Japan in 1948. Under General MacArthur he commanded United Nations ground forces in Korea until his death in December 1950.

During the evening of 6 July General Walker telephoned Colonel William A. Collier at Kobe and asked him to report to him the next morning at Yokohama. When Collier arrived at Eighth Army headquarters the next morning General Walker told him that Eighth Army was taking over command of the military operations in Korea, and that he, Walker, was flying to Korea that afternoon but was returning the following day. Walker told Collier he wanted him to go to Korea as soon as possible and set up an Eighth Army headquarters, that for the present Colonel Eugene M. Landrum, his Chief of Staff, would remain in Japan, and that he, Collier, would be the Eighth Army combat Chief of Staff in Korea until Landrum could come over later.  

General Walker and Colonel Collier had long been friends and associated in various commands going back to early days together at the Infantry School at Fort Benning. They had seen service together in China in the 15th Infantry and in World War II when Collier was a member of Walker’s IV Armored Corps and XX Corps staffs. After that Collier had served Walker as Chief of Staff in command assignments in the United States. Colonel Collier had served in Korea in 1948 and 1949 as Deputy Chief of Staff and then as Chief of Staff of United States Army forces there. During that time he had come to know the country well.  

On the morning of 8 July Colonel Collier flew from Ashiya Air Base to Pusan and then by light plane to Taejon. After some difficulty he found General Dean with General Church between Taejon and the front. The day before, General Walker had told Dean that Collier would be arriving in a day or two to set up the army headquarters. General Dean urged Collier not to establish the headquarters in Taejon, adding, “You can see for yourself the condition.” Collier agreed with Dean. He knew Taejon was already crowded and that communication facilities there would be taxed. He also realized that the tactical situation denied the use of it for an army headquarters. Yet Colonel Collier knew that Walker wanted the headquarters as close to the front as possible. But if it could not be at Taejon, then there was a problem.  

Collier was acquainted with all the places south of Taejon and he knew that short of Taegu they were too small and had inadequate communications, both radio and road, to other parts of South Korea, to serve as a headquarters. He also remembered that at Taegu there was a cable relay station of the old Tokyo-Mukden cable in operation. So Collier drove to Taegu and checked the cable station. Across the street from it was a large compound with school buildings. He decided to establish the Eighth Army headquarters there. Within two hours arrangements had been made with the Provincial Governor and the school buildings were being evacuated. Collier telephoned Colonel Landrum in Yokohama to start the Eighth Army staff to Korea. The next day 9 July at 1300.

 General Walker Assumes Command in Korea

 As it chanced, the retreat of the U.S. 24th Infantry Division across the Kum River on 12 July coincided with the assumption by Eighth United States Army in Korea (EUSAK) of command of ground operations. General Walker upon verbal instructions from General MacArthur assumed command of all United States Army forces in Korea effective 0001 13 July. That evening, General Church and his small ADCOM staff received orders to return to Tokyo, except for communications and intelligence personnel who were to remain temporarily with EUSAK. A total American and ROK military force of approximately 75,000 men, divided between 18,000 Americans and 58,000 ROK’s, was then in Korea.

 [N9-3 ADCOM reached Tokyo the afternoon of 15 July. See EUSAK WD, 13 Jul 50, for American organizations’ strength ashore. ROK strength is approximate.] 

General Walker arrived in Korea on the afternoon of 13 July to assume personal control of Eighth Army operations. That same day the ROK Army headquarters moved from Taejon to Taegu to be near Eighth Army headquarters. General Walker at once established tactical objectives and unit responsibility.

 Eighth Army was to delay the enemy advance, secure the current defensive line, stabilize the military situation, and build up for future offensive operations. The 24th Division, deployed along the south bank of the Kum River in the Kongju-Taejon area on the army’s left (west) was to “prevent enemy advance south of that line.” To the east, in the mountainous central corridor, elements of the 25th Division were to take up blocking positions astride the main routes south and help the ROK troops stop the North Koreans in that sector. Elements of the 25th Division not to exceed one reinforced infantry battalion were to secure the port of Pohang-dong and Yonil Airfield on the east coast.

 On 17 July, four days after he assumed command of Korean operations, General Walker received word from General MacArthur that he was to assume command of all Republic of Korea ground forces, pursuant to President Syngman Rhee’s expressed desire. During the day, as a symbol of United Nations command, General Walker accepted from Colonel Alfred G. Katzin, representing the United Nations, the United Nations flag and hung it in his Eighth Army headquarters in Taegu. 

A word should be said about General MacArthur’s and General Walker’s command relationship over ROK forces. President Syngman Rhee’s approval of ROK forces coming under United Nations command was never formalized in a document and was at times tenuous. This situation grew out of the relationship of the United Nations to the war in Korea.

 On 7 July the Security Council of the United Nations took the third of its important actions with respect to the invasion of South Korea. By a vote of seven to zero, with three abstentions and one absence, it passed a resolution recommending a unified command in Korea and asked the United States to name the commander. The resolution also requested the United States to provide the Security Council with “appropriate” reports on the action taken under a unified command and authorized the use of the United Nations flag. [N9-6 Dept of State Pub 4263, United States Policy in the Korean Conflict, July 1950-February 1951, p. 8. Abstentions in the vote: Egypt, India, Yugoslavia. Absent: Soviet Union. For text of the Security Council resolution of 7 July see Document 99, pages 66-67.]

 The next day, 8 July, President Truman issued a statement saying he had designated General Douglas MacArthur as the “Commanding General of the Military Forces,” under the unified command. He said he also had directed General MacArthur “to use the United Nations flag in the course of operations against the North Korean forces concurrently with the flags of the various nations participating.” [N9-7: Doc. 100, p. 67, gives text of the President’s statement. The JCS sent a message to General MacArthur on 10 July informing him of his new United Nations command.]

The last important act in establishing unified command in Korea took place on 14 July when President Syngman Rhee of the Republic of Korea placed the security forces of the Republic under General MacArthur, the United Nations commander. Although there appears to be no written authority from President Rhee on the subject, he verbally directed General Chung Il Kwon, the ROK Army Chief of Staff, to place himself under the U.N. Command. Under his authority stemming from General MacArthur, the U.N. commander, General Walker directed the ROK Army through its own Chief of Staff. The usual procedure was for General Walker or his Chief of Staff to request the ROK Army Chief of Staff to take certain actions regarding ROK forces. That officer or his authorized deputies then issued the necessary orders to the ROK units. This arrangement was changed only when a ROK unit was attached to a United States organization.

The first such major action took place in September 1950 when the ROK 1st Division was attached to the U.S. I Corps. About the same time the ROK 17th Regiment was attached to the U.S. X Corps for the Inchon landing. Over such attached units the ROK Army Chief of Staff made no attempt to exercise control. Actually the ROK Army authorities were anxious to do with the units remaining nominally under their control whatever the commanding general of Eighth Army wanted. From a military point of view there was no conflict on this score. [n9-9 Ltr, Lieutenant General Francis W. Farrell to author, 11 Jun 58. General Farrell was Chief of KMAG and served as ranking liaison man for Generals Walker, Ridgway, and Van Fleet with the ROK Army for most of the first year of the war. He confirms the author’s understanding of this matter.]

 When political issues were at stake during certain critical phases of the war it may be questioned whether this command relationship would have continued had certain actions been taken by the U.N. command which President Syngman Rhee considered inimical to the political future of his country. One such instance occurred in early October when U.N. forces approached the 38th Parallel and it was uncertain whether they would continue military action into North Korea. There is good reason to believe that Syngman Rhee gave secret orders that the ROK Army would continue northward even if ordered to halt by the U.N. command, or that he was prepared to do so if it became necessary. The issue was not brought to a test in this instance as the U.N. command did carry the operations into North Korea.

Troop Training and Logistics  

General Walker had instituted a training program beginning in the summer of 1949 which continued on through the spring of 1950 to the beginning of the Korean War. It was designed to give Eighth Army troops some degree of combat readiness after their long period of occupation duties in Japan. When the Korean War started most units had progressed through battalion training, although some battalions had failed their tests. Regimental, division, and army levels of training and maneuvers had not been carried out. The lack of suitable training areas in crowded Japan constituted one of the difficulties.  

If the state of training and combat readiness of the Eighth Army units left much to be desired on 25 June 1950, so also did the condition of their equipment. Old and worn would describe the condition of the equipment of the occupation divisions in Japan. All of it dated from World War II. Some vehicles would not start and had to be towed on to LST’s when units loaded out for Korea. Radiators were clogged, and overheating of motors was frequent. The poor condition of Korean roads soon destroyed already well-worn tires and tubes. The condition of weapons was equally bad. A few examples will reflect the general condition. The 3rd Battalion of the 35th Infantry Regiment reported that only the SCR-300 radio in the battalion command net was operable when the battalion was committed in Korea. The 24th Regiment at the same time reported that it had only 60 percent of its Table of Equipment allowance of radios and that four-fifths of them were inoperable. The 1st Battalion of the 35th Infantry had only one recoilless rifle; none of its companies had spare barrels for machine guns, and most of the M1 rifles and M2 carbines were reported as not combat serviceable. Many of its 60-mm. mortars were unserviceable because the bipods and the tubes were worn out. Cleaning rods and cleaning and preserving supplies often were not available to the first troops in Korea. And there were shortages in certain types of ammunition that became critical in July. Trip flares, 60-mm. mortar illuminating shells, and grenades were very scarce. Even the 60-mm. illuminating shells that were available were old and on use proved to be 50 to 60 percent duds.  

General Walker was too good a soldier not to know the deficiencies of his troops and their equipment. He went to Korea well aware of the limitations of his troops in training, equipment, and in numerical strength. He did not complain about the handicaps under which he labored. He tried to carry out his orders. He expected others to do the same.  

On 1 July the Far East Command directed Eighth Army to assume responsibility for all logistical support of the United States and Allied forces in Korea. This included the ROK Army. When Eighth Army became operational in Korea, this logistical function was assumed by Eighth Army Rear which remained behind in Yokohama. This dual function of Eighth Army—that of combat in Korea and of logistical support for all troops fighting in Korea—led to the designation of that part of the army in Korea as Eighth United States Army in Korea. This situation existed until 25 August. On that date the Far East Command activated the Japan Logistical Command with Major General Walter L. Weible in command. It assumed the logistical duties previously held by Eighth Army Rear.  

The support of American troops in Korea, and indeed of the ROK Army as well, would have to come from the United States or Japan. Whatever could be obtained from stocks in Japan or procured from Japanese manufacturers was so obtained. Japanese manufacturers in July began making antitank mines and on 18 July a shipment of 3,000 of them arrived by boat at Pusan.  

That equipment and ordnance supplies were available to the United States forces in Korea in the first months of the war was largely due to the “roll-up” plan of the Far East Command. It called for the reclamation of ordnance items from World War II in the Pacific island outposts and their repair or reconstruction in Japan. This plan had been conceived and started in 1948 by Brigadier General Urban Niblo, Ordnance Officer of the Far East Command. During July and August 1950 an average of 4,000 automotive vehicles a month cleared through the ordnance repair shops; in the year after the outbreak of the Korean War more than 46,000 automotive vehicles were repaired or rebuilt in Japan.

 The Tokyo Ordnance Depot, in addition to repairing and renovating World War II equipment for use in Korea, instituted a program of modifying certain weapons and vehicles to make them more effective in combat. For instance, M4A3 tanks were modified for the replacement of the 75-mm. gun with the high velocity 76-mm. gun, and the motor carriage of the 105-mm. gun was modified so that it could reach a maximum elevation of 67 degrees to permit high-angle fire over the steep Korean mountains. Another change was in the half-track M15A1, which was converted to a T19 mounting a 40-mm. gun instead of the old model 37-mm.

 Of necessity, an airlift of critically needed items began almost at once from the United States to the Far East. The Military Air Transport Service (MATS), Pacific Division, expanded immediately upon the outbreak of the war. The Pacific airlift was further expanded by charter of civil airlines planes. The Canadian Government lent the United Nations a Royal Canadian Air Force squadron of 6 transports, while the Belgian Government added several DC-4’s. Altogether, the fleet of about 60 four-engine transport planes operating across the Pacific before 25 June 1950 was quickly expanded to approximately 250. In addition to these, there were MATS C-74 and C-97 planes operating between the United States and Hawaii.  

The Pacific airlift to Korea operated from the United States over three routes. These were the Great Circle, with flight from McChord Air Force Base, Tacoma, Washington, via Anchorage, Alaska and Shemya in the Aleutians to Tokyo, distance 5,688 miles and flying time 30 to 33 hours; a second route was the Mid-Pacific from Travis (Fairfield-Suisun) Air Force Base near San Francisco, Calif., via Honolulu and Wake Island to Tokyo, distance 6,718 miles and flying time 34 hours; a third route was the Southern, from California via Honolulu, and Johnston, Kwajalein, and Guam Islands to Tokyo, distance about 8,000 miles and flying time 40 hours. The airlift moved about 106 tons a day in July 1950. From Japan most of the air shipments to Korea were staged at Ashiya or at the nearby secondary airfields of Itazuke and Brady.  

Subsistence for the troops in Korea was not the least of the problems to be solved in the early days of the war. There were no C rations in Korea and only a small reserve in Japan. The Quartermaster General of the United States Army began the movement at once from the United States to the Far East of all C and 5-in-1 B rations. Field rations at first were largely World War II K rations.

 Subsistence of the ROK troops was an equally important and vexing problem. The regular issue ration to ROK troops was rice or barley and fish. It consisted of about twenty-nine ounces of rice or barley, one half pound of biscuit, and one half pound of canned fish with certain spices. Often the cooked rice, made into balls and wrapped in cabbage leaves, was sour when it reached the combat troops on the line, and frequently it did not arrive at all. Occasionally, local purchase of foods on a basis of 200 won a day per man supplemented the issue ration (200 won ROK money equaled 5 cents U.S. in value).

 An improved ROK ration consisting of three menus, one for each daily meal, was ready in September 1950. It provided 3,210 calories, weighed 2.3 pounds, and consisted of rice starch, biscuits, rice cake, peas, kelp, fish, chewing gum, and condiments, and was packed in a waterproofed bag. With slight changes, this ration was found acceptable to the ROK troops and quickly put into production. It became the standard ration for them during the first year of the war. 

On 30 June, Lieutenant Colonel Lewis A. Hunt led the vanguard of American officers arriving in Korea to organize the logistical effort there in support of United States troops. Less than a week later, on 4 July, Brigadier General Crump Garvin and members of his staff arrived at Pusan to organize the Pusan Base Command, activated that day by orders of the Far East Command. This command was reorganized on 13 July by Eighth Army as the Pusan Logistical Command, and further reorganized a week later. The Pusan Logistical Command served as the principal logistical support organization in Korea until 19 September 1950 when it was re-designated the 2nd Logistical Command.

The Port of Pusan and Its Communications

 It was a matter of the greatest good fortune to the U.N. cause that the best port in Korea, Pusan, lay at the southeastern tip of the peninsula. Pusan alone of all ports in South Korea had dock facilities sufficiently ample to handle a sizable amount of cargo. Its four piers and intervening quays could berth twenty-four or more deep-water ships, and its beaches provided space for the unloading of fourteen LST’s, giving the port a potential capacity of 45,000 measurement tons daily. Seldom, however, did the daily discharge of cargo exceed 14,000 tons because of limitations such as the unavailability of skilled labor, large cranes, rail cars, and trucks. 

The distance in nautical miles to the all-important port of Pusan from the principal Japanese ports varied greatly. From Fukuoka it was 110 miles; from Moji, 123; from Sasebo, 130; from Kobe, 361; and from Yokohama (via the Bungo-Suido strait, 665 miles), 900 miles. The sea trip from the west coast of the United States to Pusan for personnel movement required about 16 days; that for heavy equipment and supplies on slower shipping schedules took longer.  

From Pusan a good railroad system built by the Japanese and well ballasted with crushed rock and river gravel extended northward. Subordinate rail lines ran westward along the south coast through Masan and Chinju and northeast near the east coast to Pohang-dong. There the eastern line turned inland through the east-central mountain area. The railroads were the backbone of the U.N. transportation system in Korea. 

The approximately 20,000 miles of Korean vehicular roads were all of a secondary nature as measured by American or European standards. Even the best of them were narrow, poorly drained, and surfaced only with gravel or rocks broken laboriously by hand, and worked into the dirt roadbed by the traffic passing over it. The highest classification placed on any appreciable length of road in Korea by Eighth Army engineers was for a gravel or crushed rock road with gentle grades and curves and one and a half to two lanes wide. According to engineer specifications there were no two-lane roads, 22 feet wide, in Korea. The average width of the best roads was 18 feet with numerous bottlenecks at narrow bridges and bypasses where the width narrowed to 11-13 feet. Often on these best roads there were short stretches having sharp curves and grades up to 15 percent. The Korean road traffic was predominately by oxcart. The road net, like the rail net, was principally north-south, with a few lateral east-west connecting roads.

American Command Estimate  

Almost from the outset of American intervention, General MacArthur had formulated in his mind the strategical principles on which he would seek victory. Once he had stopped the North Koreans, MacArthur proposed to use naval and air superiority to support an amphibious operation in their rear. By the end of the first week of July he realized that the North Korean Army was a formidable force. His first task was to estimate with reasonable accuracy the forces he would need to place in Korea to stop the enemy and fix it in place, and then the strength of the force he would need in reserve to land behind the enemy’s line. That the answer to these problems was not easy and clearly discernible at first will become evident when one sees how the unfolding tactical situation in the first two months of the war compelled repeated changes in these estimates.  

By the time American ground troops first engaged North Koreans in combat north of Osan, General MacArthur had sent to the Joint Chiefs of Staff in Washington by a liaison officer his requests for heavy reinforcements, most of them already covered by radio messages and teletype conferences. His requests included the 2nd Infantry Division, a regimental combat team from the 82nd Airborne Division, a regimental combat team and headquarters from the Fleet Marine Force, the 2nd Engineer Special Brigade, a Marine beach group, a Marine antiaircraft battalion, 700 aircraft, 2 air squadrons of the Fleet Marine Force, a Marine air group echelon, 18 tanks and crew personnel, trained personnel to operate LST’s, LSM’s, and LCVP’s, and 3 medium tank battalions, plus authorization to expand existing heavy tank units in the Far East Command to battalion strength.

 On 6 July, the Joint Chiefs of Staff requested General MacArthur to furnish them his estimate of the total requirements he would need to clear South Korea of North Korean troops. He replied on 7 July that to halt and hurl back the North Koreans would require, in his opinion, from four to four and a half full-strength infantry divisions, an airborne regimental combat team complete with lift, and an armored group of three medium tank battalions, together with reinforcing artillery and service elements. He said 30,000 reinforcements would enable him to put such a force in Korea without jeopardizing the safety of Japan. The first and overriding essential, he said, was to halt the enemy advance. 

He evaluated the North Korean effort as follows: “He is utilizing all major avenues of approach and has shown himself both skillful and resourceful in forcing or enveloping such road blocks as he has encountered. Once he is fixed, it will be my purpose fully to exploit our air and sea control, and, by amphibious maneuver, strike him behind his mass of ground force.” 

By this time General MacArthur had received word from Washington that bomber planes, including two groups of B-29’s and twenty-two B-26’s, were expected to be ready to fly to the Far East before the middle of the month. The carrier Boxer would load to capacity with F-51 planes and sail under forced draft for the Far East. But on 7 July Far East hopes for a speedy build-up of fighter plane strength to tactical support of the ground combat were dampened by a message from Major General Frank F. Everest, U.S. Air Force Director of Operations. He informed General Stratemeyer that forty-four of the 164 F-80’s requested were on their way, but that the rest could not be sent because the Air Force did not have them. 

To accomplish part of the build-up he needed to carry out his plan of campaign in Korea, MacArthur on 8 July requested of the Department of the Army authority to expand the infantry divisions then in the Far East Command to full war strength in personnel and equipment. He received this authority on 19 July.  

Meanwhile, from Korea General Dean on 8 July had sent to General MacArthur an urgent request for speedy delivery of 105-mm. howitzer high-explosive antitank shells for direct fire against tanks. Dean said that those of his troops who had used the 2.36-inch rocket launcher against enemy tanks had lost confidence in the weapon, and urged immediate air shipment from the United States of the 3.5-inch rocket launcher. He gave his opinion of the enemy in these words, “I am convinced that the North Korean Army, the North Korean soldier, and his status of training and quality of equipment have been under-estimated.”  

The next day, 9 July, General MacArthur considered the situation sufficiently critical in Korea to justify using part of his B-29 medium bomber force on battle area targets. He also sent another message to the Joint Chiefs of Staff, saying in part: The situation in Korea is critical…His [N.K.] armored equip[ment] is of the best and the service thereof, as reported by qualified veteran observers, as good as any seen at any time in the last war. They further state that the enemy’s inf[antry] is of thoroughly first class quality.

 This force more and more assumes the aspect of a combination of Soviet leadership and technical guidance with Chinese Communist ground elements. While it serves under the flag of North Korea, it can no longer be considered as an indigenous N.K. mil[itary] effort. I strongly urge that in add[ition] to those forces already requisitioned, an army of at least four divisions, with all its component services, be dispatched to this area without delay and by every means of transportation available. The situation has developed into a major operation. 

Upon receiving word the next day that the 2nd Infantry Division and certain armor and antiaircraft artillery units were under orders to proceed to the Far East, General MacArthur replied that same day, 10 July, requesting that the 2nd Division be brought to full war strength, if possible, without delaying its departure. He also reiterated his need of the units required to bring the 4 infantry divisions already in the Far East to full war strength. He detailed these as 4 heavy tank battalions, 12 heavy tank companies, 11 infantry battalions, 11 field artillery battalions (105-mm. howitzers), and 4 antiaircraft automatic weapons battalions (AAA AW), less four batteries.  

After the defeat of the 24th Division on 11 and 12 July north of Chochiwon, General Walker decided to request immediate shipment to Korea of the ground troops nearest Korea other than those in Japan. These were the two battalions on Okinawa. Walker’s chief of staff, Colonel Landrum, called General Almond in Tokyo on 12 July and relayed the request. The next day, General MacArthur ordered the Commanding General, Ryukyus Command, to prepare the two battalions for water shipment to Japan. 

The worsening tactical situation in Korea caused General MacArthur on 13 July to order General Stratemeyer to direct the Far East Air Forces to employ maximum B-26 and B-29 bomber effort against the enemy divisions driving down the center of the Korean peninsula. Two days later he advised General Walker that he would direct emergency use of the medium bombers against battle-front targets whenever Eighth Army requested it.  

It is clear that by the time the 24th Division retreated across the Kum River and prepared to make a stand in front of Taejon there was no complacency over the military situation in Korea in either Eighth Army or the Far East Command. Both were thoroughly alarmed.

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

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

Korean War: Central Mountains and on the East Coast July 1950 (8)

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

On the evening of 10 July, Guzzoni had a far from clear understanding of the situation. Reports indicated that British and Canadian forces had established beachheads along the eastern coast between Syracuse and the Pachino peninsula.

But because signal communications with the naval base had failed completely that day, General Guzzoni dismissed reports of British proximity to Syracuse as exaggerations. Not until 0300, 11 July, did he learn from General von Senger that Syracuse had fallen and that Augusta had been evacuated briefly by Axis forces. Until then, though he was aware that only isolated pockets of Italian troops still resisted near Noto and south of Modica, he counted on Group Schmalz and the Napoli Division to destroy the British and Canadian beachheads. General Guzzoni also knew that American troops had been located in Vittoria and near Comiso, apparently moving inland from a well-established beachhead near Scoglitti. The failure of the counterattacks against the Gela beaches disappointed him.

About 2000, 10 July, Guzzoni ordered the XVI Corps to commit both Group Schmalz and the Napoli Division in a determined attempt to knock out the British beachhead south of Syracuse. He instructed the Hermann Gӧring Division and the Livorno Division to launch a co-ordinated attack against the American beachhead at Gela. He directed the reinforced 207th Coastal Division to strike the American beachhead at Licata.

At his headquarters near Rome, Field Marshal Kesselring, who lacked communications with Guzzoni and who had been receiving information from Luftwaffe headquarters in Catania and Taormina, was unaware of Guzzoni’s intention to counterattack on 11 July. Learning of the fall of Syracuse (and promptly notifying Comando Supremo), Kesselring concluded that this, plus the earlier breakdown of the Italian coastal defenses, meant the Italian units were putting up little resistance. There seemed little likelihood of a more determined stand in the future.

Convinced that only the German units were effective, Kesselring sent a message through Luftwaffe channels to the Hermann Gӧring Division and ordered it to counterattack toward Gela on the morning of 11 July. If pressed home with great vigor and before the Americans could land the bulk of their artillery and armor the attack, he believed, would be successful, Conrath, the Hermann Gӧring Division commander, who had received a call from the XVI Corps commander, went to the corps headquarters at Piazza Armerina.

He learned for the first time of his attachment to the corps and together with Generale di Divisione Domenico Chirieleison, the Livorno Division commander, also in attendance, he received word of Guzzoni’s plan for a co-ordinated attack against Gela. According to the plan, the attack, starting at 0600, would have the German division converging on Gela from the northeast in three columns, the Italian division converging on Gela from the northwest, also in three columns.

Upon returning to his command post, Conrath received Kesselring’s order. But this posed no complication. He reorganized his division into three attack groups: two tank-heavy forces west of the Acate River, one infantry-heavy force east of the river. One tank battalion was to move from the Ponte Olivo airfield south along Highway 117, then east across the Gela plain, and meet with the other tank battalion at Piano Lupo. Several tanks of the Ponte Olivo force were to make a feint north of Gela to deceive the Americans into believing that the city of Gela was the main objective. Instead, the main effort was to be made by the other tank column south along the Niscemi-Piano Lupo road to occupy Hills 132 and 123 (the southern edge of Piano Lupo). Joined by the tank battalion coming across the Gela plain from the west, the tanks were to strike south for the sparsely wooded area between the Biviere Pond and the Gulf of Gela. The infantry-heavy force, meanwhile, was to cross the Acate River at Ponte Dirillo and join the tank forces on Piano Lupo.

From the sparsely wooded area near the shore line, the entire force was then to roll up the 1st Division’s beachhead from east to west, while the Livorno Division, coming in from the west, was to overrun Gela and roll up the 1st Division’s beachhead from the west.

[N2-8-66 MS #R-138, The Counterattack on the Second Day, II July 1943, ch. IX of Axis Tactical Operations in Sicily, July-August 1943 (Bauer), pp. 1-3]

Northwest of Gela, General Chirieleison ordered one column to strike at Gela from the north, a second to advance astride the Gela-Butera road and strike Gela from the northwest, the third, while guarding the division right flank against American forces near Licata, to move southeast from Butera Station to Gela. The remnants of the Italian Mobile Group E were to support the first column.

While the division commanders were completing their attack preparations, Guzzoni, at his headquarters in Enna, finally learned of the fall of Syracuse. The Syracuse-Augusta area, previously considered the strongest defensive sector in all of Sicily, had turned suddenly into a major danger area. If the British advanced quickly from Syracuse into the Catania plain and from there to Messina, they would bottle up all the Axis forces on Sicily.

Since all his reserves were too far away or already committed, Guzzoni modified his previous orders to the XVI Corps. Early on 11 July, he had instructed the corps to execute its counterattack as planned. But now, as soon as the Hermann Gӧring Division attack showed signs of success, the division was to wheel eastward, not to the west, and advance on Vittoria, Comiso, and Palazzolo Acreide in succession. With the entire German division then reunited, a strong blow could be mounted against the British.

At the same time, the move would knock out the 45th Division’s beachhead around Scoglitti. The Livorno Division, after taking Gela, was to wheel westward and destroy the American beachhead at Licata. The 15th Panzer Grenadier Division, returning from the west, would assist the Livorno Division against Licata.

