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

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

An Initial Reverse: Prelude to Retreat

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The First Attack Ends in Retreat

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Plans for a New Attack

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

West Toward the Airdromes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

To the Beach

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Allied Build-up: The Fifth Army found itself at the edge of defeat on the evening of 13 September for one basic reason: the army could not build up the beachhead by water transport as fast as the Germans, for all their difficulties, could reinforce their defenders by land. A lack of lift for the immediate follow-up, attributable to the shortage of vessels and landing craft in the Mediterranean, had been recognized well before the event. Now the German threat to split the beachhead made the implications of the shortage a sharp reality.

Although the German thrust into the Sele-Calore corridor brought the crisis to a head, the problem of the build-up was an old concern. On 13 September, the major planning revolved around the question of how to move more troops into the beachhead fast. [n2-8-1 Eisenhower to ‘Var Dept, 13 Sep 43. OPD Exec 3. Item 3] The 45th Division’s 180th Infantry and the initial increments of the British 7th Armoured Division were on their way to the beachhead, but this small number of men promised no real solution of the deficiency and, besides, might arrive too late to have any effect at all.

Three possible solutions were discussed: (1) If General Montgomery’s Eighth Army could either tie down the German forces in Calabria or reach the Salerno area early enough, the balance might be redressed. (2) If naval and air support at Salerno could be increased, the growing advantage of the German ground forces might be counterbalanced. (3) If any of the four divisions available to the Fifth Army-the 82nd Airborne and 3rd Infantry Divisions in Sicily, the 1st Armored and 34th Infantry Divisions in North Africa-could be brought to Salerno quickly by readjusting craft allocations or rescheduling loadings to substitute combat troops for service elements, the German build-up might be offset.

Given the distance of Salerno from Sicily and North Africa and the time required for sea voyages, the most direct action was to spur on the Eighth Army. As early as the second day of the AVALANCHE invasion, the afternoon of 10 September, General Alexander had sent a radio message to General Montgomery, advising him that it was absolutely essential to tie down the Germans in Calabria and prevent them from reaching Salerno; to do so, Alexander made explicit, Montgomery had to maintain firm contact and exert great pressure. In order to emphasize the urgency of the need, Alexander sent his chief of staff to Montgomery’s headquarters to explain the situation personally.[n2-8-2 2 Alexander Despatch, p, 2896.]

THE CRISIS

Before Alexander’s message arrived, Montgomery had halted his troops. He had found it necessary, shortly after his amphibious hook to Pizzo on 8 September, to “have a short pause” near Catanzaro because his army was “getting very strung out.” The heavily damaged roads were wearing out his vehicles after comparatively brief periods of service, and the rate of build-up in Calabria was too low to provide him with the service and transportation units required to maintain a faster rate of advance. He was stopping, he informed General Clark, and giving his men two days’ rest while he built up supplies and replaced his exhausted stocks of Bailey bridging; Early on 11 September, Alexander’s radio message urging a quickened advance finally got through to Montgomery. About the same time, Alexander’s chief of staff arrived. Not only did he emphasize Alexander’s instruction but he gave Montgomery additional news that provided even greater impetus for Montgomery to move forward rapidly.

The news was that the landing of the British 1st Airborne Division at Taranto two days earlier had made it logical to assign ‘Montgomery to take control of that division and any other forces that might be sent to the heel. Though Montgomery still felt that his army “was administratively very stretched,” he planned to push ahead out of Calabria at once. But since he was already engaged in securing and opening the port of Crotone, 100 air miles from Reggio, in order to ease his logistical problems, he decided to continue his operations at Crotone. He rationalized his decision by the thought that opening the airfields around Crotone would help the situation at Salerno.

When British troops took Crotone on the 11th, Montgomery designated Castrovillari, seventy miles up the peninsula, as his next objective, not only to cover the Crotone area but also as a preliminary for mounting a threat against the Germans at Salerno. By taking what he saw as “considerable administrative risks,” he thought he could have troops at Castrovillari in four days, by 15 September. From Castrovillari, it was about seventy-five miles to Paestum; it was the same distance to Taranto.

General Montgomery accepted responsibility for Taranto on 13 September, though he was still far from it. By controlling Taranto, he could and did make adjustments in ship allocations to accelerate the movement of badly needed supplies to Crotone. This would, he thought, help speed an advance toward Salerno. These activities did nothing to ease the critical situation in the Salerno beachhead on 13 September. Though leading elements of the Eighth Army were operating in advance of Montgomery’s main body of troops, they were too far from Salerno to have any effect on the battle during the crucial days. Timely Eighth Army help for Fifth Army had to be written off.

To increase naval support in the hope of offsetting the German build-up at the beachhead, Admiral Cunningham had already on the 11th dispatched from Malta two cruisers, the HMS Aurora and the HMS Penelope) to replace damaged ships.

When Admiral Hewitt asked whether heavier naval forces could be made available, Cunningham ordered the battleships HMS Valiant and HMS Warspite from Malta to Salerno and informed Hewitt he would send the battleships HMS Nelson and HMS Rodney to the Gulf of Salerno later if Hewitt wished them. Cunningham also ordered three cruisers to sail at top speed to Tripoli to pick up British replacements and rush them to the beachhead. But no immediate results could be expected from these efforts either. It would take the HMS Valiant and HMS Warspite two days to arrive in the Gulf of Salerno and not until then, 15 September, would they get improvised gunfire observation parties ashore and add the fire of their guns to the shore bombardment.

More air support was possible, but not immediately. General Eisenhower requested permission from the Combined Chiefs of Staff to retain temporarily three squadrons of ‘Wellington’ bombers because of the “critical nature of the AVALANCHE situation.” He also ordered the strategic air force to cease for the moment its long-range hammering of railroads, dumps, and communications in the distant rear of the enemy and concentrate instead on targets closer to the ground forces.

Eisenhower’s instructions to the heavy bombers were necessary not only because of the German threat to the beachhead but also because the air cover arrangements at Salerno had worked out less satisfactorily than had been hoped. By retaining control of the high ground near Battipaglia and keeping the Montecorvino airfield under artillery fire, the Germans had thwarted Allied plans to have land-based fighters operating from the beachhead by 10 September. Since the airfield was unusable, the escort carriers, which were prepared to provide naval air support for only two days, had remained in the Gulf of Salerno. The stopgap landing strip that General Clark had ordered Dawley to construct near Paestum was ready at dawn of the 12th, but no aircraft arrived until twenty-six naval planes flew ashore late that afternoon and set up shop.7 By order of General House’s XII Air Support Command, two planes of the 111th Reconnaissance Squadron landed at the Paestum airstrip on the morning of 13 September. But after executing one air tactical mission, the pilots were dispatched on a vital errand to Sicily. Thus, except for the few naval planes based ashore, no land-based aircraft were immediately available on beachhead airfields to help counter the German threat.

The third possible solution to increase the build-up lay with the commanders and logisticians who were continuing their efforts to get more vessels to transport available men and materiel to Salerno. The CCS granted General Eisenhower permission to retain and employ in support of the beachhead for one month eighteen LST’s that were en route to India and happened to be at Oran. Eisenhower thought of using these ships to move at least part of the 34th Division from North Africa or as much of the 3rd Division as possible from Sicily to Salerno.[n2-8-9] But neither course of action promised an immediate remedy because of the time required for the sea voyage. Moving the 1st Armored Division from North Africa would be even more complicated and time consuming because of the equipment involved.

[n2-8-8 10 Corps Invasion of the Italian Mainland, Summary of Operations Carried Out by British Troops Under Command, Fifth U.S. Army, n.d. (draft copy), OCMH. See also AFHQ G-3 Div Opns 46/5, Italian Military :Mission 1, photostats, OCMH.]

[n2-8-9 CinC Mtgs. Salmon Files. OCMH. See also Alexander Despatch, p. 2896.]

General Alexander found a quicker way of getting the 3rd Division to Italy. He seized upon some of the ships and landing craft that had moved the 10 Corps in the invasion. Loadings on these vessels had generally been heavier than expected, and ship losses to enemy action lighter. Instead of using these bottoms as originally intended to carry service troops to Salerno, Alexander diverted them to the task of transporting the 3rd Division. He sent word to General Patton in Sicily during the evening of 13 September to alert the 3rd Division, and General Truscott, the division commander, began to move his troops to a staging area. The transfer of equipment and about 2,000 men from the 1st and 9th Divisions, which were scheduled to sail for England, brought the 3rd Division to full strength. After instructing his staff on the final details of the move and talking briefly with General Patton, Truscott boarded a vessel for Salerno to confer with General Clark on how best to employ the division in the beachhead. [n2-8-10 Alexander to Clark, 13 Sep 43. 15th AGp Master Cable File. VI; Lucian K. Truscott. Command Missions (New York: E. P. Dutton & Co., Inc.. 1954).P·249·]

Even the movement of the 3rd Division was no immediate solution to the problem of the Fifth Army build-up. It would take several days to get the division to Italy, and the crisis at Salerno required immediate action. The only hope for quick help appeared to rest with the 82nd Airborne Division. Because it had prepared to drop near Rome on the day before the invasion, the division was primed for combat. When the Rome operation was scratched and Eisenhower made the division available for AVALANCHE, Alexander had notified Clark-the night before the Salerno landings-and requested information on how Clark wished to use the airborne troops. [n2-11 Alexander to Clark, 2215, 8 Sep 43 (received 0520, 10 Sep 43) , and 1330, 9 Sep 43 (received 2039, 9 Sep 43) , both in Fifth Army G-3 Jnl.]

Clark was still thinking regretfully of the early plan to drop the 82nd near Capua in order to block the Volturno River bridges, the plan canceled by the contemplated operation at Rome. But by the second day of the invasion, Clark deemed a drop near Capua inadvisable until the situation at the beachhead became clearer. More interesting was the possibility of using the division to help capture the port of Naples.

Since the 10 Corps would have to attack through the passes north of Salerno, Clark discussed using airborne troops to help secure passage through the Sorrento barrier, perhaps by an amphibious hook around Sorrento and a landing over the beaches near Torre Annunziata and Castellammare on the northern shore of the peninsula. He asked General Ridgway to prepare plans for possible operations in this context. Clark’s visit to the 10 Corps area on the afternoon of the 10th apparently strengthened his idea, for he sent Ridgway some of the British standing operating procedures,[n2-8-12] Communications difficulties-because of the distances involved and the dispersal of headquarters-were hampering the dialogue between Alexander and Clark. Still without a reply on the evening of 10 September to his question of how Clark wanted to use the 82nd, Alexander sent another message.

This time he suggested transporting the airborne troops to Salerno by water. Unfortunately, Alexander added, since only nine LCI (L)’s were available, they could carry but part of the division and they could transport men only, no heavy equipment. [n2-8-13] These craft, having come from Montgomery’s BAYTOWN operation, were already at Licata, Sicily, where they had arrived on the evening of 9 September.[n2-8-14]

The landing craft remained there unused until 11 September, when General Clark requested that they bring as much of the airborne division to Salerno as possible.[n2-8-15] Although the 325th Glider Infantry began embarking at once, the regiment would not sail until 15 September-probably because of a continuing possibility that the troops might be moved into the beachhead or elsewhere by glider-and would not arrive at the beachhead until late that night.[n2-8-16] But on the afternoon of 11 September Alexander, who still had received no definite word from Clark, tried again to find out how Clark wished to employ the 82nd Airborne Division. “I want to make it clear,” he informed Clark, “that you may use [it] … in any manner you deem advisable” -as infantry reinforcement of the ground troops, moving by sea or air or in a combined airborne-seaborne operation.[n2-8-17]

Shortly thereafter Alexander received a message from Clark that Clark had dispatched thirteen hours before Alexander had sent his. Clark wanted two airborne operations executed: a battalion dropped near Avellino, north of Salerno, to block roads along which German reinforcements might move against the 10 Corps; and a regiment dropped somewhere northeast of Naples to disorganize enemy movements and communications and later to assist the 10 Corps advance to the north. General Clark requested that both missions be launched as early as possible. If arrangements could not be completed in time to get the troops off by the night of II September, the following night would be acceptable. [n2-8-18]

[n2-8-12 Clark to Alexander, 1000, 10 Sep 43, and Clark to Ridgway, 1630, 10 Sep 43, both in Fifth Army G-3 Jnl.]

[n2-8-13 Alexander to Clark, 1825, 10 Sep 43, Fifth Army G-3 Jnl]

[n2-8-14 Alexander to Patton, 9 Sep 43, and 15th AGp Msg, 10 Sep 43, both in 15th AGp Master Cable File, VI]

[n2-8-15 Clark to Alexander, 0108, 11 Sep 43, Fifth Army G-3 Jnl. General Clark later said (Calculated Risk, page 196) that he learned suddenly on the afternoon of 11 September that the 82nd Airborne Division was available to him. Either his memory was faulty or his staff officers failed to inform him of the messages exchanged on the subject.]

[n2-8-16 325th Glider Inf AAR, Sep 43; Alexander to Clark, 2325. II Sep 43, Fifth Army G-3 Jnl.]

[n2-8-17 Alexander to Clark, 1438, 11 Sep 43 (received morning, 12 Sep 43), Fifth Army G-3 Jnl.]

[n2-8-18 Clark to Alexander, 0108,11 Sep 43, Fifth Army G-3 Jnl.]

Clark’s message to Alexander arrived so late on the 11th that the suggested operations were impractical for the 11th and doubtful for the following night, even though the 82nd Airborne Division prepared at once to execute them.[n2-8-19] On the morning of the 12th, General Clark requested postponement of the operations. Since the 10 Corps, he reasoned, would be unable to break out of the Salerno beachhead as early as he had previously hoped, the night of either 13 or 14 September might be better for the airborne drops.[n2-8-20]

[n2-8-19 Alexander to Clark, 2325, 11 Sep 43, Fifth Army G-3 Jnl.]

[n2-8-20 Clark to Alexander, 1202, 12 Sep 43, Fifth Army G-3 Jnl.]

Later on 12 September, the Fifth Army staff analyzed the feasibility of reinforcement by airborne troops dropped into the beachhead behind friendly lines. Although a glider strip near Paestum was scheduled for completion by the night of 13 September, the chance that it might not be finished in time-even if sufficient gliders could be assembled, which was far from certain-made a parachute drop the only possibility.[n2-8-21] General Clark made his final decision on airborne reinforcement during the morning of 13 September. Whether it was his own idea or whether he took the suggestion of a subordinate, he acted even before the dramatic German thrust down the Sele-Calore corridor late in the day.[n2-8-22] To General Alexander, General Clark sent a message of information and to the 82nd Airborne Division commander, General Ridgway, an order.

[n2-8-21] Warren. Airborne Missions in the Mediterranean (USA.F Historical Studies, 74); Fifth Army (Rear) Msg, 130R, 13 Sep 43, AG 373]

[n2-8-22 Disturbed over thinning his right flank to strengthen the left flank of the VI Corps, General Walker had suggested to General Dawley, the corps commander, that a regiment of the 82nd Airborne Division he dropped into the beachhead south of Paestum on the evening of 13 September. 36th Div AAR, Sep 43.]

The fighting had taken a turn for the worse, Clark told Ridgway. “I want you to accept this letter as an order,” he went on. “I realize the time normally needed to prepare for a drop, but … I want you to make a drop within our lines on the beachhead and I want you to make it tonight. This is a must.” He entrusted the letter to the pilot of a reconnaissance plane that had landed at the Paestum airstrip, and the pilot flew it to Ridgway in Sicily. Not long afterward Ridgway replied that he could make the drop, and by evening the 504th Parachute Infantry (less its 3rd Battalion, which went to Licata for attachment to the 325th Glider Infantry and eventual water movement to Salerno) was embarking on planes at various airfields in Sicily for flight to the beachhead.

While the parachute troops were boarding their planes, Admiral Hewitt was making preparations, in compliance with General Clark’s request, to withdraw the ground troops from the beachhead if Clark should give the order. Regarding Clark’s request as a firm warning order for a course of action already decided upon rather than as an alert for a possible contingency, Hewitt voiced his objection to the Fifth Army headquarters. He opposed the withdrawal on the ground that it was technically impractical.

Beaching a loaded landing craft and retracting it after it was unloaded and lightened, he pointed out, was quite different from beaching an empty craft and retracting it when it was full. Hewitt nevertheless proceeded with plans to meet Clark’s request. Since he would need the Ancon, which he had already released for return to Algiers, he radioed the ship to reverse course for Palermo, Sicily, there to await a possible recall to the Salerno assault area. But because it might be necessary to re-embark the Fifth Army staff before the A neon returned, Hewitt called Admiral G. N. Oliver to a conference. Oliver’s flagship, the Hilary, he reasoned, might take at least part of the army headquarters aboard.

Admiral Oliver went by barge to Hewitt’s flagship, the Biscayne, where he found, as he remembered later, an atmosphere of “intense gloom.” Hewitt informed him that Clark wanted two emergency plans prepared immediately, one to withdraw 10 Corps and disembark it again across the VI Corps beaches; the other, the more likely, to withdraw VI Corps for disembarkation across the 10 Corps beaches. Could Oliver find room on the Hilary for Clark and his staff should the evacuation be ordered?

Oliver protested. Re-embarking heavily engaged troops from a rather shallow beachhead, he said, followed by disembarkation was “simply not on, quite apart from other considerations.” He thought it would be “suicidal” to shorten the front and allow enemy artillery “to rake the beaches” and destroy the immense amount of ammunition and supplies ashore. Had General McCreery been consulted, he wanted to know. No one could say for sure.

Returning to his ship, Oliver personally got in touch with McCreery and informed him of the possibility of evacuation. McCreery, according to Oliver’s recollection, was furious. He knew nothing of the plan, but he would go to army headquarters and protest it. Oliver passed this word along to Admiral Cunningham in the hope of enlisting additional support for his position.

Admiral Hewitt recalled no gloom on the Biscayne-“except for our thorough dissatisfaction with the withdrawal idea” -and although he took note of Oliver’s bitter opposition, he began the preliminary arrangements necessary for a possible withdrawal from the VI Corps beaches. Halting unloading operations in that area, he placed ships and landing craft on a half-hour alert for movement seaward beyond the range of shore artillery. Meanwhile, until General Clark actually ordered the evacuation, the guns on the ships continued to pound German installations and troop concentrations.

Stand-off

On the evening of 13 September, near the juncture of the Sele and Calore Rivers, less than five miles from the shore line and a stone’s throw from coastal Highway 15 and the Fifth Army headquarters, men of the 155th and 158th Field Artillery Battalions, supported by several tanks and tank destroyers and a few miscellaneous troops, were trying to hold the most critical portion of the VI Corps front. Against the company of German tanks and the battalion of German infantry that had come roaring down the Sele-Calore corridor, the Americans fired a total of 3,650 artillery rounds in about four hours. Arriving during the height of the action, a battery of the 27th Armored Field Artillery Battalion added 300 rounds to the fire. This, together with the shells of the tanks and tank destroyers and the resistance of the improvised infantry firing line built up at the base of the corridor, stopped the German attack. With no immediate reinforcement available, the Germans pulled back toward Persano at nightfall.

[n2-8-25 Admiral Oliver, Some Notes on the Project to Shorten the Front at Salerno, September 1943, for Captain Roskill, RN, 20 Jan 55, OCMH.]

[n2-8-26 Ltr, Hewitt to Roskill, 20 Jan 55, OCMH; Hewitt, “The Allied Navies at Salerno,” U.S. Naval Institute Proceedings (September, 1953).]