Before the Axis divisions could launch their attacks, the 1st Division acted. In keeping with General Allen’s confidence in the skillful use of night attacks, the 26th Infantry on the left and the 16th Infantry on the right jumped off at midnight, 10 July, toward the division’s major objectives, the Ponte Olivo airfield and Niscemi.

Lieutenant Colonel John T. Corley’s 3rd Battalion, 26th Infantry, moved up Highway 117 toward Monte della Guardia (Hill 300), the commanding terrain west of the highway overlooking the airfield. But within thirty minutes, heavy enemy fire from the front and flanks brought the battalion to a halt.

On the Niscemi-Piano Lupo road, Colonel Denholm’s 1st Battalion, 16th Infantry, advanced north toward Casa del Priolo, while Company G of Colonel Crawford’s 2nd Battalion paralleled this movement on the west side of the road. Though the 1st Battalion reached Casa del Priolo without difficulty and began digging in, Company G spotted German tanks to its left front and returned to its original position near Piano Lupo. Dismayed at the return of his company and fearing the German tanks would pounce on the unprotected left flank of the 1st Battalion, Crawford ordered Companies E and F to move out and dig in on the little orchard-covered ridge at Abbio Priolo, about a thousand yards north and west of Casa del Priolo. Accompanied by Colonel Gorham’s paratroopers, these companies reached the ridge at 0530.

In Gela, the Rangers and engineers continued to improve their defenses. Across the Acate River, in the path of the infantry-heavy German task force, the I80th Infantry remained in a disheartening situation. Though the 1st and 3rd Battalions had thrown back the German counterattack on the previous evening, the regiment still had no contact with the 1st Division on the left and with the 179th Infantry on the right. In addition, the regimental commander probably had no more than a faint notion of the location of his front. Whether he knew that most of the 1st Battalion had been captured by the Germans is not clear. Communications with Colonel Cochrane’s 2nd Battalion were tenuous at best, and often lost, and the regimental headquarters had no knowledge of the whereabouts of portions of Companies E, G, and H, which, in actuality, held a strongpoint astride Highway 115 near Ponte Dirillo and occupied the high ground just north of the bridge. The one bright spot in the 180th Infantry zone was that the bulk of the 171st Field Artillery Battalion was prepared to fire in support.

Unable to make contact with the Livorno Division, but assuming that the Italian division would launch its attack, General Conrath at 0615, 11 July, sent the three task forces of the Hermann Gӧring Division forward. At the same time, one Italian task force, the one nearest Highway 117, jumped off, but on its own initiative, apparently after seeing the German tank battalion start south from Ponte Olivo airfield. To help support the converging attacks on Gela, German and Italian aircraft struck the beaches and the naval vessels lying offshore.

The 3rd Battalion, 26th Infantry, which had been advancing up the east side of Highway 117, bore the brunt of the German attack. Company K was driven to the south and west toward Gela, but the remainder of the battalion held firm. The Italian column passed the 26th Infantry, bumped into Company K, which was trying to get back to Gela, and headed directly for the city. Colonel Darby’s force in Gela laid down heavy fire on the approaching enemy. The 33rd Field Artillery Battalion began pounding away at both columns. The two batteries from the 5th Field Artillery Battalion joined in. The 26th Infantry’s Cannon Company and the 4.2-inch mortars in Gela also opened fire. The combination of fires stopped the Italians.

The German tanks then swung east across the Gela plain to join the force descending the Niscemi-Piano Lupo road. There, the situation had quickly dissolved into a series of scattered infantry-tank actions. First to feel the weight of the German attack was the 2nd Battalion, 16th Infantry, at Abbio Priolo, where the infantrymen and paratroopers had little time to complete more than hasty foxholes and weapons emplacements. German tanks, a conglomeration of Mark Ill’s and IV’s, appeared, flanking the 2nd Battalion from the west. The tanks rushed in, shooting their machine guns and cannon at almost point-blank range. With only a few bazookas plus their regular weapons, the infantrymen and the paratroopers fought back. Aided by fires from eight howitzers of the 7th Field Artillery Battalion and part of the regiment’s anti-tank company, which had finally managed to get across the Acate River that very morning, the battalion Held. As yet, there was no naval gun-fire support. Nor were there aircraft available to fly direct or close support missions.

[Note: Morison. In Sicily-Salerno-Anzio (, suggests that the shore fire control parties probably did not call for fires because smoke obscured the targets. It seems more likely, however, since the 7th Field Artillery Battalion was firing-indicating the battalion had observation-that the field artillerymen either felt they could handle this counterattack without additional help or the very nearness of the enemy troops and the rough nature of the terrain made it too dangerous to call in naval fires at this time.]

[NOTE: Six requests for direct air support were made on 10 July-five by the 1st Division, one by Seventh Army. None of these missions were flown. On 11 July, the 1st Division requested five more direct air support missions; one was flown, in the late afternoon.]

Personally directing the attack on the Niscemi-Piano Lupo road, General Conrath regrouped his forces and again sent them rushing at the American positions. This time, the tanks rolled directly down and tried to circle both flanks. The swinging German movement to the right brought the 1st Battalion at Casa del Priolo into the fight. As German tanks swept past the embattled Americans and joined with other German tanks at the eastern edge of the Gela plain, the Americans pulled slowly back to Piano Lupo under cover of supporting fires, both artillery and naval. By 1100, the Americans were back where they had started from around midnight.

East of the Acate river, the German infantry-heavy task force drove down from Biscari to Highway 115, where Company F, 180th Infantry, defending Ponte Dirillo, delayed it a short while. But the company could not hold, and retired to the beaches. North of the bridge, Colonel Cochran, with the remainder of the 2nd Battalion, 180th Infantry (less than 200 men), and the small group of paratroopers, lost all contact with regimental headquarters. Fortunately, he made contact with the 171st Field Artillery Battalion, and through the battalion with naval vessels. The artillery and the destroyer Beatty both gave heroic support.

[N2-8-13 The Beatty, from 0730 to 1030, fired a total of 799 five-inch rounds on this one German column. Three other destroyers also fired on this column during the course of the day: the Laub (751 rounds); the Cowie (200 rounds); and theTil/man (46 rounds). See Morison, Sicily-Salerno-Anzio, p. 113. See also Infantry Combat, pt. Five: Sicily, (Fort Benning, 1943), p. 1 (copy in OCMH); I7ISt FA Bn AAR, II Ju143]

At that very moment, about 0900, as the German force pushed past the highway toward the mouth of the river, a group of American paratroopers led by Colonel Gavin appeared from the east and struck the enemy column. Colonel Gavin had halted about noon on D-day to await darkness before continuing westward with his small party of paratroopers. As yet, he had made no contact with any American force. As the sun began to set on 10 July, Gavin and his men set forth. At 0230, 11 July, five miles southeast of Vittoria, the paratroopers finally made their first contact with an American unit, Company I, 179th Infantry.

For the first time since landing in Sicily, Colonel Gavin knew his exact location. Entering Vittoria about 0500, and collecting the paratroopers and three airborne howitzers that had assisted in the capture of the city the previous afternoon, Gavin then turned west on Highway 115. Five miles west of the city, Gavin met 180 men of the 3rd Battalion, 505th Parachute Infantry, led by Major Edward C. Krause. Krause had halted here the previous evening after he, too, had failed to make contact with other American forces.

Instructing Krause to organize the now sizable paratrooper force into march formation and to follow, Colonel Gavin and his S-3, Major Benjamin H. Vandervoort, continued westward along the highway. After covering another two miles, Gavin came upon a group of forty men from Company L, 180th Infantry, and twenty paratroop engineers. They told Gavin that the Germans were astride the highway farther to the west, but they could provide no details on strength or dispositions.

Wanting to see the German force for himself, and apparently not knowing the location of the 180th Infantry, Gavin took the paratroop engineers and began walking along the highway toward Biscari Station. A German officer and a soldier on a motorcycle suddenly came around a bend in the road and were captured. Though the two made no effort to resist, they refused to give information. With enemy troops close by, Gavin sent Vandervoort back to hurry along the force of 250 paratroopers under Major Krause. Vandervoort was then to continue on to the 45th Division command post near Vittoria to let General Middleton know Gavin’s location.

Gavin took his engineers toward Casa Biazzo, a group of five buildings on high ground sloping gently westward and overlooking the Acate River. Across what the paratroopers would call Biazzo Ridge ran the road to Biscari. A few hundred yards short of the buildings, Gavin’s little group came under small arms fire. Gavin pushed his men forward to the crest of the ridge where they drove a small detachment of Germans down the far slope. As they prepared to follow, enemy fire increased. Gavin, ordered his men ‘to dig in and hold until the arrival of Krause’s force.

The appearance of Gavin’s small unit drew German attention from Piano Lupo and the Gela beaches, where the entire 1st Division front was aflame. The bulk of the Livorno Division had by this time joined the Hermann Gӧring Division attack. General Conrath’s two tank battalions were once again united, and though he still contended with the 16th Infantry on Piano Lupo, he decided to send the bulk of his armored force across the Gela plain to the beaches. General Chirieleison the Livorno Division commander, was also pushing for a concentrated attack that would surge over the American positions. He had already lost one hour waiting for contact with the German unit.

He did have one column engaging the Americans in Gela. Now he sent a second from Butera toward the city. With most of the Rangers and engineers heavily engaged against the Italian thrust down Highway 117, only two Ranger companies on the west side of Gela stood in the way of Chmeleison’s second column. “You will fight with the troops and supporting weapons you have at this time,” Colonel Darby told them. “The units in the eastern sector are all engaged in stopping a tank attack.”

When the Italian column came within range, the two Ranger companies opened fire with their captured Italian artillery pieces, and with their supporting platoon of 4.2-inch mortars. The Italian movement slowed. General Patton appeared at the Ranger command post in this sector, a two-story building, and watched the Italian attack. As he turned to leave, he called out to Captain Lyle, who commanded the Rangers there, “Kill every one of the goddam bastards.”

Lyle called on the cruiser Savannah to help, and before long almost 500 devastating rounds of 6-inch shells struck the Italian column. Through the dust and smoke, Italians could be seen staggering as if dazed. Casualties were heavy. The attack stalled. Moving out to finish the task, the Ranger companies captured almost 400 enemy troops. “There were human bodies hanging from the trees,” Lyle noted, “and some blown to bits.” As it turned out, a large proportion of the officers and more than 50 percent of the Italian soldiers were killed or wounded.

North of GeIa, artillery and naval fire, small arms, machine gun, and mortar fires reduced the Livorno column to company size, and these troops were barely holding on to positions they had quickly dug. The third Italian column, in about battalion size, starting to move from Butera Station to GeIa, ran into a combat patrol which had been dispatched by the 3rd Division to make contact with the Gela force. The company-size patrol inflicted heavy casualties on the Italians, who pulled back to their original position. The battering received during this attack on Gela finished the Livorno Division as an effective combat unit.

East of Gela, as General Conrath sent the major part of both his tank battalions toward the beaches, the Gela plain became a raging inferno of exploding shells, smoke, and fire. The lead tanks reached the highway west of Santa Spina, two thousand yards from the water. As they raked supply dumps and landing craft with fire, the division headquarters reported victory: “pressure by the Hermann Gӧring Division [has] forced the enemy to re-embark temporarily.” At Sixth Army headquarters, General Guzzoni was elated. After discussion with General von Senger, he instructed XVI Corps to put the revised plan into action wheel the German division that afternoon to the east toward Vittoria and continue movement during the night to Palazzolo Acreide and the Syracuse sector.

But the German tanks never reached the 1st Division beaches. Nor was there any thought of American re-embarkation. [N2-8-20] The 32nd Field Artillery Battalion, coming ashore in Dukws moved directly into firing positions along the edge of the sand dunes and opened direct fire on the mass of German armor to its front. The 16th Infantry Cannon Company, having just been ferried across the Acate River, rushed up to the dune line, took positions, and opened fire. Four of the ten medium tanks of Colonel White’s CC-B finally got off the soft beach, and, under White’s direction, opened fire from the eastern edge of the plain.

[N2-8-20 There is no evidence in the official records of any order to re-embark personnel or equipment from any beaches. The WNTF Action Report, page 56, indicates that the engineer shore parties were called inland to establish a temporary defensive line, “and the withdrawal seaward by boats of other beach personnel.” Morison (Sieily-Salerno-Anzio, page 116) states “neither they [the Navy’s advanced base group] nor anyone else were given orders to re-embark, as the enemy reported.” General Faldella, the Sixth Army chief of staff, reported (Losbareo, page 148) an intercepted Seventh Army radio message that ordered the U.S. 1st Division to prepare for re-embarkation. Faldella repeated this to Mrs. Magna Bauer in Rome during an interview in January 1959, asking repeatedly whether the original message appeared in the records. The intercept was probably misinterpreted.]

The 18th Infantry and the 41st Armored Infantry near the Gela-Farello landing ground prepared to add their fires. Engineer shore parties stopped unloading and established a firing line along the dunes. Naval gunfire, for a change, was silent-the opposing forces were too close together for the naval guns to be used. Under the fearful pounding, the German attack came to a halt. Milling around in confusion, the lead tanks were unable to cross the coastal highway. The German tanks pulled back, slowly at first and then increasing their speed as naval guns opened fire and chased them. Sixteen German tanks lay burning on the Gela plain.

On Piano Lupo, the 1st and 2nd Battalions, 16th Infantry, had managed to hold the road junction, even though six German tanks had broken into their lines. The single remaining 37-mm. anti-tank gun in the 2nd Battalion disabled one. A lucky round from a 60-mm. mortar dropped down the open hatch of another. A bazooka round badly damaged a third. Colonel Gorham, the paratroop commander, put a fourth out of commission with bazooka fire. The other two retired. With almost one-third of his tank strength destroyed or disabled, General Conrath called off the attack shortly after 1400. Though fighting east of the river continued until late that evening, the tank units withdrew to the foothills south of Niscemi.

[N2-8-21 It is difficult to state exactly how many tanks the Hermann Gӧring Division lost in this counterattack. The division had go Mark III and IV tanks on 9 July. Attached were the 17 Tiger tanks from the 5th Tank Battalion. The division reported 54 tanks operational on 11 July, and 45 on 14 July.]

At Enna, General Guzzoni again changed his plans. The fierce American resistance at Gela, the known arrival of additional Allied units, and the continued pressure of the 45th Division in the Vittoria-Comiso area indicated the difficulty of getting the Hermann Gӧring Division to the east coast by way of Vittoria and Palazzolo Acreide. In addition, a further American advance inland from Comiso might bypass the Hermann Gӧring Division and cut it off entirely from the east coast. Thus, during the afternoon of 11 July, Guzzoni ordered the XVI Corps to suspend all offensive action in the Gela area, to withdraw the Hermann Gӧring Division to Caltagirone for movement on the following day to Vizzini and commitment against the British, and to consolidate the Livorno Division along a line from Mazzarino to Caltagirone to cover the German withdrawal. [N2-8-22]

Before Guzzoni’s instructions reached Conrath, General von Senger visited the Hermann Gӧring Division. Though disappointed because the tanks had not broken through to the beaches, Senger considered the situation favorable for turning the division eastward toward Vittoria and Comiso. This would cut off from the beaches those units of the 45th Division that had pushed well inland. Feeling that the 1st Division, which had borne the brunt of Axis counterattacks for two days, was in no position seriously to contest this movement, he ordered Conrath to the east.

[N2-8-22 during the period 10-14 July 1943 occurred in the battle for Gela and in the subsequent withdrawal. With a majority of these lost on 11 July. Thus, the German tank loss is estimated as being a minimum of 26, and a maximum of 45. In addition, 10 of the 17 Tiger tanks were also lost.]

Conrath was in agreement with Senger’s estimate. Still expecting his tanks to reach the beaches, he was sure his infantry heavy task force could wheel to the east from Biscari to strike at Vittoria. Unfortunately for Conrath, his infantry heavy force had been so manhandled by Gavin’s men on Biazzo Ridge that it was hardly in any condition to initiate any offensive action.

About 1000, a good many of the paratroopers, coming from Vittoria under Major Krause, had joined Colonel Gavin on Biazzo Ridge. Gavin directed this force to advance westward along Highway 115, seize Ponte Dirillo, and open a route to the 1st Division’s zone. Augmented by random troops of the 180th Infantry rounded up by Gavin, the paratroopers got going. After a mile of slow progress against increasing German resistance, the attack halted when four Tiger tanks, supported by infantrymen, came into view and began pressing the paratroopers back. Though American soldiers crawled forward singly with bazookas, they could not get close enough to register a kill. Fortunately, two of the three airborne howitzers came in behind Biazzo Ridge, went into position, and opened fire.

The fight continued until well after noon. As American casualties increased to the danger point, artillerymen manhandled one of the little howitzers to the top of the ridge just in time to engage in a point-blank duel with a Tiger tank. In the face of heavy small arms fire and several near misses from the tank gun, the paratrooper crew got off several quick rounds, one of which knocked out the tank. Two half-tracks towing 57-mm. anti-tank guns arrived from the 179th Infantry, went into firing positions, and engaged the other three Tiger tanks. Around 1500, the Germans had had enough.

The anti-tank guns had arrived in response to Colonel Gavin’s request, through another staff officer dispatched to the 45th Division command post for assistance, especially for anti-tank guns, artillery liaison parties, and tanks. General Middleton had been quick to react. Shortly after the anti-tank guns rolled up, a naval gunfire support party and a liaison party from the l89th Field Artillery Battalion reached Colonel Gavin’s headquarters. Within a very few minutes, the field artillery battalion signaled rounds on the way and the Navy joined in blasting the German troops along the Acate River. Still later in the afternoon, eleven tanks from the 753rd Medium Tank Battalion arrived. At the same time, Gavin received word that Lieutenant Swingler, commander of the 505th’s Headquarters Company, was on the way with an additional one hundred paratroopers. With this growing strength, Gavin decided to switch to the offensive.

On trucks furnished by the 45th Division, Lieutenant Swingler and his men arrived shortly after 2000. Forty-five minutes later, after a tremendous artillery concentration, the paratroopers launched their second attack. Every available man was committed, including a few from the Navy who had enrolled in the unit during the day. Not long afterwards, the German force was scattered, most of the troops making their way north toward Biscari, a few crossing at Ponte Dirillo to rejoin the main body of the division, a smaller number remaining near the bridge in blocking positions. With the advent of darkness, Gavin called off the attack before his troops reached the river, Pulling his men back, he organized a strong defensive line along the ridge.

The paratrooper stand on Biazzo Ridge prompted General Conrath to change his plans. Learning of the heavy losses being sustained by his infantry-heavy force, he decided, apparently on his own initiative, to break off contact with the Americans near Gela. Ignoring General von Senger’s instructions to wheel eastward, he decided to withdraw to Caltagirone in compliance with Guzzoni’s orders. But instead of retiring at once to Caltagirone, Conrath planned to pull his Hermann Gӧring Division back in stages. He would reach Caltagirone during the night of 13 July, a day later than Guzzoni wished.[N2-823]

[N2-823 For a complete discussion of Conrath’s decision, see MS #R-138 (Bauer), pp. 7-9, and MS #R-164 b, General Remarks to Individual Chapters and Suggested Corrections, Comments on Chapter XIX (Bauer). Though General Conrath, it seems certain, ordered a withdrawal to start during the night of 11 July, this information apparently did not reach all of his units. Interrogation of a German prisoner by 2nd Armored Division personnel on 12 July disclosed that the prisoner’s unit was ordered to attack Gela, which was reported clear as a result of the tank attack on 11 July. See 1st Inf Div G-2 Jnl, 10-14 Jul 43]

Though bitter patrol clashes continued in the hills near Piano Lupo during the night, and though the 16th Infantry reported an enemy infantry and tank buildup, the 1st Division beachhead was no longer in any serious danger. General Allen had established physical contact with the 3rd Division on his left. Almost all of the floating reserve was ashore. The Navy stood by to render gunfire support. More supplies and equipment were arriving.

[N28-2424 By nightfall, 11 July, all tanks of the 3rd Battalion, 67th Armored Regiment; eight light tanks from the 82nd Reconnaissance Battalion; all of Company E, 67th Armored Regiment; and the bulk of the 78th Armored Field Artillery Battalion were ashore. All this, of course, was in addition to the foot elements put ashore during the night of 10 July.]

Colonel Perry, then Chief of Staff, 2nd Armored Division, disagrees with one report (Morison, Sicily-Salerno-Anzio, page 111) that the desperate need for more armor ashore was not fully appreciated. Colonel Perry states that the need for armor was appreciated by the 2nd Armored Division, but that due to the lack of causeways and the slowness of unloading tanks from LST’s to LCT’s and then to shore, tanks could not be gotten ashore quickly. Colonel Perry further states that on 11 Despite the fact that the 1st Division had taken quite a battering on 11 July, in particular the 16th Infantry, and despite the fact that enemy air raids had caused some damage, notably the destruction of a Liberty ship filled with ammunition, General Patton was ashore urging General Allen to get on with the business of taking Ponte Olivo and Niscemi, objectives which, according to the Seventh Army’s plan, should have been taken that day. [N2-8-25]  11 July there was no causeway operating on any 1st Division beach until late in the afternoon. The only U.S. tanks to see action on 11 July were four of the ten medium tanks that were unloaded early in the morning.

[N2-8-25 See Combat Operations of the 1st Infantry Division During World War II (a 43-page mimeographed document prepared by General Allen), p. 36. According to General Allen’s report, General Patton was very much “wrought up” because the 1st Division had not as yet taken Ponte Olivo airfield.]

SOURCE: Sicily and the Surrender of Italy: BY; Lieutenant Colonel Albert Nutter Garland & Howard McGaw Smyth (United States Army Center of Military History)

World War Two: Sicily (2-6): Allied Invasion July 1943

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

While the marines and soldiers of the V Amphibious Corps were still pushing toward the east coast of Saipan, Admiral Spruance received news that was to prove even more significant than that of the capture of Aslito field. Beginning on 15 June, American submarines patrolling the waters east of the Philippine Islands sent in a series of reports on enemy ship movements that seemed to indicate strongly that the Japanese were massing a fleet and were sending it to the rescue of the beleaguered defenders of Saipan.

Spruance, like all other high-ranking U.S. naval commanders in the Pacific, had hoped that an invasion of the Marianas would bring the enemy fleet out fighting. That hope now seemed likely to be fulfilled. The Japanese Navy, like the American, had long been imbued with Alfred Thayer Mahan’s doctrine that the sine qua non of victory in naval warfare is the destruction of the enemy fleet. In their own national history, the Japanese had only to look back as far as 1905 for historical warrant for this assumption. In that year, Admiral Heigachiro Togo had met and almost annihilated the Russian Fleet at the Battle of Tsushima, thus paving the way to Japan’s victory in the Russo-Japanese War and a long-coveted place in the international sun.

In the early stages of World War II the Japanese sought to put this doctrine to test, but always fell short of complete success. In spite of the tremendous damage done to it at Pearl Harbor, the U.S. Fleet survived and recovered with remarkable rapidity. Important sea battles were won by the Japanese in the Solomons, but none of them were conclusive. At Midway the tables were turned when U.S. carrier planes repelled an attempted invasion and administered a sound drubbing to the Japanese naval forces supporting it.

By late 1943 the high command of the Imperial Navy felt that conditions were ripe for a decisive fleet engagement. Twice in the autumn of that year Admiral Mineichi Koga, Commander in Chief, Combined Fleet, sallied forth from Truk in an effort to engage the U.S. Central Pacific Fleet. Both times he failed to discover his adversary. In the end he retired to Truk and allowed most of his carrier air strength to be diverted to the Rabaul area, where two thirds of it was lost. In the spring of 1944, as American forces threatened to press farther into western Pacific waters, the Japanese prepared another plan, Operation A-GO, in the hope of forcing a major fleet engagement.

[N2-7-2 Information on Operation A-GO is derived from: Japanese Studies in World War II, 60 and 97; USSBS, Campaigns, pp. 213-72; USSBS, Interrogations, II, 316.]

On 3 May 1944 Admiral Toyoda, Koga’s successor as Commander in Chief, Combined Fleet, issued the general order for Operation A-GO. It was assumed that the next major thrust of the U.S. Fleet would be into waters around the Palaus, in the western Carolines, and that there it could be met and bested by the Japanese. Thought was given to the possibility that the Americans might move first against the Marianas rather than Palaus, but the consensus among high Japanese naval circles favored the latter alternative. Probably wishful thinking entered the picture here, for it was obviously to the advantage of the Japanese to concentrate their naval forces in the more southerly waters. The 1st Mobile Fleet, commanded by Admiral Jisaburo Ozawa, was soon to be moved to Tawi Tawi in the Sulu Archipelago, and it was to this force that major responsibility for carrying out Operation A-GO was assigned. The Japanese were already suffering a shortage of both fuel and tankers, and should Ozawa extend the range of his operations as far north as the Marianas he would take considerable logistical risks.

Before A-GO could be executed, an American thrust in another quarter caused Toyoda to change his plans. On 27 May General MacArthur’s forces invaded the island of Biak in the Geelvink Bay area of New Guinea and placed the Japanese admiral in a dilemma. If Biak were lost to the invaders, the success of A-GO could easily be jeopardized by American aircraft based on that island. On the other hand, to reinforce Biak would entail at least a temporary dispersion of forces, and of course the first principle upon which A-GO was based was that of concentration of force. Faced with this choice, the Japanese decided to accept the risks of dispersion and to dispatch some of their ships and planes to the Biak area in an effort to drive the Americans off. This decision was reflected in a new plan of operations known as KON.

[N2-7-3 Information concerning KON and its effects is derived from: Smith, Approach to the Philippines, Ch. XV; Samuel Eliot Morison, History of United States Naval Operations in World War II, Vol. VIII, New Guinea and the Marianas, March 1944-August 1944 (Boston, Little, Brown and Company, 1953), pp. 119-33]

Three times within eleven days Japanese naval forces sailed forth for Biak with troop reinforcements. The first of the expeditions turned back on 3 June, having lost the element of surprise on being sighted by American submarines and planes. The second was struck by B-25’s and suffered one destroyer sunk and three others damaged before the entire task force was chased away by American warships. The third, which included the super-battleships Yamato and Musashi, the light cruiser Noshiro, and six destroyers, all detached from the 1st Mobile Fleet, was abruptly called off on 12 June when Admiral Toyoda received definite word that Admiral Spruance’s forces were attacking the Marianas.

Thus, the American soldiers on Biak were saved from further naval harassment by the timely appearance of Central Pacific forces off the Marianas. By the same token, the invasion of Biak by Southwest Pacific forces was to prove a boon to Admiral Spruance, Japanese plans for A-GO relied heavily on the support of naval land-based planes of the 1st Air Fleet stationed in the Marianas, Carolines, and Palaus, but one third to one half of all these planes were sent to Sorong and other bases in western New Guinea in response to the invasion of Biak. There, large numbers of pilots fell prey to malaria, and most of the aircraft were lost either to U.S. action or to bad weather. By the time the U.S. Fifth Fleet showed up to meet the challenge of A-GO, the land-based aircraft available to Toyoda had been sizably reduced in number.

On 11 June the Japanese admiral received word of Mitscher’s carrier strike against Saipan and immediately suspended the KON operation, ordering the task force bound for Biak to join forces with the main body of Ozawa’s 1st Mobile Fleet. Ozawa himself sortied from Tawi Tawi two days later, and on the morning of the 15th Operation A-GO was activated. Contrary to earlier Japanese expectations, the Americans had chosen to attack the Marianas rather than the western Carolines. Hence the scene of the impending “decisive fleet engagement” could only lie somewhere in the Philippine Sea—that vast stretch of ocean between the Philippines and the Marianas.

On the evening of 15 June Ozawa’s fleet had completed its progress from Tawi Tawi up the Visayan Sea and through San Bernadino Strait into the Philippine Sea. On the next afternoon it was joined by the KON force that had been diverted from Biak. Both fleets were sighted by American submarines, and it was apparent that the Japanese were heading in a northeasterly direction toward the Marianas.