The situation remained tense, however, as the senior American commanders assembled at the VI Corps command post. It was the dearth of ground troops to counter the German threat as much as the threat itself that disturbed them. The 1st Battalion, 142nd Infantry, almost destroyed at Altavilla, had now been reduced to sixty men. The 2nd Battalion, 143rd, which had been placed in the Sele-Calore corridor, had ceased to exist as a unit. The 3rd Battalions of both the 142nd Infantry and the 143rd Infantry had incurred heavy losses around Altavilla. The 1st Battalion, 157th, had been hard hit at the tobacco factory. The commanders had little choice but to try to shorten the front by pulling their troops back to a line where they might hope to make a last-ditch stand.

General Dawley issued the orders, and units began to shift. The 45th Division refused its right flank by moving parts of the 157th and 17gth Infantry Regiments back along the Sele. The 1st Battalion, 179th, moved to the base of the Sele-Calore corridor to strengthen the line of artillery and miscellaneous troops holding at the juncture of the rivers. In the center of the corps zone the 36th Division withdrew about two miles to the La Cosa Creek, the 1st Battalion, 141st, coming up from the right flank to Monte Soprano and the 2nd Battalion, 141st, moving from the corps left flank to bolster the area immediately south of the Sele River and east of Highway 15. The extreme right flank, virtually stripped of infantry, was entrusted to a battalion of the 531st Engineer Shore Regiment. The left flank of the corps, on mosquito ridden, swampy ground, was held by the 3rd Battalion of the 141st, alongside the engineer battalion still at Bivio Cioffi. The natural features of the positions selected for all-out defense were not particularly strong, but nothing better was available.

Because the infantry battalions had been shuffled and intermingled, because the front was inordinately long for the number of troops manning it, and perhaps partially because his regimental commanders were tired, General Walker divided his division area into three defensive sectors and placed a brigadier general in command of each. Brigadier General William H. Wilbur, attached from Fifth Army headquarters, took command of the forces on the left-part of the 143rd Infantry, a battalion of engineers, and a company each of tank destroyers and tanks. General O’Daniel, also attached from Fifth Army, took command of the center-the 2nd Battalion and two rifle companies of the 141st, plus elements of the 3rd Battalion, 142nd. Brigadier General Otto F. Lange, the assistant division commander, took command of the forces on the right-mostly tank, tank destroyer, and engineer units.[n2-8-27] General Walker kept the remaining elements of the three infantry battalions withdrawn from Altavilla in division reserve. The new defensive line, he directed, was to be dug in, wired in, mined, and held at all costs. The division was to “fight it out on this position.”

[n2-8-27 When General Lange was relieved on the following day because of physical exhaustion, no one replaced him as sector commander on the right. General Wilbur replaced Lange as the assistant division commander.]

Desperate as the situation seemed, help was on the way. When General Ridgway had received General Clark’s request for parachute troops to be sent into the beachhead, his first thought was to prevent a recurrence of the tragic incident at Sicily two months earlier, when antiaircraft guns of the invasion fleet and of the ground troops had shot down air transports. “Vitally important,” Ridgway had replied to Clark’s message, that all ground and naval forces … be directed to hold fire tonight. Rigid control of antiaircraft fire is absolutely essential for success. Calling Hewitt and Dawley to inform them of the airborne operation, Clark directed that from 2100 on 13 September until further notice all antiaircraft guns in the Salerno area were to be silenced, all barrage balloons lowered to the ground. To make doubly sure of safety for the paratroopers, Clark sent staff officers to antiaircraft batteries in the beachhead to make certain that the order had been transmitted and was understood.

Only by using the staging and loading plans prepared for the drop at Capua could the airborne troops depart Sicily on such short notice. Because there was no time even to establish a safety corridor for the transport planes, the aircraft followed the Italian coast line to a drop zone about five miles north of Agropoli, an area of flat land about 1,200 yards long and 800 yards wide lying between the sea and the coastal highway.

A pathfinder group set up radar equipment to lead the flights toward the jump field, where ground troops furnished flares for further identification of the drop zone. At 2326, 13 September, four minutes ahead of schedule, men of the 2nd Battalion, 504th Parachute Infantry, led the regiment in by jumping from thirty-five planes at a height of 800 feet.

Most troops landed within 200 yards of the jump zone and all within a mile of it. Forty-one aircraft starting from Sicily several hours late because of mechanical difficulties dropped troops about 0130, 14 September. The pilots of some of these planes were unable to find the drop zone, and one company of paratroopers came to earth eight to ten miles away. Fourteen planes disgorging their troops still later completed the drop. In all, ninety planes brought about 1,300 troops to the beachhead within fifteen hours of General Clark’s request. Within an hour after landing, most of the men had assembled, got into trucks, and moved to an area southwest of Albanellal [n2-8-32] Colonel Reuben H. Tucker, the regimental commander, reported to corps headquarters at 0300, 14 September. Later that morning the two battalions moved into the line in the Monte Soprano sector. Attached to the 36th Division, the regiment provided welcome reinforcement to the units on the division and corps right flank and perhaps, in view of its relatively small size, a disproportionately high boost to morale throughout the beachhead.

[n2-8-32 504th Para Inf AAR, Sep 43. Seventy-three men were injured in the jump.]

The Germans had every reason to expect the events of 13 September to develop quickly in their favor. Adding to

their optimism was the arrival from Calabria of the main body of the 26th Panzer Division. Because British pressure had slackened after the Pizzo landings on 8 September to the point where contact vanished, the rear guard of the 26th Panzer Division had had ample time to destroy culverts along the roads and to demolish all the bridges south of Castrovillari by 12 September. ‘While the rear guard set up roadblocks in the Lagonegro area near Sapri, at the head of the Gulf of Policastro, and awaited new contact with British troops, the rest of the division, hampered only by occasional air attacks, moved over difficult mountainous terrain to Eboli. In the process, the 26th had incurred only 113 casualties, of whom 30 were killed, and as not obliged to destroy any of its antiaircraft pieces, trucks, or other equipment and weapons. Yet the arriving troops that went into reserve near Eboli were far from being the complete division. The division’s armored regiment was detached and near Rome, while a regimental combat team forming the rear guard was waiting to retard the British advance. In effect, the 26th Panzer Division at the beachhead was of regimental strength, but it was available for immediate commitment.

This was what Vietinghoff suggested on the morning of 14 September, during a conference with Herr, the LXXIV Panzer Corps commander. If the 26th Panzer Division took Over the northern portion of the 16th Panzer Division area and attacked toward Salerno, it might cut through the British defenses and make contact with the Hermann Gӧring Division, which was scheduled to attack in the Vietri area toward Salerno.

While the conference was in session, a message from the XIV Panzer Corps arrived. Balck, the corps commander, reported that the British were fighting desperately to regain the heights immediately west of Salerno in the Vietri area. He could discern no indications of a withdrawal on the part of the Allies. It was the same in the area south of Salerno, between Salerno and Battipaglia, where no large-scale German attack would be feasible unless the troops made more progress and caused more confusion among the Allied defenses in the Sele area.

Despite the pessimistic but more realistic views of his subordinate commanders, Vietinghoff urged both Balck and Herr to attack with all their resources.[n8-33] The German pressure in the 10 Corps area that day concentrated at first against the town of Salerno. German artillery firing at an increased tempo opened an attack from the Vietri area, which gave General McCreery, as he later said, several anxious moments. The 46th Division, dug in on the hills around Salerno, had committed every unit in defense.

When the Germans then shifted their attack to the Battipaglia area, the 56th Division fought tenaciously on open

ground in full view of the enemy. At the end of the day, the situation remained about the same. The British had

held. With perhaps some studied nonchalance, McCreery summed up the activities: “Nothing of interest to report during daylight.”

In the VI Corps sector on 14 September, the Germans attacked at 0800, when eight tanks and a battalion of infantry, elements of the 16th Panzer and 29th Panzer Grenadier Divisions) moved out of the mist covering the Sele River south of the tobacco factory. Because of the American reorganization the night before, the German advance unwittingly paralleled the front of the 2nd and 3rd Battalions, 179th Infantry. Supported by effective fires from artillery, tanks, and tank destroyers, the infantry blasted the Germans with flanking fire. Seven German tanks were destroyed almost at once, the eighth was immobilized. Not long afterward, the German infantry pulled back.

[n8-33 Besprechung mit General Herr, 0800, 14 Sep 43, Tenth A KTB Anl.34 10 Corps Sitrep, 1700, 14 Sep 43, Fifth Army G-3 Jnl]

In midmorning, closer to the river, a German company probed toward the 1st Battalion, 157th Infantry, while at least six tanks and a small infantry unit struck the 3rd Battalion, 179th Infantry, protecting the coastal highway. The Americans refused to budge. Effective supporting fires, including the power of naval guns, helped stop the attack.

Though the Germans launched at least two other attacks against the 45th Division in the early afternoon, the steam had gone. Nothing more than sporadic German artillery fire fell in the area during the remainder of the day.

Against the 36th Division the pattern was similar. When a company of German infantry and tanks tried to cross the Calore River, American fires repelled the attack. A heavy volume of artillery and naval fire discouraged probes during the early afternoon. By the end of the day, the VI Corps was in firm command of its front and could claim to have knocked out almost thirty German tanks.[n2-8-35 See VI Corps G-3 Rpt 6, 1700, 15 Sep 43.]

On the beaches that day all unloading had ceased. Men working the supply system joined combat troops and helped them improve their defenses, wiring in and mining likely approach routes, digging for cover, erecting rock parapets for shelter. From offshore, naval guns blasted the Germans with particularly good results along the Battipaglia-Eboli road. While naval vessels placed 100 rounds on Altavilla alone, heavy bombers, diverted to work with the tactical planes, struck Battipaglia and Eboli and damaged the road network around the beachhead perimeter. A total of 187 B-25’s, 166 B-26’s, and 170 B-17’s operated over the Salerno plain that day, and the liberal use the Germans made of smoke to screen their positions and movements indicated the effectiveness of the bombings. Six planes of the 111th Reconnaissance Squadron landed at the Paestum airstrip and performed several missions before returning to Sicily just before nightfall. The air cover for the whole area was more effective, even though German planes continued to harass the vessels in the gulf; one bomb struck a Liberty ship, the USS Bushrod Washington, and an LCT alongside it and destroyed both.

General Clark toured the front on 14 September to encourage the troops to hold, taking partiGular pains to show himself in the Sele-Calore sector. General Alexander made his first visit to the beachhead that day and found the Allied defense impressive. Though he requested that an additional 1,500 British infantry replacements be rushed to 10 Corps from North Africa, he felt that the crisis had passed.[n8-38]

[NOTE: General Clark was later awarded the DSC for his conspicuous bravery.]

By the evening of 14 September, plans to evacuate the beachhead were no longer even being considered. The line would be held at all costs. There would be no retreat.[n8-39] There was no doubt that the situation was much improved. The seam between 10 and VI Corps southeast of Battipaglia was solidly knit. Perhaps more important, the British 7th Armoured Division started to come ashore in the 10 Corps area. The 180th Infantry, the last regiment of the 45th Division, arrived in the beachhead and assembled in army reserve near Monte Soprano, indicating that General Clark could at last afford the luxury of an army reserve. The night of the 14th when 125 planes dropped about 2,100 men of the 505th Parachute Infantry into the beachhead south of Paestum, the men jumped successfully, assembled quickly, and moved by truck to positions on the southern flank near Agropoli. “I have every confidence that we will come out all right,” General Eisenhower informed the CCS that night, even though he cautiously admitted the possibility of a setback.[n8-40]

[n8-38 Alexander Despatch, pp. 2896-97.]

[n8-39 See 45th Div AAR, Sep 43.]

[8-40 Eisenhower to CCS, 14 Sep 43, OPD Exec 11,Item 3.]

Vietinghoff, despite all the indications to the contrary on 14 September, was loath to abandon his belief that Fifth Army was evacuating the beachhead. Yet as reports from the LXXVI and XIV Panzer Corps related the difficulties their troops were having in deploying under naval and air bombardment, he had to recognize the growing doubt of success.[n8-41] Kesselring on 14 September outlined the course he wished the Tenth Army to pursue. Regardless of whether Vietinghoff dislodged the Fifth Army, he was to withdraw gradually to the vicinity of Rome in accordance with previous plans. But because of the political and military advantages to be gained, he urged Vietinghoff first to make a final effort to drive Fifth Army into the sea. As reinforcement, Kesselring directed the 1 st Parachute Division) still near Foggia in Apulia, to release a regiment to the Salerno forces.[n8-42]

The Avellino Mission

While a regiment of the 1st Parachute (Fallschirmjäger ) Division rushed overland toward Salerno during the night of 14 September, the Allies were launching a daring airborne operation designed to assist the 10 Corps, which had been bearing the brunt of the German attacks. American paratroopers of the 2nd Battalion, 509th Parachute Infantry, were to drop far behind the German front to harass lines of communication and disrupt the movement of reinforcements from the north, thus helping to stabilize the British sector of the beachhead.[n8-43]

[n8-41 See LXXVI pz C Rpt to Tenth A, 15 Sep 43, Tenth A KTB AnI.]

[n8-42 Kesselring Order, 14. Sep 43, Tenth A KTB Ani.; # R-85 (Mavrogordato), OCMH.]

[n8-43 For the motivation involved, see Truscott, Command Missions, p. 252.]

Members of the Fifth Army staff had long been searching for an appropriate mission for this separate unit, commanded by Lieutenant Colonel Doyle R. Yardley and sometimes called the 509th Parachute Infantry Battalion. A drop near Avellino, twenty miles north of Salerno, seemed suitable. General Clark had originally requested the operation for the night of 12 September, but insufficient time for preparation had prevented its execution.

On the morning of 13 September, when General Clark had informed General Alexander of his request to General Ridgway for an airborne drop into the beachhead near Paestum, he had also asked for the Avellino operation. If not enough paratroopers or planes were available for both operations, he asked Alexander to “please give priority to Avellino.” [n2-8-44] The mission was scheduled for the following night.

The drop zone selected was a crossroads about three miles southeast of Avellino. After harrying the Germans for five days, the paratroopers were to withdraw to Allied lines by infiltration unless Fifth Army troops had by then made contact with them. If possible, the battalion was to attack Avellino in order to disrupt traffic on the roads through the town.[n2-8-45]

[n2-8-44 Clark to Alexander. 13 Sep 43, Fifth ArmyG-3 JnI.]

[n2-8-45 509th Prcht Inf Bn AAR, Sep 43.]

Despite the postponement of the operation, haste marked the preparations. The battalion headquarters could obtain

no intelligence information of the area. Even aerial photographs and maps became available only in midafternoon of 14 September. About that time, each officer received one map of 1/50,000 scale, too large for company and platoon leaders, showing only Avellino and its immediate environs. Since the battalion had to leave Licata, Sicily, where it was stationed, for Comiso, Sicily, where it was to em plane at 1700, commanders had less than two hours to study their maps, draw detailed plans, and move their troops to the airfield. The dispersal of aircraft at Comiso made it impossible to have even a short meeting of key personnel. About forty planes carried the 600 men of the battalion. Navigational errors and ineffectiveness of radar and Aldis lamps carried by the pathfinder group scattered the air transports, while the high jump altitude of 2,000 feet further dispersed the parachutists. Jumping around midnight, the troops in eleven planes came to earth ten miles from the drop zone; those in twelve other aircraft landed between eight and twenty-five miles away; and two planeloads were still unaccounted for a month later. Only fifteen air transports placed troops within four or five miles of the target.

The broken terrain in the Avellino area made it impossible for the scattered troops to concentrate. Thick woods and vineyards made it difficult even for those who landed in the same valley to get together. Most of the equipment, including mortars and bazookas, was lost or became hopelessly entangled in treetops. Briefed to expect the speedy arrival of the Fifth Army, the paratroopers generally coalesced into small groups of five to twenty men and tried to avoid detection.

Lurking in the hills, they mounted small raids on supply trains, truck convoys, and isolated outposts.[n2-8-47] No word of the paratroopers reached Fifth Army headquarters for several days and the battalion was presumed lost. But eventually, in small groups, more than 400 men trickled back.[n2-8-48] Too small a force and too dispersed to be more than a minor nuisance to the Germans, the battalion had no effect on the battle of the beachhead.[n2-8-49]

[n2-8-47 509th Para Inf Bn AAR, Sep 43.]

[n2-8-48 1st Lieutenant William C. Kellogg was awarded the DSC for extraordinary heroism during the period 14-28 September.]

[n2-8-49 The battalion listed the following reasons for the ineffectiveness of the operation: (1) insufficient time was allowed for briefing and equipping the troops; (2) ordered to carry five days of rations and five days of ammunition, the troops were physically overburdened; (3) no radio procedures or schedules were worked out to insure communication, nor was there an opportunity to secure special radio equipment to maintain contact with the Fifth Army. 509th Para Inf Bn AAR, Sep 43.]

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

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

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

Korean War: Battle for the Eastern Corridor to Pusan 1950 (18)

Serious trouble for General Walker developed in the east during the threatened enemy breakthrough in the Naktong Bulge. North Korean attacks in the Kigye and Pohang-dong area became critical as the ROK divisions there suddenly gave way and threatened to collapse. The blow came with a suddenness that contained the element of surprise. Eighth Army, low in reserves, was ill-prepared to meet an enemy breakthrough in the east, with its main forces already fully and even desperately engaged elsewhere.

Through July and into the first week of August, there were repeated rumors and reports of strong guerrilla groups in the mountains ten or fifteen miles northwest of Pohang-dong. These reports in time were treated as casually as the repeated cry of “Wolf!” by the boy in Aesop’s fable.

The Kyongju Corridor to Pusan

Throughout the Pusan Perimeter fighting, the terrain in the Pohangdong area exercised a dominant influence on the action there and on General Walker’s tactical plans for the defense of that part of the Perimeter. A natural corridor here led straight to Pusan.

From Taegu a lateral highway and railroad ran east to Pohang-dong, 50 air miles away. This lateral corridor is the first valley route to the east coast of Korea south of the Seoul-Chorwon-Pyonggang-Wonsan corridor, 225 miles to the north. Situated on this route about midway between Taegu and Pohang-dong is Yongchon . There, the only important north-south road between Taegu and the east coast comes down from Andong and Uisong through the mountains to meet the lateral valley road. East of this road for a distance of 40 air miles to the coast, lies a rugged mountain area entirely devoid of improved roads.  

Twelve miles west of Pohang-dong in the lateral Taegu corridor is the town of Angang-ni, and 6 miles north of it is the smaller town of Kigye. The latter is situated at a point where several trails and a poor road debouch southward from the mountains into a north-south valley that enters the Taegu-Pohang lateral corridor at Angang-ni. This north-south valley continues on south past Angang-ni to Pusan, 60 air miles away. Kyongju, an important rail and highway center in the Taegu-Pohang-Pusan triangle, lies 12 miles south of An’gang-ni in this corridor. These terrain facts explain why the towns of Kigye, Angang-ni, and Kyongju assumed importance in the eastern battles.

At Pohang-dong the coastal road from the north swings inland along the Hyongsan-gang to a point less than 2 miles from Angang-ni where it bends south and enters the Kyongju corridor to continue on to Pusan. Militarily, Pohang-dorig itself was of slight importance, although its port permitted a partial supply by water of the ROK and the small U.S. forces on the east coast. Rather, it was the eastern half of the Pusan Perimeter communications net, the Taegu-Yongchon -Angang-ni-Kyongju-Pusan route—almost a sea-level valley route the entire distance—that was of critical importance. If it should be cut by the enemy for any appreciable period of time the Taegu position would become untenable.