[N2-7-4 The following account of the Battle of the Philippine Sea is derived from CINCPACCINCPOA

Opns in POA—Jun 44, Annex A, Part VII; Morison, New Guinea and the Marianas, Chs. XIV-XVI.

The Philippine Sea was so named as the result of a recommendation made by Admiral Nimitz in 1944, at the time of operations against the Marianas. The name was officially approved by the U.S. Board on Geographic Names in March 1945. The Philippine Sea applies to that area limited on the north by Japan, on the east by the Bonins and the Marianas, on the south by the Carolines, and on the west by the Philippines, Formosa, and the Ryukyu Islands.]

Altogether, Ozawa had mustered 5 carriers, 4 light carriers, 5 battleships, 11 heavy cruisers, 2 light cruisers, 28 destroyers, and 430 carrier-based combat aircraft. He was outnumbered by the Americans in every respect except in heavy cruisers. Spruance had at his disposal 7 carriers, 8 light carriers, 7 battleships, 8 heavy cruisers, 13 light cruisers, 69 destroyers, and 891 carrier-based planes. The mammoth American fleet was divided into four carrier task groups under Admiral Mitscher, Commander, Task Force 58. Mitscher was in tactical command, but his major tactical decisions had to be approved by Spruance as Commander, Fifth Fleet.

By the morning of 18 June all four American carrier groups had rendezvoused and were steaming in a southwesterly direction toward the approaching enemy. Spruance had ordered: “Action against the enemy must be pushed vigorously by all hands to ensure complete destruction of his fleet,” but had added the precautionary note, “Task Force 58 must cover Saipan and our forces engaged in that operation.”

That night Admiral Mitscher learned the full meaning of this qualification when his superior ordered him to change course to the east and maintain it until daylight. Mitscher protested but was overruled. Admiral Spruance was fearful that Ozawa might attempt an end run under cover of darkness and put the Japanese fleet between him and Saipan. The Fifth Fleet commander was unwilling to jeopardize the landing operations even if it meant a delay in closing with the enemy fleet. Actually, no such end run was contemplated by the Japanese commander, but Spruance had no way of knowing that at the time.

On the morning of the 19th, after the American carriers had turned west again, Ozawa’s planes, which were lighter and less well armed and therefore capable of greater range than their American rivals, delivered the first blow. In four separate raids lasting for almost five hours Japanese planes roared over the horizon in a futile effort to knock out Mitscher’s mighty fleet. Out of all the American surface vessels present, only one was hit—the battleship South Dakota, which lost 27 men killed and 23 wounded, but was not seriously damaged. For the rest, the raids were broken up and the raiders destroyed or turned back by the combined might of American ships’ fire and planes, chiefly the latter. Later that afternoon American strikes on Guam and Rota, which had been ordered for the morning, were resumed. By evening the “Great Marianas Turkey Shoot” was over with disastrous results to the Japanese. Out of 430 carrier planes, Ozawa lost 330.

Some went down under the fire of American ships and planes; others were destroyed on Guam and Rota; and still others were counted as operational casualties. Against this, only twenty-four American planes were shot down and six lost operationally. The same day, two Japanese carriers, Shokaku and Taiho (Admiral Ozawa’s flagship) were sunk by American submarines operating well to the south of Mitscher’s fleet.

That night Ozawa changed course to the northwest hoping to put distance between himself and the American fleet and to allow himself opportunity to refuel. Mitscher held to a westerly course in the belief that it would bring him across the track of his enemy. However, he could not send out night air patrols because none of his carrier aircraft were equipped with search radar, and not until late the following afternoon was aerial contact finally made with the Japanese fleet, which was now heading in the general direction of Okinawa. Mitscher immediately launched a twilight air attack that succeeded in destroying about 65 of Ozawa’s remaining 100 aircraft, sinking the carrier Hiyo, hitting another carrier and a battleship, and damaging two fleet oilers to the extent that they had to be scuttled. American plane losses came to 100, mostly incurred through crashes when the returning planes tried to land on their carriers after dark. Personnel casualties were not so heavy, coming to only 49.

Thus ended the Battle of the Philippine Sea. Mitscher would have detached his battleships, cruisers, and destroyers to pursue and destroy the fleeing enemy, but Spruance refused to break up the fleet. It would have made no difference anyway since Ozawa was by now too far away to be overhauled.

Despite the escape of six carriers and their escorts, the Imperial Navy had suffered a severe blow—one from which it never recovered. In the opinion of Samuel Eliot Morison, the Battle of the Philippine Sea “decided the Marianas campaign by giving the United States Navy command of the surrounding waters and air. Thus, the Japanese land forces on Saipan, Tinian, and Guam were doomed, no matter how bravely and doggedly they fought.

There can be no doubt of the decisive influence of the sea battle on the ultimate outcome of the land campaigns in the Marianas. On the other hand, the immediate effects were not altogether beneficial from the point of view of the troops fighting ashore on Saipan. On first getting word of the approach of the Japanese Fleet, Admiral Spruance had detached from Admiral Turner’s attack force five heavy cruisers, three light cruisers, and twenty-one destroyers to supplement Task Force 58.

This left Turner without adequate fire support for his transport shipping, which was still in the process of unloading at Saipan. Consequently, most of the transports retired well to the eastward of Saipan on the night of 17 June and remained away from the Saipan area until the Battle of the Philippine Sea was over. The withdrawal of these transports naturally interrupted unloading and imposed additional strains on the already overburdened logistical program on Saipan.


No aspect of an amphibious landing against a hostile shore presents more complex problems than that of transporting supplies from ship to shore and allocating them at the proper time and place and in the proper amounts to the troops that need them. Similarly, no phase of an amphibious operation is so likely to become disorganized and even disorderly. Ordinarily, the assault landing craft and vehicles move from ship to shore in scheduled wave formations and in a fairly methodical fashion. Once ashore the troops deploy and eventually move inland according to prearranged plan. Supplies, on the other hand, cannot move off the beach under their own power. More often than not they are dumped at the water’s edge in a haphazard fashion by landing craft whose naval crews are primarily interested in putting out to sea again. The supplies stay at the shore line until shore parties can segregate them in some order on the beaches or until mechanical transportation comes ashore to haul them in to inland dumps. To the casual observer at least, the pile up and congestion of supplies at the shore line during the first phase of a normal amphibious assault presents a picture of total chaos.

To be sure, in a well-conducted amphibious operation the chaos is often more apparent than real, but even under the best conditions the problem of ship-to-shore supply is a complicated one and not easy of solution. At Saipan it was further complicated by local circumstances, which were formidable, although not unique. On the first day unloading was hampered by heavy artillery and mortar fire on the beaches that did not cease altogether until three days later. Hydrographic conditions were unfavorable to a steady movement of supplies and equipment in to the beaches. The uncertain naval situation made it necessary for the transports to retire to seaward each of the first three nights. Finally, for the next five days and nights most of the transports stayed at sea awaiting the outcome of the Battle of the Philippine Sea.

Enemy harassment of the beaches and the unfavorable hydrographic conditions offshore were of course felt most seriously by the two Marine divisions during the first two days of the operation. Sporadically, enemy fire caused all unloading work to be suspended as shore parties took cover. The beaches on the flanks of the landing area were completely inaccessible to boats of any kind. LST’s and LCT’s could ground on the abutting reef, but supplies from that point to shore had either to be manhandled or transferred to LVT’s and DUKW’s. Some landing craft could reach shore at the interior beaches by way of the narrow channel off Charan Kanoa, but at low tide its use was restricted to those of the most shallow draft, and at all times it was congested because both assault divisions were using it.

Inevitably, too, along the six thousand yards of beach there was some mix-up of supplies in spite of the elaborate organization to supervise the unloading of the transports and the movement of supplies to the troop units to which they were allocated. In accordance with standard amphibious doctrine, this task was shared by naval beach parties and ground force shore parties. The beach parties supervised the unloading of the transports and the progress of landing craft and vehicles to the shore line. Also, they marked channels and controlled traffic in the lagoon. In command of these operations was a force master who had under him two transport group beachmasters, one for each Marine division, each of whom in turn commanded two transport division beachmasters, one for each assault regiment. All of these naval officers were landed as soon as satisfactory lateral communications had been established, and each was provided with a communication team of one officer, five radiomen, and five signalmen.

Paired with the naval beach-masters and working in close co-ordination with them were the Marine and Army shore party commanders whose job it was to control traffic on the beaches themselves, receive the supplies as they were landed, and distribute them to the appropriate troop units. Each Marine division was authorized a shore party of 98 officers and 2,781 enlisted men. The 2nd Marine Division based its shore party organization on the pioneer battalion of its engineer regiment. Nine teams were organized under three shore party group headquarters. The organization of the 4th Marine Division’s shore party differed somewhat in that two shore party groups were set up, each with three teams. These were drawn from personnel of the 121st Naval Construction Battalion as well as from the pioneer battalion of the division engineering regiment.

Each of the three Army regiments had its own shore party battalion—the 152nd Engineers for the 165th Infantry, the 34th Engineers for the 105th, and the 1341st Engineers of the 1165th Engineer Group for the 106th Infantry.

Notwithstanding this system of interlocking and parallel controls, the first two days of the operation frequently saw supplies of the 2nd Marine Division being dumped on the beaches of the 4th Division and vice versa. When the 27th Division began to land the situation rapidly deteriorated. On the night of 16 June the 165th Infantry commenced to come ashore over Blue Beach 1 in the zone of the 4th Marine Division. Next day the 105th Infantry followed. Few, if any, preliminary plans had been made by higher headquarters to cover the details of landing the reserve division, and the division itself, in its initial planning, had made no provision for a landing in this particular area. Hence, the process of getting the troops and supplies ashore inevitably became a makeshift proposition. Colonel Charles Ferris, Division G-4, set up an on-the-spot system of controls, but was unable to persuade either the Navy beachmaster or the senior shore party commander at corps headquarters to agree to routing cargo to any single beach or to order the transports’ boats to report to a single control craft in the channel so that an accurate record could be kept of items discharged. The result was that the 27th Division’s supplies were landed over several beaches, and the Army troops had to scramble and forage to get what they needed.

On 18 June all ships carrying troops and supplies of the 27th Division retired eastward of the island to await the outcome of the Battle of the Philippine Sea. To add to the division’s difficulties, the 152nd Engineers, which had been assigned as the shore party for the 165th Infantry, was detached and assigned to corps, leaving only the 34th Engineers to perform shore party functions for the two Army regiments that landed. By the morning of the 19th the supply situation within the division had become critical. True, there was enough food and water on hand for immediate needs, but only by dint of borrowing K rations from Marine dumps and capturing the water cisterns on Aslito field.

The quantities of Class II, III, and IV (organization equipment, fuel and lubricants, miscellaneous equipment) supplies on hand were almost negligible. Small arms ammunition would last four days, but there were only about 600 rounds of 155-mm. ammunition available for each battalion and 1,200 rounds per battalion of 105-mm. ammunition, most of the latter borrowed from the Marines. Of the division’s vehicles, there were on shore only three 2-1/2-ton cargo trucks, twenty-three 3/4-ton weapon carriers, and forty-nine DUKW’s. Not until 20 June did the ships carrying the troops of the 106th Regiment return to Saipan, and not until the 27th were the division’s supplies and equipment fully unloaded.

The 27th Division was not alone in suffering an interruption to the flow of its supplies and equipment because of the Battle of the Philippine Sea. The hasty withdrawal of the naval transports on the 18th made an orderly discharge of any cargo over the proper beaches impossible. Priorities were assigned to rations, ammunition, and fuels, and other items had to be neglected. Moreover, in order to dispatch the cargo ships with all possible speed out of the danger area, it was necessary to permit them to unload over the beach that was the handiest. Thus, it was impossible to prevent a division’s supplies from being scattered among all the dumps. The only advantage enjoyed by the two Marine divisions in this respect lay in the three full days they had had to unload their cargo before the general exodus of naval shipping, but this was at least partly offset by the fact that for most of the time their landing beaches were under fire.

Meanwhile, during the period when most of the transports were cruising east of Saipan, shore parties were furiously at work improving the beach approaches and eliminating obstacles to a more rapid delivery of supplies across the reef. Twelve pontoon sections had been hauled to Saipan lashed to the sides of LST’s, and others came later, side-carried by ships of the first garrison echelon. By 18 June naval Seabees had floated three of these and commenced construction of a causeway pier off Charan Kanoa, which was increased in length as fast as additional sections could be obtained from LST’s on their return from retirement to sea. Next day the 34th Engineer Battalion opened up Yellow Beach 3 just north of Agingan Point by blowing two channels through the reef to permit small boats to discharge on the shore during high tide. The battalion also rigged up a crane on an overhanging point off the beach to enable it to unload matériel directly from landing craft into trucks waiting on a level above the beach itself. On 21 June the 1341st Engineer Battalion removed all the mines from White Beach 1 below Agingan Point and prepared access roads from the beach. Naval underwater demolition teams searched for anti-boat mines and blew landing slips in the offshore reef for LST’s and LCT’s.

One factor that eased the 27th Division’s unloading problems was that a large percentage of its supplies had been palletized before embarkation from Oahu. Unlike the two Marine divisions, which were skeptical of the process, the 27th Division had responded enthusiastically to General Holland Smith’s administrative order that 25 to 50 percent of all supplies and two to five units of fire be palletized. In fact, the Army division had palletized almost 90 percent of all its supplies and had reason to be grateful for its own forehandedness. Securing the matériel to wooden pallets permitted a more rapid unloading of landing craft at the beaches, released working parties that otherwise would have been engaged in the arduous labor of transferring cargo from landing craft into trucks, and reduced the number of men at the landing beaches in positions exposed to enemy fire. In the opinion of Holland Smith, “These advantages were clearly manifest at Saipan when palletized supplies of the 27th Division were handled as against un-palletized supplies of the 2nd and 4th Marine Divisions.”

Not all of the logistical difficulties that beset the fighting troops were due to unloading difficulties. Some shortages can be traced back to the point of embarkation and are attributable to insufficient shipping. This was particularly true in the case of motor transportation. There was simply not enough space aboard the transports assigned to the operation to stow all of the vehicles of the three infantry divisions and of the XXIV Corps Artillery. General Smith’s headquarters cut the table of organization and equipment allowances, and his own allowances were reduced again because of inadequate shipping space. In the end, out of all motor transport vehicles allowed by corps, only 94 percent of the ambulances, 83 percent of the trucks, 71 percent of the trailers, and 75 percent of the tractors could be embarked from Oahu. Although these cuts were distributed more or less equally among all the units involved, the 27th Division suffered somewhat less than the others, being able to carry with it 86 percent of its trucks, 99 percent of its trailers, and 99 percent of its tractors. However, this advantage was more than offset when, after arrival on Saipan, corps headquarters commandeered thirty-three of the Army division’s 2-1/2-ton trucks and refused to return them even as late as 6 July.

As a partial compensation for the shortages in standard types of motor transportation, a substantial number of DUKW’s was provided for the Saipan operation more than had hitherto been used in the Central Pacific. All together, 185 of these vehicles were embarked. Each infantry division had a DUKW company attached, as did XXIV Corps Artillery. The DUKW’s initial function was to land the artillery. This had entailed some modification both of the DUKW’s bodies and of the 105-mm. howitzer wheels. After the landing phase, the amphibian trucks were used continually throughout the campaign, chiefly for hauling ammunition from shipboard or supply dumps to artillery emplacements and as prime movers for 105-mm. howitzers. In the opinion of General Holland Smith’s G-4 officer, Colonel Anderson, GSC, “the DUKW was the outstanding single type of equipment employed in this operation.”

Later, as the fight in the central and northern part of Saipan progressed, one other serious supply shortage manifested itself. The heavy demand for artillery support and close-in infantry support by 81-mm. and 60-mm. mortars created an unexpected drain on the mortar ammunition supply. Previous experience in the Central Pacific had seemed to indicate that a total of seven units of fire would be sufficient for Saipan, but this proved to be too low an estimate, and on the basis of experience in the Marianas ten units was recommended for future operations. The initial fault in not loading enough ammunition aboard the assault ships was compounded by the fact that resupply ships were frequently not vertically loaded, thus making it difficult for the troops to get their ammunition ashore when they needed it. Also, the first ammunition resupply ship was late in arriving in the area, and many of these vessels withdrew at night because of threatened air attacks, thus making a build-up of reserves impossible.

The extent to which these shortages and delays, avoidable and unavoidable, affected the course of the battle on Saipan cannot definitely be determined. The shortages and delays were real enough, but the fact that they were reported in such detail by supply officers and others might be taken to be as much in evidence of the wealth of matériel to which Americans in combat were accustomed as of any real privation suffered on Saipan. The records show no single instance wherein any infantry or artillery unit had to cease fire for want of ammunition or became completely immobilized for lack of transportation. On the other hand, it can be assumed that any defects in a supply system automatically impede the progress of ground troops. It is highly probable that had more supplies been on hand and had they reached the front lines in a more expeditious fashion, the combat troops would have been able to move against the enemy with greater force and speed.

Post landing Naval Gunfire Support On Saipan, as elsewhere in the island warfare typical of the Pacific, one of the most effective weapons in support of the infantry proved to be ships’ fire. Naval vessels ranging in size from LCI gunboats to old battleships, and mounting guns of calibers from 20-mm. to 14 inches, cruised the 27 1st Amphibian Truck Company for the 2nd Marine Division; 2nd Amphibian Truck Company for the 4th Marine Division; Provisional DUKW Company (from Quartermaster Company) for the 27th Division; 477th Amphibian Truck Company for XXIV Corps Artillery.

coasts of the island prepared at all times to support the troops on call, lay down preparatory fire, illuminate the night with star shells, and perform a host of other duties. True, the configuration and terrain of Saipan imposed some natural limitations on the fullest exploitation of this support. Naval guns have a flat trajectory and the mountains and hills of the volcanic island often masked fire from the sea. Also, the reefs fringing many parts of the island kept the larger vessels from approaching within optimum range for direct fire at some targets.

On the other hand, many of the enemy’s guns and installations were emplaced in defilade in valleys that ran perpendicular to the shore line on the east and west coasts, and against these naval gunfire could be particularly effective. The caves along the shore line offered ideal hiding places for enemy troops and were also ideal targets for ships firing from the sea, especially for the vessels of more shallow draft.

In general, two types of controls were set up to permit the co-ordination between troops and ships so necessary to efficient operations of this sort. For close support missions it was customary each day to assign a certain number of vessels to each infantry battalion in the assault—usually two or three destroyers. During the entire course of the operation 2 old battleships, 2 heavy cruisers, 3 light cruisers, and 39 destroyers delivered call fires at various times. Attached to each battalion was a shore fire control party consisting of naval and ground force personnel furnished by the 1st, 2nd, and 295th Joint Assault Signal Companies, which were attached, respectively, to the 4th Marine Division, the 2nd Marine Division, and the 27th Infantry Division. These parties were in direct radio communication with their supporting ships and from their positions on shore would request fire missions and spot the results.

This system of control was generally employed for two types of missions. First were the close support missions fired sometimes within fifty yards of friendly troops. Destroyers’ five-inch guns were usually used for this purpose, and the bulk of all five inch ammunition (139,691 rounds) was consumed in this fashion. How effective it was is doubtful.

Admiral Turner’s final opinion was, “Field Artillery is much better qualified for this type of fire by reason of its greater accuracy and smaller burst patterns.” The second type of mission usually controlled by shore fire control parties was night illumination. Star shells were fired on request of the infantrymen to prevent infiltration, to help stop counterattacks, and to keep enemy activity to their immediate front under surveillance. Unfortunately, there were not enough of these projectiles on hand to satisfy the wants of the troops, and after the first night a quota of six per hour per ship had to be imposed except during emergencies.

Except for these two types of missions, request for all other sorts of ships’ fire on ground targets originated from the naval gunfire officer of the Northern Troops and Landing Force. His headquarters was set up ashore near those of the corps air officer and the corps artillery officer and the three worked in close co-ordination so as to avoid duplication of effort and waste of ammunition.

Under the naval gunfire officer’s supervision, all deep support fire missions were arranged, including preparation fires, deliberate and methodical destruction fires, counterbattery, harassing, and interdiction fires, and fires on targets of opportunity. Since these missions were not controlled by shore fire control parties, it was considered necessary to fix definite safety limits and to specify safe lines of fire. Preparation fires were not brought closer than 1,500 yards from the nearest friendly troops. Deliberate and moderate destruction fires, fires on targets of opportunity, and counterbattery, harassing, and interdiction fires were usually confined to areas 2,500 yards from the front line. On the whole these various missions were executed far more effectively than were close support fires, and it was in this field that naval gunfire won its laurels at Saipan. Other chores ably performed by the support ships were the guarding of Saipan against amphibious reinforcements from Tinian, neutralization of the airfields at Marpi Point and Ushi Point, Tinian, and destruction of enemy cave positions along the seacoast that were inaccessible to anything but the 40-mm. fire of LCI gunboats.

The testimony of prisoners of war captured on Saipan leaves no doubt of the impression made on the Japanese by American naval gunfire. Major Takashi Hiragushi, 43rd Division intelligence officer, testified, “the most feared of . . . [American] weapons was the naval shelling which managed to reach the obscure mountain caves where . . . CP’s were located.”

A captured Japanese lieutenant declared that the greatest single factor in the American success was naval gunfire. When asked how he distinguished between naval gunfire and land-based artillery, he laughed and said that it was not difficult when one was on the receiving end. Everyone in the hills “holed up” and waited when a man-of-war started to fire. Other Japanese prisoners of war, when interrogated on the matter, were in almost unanimous agreement. Perhaps the highest testimonial of the efficacy of this particular weapon came from General Saito himself when he wrote on 27 June, “If there just were no naval gunfire, we feel with determination that we could fight it out with the enemy in a decisive battle.”

Close Air Support

Once the assault troops had landed on Saipan and established their beachhead, the role of aircraft for the remainder of the operation was twofold. First, and most important, it was to keep the battlefield isolated from the inroads of enemy air and surface craft. Second, it was to support the advance of the ground troops in somewhat the same manner as naval gunfire and artillery.

After the Battle of the Philippine Sea no serious threat of enemy air intervention remained, and except for occasional nuisance raids the troops on Saipan could enjoy virtual immunity from that quarter. Thereafter, the planes of Mitscher’s Task Force 58 were employed on occasional troop support missions, while Admiral Turner’s escort carriers provided the aircraft for combat air patrols and antisubmarine patrols. Once Aslito airfield was captured. He was mistakenly identified as Major Kiyoshi Yoshida, 31st Army intelligence officer and put into operation, these duties were shared by P-47’s of the 19th and 73rd Fighter Squadrons, Seventh Air Force.

Whether in deep support or close support, the planes assigned to assist the ground forces flew three types of missions—bombing, rocketing, and strafing. Of these, the first was the least effective in knocking out comparatively small targets such as gun installations. After the initial softening up of the landing beaches, bombing missions were ordinarily employed against enemy troop concentrations, supply dumps, and buildings. The first extensive use of aircraft rockets in the Central Pacific was on Saipan. The rockets proved to be the most valuable weapon for support aircraft, in spite of the fact that there was insufficient training in its use and that no delay fuzes were available. The most common technique for close support missions was strafing, which was not only effective against the enemy but safer for friendly troops.

Troop requests for close air support were radioed by air liaison parties attached to each regiment and battalion. The requests were filtered through division and corps headquarters, each of which had the opportunity of rejecting them before final decision was made by the Commander, Support Aircraft, Captain Richard F. Whitehead, USN, who was aboard Admiral Turner’s flagship. Once a strike was ordered, it would be controlled either by Captain Whitehead himself, by the support aircraft commander on Holland Smith’s stall, by the air co-ordinator (who was a group or squadron leader from one of the participating carriers and was on station over the island at all times during daylight hours), or by the flight leader assigned to the particular mission.

Air liaison parties on the ground had no direct radio communication with the planes and were therefore unable to coach the pilots into their targets. Targets were designated in a variety of ways. Sometimes the infantry marked them with white phosphorus mortar shells. At others, planes flew dummy runs and waited to execute their missions until battalion air liaison parties notified the Commander, Support Aircraft, who in turn notified the flight leader if the runs were made on the correct area. Fluorescent panels were used to mark the front lines of the troops.

The highly centralized system of close air support control used at Saipan had the advantage of reducing to a minimum the danger of duplication of missions and of planes bombing and strafing within friendly lines. On the other hand, it was time consuming to a degree that was highly unsatisfactory to the troops. The time lag between requests for and execution of an air strike was sometimes more than an hour and seldom less than a half hour.

One reason for the delay was the difficulty of co-ordinating air with the other supporting arms. No single co-ordinating agency had been established before the invasion of Saipan. This created no especially difficult problem when it came to coordinating air and naval gunfire, since by mutual agreement naval gunfire was lifted in certain areas when requested by the Commander, Support Aircraft, and air attacks were stopped on the request of firing ships. On the other hand, the co-ordination of air and artillery presented a more difficult problem because of the higher ordinates of artillery pieces, their rapid rate of fire, and the lack of central control for the four separate artillery units. For these and other reasons, close air support was the least satisfactory of the three supporting arms.


Artillery support was of course provided by the three divisions’ organic pieces, as well as by the twenty-four 155-mm. guns and twenty-four 155-mm. howitzers of XXIV Corps Artillery, which was commanded by General Harper. Corps artillery commenced to land and go into position on 18 June, and by 22 June all four battalions were ashore and firing. The two 155-mm. howitzer battalions and one of the gun battalions were emplaced 1,500 to 2,000 yards south of Charan Kanoa on the low, flat, plain adjacent to Yellow Beaches, while the other gun battalion was emplaced on the higher ground just southwest of Aslito airfield.

Initially, all battalions faced north on Saipan except for Battery B, 531st Field Artillery Battalion, which was positioned to fire on Tinian. On 27 June the front lines had advanced to an extent calling for a forward displacement of the heavy battalions of the corps, and by the 28th all had been displaced to positions northeast of Magicienne Bay. On 7 July the 225th Field Artillery Battalion displaced again, this time to the northeastern edge of Kagman Peninsula. In addition to supporting the troops on Saipan, XXIV Corps Artillery had the job of guarding the back door to Tinian. Observation posts overlooking the southern island were manned twenty-four hours a day, and various harassing and destructive missions were fired on Tinian airfields and other targets on that island throughout the Saipan operation.

For the most part corps artillery was assigned the job of delivering deep support fires for the advancing troops, and a minimum safety band of 1,500 yards in front of the infantry was established. The division’s batteries engaged in night harassing fires, preparation fires in advance of the daily infantry jump-offs, fires on targets of opportunity, and call fires at the request of the troops. On several occasions division artillery fired rolling barrages. Close liaison was maintained between corps and each division artillery headquarters by liaison officers numbering as many as three per division. A similar system was maintained by the divisions themselves. Each light artillery battalion had a command liaison officer with its supported infantry regiment, and usually the Marine and Army artillery units exchanged liaison officers to co-ordinate fires near division boundaries. Primary means of communication was by wire, although this was not altogether satisfactory because the large number of tracked vehicles used on Saipan made maintenance of wire lines difficult As a substitute, all corps liaison officers were provided with truck-mounted radios.

Altogether, the four artillery units were to fire about 291,500 rounds before the end of the battle for Saipan. Of these, 37,730 can be attributed to the corps artillery. In spite of this considerable volume of fire, there were certain limiting factors to the optimum employment of artillery. Chief among these was terrain.

After the major portion of southern Saipan had been secured and the main American attack reoriented to the north, General Holland Smith disposed almost all of his field artillery to support the northward thrust. True, one battery of 155-mm. guns (later increased to three) was pointed to the south against Tinian, but all the remaining pieces were ordered to direct their fire against the Mount Tapotchau-Death Valley-Kagman Peninsula line and beyond.

The terrain in this central part of Saipan presented several problems to the gunners. XXIV Corps Artillery was assigned the general mission of deep support, which meant that most of its targets were located in the northern half of the island. Since Mount Tapotchau lay athwart the line of sight between ground observers and these targets, corps artillerymen had to rely entirely on air spotters. Six L-4 liaison planes were assigned for this purpose, and by the end of the operation each of the pilots and his accompanying air observer had put in approximately a hundred hours in the air over enemy territory.

A more serious problem faced the artillerymen of the three divisions whose mission was to fire in close support of the advancing troops. In the center of the island, just east of Mount Tapotchau, lay Death Valley, which ran north and south along the axis of the attack. Since most of the enemy’s guns and mortars in this area were sighted into the valley from the hills and cliffs on either side, they could not easily be reached by American artillery firing from the south. This was one reason for the slow progress made by infantrymen up the center corridor of the island. Furthermore, since the troops on the right and left pushed on more rapidly than those in the center, the front line became more and more bent back in the middle. The unevenness of the line made the adjustment of artillery fire all the more difficult Nevertheless, in spite of the fact that Saipan was far from an artilleryman’s paradise, the main body of Holland Smith’s troops during the attack to the north did at least have continuous artillery support. Not so those troops of the 27th Division that were left to clean out the Japanese who were holed up on Nafutan Point, the southeastern tip of the island. Except for tanks, naval gunfire, and, later, antiaircraft guns, the infantrymen assigned to this mission would have to depend entirely on their own weapons.

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

World War Two: Saipan (2-6); Capture of Aslito Airfield


World War Two: Sicily (2-7);Invasion-First Day

The Axis Reaction: The Axis was unable to react effectively against the initial Seventh Army landings. At 0430, 10 July, the first enemy planes appeared over the Allied shipping massed in front of the assault beaches. The destroyer Maddox took a direct hit and sank within two minutes, just before 0500, and a mine sweeper went down at 0615. Enemy fighters shot down several planes that were spotting targets for the cruisers’ guns, and occasionally enemy bombs fell in the transport area. The air raids interfered but little with the landings.

[N2-7-1 The spotting aircraft were SOC’s (Seagull scout observation float planes), Curtiss single radial engine biplanes with large single floats and two-man crews: pilot and radioman. The aircraft were used primarily for spotting gunfire and for scouting purposes and had a top speed of 116 miles per hour. Each U.S. cruiser had two catapults and carried four SOC’s.]

Axis commanders were already trying that morning to stem the American advances. To counter the Gela landings and back up the weak XVIII Coastal Brigade, General Guzzoni attached to the XVI Corps the two Italian mobile airfield defense groups intended for the defense of the Ponte Olivo and Biscari airfields, the Livorno Division, and the Hermann Gӧring Division (minus Group Schmalz). He wished these forces to counterattack before the Americans could consolidate a beachhead. At the same time, despite his continued apprehension over an Allied landing in the western part of the island, Guzzoni ordered the 15th Panzer Grenadier Division, the larger part of which had just completed its transfer to the west, to retrace its steps and return to the Canicatti-Caltanissetta-San Cataldo area in the center of the island.

[N2-7-22SA IT 99a; Faldella, Lo sbarco, p. 1113; MS # C-077 (Rodt); MS #T-II, K I (Kesselring); MS #C-095 (Senger), KTB entry for 1425, 10 Jul 43· This manuscript contains certain entries from the war diary of the German liaison staff with the Armed Forces Command, Sicily; the war diary itself is not available. These war diary excerpts will be cited as follows: KTB entry, hour, and date.]

With these new units, the XVI Corps intended to launch a co-ordinated attack against the Gela landings, the Hermann Gӧring Division and the two Italian mobile groups to strike from the northeast, the Livorno Division from the northwest. But since telephone communications, poor to begin with, had been almost totally severed by the scattered groups of American paratroopers and by Allied bombing raids during the night, many of the units failed to receive the corps order. They proceeded to act on their own initiative according to the established defensive Parts of the 15th Panzer Grenadier Division (an infantry regiment, plus artillery and other units) were operating under Schmalz’s control on the east coast; other smaller elements had not yet made the move to the west. Basically the two major units involved in moving back to the east were Group Ens and Group Fullriede. doctrine for the island.

The broad fronted, massive, co-ordinated push visualized against the Gela beaches would turn out to be a series of un-co-ordinated, independent thrusts by small Axis units at varying times and at various places along the center of the American front. General Conrath, the Hermann Gӧring Division commander, had learned of the American landings early that morning, not from the Sixth Army headquarters but from messages relayed to him from Kesselring’s headquarters in Italy and from his own reconnaissance patrols, several of which clashed with American paratroopers near Niscemi. Later, word from Colonel Schmalz reporting his commitment of troops against the British landings convinced Conrath that the time had come to carry out the predetermined defense plan. He decided to counterattack at Gela.

The German division was not altogether unprepared. General Conrath had alerted his units at 2200 the previous night, instructing them to stand by for definite word on the expected Allied assaults. Because his communications with both Sixth Army and XVI Corps had gone out early on 10 July, and because he wished someone in authority to know of his counterattack plan, Conrath phoned General von Senger, the German liaison officer with the Sixth Army, outlined his plan, and told him he was jumping off without delay. [N2-7-5] He was not aware of the XVI Corps’ plan for a co-ordinated attack. N or did he know that his division was attached to the corps for the attack. The bulk of the Hermann Gӧring Division was assembled in and around Caltagirone. Conrath had organized the division forces into two reinforced regiments, assembled as task forces.

[N2-7-6] One, heavy in infantry, consisted of a two-battalion infantry regiment mounted on trucks, an armored artillery battalion, and an attached Tiger tank company of seventeen Mark VI tanks. [N2-7-7] The other task force, heavy in tanks, had a two-battalion tank regiment (about ninety Mark III and Mark IV tanks), two armored artillery battalions, and the bulk of the armored reconnaissance and engineer battalions, which functioned as infantry.

[N2-7-5 It seems odd that Conrath could contact Senger, but not General Guzzoni or the XVI Corps. He presumably used a separate German telephone net.]

[N2-7-6 Called Kampfgruppe, a term loosely assigned to improvised combat units of various sizes, usually named after the commander. See MS #R-137, ch. VIII, The Counterthrust on the First Day, 10 July 1943, Axis Tactical Operations in Sicily (Bauer), pp. 4-6. For a complete order of battle of the Hermann Gӧring Division, see MS #R-125 (Bauer), pp. 46-49; for its tank strength, see pp. 50-51.]

[N2-7-7 The colloquial name, Tiger, was not applied officially to this tank until 1944. This was a heavy tank, 60 tons, with a 5-man crew, an 88-mm. gun as main armament, and carried the thickest armor ever to be fitted on a German tank up to this time. The vehicle was 21 feet long, 12 feet wide, and could do 15 miles per hour on roads, 5 miles per hour cross-country. The Tiger tank company, part of the 115th Tank Battalion, 15th Panzer Grenadier Division, had been left behind when that division moved to the west, only the forty-six Mark III and Mark IV tanks of the battalion having gone along. The Tiger tank company was attached to the Hermann Gӧring Division either just before or at the beginning of the operations.]

General Conrath planned to commit his task forces in a two-pronged attack toward the beaches east of Gela. The troops were to move on three secondary roads to assembly points south of Biscari and Niscemi. With the infantry-heavy force on the Biscari side, both were then to jump off in a concentric attack on the beaches. Conrath hoped to begin his attack before 0800, 10 July, for a later hour would put the sun in his men’s eyes and make it easier for the Americans to locate his units. Besides, the earlier he could attack, the better his chances for success. Both German task forces were on the move shortly after 0400.

[N2-7-8 The Mark III was a medium (240-ton) tank, carried a 5-man crew, and was armed with a long-barreled 50-mm. or short-barreled 75-mm. gun. It was 17 feet long, almost 10 feet wide, could do 22 miles per hour on roads, and about half that speed cross-country. The Mark IV medium (26 tons) tank also carried a 5s-man crew, but was armed with the long-barreled, high velocity (3,200 feet per second) 75-mm. gun. It was 19 feet long, about 9 feet wide, and had roughly the same speed characteristics as the Mark III.]

Although the roads had been previously reconnoitered and found to be passable, if mediocre, the approach march to the assembly areas turned out to be much slower than Conrath had anticipated. Allied armed reconnaissance air strikes against the columns and clashes with scattered groups of American paratroopers caused some confusion and delay. Accompanying his tank regiment, Conrath had to work hard more than once to prevent panic among his inexperienced troops and admittedly not very capable junior commanders. The task forces soon lost contact with each other, and 0800 came and went with both groups still struggling toward their assembly areas. [N2-7-99CA: Italian coastal defense troops fleeing inland from Gela and Scoglitti with confusing and alarming reports of speedy American advances did little to help.]

Meanwhile, the Italian Mobile Group E under XVI Corps orders had started its movement south from Niscemi. Organized into two columns, one moving along the secondary road leading to Piano Lupo and Highway 115, the other turning west toward Ponte Olivo to pick up Highway 117 for a drive south on Gela, the group had no contact with the Hermann Gӧring Division. But it was aware of a corps order to the Livorno Division to commit a battalion in an attack on Gela from the northwest. Moving by truck, this battalion approached a jump-off point near Gela for an attack in conjunction with the mobile group.

At 0800, 10 July, therefore, three Axis forces were moving against the center of Seventh Army’s front. In the path of these forces lay the special force in Gela, the 26th RCT moving around Gela toward Highway 117, the 16th RCT advancing toward Piano Lupo, and the badly disorganized 180th RCT immediately east of the Acate River, with one of its battalions preparing to push from Highway 115 to Biscari. Elsewhere, there seemed to be no contest. On the right, only a few static Italian defensive positions remained. On the left, the XII Corps was trying to scrape together enough units to halt, or at least slow down, the Americans until the 15th Panzer Grenadier Division returned from the west.

The Battle

At Casa del Priolo, halfway between Piano Lupo and Niscemi, where less than 100 men of the 1st Battalion, 505th Parachute Infantry, had, under Lieutenant Colonel Arthur Gorham, reduced a strongpoint and set up a blocking position, an American soldier saw a column of Italian tanks and infantry heading his way. Alerted, the paratroopers allowed the point of the column, three small vehicles, to enter their lines before opening fire, killing or capturing the occupants. The sound of firing halted the main body.

After thirty minutes of hesitation, about two infantry companies shook themselves out into an extended formation and began moving toward the Americans, who waited until the Italians were 200 yards away. Then they opened a withering fire not only of rifles but of the numerous machine guns they had captured when they had taken the strongpoint. Their first fusillade pinned down the enemy troops except for a few in the rear who managed to get back to the main column.

Several minutes later, the Italians moved a mobile artillery piece into firing position on a hill just out of range of any weapon the paratroopers possessed. As the gun opened fire, a previously dispatched paratrooper patrol returned and reported to Colonel Gorham that there appeared to be no strong enemy force at the battalion’s original objective. This was the road junction on Piano Lupo, where only a few Italians armed with machine guns held a dug-in position surrounded by barbed wire.

Unable to counter the artillery fire, Gorham decided to make for Piano Lupo. The move would have several advantages: it would put him on his objective and closer to the 16th RCT, which he was supposed to contact; it would probably facilitate contact with other paratroopers. Even though naval gunfire began to come in on the Italian column, Gorham had no way of controlling or directing the fire. Leaving one squad to cover the withdrawal, he started the paratroopers south, staying well east of the Niscemi-Piano Lupo road to escape the effects of the naval fire. It was then close to 0930.

[N2-7-1010AB: There is a brief account of this action in the 505th Parachute Infantry Regiment AAR, 9-11 July 1943, and in 82nd Airborne Division in Sicily and Italy, pp. 10-11. A complete account is contained in the Sayre narrative, The Operations of Company A, 505th Parachute Infantry. The material presented by General Gavin in Airborne War/are, pp. 6-8, is drawn from Sayre’s account.]

The naval gunfire had come in response to a call from observers with the 16th RCT’s leading battalions, which were moving toward Piano Lupo. Because the RCT’s direct support artillery unit, the 7th Field Artillery Battalion, was not yet in firing position, the destroyer Jeffers answered the call with nineteen salvos from her 5-inch guns. A few of the Italian tanks were hit, but the majority were unscathed. No Italian infantry ventured past the Piano Lupo road junction, for they preferred to take cover from the relatively flat trajectory naval fire in previously prepared defensive positions. Masked on the south by high ground that caused most of the naval fire to overshoot the junction, the Italian infantrymen reached and occupied their positions just a few minutes ahead of Gorham’s paratroopers.

[N2-7-11FA: The 7th Field Artillery Battalion managed to get its personnel ashore early on D-day, but its howitzers were aboard the LST’s which veered off into the 45th Division’s zone. Two batteries were unloaded during the course of 10 July east of the Acate River and were moved up the beach (northwestward) and across the river by late afternoon The Italian tanks that passed through the fire, about twenty, continued past the we were shooting at, we would have cut loose with the whole fifteen, gun battery.” (Morison, Sicily-Salerno-Anzio, p. [03.)]

The cruiser Boise, at the request from the pilot of one of her scout planes, had previously fired two minutes of rapid fire with 6-inch guns at the same target. Apparently the Boise’s skipper was not aware of the nature of the target. The scout planes, continually harassed by enemy fighter planes, had to take continual evasive action as long as they were in the air and had little opportunity to keep any target in sight long enough to accurately adjust fires. road junction and turned on Highway 115 toward Gela.[ N2-7-13] They proceeded downhill only a short way. The two forward battalions of the 16th RCT, though armed only with standard infantry weapons, knocked out two of the tanks, thoroughly disrupted the Italian thrust, and halted the column. Without infantry support, its artillery under heavy counterbattery fire from American warships, the Italian tankers broke off the fight and retired north into the foothills bordering the Gela.

[N2-7-13: The [6th RCT reported twenty tanks in this attack. (1st Inf Div G-3 Jnl, entry 17, 10 J ul 43.) The exact number of tanks in this group is not known. One report indicates Mobile Group E had nearly fifty tanks when it started its movement on 10 July (Morison, Sicily-Salerno-Anzio, p. 103). Another report (MS # R-[25 (Bauer)) indicates that the Italian unit had one company (twelve to fourteen) of Renault 35 tanks; possibly sixteen 3-ton tanks; and possibly som,e Fiat “3,000” tanks. The Renault tanks, captured from the French in [940, weighed two tons and were armed with 37-mm. guns. From reports contained in other American sources, the number of Italian tanks appears to have been between thirty and forty total in both Italian groups.] 

The threat dispersed, the 16th RCT resumed its movement to the Piano Lupo road junction. But Gorham’s paratroopers, approaching from the opposite direction, arrived first. After reducing one Italian strongpoint, the paratroopers made contact with scouts from the 16th RCT at 1100. [N2-7-15] The 1st Battalion, 16th Infantry (Lieutenant Colonel Charles L. Denholm), then cleaned out several remaining Italian positions around the road junction, a task facilitated by a captured map, while the 2nd Battalion (Lieutenant Colonel Joseph Crawford) and the paratroopers moved across the road and occupied high ground to the northwest.

 [N2-7-15 In a letter received by OCMH 26 December 1950, Brigadier General George A. Taylor (Ret.), former commander of the 16th RCT, noted: “Any report that any unit of the 82nd Division captured anything and turned it over to me is without foundation.” But the 16th Infantry’s report of action shows that paratroopers were on Piano Lupo by the time the leading elements of the RCT arrived. This is also shown in the 82nd Airborne Division’s records.]

Meanwhile the heterogeneous Ranger engineer force in Gela had observed a column of thirteen Italian tanks escorted by infantry moving south along Highway 117 toward the city-the right arm of Mobile Group E’s two-pronged attack. Another column, the Livorno Division’s battalion of infantry, could also be seen moving toward Gela along the Butera road. While the destroyer Shubrick started firing at the tank-infantry column on Highway 117, the Ranger-manned Italian 77-mm. guns opened up on the Livorno battalion.

The first Shubrick salvos halted the Italians in some confusion. But the tankers recovered a measure of composure; they resumed their movement, though fewer now, for several tanks were burning in the fields along the highway. Without further loss, nine or ten tanks dashed down the highway and into the city. But the same thing happened here that had happened on the Niscemi–Piano Lupo road-Italian infantrymen did not follow the tanks. And in the city, the Rangers and the engineers began a deadly game of hide and seek with the Italian tanks, dodging in and out of buildings, throwing hand grenades and firing rocket launchers. Colonel Darby jumped in a jeep, dashed down to the beach, commandeered a 37-mm. anti-tank gun, returned with it to the city and knocked out a tank. Another burned as Rangers and engineers teamed up, first to stop it and then to destroy it. After twenty minutes of this kind of fighting, the Italians started back out of the city hotly pursued by American fire. The Italian crews suffered heavily. Almost every survivor carried with him some kind of wound.

As for the Livorno Division’s battalion -in almost formal, parade ground formation, the Italian infantrymen advanced against the western side of Gela. The two Ranger companies firing their captured Italian artillery pieces took heavy toll among the closely bunched enemy soldiers. Rifles, machine guns, and mortars joined in as the range closed. Not a enemy soldier reached the city. Leaving behind numerous dead and wounded, the remnants of the Italian battalion fled. 17 The Italian thrust against Gela stopped, the 26th Combat Team moved from the Gela-Farello landing ground into Gela and made contact with Darby’s force by noon. Two battalions swept past the city on the east, cut Highway 117, and took high ground two miles to the north. With the city firmly in American hands, Colonel Bowen, the 26th RCT commander, began to think of seizing the terrain overlooking Ponte Olivo airfield from the west. Yet he was not anxious to start until he had adequate field artillery and armor support. As of noon, Bowen had neither. Nor was the situation along the Piano Lupo-Niscemi axis clear. South of Niscemi, the right column of Conrath’s two-pronged counterattack, the tank-heavy force, closed into its assembly area. The infantry-heavy force closed in the Biscari area. With all in readiness at 1400, five hours late, Conrath sent his Hermann Gӧring Division into its attack. The tank regiment struck the 2nd Battalion, 16th Infantry, which had prepared defensive positions on ground overlooking the road junction at the coastal highway and had sent patrols almost to Casa del Priolo. Colonel Crawford’s 2nd Battalion, along with Colonel Gorham’s paratroopers, bore the initial brunt of the German tank thrust, and soon Colonel Denholm’s 1st Battalion was drawn into the fight. Calls for naval gunfire soon had shells dropping on the Niscemi road, but the German tanks, accompanied by reconnaissance and engineer troops in an infantry mission, rolled slowly past Casa del Priolo.

Not far from Casa del Priolo the tanks slowed, sputtered, and eventually stopped. The tankers could not go on because they had nothing to cope with the five- and six-inch naval shells that came whistling in from the sea. Also, American small arms fire had knocked out the accompanying foot soldiers and had thrown the lead tanks into confusion. Then, too, no support developed from the infantry-heavy column on the left.

[N2-7-1818 None of the 16th RCT’s AT guns (37-mm. in the battalions, 57-mm. in the regimental AT platoon) were up at this time. The guns did not arrive until later that night and early the following morning.]

Conrath ordered the tank attack renewed at 1500. But even Conrath’s inspiring and hard-driving presence was not enough to furnish impetus. The attack failed to get rolling. Still uncertain about the location and the fate of the infantry heavy task force, which was supposed to have crossed the Acate River and attacked Piano Lupo from the southeast, Conrath called off his offensive action. “The tanks are trying to withdraw,” the16th Infantry reported around 1700. And at 1845, “Tanks are withdrawing, it seems we are too much for them.”

Conrath’s infantry force had jumped off at 1400, had promptly lost communications with division headquarters, and had run into the 1st Battalion, 180th Infantry, which, together with some paratroopers picked up along the way, was moving toward Biscari. Their attack blunted by the relatively small American force supported by one battery of the 171st Field Artillery Battalion, the Germans came to a halt by 1530. Though the terraced terrain was well suited for infantry operations, dense groves of olive trees interfered with the movement of the heavy Tiger tanks that were part of the column.

Moreover, some of the Tigers, among the first produced, had defective steering mechanisms, and those that dropped out blocked the others. Inexperience among junior officers and some of the troop units, failure to get the Tiger tanks forward, and American tenacity on the ground stopped the German attempt.

Regaining communications later that afternoon, Conrath relieved the task force commander. After much prodding from Conrath and under a new commander, the infantry-heavy force regrouped and jumped off again. This time the German attack was better co-ordinated. The Tiger tanks led off, followed closely by foot soldiers. Breaking through the thin American lines, the Germans overran the positions of the 1st Battalion, 180th Infantry, and took prisoner the battalion commander, Colonel Schaefer, and most of the surviving troops. The remnants of the battalion streamed south toward the coastal Highway 115.

[N2-7-20 Major General Stanhope B. Mason, former chief of staff of the 1st Infantry Division, a close, personal friend of Colonel Schaefer’s. later had the pleasure of seeing the former 45th Division battalion commander released by American troops from the U.S. V Corps in Germany in 1945. See comments of Major General Stanhope B. Mason on MS.]

The way seemed open for German exploitation that would endanger the 1st Division beaches, when the 3rd Battalion, 180th Infantry, suddenly appeared. Released from corps reserve to counter the German attack, this American force took defensive positions and held fast. Imminent American disaster was averted as the Germans unexpectedly panicked. German soldiers broke and ran in wild disorder, their officers finally stopping the rout just short of Biscari. The Americans were content to remain along a line paralleling the south side of Highway 115.

[N2-72121 180th Inf Regt AAR, 10 Jul 43; AGF Rpt 217; 171st FA Bn AAR; 45th Inf Div Arty AAR; MS #C-087 a (Bergengruen). The wartime German record states simply that the attack mounted by the Hermann Gӧring Division against the Allied forces advancing from the Gela beaches to the area west of Caltagirone did not bear results. See OR SUED, Meldungen, No. 0114, 0340, II Jul 43, and Daily Sit rep West, 10 Jul 43, in OKH, Tagesmeldungen WEST. It was apparently the early evening advance of the German force that was used in ONI, Sicilian Campaign, page 47, to indicate withdrawal of the 180th RCT to the beaches at 2150, 10 July 1943. No doubt part of the 1st Battalion did go all the way back to the beaches, but there is no indication that any part of the 3rd Battalion did the same.]

Some confused fighting among combat patrols lasted until well after dark. Though strong enemy forces ringed the Gela plain and the Acate River valley, though commanders were concerned about the arrival of supporting tanks and artillery and the extent of their frontages, the troops in the center of the American beachhead had earned the right to a brief pause.

On the army left, General Truscott sent the 15th RCT, his center unit, seven miles up Highway 123 toward Campobello, holding the others ready to counter Axis thrusts. Reconnaissance pilots had picked up the movement of the 15th Panzer Grenadier Division, which was returning from the western part of Sicily, and Truscott was preparing to meet the threat.

Landing the 3rd Division’s floating reserve, General Rose’s CC-A, would help, and the armored command began coming ashore over the beaches east of Licata and through Licata itself. Truscott planned to send the armor to Naro, a small town fifteen miles northwest of Licata, between Palma di Montechiaro on the south and Campobello on the east. With troops at Naro and Campobello, Truscott would block an important avenue of approach to the division’s beachhead from the northwest.

On the army right, General Middleton kept pushing his easternmost regiments, the 179th and 157th. By nightfall they were seven miles inland. In contrast with the 180th Infantry’s rough experience in the Acate River valley, the 179th Infantry had Colonel Taylor’s 3rd Battalion, and some paratroopers who had joined, at the outskirts of Vittoria before 1600. A few men entered the city, but small arms fire drove them out. Unwilling to unleash his supporting artillery until city authorities had a chance to surrender, Colonel Taylor spent much time trying to persuade a civilian to go into the city to bring out the mayor or some other municipal official. The civilian refused. Infantry attack preceded by artillery bombardment appeared the only solution.

Unknown to Taylor, negotiations for Vittoria’s surrender were already taking place. Three of the ubiquitous paratroopers had been in the city since early morning, having been captured by the Italians shortly after dropping to ground. Two by this time were roaring drunk. The third, 1st Lieutenant William J. Harris (Headquarters Company, 3rd Battalion, 505th Parachute Infantry), was trying to persuade the Italian commander to capitulate. The approach of Taylor’s battalion strengthened Harris’ arguments considerably. At 1640, as American artillery units prepared to open fire, the Italians agreed to surrender. Beckoned by the hurried display of white flags, the infantrymen outside the city marched in unopposed.

Farther to the right, where Americans were moving on the Comiso airfield, Santa Croce Camerina was taken in the early afternoon as the result of an unplanned pincer movement. Colonel Murphy’s 1st Battalion, 15 7th Infantry, and Major Alexander’s 2nd Battalion, 505th Parachute Infantry, neither of which apparently knew of the other’s presence, attacked the town about the same time. The Italian garrison, concerned with Murphy’s approach from the west and totally unprepared for the paratrooper attack on the east, conceded defeat.

While Alexander’s paratroopers moved off to the north and west in search of a higher parachute headquarters, Murphy outposted the town and sent a partially motorized company thirteen miles northeast to Ragusa, the 1st Canadian Division objective. With only negligible opposition, the two motorized platoons entered Ragusa at 1800. No Canadians and only a few Italian soldiers were in the city. Since they were unwilling to chance an ambush during the night, the American platoons withdrew to the western outskirts, where the remainder of the company joined them shortly before midnight.

Sliding past Santa Croce Camerina on the west, the other two battalions of the 157th Infantry overran a strongpoint at Donnafugata. A four-truck motorized patrol to high ground northeast of Comiso secured an assembly area for the leading battalion. And from that point, Hill 643, the battalion the next day would support by fire the attack planned to seize the airfield.

The Beaches

By nightfall of D-day, 10 July, the Seventh Army was firmly established on Sicily. Only in the center was there cause for any immediate concern, and this stemmed from the failure of the airborne drop. The absence of paratroopers on Piano Lupo deprived the 1st Division of a reserve, put the 16th Infantry at a disadvantage, and increased the threat of enemy counterattack. The paratroopers had created confusion in enemy rear areas, but they had not seriously interfered with the movement of German and Italian units against the invasion.

The cause of failure lay with the troop carriers. As late as 10 June, three weeks before the invasion, observers had considered the 52d Troop Carrier Wing deficient in night formation flying, night navigation, and drop zone location during darkness. The wing had had only two practice missions at night under simulated combat conditions. One of these had scattered the 50Sth Parachute Infantry all along the flight route. Further training was impossible after 20 June because of the need to start moving troops and planes to the advanced take-off airfields.

On the evening of 9 July, serious doubts had existed in some quarters on the ability of the troop carrier units to deliver the paratroopers to the correct drop zones; at least one commander felt that the Troop Carrier Command was far too optimistic about the proficiency of the aircraft crews. Late in July 1943, General Ridgway was unequivocal in stating that the operation “demonstrated beyond any doubt that the Air Force … cannot at present put parachute units, even as large as a battalion, within effective attack distance of a chosen drop zone at night.”

German commanders tended to minimize the effect of the American airborne operation. Colonel Hellmut Bergengruen, a staff officer with the Hermann Gӧring Division, judged that the airdrops “were made in rear of the Italian coastal divisions, but in front of the German units and did not interfere with the conduct of the battle.” He conceded only the possibility that the parachute landings might have helped cause panic among some Italian units. Generalmajor Walter Fries, the 29th Panzer Grenadier Division commander, was less impressed. “Since they landed in front of the Germans,” he wrote later, “even if they were in rear of the Italian troops, there was little prospect of their being able to intervene decisively.”

Kesselring took a different tack. Admitting that the paratroopers “effected an extraordinary delay in the movement of our own troops and caused large losses,” he was more inclined to place blame on the leadership of General Conrath and other officers of the Hermann Gӧring Division. The command, he said, “was not fortunate.” Because the “march groups” were “incorrectly composed,” the paratroopers delayed the division. “It is incorrect armor tactics,” Kesselring continued, “for the tank units to march separate from the armored infantry as occurred here. With proper composition of the march groups the armored infantry riflemen would quickly have cleared out the snipers.”