The eastern part of the Perimeter was not as strongly held as other parts of the line. General Walker did not have the troops and supporting heavy weapons to hold the front strongly everywhere. At some points he had to take risks. Seeing that the mountains to the north in the Pohang area were almost a trackless waste, he thought it unlikely that the North Koreans could move forward heavy equipment and supplies in sufficient quantity to exploit a penetration there, should one be made, for a continuing drive on Pusan. [NOTE: Interv, author with Lieutenant Colonel Paul F. Smith (G-3 Opns, 8th Army), 2 Oct 52; Interv, author with Lieutenant Colonel Robert G. Fergusson (G-2 Sec, 8th Army), 2 Oct 52; Ltr with comments, Landrum to author, reed 28 Jun 54.]

Contrasting with the rugged terrain and the lack of a good communications system in the enemy’s field of operations in the east, General Walker had the interior valley rail and highway net over which he could rush reinforcements to the area. He considered as another source of U.N. strength the proximity of the Yonil Airfield six miles south of Pohangdong, and within two to five minutes’ flying time of the critical areas, should the North Koreans reach the lateral corridor.

The North Koreans Reach Pohang-dong

On this eastern flank of the Pusan Perimeter, three North Korean divisions and an independent regiment pressed against the ROK defenders in August 1950. The 8th Division drove down the Uisong road toward Yongchon , the 12th Division plunged into the mountains southeast of Andong and headed for Pohang-dong, the 766th Independent Regiment left the coastal road at Yongdok and swung southwest into the mountains toward Kigye and An’gang-ni, and the 5th Division drove down the coastal road from Yongdok, with some of its infantry units infiltrating through the mountains around the ROK 3rd Division.[n18-2]

The first of these divisions, the N.K. 8th Division, failed to penetrate to the Taegu-Pohang lateral corridor. Near Uisong on 9 August, the ROK 8th Division caught part of its forces by surprise and almost annihilated one battalion of the 3rd Regiment, causing 700 casualties. The division’s 2nd Regiment then entered the battle and itself suffered heavy losses, though it won back the ground previously lost to the ROK’s. In this fighting along the Uisong-Yongchon road, ROK troops achieved some success against enemy armor. ROK infantry defended an antitank mine field covering both sides of the road in a narrow valley near a bridge. Two enemy tanks approaching the bridge struck mines. Three more enemy tanks and a self-propelled 76-mm. gun approached. Before they could turn around on the blocked road a flight of F-51 fighter planes came over firing rockets and dropping napalm on the six armored vehicles. All were destroyed. This affair provides a good example of multiple reporting. The Far East Air Forces claimed six kills; not to be outdone, the ROK engineers claimed the same number.

[n18-2 ATIS Res Supp Interrog Rpts, Issue 4 (N.K.8th Div), pp. 23-24; Ibid., Issue 99 (N. K. 12th Div), p. 46; Ibid., Issue 96 (N.K. 5th Div), p. 43]

The enemy 8th Division was so badly hurt in this fighting that it was unable for a week to continue the drive on Yongchon , and then it advanced only a few miles south of Uisong before in the face of continuing strong ROK opposition it halted to await reinforcements. [n18-4]

Next in line eastward, the N.K. 12th Division, now bearing the honorary name, “The Andong Division,” crossed the upper Naktong at Andong and plunged into the mountains in an effort to carry out its orders to capture Pohang-dong. Its fighting strength was only a fraction of what it had once been. At this time the 2nd Battalion of the Artillery Regiment sent all its artillery pieces back to Tanyang on the upper Han River because of failure to obtain ammunition for them. [n18-5]

[n18-4 ATIS Res Supp Interrog Rpts, Issue 4 (N.K. 8th Div), p. 24; EUSAK WD, 12 Aug 50, ATIS Interrog Rpt 507, Senior Colonel Han Chong, CofS 8th Div, and interrog of Sr Sergeant Yung Pyong Yong. ]

The ROK Capital Division was supposed to establish contact with the ROK 3rd Division across this mountainous region. Reports were rife that enemy groups, the largest estimated at 2,000 men, were in the mountains inland from the coast. On 9 August, Eighth Army headquarters received a report that regular North Korean Army troops were in the “guerrilla area” northwest of Pohang-dong, threatening the coastal road and the Yonil Airfield. On that day the 1st and 2nd Battalions of the ROK 25th Regiment, a new unit just arrived from Taegu, attacked north from Kigye with orders to affect a juncture with the 3rd Division south of Yongdok. Two and a half miles north of Kigye, an enemy counterattack hurled the regiment back to a point two miles southeast of the town. It was now clear that, although the ROK 3rd Division held the coastal road from a point twenty miles above Pohang-dong, there were no defenses inland in the mountains and enemy units were operating in this area.[n18-6]

[n18-5 ATIS Res Supp Interrog Rpts, Issue 106 (N.K. Arty), p. 70. ]

[n18-6 EUSAK WD, G-3 Sec, 8-9 Aug 50; Ibid., POR 47, 10 Aug 50; GHQ FEC G-3 Opn Rpt 46, 9 Aug 50.]

Eighth Army on 10 August organized Task Force Pohang, consisting of the ROK 17th and 25th Regiments, the ROK 1st Anti-Guerrilla Battalion, the ROK Pohang Marine Battalion, and C Battery of the U.S. 18th Field Artillery Battalion (75-mm.). The next day the ROK Army activated the 26th Regiment at Taegu and hurried it east to join Task Force Pohang at An’gang-ni. Of these units, only the ROK 17th Regiment was battle tested. The mission of Task Force Pohang was to attack north from the An’gang-ni-Pohang area and clear enemy forces from the mountains near the coast.[n18-7]

The events around Kigye and in the mountains to the west of Pohang-dong from this point on can be understood in their true light only if one knows what was taking place simultaneously on the east coast, only a few miles away. To bring those events into their proper perspective it is necessary now to review them.

A previous chapter recounted the series of bloody battles on the coastal road between the N.K. 5th Division and the ROK 3rd Division through the first days of August. The fighting seesawed around Yongdok for two weeks, with first one side and then the other holding the town. This action, had ended with the ROK’s temporarily regaining Yongdok. But they held it only briefly.

On 5 August the North Koreans attacked again and drove the ROK’s south of the town to Hill 181. General Walker sent a personal message to Colonel Emmerich, the KMAG adviser with the ROK 3rd Division, saying that the lost ground must be regained. Plans were made for a counterattack the next night. During the 6th, while these plans were being readied, it was possible from the ROK division command post to see, through field glasses, the North Korean and ROK troops locked in battle at grenade range on Hill 181.

[n18-7 EUSAK WD, Summ, 10-11 Aug 50, pp. 27-30; Ibid., G-2 Daily Sitrep, 9 Aug 50, and Br for CG, 10 Aug 50; Ibid., POR 89, 11 Aug 50. ]

The night attack got under way at 1930 with a 15-minute air attack using rockets, napalm, and bombs. Naval gunfire and an artillery preparation for another fifteen minutes followed the air attack. Then at 2000 the ROK 22nd and 23rd Regiments moved out in the infantry attack. They drove the North Koreans from Hill 181 and held it during the night. On the morning of 7 August the attack resumed after another naval and artillery preparation. This drove the enemy to a point just south of Yongdok.

During the night attack an untoward incident occurred at the ROK 3rd Division command post. An enemy mortar barrage hit close to the command post and killed several soldiers. When the KMAG adviser sent to the ROK command post for a report on the situation his messenger brought back word that he could not find anyone there. An interpreter tried to find the division commander, General Lee. He returned and said the general and his staff could not be found. Upon receiving this information Colonel Emmerich and Major Slater searched the area with flashlights and finally, with the help of some ROK soldiers, found the general and his aide in a hillside dugout. Emmerich instructed the ROK commander to assemble his staff and return to the command post. The next morning he requested that the division commander be relieved. At this time the 1st Separate Battalion and the Yongdungpo Battalion were inactivated and their troops absorbed into the ROK 22nd and 23rd Regiments.  

On 7 August, also, General Walker sent a message to Colonel Emmerich telling him that the bridge below Yongdok at Kanggu-dong must be held. Up to this time an Engineer squad from the 24th Division had manned the demolitions on the 520-foot bridge there over the Osip-chon. The squad was now called back to Taegu, and control of the demolitions passed to Korean troops with directions that they were to blow the bridge only upon instructions from Major Britton of KMAG.

Just after daylight, at 0500 on 9 August, a great explosion rocked the area of the bridge. The commanding officer of the ROK 22nd Regiment had ordered the bridge blown without securing approval from Major Britton. About 350 ROK soldiers of the regiment were still north of the Osip-chon when the bridge dropped. Many of these soldiers drowned in trying to cross the deep estuary flowing into the Japan Sea. The ROK division chief of staff demanded that the regimental commander be relieved or he would court martial him and place him before a firing squad. The Korean Army relieved the regimental commander at once.

The blowing of the Kanggu-dong bridge compelled the withdrawal southward of the ROK command post to Changsa-dong on the afternoon of 9 August to escape enemy artillery fire. On 10 August N.K. 5th Division soldiers infiltrated around the ROK 3rd Division and cut the coastal road below it at Hunghae, five miles north of Pohangdong. The ROK 3rd Division was virtually surrounded on that date.[n18-10]

As soon as Eighth Army learned that enemy forces had cut off the ROK 3rd Division above Pohang-dong, General Walker instructed Colonel Emmerich to meet him at Yonil Airfield. Emmerich radioed to the American cruiser Helena, offshore, for a helicopter to fly him to the airstrip, where he met General Walker, General Partridge, and Brigadier General Francis W. Farrell, Chief of KMAG.

[n18-10 Ibid.; Major Perry Austin and Captain Mario Paglieri (KMAG advisers with ROK 3rd Div), It Can Be Done: A Lesson in Tactics, MS, copy in OCMH. ]

General Walker instructed Emmerich to have the ROK 3rd Division hold in place around Changsa-dong, twenty miles north of Pohang-dong, and to prevent the enemy 5th Division from moving its tanks and artillery down the road to the Pohang area. If enemy tanks and artillery got through on the coastal road they would render Yonil Airfield untenable. Emmerich returned at once to Changsa-dong and relayed the orders to Brigadier General Kim Suk Won, the ROK 3rd Division’s new commander. The division then went into a perimeter defense extending along the coast from a point four miles north of Changsa-dong to a point seven miles south of the town.

[N18-11 Paglieri, Notes on ROK 3rd Division, August 1950, MS, copy in OCMH; Interv, author with Emmerich, 4 Dec 51; Karig, et al., Battle Report:The War in Korea, p. 147.]

The sudden appearance of strong enemy army units near Pohang-dong on 10 August surprised many American officers, including General Walker. He had just asked General Farrell if the ROK troops in the east would need American help to assure the defense of Pohang-dong and Yonil Airfield. Farrell had advised Walker that the ROK troops would be able to protect these places. This opinion reflected that prevailing at the time—that the North Koreans would not be able to move through the mountains in sufficient strength to make an effective attack on Pohangdong from the rear.[n18-12]

After his conference with Colonel Emmerich at Yonil Airfield, General Walker returned to Taegu. From there he sent an order by courier at 1735 to Major General Lawrence B. Reiser, commanding the U.S. 2nd Division at Kyongsan, to move the remaining elements of the 9th Regiment from that point to Yonil Airfield at once. This task force was to be commanded by Brigadier General Joseph S. Bradley, Assistant Division Commander, 2nd Division. Task Force Bradley was to report directly to General Walker.[n18-13]  

This task force moved toward Pohang-dong and Yonil after dark, 10 August, over the main road through Kyongju. The command group and the 3rd Battalion, 9th Infantry, except K Company, reached Yonil Airfield shortly before midnight and General Bradley assumed responsibility for the ground defense of the airstrip.

[n18-12 Interv, author with Farrell, 31 Dec 52; New York Times, August 14, 1950, dispatch by W. H. Lawrence. ]

[n18-13 As finally constituted, Task Force Bradley comprised the 3rd Battalion, 9th Infantry; Tank Company, 9th Infantry; A Company, 2nd Engineer Combat Battalion; A Battery, 82nd Antiaircraft Artillery (Automatic Weapons) Battalion; C Battery, 15th Field Artillery Battalion; 3rd Platoon, Heavy Mortar Company, 9th Infantry; and medical and signal detachments. EUSAK WD, 10 Aug 50, Msg at 101735, CG EUSAK to CG 2nd Div; Ibid., FOR 87, 10 Aug 50; Ibid., Briefing for CG, 10 Aug 50; 1st Lieuntant Robert J. Teitelbaum, Debriefing Rpt 47, Arty School, Ft. Sill, Okla., 14 Dec 51; 82nd AAA Bn WD, Summ, Aug 50; Ltr, Lieutenant Colonel D. M. McMains to author, 27 May 53 (McMains commanded the 3rd Bn, 9th Inf of TF Bradley); Rpt, The Korean Campaign, Arty School Rep, Army Field Forces Observer Team 2. ]

Ten miles north of Kyongju and at a point about a mile east of Angang-ni, the road bent sharply right in the Hyongsan-gang valley toward Pohangdong, seven miles eastward. Just after making this turn the road swung around the base of a steep mountain which crowded it close against the river near the village of Tongnam-ni. Company K and four vehicles of C Battery, 15th Field Artillery Battalion, were ambushed at this point at 0120, 11 August. Enemy fire suddenly hit the driver of the leading truck and his vehicle swerved, blacking the road. Automatic weapons fire swept over the column, bringing death and destruction. The K Company convoy fell into confusion. As many men as could fled back toward Kyongju; approximately 120 members of the company, including two officers, reached the town.[n18-14]

Learning of the ambush, General Bradley at Yonil Airfield ordered I Company to return to An’gang-ni, to K Company’s rescue. West of Pohangdong it, too, was ambushed. Informed by radio of this second ambush, Bradley sent two M16 vehicles, with their heavy armament of four .50-caliber machine guns each, to the scene. All but about twenty-five men of I Company got back to the airfield during the day.[n18-15]

At the K Company ambush casualties were greater. By afternoon, 7 dead and at least 40 wounded were reported. About 25 members of C Battery, 15th Field Artillery Battalion, were also lost in this ambush.

[n18-14 EUSAK WD, G-3 Jnl, Msgs 110120 and 110355 Aug 50; Ibid., G-3 Jnl, 12 Aug 50; GHQ FEC G-3 Opn Rpt 48, 11 Aug 50; Interv, author with Farrell, 31 Dec 52; Ltr, McMains to author, 27 May 53; Rpt, The Korean Campaign, Arty School Rep, AFF Observer Team 2. ]

[n18-15 EUSAK WD G-3 Jnl, Msg 1335, 11 Aug 50; Davis, The 2nd Infantry Division in Korea, July-September 1950.]

The enemy soldiers who had cut the road west of Pohang-dong the night of 10-11 August and staged these ambushes apparently were from the 766th Independent Regiment. This regiment, leaving the 5th Division in the vicinity of Yongdok, had come in behind Pohangdong by way of mountain trails. In the early afternoon, 11 August, General Walker ordered the Tank Company, 9th Infantry, which had stopped at Kyongju to wait upon repair of a damaged bridge, to proceed to the Yonil Airfield. He also ordered the ROK 17th Regiment released from Task Force Pohang and to proceed from Angangni to the airstrip.[n18-16]

[n18-16 Davis, The 2nd Infantry Division in Korea July-September 1950; Rpt, The Korean Campaign, Arty School Rep, AFF Observer Team 2; EUSAK WD, G-3 Jnl, Msgs 1331 and 1700, 11 Aug 50.]

Aerial reconnaissance showed the K Company ambush site was still held by enemy troops. Well aware of this, Captain Darrigo, KMAG adviser with the ROK 17th Regiment at Angang-ni, volunteered to lead an armored patrol through to Pohang-dong and Yonil. Darrigo rode the first of five tanks. Four F-51 fighter planes took off from Yonil Airfield and delivered a strike on the enemy positions at the ambush site just as the tanks arrived there. This air strike flushed enemy troops from concealment at just the right moment. Tank machine gun fire killed many of them; in one group about seventy North Koreans were caught in the open. This tank column arrived at Yonil Airfield about 2030, 11 August, and were the first tanks to reach the airstrip. They were immediately placed in the perimeter defense. Darrigo was the same officer who had escaped from Kaesong at dawn, 25 June, when the North Koreans began their attack across the 38th Parallel. One who saw this courageous 30year-old soldier when he arrived at Yonil said he looked to be fifty.[n18-17]

While these events were taking place behind and to the east of it, Task Force Pohang attacked north from the Angang-ni area the morning of 11 August. (Map 12) It came to grief almost at once. At one place the enemy annihilated two companies of the ROK 25th Regiment. The task force, and also the ROK Capital Division, lost ground. The day was blazing hot. Great dust clouds hung over the roads. Fighter planes shuttled constantly from Yonil Airfield to the numerous nearby points where enemy troops were active, trying to stabilize the situation. One pilot, speaking of that day, said, “I barely had my wheels up before I started my strafing runs.” But it was not all one-sided for the fighter planes. The day before, enemy small arms and machine gun fire had shot down four of them. By evening of 11 August, North Korean patrols reportedly were operating three miles south of Pohang-dong. Eighth Army during the day ordered the ROK forces in the east to fall back to new positions during the nights of 12 and 13 August.18

[n18-17 Interv, author with Captain Darrigo, 5 Aug 53; Darrigo, Korean Experiences, 1950, MS, copy in OCMH; New York Times, August 13, 1950, dispatch by W. H. Lawrence 12 August from Yonil Airfield; Newsweek, August 21, 1950, pp. 16-18, article by Harold Lavine in Korea. ]

[n18-18 EUSAK WD, Summ, 11 Aug 50; GHQ FEC Opn Rpt 49, 12 Aug 50; New York Times, August 11, 1950, Lawrence dispatch.]

The main enemy force encountered by Task Force Pohang on 11 August seems to have been advance elements of the 12th Division. This division had now crossed the mountains from Andong and was debouching at Kigye into the valley west of Pohang-dong. There, in a series of battles, fought by the North Koreans almost entirely with automatic weapons and small arms, the 12th Division drove back the ROK Capital Division and Task Force Pohang. In this series of action the 12th lost about 800 casualties, according to prisoner reports.[n18-19]

That night, 11 August, the fighter planes at Yonil flew to another airfield for security, but returned the next day. From hills to the south and southwest of the airstrip enemy troops delivered long-range, ineffective fire against it. Even though this fire did no damage, it created a state of alarm. The next day, 12 August, 28-year-old Colonel Kim Hi Chun, acting on General Walker’s orders, in a successful attack eastward from Angang-ni, led his ROK 17th Regiment into Yonil, greatly to the relief of everyone there.

Enemy forces first entered Pohangdong on 10 or 11 August. ROK sources reported on the 11th that an estimated 300 enemy soldiers from the 766th Independent Regiment and the 5th Division had entered the town and seized the railroad station. But they did not remain there more than a few hours. Naval gunfire and aerial strikes drove them out to seek comparative safety in the nearby hills. The town of Pohang-dong now became a no man’s land. Patrols from ROK and North Korean units entered the town at night but neither side held it. The battle swirled around it on the adjacent hills.[n18-20]

[n18-19 ATIS Interrog Rpt 722, Issue 2, p. 51, Junior Lieutenant Tu Chul Ki; ATIS Interrog Rpt 734, Issue 2, p. 80, Capt Kim Tong Il, Trans Co, 2nd Regt, 12th Div.]

[n18-20 ATIS Res Supp Interrog Rpts, Issue 106 (N.K. Arty), p. 46; EUSAK WD, 30 Aug 50, ATIS Interrog Rpt 867;Ibid., POR 90, 11 Aug 50.]