[N2-7-28 MS #T-2 K 1 (Kesselring), pp. 20-21; Quotation from copy of a draft, initialed “Z,” 16 Jul 43.> OB SUEDWEST, Abt. Ie, I8.VI·43-I:I3.II.44 (Heeresgruppe “C,” 75138/28). A summary of the analysis is given in OKW/WFSt, KTB, I.-3I.vIII.43, [3 July 1943. This analysis of the first direct German experience against a large-scale amphibious attack was immediately transmitted by OKW to the headquarters in the other OKW theaters of war and areas under its command.]

Very probably this analysis was the basis for the statement of Generaloberst Kurt Student in October 1945 that “It is my opinion that if it had not been for the Allied airborne forces blocking the Hermann Gӧring Armored Division from reaching the beachhead, that division would have driven the initial seaborne forces back into the sea.” General Patton’s solution to the vacuum created by the unsuccessful airborne drop was to get his floating reserve ashore. In the early afternoon, as the threat of the Axis counterattack developed in the center, Patton directed General Gaffey to land his 2nd Armored Division (less CC-A but augmented by the 18th RCT) in the 1st Division’s zone, to assemble just inland, and to prepare for commitment as later ordered. A second, reinforcing airborne drop, considered for that evening and shelved in view of the need for armor ashore, was tentatively scheduled for the following night. 

[N2-7-29 The landing of the Seventh Army’s floating reserve is covered in: 2nd Armored Division in the Sicilian Campaign, a research report prepared at Fort Knox, 1949-50 (cited hereafter as 2nd Armd Div in Sicilian Campaign), p. 20; 2nd Armd Div AAR, 22 Apr-25 Jul 43; WTF Action Rpt, p. 25; Comments of Col Redding L. Perry on MS; Morison, Sicily-Salerno-Anzio, p. 108; 18th Inf Regt AAR, Jul 43: Lieutenant Colonel F. M. Muller, “2nd Armored Division Combat Loading, Part Two, Sicily,” Armored Cavalry Journal, vol. 56 (September-October 1947), pp. 9-I 3 ; CC-B, 2nd Armd Div AAR, Jul 43; Interv, Smyth with Lt Col Russel G. Spinney (former CO Co F, 18th Inf Regt), 31 Oct 50]

Throughout the morning the armored division’s headquarters aboard the transport Orizaba had been intercepting messages from the 1st Division to the Seventh Army, messages that urged the immediate landing of artillery and armor to support the assault units. By noon not one piece of artillery nor any of the ten tanks attached to the 1st Division had gotten ashore.

Just before 1400, Gaffey received the order to land. He was to go ashore over the 1st Division’s Yellow and Blue Beaches, the beaches nearest Gela. Returning to the Orizaba, General Gaffey sent ashore his chief of staff, Colonel Redding L. Perry, to reconnoiter the assigned beaches and to make the necessary arrangements with the 1st Division for assembly areas, routes, and guides. On shore, Perry discovered a picture quite different from that visualized on the Monrovia. General Allen, the 1st Division commander, expressed concern about getting armor ashore. Brigadier General Theodore Roosevelt, the assistant division commander who had visited all the division beaches, brought word that Yellow and Blue were heavily mined-both had been closed. He strongly recommended bringing in the 2nd Armored Division across Red Beach 2. Apprised of Roosevelt’s recommendation upon Perry’s return, Gaffey approved the change to Red 2, even though it entailed some delay in amending the previous orders.

About 1700, the command echelon of Colonel I. D. White’s CC-B landed on Red Beach 2. After contacting General Allen and reconnoitering several possible assembly areas, White settled on a site near the Gela-Farello landing ground which was being vacated by the rearmost units of the 26th Infantry.

The first unit scheduled to land was the 18th RCT. When General Gaffey learned that the LCI’s carrying the unit had remained in a cruising formation during the day instead of shifting to the planned landing formation, he nevertheless ordered debarkation from the cruising formation, counting on subsequent reorganization on shore. Because the beach was unsuitable for LCI’s, the beach-master was expected to provide LCVP’s to discharge the men from the LCI’s and take them ashore. But apparently because of a failure in communications between the landing craft and the beach-master, LCVP’s were not available, so the LCI’s approached as near to shore as possible and the infantrymen waded the rest of the way through the high surf. One officer and two enlisted men were drowned. Considerable equipment was lost. But the first wave was ashore by 2130; the entire regiment was on the ground soon after midnight.

Colonel George A. Smith moved his regiment into an orchard near the landing ground. The dismounted riflemen of the 1st Battalion, 41st Armored Infantry Regiment, landed soon afterwards and took positions nearby. Two platoons of Company I, 67th Armored Regiment, came ashore at 0200, 11 July, and the ten medium tanks immediately stalled in the soft sand. High surf and beach congestion prevented the landing of additional armored vehicles.

By morning of 11 July, the chief result of Patton’s decision to land the army’s floating reserve was that four additional infantry battalions equipped with hand carried weapons only were ashore. The ten medium tanks were still having considerable trouble getting off the beach.

Difficult beach conditions had not only interfered with landing the reserve, they had impeded all the other landings. The delay in the arrival of the 1st Division’s supporting artillery and armor could be traced to enemy artillery fire, particularly in support of the various counterattacks, to enemy air raids against Allied shipping lying off the Gela beaches, and to the poor beaches themselves. Enemy air strikes had begun two hours after the invasion. After daylight, enemy batteries inland, from Ponte Olivo to Niscemi, had started pounding the beaches. By 0900, such heavy fire came in that Yellow Beach (26th Infantry) was closed. Shipping was diverted eastward to Blue Beach.

Enemy artillery fire soon forced this beach to be closed, too, and boat traffic was again diverted eastward, this time to Red Beach 2. Soon after 1000, enemy shelling became so accurate that this beach had to be closed for twenty minutes. Only one beach, Green 2, was then available to receive landing craft. Though Red 2 was reopened at 1030, enemy artillery fire and intermittent enemy air attacks throughout the day greatly delayed unloadings and did considerable damage to landing craft and beach supply. Even after the enemy artillery fire slackened, both Yellow and Blue Beaches remained closed because numerous uncleared mine fields lay in the dune area just back from the shore.

The closing and shifting of beaches created serious problems, particularly in getting the 1st Division’s heavy equipment ashore. General Allen’s calls for armor and artillery support during the morning were so pressing that Admiral Hall finally ordered in those LST’s carrying the heavy equipment even though there were few places to accommodate the large landing ships. Furthermore, because of the assumption that the Gela pier would be captured intact and put to immediate use, Hall’s naval task force had only three pontoon causeways. One, unfortunately, was carried by one of the three LST’s that had beached by mistake in the Scoglitti area.

One causeway was finally rigged on Red Beach 2. By 1030 one LST was fully unloaded and a second was moving in to start. As other LST’s began rigging the second causeway on Green 2 late in the afternoon, an enemy aircraft coming in low dropped a bomb directly on one of the landing ships. Loaded with elements of the 33rd Field Artillery Battalion and an antiaircraft artillery battalion, the LST blew up with a horrendous roar, scattering fragments of trucks, guns, and exploding ammunition in all directions.

All of the vehicles of Battery A, 33rd Field Artillery, and of one section of the antiaircraft battalion were lost. Fortunately, the howitzers were already ashore, having been landed by Dukws. But what was more serious was the fact that fragments from the exploding LST knocked out the pontoon causeway in operation on Red Beach 2.

By 1800, only three LST’s had been unloaded over the Gela beaches. Only one field artillery battalion and four separate field artillery batteries were ashore. These were the 33rd Field Artillery Battalion (minus two howitzers lost when Dukws overturned on the way to shore); two batteries of the 7th Field Artillery Battalion (the howitzers were landed in the 45th Division zone, the personnel in the 1st Division’s area); and two batteries of the 5th Field Artillery Battalion (delayed in landing until late afternoon when the LST carrying the batteries made landfall off Licata and had to traverse almost the entire length of both the 3rd Division and 1st Division beaches). Available all together were eighteen 105-mm. howitzers and eight 155-mm. howitzers. As for the 16th RCT’s Cannon and Anti-tank Companies, they were unloaded in the 45th Division’s zone, and were still east of the Acate River.

With Red Beach 2 receiving everything coming ashore, it became so congested with landing craft and supplies that many of the small craft had to turn away without unloading. Beach parties were completely swamped with work even before the 18th RCT started ashore. And General Allen continued to call for more artillery and armor.

Across the Acate River, the 45th Division beach situation was little better, although more supporting units did move ashore during the day. Except for the 171st Field Artillery Battalion, the 180th RCT’s direct support battalion, the division artillery landed in good fashion. [N2-7-32] The medium tank battalion came ashore in the 157th RCT’s sector during the late afternoon.

[N2-7-32 In the 171st Field Artillery Battalion, Battery A was badly scattered in landing: some of its vehicles landed on the proper beach, but the howitzers unloaded on the 1st Division’s Red Beach 2 and other battery impedimenta on the 179th RCT’s beaches nearer Scoglitti. The battery was not ready to fire until 2000, and then with only three pieces. The fourth howitzer arrived near midnight. Battery B was also scattered on landing but got itself together quickly and was ready to fire at 1230. It moved to a new position at 1530 and fired its first mission fifteen minutes later in support of the 1st Battalion, 180th Infantry. Because of the shortage of landing craft, Battery C remained afloat until 11 July.]

But, in general, the 45th Division beaches presented a most deplorable picture throughout D-day. Backed by soft sand dunes and with few usable exits, the five assault beaches were cluttered with masses of stranded landing craft and milling groups of men and vehicles soon after the initial landing. Many landing craft were hung up on offshore sand bars, unable to retract. Others broached on the beaches, the sea breaking completely over some, eddying into others over lowered ramps. Scattered and disorganized shore parties were still not functioning properly as late as 0800. In the meantime, landing craft waited on the beaches for three to four hours to be unloaded. Because the efforts of the naval salvage parties to get stranded craft off the beaches were largely unsuccessful, a diminishing number were available to unload the supplies still on board the transports. An inshore movement of the transports just after 0600 helped a little, but the ever-growing shortage of landing craft soon vitiated even this slight improvement.

Because they were simply unsuitable, all the southern beaches except Blue 2 were closed at 1050, and even though Blue 2 was no prize, it had a good exit. North of Scoglitti, Red and Green Beach traffic used the exit road from Yellow Beach, where the sandy area behind the beaches was smaller in size.

Concerned by the beach conditions and the serious loss of landing craft, Admiral Kirk sent one of his transport division commanders ashore in the middle of the morning to see what could be done to alleviate the situation. The report was pessimistic: between 150 and 200 stranded landing craft on the beaches; insufficient naval salvage parties; not enough beach exits; poor boat handling; poorer shore party work. Except for trying to get some of the stranded craft off the beaches and back into operation, there was little that could be done.

In the early afternoon, after the division shore party command post and a reinforced engineer shore company moved into Scoglitti and reconnoitered the area around the village, Admiral Kirk and General Middleton were told it was advisable to close the three northern assault beaches at noon the next day and to open six new beaches-three above Scoglitti, two at Scoglitti itself, and one just below the village. Both commanders approved the recommendation, but improvement was still almost two days away. [N2-7-3333: AGF Rpt 2 I7; Morison, Sicily-SalernoAnzio, pp. 138-41. On 13 July, another set of beaches was opened above Scoglitti, and another beach was added to the one below Scoglitti. Morison (page 140) states that a survey as of noon, 11 July, revealed that only 66 of the original 175 LCVP’s and LCM’s in this naval task force were still usable. The 18 transports left almost 200 LCVP’s on the beaches, many of which were subsequently salvaged.]

Only in the 3rd Division sector was the beach situation satisfactory. Red and Green beaches west of Licata were closed very early and all further unloadings were made over the two beaches east of the city and in the port itself. Enemy air attacks spilling over from the 1st Division beachhead were a nuisance, but none caused more than superficial damage to the mounting accumulation of supplies at the dumps.

[NOTE: Most of the 3rd Division’s LST’s were unloaded in Licata harbor. On 10 July 1943, over the Gela beaches, 20,655 men, 1,027 vehicles, and 2,000 long tons of supplies were put ashore. Over the Licata beaches and through Licata harbor, [8,464 men, 3,310 vehicles, and 4,714 long tons of supplies were landed. (See Seventh Army Rpt of Opns, pp. E-15-E-16.) Figures for the 45th Division, Despite formidable obstacles the invasion thus far appeared eminently succession are lumped together for the three-day period 10-12 July 1943.]

The next test would be whether the Allies could stand up to the inevitable Axis attempts to push them back into the sea.

SOURCE: Sicily and the Surrender of Italy: BY; Lieutenant Colonel Albert Nutter Garland & Howard McGaw Smyth (United States Army Center of Military History)

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

World War Two: Sicily (2-6): Allied Invasion July 1943

World War Two: Saipan (2-6); Capture of Aslito Airfield

Counterattack Night of 15-16 June : Nightfall brought little hope of respite to the battle-weary marines on Saipan as they dug in on their narrow strip of beachhead with the Philippine Sea at their backs and a vengeful and still potent enemy lurking in the dark ahead. All had been alerted to the strong possibility of a night counterattack. Few doubted that it would come—the only questions being where, when, and in what force. In fact, by midafternoon of the 15th the Japanese high command on Saipan had already issued orders to drive the Americans back into the sea before daylight next day. To Tokyo, 31st Army radioed optimistically, “The Army this evening will make a night attack with all its forces and expects to annihilate the enemy at one swoop.” To the troops, the order went out, “Each unit will consolidate strategically important points and will carry out counterattacks with reserve forces and tanks against the enemy landing units and will demolish the enemy during the night at the water’s edge.”

First to feel the effects of these measures was the 6th Marines, 2nd Division, which held the left flank of the beachhead. About 2000, a large force of Japanese infantry, supported by tanks, bore down from the north along the coastal road. With flags flying, swords waving, and a bugle sounding the Japanese fell upon the marines’ outposts. Unhappily, the 2nd Marine Division had been able to land none of its 105-mm. howitzer battalions during the day so the regiment under attack had only one battalion of 75-mm. pack howitzers to support it. However, naval star shells fired from American destroyers lying close off the coast silhouetted the attackers as they approached, and the first attack was stopped by the withering fire of machine guns and rifles, assisted by naval 5-inch guns.

A second, though smaller counterattack developed in the same area around 0300 on the 16th. It, too, failed to penetrate the marines’ lines. Finally, just before daylight another organized force of infantry and tanks rolled down the road from Garapan. Again, the Japanese were repulsed, this time with the help of five American medium tanks. By dawn the full measure of the enemy’s failure was revealed. About 700 Japanese lay dead just to the north of the 6th Marines flank.

In the zone of the 4th Marine Division, enemy countermeasures on the night of 15-16 June were less well organized and less powerful. Also, the 4th Division had all three of its 105-mm. howitzer battalions ashore by nightfall and was in a better position to resist.5 On the southern beaches, small groups of enemy soldiers, one shielded by a spearhead of civilians, hit once at 0330 and again an hour later. Both thrusts failed, with much of the credit for the successful defense going to a battalion of 105-mm. howitzers.

The most vulnerable spot in the 4th Marine Division’s zone of action, of course, lay on the exposed left flank, where the 23rd Marines had not yet tied in with the 2nd Division to the north. All through the night Japanese artillery fire swept the beaches in this area from one end to the other. From dusk to dawn small groups of the enemy managed to filter through frontline units only to be wiped out in the rear areas by either infantry or shore party personnel. Among the latter were the 311th Port Company and the 539th Port Company.

These were attached to the 4th Marine Division and were the first Army units to be put ashore on Saipan. Finally, at 0530, about 200 Japanese launched an organized attack. Through the gap it came, apparently aimed at the pier at Charan Kanoa. It too was stopped. Only a few individual enemy soldiers reached the beaches, where they were disposed of by members of the shore parties.

One important factor that contributed to the marines’ success in warding off these early morning counterattacks was the bright illumination provided by the Navy. The battleship California, assisted by two destroyers, cruised off the west coast of Saipan all night firing star shells to light up danger spots from which surprise attacks might be launched. That they were highly successful was later confirmed by 31st Army headquarters itself, “The enemy is under cover of warships nearby the coast; as soon as the night attack units go forward, the enemy points out targets by using the large star shells which practically turn night into day. Thus the maneuvering of units is extremely difficult“.

In spite of precarious holds on both the extreme flanks and the gap in the middle between the two divisions, the marines therefore succeeded in maintaining their positions and thwarting all major efforts to drive them back into the sea. Those few Japanese who managed to infiltrate behind the lines were wiped out without causing any considerable damage. The enemy plan of maneuver had relied in the main on repelling the American assault troops at the beach by counterattacks with artillery and tanks in support. As dawn broke on the morning of 16th June, the miscarriage of the Japanese first basic defense plan was more than evident.

Consolidating the Beachhead 16 June

Daylight brought to the grateful marines hugging the beaches a respite at least from the fearful dread of night counterattacks and infiltration. But immediate and pressing duties lay ahead. No more than a half of the designated beachhead (west of the O-1 line) was under their control.

Afetna Point had not been secured, which meant that a gap of about 800 yards lay between the two divisions. The tip of Agingan Point, the southwest extremity of the island, still remained in enemy hands. Finally, an unknown number of Japanese could be presumed to be still lurking behind the lines, ready to ambush the unwary and harass the attacking troops from the rear.

On the left (north) flank, the 6th Marines held fast and consolidated the positions won the day before. South of the 6th, the 8th Marines made rapid progress in its zone of action. Afetna Point offered little resistance, and the few Japanese left there after the previous night’s counterattack were quickly mopped up. By 0950 the right flank company of the 2nd Marine Division had reached Charan Kanoa pier and about two hours later established contact with the left flank of the 4th Marine Division.

The heaviest fighting of the day took place in the zone of the 4th Marine Division, especially on its right flank. Orders called for the capture of all ground lying west of the O-1 line along Fina Susu ridge by nightfall, but the assault was held up until 1230 while lines were rearranged. On the division right, the 25th Marines encountered considerable opposition from machine guns, mountain guns, and the antiaircraft weapons guarding the western approaches to Aslito field. By the end of the day’s fighting the 25th had overrun Agingan Point and accounted for five machine guns, two mountain guns, and approximately sixty Japanese combatants.

Meanwhile, the left and center regiments, the 23rd and 24th, moved abreast of the 25th Marines and by 1730, when the fighting was called off, the lines of the 4th Marine Division rested generally along the Fina Susu ridge line.

On the same day, to the north of the main area of fighting, additional elements of infantry and artillery were being landed on the beaches controlled by the 2nd Marine Division. By 1000 of the 16th those men of the 2nd Battalion, 2nd Marines, that had not come ashore on D Day were landed and took positions on the division left. Around 1600 the 1st Battalion, 2nd Marines, which had originally been scheduled to invade Magicienne Bay, was landed, minus its heavy weapons, on the 2nd Marine Division’s beaches. The heavy weapons were subsequently dropped by parachute from carrier torpedo planes, but because the planes flew at a low altitude the equipment was almost completely destroyed.

At the same time that the remaining infantry elements of the 2nd Marine Division were being dispatched shoreward, the two 105-mm. battalions of the 10th Marines were also going into position in the area. About 1600 the 4th Battalion landed just north of Afetna Point and set up its batteries to support the 8th Marines, while an hour later the 3rd Battalion came ashore on Red Beach 3 behind the 6th Marines.

At 1515 on the 16th, General Harper, USA, commanding the XXIV Corps Artillery, left the flagship Cambria and an hour later arrived on Blue Beach 2 just south of Charan Kanoa. There, he set up his command post about a hundred yards inland from the southern edge of Blue Beach 2, and before dark advance parties of the 149th and 420th Field Artillery Groups, the 225th and 531st Field Artillery Battalions, and elements of his staff reported to him there. No corps artillery equipment came ashore on 16 June, and the advance elements spent an uneasy night dug-in in a partially destroyed enemy gasoline dump.

Night of 16-17 June

General Saito’s failure to “drive the enemy back into the sea” the first night after the landing did not discourage him from making a second try. During the afternoon of the 16th he ordered the 136th Infantry Regiment and the 9th Tank Regiment to launch a co-ordinated attack at 1700 toward the radio station that now lay behind the lines of the 6th Marines. Another, through un-co-ordinated, attack was to be carried out by the Yokosuka Special Naval Landing Force from the direction of Garapan.

The scheduled hour came and passed, but the units assigned to the task were apparently too disorganized to carry it out on time. Meanwhile, the marines were able to prepare their night positions undisturbed except by artillery and mortar fire. About 0330 the Japanese struck—chiefly against the 6th Marines. No less than thirty-seven Japanese tanks were involved and perhaps a thousand infantrymen.

They approached the American lines through a ravine that cut westward through the mountains toward the radio station. The tanks came in groups of four and five, each with a few riflemen aboard. Each group of riflemen carried at least one light machine gun. When they came within range, they were met by a furious barrage of fire from the marines’ artillery, machine guns, mortars, bazookas, and rifles. Within an hour, a good percentage of the tanks had been either destroyed or incapacitated. Although the escorting infantrymen kept up the fight until about 0700, their efforts were fruitless. By the end of the battle the Japanese had lost at least twenty-four and possibly more of their tanks and an uncounted number of infantrymen. Saito’s second counterattack was a total failure.

Change of Plans

The initial plan for the capture of the Marianas had set 18 June as the tentative date (W Day) for the landing on Guam, which was to constitute Phase II of the FORAGER operation. On the night of 15 June, after it appeared that the marines could hold their narrow beachhead on Saipan, Admiral Spruance confirmed this date, and preparations were set under way for an immediate invasion of Guam. But before daybreak of the 16th, Spruance received new information that caused him to reverse his own decision.

At 1900 on the evening of 15 June, the U.S. submarine Flying Fish sighted a Japanese task force of battleships, cruisers, destroyers, and aircraft carriers making its way eastward through San Bernardino Strait in the central Philippines. Four hours later another submarine, Seahorse, reported another enemy task force about two hundred miles east of Leyte Gulf steaming in a northwesterly direction. It was clear that the Japanese Fleet was preparing to do battle and that the U.S. Fifth Fleet would be called upon to take the necessary countermeasures.

The next morning Admiral Spruance, in the light of these developments, postponed indefinitely the date for the invasion of Guam and joined Admiral Turner aboard Rocky Mount off the coast of Saipan. Together, Turner and Spruance decided that unloading should continue at Saipan through 17 June, that as many transports as possible would be retired during the night and that only those urgently required would be returned to the transport area on the morning of the 18th. The old battleships, cruisers, and destroyers of the Saipan bombardment group would cover Saipan from the westward, and Admiral Conolly’s force would be withdrawn well to the eastward out of any presumable danger from enemy naval attack. Certain cruiser and destroyer units heretofore attached to Admiral Turner’s Joint Expeditionary Force were to be detached and directed to join Admiral Mitscher, who would carry the brunt of the attack against the approaching enemy fleet. Patrol planes based in the Marshalls were to be dispatched forthwith and would prepare to make night radar searches as far as 600 miles west of Saipan. Finally, Admiral Mitscher was ordered to discontinue all support aircraft operations over Saipan and restrict his carrier air operations on 17 June to searches and morning and afternoon neutralization strikes on Guam and Rota. Thus were begun the preparations for the Battle of the Philippine Sea.

First Landings of the 27th Infantry Division

The imminence of a full-scale naval battle also demanded an immediate decision regarding the disposition of the troops of the 27th Division, which had been assigned to corps reserve. The division had sailed from Oahu in three separate transport divisions under command of Rear Admiral William H. P. Blandy and was scheduled to reach Saipan the day after the main landings. On 15 June, while still en route to the objective, the 106th Regimental Combat Team (RCT) was detached from the division and ordered to join Admiral Conolly’s Southern Attack Force as the reserve force for the Guam invasion, which at that time was still scheduled to take place on 18 June. Shortly before noon of the 16th, when the ships carrying the other two regiments were still about thirty miles from Saipan, General Ralph Smith, aboard the transport Fremont, was notified by radio that the division, less the 106th RCT, was to land as soon as practicable over the beaches held by the 4th Marine Division. The general himself was ordered to report to Cambria, flagship of Admiral Hill and headquarters of Brig. General Graves B. Erskine, USMC, chief of staff to Holland Smith.

Aboard Cambria, General Ralph Smith received his orders to land his division artillery as soon as possible to support the 4th Marine Division. The 165th Regiment was to land immediately and move to the right flank of the 4th Marine Division, to which it would be attached. The 105th Regiment would follow. The 106th was to remain afloat as reserve for the Southern Landing Force for the Guam operation, which by now had been postponed indefinitely. As soon as the 105th Regiment and other elements of the division were ashore they were to unite with the 165th and relieve the 4th Marine Division on the right zone, which included Aslito airfield.

General Ralph Smith returned to his own flagship about 1930, where the assistant division commander, Brig. General Ogden J. Ross, and the 165th Regiment commander, Col, Gerard W. Kelley, were anxiously awaiting him. Kelley had already instructed his executive officer, Lieutenant Colonel Joseph T. Hart, to land the regimental combat team over Blue Beach 1 immediately south of the Charan Kanoa pier. Ross and Kelley were then ordered to go ashore, establish contact with the 4th Marine Division, and to make whatever arrangements were practicable during the night. The two officers, accompanied by a small advance group, left Fremont about 2100. The coxswain of their small boat lost his way, and, after much fumbling in the dark and many futile inquiries among other landing craft in the area, the party finally located a guide boat to steer them through the channel to Blue Beach 2, where they waded ashore about 0130.

In spite of the darkness and confusion on the beach, they succeeded in locating the command post of the 23rd Marines about 300 yards south of the point where they had landed. General Ross raised 4th Marine Division headquarters by telephone and was informed that the 165th Regiment was expected to move to the right flank of the line and jump off at 0730. By this time it was 0330 and the Army troops were scattered along the beach over a three-mile area. General Ross and Colonel Kelley immediately set forth to locate the command post of the 4th Marine Division. There, Kelley was ordered by the division chief of staff to pass through the lines held by the 3rd Battalion, 24th Marines, and relieve on his left elements of the 25th Marines. Jump-off hour for the attack toward Aslito field was confirmed as being 0730.

Meanwhile, Colonel Kelley had established telephone contact with his executive officer, who reported that the 1st and 2nd Battalions of the 165th Infantry had landed. [N2-6-18] After getting his orders, Kelley joined the two battalions and moved them south along the road running down the beach from Charan Kanoa. Just before dawn they took positions along the railroad embankment paralleling and east of the coastal highway and about 1,000 yards behind the line of departure. As the first glimpses of light appeared in the eastern sky before them, they prepared to jump off in support of the 4th Marine Division. During these same early morning hours, three of the 27th Division’s four artillery battalions were also moving toward shore. The 105th Field Artillery Battalion landed at Blue Bleach 1 at 0515 and by 1055 was in position and ready to fire in support of the 165th Regiment. The other two field artillery battalions (the 106th and the 249th) came ashore somewhat later but were registered and ready to fire by about the same time. The fourth battalion, the 104th Field Artillery Battalion, remained afloat and detached from division artillery. 

[N2-6-18 The 3rd Battalion, 165th RCT, remained afloat during the night. Part of the landing team stayed aboard ship because of the scarcity of landing craft; the remainder spent the night aboard landing craft, unable to locate the Charan Kanoa channel. 3rd Bn 165th RCT Jnl, 16 Jun 44. ]

D Plus 2: 17 June 165th Infantry

The immediate objective assigned to the 165th Infantry, which was attached to the 4th Marine Division, was Aslito airfield and as much of the surrounding area as could be secured in a day’s fighting. Before that could be accomplished, the regiment would have to take the small village that lay on the boundary line between its two battalions, pass through a series of densely planted cane fields, and seize the ridge that ran in a southwesterly direction along most of the regimental front and that commanded the western approaches to the airfield.