The Air Force Abandons Yonil Airfield  

Some United States ground and air service troops had been at Yonil Airfield before the 40th Fighter-Interceptor Squadron (35th Group) moved there on 16 July from Ashiya, Japan. On 7 August, the 39th Squadron moved to the field, and the next day the 6131st Fighter Wing was formed at the Pohang base. But, even as these expanding air activities at Yonil were taking place, another and opposite current of events began. On 8 August, aviation engineers there received orders to evacuate their heavy equipment. In the next few days, as the North Koreans occupied the hills around Pohang-dong and west and southwest of Yonil Airfield, FEAF officials became alarmed for the safety of their aircraft. They feared that enemy troops would be able to bring up mortars and artillery to bombard the strip, and that enemy infantry might overrun it. 

Even though U.S. infantry units and tanks were at Yonil on 13 August, FEAF on that day decided to abandon the field. The order came about noon. Not a single crater dented the runway as the F-51’s took to the air to fly away. It appears that Colonel Witty, commanding the Air Force units at Yonil, recommended the evacuation of the field and was supported by General Partridge, commander of the Fifth Air Force. Army officials had no part in the decision to abandon the Yonil field. Army units remained at the field and it never was brought under effective enemy fire.[n18-22]

The first news of the Fifth Air Force evacuation of Yonil Airfield came to General MacArthur’s headquarters about 1600 that afternoon, 13 August, in the form of a United Press report, filed at 1320. This news report stated that an “Air Force spokesman announced that the Air Force was evacuating Pohang air strip” because North Koreans were placing machine gun and mortar fire on the strip. A telephone call to Eighth Army headquarters at once disclosed that there was no mortar fire on the airstrip and that the report of enemy fire on the field was greatly exaggerated. It did, however, confirm that the Fifth Air Force Advance Headquarters had ordered the planes to leave the field.

General MacArthur and General Almond, his Chief of Staff, were “much upset” by the evacuation of Yonil Airfield. MacArthur instructed one of his staff officers to inform FEAF that he intended to hold the airfield and did not want the planes to return to Japan. Nevertheless, the two squadrons of F-51’s (forty-five aircraft) moved from Yonil to Tsuiki Air Base on Kyushu.23

[n18-22 Ibid.; Ltr, McMains to author, 27 May 53; New York Times, August 14, 1950, dispatch by W. H. Lawrence.]

[n18-23 Transcript of telephone conversation between General Roderick R. Allen, Deputy CofS ROK Army, and Collier, at 1600, 13 Aug 50, CofS files, FEC; Fonecon, Allen and Lieutenant General Lawrence C. Craigie, Vice Comdr, FEAF, at 1930, 13 Aug 50, CofS files, FEC; Memo, Capt Webster W. Plourd. ROK Air Liaison Secy to Allen, 131645 Aug 50, CofS files, FEC. ]

The heavy equipment at Yonil was taken to the beach and loaded on LST’s. The bomb supply followed, and finally Fifth Air Force personnel at the base embarked on LST’s and left the next day, 14 August. A considerable supply of aviation gasoline and petroleum products remained at Yonil. Occasionally after 13 August a crippled fighter plane came down at Yonil in an emergency landing, and many fighters refueled there as long as the fuel lasted.

[n18-24 USAF Hist Study 71, p. 20; Ltr, McMains to author, 27 May 53. Colonel McMains stayed at Yonil with the 3rd Battalion, 9th Infantry, until 14 September 1950, when the ROK 3rd Division assumed responsibility for defense of the airstrip.]

The ROK 3rd Division Evacuated by Sea

 While the battles for Pohang-dong and the entrance to the Kyongju corridor were being fought behind it, the ROK 3rd Division-cut off by the N.K. 5th Division above Pohang-dong since 10 August—was fighting to save itself from destruction. Well aware that it had isolated the ROK division, the N.K. 5th Division now strove to destroy it. Constant enemy attacks compelled the ROK division to reduce the extent of its perimeter. The division command post moved four miles farther south from Changsa-dong to the water’s edge at Toksong-ni, where KMAG advisers thought LST’s could land. The principal fire support for the shrinking ROK perimeter came from the cruiser USS Helena and three destroyers offshore, and from the Fifth Air Force. A tactical air control party and artillery observers directed air strikes and naval gunfire at critical points on the perimeter. Two helicopters from the Helena brought medical supplies for the Korean wounded.2

On 13 August the ROK’s carried 313 of their wounded on board a supply LST at Changsa-dong. Later in the day at Toksong-ni, this LST struck rocks and opened a hole in its hull. All the wounded had to be transferred to another LST over a walkway in a heavy running sea. Dukw’s (amphibious trucks) took 86 of the more critically wounded ROK’s to a Korean hospital ship which arrived and anchored 500 yards offshore. The LST then sailed for Pusan.

The steadily deteriorating situation in the vicinity of Pohang-dong caused Eighth Army on 15 August to order the ROK 3rd Division evacuated by sea. The division was to land at Kuryongp’o-ri, twenty air miles southward on the cape at the south side of Yongil Bay. It was then to relieve elements of the Capital Division in the line below Pohangdong and join in a planned co-ordinated attack northward.

[n18-26Ibid.; EUSAK WD, G-3 Sec, 15 Aug 50; GHQ FEC G-3 Opn Rpt 53, 16 Aug 50; Interv, author with Emmerich, 5 Dec 51.]

Evacuation of the ROK 3rd Division by LST began the night of 16 August at Toksong-ni. The division completed loading the next morning, including 125 wounded in the perimeter, and the last LST pulled away from the beach at 0700. The division at this time consisted of the 22nd and 23rd Regiments and 1,200 attached National Police. More than 9,000 men of the division, the 1,200 National Police, and 1,000 laborers, together with all their weapons, ammunition and equipment, escaped to the waiting vessels under cover of darkness and naval gunfire. After daylight of the 17th the Fifth Air Force helped maintain a curtain of fire around the beach. The Helena and several destroyers escorted the evacuation LST’s to Kuryongp’o-ri where they arrived at 1030. The division unloaded at once, and received orders to move the next day into battle positions south of Pohang-dong.[n18-27]

The North Koreans Turned Back From the Kyongju Corridor While it seems clear that enemy patrols and miscellaneous groups of soldiers had entered Pohang-dong as early as 10-11 August, it was not until the 13th that the North Korean communiqué claimed its complete liberation. Large elements of the N.K.12thDivision, advancing from the direction of Kigye, entered the town on that day. But, like others before them, they did not remain long. An officer of the enemy division, when captured later, said the 1st Regiment withdrew from Pohang-dong after three hours because of an intense naval bombardment and severe air strikes. The 12th Division then took up positions on the hills west and southwest of the town. The 2nd and 3rd Battalions of the 2nd Regiment occupied the hills six miles southwest of Pohang-dong and threatened the Yonil Airfield. Elements of the N.K. 5th Division meanwhile had reached the hills just north of Pohangdong.[n18-28]

[n18-27 Paglieri, Notes on ROK 3rd Div, Aug 50; Austin and Paglieri, It Can Be Done, pp. 9-10; EUSAK WD G-3 Sec, 16-17 Aug 50; GHQ FEC G-3 Opn Rpt 54, 17 Aug 50; New York Herald Tribune, August 17, 1950.]

[n18-28 EUSAK WD, 21 Aug 50, ATIS Interrog Rpt 721, Lieutenant Pak Kwang Hon; Ibid., 22 Aug 50, ATIS Interrog Rpt 734, Captain Kim Tong Il (2nd Regt, 12th Div), and related interrog of Kim in ATIS Interrog Rpts, Issue 2, Rpt 734, p. 80, Rpt 723, p. 55, Sergeant Im Chang Nam; ATIS Res Supp Interrog Rpts, Issue 99 (N.K. 12th Div), p. 46; New York Times, August 14, 1950.]

By 14 August the Capital Division, on Eighth Army order, had moved about twenty-five miles, from near Andong to the An’gang-ni-Kigye area, where it went into the line east of the ROK 8th Division. The ROK I Corps now established its headquarters at Yongchon . The fighting in the vicinity of Pohang-dong between North and South Koreans became a dog-eat-dog affair. Both sides lost heavily. The ROK’s renewed their attack on 13 August when the 17th Regiment, reverting to control of the Capital Division, drove forward, supported by U.S. artillery and tanks from Task Force Bradley, to the hills north of Pohang-dong.

Task Force Pohang attacked northward from Angang-ni toward Kigye. In the fighting from 15 to 17 August, the Capital Division and Task Force Pohang pushed the North Koreans back north of the Taegu-Pohang lateral road and away from the Kyongju corridor in the neighborhood of An’gang-ni. About daylight, 17 August, the 2nd Battalion, 23rd Regiment, 2nd Division, arrived at Kyongju to buttress the defense there.

[n18-29 Interv, author with Farrell, 31 Dec 52; EUSAK WD, 13 Aug 50; Ibid., Summ, 1-31 Aug 50; GHQ FEC G-3 Opn Rpt 50, 13 Aug 50.]

In the midst of this seesaw battle in the east—which also was the period of the successful enemy crossing of the Naktong River into the zone of the U.S. 24th Division at the bulge—Premier Kim Il Sung of North Korean broadcast from Pyongyang an order calling on his army to drive the United States and ROK forces from Korea by the end of the month. He correctly predicted that the longer they remained the stronger they would become. He exhorted his Communist troops to “destroy the South Korean and United States [troops] to the last man.”

 The fortunes of war in the east at last seemed to be veering in favor of the South Koreans. By nightfall of 17 August, ROK attacks in the vicinity of An’gang-ni threatened to surround the 766th Independent Regiment, and it withdrew to the mountains north of Kigye. Battling constantly with ROK troops and suffering severely from naval gunfire and aerial strikes, the N.K. 12th Division that night began to withdraw from the hills around Pohang-dong. At 2000, 17 August, the 12th Division ordered all its units to withdraw through Kigye northward to the Topyong-dong area. The division suffered heavy casualties in this withdrawal. The next day it ordered all its units to assemble on Pihak-san on 19 August for reorganization.[n18-31]

[n18-31 Captain Kim Tong Il (see n. 28); ATIS Res Supp Interrog Rpts, Issue 99 (N.K. 12th Div), pp. 46-27; 23rd Inf WD, 17 Aug 50.]

On Pihak-san, a 2,400-foot rugged peak six miles due north of Kigye, the 12thDivision reorganized. In this reorganization, the 766th Independent Regiment lost its identity, its troops being distributed among the three regiments of the 12th Division. After incorporating 2,000 replacements and the approximately 1,500 men of the 766th Independent Regiment, the division reportedly totaled about 5,000 men. This figure shows the severe casualties suffered thus far in the war by this division, originally composed mostly of CCF veterans. Though morale was low there was little desertion.[n18-32]

In these battles attending the withdrawal of the North Koreans from the vicinity of Pohang-dong, the ROK Capital Division by 19 August had advanced to a point two miles north of Kigye, the 3rd Division entered Pohangdong, and Task Force Min reached a point a mile and a half north of the town. The next day the 3rd Division relieved Task Force Min and attacked to selected positions five and a half miles north of Pohang-dong. The Capital Division also made additional gains north of Kigye. That day, 20 August, Eighth Army by radio order dissolved Task Force Bradley and re-designated the force at Yonil Airfield the 3rd Battalion, 9th Infantry, Reinforced. This same day, with the emergency in the east temporarily ended, Task Force Pohang was dissolved, and Task Force Min moved west to a position between the ROK 1st and 6th Divisions.[n18-33]

[n18-32 ATIS Res Supp Interrog Rpts, Issue 99 (N.K. 12th Div), pp. 46-47; EUSAK WD, 30 Aug 50, ATIS Interrog Rpt 869, Lee Son Chol; Ibid., 734, Kim Tong Il; ATIS Interrog Rpts, Issue 2, p. 11, Rpt 704, Junior Lieutenant Kim Dok Yong, 2nd Regt, 12th Div, Rpt 722, p. 51, Junior Lieutenant Tu Chul Ko, 1st Regt, 12th Div, and Rpt 724, p. 58, Lieutenant Chang Chin Sop, 1st Regt, 12th Div.]

[n18-33 EUSAK WD, 20 Aug 50; Ibid., Aug 50 Summ, 19-20 Aug; Ibid., G-3 Sec, entry 9, 20 Aug 50; Ibid., G-3 Jnl, 20 Aug 50; GHQ FEC G-3 Opn Rpt 58. 21 Aug 50.]

A ROK Army dispatch on 20 August claimed that its forces in the Pohang area from 17 August on had killed 3,800 and captured 181 North Koreans. It also claimed the capture of 20 artillery pieces, 11 light mortars, 21 82-mm. mortars, 160 machine guns, 557 U.S. M1 rifles and 381 Japanese rifles.

Since about the end of July, the greater part of the N.K.12thDivision had been armed with the U.S. M1 rifle and the U.S. carbine. There was an adequate supply of ammunition for these weapons, but not always available at the front. The Japanese 99 rifles and ammunition with which the division was originally armed were turned in to the division supply dump at the end of July, when the supply of American arms captured from ROK units enabled the division to substitute them.

Not the least important of the factors that brought about the defeat of the North Koreans at Pohang-dong and in the Kigye area in mid-August was the near exhaustion of the 12th Division after its passage through the mountains south of Andong, and its lack of artillery and food supply. One captured officer of the division said his unit received no food after 12 August, and for five days thereafter up to the time of his capture had only eaten what the men could forage at night in the villages. His men, he said, became physically so exhausted that they were no longer combat effective. A captured sergeant of the 2nd Battalion, 1st Regiment, said that of 630 men in his battalion only 20 survived on 18 August. In the 2nd Regiment, according to a captured captain, no battalion averaged more than 250 men on 17 August. He said there was no resupply of ammunition from the rear.[n18-35]

When the N.K. 12th Division reached Pohang-dong it was like a rubber band stretched to its uttermost limit. It must either break or rebound. The North Korean system of logistics simply could not supply these troops in the Kigye-Pohang-dong area.

[n18-35 EUSAK WD, 22 Aug 50, ATIS Interrog Rpt 721, Lieutenant Pak Kwang Hon, Rpt 722, Junior Lieutenant Tu Chul Ki, Rpt 723, Im Chang Nam, Rpt 727, p. 64, Senior Sergeant Choe Chol Hak, and Rpt 734, Kim Tong Il; ATIS Interrog Rpts, Issue 2, p. 51, Junior Lieutenant Tu Chul Ki. A survey of 825 North Korean prisoners revealed that they listed shortage of food as most important of all factors causing low morale. See USAF Hist Study 71, p. 52.]

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

Korean War: The Taegu Front- August 1950 (19)

Korean War: First Battle of the Naktong Bulge (1950) (17)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Beachhead Developed

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

unnerving to most members of the headquarters

The German Attack

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Opening Port of Salerno

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Biak Plan The Objective

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Organization, Logistics, and Intelligence

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Landing Plan

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Landing: Preparations and Approach

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Assault

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The 162nd Infantry on Z Day

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

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

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

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

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

Supporting Arms and Services, Z Day

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Japanese Defenses on Biak

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Reactions to the Allied Landings

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The 6th Division’s 20th Infantry, together with the 6th Medical Battalion, the 1st and 51st Field Artillery Battalions, and miscellaneous other division units arrived at Toem on 11 June. The 1st Infantry and the 6th Engineers were already in the area and the rest of the division, including the 63rd Infantry and the 80th Field Artillery Battalion, began unloading on 14 June. With the 11 June convoy had come the division commander, Major General Franklin C. Sibert, and his headquarters. Under General Sibert’s command the TORNADO Task Force was to continue the drive westward toward Sarmi. The capture of Sarmi and the destruction of Japanese forces west of the Tor River were to be accomplished rapidly, for plans were already being made by ALAMO Force to employ the 6th Division in another operation which, scheduled for late July, involved seizure of an air-base site on the northwestern tip of the Vogelkop Peninsula.

The 6th Division Against Lone Tree Hill General Sibert assumed command of the TORNADO Task Force on 12 June. [n11-2] His first problem was to get the various units of the 6th Division unloaded. The division had been hastily and unsystematically loaded at Milne Bay, in eastern New Guinea, because the ships which were to carry it to Toem arrived at Milne Bay so late that comprehensive loading plans could neither be made nor executed. Moreover, the Toem beaches were mediocre, unloading and storing facilities inadequate, and lighterage was insufficient. Unloading therefore proceeded very slowly, and the 20th Infantry had to borrow many crew-served weapons from the 158th Infantry before it could relieve the latter unit at the Tirfoam.[n11-3]

[n11-2 On the same date Headquarters, 6th Infantry Division, began operating as Headquarters, TORNADO Task Force, in place of Headquarters, 158th Regimental Combat Team, which had held that role since it, in turn, had replaced Headquarters, 163rd Regimental Combat Team, on 25 May.]

[n11-3 Rad, TTF to ALAMO Adv Hq, Y-1117, 11 Jun 44, in ALAMO Adv Hq G-3 Jnl Wakde-Biak, 11-13 Jun 44; Ltr, General Sibert to General Krueger, 18 Jun 44, in ALAMO Rear Hq G-3 Jnl Wakde-Biak, 27-31 Jul 44. While in command of the TORNADO Task Force, General Sibert wrote almost daily personal letters to General Krueger.]

The Objective

General Sibert believed that it would be tactically and logistically unsound for his division to engage in offensive action until all its units were unloaded, settled, and acquainted with the combat area. Therefore he planned to have the 1st Infantry mop up south of Toem and Arare until unloading was complete, and he instructed the 20th Infantry to limit its action to sending patrols west of the Tirfoam to locate enemy defenses. After the 20th received its own equipment, it would push westward in conjunction with a series of battalion shore-to-shore movements along the coast toward Sarmi. General Sibert’s staff estimated that unloading, mopping up, and patrolling would be completed in time for the 20th Infantry to begin a major offensive on 1 July.

General Krueger would not sanction such a delay in initiating an advance westward. Surf, beach, and terrain conditions in the Toem-Arare area had proved unsatisfactory for the establishment of a staging base, but it was known that the shore of Maffin Bay afforded better conditions. General Krueger realized that quick control over the Maffin Bay area was necessary if the theater were to make any use of the Wakde-Sarmi region as a staging base. On 18 June he therefore ordered General Sibert to start an immediate offensive, and the latter accordingly changed his plans.

The 1st Infantry was instructed to relieve 20th Infantry elements at the Tor bridgehead, and the 20th Infantry was directed to concentrate at the Tirfoam in time to attack westward on 20 June. The initial objective was the Lone Tree Hill-Hill 225 area, but the advance was to continue until all Japanese in the coastal area between the Tirfoam and Sarmi town had been destroyed or dispersed inland.

The 158th Infantry had spent but four days in the vicinity of Lone Tree Hill and had not been able to explore the terrain thoroughly. Such information as the regiment had acquired was turned over to the 6th Infantry Division but proved sketchy and not altogether accurate. Beginning on 21 June, the 20th Infantry was to gain a new and more detailed picture of the Lone Tree Hill area.

At the top of Lone Tree Hill was a stretch of rough but generally level ground lying mostly along the western part of the hill. This flat ground, about 700 yards long north to south, was shaped like a crude dumbbell. At its northern end, the level area was about 300 yards wide. It narrowed at the center of the hill to less than 100 yards but broadened again on the south to a width of about 250 yards. There were many coral outcroppings, potholes, and small crevices, while on the north the hill terminated in a very rugged prominence called Rocky Point. This terrain feature, which extended into Maffin Bay from the central mass of Lone Tree Hill, was about 300 yards wide east to west. Its northern face was not as heavily overgrown as the rest of Lone Tree Hill. Although Rocky Point’s northeast slope was steep, foot troops could climb that face with more ease than they could approach the top of Lone Tree Hill from most other points.

A deep ravine ran southwest into the central mass of Lone Tree Hill from a sandy beach on the east side of Rocky Point. The floor of the ravine varied from 20 to 30 yards in width and its nearly vertical western wall was 40 to 50 feet high. Both sides were honeycombed with natural or man-made tunnels, caverns, and small caves, most of which were connected with each other by underground or deeply defiladed passages. Some caves reached a width of 40 feet, a depth into the hillside of 50 feet, and a height of 20 feet. The ravine terminated on the eastern slope of Lone Tree Hill in a steep grade at the narrow central portion of the hilltop.

East of the ravine and extending to the west bank of the Snaky was an oval-shaped, low, and generally flat shelf about 250 yards wide east to west and almost 450 yards long. Its eastern and northern sides lay about 20 feet above the surrounding sea-level plain. The approaches from the beach or the Snaky River were very steep and in places were sheer, low cliffs. On its southwestern side the shelf led to precipitous grades reaching to the top of Lone Tree Hill. South of the narrow section of the hilltop plateau these grades flattened into a wide draw with gradual slopes.

West of Rocky Point was a beach not more than twenty feet deep, behind which was a vertical rock and clay ledge varying from three to five feet in height. Between the ledge and the western face of Lone Tree Hill was a heavily forested swampy area extending more than 300 yards inland. The western face of the hill was an almost vertical cliff, 60 to 80 feet high, and was rock-faced but covered with heavy jungle undergrowth. The steepest part, about 700 yards long, gave way at the southwest corner of Lone Tree Hill to less precipitous heavily forested slopes extending through the defile between Lone Tree Hill and Hill 225.

Lone Tree Hill contained a veritable maze of Japanese defenses. There were many caves and bunkers on the western cliff—positions which were hidden from ground observers by tall trees or undergrowth on the cliff face. There were also a few pillboxes or bunkers in the swampy area between the cliff and the beach west of Rocky Point. Two 75-mm. field pieces, defiladed by rocky outcroppings, were emplaced by the enemy on this beach. On the face of Rocky Point and on the rocky shore below were other defensive positions and at least one other artillery piece. In the ravine east of Rocky Point were five 75-mm. mountain guns hidden in various caves or crevices. Although none of these guns could be traversed, they were so emplaced that they covered most of the northwestern, northern, and northeastern land and sea approaches to Lone Tree Hill.

On the hilltop plateau Japanese defensive positions included log and earth dugouts which, presenting low silhouettes and covered with undergrowth, were very difficult to locate. Atop the hill rough holes were also dug under or between the roots of large trees. Some of these defenses were arranged in lines across the ravine and wide draw leading to the hilltop from the northeast and east, respectively. One of the most troublesome installations was a Japanese observation post at the northern part of the hilltop plateau. This post, about one hundred feet off the ground in the branches of a huge tree, was sturdily constructed and cleverly camouflaged. It had withstood air, naval, and artillery bombardments aimed at Lone Tree Hill prior to 20 June. From the post the Japanese could observe movements along the main road to the east of Lone Tree Hill, the entire beach area from Sarmi to Arare, and maneuvers on most of the hill itself.

Information available to the TORNADO Task Force on 20 June indicated that Lone Tree Hill was defended by 700 to 800 Japanese. Most of these troops were believed to be members of the 3rd Battalion, 224th Infantry, plus a few men and weapons of 36th Division artillery—75-mm. mountain guns. The strength estimate was reasonably accurate—there were actually near 850 Japanese on the hill—but it did not take into account the Japanese south of Lone Tree Hill on Hill 225 and the eastern nose of Mt. Saksin, from which enemy troops could move rapidly to reinforce Lone Tree Hill and from which they could defend the southern approaches to that hill. Moreover, there were elements of many more 36th Division units in the immediate Lone Tree Hill area.

Command in the area was exercised by Headquarters, Right Sector Force, now under Colonel Matsuyama of the 224th Infantry who, as his regiment arrived west of the Tor, took over the sector command from Major Matsuoka. By 20 June the troops on Lone Tree Hill proper comprised the 1st Battalion, 224th Infantry, less one company; the remnants of Captain Saito’s 300-man company of 3rd Battalion, 224th Infantry, riflemen and 36th Division artillerymen (Captain Saito had long since been killed); probably a company from the 3rd Battalion, 223rd Infantry; elements of the 16th Field Airdrome Construction Unit; 36th Division artillery weapons and crews; and, finally, a few men of antiaircraft and service units who had been armed as auxiliary infantry. South of Lone Tree Hill, on Hill 225 and the eastern nose of Mt. Saksin, were emplaced most of the rest of the 224th Infantry, the bulk of the 16th Field Airdrome Construction Unit, probably another company of the 223rd Infantry, and an antiaircraft battery converted to infantry. The total Japanese strength in the Lone Tree Hill-Hill 225-eastern nose area was probably at least 1,800 men. The 1st Company, 224th Infantry, down to about 30 men, was initially left east of the Tor to conduct reconnaissance and guerrilla warfare around the TORNADO Task Force beach positions, but moved across the river sometime after 20 June to rejoin the rest of the Right Sector Force. Two companies of the 2nd Battalion, 224th Infantry, were between the Tirfoam and the Tor, with instructions to harass the Allied line of communications along the coastal road west from the Tor.

About the same time that Colonel Matsuyama assumed command of the Right Sector Force, the Yoshino Force and the new Yuki Group were apparently disbanded as such and combined to form a new Central Sector Force under Colonel Yoshino, the commander of the 223rd Infantry.

Colonel Yoshino’s new sector ran west from the west side of Lone Tree Hill to the old western boundary at Sawar Creek, where the Left Sector Force, still under General Yamada, took up. Except for the one or two companies assigned to the Right Sector Force, Colonel Yoshino’s entire 223rd Infantry was assigned to the Central Sector Force. Also under his command were various artillery, antiaircraft, and service units, including whatever was left of the 103rd Field Airdrome Construction Unit. The remnants of the 51st Field Road Construction Unit, formerly attached to the 224th Infantry, were sent to the area of the Left Sector Force. The bulk of Colonel Yoshino’s troops were on the western slopes of Mt. Saksin, although some were in defensive positions along the coast immediately west of Lone Tree Hill. The strength of the force was about 2,000 men.

To the Top of Lone Tree Hill

The attack west from the Tirfoam River jumped off on schedule at 0800 on 20 June. The 1st Battalion, 20th Infantry, moved along the main coastal road. The 3rd Battalion followed closely, while the 2nd remained in reserve at Maffin No. 1. Shortly after 1200 the 1st Battalion, having encountered no opposition, reached the Snaky River. Company B pushed on toward the village at the entrance to the defile between Lone Tree Hill and the eastern nose of Mt. Saksin. This advance was greeted by a hail of fire from Japanese automatic weapons emplaced in the defile—fire reminiscent of the opposition encountered by Company B, 158th Infantry, at the same place more than three weeks earlier.

The 20th Infantry’s Company B tried to outflank the enemy position to the south but was halted by intense Japanese machine gun fire. Tanks sent forward to aid the infantry were unable to reach the enemy guns because the terrain was impassable to tracked or wheeled vehicles, which could scarcely negotiate the rough road, let alone the thick jungle and rising ground to the south. Late in the afternoon Company A was sent forward to Company B’s position, but both units encountered heavy fire and soon lost contact with the rest of the 1st Battalion.

The two companies remained for the night in an isolated perimeter near the village and about 400 yards west of the main body. The 3rd Battalion had moved north off the coastal road during the morning, and late in the afternoon it had established a perimeter extending south 200 yards from the beach along the east bank of the Snaky River. The battalion had encountered little opposition during the day, but patrols which had crossed the Snaky before dark reported finding many Japanese defensive positions on the eastern slopes of Lone Tree Hill. A gap which existed between the 1st and 3rd Battalions was partially filled just before nightfall by elements of the 2nd Battalion, which were sent forward late in the afternoon. Casualties during the day were four killed and twenty-eight wounded.

The 1st and 3rd Battalions, 1st Infantry, moved across the Tor River in the morning of 20 June and took over the positions in the vicinity of Maffin No. 1 vacated by the 20th Infantry. The 2nd Battalion, 1st Infantry, assumed responsibility for the protection of the bridgehead across the Tor. The regiment was to remain east of the Tirfoam in reserve on 21 June while the 20th Infantry moved on against Lone Tree Hill.

Operations of the 20th Infantry during the morning of 21 June consisted principally of patrolling designed to locate enemy strong points on and around Lone Tree Hill. The 1st and 3rd Battalions undertook most of this scouting while the remainder of the 2nd Battalion, together with the regimental Antitank Company, closed up on the 1st. Companies A and B moved south of the main road through the defile toward Hill 225, and both units encountered strong opposition. By the end of the day the 1st Battalion’s positions were essentially the same as they had been in the morning, except that Company B was south of the road and about 600 yards distant from the rest of the battalion.

The battalion’s mission was primarily defensive: to probe Japanese defenses on the southern side of Lone Tree Hill and protect the south flank of the 2nd and 3rd Battalions as the latter units assaulted the hill. Patrols of the 3rd Battalion reached the northeast face of Lone Tree Hill during the morning and observed enemy activity on the rough beach below Rocky Point. Other patrols, working toward the eastern slopes of the hill, brought back negative reports which contradicted those obtained at dusk the previous afternoon. However, as a result of these negative reports, it was decided that the 3rd Battalion should attack in force during the afternoon. At 1345, after a fifteen minute artillery and 4.2-inch mortar preparation, one company moved across the Snaky River, immediately finding the twenty-foot cliff along the eastern side of the shelf which lay between the Snaky River and the central mass of Lone Tree Hill. The morning patrols had not, apparently, reported the existence of this cliff, and naturally it was not known that Japanese defenses were established along it. Machine gun and rifle fire from the 1st Battalion, 224th Infantry, soon pinned down the 3rd Battalion’s leading platoon.

The company commander quickly sent part of his unit northward to find the Japanese left flank. Moving around the northeast end of the shelf, this group discovered the beach entrance to the deep ravine between the western side of the shelf and Rocky Point. Progress into or across the ravine was impossible in the face of the intense Japanese small arms fire which greeted the advancing American unit. Company B, 6th Engineers, then in the forward area to cut a road from the mouth of the Snaky River to Rocky Point, was brought up to the ravine to help clean out caves and crevices with flame throwers and demolitions, but could not reach the enemy positions through the continued machine gun, mortar, and rifle fire. Infantry bazooka squads also tried to blast the Japanese out of their caves but failed when their ammunition ran out. Since there was no time to bring additional rockets forward before dark, all elements of the 3rd Battalion and the engineer company were withdrawn to the east bank of the Snaky River for the night. The 20th Infantry was to continue the assault on the morrow with the 3rd Battalion moving against Lone Tree Hill from the northeast, the 2nd Battalion in reserve, and the 1st Battalion remaining in its holding position.

American casualties during the day were two men killed and twenty-four wounded. Initially it was thought that some of these casualties had been caused by friendly mortar fire covering the 3rd Battalion’s patrolling.

Later investigation proved, however, that the losses had been caused by enemy fire. Japanese artillery and mortars usually remained silent throughout the fighting on Lone Tree Hill except when American mortars and artillery began firing. The psychological effect of this trick on the troops of the 6th Division was obvious, and for a long while they thought that part of their losses resulted from friendly fire. It is probable that many Japanese were killed during the day but, because of the confused nature of the fighting along the cliff on the eastern shelf and in the ravine, the 3rd Battalion could attempt no estimate of Japanese losses in its zone. The 1st Battalion estimated that its patrols south of Lone Tree Hill had killed about thirty-five of the enemy.

Task force artillery and the 20th Infantry’s 81-mm. mortars fired on Lone Tree Hill intermittently throughout the night, concentrating on the Rocky Point area. Operations on 22 June started at 0800 when eighteen Wakde-based P-47’s strafed Lone Tree Hill, dropped full belly tanks, and set them afire. The air action, which ceased at 0820, was followed by an intense artillery concentration, of ten minutes’ duration, fired by two 105-mm. and one 155-mm. howitzer battalions. The artillery sent 720 rounds of 105-mm. ammunition and 360 rounds of 155-mm. shells into an area 400 yards wide and 600 long on the northeast side of the hill.

Infantry action started about 0830 with Company K, two platoons abreast, leading the advance and Company I following close behind. Company K approached the hill from the northeast and from a point on the beach just west of the deep ravine. Only scattered rifle fire marked the first part of the ascent, for the Japanese were stunned by the weight of the preparatory air and artillery fire. About 1115 the advance platoons had to seek cover from enemy light mortar, machine gun, and rifle fire, most of which seemed to originate in caves and crevices along the sides of the ravine. Company I, which had been waiting in reserve on the beach, was now dispatched up the hill to reinforce Company K. The combined fire power of the two units was sufficient to drive the Japanese back into their caves, and the assault companies reached the top of Lone Tree Hill just south of Rocky Point at 1240.

Company L, about 0930, had begun an attempt to reach the top of the hill from the southeast corner. The company passed through 1st Battalion units near the village at the entrance to the defile and pushed northwestward. Japanese infantrymen were seen moving about near the village, and Company M’s 81-mm. mortars were called upon to protect Company L’s rear by lobbing shells into the hamlet. Four tanks were also brought forward along the main road to aid in clearing the village and the ground between the settlement and Company L. Since marshy terrain and heavy undergrowth prevented the tanks from accomplishing their mission, Company F was called forward and attached to Company L to protect the latter’s flanks and rear.

Together the two companies tried to force their way up the southeast slope of Lone Tree Hill, but they were subjected to intense machine gun and rifle fire from the northwest, west, and southwest. The two units thereupon withdrew from that face, moved back to the eastern edge of the oval shelf, and marched north to the point at which Companies K and I had started up the hill. Company F followed K’s route to the hilltop, meeting little opposition on the way. Company L pushed across the ravine about 200 yards south of F’s line of march and, since the Japanese remained hidden in the ravine’s many caves, had little difficulty reaching the top of the hill. By 1500 Companies F, I, K, L, and part of Company M had established a common perimeter near the north end of the hilltop.

The 2nd Battalion, 20th Infantry, relieved during the morning by the 2nd Battalion of the 1st Infantry, had been sent forward about 1400 to complete the occupation of Lone Tree Hill. Following the route employed by Companies F and L in the forenoon, the battalion (less Company F) moved across the southern end of the shelf and along the southeastern slope. Advancing cautiously through heavily forested, tangled terrain, at 1700 the battalion reached the head of the wide draw which led to the narrow central part of the hilltop. Little opposition was encountered and the battalion moved up the hill and along the hill crest to a point about 400 yards south of the 3rd Battalion.

Increasingly strong enemy opposition made it impossible to close the gap between the two before dark. Hasty positions were set up for the night defenses. Despite the fact that part of Company K had been temporarily pinned down by enemy fire during the morning, neither that unit nor Company I had had any real difficulty reaching the top of Lone Tree Hill. Companies F and L, after they had changed their direction of attack, had also made their way to the top against negligible opposition, and the 2nd Battalion had been delayed more by the terrain than by enemy action. For the second day in succession the task force commander had reason to believe that the Lone Tree Hill area was not strongly held, and he expected that the hill would be secured shortly.

The 3rd Battalion, during the afternoon, found indications that the Japanese had other plans. The battalion perimeter was within sight of the enemy’s observation post, which was almost continuously manned although four or five Japanese were shot out of it in the course of the afternoon. So close was the observation post to the 3rd Battalion’s perimeter that friendly artillery was unable to fire on it, but well-directed enemy artillery fire, which harassed the 20th Infantry’s rear installations, indicated that the Japanese were putting their observers to good use. There was also some reason to suspect that the many caves and crevices along the ravine and Rocky Point contained numerous enemy troops who had apparently deliberately permitted the 3rd Battalion to reach the top of the hill without offering serious battle. The suspicion proved well founded.

About 1730 approximately two companies of Japanese, under the personal leadership of Colonel Matsuyama, poured out of hidden positions on Rocky Point or in the ravine and fell upon the 3rd Battalion’s perimeter with suicidal fury. Confused fighting, sometimes hand-to-hand, continued well into the night, until it was thought that every Japanese soldier in the northern section of Lone Tree Hill must have been killed.

Although the 2nd Battalion’s positions were not attacked, the unit could not move to the 3rd Battalion’s aid. Such a maneuver would have been foolhardy in the darkness and tangled undergrowth, and the 2nd soon found that it, too, was surrounded. Thus, by 2400, the Japanese had completely reversed the tactical situation atop Lone Tree Hill. Early in the afternoon the 20th Infantry had been at the Japanese rear. Now the enemy was at the 20th Infantry’s rear, had isolated both the 2nd and 3rd Battalions of that regiment, and had cut all lines of communication to the base of the hill.

Casualties on the 22nd could not be counted because of the confusion resulting from the night attack. However, it was estimated that about 30 Americans had been killed and another 100 wounded, most of them in the 3rd Battalion, before the enemy attack waned at midnight. There were but 40 known Japanese dead, the majority of whom had been counted by 1st Battalion patrols on the southern side of Lone Tree Hill. The number of the enemy killed by the 3rd Battalion after 1730 could not be estimated, but it is known that Colonel Matsuyama was wounded during the action.

Holding Lone Tree Hill

The 3rd Battalion expected that the enemy withdrawal during the night presaged reorganization for another attack. This expectation was correct, for Colonel Matsuyama did have plans to continue the attack. On the 22nd the two companies of the 2nd Battalion, 224th Infantry, which had been east of the Tirfoam, had arrived to reinforce him, as had the 7th Company of the same regiment, previously on detached duty at an inland post.

Action on the 23rd began at dawn when Japanese troops, some of whom were using American weapons and wearing parts of American uniforms, attacked the 2nd Battalion, 20th Infantry, from the deep ravine. The battalion initially held its fire, thinking that the enemy force might be a friendly patrol, and the Japanese were able to advance to within fifteen yards of the battalion lines before being recognized. It was an hour before the results of this error could be corrected—an hour during which both the 2nd Battalion and the Japanese suffered heavy losses. The hour ended with an enemy retreat.

At 0800 the 2nd Battalion was instructed to make contact with the 3rd, clear the Japanese from the rest of the northern section of the hilltop plateau, and form a two-battalion’ perimeter. Moving north along the hill crest soon proved impracticable, for the Japanese held strong positions in the 400-yard interval which still separated the two battalions. The 2nd Battalion therefore decided to bypass the opposition. The unit marched back down the hill, crossed the oval shelf, and turned north along the west bank of the Snaky. About 250 yards south of the beach, the battalion turned west and, at 1000, was held up by enemy fire from the same twenty-foot-high cliff which had stalled the 3rd Battalion’s attack on 21 June.

The 2nd Battalion then withdrew from the cliff north to the beach east of Rocky Point and reorganized. At 1120 the movement up Lone Tree Hill was resumed, this time along the same route employed by Companies I and K on the previous day. The advance was opposed by enemy machine gun, mortar, artillery, and rifle fire, but the 2nd Battalion, with Company G suffering especially “heavy casualties,” slowly fought its way upward by fire and movement. At 1400 the leading elements began reaching the top of the hill, but it was not until 1630 that the battalion had assembled in an organized perimeter. The new position was just northwest of the 3rd Battalion’s lines, overlooked the west cliff of Lone Tree Hill, and apparently was not connected with the 3rd Battalion perimeter. The latter unit had held and strengthened its positions during the morning while it sought cover from continuous Japanese mortar and rifle fire and awaited the arrival of reinforcements before beginning mopping-up operations.