The ridge at its highest points was about 180 feet. The distance between the line of departure and the westernmost point of the airfield along the regiment’s line of advance was roughly 1,500 yards. Colonel Kelley placed his 1st Battalion on the right, his 2nd on the left. Major James H. Mahoney, commanding the 1st Battalion, disposed B Company on the left, and A Company on the right just inshore of the southern coast of the island. Lieutenant Colonel John F. McDonough put his E Company on the right and G Company on the left, tying in with the 25th Marines.The 1st Battalion crossed the line of departure at 0735, the 2nd about fifteen minutes later. Company A, on the right, immediately ran into a fire fight. Three Japanese pillboxes located just inland from the beach opened fire on the advancing troops and were not eliminated until an amphibian tank had been called in to assist and engineers were brought up to place shaped charges and scorch out the enemy inside with flame throwers.

Along the rest of the regimental line the troops ran into no difficulty until they approached the small settlement that lay on the boundary line between the two battalions. As B Company tried to skirt south of the village, it came under simultaneous fire from the direction of the village itself and from the ridge to the eastward, 1st Lieutenant Jose Gil, B Company’s commander, called for an air strike at 0955, but five minutes later canceled the request in favor of artillery fire from the 14th Marines.

For the next two hours the whole line was more or less immobilized. It had become apparent that the ridge line in front was strongly held by the enemy. The ridge itself was covered by sparse undergrowth and the approaches to it were all across open cane fields. The cane offered some cover from enemy observation as long as the terrain was level, but entrenched as they were on the hill above these fields, the Japanese could follow every movement made by the Americans approaching below them. By noon Colonel Kelley had more troops available. The 3rd Battalion, part of which had remained aboard its transport while the other part spent the night offshore in small boats, was finally landed and assembled during the morning. Company I was ordered to report to the 1st Battalion commander to act as reserve in place of C Company, which was now to be committed to the support of Company B.

At 1150 the 1st Battalion moved off again in the attack with A Company on the right, B on the left, and C to the rear of B. At 1230 the 2nd Battalion jumped off following a fifteen-minute artillery preparation. Immediately, the 1st Battalion came under a concentration of mortar and machine gun fire from the high hill that marked the southern extremity of the ridge line. For the next hour and fifteen minutes this position was pounded by the field pieces of the 105th and 249th Field Artillery Battalions as well as by naval gunfire. At 1414 the attack was resumed. By 1535 Company A had gained the crest after losing three men killed and four wounded. About an hour later it was joined by two platoons of B Company, but the third platoon got involved in a fire fight in the cane fields below and failed to reach the summit during the rest of the day.

Meanwhile, a gap had developed between Companies B and E, and the 1st Battalion commander ordered Captain Paul Ryan to pull his C Company around to the left of B. Ryan was ordered to make a reconnaissance to determine whether he could move to the right behind A Company and up the ridge by the same route it had taken. Once on the ridge, it was supposed that he could move his company directly to the left and take position on the left of Company B. Ryan made the crest with about half of his second platoon, but the rest of his company failed to reach the objective.

While Company A and most of Company B on top of the hill were digging in and Company C was attempting to reinforce them by various routes, the Japanese again struck. Starting about 1725, the enemy managed to work his way between B Company and the 2nd Battalion and commenced to pound the hill with mortars and the airfield. After about half an hour of this, both Lieutenant Gil and Captain Laurence J. O’Brien, commander of Company A, decided to move off the hill. Captain O’Brien moved over to his extreme left and ordered his platoons to withdraw by leapfrogging. The 3rd Platoon was to pull back behind the 2nd while the latter covered, and then the 2nd was to pull back below the ridge while the 1st covered. The 1st Platoon eventually withdrew down the hill while O’Brien himself covered its movement. The company commander was the last man down over the cliff.

Meanwhile, Captain Ryan, commanding Company C, decided to move off to the left to reinforce B Company and hold at least part of the hill if possible. His attitude was reflected by one of his men, Private First Class Cleve E. Senor: “I fought all day for this ridge,” Senor is reported to have said, “and by God I’ll help hold it.” Both Senor and Captain Ryan were killed in the attempt, and the C Company platoon joined Company A in its withdrawal to the beach.

Captain O’Brien led most of the withdrawing battalion back along the southern beach for a distance of about 1,400 yards, then cut inland where he met guides from battalion headquarters. Shortly after 2000 he reached the command post with elements of all three companies and dug in for the night practically at the line of departure from which the companies had attacked in the morning. Except for scattered elements that remained dug in along the approaches to the ridge, progress in the 1st Battalion’s zone of action had been nil. Casualties for the day’s fighting in the battalion were reported as 9 killed and 21 wounded.

The 2nd Battalion had been more successful. After the 1230 jump-off, E Company, on the battalion right, was immediately hit by an enemy artillery barrage that killed three men and wounded four others. Except for the 1st Platoon, the whole company retired to the extreme west edge of the village that lay on the battalion boundary line and for the next hour reorganized its scattered elements and evacuated its wounded. The 1st Platoon, however, instead of withdrawing when the artillery barrage hit, rushed forward in an effort to take concealment in the heavy cane at the foot of the ridge line. From there it began to move on to the ridge itself, but after the leading squad was cut off by Japanese fire, the rest of the platoon halted.

Captain Bernard E. Ryan, [N2-6-35] the company commander, had been with the forward elements of the 1st Platoon when his company was hit and was already in the cane field making a reconnaissance forward. With two of his men, he made his way through the cane and up to the top of the ridge. For thirty minutes they waited in vain for the rest of the platoon to come up, and when it finally appeared that they were isolated, Ryan decided to conduct a reconnaissance. For three hours this officer and his two men wandered around the hilltop observing the enemy from a distance sometimes of only thirty yards. He ordered one of his men, Staff Sergeant Laurence I. Kemp, to carry the information gained back to the company executive officer. Kemp, equally fearful of friendly and enemy fire along the return route, solved his dilemma by tying a white hankerchief to the barrel of his rifle, executing a right shoulder arms, and marching safely down the hill in full view of both the enemy and his own troops.

[N2-6-35 Ryan was the brother of Captain Paul Ryan, C Company commander, who was killed later in the afternoon while trying to hold a portion of this same ridge. Because of Paul Ryan’s death, men of the 27th unofficially named the position Ryan’s Ridge.]

Upon receiving Kemp’s information the battalion commander immediately requested reinforcements. Colonel Kelley released F Company, which was then moved into the line to the left of E. Both companies jumped off at 1610 behind a screen of heavy mortar, small arms, and automatic weapons fire. Within thirty minutes they reached the ridge line about two hundred yards west of Aslito field and began to dig in.

On the extreme left of the battalion front, Captain Paul J. Chasmar’s G Company met with little difficulty. By 1416, less than two hours after the jump-off, the company had reached the ridge line and commenced to dig in. Chasmar sent two patrols onto the airfield. They investigated the installations along the west side of the field and up to the south edge of the stretch without running into opposition. About 1530 temporary contact was established on the left with the 25th Marines, which had by this time penetrated into the building area north of the airfield proper.

Thus, by the end of 17 June the 2nd Battalion had succeeded in pushing about 1,300 yards from the line of departure, was firmly dug in just two hundred yards short of Aslito airfield, and was in a good position to attack the field the following morning. In the day’s fighting the battalion had lost six killed and thirty-six wounded. It failed to attack the airfield on the 17th only because of regimental orders to the contrary. Colonel Kelley decided that in view of the difficulty encountered by his 1st Battalion on the right flank, it would be unwise for the 2nd Battalion to push forward any farther. From its positions on top of the ridge line commanding Aslito, the 2nd Battalion “had an excellent field of fire against any possible counterattack,” so the regimental commander ordered it to hold there for the night and to resume the attack against the airfield the next day.

4th Marine Division

To the left of Colonel Kelley’s regiment the 25th Marines jumped off at approximately the same time in columns of battalions. Against light resistance the regiment pushed rapidly ahead to its O-2 line. Because of the marines’ more rapid progress, a gap developed between them and the 2nd Battalion, 165th Regiment that was filled by two companies of marines. By midafternoon the companies had searched the building area north of the airfield proper and sent patrols onto the field itself. When Colonel Kelley’s determination not to attack the airfield until the 18th became known to the 25th Marines, its 3rd Battalion was shifted to the north side of the airfield, facing south, and as it dug in for the night there was no contact between the marines and the Army unit.

In the center of the 4th Marine Division’s line, progress was more difficult The 24th Marines jumped off on time about 0730, In spite of continuous fire from antiaircraft guns located east of the airfield, the right flank battalion reached the foot of the ridge line quickly and by noon commenced the ascent. By 1630 the battalion commander reported that his men were digging in on the O-2 line. In the center and to the left enemy resistance was even stronger, and after reaching the approaches to the ridge by late afternoon, the marines withdrew a full 600 yards before digging in for the night.

To the 23rd Marines on the division’s left flank fell the hardest fighting in the 4th Marine Division zone for the 17th. On the right, the 2nd Battalion made fairly rapid progress against light opposition, but on the left, the 1st Battalion was not so fortunate. Having once cleared Fina Susu ridge, the marines started to advance across the open ground to the eastward but were quickly pinned down by heavy mortar and enfilade machine gun fire from their left front. After retiring to the ridge line to reorganize, the battalion pushed off again at 1500 after a ten-minute artillery fire. Again the attack was stopped. Meanwhile, the 2nd Battalion on the right had been pushing steadily forward .and contact was lost between the two battalions. Even more serious was the 600-yard gap on the left between the 23rd Marines and the right flank of the 2nd Marine Division. From this area came most of the enemy fire, and the failure of the two Marine divisions to close this gap early in the day seriously endangered the flanks of both.

As night approached it became apparent that, with the advance of the 2nd Battalion and the delay of the 1st, the right flank was extended and the left retarded so that it was impossible to close the gap with the units then on line. Consequently, the 3rd Battalion, 23rd Marines, was ordered to tie in the flanks of the two. Later, the 3rd Battalion, 24th Marines, was attached to the 23rd Regiment and under cover of darkness was moved into position to relieve the 3rd Battalion, 23rd Marines, tie in, and defend the gap between the two leading battalions. But between the two Marine divisions as they dug in for the night, the wide gap in the area around Lake Susupe still remained unclosed.

2nd Marine Division

In the zone of the 2nd Marine Division, the day’s plan called for an attack by the 2nd and 6th Regimental Combat Teams to the northeast, while the 8th Marines, on the division right, was to drive due east toward the O-1 line. The jump-off hour was originally scheduled for 0730 but was subsequently changed by General Holland Smith’s headquarters to 0930. Word of the change, however, failed to reach division headquarters in time, so the troops crossed the line of departure according to the original schedule, following a 90-minute intensive preparation by aerial bombardment, naval gunfire, and artillery shelling.

On the extreme right, the marines of the 2nd Division met with the same problems that were besetting the left flank of the 4th Division, and more besides. The 1st Battalion, 29th Marines, attached to the 8th Marines, had first to slosh its way through the sniper-infested swamp that ran about 1,000 yards north of Lake Susupe. Directly east of the swamp was a coconut grove from which periodically came enemy mortar fire, described in the division action report as “bothersome.” Northeast of the coconut grove was a high hill on which the Japanese were entrenched in caves, and beyond this on a sharp nose was a series of heavily manned positions.

Throughout the day the 1st Battalion, 29th Marines, was unable to seize the coconut grove and in fighting for it the battalion commander, Lieutenant Colonel Guy F. Tannyhill, was wounded and had to be evacuated. By late afternoon the battalion, with the help of four tanks of the 2nd Marine Tank Battalion, succeeded in taking the hill to the north of the grove where it dug in for the night. Meanwhile, the other two assault battalions of the 8th Marines had reached their objective line with little difficulty and were tied in for the night with the 6th Marines on their left. The 6th Marines had jumped off on schedule at 0730 and soon after 0900 had reached its objective line, encountering little resistance on the way. Further progress was held up because of the danger of overextending its lines as a result of the relatively slow progress of the 8th Marines on the right.

The 2nd Marines, on the division left, regulating its advance by that of the regiment to its right, moved forward at 0945 in a column of battalions. By 1020 the leading battalion had advanced four hundred yards against light resistance. By 1800 the regiment had reached its objective line, which was coincident with the Force Beachhead Line in its zone and lay only a thousand yards from the southern outskirts of the town of Garapan.

[NOTE: The Force Beachhead Line is the line that fixes the inshore limits of a beachhead.]

Landing Reinforcements

At 0605 on the 17th, Colonel Leonard A. Bishop received orders to land his 105th Regimental Combat Team as soon as boats were available. By 0845 the 1st Battalion was loaded and headed for the beach; the other two followed during the morning. However, because of low tide and the heavy congestion in and around the Charan Kanoa channel, the troops had to be landed piecemeal. Not until late afternoon were all of the infantrymen ashore. That evening the 2nd Battalion was attached to the 4th Marine Division as reserve, and the 1st Battalion was attached to the 165th Infantry and moved to an assembly area just west of Aslito field. Also, the 27th Division Reconnaissance Troop landed and commenced to establish an observation post area running from Agingan Point about 1,500 yards along the southern shore. The rest of the 105th Regiment remained in bivouac in the area of Yellow Beach 3 during the night.

The slowness with which the 105th Regiment was landed brought one later embarrassment to that unit. In view of the bottleneck at the Charan Kanoa channel, orders were issued shortly after noon to stop unloading equipment through the channel until the congestion had been cleared up. This caught most of the regiment’s organizational equipment still aboard the transport Cavalier. That night Cavalier, along with most of the other transports, retired eastward after an air raid warning. Meanwhile, the Japanese fleet was reported to be moving toward Saipan. In the light of these circumstances, Cavalier was ordered to stay out of the danger zone and did not return until 25 June to continue unloading. As General Ralph Smith later testified: The 105th Infantry was thus placed under great handicap in operating as a regimental unit. It had very little communication equipment or personnel ashore, either radio or telephone. It had almost no staff facilities or blackout shelter such as regimental headquarters is compelled to use if orders arrive after dark.

North of the 27th Division’s beaches other important elements were coming ashore on the 17th. General Holland Smith left Rocky Mount in midafternoon and at 1530 set up the Northern Troops and Landing Force command post at Charan Kanoa. General Harper, corps artillery commander, moved his command post to a point about 200 yards inland from Yellow Beach 2, and advance parties of the 532nd Field Artillery Battalion got ashore.

Night of 17-18 June

Compared to the first night on Saipan, that of the 17th was quiet for the American troops in their foxholes. Only in the zone of the 2nd Marine Division did the Japanese exert themselves. Around midnight, they attempted to breach the Marine lines near the boundary between the 6th and 8th Regiments. About fifteen or twenty Japanese overran two machine guns, but the attack was shortly stopped. For a brief time the enemy penetration destroyed contact between the two regiments, but the gap was quickly filled and the lines were restored.

A more serious enemy threat occurred on the morning of the 18th in the form of an attempted counter-amphibious landing. A month before the American landings, 31st Army had established a force consisting of the 1st Battalion, 18th Infantry, to be held in readiness for amphibious attacks on either Saipan or Tinian in the event the Americans were able to establish a beachhead. About 0430 on the 18th this group sortied from Tanapag Harbor in thirty-five small boats to put the plan into effect. The Japanese failed. LCI gunboats intercepted the boats and, with the help of Marine artillery, destroyed most of the landing party and turned back the rest.

This uninterrupted series of reverses sustained by the Japanese on Saipan merely reinforced their determination to hold the island at all costs. On the 17th the chief of the Army General Staff in Tokyo attempted to bolster the spirits of the defenders in a message to 31st Army headquarters: “Because the fate of the Japanese Empire depends on the result of your operation, inspire the spirit of the officers and men and to the very end continue to destroy the enemy gallantly and persistently; thus alleviate the anxiety of our Emperor.”

To which the Chief of Staff, 31st Army, responded: “Have received your honorable Imperial words and we are grateful for boundless magnanimity of the Imperial favor. By becoming the bulwark of the Pacific with 10,000 deaths we hope to requite the Imperial favor.”

D Plus 3: 18 June 27th Division

General Holland Smith’s orders for 18 June called for all three divisions under his command to seize the O-3 line within their respective zones of action. For the 4th Marine Division and the 27th Division this meant that the end of the day should see them resting on the eastern coast of Saipan from a point opposite Mount Nafutan up the shore line about 5,000 yards in a northerly direction to a point about one third up Magicienne Bay. From there the objective line for the 4th Marine Division bent back in a northwesterly direction to correspond with the advance of the 2nd Marine Division, which was not intended to cover so much territory. The boundary between the 4th Marine Division and the 27th Infantry Division ran eastward to Magicienne Bay, skirting Aslito field to the north. Army troops were to capture the field itself.

For action on the 18th, the 27th Division had under its command only the 165th Regiment and the 1st and 3rd Battalions of the 105th. The 2nd Battalion, 105th Regiment, remained in corps reserve in an area to the rear of the 4th Marine Division, and the 106th Infantry was still at sea. In spite of the fact that as early as 0758 the Marine division had notified General Ralph Smith that control of the 165th Regimental Combat Team was passing to Colonel Kelley, the regimental commander remained uncertain as to his own exact status. He later reported: I was unable to determine (by telephone conversation with Hq 4th Marine Division) whether I was still attached to the 4th Marine Division or had passed to the command of CG 27th Div. . . . Shortly after this, Major General Ralph Smith visited my CP and advised me that I should receive notice of my release from the Marines and reversion to the 27th Division. I did receive notice from the 27th Division but never received such orders from 4th Marine Division Headquarters. This confusion, however, though indicative of poor liaison, was to have no significant effect on the action of the units involved.

Jump-off hour for the two Marine divisions was to be 1000; for the Army division it was 1200. The Immediate concern of Colonel Kelley, however, was to recapture the ridge southwest of Aslito that his 1st Battalion had given up the previous day. Accordingly, at 0605, he ordered Major Dennis D. Claire to move the 3rd Battalion into the line on the right in order to launch a co-ordinated attack with the 1st Battalion at 0730. The 165th Infantry jumped off on schedule after a half-hour naval and artillery preparation along the whole front. The 1st and 3rd Battalions with four tanks preceding them stormed up the ridges while the 2nd Battalion on the edge of the airfield held its lines until the other units on its right came abreast, A few minutes after 1000 the ridge that had caused so much trouble the preceding day was secured against very light opposition and with negligible casualties to the assaulting units.

Meanwhile, at 0800, Colonel Kelley authorized his 2nd Battalion to cross Aslito airfield. Beginning about 0900, Captain Chasmar, commanding G Company, ordered his men across the airfield along the north side. Captain Francis P. Leonard, in command of F Company, followed suit shortly after, although he kept his company echeloned to the right rear in order to keep physical contact with E Company, which in turn was in contact with the 1st Battalion. Chasmar reported that he had crossed the airfield at 1000. Sixteen minutes later, Aslito was announced as secured.

That afternoon when General Ralph Smith arrived at the regimental command post the airfield was officially renamed Conroy Field in honor of Colonel Gardiner J. Conroy, former regimental commander of the 165th, who had been killed at Makin. Later, it was renamed Iseley (sic) Field in honor of a naval aviator, Commander Robert H. Iseley, who had been shot down over Saipan.

Up until 1000 the troops that had overrun the airstrip had met no opposition. Only one Japanese was discovered on the whole installation, and he was found hiding between the double doors of the control tower. All of the Aslito garrison still alive had retired to Nafutan peninsula. Upon reaching the eastern end of the airstrip, Captain Chasmar stopped to build up his line because he had been having considerable trouble during the morning trying to cover his frontage. He had tried unsuccessfully to make contact with the marines on the left who were now veering off to the northeast and in his move across the airport had temporarily lost contact on the right with F Company. At the same time, F Company was itself developing large gaps between platoons. By 1100 the whole 2nd Battalion advance was stopped while the battalion commander waited for his companies to close up. For the next two hours the forward line remained stationary along the eastern boundary of the airfield. Unfortunately, the terrain in which G and F Companies had taken up positions was overlooked by the high ground of Nafutan ridge, and the men had hardly begun to dig in when they came under fire from dual-purpose guns located in that sector. The fire lasted for about two hours until friendly artillery was brought to bear on the Japanese positions, which were temporarily silenced.

With the airfield secure in the hands of the 2nd Battalion, 165th Regiment, and the ridge west and southwest of it occupied by the 1st and 3rd Battalions, General Ralph Smith rearranged his units to launch the main attack at noon as ordered. Into his right flank he ordered the 1st and 3rd Battalions, 105th Regimental Combat Team, which had landed the day before and so far had seen no action on Saipan.

On the extreme right the 3rd Battalion, 105th, completed the relief of the 3rd Battalion, 165th, at 1245, three quarters of an hour late.71 The 3rd Battalion, 165th, then went into reserve. About the same time, the 1st Battalion, 105th, relieved the 1st Battalion, 165th. The latter was then shifted to the left flank of the division line to close the gap between the 4th Marine Division and the 2nd Battalion, 165th, which was occupying the airfield. From right to left, then, the new division line consisted of Companies L, I, C, and A, 105th Infantry, and Companies F, G, B, and C, 165th Infantry, with the remaining infantry companies in reserve in their respective battalion zones.

As the afternoon wore on it developed that, as on the previous day, progress on the extreme right of the division front was the slowest, and again the chief obstacle was terrain. In the area inland from the southern coast the ground was a series of jagged coral pinnacles that jutted up from the water’s edge to a height of about 90 feet. Between these peaks were a heavy undergrowth of vines, densely planted small trees, and high grass. Against these odds, but luckily not against the added encumbrance of Japanese opposition, Company L on the extreme right advanced a mere 200 yards from the line of departure by nightfall, and I Company’s progress was only a little better. The situation on the left of the 105th Regimental line was somewhat more promising. In spite of artillery fire from Nafutan Point, Lieutenant Colonel William J. O’Brien, 1st Battalion commander, succeeded by 1400 in pushing forward to a line running southwest from the southeast corner of the airfield.

While the 105th Regiment was having more than a little difficulty getting started on the division right flank, the 165th on the left was faring better. By 1700 the entire regimental line had almost reached Magicienne Bay, having met only light opposition. The original intention had been to proceed on to the water’s edge, but the heavy undergrowth and coral outcroppings persuaded the regimental commander to pull back to the high ground west of the shore line for the night. About 1700 the commanding officer of the 3rd Battalion, 25th Marines, who was on the right flank of the 4th Marine Division line, reported the imminence of a Japanese counterattack between the 24th and 25th Marines. In view of the necessity of the latter’s pulling north to pour in reinforcements against this threat, the lines of the 165th were shifted left about 600 yards to establish contact with the marines for the night.

4th Marine Division

North of the 27th Division zone, the 4th Marine Division attacked toward the east coast with three regiments abreast: the 25th Marines on the right, 24th Marines in the center, and 23rd Marines on the left. The right half of the objective line for this day’s action was to be on the coast of Magicienne Bay, and from there it bent back to the northwest to meet the more slowly progressing 2nd Marine Division.


The 25th Marines jumped off on schedule at 1000. Opposition was light, and by 1330 the regiment had reached the beaches on Magicienne Bay well in advance of the 165th Infantry on its right. The occupation of these beaches on the east coast completed the initial drive of the division across Saipan. The island now, at this point at least, was cut in two. One battalion of the 25th Regiment was left behind to mop up the southern extremity of a heavily defended cliff line that had been bypassed by the 24th Marines on its left.


The latter regiment had had a little difficulty organizing its lines before the jump-off and consequently was delayed forty-five minutes in the attack. Nevertheless, in the face of “moderate to heavy” machine gun and rifle fire, it had succeeded by 1400 in pushing forward to a point only 300 yards west of Magicienne Bay. Then, about 1615, two Japanese tanks suddenly appeared in the zone of the 2nd Battalion, causing considerable anxiety and about fifteen American casualties before they were chased away by bazookas and artillery. By nightfall the elements of the 24th on the right had reached the O-3 line, part of which rested on the coast, and the unit was well tied in with the regiments on its right and left.

As was the case of the 165th Infantry, the 23rd Marines on the extreme left of the 4th Division line had to capture its line of departure before the scheduled jump-off hour. At 0730 the 3rd Battalion, 24th Marines (attached to the 23rd) passed through the 1st Battalion, 23rd, with orders to seize the line of departure before the main attack, which was scheduled for 0900. The battalion never made it—not that day at least. Intense mortar and enfilade machine gun fire from the left flank stopped the men after an advance of about 200 yards. On the right the 2nd Battalion, 23rd, made about the same gain before it too was pinned down. At 1300 the attack was resumed and after fierce fighting against stubborn Japanese resistance the troops advanced about 300 yards. By 1715 the regiment had established a line some 400 yards east of Lake Susupe. Progress on the left flank of the 4th Marine Division had been far less than anticipated. It was becoming apparent that the main line of Japanese resistance would be in the area north and east of Lake Susupe and not in the southern sector of the island.

2nd Marine Division

The left flank of the corps line remained almost stationary during the 18th. As the 2nd Marine Division’s commander explained it, “At this stage, the frontage occupied by the Division was such that its lines could not be further lengthened without dangerously thinning and overextending them.”

The strong pocket of resistance encountered by the 4th Division near the division boundary line formed a hostile salient into the beachhead and forced both divisions to maintain abnormally long lines in the sector. The inability of the 4th Division to make substantial progress on its left flank in turn prevented the 2nd Division from risking further extension of its own lines. Only the 8th Marines saw significant fighting on the 18th. The enemy-infested coconut grove on the regiment’s right that had proved so bothersome the previous day was assaulted and captured. Here, a large number of Japanese dead were found. Before the 18th the enemy had systematically removed its dead before the advance of the attacking forces, but by now, with the American beachhead firmly established and Aslito airfield overrun, Japanese commanders on Saipan had more urgent matters on their minds.

The Japanese Situation

By the night of 18 June, the Japanese high command in Tokyo as well as its subordinates on Saipan were at last compelled to confess that the situation was critical. The island had been cut in two and the southern part, including the main airfield, was for all practical purposes in American hands. True, remnants of Japanese units, including most of the Aslito garrison, were still holed up on Nafutan peninsula and along the southern shore west of it, but they were cut off from the main body of troops and incapable of anything more serious than harassing attacks against the American lines.

In the face of unrelenting pressure from their attackers, the Japanese on the 18th began withdrawing to a defense line extending across the island in a southeasterly direction from a point just below Garapan via the south slopes of Mount Tapotchau to Magicienne Bay. To be more exact, the new “line of security” drawn up by 31st Army headquarters on the night of the 18th was to run from below Garapan east to White Cliff, then south to Hill 230 (meters) and southeast through Hill 286 (meters) to a point on Magicienne Bay about a mile west of the village of Laulau.

The line roughly paralleled the O-4, or fourth phase line of the American attackers, and was the first of two last-ditch defense lines scratched across the island in a vain attempt to stabilize the battle during the retreat to the north. If the Americans could be brought to a standstill, the Japanese hoped to prolong the battle and eventually win out with the aid of reinforcements. To Tokyo, 31st Army headquarters radioed its plans: Situation evening of 18 June: The Army is consolidating its battle lines and has decided to prepare for a showdown fight. It is concentrating the [43rd Division] in the area East of Tapotchau. The remaining units [two infantry battalions of the 135th Infantry, about one composite battalion, and one naval unit], are concentrating in the area East of Garapan. This is the beginning of our showdown fight.

In reply, Imperial General Headquarters ordered Major General Keiji Iketa to hold on to the beaches still in his possession, wait for reinforcements over those beaches, and “hinder the establishment of enemy airfields.” Iketa reported that he would carry out these orders, that Aslito airfield would be neutralized by infiltration patrols “because our artillery is destroyed,” and that the Banaderu (Marpi Point) airfield would be repaired and defended “to the last.” “We vow,” he concluded, “that we will live up to expectations.” Stabilize the battle, keep beaches open for reinforcements, recover and preserve the use of the Marpi Point airfield, and deny to the Americans the use of Aslito—these four objectives were now the cornerstones of Japanese tactics on Saipan.

And from the Emperor himself came words of solemn warning and ominous prescience: “Although the front line officers are fighting splendidly, if Saipan is lost, air raids on Tokyo will take place often, therefore you absolutely must hold Saipan.”

Five months later American B-29 bombers taking off from Saipan for Tokyo would confirm the Emperor’s worst fears.

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

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

World War Two: Saipan (2-5); Allied Invasion June 1943

Korean War: Central Mountains and on the East Coast July 1950 (8)

 Eastward, in the central mountains of Korea, aerial observation on 8 July, the day Chonan fell, showed that enemy armor, truck, and infantry columns were moving south and were already below Wonju. This led to speculation at the Far East Command that the North Koreans were engaged in a wide envelopment designed to cut the main north-south line of communications in the Taejon area. South of the Han River only one enemy division, the 6th, initially was west of the Seoul-Pusan highway.

 The area defended by the ROK Army after American troops of the U.S. 24th Division entered action on 5 July was everything east of the main Seoul-Taegu railroad and highway. In the mountainous central part of Korea there are two main north-south axes of travel and communication. The first, from the west, is the Wonju – Chungju – Mungyong-Kumchon corridor running almost due south from Wonju. The second, farther east, is the Wonju-Chechon-Tanyang-Yongju-Andong-Uisong-Yongchon corridor slanting southeast from Wonju.

 The critical military terrain of both corridors is the high watershed of a spur range which runs southwest from the east coastal range and separates the upper Han River on the north from the upper Naktong on the south. Both rivers have their sources in the western slope of the Taebaek Range, about twenty miles from the Sea of Japan. The Han River flows south for forty miles, then turns generally northwest to empty into the Yellow Sea; the Naktong flows first south, then west, then again south to empty into the Korea Strait. Mungyong is at the pass on the first corridor over the high plateau of this dividing watershed. Tanyang is on the south side of the upper Han and at the head of the long, narrow pass through the watershed on the second corridor.

 On the south side of this watershed, and situated generally at its base, from southwest to northeast are the towns of Sangju, Hamchang, Yechon, and Yongju in the valley of the Naktong. Once these points were reached, enemy units could turn down that valley for a converging attack on Taegu. Or, the more eastern units could cross the relatively wide valley of the Naktong to enter another east-west spur range of the southern Taebaeks at a number of points —the most important being Andong—and cut across to the east-west corridor between Taegu and Pohang-dong and the Kyongju corridor leading south to Pusan.

 After the initial success of the North Korean Army in driving ROK forces from their 38th Parallel positions, the South Koreans east of the U.S. 24th Division were badly disorganized and fighting separate regimental and division actions. In the first part of July the ROK Army was generally disposed from west to east as follows: 17th Regiment, 2nd, Capital, 6th, and 8th Divisions, and the 23rd Regiment of the 3rd Division.

 The North Korean Army advanced southward on a wide front. The N.K. 1st Division followed the 4th and the 3rd south out of Seoul, but then turned off on the next major road east of the Seoul-Pusan highway. This led through Ichon and Umsong. Ahead of it was the N.K. 2nd Division which had moved westward to this road after the fall of Chunchon. At Ichon, ROK forces cut off an enemy regiment and destroyed or captured many mortars and several pieces of artillery. Farther west on the Yongin road another enemy regiment suffered heavy casualties at the same time, on or about 5 July, the day of Task Force Smith’s fight at Osan. After these actions, the N.K. 1st Division left the path of the 2nd and slanted southeast toward Chungju. This left the 2nd the first division east of U.S. 24th Division troops on the Seoul-Taejon highway and in a position to join with the N.K. 4th and 3rd Divisions in a converging attack on Taejon.

 Despite losses and low morale among its troops, officers drove the 2nd Division southward toward ChInchon, twenty miles east of Chonan. There on 9 July, one day after Chonan had fallen, the ROK Capital Division and South Korean police ambushed one of its battalions, capturing four pieces of artillery and twenty-seven vehicles. This began a three-day battle between the enemy division and the ROK Capital Division.

 The ROK’s withdrew on 11 July after other enemy divisions had outflanked them on the west by the capture of Chonan and Chonui. The N.K. 2nd Division, exhausted and depleted by heavy casualties, then entered ChInchon. Despite its condition, its commander allowed it no rest and drove it on toward Chongju , headquarters of the ROK I Corps. At the edge of the town, ROK artillery took it under fire and inflicted another estimated 800 casualties. Only when the ROK troops at Chongju were forced to fall back after the U.S. 24th Division, on 12 July, lost Chochiwon, twelve miles westward, did the enemy division enter the town.

 Eastward, the N.K. 7th Division advanced down the mountainous central corridor of Korea after it had helped the 2nd Division capture Chunchon in the opening days of the invasion. Retiring slowly in front of it and fighting effectively was the ROK 6th Division. Between Chunchon and Hongchon, the 6th Division inflicted approximately 400 casualties on the enemy division and knocked out a number of its T34 tanks. From Hongchon the battle continued on F. Temple down the road toward Wonju, the action reaching the edge of that rail and road center on or about 2 July. There, the North Korean High Command relieved Major General Chon U, commander of the 7th Division, because his division was behind schedule in its advance. At the same time, the North Korean high command redesignated the 7th Division the 12th, and activated a new 7th Division. After the fall of Wonju on or about 5 July, the newly designated 12th Division split its forces—part going southeast toward Chechon, the remainder south toward Chungju.

 These enemy operations in the mountainous central part of the peninsula were conducted by Lieutenant General Kim Kwang Hyop, commanding general of the North Korean II Corps, with headquarters at Hwach’on. On or about 10 July, the North Korean high command relieved him for inefficiency because his corps was several days behind its schedule, replacing him with Lieutenant General Kim Mu Chong.

 Below Wonju, while the ROK 6th Division tried to defend the Chungju corridor, the ROK 8th Division upon arriving from the east coast tried to establish a line to defend the Tanyang corridor, the next one eastward. After seizing Chungju and Chechon, the N.K.12th Division converged on Tanyang and on 12 July encountered the ROK 8th Division just north of that village. The N.K. 1st Division, having entered the central sector from the northwest, turned south at Chungju and on the 12th approached positions of the ROK 6th Division just above Mungyong. The N.K.15th Division, meantime, joined the attack after following the 7th Division from Chunchon to Wonju. At Wonju, the 15th veered westward, passed through Yoju, then turned south, clearing the town of Changhowon-ni after a stiff battle with ROK forces. By 12 July, the 15th occupied Koesan, eighteen miles northwest of Mungyong.

 The ROK 8th Division in its withdrawal from the east coast was supposed to concentrate in the vicinity of Wonju-Chechon. For several days the ROK Army headquarters had only vague and fragmentary information concerning its location. Eventually, in moving from Tanyang toward Chungju on Army order the division found the enemy blocking its way. Instead of trying to fight through to Chungju or to make a detour, the ROK 8th Division commander decided, in view of the exhaustion of his troops and the time involved in attempting a detour over mountain trails, that he would transfer the division to Chungju by rail on a long haul southward to Yongchon , thence to and through Taegu. A KMAG adviser found part of the division at Yongchon , between Pohang-dong and Taegu; other parts appear to have reached Taegu. The ROK Army issued new orders to the 8th Division which sent it back by rail to the upper Han River area. There on the south side of the upper Han River in the Tanyang area the 8th Division had concentrated by 10 July to defend the Yongju-Andong corridor.

 American and ROK strategy and tactics in this part of Korea now centered on holding the Mungyong and Tanyang passes of the Han-Naktong watershed. Both offered excellent defensive terrain. The major part of the North Korean Army was striking in a great attack on a wide front against the southern tip of the peninsula. Five divisions moved south over the two mountain corridors; while a sixth followed a western branch of the first corridor, the road from Chongju through Poun to Hwanggan where it entered the Seoul-Taegu highway.

 Over the first mountain corridor and across the Mungyong plateau came three North Korean divisions, the 1st, 13th, and 15th, supported by the 109th Tank Regiment of the 105th Armored Division.6 Over the second, or eastern, corridor came two North Korean divisions, the 12th and 8th. In the eastern mountains there were also 2,000-3,000 partisan guerrillas who had landed in the Ulchin area at the beginning of the war with the mission of operating as an advance element to prepare for the easy conquest of that part of South Korea. This group functioned poorly and was a big disappointment to the North Korean Army.

 The battles in the mountains between the North and South Koreans in July were often bitter and bloody with losses high on both sides. One of the most critical and protracted of these began about the middle of the month near Mungyong between the N.K. 1st Division and the ROK 6th Division for control of the Mungyong pass and plateau.

 On the next corridor eastward, the N.K. 12th Division carried the main burden of the attack all the way south from the Parallel to the upper Han River. Some of its advanced troops crossed the river on 12 July and the division captured the river crossing at Tanyang on the 14th. The 12th then fought the ROK 8th Division for control of the Tanyang Pass near the village of P’unggi, northwest of Yongju. It outflanked the ROK positions astride the road at Tanyang Pass and forced the 8th Division to withdraw southward. By the middle of July the North Koreans were forcing the Taebaek Mountain passes leading into the valley of the upper Naktong River.

 On the east coast along the Sea of Japan the N.K. 5th Division and the 766th Independent Infantry Unit after crossing the 38th Parallel moved south with virtually no opposition. The high and all but trackless Taebaek Range, with almost no lateral routes of communication through it, effectively cut off the east coast of Korea below the 38th Parallel from the rest of the country westward. Geography thus made it an isolated field of operations.

 At Kangnung, on the coastal road, twenty miles below the Parallel, the 11th Regiment of the 5th Division swung inland on an 8-day 175-mile march through some of the wildest and roughest country in Korea. It passed through Pyongchang, Yongwol, and Chunyang. At the last place the regiment met and fought a hard battle with elements of the ROK.

 Reports of strong unidentified enemy or guerrilla forces moving south along the Taebaek Range now reached the ROK Army and 24th Division headquarters. They assumed that these forces intended to attack Pohang-dong in conjunction with the main enemy force moving down the coastal road.

 Colonel “Tiger Kim,” feeling the force of the N.K. 5th Division for the first time, requested that he be sent reinforcements. Colonel Emmerich, senior KMAG adviser with the ROK 3rd Division, in turn requested that the ROK Army release immediately the ROK 1st Separate Battalion and the Yongdungpo Separate Battalion from their anti-guerrilla operations in the Chiri Mountains of southwest Korea. This was granted and the two battalions, numbering about 1,500 men armed with Japanese rifles and carbines, moved by rail and motor transport to the east coast.

 Meanwhile, Captain Harold Slater, KMAG adviser with the ROK 23rd Regiment, sent to Colonel Emmerich at Taegu a radio message that the ROK situation near P’yonghae-ri had grown critical. Emmerich started for that place accompanied by the G-3 of the ROK 3rd Division. Some fifty miles below the front, at Pohang-dong, they found retreating ROK soldiers. They also found there the regimental executive officer in the act of setting up a rear command post. Emmerich, through the ROK G-3, ordered them all back north to Yongdok and followed them himself.

 Already U.S. naval and air forces had joined in the fight along the coastal road. Ships came close in-shore on the enemy flank to bombard with naval gunfire the North Korean troop concentrations and supply points on the coastal corridor. The newly arrived 35th Fighter Group at Yonil Airfield joined in the fight. Weather permitting, aircraft bombed and strafed the N.K. 5th Division daily. Captain Gerald D. Putnam, a KMAG adviser with the ROK 23rd Regiment, served as an observer with the fighter group in identifying targets and in adjusting naval gunfire. Heavy monsoon rains created landslides on the mountain-flanked coastal road and helped to slow the North Korean advance.

 Late in the afternoon of 11 July the command post of the ROK 23rd Regiment withdrew south into Yongdok. When the 3rd Division commander arrived at Pohang-dong, pursuant to Colonel Emmerich’s request that he take personal command of his troops, he ordered the military police to shoot any ROK troops found in the town. That proved effective for the moment. The next day, young Brigadier General Lee Chu Sik arrived on the east coast to assume command of the division.

 On or about 13 July, the N.K. 5th Division entered P’yonghae-ri, twenty-two miles above Yongdok and fifty miles from Pohang-dong. There the 10th Regiment turned westward into the mountains and headed for Chinbo, back of Yongdok. The enemy advances down the mountain backbone of central Korea and on the east coast had assumed alarming proportions. The attack on Yongdok, the first critical and major action on the east coast, was at hand.

 General Dean tried to give this front additional strength by assembling there the advanced units of the 25th Infantry Division, commanded by Major General William B. Kean. It was the second United States division to be committed in the war and arrived in Korea between 10 and 15 July. On the 8th, General Kean and an advance party flew from Osaka, Japan, to Taejon for a conference with General Dean. Two days later the 27th Infantry Regiment (Wolfhound) landed at Pusan. There the regiment learned that its new commander was Lieutenant Colonel John H. “Mike” Michaelis. On the 12th, a second regiment, the 24th Infantry, an all-Negro regiment and the only regiment in the Eighth Army having three battalions, arrived in Korea. Colonel Horton V. White commanded it. Lastly, the 35th Infantry Regiment, commanded by Colonel Henry G. Fisher, arrived at Pusan between 13 and 15 July.

 The 27th Infantry at first went to the Uisong area, thirty-five miles north of Taegu. General Kean opened his first 25th Division command post in Korea at Yongchon , midway between Taegu and Pohang-dong. On 12 July General Dean ordered him to dispose the 25th Division, less one battalion which was to secure Yonil Airfield, so as to block enemy movement south from Chungju. One regiment was to be in reserve at Kumchon ready to move either to the Taejon or the Chongju area. The next day, 13 July, the 27th Infantry moved from Uisong to Andong on Eighth Army orders to take up blocking positions north of the town behind ROK troops.

 On 13 July, with the U.S. 24th Division in defensive positions along the south bank of the Kum River, the front extended along that river to a point above Taejon, eighty miles south of Seoul, where it bent slightly north of east to pass through Chongju and across the high Taebaek passes south of Chungju and Tanyang, and then curved slightly south to the east coast at Pyonghae-ri, 110 air miles north of Pusan at the southern tip of the peninsula. On all the principal corridors leading south from this line heavy battles were immediately in prospect.

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

Korean War: United Nations Takes Command (9)

Korean War: Delaying Action: Pyongtaek to Chochiwon (7)

World War Two: Saipan (2-5); Allied Invasion June 1943

On 6 June, while the convoys carrying the attack troops headed westward for their staging bases in the Marshalls, Marc Mitscher’s Task Force 58 weighed anchor and slipped out of Majuro for waters east of the Marianas. For this operation Admiral Mitscher had gathered together a total of seven carriers, eight light carriers, seven fast battleships, three heavy cruisers, ten light cruisers, and fifty-two destroyers.

Their missions were to prevent Japanese aircraft from interfering with the capture of Saipan, Tinian, and Guam; to protect the expeditionary force and the troops ashore from attack by enemy surface vessels; and, commencing on D minus 3 (12 June), to destroy aircraft and air facilities in the Marianas. Finally, on 13 June when it was presumed that Japanese aircraft operating from fields in the Marianas would be eliminated, Task Force 58 was directed to destroy all other types of Japanese defenses both by aerial bombardment and by ships’ fire from its supporting vessels.

This was to be the culmination of an accelerated program of aerial neutralization of the Marianas. Mitscher’s fast carriers had raided the islands on 22-23 February, and a few bombs had been dropped in April on both Saipan and Guam by B-24’s of the Seventh Air Force escorting Navy photographic planes over those islands. For almost three months Army heavy bombers and Navy and Marine Corps fighters and dive bombers had steadily pounded Truk, the western Carolines, the Palaus, and Marcus and Wake Islands.

After the destructive carrier strike against Truk on 17 February, primary responsibility for neutralizing that base as well as sister islands in the Carolines fell to planes of the Seventh Air Force, stationed in the Marshalls, and the Thirteenth Air Force, based at Empress Augusta Bay, Bougainville Island, and later (early May) in the Admiralties. The neutralization plan had called for almost daily attacks, since Japanese runways could otherwise have been quickly repaired to accommodate replacement planes flown down through the chain of mandated islands. As the target day for Saipan approached, B-24 raids against Truk were stepped up sharply and other possible danger points in the Caroline’s were hit proportionately. Meanwhile, late in May Mitscher’s Task Group 58 had conducted a successful raid on Marcus and intervention from that direction in the forthcoming Marianas operation. Thus, with all possible routes of enemy aerial interception from the south, east, and northeast successfully interdicted, Task Force 58 was assured a relatively free hand to deal with Japanese airpower based on the Marianas themselves.

The original plan for the pre-invasion bombing of the Marianas called for the first Task Force 58 carrier strike to be launched at dawn of 12 June, three days before the scheduled landing. Because of unexpectedly good weather conditions en route, the escorting destroyers were fueled more rapidly than had been anticipated, and the entire force arrived at points within fighter range of its targets earlier than planned. This bit of good fortune induced Admiral Mitscher to request permission to launch his first fighter sweep on the afternoon of 11 June rather than wait until the following morning. His main reason was that all previous carrier attacks by Task Force 58 had been launched at dawn and that an alteration in the pattern would surprise the enemy and be that much more effective.

Admiral Spruance approved, and at 1300 on the 11th the first planes took off from the carriers, which at that time were approximately 192 miles northeast of Guam and 225 miles southeast of Saipan and Tinian, The results were altogether gratifying. Of the 225 planes launched in this initial fighter sweep, only twelve were lost. By contrast, the enemy suffered heavily. Estimates as to Japanese aircraft put out of operation either through destruction or serious damage ran from 147 to 215.

Ashore on Saipan a Japanese soldier, member of the 9th Tank Regiment, wrote of the strike in his diary: At a little after 1300, I was awakened by the air raid alarm and immediately led all men into the trench. Scores of enemy Grumman fighters began strafing and bombing Aslito airfield and Garapan. For about two hours, the enemy planes ran amuck and finally left leisurely amidst the unparalleled inaccurate antiaircraft fire. All we could do was watch helplessly. At night we went, to extinguish the mountain fires which had been caused by gun fire. They were finally brought completely under control.

In spite of the magnitude of the attack, the Japanese command on Saipan apparently did not realize on the 11th that this was the prologue to a full-size invasion. At 1600 on that date 43rd Division headquarters ordered the construction of a new road between the Marpi Point and Aslito airfields. The north-south highway already in use ran along the west coast adjacent to the ocean shore, and General Saito felt that in “the event of a battle occurring at the shore, there would be a great danger of the direction of the battle being hindered by an immediate interruption of communications.”

The new road was to be inland from the coast line and follow the comparatively well-concealed foot of the mountains. Nothing could illustrate more graphically the Japanese failure to grasp the fact that the 11 June bombing was not merely another hit-and-run strike but the beginning of an invasion. If it had suspected an immediate invasion, the Army command on Saipan would not have diverted to a long-range project when men and matériel that could and should have been devoted to emergency fortifications.

Though there was a wide discrepancy in the estimates of damage inflicted on the Japanese during the attack of 11 June, there was no doubt that the enemy’s power of aerial resistance in the Marianas had been considerably reduced. At no time thereafter were Japanese land-based aircraft more than a minor nuisance to American operations. According to Admiral Nimitz, “Control of the air had been effected by the original fighter sweep on 11 June.”

For the next three days (12-14 June) all four of Mitscher’s task groups flew scheduled strikes over Saipan, Tinian, Guam, Rota, and Pagan with the object of continuing the destruction of enemy aircraft, rendering airfields at least temporarily useless, destroying coastal defense and antiaircraft batteries, and burning cane fields south of Mutcho Point on Saipan to prepare for forthcoming troop landings. In addition, last-minute photographic missions were flown over all three of the larger islands. During this period another fifty planes were reported destroyed with an additional sixty-six put out of operation. The task groups were less successful in bombing enemy airfields. Few runways on these or any other outlying bases were surfaced with concrete, macadam, or steel strip since the comparatively light weight of Japanese aircraft made such expenditure of time and material unnecessary, and it proved almost impossible to render the earthen airfields permanently unserviceable by moderate bombing attacks.

The effectiveness of preliminary aerial bombardment of coastal defense and antiaircraft artillery is difficult to assess. Pilots reported direct hits on gun positions on all three islands, but the accuracy of these reports could not be precisely measured. The mere fact that enemy guns remained silent after a strike was no indication that they had been destroyed or even seriously damaged since the Japanese might have been holding their fire in order to save ammunition or avoid detection. Indeed, one dive bomber squadron leader after a run on Tinian admitted, “The odds of a dive bomber hitting a target the size of a gun are astronomical even under ideal conditions.” He concluded that, on the basis of photographs and observations, shrapnel and blast resulting from the bombing caused the chief damage to enemy installations, knocking out the control posts and damaging some of the guns.

On 12 June Admiral Mitscher’s carrier pilots came into an unexpected windfall in the form of two Japanese convoys trying to escape the area. One of these, composed of about twenty vessels and located about 125 miles west of Pagan on a northerly course, was immediately bombed and strafed heavily. Nine merchant ships, with a total tonnage of almost 30,000 tons, along with their escort vessels including one large torpedo boat, three submarine chasers, and a converted net tender, were sunk. On the same day, other carrier planes hit two cargo vessels just off the northwest coast of Saipan, sinking one and damaging the other so badly that it had to be beached. Still another was sunk while being repaired in Tanapag Harbor. On 13 June a convoy fleeing south of the west coast of Guam was struck by planes of Rear Admiral Joseph G. Clark’s Task Group 58.1. One high-speed transport was definitely sunk and other shipping was reported set on fire.

[NOTE2-5-13 JANAC, Japanese Shipping Losses, pp. 12, 60-61. Naval pilots mistook this torpedo boat, the Otori, for a destroyer and so reported it. (Van Wyen and Land, Naval Air Operations in the Marianas, p. C-27.) The error is understandable since the Otori, though less than half the size of a destroyer, resembled it somewhat in silhouette. Otherwise, American damage claims for this action erred on the side of modesty. Postwar studies indicated a total of fourteen ships sunk, whereas the official American Navy claim came only to ten. Van Wyen and Land, Naval Operations in the Marianas, p. C-27; JANAC, Japanese Shipping Losses, pp. 12, 60]

Also on 13 June, while the carrier planes continued their bombing and strafing missions against the islands, the fast battleships and certain designated destroyers were detached from escort and screening duties and assigned the mission of initiating naval shore bombardment of Saipan and Tinian and covering mine-sweeping operations.

Seven fast battleships and eleven destroyers were detached and formed into a separate bombardment group under command of Vice Admiral William A. Lee, Jr. From 1040 until about 1725 they pounded the west coast of Saipan and Tinian. Meanwhile, ten fast mine sweepers probed the waters off the west coast of Saipan from distances of about six to two miles offshore. They found no moored contact or acoustics mines and received no fire from the beach. That night the battleships withdrew, but five destroyers remained in the area to deliver harassing fire.

The results of the first day’s naval gunfire were doubtful. At the close of the day’s bombardment, headquarters of the 31st Army reported that although the city streets in Garapan and Charan Kanoa had been almost destroyed, personnel losses had been relatively slight. In spite of naval reports of considerable damage done to shore installations, General Holland Smith’s naval gunfire officers remained skeptical. In their opinion, the effectiveness of the firing by these ships of Mitscher’s task force had been limited because of severe handicaps. With one exception, the fast battleships had received no continuous training in shore bombardment as had most of the old battleships. This type of firing, which required slow, patient adjustments on specific targets, was quite different from that normally experienced in surface engagements and called for specialized training. Also, air spotters off the fast battleships had neither experience nor training in locating ground targets. Finally, because none of the ships was allowed to move closer than 10,000 yards (five nautical miles) from the shore for fear of mines, accurate fire against anything but large buildings and other such obvious targets was virtually impossible.

Nevertheless, to the Japanese on the island the bombardment of the 13th, and especially that of the naval vessels, was a terrifying experience. One soldier described it thus: At 0500 there was a fierce enemy air attack. I have at last come to the place where I will die. I am pleased to think that I will die calmly in true samurai style. Naval gunfire supported this attack which was too terrible for words. I feel now like a full-fledged warrior. Towards evening the firing died down but at night naval gunfire continued as before. About 1700 communications with battalion headquarters were cut off.

Another eyewitness, a Japanese naval officer, noted: “The shells began to fall closer and closer to the airfield. It was frightful. The workers were all rather depressed.” The same officer reported that shortly after the naval shelling started he ordered his lookouts, his fire-fighting unit, and his workers to withdraw to caves in the hills. He himself remained behind with a junior officer and a “superior petty officer.” “On the veranda of the destroyed workers’ quarters,” he notes, “we who had stayed behind bolstered our spirits with five bottles of beer.”

Early on the morning of 14 June, Rear Admiral Jesse B. Oldendorf arrived off the coast of Saipan with the two bombardment groups that would carry the main burden of naval gunfire support both before and during the seizure of the island. This force consisted of seven old battleships, eleven cruisers, twenty-six destroyers, and a few destroyer transports and fast mine sweepers. The battleships had all been commissioned between 1915 and 1921. Four of them, California, Pennsylvania, Maryland, and Tennessee, were survivors of the attack on Pearl Harbor. All had undergone the rigorous training program for shore bombardment set up by V Amphibious Corps at Kahoolawe Island in the Hawaiian Islands.

These ships were able to move into closer range than had the fast battleships in the previous day’s bombardment. Mine sweepers had reported the area to the seaward of two miles from the shore line free of mines and were steadily moving in closer to the reef line. Better results were reported from this day’s activities, and many installations were believed to have been directly hit, in spite of the facts that the time allowed for deliberate pinpoint fire was too short and that air spotters again revealed their lack of training in distinguishing important land targets.

There is evidence that this pre-invasion bombardment was especially effective against prepared gun positions of antiaircraft units, which were for the most part fixed. Two prisoners of war taken on 29 June reported that their antiaircraft unit, the 1st Battery, 25th AAA Regiment, had been annihilated before D Day in the Magicienne Bay area. The Japanese naval officer quoted above noted in his diary, “Practically all our antiaircraft gun and machine gun positions were destroyed by bombing and shelling on the 13th, 14th, and 15th.” 

In other respects, however, the American preliminary bombardment was far from perfect. A Japanese artillery instructor, assigned to Saipan as an observer, managed to radio the following report on the effects of the shelling: Beach positions withstood four days of bombardment. Those observation posts and gun emplacements that were protected by splinter-proof shelters were able to withstand the bombardment. Dummy positions proved very effective. During bombardment, both day and night, movement to alternate positions was very difficult Communication lines were cut frequently, and the need for repairs and messengers was great.

During this naval bombardment of the 14th, two of the supporting ships were hit by fire from the shore. The destroyer Braine, while bombarding Tinian, took a 4.7-inch shell that caused three deaths and numerous injuries. The battleship California was struck by a small caliber artillery shell; one man was killed, nine were wounded, and the ship’s fire control system was damaged.

Also on the 14th, three naval underwater demolition teams reconnoitered the landing beaches of Saipan as well as other parts of the shore line. Each team consisted of about sixteen officers and eighty men, all naval personnel except for one Army and one Marine liaison officer per team. The men were dispatched from destroyer transports in small boats to the edge of the reef whence they swam close into the shore line in full daylight under the protection of ships’ fire. No obstacles were reported and hence no demolition work was necessary. The teams performed their work under considerable fire from the beach, but even so only two men were killed and fifteen wounded—a low figure considering the inherent danger of the operation and the fact that promised air support failed to materialize and ships’ fire was generally too far inland to provide much protection.