The 3rd Battalion had received few supplies since reaching the top of Lone Tree Hill on 22 June. The unit had run out of water, and only a heavy rainfall during the night of 22-23 June had prevented thirst from becoming a major problem. To relieve this situation Company L, 1st Infantry, was ordered to take ammunition, water, and rations to the hilltop plateau. The company received the order late on 22 June but managed to move only as far as the northeastern corner of Rocky Point before dark. At 0800 the next morning the relief company started up the hill, meeting little opposition until it reached the top of Rocky Point. There it was pinned down as Japanese forces moved in behind it to cut the line of communication down the hill. Company L soon ran out of ammunition for, in addition to the supplies, the men had carried to the hilltop only their loaded weapons, with no extra ammunition. Despite help from elements of the Antitank and Service Companies, 20th Infantry, Company L was able to maintain only intermittent contact with the 3rd Battalion, 20th Infantry.

It was not until late afternoon, after the 2nd Battalion, 20th Infantry, had arrived atop Lone Tree Hill that Company L, 1st Infantry, was relieved. By that time the company had suffered many casualties and had lost much of the matériel it had been carrying up the hill. Neither the 2nd nor 3rd Battalions, 20th Infantry, received appreciable amounts of supplies during the day, and only the heroic efforts of small volunteer groups kept these units supplied with enough food and ammunition to carry on the fight.

The 1st Infantry, to support the operations of the small carrying parties, sent two machine gun platoons and two 37-mm. antitank guns forward to the foot of Rocky Point. With this cover the supply groups managed to fight their various ways up and down the hill and evacuated 300 wounded men during the day.

The evening of 23 June brought another 224th Infantry counterattack which was aimed at both the 2nd and 3rd Battalions’ perimeters. These attacks came from the east side of Lone Tree Hill, the Japanese apparently having moved around the north side of the hill along Rocky Point. The initial assault culminated in a bayonet charge, which was repulsed by rifle and machine gun fire with heavy losses to the Japanese. Despite this defeat, small groups of the enemy continued suicidal attacks throughout the night of 23-24 June.

It would probably have been much easier to bypass Lone Tree Hill, isolate it, and starve out the Japanese garrison, but there were two reasons why General Sibert did not do so. First, as long as the Japanese held Lone Tree Hill, which dominated the Maffin Bay area, the shores of that bay could not be safely employed for a staging area. Second, operations from 20 to 22 June had apparently convinced the task force commander that Lone Tree Hill was not strongly held, and he had therefore ordered the frontal assault. That this estimate was in error was realized when dawn of 23 June brought with it the information that the 2nd and 3rd Battalions of the 20th Infantry were cut off atop Lone Tree Hill. When the hill had still not been captured by dark on 23 June the general decided to outflank it by a shore-to-shore maneuver and then continue the attack from both west and east. He ordered the 1st Infantry, reinforced by the 6th Reconnaissance Troop, to seize the beach just west of Rocky Point on the morning of 24 June. The regiment was to clean out the western side of Lone Tree Hill and prevent any more Japanese reinforcements from reaching it.

For the shore-to-shore maneuver, the 1st Infantry chose Companies K and I. Company K boarded ten LVT’s at the beach near the Tirfoam River and moved to the west side of Rocky Point. The LVT’s were protected by the 6th Reconnaissance Troop aboard thirteen LVT(A)’s armed with 37-mm. guns. Both groups of amphibian vehicles were fired on by Japanese 75-mm. guns emplaced on Rocky Point, but Company K made a safe landing at 0900 hours. Attempting to move inland, the company was immediately pinned down on the narrow beach by enemy fire of all types which originated along the west face of Lone Tree Hill and Rocky Point.

The LVT’s, again protected by the LVT(A)’s, made a return trip with Company I, 1st Infantry, which landed on the right of Company K at 1200. About 1330 four tanks of Company C, 44th Tank Battalion, transported by LCT’s, arrived at the hard-pressed beachhead, which was subjected to ever increasing machine gun and rifle fire. Upon their arrival the tanks covered the evacuation of wounded and the landing of supplies by firing on Japanese positions in the swampy woods between the beach and the west cliff of Lone Tree Hill.

One LVT, loaded with wounded men, was sunk about 175 yards off Rocky Point by Japanese 75-mm. fire. All the men were rescued by an LVT (A), which succeeded in silencing the enemy artillery weapon. Companies I and K were unable to make any progress inland. Japanese defensive positions in the swampy woodland, occupied by elements of the 223rd Infantry, prevented an advance. The four tanks attempted to move off the beach to attack these positions but found that they could not negotiate the low clay and rock bank behind the shore line. The tanks remained on the beach for the night to protect the exposed infantrymen, but the 6th Reconnaissance Troop returned to the vicinity of the Tirfoam River mouth at darkness.

On top of Lone Tree Hill during the day the 2nd and 3rd Battalions, 20th Infantry, in the face of enemy mortar, rifle, and machine gun fire, began to clear the Japanese from the many caves and crevices on Rocky Point, the deep ravine east of the point, and the hilltop plateau. For the mission of clearing Rocky Point, assault teams were formed by personnel of the Antitank Company, Headquarters Company of the 2nd Battalion, Company H, and a few men from Company F. Elements of the 3rd Battalion, 1st Infantry, including most of Company L, also were engaged in the mopping up. The assault teams were armed with a variety of weapons, including flame throwers, bazookas, rifle grenades, hand grenades, BAR’s, TSMG’s, high explosives, and even gasoline. While this action continued, the 2nd Battalion, 20th Infantry, aided by Company L of the 1st Infantry, secured the supply route up the hill.

By nightfall there were definite signs that Japanese resistance in the northern section of Lone Tree Hill was weakening, and during the night of 24-25 June there were no major counterattacks, although harassing mortar, grenade, and rifle fire continued. Headquarters of the 3rd Battalion, 20th Infantry, and Company M of the same regiment moved across the Snaky River in the afternoon and established a perimeter on the beach at the east side of Rocky Point, from which Company M’s heavy weapons could aid in the mopping-up operations.

Despite the weakening of Japanese resistance, the 2nd and 3rd Battalions, 20th Infantry, and Company L, 1st Infantry, continued to suffer heavy casualties during the day. At dusk 2nd Battalion effectives numbered only 330 men, and the 3rd Battalion had only 322 effectives left. The losses of Companies I and K, 1st Infantry, could not be ascertained because not all the wounded and dead had been evacuated and because communications had broken down at intervals throughout the day. However, it was known that at least 9 men had been killed and 37 wounded, and that the dead included 2 Company K officers.

The next day, 25 June, the 2nd and 3rd Battalions, 20th Infantry, now reinforced by both Companies L and M, 1st Infantry, and Company B, 6th Engineers, continued clearing Rocky Point, the deep ravine, the northern part of the hilltop plateau, and the eastern shelf, where a few scattered Japanese still held positions along the twenty-foot-high cliff. Flame throwers, demolition charges, bazookas, and hand grenades all proved successful in eliminating Japanese resistance and sealing or clearing caves and crevices.

The task was easier on the 25th, for the Japanese slowly gave up the fight and were killed or sealed off in their caves. Casualties continued to mount—the 2nd Battalion, 20th Infantry, had only about two hundred effectives by the end of the day—but many of the losses were not due to Japanese action.

Many men were evacuated over the now secured supply route to the top of the hill as they fell from exhaustion or became sick. On the beach west of Rocky Point Companies I and K, 1st Infantry, had little success in expanding their beachhead. The tanks proved useless in the area and were therefore withdrawn to Maffin No. 1. The two infantry companies, pinned down during the morning, kept up a continuous mortar barrage against Japanese positions in the swamp to the south, against the western cliff of Lone Tree Hill, and, when certain such fire would not endanger troops atop the hill, against the northwest comer of Rocky Point. This mortar fire, coupled with the operations on the plateau, began to have the desired effect during the afternoon, and Companies I and K were able to push their defenses beyond the narrow beachhead slightly southward and westward and toward the shore beneath Rocky Point. Once or twice during the afternoon, patrols were able to reach the top of Lone Tree Hill from the northwest corner of the point and established contact with 20th Infantry units.

Late in the afternoon Company M, 1st Infantry, operating from the east side of the point, managed to push a patrol around the shore to establish contact with Company K. Though Companies I and K could find little tangible evidence of the results of their operations, they had actually wiped out the 223rd Infantry’s defense force in the area just west of Lone Tree Hill. By dusk on the 25th, it had become obvious that the combined efforts of the 3rd Battalion, 1st Infantry, and the 2nd and 3rd Battalions, 20th Infantry, had either cleared out the northern half of Lone Tree Hill or had forced the Japanese to withdraw. The latter conclusion was the more nearly correct. The 36th Division decided on 25 June to withdraw the bulk of the Center and Right Sector Forces west of the Woske River and establish new defensive positions, thereby keeping the 223rd Infantry, the bulk of which had not been committed to action in the Lone Tree Hill area, more or less intact. Only the remnants of the 224th Infantry were to remain east of the Woske, and they were to withdraw into rough terrain southwest of Mt. Saksin.

At nightfall on the 25th, General Sibert estimated that his three forward battalions had lost approximately 140 men killed and 850 wounded and evacuated, including those who had to be sent back to the rear because of wounds, sickness, heat exhaustion, or psychoneurotic disorders. Known Japanese dead in the northern part of the hill numbered 344, but it could not be estimated how many more had been thrown over the west cliff, sealed in caves, or carried off by withdrawing remnants of the Japanese defense force. According to Japanese sources, the Japanese had lost about 500 men killed and another 300 wounded in the Lone Tree Hill-Hill 225-Mt. Saksin area. By noon on 25 June it was apparent to General Sibert that only mopping-up operations remained to be accomplished on and near Lone Tree Hill. For all practical purposes, that area had been secured.

Final Operations in the Wakde-Sarmi Area Mopping Up by the 6th Division As the 2nd and 3rd Battalions, 20th Infantry, were in no condition to undertake the mopping up, General Sibert decided to relieve those two units with the 3rd Battalion, 63rd Infantry.14 The latter unit and the 3rd Battalion, 1st Infantry, were to clear the Lone Tree Hill area and all enemy west to the Woske River and inland for a distance of 800 yards. The 1st Battalion, 20th Infantry, was to continue its holding mission south of Lone Tree Hill and, in co-operation with the 1st Battalion, 1st Infantry, was to clear the defile, Hill 225, Mt. Saksin, and Hill 265, which lay about 1,000 yards southwest of Hill 225. The relief of the 2nd and 3rd Battalions, 20th Infantry, was accomplished by 1500 on 26 June. To that time the regiment had lost 83 men killed, 484 wounded, and 10 missing. The unit estimated that it had killed 781 Japanese, by far the majority of them in operations on Lone Tree Hill during the period 22 through 25 June.

On 27 June the 3rd Battalion, 63rd Infantry, began mopping up on the top of Lone Tree Hill. These operations proved more difficult than anticipated, for a few Japanese machine gun nests were still active on the southern section. But by dusk on 30 June, no more live Japanese were to be found. On the same day the 1st Battalion, 20th Infantry, pushed through the defile south of the hill and found only a few stragglers in its zone. A continuous perimeter, running from the western exit of the defile north along the main road to the beach, was now established around Lone Tree Hill.

During operations at the Lone Tree Hill area from 20 through 30 June, American losses were approximately 150 killed, 550 wounded, and 400-500 evacuated from the forward area as a result of sickness, noncombat injuries, and combat fatigue. During the same period, the TORNADO Task Force claimed, 942 dead Japanese were actually counted in the area from the Snaky River west to the Woske and from the beach to the southern slopes of the defile, and the TORNADO Task Force estimated that 400 more had been sealed in caves at Lone Tree Hill. How these casualties were divided among the Japanese units is impossible to ascertain, but it is probable that at least 750 of the dead were members of the 224th Infantry and most of the rest from other units of the Right Sector Force. The 16th Field Airdrome Construction Unit, for instance, had been practically wiped out, as had the two companies of the 223rd Infantry which had been placed under Colonel Matsuyama’s command. That over 1,300 Japanese were killed in the coastal area from the Tor to the Woske by 30 June does not appear to be an exaggerated claim.

Although clearing enemy forces from the Lone Tree Hill area practically assured the security of the Maffin Bay staging area, General Sibert believed that in order to make the region entirely safe, it would be necessary to drive the enemy out of the terrain between the Woske and Tor for a distance of at least 3,000 yards (about one and three-fourths miles) inland. Operations for this purpose began on 1 July when the 1st Infantry extended the perimeter along the coast to the Woske. On 4 July elements of the 63rd Infantry occupied Hill 225 and on the next day seized the crest of Mt. Saksin.

Both these terrain features were found to contain numerous well-organized, strong defensive positions, all of which had been abandoned. Hill 265, southwest of Hill 225, proved a tougher nut to crack because of Japanese opposition and terrain difficulties. But on 8 and 9 July the 1st Battalions of the 1st and 63rd Infantry Regiments finally secured the hill crest, which had been held by elements of the 224th Infantry. With the fall of Hill 265, the last enemy strong point in the Maffin Bay region had been taken.

Meanwhile, the remaining Japanese forces were busily withdrawing west of the Woske. On 12 July General Sibert sent a reconnaissance in force (comprising Company A, 1st Infantry, the 6th Reconnaissance Troop, and elements of Company C, 44th Tank Battalion) across the river. This force moved rapidly beyond Sawar Drome and across Sawar Creek, which lay a little over three miles beyond the Woske, At the banks of Metimedan Creek, about 1,500 yards beyond Sawar Creek, the force was halted by Japanese fire from positions held by the Left Sector Unit and the 3rd Battalion, 223rd Infantry, along the Metimedan and from highlands beyond that stream. The 6th Division group returned to the Woske before dark, there to receive the welcome news that elements of the 31st Infantry Division were about to reach Maffin Bay to relieve the 6th Division.

The End of the Operation

When General Krueger chose the 6th Division to seize an air-base site on the Vogelkop, he decided to retain one of the division’s regimental combat teams at Wakde-Sarmi as a reserve. But even if this combat team were not required on the Vogelkop, it would hardly suffice to defend the Maffin Bay-Wakde area and, at the same time, undertake the offensive patrolling necessary to maintain contact with Japanese forces in the area and to keep those forces away from Maffin Bay. Both the 25th and 33rd Infantry Divisions could be moved to Maffin Bay, but neither could arrive by 15 July, when the 6th Division had to start loading for the Vogelkop operation. However, the 31st Infantry Division, which was scheduled to stage at Hollandia for another operation in September, could be moved to Maffin Bay by the 15th. General Krueger therefore recommended that the 31st Division (less the 124th Regimental Combat Team, at Aitape) be sent to Maffin Bay. General MacArthur quickly approved this proposal.

The 31st Division began unloading at Maffin Bay on 14 July and by the 18th, when the division commander, Major General John C. Persons, assumed the position of Commander, TORNADO Task Force, all the 6th Division, with the exception of the 20th Regimental Combat Team, had been relieved. The latter unit remained attached to the 31st Division until 21 August and left the area for the Vogelkop on the 26th. The remainder of the 6th Division began leaving on 27 July. Except for the 124th Regimental Combat Team, the 31st Division closed in the Wakde-Sarmi area by 15 August.

The two regimental combat teams of the 31st Division, the 155th and the 167th, which operated at Wakde-Sarmi had no previous combat experience but received much valuable training in a series of patrol actions, company-sized scouting missions, and battalion reconnaissance’s in force. General Persons wanted to mount an offensive to drive the Japanese from a main line of resistance which they had established in the low hills between Metimedan Creek and Sarmi, but the demands for labor at the Maffin Bay staging area and the necessity for committing many troops to the defense of that area made it impossible to assemble sufficient strength for such an attack. Then, by the time the 6th Division’s requirements had been met, the 31st Division itself had to begin preparations for another operation. The 31st Division therefore had to confine itself principally to its patrolling missions, both west and east of the perimeter.

Patrols east of the perimeter were sent out to hunt down stragglers from the Japanese Hollandia garrison, and most of them, comprising armed natives of the Wakde-Sarmi area, were led by a Dutch officer, 1st Lieutenant C. J. Sneeuwjagt. Meanwhile, work went on at the Maffin Bay staging area, and during the period 18 July-31 August there was unloaded at Maffin Bay a daily average of 2,500 tons of various supplies. During the same period the 31st Division lost 39 men killed, 195 wounded, 34 injured, and 3 missing. The division killed 294 Japanese, found 497 dead, and captured 14 others.

Since the 31st Division would need protection as it staged for its mid-September invasion of Morotai Island, northwest of the Vogelkop, General Krueger recommended to General MacArthur that a regimental combat team of the 33rd Infantry Division (another unit without combat experience) be moved from eastern New Guinea to Maffin Bay. The theater commander approved this suggestion, and the 123rd Regimental Combat Team, under Brigadier General Donald J. Myers (also assistant division commander), arrived at Maffin Bay on 1 September. The next day General Krueger declared that the Wakde-Sarmi operation was over.

Epilogue

All elements of the 31st Division left Maffin Bay early in September and on the 25th of the month the TORNADO Task Force was disbanded as such, Headquarters, 123rd Regimental Combat Team, assuming all operational and administrative duties in the area. Late in September the Allied Air Forces began to close out the Wakde Island air base and to move its men and equipment forward until, by December, the Wakde field was relegated to the status of an emergency strip.

In October, command of all American forces left in the Wakde-Sarmi area passed from General Krueger to the recently established U. S. Eighth Army, which was commanded by Lieutenant General Robert L. Eichelberger, formerly the commander of the RECKLESS Task Force and I Corps. The 123rd Regimental Combat remained in the region until relieved by a composite battalion combat team from the 93rd Infantry Division on 26 January 1945. The 93rd Division elements undertook some local security patrolling, but their main mission was to speed the evacuation of remaining supplies from the Maffin Bay staging area. This job was finished by 6 February, when all the remaining troops left the mainland for Wakde Island. One company of the 93rd Division remained on Wakde, sending a few amphibious patrols to the mainland, until the first week in October 1945. Then the company—the last American troops in the area—left to join its division in the Philippines.[n11-20]

The Results of the Wakde-Sarmi Operation Though the importance of the Wakde-Sarmi operation cannot be measured in terms of casualties, the casualty figures are of interest. From 17 May through 1 September American losses in the area were approximately 400 men killed, 1,500 wounded or injured in action, and 15 missing. [n11-21] During the same period about 3,870 Japanese had been killed in the area and 51 Japanese had been taken prisoner. How many more of the original Japanese garrison of some 11,000 had died of sickness and starvation, or had been buried in caves at Lone Tree Hill, could not be determined. It was estimated, however, that as of 1 September only 2,000 effective Japanese combat troops were left in the Wakde-Sarmi area. [n11-22] Much more important than of ending certain requirements for historical records. Again, this termination coincided with an administrative change in the area concerned, for on 1 September General Myers assumed the duties of Commander, TORNADO Task Force, in place of General Persons.

[n11-20 368th RCT Opns Rpt, 5 Jan 44-1 Sep 45, pp.3-9; 368th Inf Opns Rpt Maffin Bay, 19-24 Mar 45, pp. 1-3. One other infantry unit also spent a little time at Maffin Bay. This was a battalion of the 136th Infantry, 33rd Division, which spent about a month, September-October 1944, working as a labor organization at the Maffin Bay staging area. ]

[n11-21 TTF G-3 Per Rpt 107, 1 Sep 44; TTF G-1 Per Rpts 15 and 16, 30 Aug and 5 Sep 44, respectively; TTF G-1 Sum, 18 Jul-1 Sep 44, p. 2. The G-1 and G-3 figures do not agree and cannot be reconciled. Furthermore, various sets of G-3 figures are mutually irreconcilable as are different sets of G-1 figures. The figures given in the text are the author’s approximations from the sources cited.]