One result of the underwater demolition activities was to alert the Japanese on Saipan as to the probable place and time of the forthcoming landing. At 0800 a 31st Army message stated: “The enemy at about 0730 was making reconnaissance of reef with small boats. It is judged that the enemy will land here.” Later in the day another message from the same headquarters reported: Since early this morning the enemy small vessels have been planting markers and searching for tank passages on the reef. Because as far as one can see there are no transports, the landing will have to be after tonight or dawn tomorrow. The enemy bombardment is being carried out on coastal areas in anticipation of a landing.
D-Day Bombardment and Ship-to-Shore Movement
On the night of 14-15 June most of the support ships retired, leaving a handful to continue harassing fire along the coast line. Meanwhile the Western Landing Group, commanded by Admiral Hill and consisting mostly of transports and LST’s carrying the 2nd and 4th Marine Divisions, was slowly approaching the island from the east. As dark fell the marines could observe fires burning ashore and the glow of star shells fired by the naval ships left in the area. Shortly after 0500 the gigantic convoy moved into the transport area off the west coast of Saipan. In the early dawn, Mount Tapotchau lay silhouetted in the east. Streaks of fire from the armada of naval support ships colored the sky and the shore was blurred in a haze of smoke and dust. As the light improved, the town of Charan Kanoa became visible. To the north lay Garapan, the capital city. In its harbor, called Tanapag, lay several Japanese ships, beached, half-sunken, and smoking.
Naval bombardment commenced about 0530. Heavy close support ships were ordered not to approach closer than 1,500 yards from the reef. Destroyers were permitted to move in as far as 1,000 yards. Two old battleships, two cruisers, and seven destroyers were assigned the duty of last-minute preparation of the landing beaches themselves. At dawn these ships took station and shortly thereafter the two battleships commenced main battery fire at the beach defenses; less than an hour later the two cruisers opened up with their 12-inch guns.

In spite of the apparent intensity of this barrage, the Japanese high command was not overly impressed—at least not officially. From 31st Army headquarters came the report: “They did not carry out large scale shelling and bombing against the positions on the landing beach just prior to landing. When they came to the landing, even though we received fierce bombing and shelling, our basic positions were completely sound.”
But to other less exalted defenders of the island, the shelling appeared more formidable. One member of the 9th Tank Regiment observed fairly effective results from the shelling of the Magicienne Bay area. A naval supply warehouse was hit, causing a considerable number of casualties, and a nearby ammunition dump was set off. “There was no way,” he reported, “of coping with the explosions. We could do nothing but wait for them to stop.” Somewhere in the same vicinity, the Japanese naval officer mentioned above took to the bottle again to calm his nerves against the shock of the shelling, “I quietly opened the quart I brought along,” he noted in his diary, “and took my first ‘shot’ from it. There is something indescribable about a shot of liquor during a bombardment.

At 0545 the word was passed throughout the American task forces that H Hour, the moment at which the first troops were supposed to land, would be 0830, as scheduled. Guns and winches were manned; boats were lowered into the water from the transports.
Shortly after 0700 the thirty-four LST’s carrying the Marine assault battalions moved into position and dropped anchor about half a mile off the line of departure. The line, the starting point from which the assault landing craft would take off, was located 4,250 yards offshore. Bow doors swung open; ramps lowered, and hundreds of amphibian tractors and amphibian tanks crawled into the water and commenced to circle. In all, 719 of these craft would be employed in the operation.

Astern of the assault landing ships lay twelve other LST’s carrying light artillery, most of which would be landed in DUKW’s. Still further seaward of each division’s beach lay two dock landing ships embarked with heavier landing craft (LCM’s) that would take ashore the tanks and heavy artillery as soon as enough beachhead had been secured by the infantry. About 18,000 yards offshore the larger troop transports swung at anchor. Aboard were reserve troops, headquarters troops, shore party teams, heavy artillery, trucks, tractors, bulldozers, and sundry equipment and supplies.

Meanwhile, north of the main transport area, marines of the 2nd Regimental Combat Team (2nd Marine Division) and the 1st Battalion, 29th Marines, were conducting a diversionary demonstration off the town of Garapan. Boats were lowered, troops embarked, standard waves were formed and went in as far as 5,000 yards off the beach. There they circled for ten minutes without receiving any fire and then returned to their mother ships.

Off the main landing beaches, all ships’ fire ceased at 0700 to allow a thirty-minute Strike by carrier planes. Fifty fighters, 51 scout bombers, and 54 torpedo bombers conducted an area bombing attack along the beaches with the primary aim of demoralizing the enemy rather than knocking out particular installations. As soon as this strike lifted, the naval ships assigned to close support took up the course once again and continued to hit the beaches with heavy guns until the first wave of troops was only 1,000 yards from the shore line and with 5-inch guns until the troops had progressed to within 300 yards.

The line of departure was marked by four naval patrol craft (PC’s), each anchored and flying flags designating the number and color of the beaches opposite them. At 0750, H Hour was postponed to 0840 because of a delay in launching the amphibian tractors. Small control craft escorted the leading waves toward the line of departure. A few minutes after 0800 the control craft hoisted their Wave-1 flags and twenty-four LCI gunboats crossed the line of departure, firing their automatic weapons as they went.

About five minutes later wave flags were run down from the signal yardarms of the anchored patrol craft and the first wave of amphibian tanks and tractors crossed the line of departure. Following waves—three for the northern beaches and four for the southern—were spaced at intervals of from two to eight minutes. The run into the beach would take a few minutes less than half an hour at maximum LVT(A) speed of 4.5 knots.
About 1,600 yards from shore the gunboats on the northern beaches stopped engines and lay to just short of the reef but kept up their fire as the first wave passed through them. On the southern beaches, where the reef was closer to the shore, the LCI(G)’s moved in to 400 yards and let loose salvos of 4.5-inch rockets in a last minute saturation of the beach. As the leading troops came within 300 yards of the shore, all naval gunfire ceased except in the area around Afetna Point, which lay between the two divisions’ beaches. A last-minute strafing attack by seventy-two carrier-based planes commenced when the leading waves were 800 yards from the shore line, continued until the first troops were within 100 yards of the beaches, then shifted to 100 yards inland until the first landings were made.

[NOTE 35 LCM—landing craft mechanized—a shallow draft vessel, fifty feet long, equipped with a bow ramp and primarily designed to carry a tank or motor vehicles directly onto the beach.]

The formation of the assault waves differed between the two Marine divisions. North of Afetna Point, the 2nd Marine Division was landing with four battalion landing teams abreast. From north to south (left to right) the 6th Marines headed for Red Beaches 2 and 3; the 8th Marines for Green Beaches 1 and 2, immediately in front of the Charan Kanoa airstrip. South of Afetna Point, the 4th Marine Division proceeded toward Blue and Yellow Beaches with the 23rd Regimental Combat Team on the left and the 25th on the right.

In the 2nd Marine Division’s zone the first wave consisted of eight separated lines of six amphibian tractors, each in line a breast formation. Between each line of six LVT’s was echeloned one platoon of amphibian tanks (LVT(A) (4)’s) mounting 75-mm. howitzers. The succeeding three waves consisted of LVT’s alone in line abreast. The amphtracks (LVT’s) were crewed by the Marine’s 2nd Amphibian Tractor Battalion and the Army’s 715th Amphibian Tractor Battalion. The amphibian tanks, seventy in number, belonged to the Marine’s 2nd Armored Amphibian Battalion.

The 4th Marine Division’s landing plan differed. The first wave consisted exclusively of sixty-eight amphibian tanks, formed abreast and manned by the Army’s 708th Amphibian Tank Battalion. Most of these were old style LVT(A)(1)’s with only a 37-mm. gun on the bow, but sixteen of them were LVT(A)(4)’s carrying 75-mm. howitzers. Astern in four successive waves came the assault troops boated in amphibian tractors of the Marine 10th Amphibian Tractor Battalion (less Company A, plus Company C, 11th Amphibian Tractor Battalion) and the Army 773rd Amphibian Tractor Battalion.

From the line of departure to the reef the first waves moved in good order and met only moderate enemy gunfire. Once across the reef, however, the picture changed. All along the line the Japanese opened up with automatic weapons, anti-boat guns, and artillery and mortar barrages against the first wave. These increased in intensity as the second, third, and fourth waves climbed over the reef.

In the 2nd Marine Division’s zone, three amphibian tanks and four tractors were knocked out of action between the reef and the beach.39 Surf in the area ran as high as twelve to fifteen feet, too high for amphtracks to operate with any great degree of safety. Nevertheless, only two capsized as a result of the swells. About 98 percent of all the tractors got ashore safely.

Once across the reef, the wave formation in the 2nd Division area broke down completely. Because of their superior speed, many of the tractors commenced to overtake their supporting amphibian tanks and to compress them from echelon almost into column formation. Some tractors crossed in front of the tanks thus masking their fire.
Even more serious, the Navy guide boat led the leading waves off course. This has been variously attributed to compass error, a strong drift of current to the northward, and the fact that extremely heavy fire was coming at the boats on the right flank from the area around Afetna Point. Whatever the reason, the entire right flank of the leading waves veered to the left, thus causing a northerly shift along the entire line and considerable crowding in the center.

The 2nd Battalion, 8th Marines, which was scheduled to land on Green Beach 2, went ashore instead on Green 1, where it became badly intermixed with the 3rd Battalion of the same regiment. The two assault battalions of the 6th Marines landed about 400 yards north of their assigned beaches, Red 2 and 3.

The first assault waves of the 8th Marines landed on the Green Beaches at approximately 0843; the last were being landed by 0900. On the Red Beaches the first assault wave landed at 0840, the last at 0908.

To the south, in the area of the 4th Marine Division, the ship-to-shore movement was proceeding somewhat more smoothly. Here, the sixty-eight amphibian tanks of the Army’s 708th Amphibian Tank Battalion constituted the entire first wave. All commenced to fire 75-mm. howitzers or 37-mm. guns about 400 yards from the shore after mounting the reef. From each beach came answering fire of all types including mortar, small arms, and artillery. Japanese artillery markers—small flags on bamboo sticks that were apparently a part of the enemy’s prearranged fire plan and for unknown reasons had not been removed by underwater demolition teams on the previous day—were scattered along the reef. Of the sixty-eight tanks in the first wave all but three arrived safely. One burned, one was swamped on the reef, and one received a direct hit from an antitank weapon firing from the shore at about twenty-five yards range.[N2-5-42]

Astern of the tanks came the amphibian tractors of the Marine 10th Amphibian Tractor Battalion and the Army 773rd Amphibian Tractor Battalion in four waves, spaced from two to six minutes apart. Of the 196 troop-carrying tractors, only two failed to land their cargo; one was hit by a shell on the reef and the other developed mechanical difficulties. Between 0843 and 0907 all of the leading waves with about 8,000 marines embarked were ashore.

[N2-5-42 1st Lieutenant Russell A. Gugeler, FA, 1st I and H Sv, Army Amphibian Tractor and Tank Battalions in the Battle of Saipan, 15 June-9 July 1944, 20 Jan 45, pp. 6-7, MS in OCMH. These figures differ from those given in the official action report of the 708th Amphibian Tank Battalion, which states that two of its tanks were overturned and three lost due to maintenance difficulties. The report mentions no direct hits. (NTLF Rpt Marianas, Phase I, Incl H to Incl Y, p. 1). The former figures are accepted as more accurate because the author of that account gives a detailed description of the LVT(A) casualties in the battalion as well as the names and actions of the personnel involved.]

Breakdown of the Landing Plan
From the outset, two factors marred the smooth execution of the landing plan. The first was the wide gap that had developed between the right battalion (2nd Battalion, 8th Marines) of the 2nd Marine Division and the left battalion (3rd Battalion, 23rd Marines) of the 4th Marine Division. The landing plan had provided for a gap between the two divisions. Troops were not to land on Afetna Point itself because of the reasonable fear that the enemy would have placed his heaviest concentration of artillery there to guard the only channel through the reef to the pier at Charan Kanoa. However, the distance between the two divisions was more than double that envisaged because the 2nd Battalion, 8th Marines, landed north of its assigned beach. Almost three days would elapse before firm contact between the divisions was established.

Perhaps more serious was the breakdown of the scheme to employ amphibian tanks and tractors to carry the assault inland from the water’s edge. The basic plan for the landing on Saipan prescribed a blitz assault, continuous from shipboard inland to the first high ground. In the 2nd Marine Division’s zone of action the four companies of amphibian tanks were to proceed inland about three hundred yards to the tractor control line, cover the debarkation of the assault troops from their tractors, and support their advance to the first objective line, which lay about 1,500 yards inland. Tractors of the first wave were to accompany the LVT(A)’s to the tractor control line and there debark their troops. The succeeding three waves were supposed to discharge their troops on the beach.

In the zone of the 4th Marine Division, the initial wave—amphibian tanks—was to lead the next two waves—tractors—all the way to the first objective line, which was located on the first high ground a mile inland. There, the tanks would deploy and support the troops as they debarked and moved forward. The fourth and fifth waves were to be discharged at the beach and mop-up areas bypassed by the leading waves.

None of these plans succeeded completely, and for the most part the scheme of
employing amphibian tanks as land tanks and amphibian tractors as overland troop-carrying vehicles must be marked off as a failure. The LVT(A)’s had neither the armor nor the armament to withstand the terrible pounding from enemy artillery and supporting weapons that could be expected during this phase of the assault Moreover, the LVT(A)’s were underpowered and were stopped by sand, trenches, holes, trees, and other minor obstacles, most of which a land tank could have negotiated with ease. Once the tractors were out of the water, their hulls were exposed and they became easy targets for enemy fire, which their armor was too light to resist. On shore they were clumsy and slow. It proved far healthier for troops to extricate themselves from these death traps as fast as possible and find shelter in whatever natural protection the terrain and the vegetation offered.

On the 2nd Marine Division’s beaches the situation rapidly became chaotic. Trees, trenches, and shell holes stopped some of the tanks of the 2nd Armored Amphibian Battalion before they could even cross the beach. Between the beach and the tractor control line, twenty-eight LVT(A)’s, more than one-third the total number, were disabled.
Only a few points of ingress from the beach inland could be discovered, and while the amphibian tanks were maneuvering up and down trying to locate the points they became almost hopelessly intermixed with the tractors of the first and succeeding waves. Up to the tractor control line infantry troops were able to maintain close contact with the tanks, but the eighteen LVT(A)’s that went beyond that point got little infantry support. Tanks fired indiscriminately among troops and tractors and in general merely added to the confusion instead of aiding the battalions they were supposed to support.

Congestion was particularly bad in the area of Green Beach 1, where the two battalions of the 8th Marines were trying to land at the same time because the right flank of the first wave had veered to the left. These troops were all embarked in the amphibian tractors of the 715th Amphibian Tractor Battalion. Directly ahead of them was a heavily wooded bank constituting an almost impassable barrier for tanks and tractors alike. The marines forthwith abandoned their tractors and took cover behind the embankment. Within five minutes after the first wave touched shore, the second wave arrived and landed a little to its right. By the time the third and fourth waves had landed, the men on foot were being squeezed between the tractors to their rear and the Japanese to the front. Altogether, only two tractors were able to get beyond the beach, one making its way as far as the radio tower 700 yards inland. Two days later, the driver wandered back to the beach but was too shell-shocked to be able to remember how he had got that far or what had happened when he got there. On the southern beaches, the 708th Amphibian Tank Battalion fared a little better.

Of the sixty-eight tanks in the first wave, about half reached Fina Susu ridge by ten o’clock. Contrary to expectations, progress through the town of Charan Kanoa was fairly easy, and by 0915 thirteen tanks of Company B, assigned to this sector, had arrived at the objective. South of them the going was more difficult. The tanks that landed below Charan Kanoa had to fight swamp ground, tank trenches, heavy artillery, a burning gas dump, and a steep railroad embankment before attaining the ridge. Nineteen made it. Those on the extreme right had the most difficulty. Swinging south, three tanks reached the tip of Agingan Point about a thousand yards south of the lowest landing beach. They braved it out against fairly heavy Japanese mortar and artillery fire, but when American naval shells commenced to drop in the area they discreetly withdrew. Agingan Point would have to wait another day for capture.

Meanwhile, back on the beaches most of the troops were deserting their amphibian tractors for the dubious safety of traveling on foot and belly. The 23rd Marines, which landed in and just south of Charan Kanoa, made fair progress inland. Fifteen LVT’s of the second wave were able to carry their troops through the town itself and on to the ridge behind. On the beach immediately below, thirty-three tractors got as far as a railroad embankment about 400 yards inland before the infantry commanders ordered their troops to debark.

On the southern (Yellow) beaches, where the fighting was fiercest, no such progress was made. One company of the 773rd Amphibian Tractor Battalion got as far as a railroad spur about 700 yards inland, but the rest unloaded their troops as rapidly as possible and shoved off back to the transfer line beyond the reef. In spite of the hasty withdrawal of most of the first group of LVT’s, the shore line soon was thick with tractors as succeeding waves telescoped onto the beach. It was small wonder. After a full hour’s fighting the 1st Battalion, 25th Marines, had succeeded in pushing just twelve yards in from the beach, and the 2nd Battalion’s progress was only a little better. The tractor plan failed most signally here. The infantryman was on his own.
Expanding the Beachhead: Action of the 2nd Marine Division
On the Red Beaches to the north, the two assault battalions of the 6th Marines met fierce enemy fire immediately upon landing. The failure of most of the amphibian tanks and tractors to proceed any considerable distance inland and the rain of enemy shells caused unexpected congestion and confusion on the beaches. The command posts of both battalions received direct hits that seriously injured battalion commanders and most of their staffs. The regimental commander, Colonel James P. Risely, USMC, came ashore at 1000 and established his command post practically at the water’s edge. Forty minutes later the regimental reserve (1st Battalion, 6th Marines) commenced to land and prepare to support the assault elements.

By 1105 the front line had advanced only 400 yards inland. The 3rd Battalion, on the right, was suffering especially heavy casualties, and the 1st Battalion was therefore ordered to pass through the 3rd. Weak points began to appear all along the line. More serious, a dangerous gap developed between the right flank of the 6th Marines and the left flank of the 8th Marines when the 6th Marines landed some 400 yards north of its assigned beaches. In spite of the fact that Companies K and L of the 6th Regiment were ordered to establish physical contact, a gap of 300 yards still existed, although covered by fire. Around noon the 6th Regiment’s casualties had mounted to an estimated 35 percent.
An hour later three Japanese tanks counterattacked in the area in front of the command post. Two of the tanks were knocked out by bazookas before penetrating the front line, but the third managed to push through to within seventy-five yards of the command post before being disabled by a bazooka rocket fired from the post itself. During the morning and early afternoon the regiment had no supporting weapons ashore other than those carried as organizational—bazookas, antitank grenades, and 37-mm. guns. Meanwhile, however, some tanks had commenced to land.

Shortly after 0900 a pilot tank was disembarked at the reef’s edge to explore the best passage through the reef. By 1020 it had searched out a path to Green Beach 1, although it was under heavy fire all the way. Once on the beach, enemy fire forced the crew to abandon the tank, but a reef route was marked and by 1300 the first of the 2nd Division’s tanks had landed on Green 1 and moved northward to support the 6th Marines. By midafternoon those tanks assigned to the 8th Marines had successfully landed and were in operation. Southward, on the Green Beaches, the chief problems facing the 8th Marines were confusion and congestion. The right flank battalion (the 2nd) had landed from 700 to 1,000 yards north of its assigned beaches.

As a result, the two assault battalions of the 8th Marines and part of one battalion of the 6th Marines all found themselves in the same beach area. To add to the confusion, the commanders of the two assault battalions of the 8th Marines were both wounded early in the action and had to be evacuated. The 2nd Battalion, 8th Marines, had the most difficult job—to attack south along the beach toward Afetna Point.

The object was not only to remove the menace of anti-boat weapons located in that area but also to secure the single reef channel off Charan Kanoa and permit the early entry of tank-carrying landing craft, which could not negotiate the reef itself. According to their prescribed scheme of maneuver, one company (Company G) moved south along the beach and the other two (E and F) fanned out to the southeast.

Company G was heavily armed with shotguns in addition to its normal weapons. These short-range guns with wide dispersion patterns were allotted to Company G chiefly as insurance against its firing into the lines of the 4th Marine Division toward which it was advancing. Progress was slow —the beach itself was thickly covered with pillboxes, and enemy riflemen situated east of the Charan Kanoa airstrip made the most of the flat, open terrain to harass the company’s left flank as it inched southward. At 0950 the 1st Battalion, in regimental reserve, was ordered to land. Company B was attached to the 2nd Battalion to support Company G’s attack toward Afetna Point. Companies A and C were committed between the 2nd and 3rd Battalions.

Later in the afternoon, the 1st Battalion, 29th Marines, was landed and also attached to the 8th Marines on the Green Beaches. Because of a shortage of amphibian tractors, the battalion was unable to boat up properly and hence landed in considerable disorder. Company B, 29th Marines, was ordered to proceed at once to fill a gap between Companies E and G of the 8th Marines.

However, its knowledge of the terrain was inaccurate and it was furnished no guides, so the company ended up about 600 yards north of its assigned position. The gap between the two right companies of the 2nd Battalion, 8th Marines, still remained unfilled, and Company A, 29th Marines, was ordered at 1730 to take that position. The approach of darkness and a heavy barrage of enemy artillery pinned these troops down before they could arrive at their destination.

Meanwhile, the 2nd Marines, which had participated in the demonstration off Tanapag, was beginning to come ashore on Red Beach 2. By 1800 the 3rd Battalion had landed and was attached to the 6th Marines, taking station before nightfall on the division left flank. By nightfall one company from the 2nd Battalion, 2nd Marines, in addition to the regimental commander and the advance echelon of his command post, was also ashore. The rest of the regiment was ordered to return to the area of the control vessel on the line of departure and remained boated throughout the night, to be landed by midmorning of the following day.

By noon of D Day Red Beach 3 was sufficiently clear to permit shore parties to land. The first team came ashore at 1300, and supplies began to flow over the two central beaches. Two more shore parties landed before the end of the day. Late in the day the two 75-mm. pack howitzer battalions of the 10th Marines were ashore and in position to support the infantry.

The 1st Battalion landed by 1403 and supported the 6th Marines; the 2nd Battalion was ashore at 1730 and in position to support the 8th Marines. Before dark the 2nd Marine Division’s commander, General Watson, had established his command post on Red Beach 2. By this time the division was digging in for the night and consolidating its positions against counterattack. Amphibian tanks and tractors had set up a defensive net against possible counteramphibious attacks from the sea. Division casualties were estimated to amount to 1,575—238 killed, 1,022 wounded, and 315 missing in action.

Action of the 4th Marine Division South of Afetna Point, the 4th Marine Division was having it own share of problems. To be sure, opposition in the town of Charan Kanoa was comparatively light. Japanese riflemen sniped away as troops and tractors moved through the rubble of the town, but they caused small damage.

The 3rd Battalion, 23rd Marines, reached the first objective line with phenomenal speed. On its right flank, however, the 2nd Battalion of the same regiment was not so lucky. Troops debarked from their tractors unevenly and there was no semblance of a continuous line. Fighting degenerated into a series of small unit actions, and not until midafternoon was tactical control regained by the battalion commander. The farther south, the worse the situation became. After a full hour, the 25th Marines had penetrated only twelve yards in from the beach. From its right flank the 1st Battalion caught the heaviest load of fire from pillboxes and mortars on Agingan Point. Amphibian tanks, bombs, and naval shells were unable to abate this nuisance for the remainder of the day, and at nightfall the 1st Battalion, 25th Marines, had to dig in with its right flank exposed.
Tanks of the 4th Marine Division began to come ashore about two hours after the initial landing. Their progress from ship to shore was seriously impeded since the channel off Afetna Point was still interdicted by enemy fire, thus making it necessary in most cases for tanks to debark from landing craft at the reef and attempt to negotiate the lagoon under their own power. Mounting seas during the afternoon increased the hazards of the trip. Of the sixty tanks of the 4th Tank Battalion, twenty-one failed to reach the 4th Marine Division’s beaches. One sank with the LCM on which it was boarded, another settled into a pothole off the reef, others were unable to locate landing craft to take them ashore or had their wiring systems fouled en route. Finally, six medium tanks were misdirected to Green Beach 2, a 2nd Division beach. Of these, five were immobilized in deep water inside the lagoon and the sixth was appropriated by the 2nd Division and failed to reach its parent organization until several days later. The only decisive tank action on the southern beaches occurred on the extreme right flank. There, the 1st Platoon of Company A helped to break up a counterattack that, if successful, would have driven the 1st Battalion, 25th Marines, back into the sea.

In the matter of artillery, the 4th Marine Division was more fortunate than the 2nd Division. Whereas the latter got only two battalions of 75-mm. pack howitzers ashore on D Day, the entire 14th Regiment, consisting of two 75-mm. pack howitzer battalions and three 105-mm. howitzer battalions, was landed by 1630 to support the 4th Marine Division. Shortly thereafter the reserve regiment, the 24th Marines, landed and proceeded to an area about 800 yards south of Charan Kanoa.

At 1930 General Schmidt, commander of the 4th Division, came ashore. His command post was a series of foxholes about fifty yards from the beach and very poorly protected from enemy light artillery, which was firing from the high ground about 1,500 yards away. General Schmidt later recalled, “Needless to say the command post during that time did not function very well. It was the hottest spot I was in during the war, not even excepting Iwo Jima.

By the time the division commander had landed, the division’s left flank had been pulled back to conform to the configuration of the remainder of the line. The 2nd and 3rd Battalions, 23rd Marines, were both ordered to withdraw to positions roughly 800 yards west of the first objective line on the reverse slope of Fina Susu ridge. The movement was executed under cover of darkness—a difficult operation but one carried out successfully and without alerting the enemy. After the withdrawal was completed, the 1st Battalion relieved the 3rd, and the latter assembled in what was euphemistically called a “rear area” to protect the left flank.

Summary of the Situation at Nightfall By darkness of the first day it could be concluded that the landing was a success, even though only about two thirds of the area within the first objective line was under the marines’ control. In spite of the failure of the initial plan to carry some of the assault waves 1,500 yards inland aboard amphibian tractors, the troops had established a beachhead approximately 10,000 yards in length and over 1,000 yards in depth in most places. Two divisions were ashore with almost all their reserves. Seven battalions of artillery had landed, as had most of the two tank battalions. Both division command posts were ashore by the time the troops had dug in for the night. The most serious weaknesses in the Marine position were on its flanks. Afetna Point, between the two divisions, was still in enemy hands. So was Agingan Point on the right flank, and the 6th Marines’ hold on the extreme left was precarious.

As for the Japanese, they had exacted a heavy toll—how heavy cannot be accurately stated because of the inadequacy of casualty figures for D Day. The American landings had been made against what the enemy considered his strongest point and at a time when his garrison there was four battalions over strength. He had registered the landing area, using flags on the reef for registration markers, and as successive waves landed artillery and mortar fire increased in intensity. The Japanese had massed at least sixteen 105-mm. howitzers and thirty 75-mm. field pieces on the first high ground and the reverse slope thereof about 1.5 miles southeast of Charan Kanoa. Directly east of the airstrip they had emplaced a 150-mm. howitzer battery of four weapons with a similar battery south of it. All of these weapons were well sited, and they were responsible for a tremendous amount of fire on the landing beaches.

Although the enemy realized that the diversionary maneuver off Tanapag was a ruse, he did retain one infantry regiment (the 135th) in that area instead of committing it, as was intended, to the south of Garapan. At no time on D Day did the Japanese employ infantry in any great strength. They relied almost entirely on artillery, heavy weapons, and scattered tank attacks.

In the opinion of Holland Smith’s operations officer, the “most critical stage of the battle for Saipan was the fight for the beachhead: for the security of the landing beaches, for sufficient area into which troops and heavy equipment could be brought, and for the ability to render logistical support to those forces once landed.” This, to be sure, could be said of any amphibious landing where strong opposition is encountered. On Saipan, it was six days before the beachhead could be considered completely secured, but it was the first day’s action that was crucial. The most critical stage of “the most critical stage” was past.

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

World War Two: Saipan (2-6); Capture of Aslito Airfield

World War Two: Marianas(2-4); Prewar Japanese Activities