[n11-22 ALAMO Force, G-2 Wkly Rpt 57, 30 Aug 44, copy in G-2 DofA files; Ltr, Persons to Ward, 6 Nov 50; 123rd RCT Opns Rpt Maffin Bay, 1 Sep 44-27 Jan 45, p. 2. The last ALAMO Force figures for Japanese casualties (from ALAMO Force G-2 Wkly Rpt 61, 4 Oct 44, copy in G-2 DofA files) are 3,963 Japanese killed and 55 captured. In addition, according to various sources, there were 2 Korean, 2 Javanese, 1 Chinese, and 36 Formosan prisoners. Total known casualties were thus 4,059; Colonel Yoshino, Colonel Matsuyama, and General Yamada.]

The enemy casualties was the fact that two reinforced Japanese regimental combat teams had been destroyed as effective fighting forces and eliminated as a threat in the Southwest Pacific. In return for their losses, the Allies had obtained a valuable staging and air-base site. The Wakde Island airdrome quickly proved its value by enabling the Allied Air Forces to support not only operations within the Southwest Pacific but also those in the Central Pacific. The Fifth Air Force flew bombardment missions from Wakde against Biak, Noemfoor, enemy installations on the Vogelkop, Halmahera, Morotai, and, in the Central Pacific Area, against the Palaus and other islands in the Carolines. Fifth Air Force planes and Seventh Fleet land-based reconnaissance bombers from Wakde made substantial contributions to the success of the Central Pacific’s mid-June invasion of the Marianas by striking enemy air and fleet installations in the Palaus and reporting the movements of Japanese fleet units within flying range. Since the Japanese fields on Biak were not captured in time for Southwest Pacific aircraft to undertake from that island any missions in support of the Mariana operation, the Wakde field had to carry a far greater load than was originally intended for it. Finally, from Wakde, Seventh Fleet PB4Y’s initiated the first regular air reconnaissance of islands in the Philippines since early 1942.

The Fifth Air Force controlled operations from Wakde until late August, when the Thirteenth Air Force took over the field. The latter unit afterwards supported the mid-September invasions of Morotai and the Palaus with numerous bombing and reconnaissance missions from Wakde.

For ground forces, the Wakde-Sarmi area proved equally valuable. In operations there the 6th Infantry Division, the 31st Infantry Division (less one regimental combat team), the 123rd Regimental Combat Team of the 33rd Infantry Division, part of the 158th Regimental Combat Team, and innumerable attached units received their first combat experience. The value of the area for training was thus obvious, but the region was equally valuable as a staging base. The whole or parts of five different task forces—sent to Biak, Noemfoor, the Vogelkop Peninsula, and the Philippines—were staged from the Arare-Toem beaches or the shores of Maffin Bay. Had available assault shipping been used for long trips from eastern New Guinea bases to objectives beyond Wakde, the pace of operations in the Southwest Pacific would certainly have been slowed. Instead, many units were moved to Maffin Bay by noncombatant vessels, picked up there by assault ships, and taken on to new objectives to the north and west, the nearest of which was Biak Island. survived the war, but what happened to General Tagami cannot be ascertained from available documents.

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

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

World War Two: Wakde-Sarmi: Lone Tree Hill; The Initial Attacks (AP-10)

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

The Last Few Miles of Sea: The darkened ships of the Allied assault convoys, maintaining radio silence, reached their destination near the Salerno beaches after dark on 8 September. At 2300 the call to general quarters sounded. Soon thereafter ships’ winches began to move landing craft into position for their descent into the water. Troops placed ammunition, weapons, and radios inside the craft, collected their packs and individual equipment. and awaited the signal to depart. In the first minute of 9 September, loudspeakers called boat teams to their stations. Soon afterward assault craft and landing nets were lowered, and the men clambered from the transports into the boats “with the usual orderly confusion.”

The Americans wore wool uniforms. Each man had a full canteen hanging from his cartridge belt. On his back he carried a light pack with his toilet articles and mess kit, two chocolate bars known as D rations, and one boxed K ration meal. Each rifleman had two extra bandoleers of ammunition. Blanket rolls and one suit of fatigues he had left with his company supply sergeant aboard the transport, to be brought ashore later.

The first boat waves pulled away from the transports and headed for the rendezvous area three to five miles offshore.

As they arrived, the craft formed behind the faint red taillights of wave-leaders’ boats, which had navigational equipment, and began to circle slowly. The moon had set and the night was pitch black. Water gently slapped the sides of the boats. The smell of diesel oil was in the air. Despite the smooth sea and slight wind, a good many soldiers were seasick. It took about three hours to get all the assault troops and their equipment to the rendezvous area. Behind them came more craft and DUKW’s carrying tanks, guns, heavy weapons, artillery and antitank pieces, crews, and ammunition. At 0200 on 9 September, in the Northern Attack Force area, enemy shore units opened fire on the ships carrying and supporting 10 Corps. The warships replied with a steady bombardment.

Darby’s Rangers

Among the 10 Corps forces, the U.S. Ranger battalions, which were to land on the northernmost beaches at the extreme left, were experienced in amphibious operations. Their commander, Colonel Darby, had, as he later said, got “together with the Navy and decided that we had to have closer cooperation and closer communications than ‘we had ever had before, because we had another situation of finding a bad beach in the darkness.” A British destroyer was to render direct gunfire support for the Rangers, and because it was to deliver fire over the heads of his troops, Darby was concerned about maintaining good signals between ship and shore. He told the destroyer captain he would feel more comfortable if he knew that his own radio operator and his own radio set were on the bridge of the ship during the landings. The sympathetic captain obliged.

Rangers climbed into British LCA’s while the craft were still on the transport davits and hanging over the sides of the ships. When a boat was full, a sailor called “Off gripes,” and released the brakes on the davits. The LCA then fell about eight feet into the water with a resounding splash.

When all the LCA’s were in the water, they came alongside the destroyer and moved forward in two columns, Darby in the leading boat with the flotilla commander. Abreast of the bridge of the destroyer, Darby “hollered up.” “Are you there?” the destroyer captain shouted back. “We are here,” Darby said. “Let’s go.” Locating a beach in the dark is not easy. “You don’t see very much,” Darby later explained. “Your compasses, no matter how many times you swing them, in a small craft are practically worthless after 35 soldiers with helmets and rifles and everything else that contains metal get into the boat.” Because the destroyer had a relatively firm base and a good compass and had made sightings and corrections, Darby had arranged to have it guide the flotilla to the beach, agreeing beforehand that no matter which way his own compass was pointing he would not change course. “There was one little beach we had to hit, and we just had to be right if our landing was going to be successful.

So the destroyer paced the boats until they were about a mile offshore. Then the destroyer captain shouted down: “Continue on your course.” The landing craft went in and hit the correct beach at 0310, the appointed time, twenty minutes before the main assault of 10 Corps was scheduled to go ashore. Five minutes after the Rangers touched down, naval groups in the northern area opened an intensive 15-minute preparation of gun and rocket fire in support of the major assault at H-hour, 0330, landings that would, as could be seen from the flashes of fire coming from shore, be opposed.

In the American rendezvous area the boats had ceased circling. Assuming a V-formation, they followed a control vessel to the line of departure a mile and a half offshore. Four scout boats, one for each battalion landing beach, had taken a radar fix on Monte Soprano, the most conspicuous landmark, and had preceded the assault boats shoreward. Each had located his area, had determined the exact center of it, and had anchored there about 1,000 yards offshore. At 0310, H-hour minus 20 minutes, each began to show seaward a steady directional light colored red, green, yellow, or blue to correspond with the designated beach. Ten minutes later each scout boat began to blink seaward every five seconds in order to guide the waves of assault boats toward land. The assault waves of each beach were to pass the scout boat by splitting equally on the two sides of it.

After the assault waves were on shore, the scouts were to locate and mark suitable landing points for LST’s and LCT’s. Rocket boats – LCT’s converted to mount rocket projectors-had preceded the assault waves, passed the scout boats, and gone in closer to shore. Deployed abreast, fifty yards a part, the rocket boats, equipped with barrage rockets, smoke floats, smoke generators, and .30 and .50-caliber machine guns, were to hold their fires before daylight unless they were discovered and fired upon. In that case, they were to fire until the first-wave was 100 yards from the shore line.

In the 36th Division zone, where two reinforced regiments were landing abreast, each regiment employed two reinforced battalions abreast. The 141st Infantry on the right (south) had two rifle companies from each assault battalion and engineer obstacle-removing teams in the first wave, going ashore in 24 LCVP’s (12 on Yellow Beach and 12 on Blue Beach) . The second wave, scheduled to land seven minutes later, had the reserve rifle companies, mine detector personnel, shore engineers, and a reconnaissance party in 12 LCVP’s (6 to a beach) . Eight minutes later a third wave was to land the heavy weapons companies, battalion headquarters, medical personnel, and mine detector beach party in 12 LCVP’s. Fifty minutes after H-hour, bulldozers, 40-mm. guns, .50-caliber machine guns, 75-mm. self-propelled guns, and several jeeps were to go ashore in 12 LCM’s. Sixty-five minutes after H-hour, the reserve battalion was to start landing in waves. At H plus 140 minutes, or on call, depending on the situation, antitank weapons, tanks, and field and antiaircraft artillery were to go ashore in LCVP’s and LCM’s. As soon as mines and obstacles were cleared, estimated to be around H plus 100 minutes, DUKW’s carrying artillery pieces and ammunition were to landed. LST’s, the planners estimated, could probably beach five or six hours after the initial landings.

Each assault battalion of the 141st Infantry had attached platoons of the Cannon Company, the Antitank Company, and the 111th Engineer Battalion, as we)) as a detachment of the 36th Cavalry Reconnaissance Troop. The 131st Field Artillery Battalion was in direct support. The 3rd Battalion, 351st Engineer Shore Regiment, with attachments, was to open and stock Yellow and Blue Beaches so that supplies could be drawn by daylight; it was to have roadways ready for vehicular traffic two hours after H-hour.

The 142nd Infantry was landing special beach-clearing detachments in 6 LCVP’s (3 on Reel Beach and 3 on Green) along with the first wave of assault rifle companies. Reserve and heavy weapons companies and shore engineers, in that order, were then to land in LCVP’s and LCM’s. The reserve battalion was to start landing an hour later. Twenty DUKW’s carrying field artillery and antitank pieces were to land in the fifth wave an hour and a half after H-hour. Reconnaissance troops, tanks, and more artillery pieces were then to go ashore.

The 143rd Infantry, initially in reserve, was to land two battalions in the following sequence: assault infantry troops, reserve rifle companies, heavy weapons and command, supporting and antitank weapons, and vehicles; the reserve battalion was to debark on call in waves similarly organized and in whatever boats became available.

Command posts were located aboard various ships, the VI Corps headquarters having provided men to operate message centers and radio sets in conjunction with naval personnel. There was to be radio silence until H-hour. Ten minutes later, company commanders would land. At the same time, a Navy beach signals team was to establish a radio station on shore. Five minutes later a communications team was to set up a radio station in the naval gunfire control net, an engineer shore company communications team was to establish another radio station, and infantry battalion headquarters were to set up their radio nets. Regimental communications, the engineer shore battalion radio operators, and Navy beach signals personnel were to be ashore completely an hour and a half after H-hour. Two hours after the initial landings the air support party was to go ashore.

Coxswains and crews of the landing boats had been thoroughly briefed on the appearance of the beaches and the locations of the landing sites. Having studied beach sketches, models, aerial mosaics, oblique photographs, and information obtained from submarine reconnaissance, they knew the silhouette of the shore line and its conspicuous landmarks-Monte Soprano and Monte Soltano, the heights around Agropoli, the flat plain of Paestum, houses and towers, and the mouths of streams flowing into the gulf, all of which helped to identify the beaches on which they would try to place the troops confided to their care.

The beaches on which the 36th Division was to land were near the ancient town of Paestum. originally a Greek colony settled in the 6th century B.C. Twenty-five hundred years later only the ruins of several Doric-columned temples still stood, hauntingly graceful and aloof. In striking architectural contrast. Blunt ramparts or what remained of a city wall, 5,000 yards long and in some places 50 feet high, constructed of large stone blocks, probably Etruscan in origin, would offer cover and concealment to defenders armed with machine guns. A medieval stone tower nearby would give good observation of the beaches and the plain.

Very close to H-hour, 0330, 9 September, the LCVP’s comprising the first waves of the assault regiments grounded on the dark and silent beaches south of the Sele River. As the troops stepped into the shallow water along the shore line, the portents for success seemed good-the weather was excellent, the sea was calm, and. in contrast with the rumble and flash of gun and rocket fire on the beaches to the north, the shore was quiet. But the hope that jubilant Italians would welcome the Americans with open arms quickly vanished. Flares suddenly illuminated the beaches and enemy fire from machine guns and mortars began to rain down on the invaders.

The Initial American Waves

Exactly what happened on the Salerno beaches during the hour and a half of darkness between H-hour and daybreak is confused and obscure. Yet one thing is clear-the troops met more resistance than did the soldiers who had invaded North Africa and Sicily. Not all the initial waves of the American assault south of the Sele River hit their assigned beaches on schedule. Enemy fire disarranged the assault waves and prevented an inland advance in the orderly manner prescribed by the plans.

On the extreme right of the landings the 1st Battalion, 141st Infantry, came ashore about 500 yards south of its designated Blue Beach. The first two boat waves moved across the beach without interference and eventually worked their way slowly about a mile to the railroad near the Solofrone River. The third wave met German fire so intense that it and subsequent waves were Immobilized on or near the beach.

The 3rd Battalion on Yellow Beach ran into German fire from the beginning. Despite the bullets and shells, small groups of men moved inland. Approximately 400 yards from the shore they met enemy defenders.

In the 142nd Infantry zone the 2nd Battalion on the right on Green Beach and the 3rd Battalion on Red encountered enemy flares and machine gun fire immediately upon landing. A rocket boat off Green moved to within 80 yards of the shore line and fired salvos of three to four rockets in the pattern of an arc at a range of about 750 yards. After the boat fired 34 rockets over the heads of troops pinned down on the shore, all enemy fire in that sector ceased for a brief interval, then resumed in noticeably less volume and intensity. During the lull infantrymen began to move inland.

On all the beaches, as enemy guns fired and boats grounded, men stumbled ashore in the darkness. Scared, tense, excited, some soldiers blundered across the loose sand. Others ran for cover across the open ground to the dunes. Some threw themselves into shallow irrigation ditches or huddled behind rock walls in the fields. Still others sought the scant protection afforded by scattered patches of scrub.

From the massive heights that loomed over all the beaches, and from Monte Soprano in particular, came the flashes and sounds of the enemy fire. Flares of all colors illuminated the sky, while the crisscrossing tracers of machine guns flashed over the beaches, the heaviest concentrations coming from the right near Agropoli. Some boat pilots who judged the fire too strong for them to land their troops turned around and headed back toward the ships until intercepted by control vessels and sent again to shore.

Landing craft struck by enemy fire burned near shore or drifted helplessly. Equipment floated in the water. Radios were lost in the surf. Men swam for shore as boats sank under them. As a 60-mm. mortar squad debarked, the gunner tripped on the ramp and dropped the piece into the water; machine gun fire scattered the men in the darkness; individuals joined whatever unit happened to be near them. An 81-mm. mortar platoon came ashore intact but without ammunition; the boat carrying its shells had sunk.

Somehow m the melee of boats and men and weapons, soldiers found their wits, exercised self-discipline, manhandled ammunition, set up mortars, fired their pieces, got on with their jobs. Some began to clear the beaches of mines and wire; others, their rifles blazing, headed inland to root out the German defenders.

Staff Sergeant Quillian H. McMichen, hit in the chest and shoulder by machine gun bullets before his assault boat grounded on the beach, found the ramp stuck. Despite his wounds, McMichen kicked and pounded the ramp till it fell. Then he led his men to a firing position on the beach where he received a third and fatal wound.

In the sand dunes, Sergeant Manuel S. Gonzales crept under machine gun fire toward an enemy weapon. A tracer bullet creased the pack on his back and set it afire. Slipping out of his pack, he continued to crawl even after grenade fragments wounded him. At last he was close enough to toss hand grenades into a German machine gun position and destroy the crew.

Private J. C. Jones gathered a few disorganized men around him, led them against several enemy machine guns, and took them inland to his unit’s objective. Sergeant Glen O. Hiller, though painfully wounded, refused medical treatment in order to lead his squad across the sand. Most infantrymen worked their way in small groups toward a railroad running parallel to the beach a mile and a half inland. It was a good landmark, one that could not be mistaken even in darkness, and there men found and rejoined their units and leaders counted and organized their troops. To get to the railroad across the sand, the dunes, small swamps, irrigation ditches, rock walls, and patches of trees proved an individual adventure for each soldier, a hazardous journey under the fire of enemy machine guns, mortars, and artillery pieces.

Lieutenant Colonel Samuel S. Graham, a battalion commander who arrived on the beach ahead of his troops because they were delayed by disrupted boat schedules, organized about seventy men and led them inland to clear enemy machine gun and mortar positions. Sergeant James M. Logan, lying on the bank of an irrigation canal, killed several Germans coming through a gap in a rock wall 200 yards away. He then dashed across open ground, seized a machine gun position after destroying the crew, swung the gun around, and opened fire on the enemy.

Meeting the Americans, and the British as well, on the beaches of Salerno were troops of the reconstituted 16th Panzer Division, the only fully equipped armored division in southern Italy. Not quite at full strength, the division had 17,000 men, more than 100 tanks, and 36 assault guns organized into four infantry battalions, one equipped with half-tracks for better support of tank attacks, and three artillery battalions. Morale was good. Shortcomings were lack of combat experience, a shortage of gasoline, which restricted training of tank crews, and a long front of more than twenty miles.

[NOTE: Staff Sergeant Quillian H. McMichen, Sergeant Manuel S. Gonzales, Sergeant Glen O. Hiller, and Lieutenant Colonel Samuel S. Graham were awarded the DSC; Sergeant James M. Logan was awarded the Medal of Honor.]

The 16th Panzer Division had deployed its strength in four combat teams, each composed of an infantry battalion augmented by tanks and artillery; three were in position two or three miles from the coast and ready to launch counterattacks; one was in division reserve.

Nearer the shore line, the division had constructed eight strongpoints between Salerno and Agropoli, each manned by a platoon of infantry supported by heavy machine guns, mortars, and antitank and antiaircraft pieces, all designed to bolster the coastal defenses earlier manned by Italian troops. When the Italian coastal units left their positions upon news of the surrender, German troops came up to take over six Italian coastal batteries, but no continuous defensive system existed along the beaches. Deprived of Italian support and guarding an excessive length of coast line, the division was at a disadvantage.

The defenses in the immediate landing areas were not well organized. There were no mine fields in the surf and the few mines along the beaches were scattered. Barbed wire obstacles were scanty, most of them single-concertina double apron type. Some trip wires existed. A few machine guns covered the most likely landing spots. Italians or Germans had felled a grove of small pine trees near the tower of Paestum to create a field of fire. Several artillery pieces inland covered the plain, the beaches, and the water approaches.

About two companies of infantry occupied the VI Corps beaches. They withdrew soon after the landings and offered little resistance at close range. They saw the mass movement of American troops from beach to railroad as a skillful maneuver, a deliberate bypass of the strongpoints near the shore. Unable to muster enough strength to block the landings, the 16th Panzer Division sought to delay the Allies and disrupt the schedules of the amphibious operation.

German tanks got into action only after daylight. They worked in small groups, supported by infantry units usually no larger than platoon size. A lone tank, reaching the shore line shortly after dawn, fired on approaching craft. Antiaircraft guns on LST’s, machine guns on landing craft, and men on the beaches took the tank under fire and soon drove it off. Other tanks spotted on the road behind the dunes were also fired upon.

It was the individual American infantryman who kept the German tanks at bay during the early morning hours of 9 September. Corporal Royce C. Davis destroyed a tank after crawling under machine gun bursts to a place where he could use his rocket launcher effectively. He pierced the armor, then crept beside the disabled and immobile vehicle to thrust a hand grenade through the hole and destroy the crew. Sergeant John Y. McGill jumped on a tank and dropped a hand grenade into the open turret. Private First Class Harry C. Harpel kept at least one group of tanks from reaching the beach when, under enemy fire, he removed loose planking of a bridge across an irrigation canal and rendered it impassable.

The reserve battalions of the assault regiments came in after daylight-the 2nd Battalion, 141st Infantry, around 0530, fifty minutes behind schedule, on Yellow Beach; the 1st Battalion, 142nd, an hour later in some disorganization on Red. Two battalions of the reserve regiment, the 143rd, landed on Red Beach between 0640 and 0800, the third battalion coming ashore later that morning. While infantrymen fought off tanks at close range with bazookas, grenades, machine guns, and a few pieces of regimental cannon, American tanks and artillery were trying to get ashore.

[NOTE: Corporal Royce C. Davis and Private First Class Harry C. Harpel were awarded the DSC, posthumously.]

Tanks and artillery were scheduled to be on the beaches before daylight, but they had difficulty landing because work to open the beaches was delayed. Enemy fire had scattered the landing craft carrying reconnaissance parties of the 531st Engineer Shore Regiment (Lieutenant Colonel Russel S. Lieurance) that had accompanied the early assault waves, and as a result, mine-clearing teams, road construction crews, and equipment did not land as units. It was necessary to round up the men and organize them, in some cases to keep them from joining infantrymen in search of the enemy, before the beaches could be cleared to receive the heavier weapons and equipment. This, plus enemy fire on boat lanes, prevented tanks and artillery from landing as early as had been hoped. A group of about sixty DUKWs carrying artillery pieces, ammunition, and troops arrived off Green Beach around 0500, but because enemy fire on the beach and on the nearby water area made landings impractical, the DUKW’s stood offshore out of range. Thirty minutes later, naval control vessels signaled them to go in anyway. About thirty DUKW’s went in under smoke laid by support boats and troops ashore, but the smoke also obscured landmarks and hampered the visibility of the crews.

About sixty DUKW’s scheduled to land at Yellow and Blue Beaches remained offshore for the same reasons. When the beach-master on Red noticed these craft, he called to occupants of a small boat, who delivered a message to divert the DUKW’s to Red. By this time, around 0530, approximately 125 DUKW’s were circling or lying off Red Beach. These came ashore sporadically and in small groups. Some delays occurred because many DUKW’s were low in gasoline and had to refuel.

The result was a piecemeal landing of artillery. Some howitzers and crews were ashore two and a half hours after the first wave, but not until afternoon was most of the division artillery on land. The 131st Field Artillery Battalion landed at various times during the day on Yellow Beach and supported the 141st Infantry. The 132nd Field Artillery Battalion went ashore on Green, starting at 0730, and took up positions on Yellow Beach until noon, when it moved to positions north of Paestum in support of the 142nd Infantry. The 133rd Field Artillery Battalion began to move ashore on Red around noon and went into positions with mixed equipment, then moved north of Paestum in the early afternoon, leaving three pieces detached for antitank protection of the division headquarters. The 155th Field Artillery Battalion (155-mm. howitzers) landed on Green during the afternoon and went into position 2,000 yards north of Paestum for general support.

The tank landings were also disorganized. A company of the 751st Tank Battalion (Lieutenant Colonel Louis A. Hammack) , which was to have landed a platoon before daybreak to support a flying column movement to Agropoli, saw the LCM’s carrying the platoon make two unsuccessful efforts to land on Blue Beach.

At 1500 the first tank of this contingent got ashore on Red Beach and four more came ashore around 1730. Another platoon had better luck-one tank landed on Red at 0830, another on Blue at 0930, three on Red between 1000 and 1330, and three more after nightfall. Six LCT’s carrying tanks of the 191st Tank Battalion and moving toward Blue Beach about 0630 were struck by enemy shells, four receiving direct hits. The LCT’s turned back to sea. One tank was burning; fortunately it was next to the ramp, and the tank behind it pushed it over the ramp and into the gulf. This damaged the ramp, and several feet of water flooded the boat. For almost five hours the six LCT’s circled aimlessly. Finally, at 1100, they approached the shore and beached their cargoes.

With neither division artillery nor tanks in support, the infantry during the first four hours of the landing depended to a large extent on a few 40-mm. antiaircraft guns, which came ashore about daylight, and on the regimental cannon companies. Antiaircraft units coming ashore on D-day were the 630th and 354th Coast Artillery Battalions, a battalion of the 213th Coast Artillery Regiment, and a battery of the 505th Coast Artillery Regiment. A detachment of the 102nd Barrage Balloon Battery raised its balloons against low-level strafing; enemy artillery destroyed at least one balloon while it was being inflated shortly after dawn.

Three 75-mm. self-propelled howitzers of the 141st Infantry had started ashore as part of the third boat wave. Naval control vessels turned back the landing craft carrying one cannon, but two grounded on the beach. One howitzer immediately struck a mine and was disabled. The other pulled into a defile on the dunes. Enemy machine gun fire that swept the defile from both flanks put the gun sight out of commission. 1st Lieutenant Clair F. Carpenter ran across the beach, took the gun sight from the disabled cannon, and brought it back under fire to his own weapon. As Corporal Edgar L. Blackburn tried to fix the new sight in place, machine gun fire cut him down. Carpenter then tried to adjust the sight but was severely wounded. The piece remained out of commission for the rest of the day.

Fortunately, other howitzers of the regimental cannon companies managed to get ashore in operational condition. At least one crew found itself not far from some enemy tanks. Unloading the piece and setting it in position without cover or concealment, the men opened fire at once.

The 151st Field Artillery Battalion lost a 105-mm. howitzer and forty rounds of ammunition when a DUKW was accidentally rammed at the rendezvous area and sunk. The men clambered aboard other DUKW’s, and the battalion headed for shore, making its first landing at 0725. As the pieces were unloaded, they went to positions; no attempt was made to organize them according to battery. Since the infantry was requesting immediate supporting fires, an improvised battery, reinforced by three pieces of another battalion already ashore and equally unorganized, went into firing positions just forward of the dune line, in a grove of trees near the south wall of Paestum. Around 0930, this battery fired on enemy tanks and helped repel a counterattack.

By this time the commanders of the assault regiments were ashore, having arrived about daylight, after a two-to-three-hour voyage from transport to beach. On Yellow and Blue Beaches Colonel Richard J. Werner, commanding the 141st Infantry, found his 1st Battalion pinned down and isolated on the right, his 3rd Battalion on the left several hundred yards inland, and his reserve battalion advancing along the regimental left flank against heavy enemy fire. Estimating that he lacked the firepower to eliminate the Germans on his front, Werner requested the naval gun observer on the beach to call in naval fires. The officer could not make radio contact with the ships, either because they were too far out at sea or because his set failed to operate effectively.

The regiment was still without naval fire support or even naval contact at 0730, when German troops and about eight tanks attacked into the gap that separated the 1st Battalion from the rest of the regiment. About five Mark IV tanks overran a rifle company of the 1st Battalion. Men who took cover in ditches were unharmed as the tanks rolled over them; those caught in the open fields were run over or shot.

Infantrymen with bazookas and the crew of a 40-mm. antiaircraft gun depressed for ground fire fought the Germans effectively. A group of soldiers nearby who had very early captured three Italian railway guns and who planned to use them had to destroy the weapons because they could not defend them. In the midst of the action an hour later, two 105-mm. howitzers of the 131st Field Artillery Battalion came ashore and gave the regiment its first artillery support. [n2-6-13] The 3rd Battalion S-3, Captain Hersel R. Adams, assumed leadership of a scattered rifle company, organized an attack against the tanks, and helped beat off the Germans. [n2-6-14] Finally, around 0800 the naval gun observer made radio contact with the ships. The first naval shells arrived about fifteen minutes later. The naval gunfire, artillery shelling, and infantry rockets began to take effect. Two of their tanks destroyed, the Germans withdrew to the hills east and south of the landing beaches. The 2nd and 3rd Battalions of the 141st Infantry then advanced to the railroad in strength.

[n-2-6-13 Private Richard Ferris, who remained at his artillery piece though wounded and who was killed when struck by a second shell fragment, was posthumously awarded the DSC.]

[n2-6-14 Captain Hersel R. Adams was posthumously awarded the DSC.]

Despite the advance, German artillery fire continued to fall on Blue and Yellow Beaches so intensively that later landings there were halted and the boats were diverted north to Green and Red. Efforts to restore communication with the isolated 1st Battalion on the right still proved unavailing. Enemy machine gun and artillery fire formed a barrier in the gap that prevented patrols from getting through. Naval observation planes dispatched at 1430 to locate the German gun positions were unsuccessful.

Pinned down in flat terrain cut by shallow irrigation ditches bordered by bushes and trees, reduced to crawling and creeping, the men of the 1st Battalion through a long day awaited the coming of darkness and the protection of night. Only small groups could maneuver, and the most they could do was to try to get within grenade range of machine gun positions. Hills a mile away dominated the ground to the immediate front and on the right, and at least a battery of four guns and two 75-mm. mortars covered the area. Cut off, the beach behind them closed, the men of the battalion fought inland in groups of two and three, trying to knock out about eight German tanks that seemed to be running up and down the front most of the day.

In the 142nd Infantry zone, where enemy fire was somewhat less intense though constantly a problem, Colonel John D. Forsythe, the regimental commander, found a more encouraging situation. The 3rd Battalion on the left had advanced to the railroad, then beyond it to the highway, and still farther to its initial objective, Hill 140, where around 0730 the men began to dig defensive positions. The 2nd Battalion, after partially clearing resistance in Paestum, moved beyond the railroad and established hasty defensive positions along La Cosa Creek.

German machine gun crews remaining in and around Paestum later harassed troops coming ashore to such an extent that Colonel William H. Martin, commander of the reserve regiment, the 143rd Infantry, dispatched a rifle company to clear the town while the regiment assembled and organized at the railroad. Paestum was clear by midmorning, the regiment organized by noon. But Martin held up an immediate move inland because of reports that German tanks were concentrating nearby for an attack.

Prompt action by the 151st Field Artillery Battalion dispersed this tank attack. A battery recently arrived on shore sited a piece on a beach exit road to obtain an emergency field of fire. Because trail spades could get no purchase in the hard surface of the road, each round fired drove the gun into the ditch. The piece then had to be manhandled back to its firing position. Brigadier General Miles A. Cowles, the division artillery commander, helped the gun crew. “He shifted trails with the efficiency of a finished cannoneer,” the sergeant later remarked, “the highest priced number five man” the sergeant had ever commanded and also one of the most dexterous and cooperative. By this time the division commander, General ‘Walker, had established his command post ashore. He had arrived on Red Beach about 0700 and had been rather disappointed-no roadway had yet been prepared, his two personal vehicles had been destroyed by mines while being driven over the sand, and he had no way to get word to LCM’s, still loaded and moving aimlessly offshore, to come in and land. A little after 0700 Walker reported to General Dawley, the corps commander, that heavy enemy gunfire was preventing not only the landing of vehicles but also the clearing of beaches.

[n2-6-11; Near the beach General Walker passed several abandoned German radio sets from which emerged the sound of voices. These sets may have given rise to the fanciful story that Germans on the beaches greeted the initial assault waves with the words carried over loudspeakers: “Come on in. we have you covered.” (AMERICAN FORCES IN ACTION, Salerno: American Operations from the Beaches to the Voltumo (Washington, 1944) , p. 19; Fifth Army History, Part I, p. 32.) Or perhaps the story originated from the sight of American beach personnel using loudspeakers to direct incoming landing ships and boats. (See photo in Salerno: American Operations from the Beaches to the Volturno, p. 24.) See also Interv, Westover with Walker, and General Walker’s Comments Relating to Salerno.]

Concerned by this unfavorable report, the first direct word he had received, Dawley urgently requested naval fire

support. The beach engineers were also having a difficult time: they were shorthanded because special attached units were not ashore until late afternoon and in some cases after dark; and they lacked sufficient equipment, for example, the first bulldozer on the beach took a direct hit and was put out of commission, and enemy fire had destroyed three bulldozers by 1000. Yet the engineers had Red Beach open by midmorning, and landing craft were disgorging men and materiel in a steady stream.

At his headquarters in a group of buildings called Casa Vannula and located north of Paestum, General Walker emphasized to his subordinate commanders that it was essential for the units to seize and secure their initial objectives. He was also concerned about antitank defense. Battalions were moving toward and in some cases had reached their initial objectives, and General Cowles’s central antitank warning system, which tied in the reconnaissance troop, the artillery battalions, and the tank units with the division artillery headquarters, was working well. In midmorning, for example, when headquarters personnel spotted a small group of German tanks on the north flank and flashed the warning, artillery elements that had recently landed and were moving up from the beaches immediately positioned their pieces and opened fire, dispersing the tanks.

Naval gunfire was by then adding its power. Destroyers had come a few miles closer to shore and were firing in response to requests from combined Army-Navy artillery observer-spotter parties on the beach. Other spotters in the air coordinated the shelling.

By noon the development of the beachhead in the VI Corps area was progressing well. German artillery continued to fire on the beaches, and a few German planes appeared from time to time to bomb and strafe the beaches and shipping in the gulf. The 1st Battalion, 141st Infantry, on the right was still isolated, and two of the four landing beaches could not be opened. Yet men and materiel were coming ashore in substantial quantities, and control and discipline were bringing order to the amphibious landing.

Despite the satisfactory progress, the commanders aboard ships in the gulf knew little of the situation ashore. Communications between shore and ship were poor, and few details reached Generals Clark and Dawley. Receiving a distorted picture from fragmentary reports and from what the returning wounded told them, their concern intensified by their inactivity, their impatience heightened by their inability to influence the action directly, Clark and Dawley came to believe that the situation ashore was much worse than it actually was. “Hewitt and I on bridge,” General Clark wrote in his diary, “-helpless feeling-all out of my hands until we get reports.” The enemy seemed to be opposing the landings on all beaches, enemy tanks were active, and hill-emplaced artillery was firing into boat lanes. As late as noon Dawley received word that beach mines and enemy artillery were still preventing vehicles from coming ashore in sufficient numbers and that shore fire control parties had still not established adequate communications. So far as Dawley could tell, conditions in the beachhead were precarious.

The American Beaches

Like most military forces, who have a tendency to overestimate the numbers, experience, and weapons of the enemy, the Germans at Salerno first felt overwhelmed by the invasion. They were also shaken by the Italian surrender. At the same time, they were beset by other difficulties.

The Allied invasion, occurring as it did entirely in the 16th Panzer Division sector, came as a surprise to the Germans, and the absence of effective communications among the command echelons handicapped their reaction to the landings. German commanders were often out of touch with each other. When using the Italian civilian telephone system, they were uncertain whether the lines were altogether secure. Furthermore, saboteurs cut a few cables. When the Germans turned to radio transmission, they found that atmospheric disturbances, especially at night, frequently interrupted their messages.

At Tenth Army headquarters, Vietinghoff had yet to receive his full complement of signal personnel because his command had been activated so recently; he lacked the signal regiment normally assigned to an army headquarters, and his communications troops were poorly trained, without experience, and overworked. Kesselring was wholly occupied by developments in the Rome area resulting from the Italian surrender and had little time to guide Vietinghoff. Vietinghoff realized as early as 0800, 9 September-four and a half hours after the initial landings at Salerno-that the extent of the Allied effort made another major invasion farther north unlikely, but in the absence of word from Kesselring he had to make a hard choice in terms of conflicting orders: was he to withdraw to Rome or repel the invasion? Deciding for the latter, he ordered the XIV Panzer Corps to make a “ruthless concentration of all forces at Salerno” and drive the Allies into the sea. At noon OB SUED approved his course of action.

The XIV Panzer Corps commander, Generalleutnant Hermann Balck, was acting for General der Panzertruppen Hans-Valentine Hube, who was on leave. Balck had telephone contact with neither Tenth Army nor OB SUED) and only tenuous radio contact with either. Consequently, several hours usually elapsed before he could receive instructions or approval of an action, and most of his decisions were independent. What concerned him most of all was the absence of reliable intelligence. Without information on the location and movement of Allied convoys, without knowledge of other actual or potential landings, he felt too insecure, despite Vietinghoff’s clarion call, to denude some sectors of his large defensive area in order to reinforce his troops at Salerno.

Thus he ordered the 15th Panzer Grenadier Division to assemble a regimental combat team containing most of the division’s tanks and an artillery battalion, concentrate the troops along the two sides of the Volturno River, and be ready for possible commitment against landings at the mouth of the Volturno or in the Hermann Gӧring Division’s sector immediately to the south. When the 16th Panzer Division commander, Generalmajor Rudolf Sickenius, became alarmed at 0800 of D-day by the rumor of landings near Castellammare, on the northern shore of the Sorrento peninsula, and sent an urgent call for help, Balck reacted cautiously. Unsure of the scope of the Allied landing, he hesitated to change his dispositions. All he felt he could do was order the Hermann Gӧring Division to send its reconnaissance battalion at once to Nocera, ten miles north of Salerno, and to prepare to dispatch a reinforced regiment later if necessary. This order had no immediate effect on the action.

The 16th Panzer Division thus fought alone, taking the full force of the invasion. The six Italian coastal batteries it had manned were soon silenced by naval gunfire. Spread thin over a large area, the division launched small counterthrusts by tank-infantry teams. In many instances groups of five to seven tanks worked without supporting infantry and, so it seemed to the Americans, without reference to an over-all plan or a single coordinating agency. Such piecemeal efforts were ineffective. Had the Germans been able to use their armor in mass very early in the day, they could have caused the Allies serious trouble. The terrain, crisscrossed by irrigation and drainage canals and obstructed by fences and walls, imposed caution on the German tankers, who were generally inexperienced, and increased tank dispersal, as did the Allied artillery fire, the high-velocity fire from tanks in hull defiladed positions, the infantry rocket launchers, naval shelling, and air bombardment.

Although the higher terrain gave the Germans observation of much of the beachhead, it also forced them to counterattack downhill in full view of Allied observers. Even the weather was a problem-the first shot fired at a German tank usually raised a great cloud of dust that enveloped the tank and blinded driver and gunner. Their eyes, in effect, shot out, the tanks were easily destroyed or dispersed. By the end of the first day of action, only thirty-five tanks of the 16th Panzer Division) about one-third of those in operation at the beginning of the day, were still in condition to fight.

The German predicament was far from apparent to the Allied commanders aboard ships in the gulf, where destroyers dashed about laying smoke, small boats darted about delivering messages, and landing craft nosed up to shore, opened their mouths, and threw down their ramps “like the lower lip of a giant Ubangi.” To the observers who had no military responsibilities, “D-Day was beautiful. The air was soft and the skies were clear, except when the [German air] raiders came, and then the sky was pockmarked with ugly black bursts where shells from our anti-aircraft guns exploded.” But to General Dawley, who was still without adequate reports from the beachhead, the situation was full of frustration. Unable to restrain his concern and impatience, he departed his ship at 1300 to make a personal inspection of the beach in the company of his G-3.

At 1000 Admiral Hewitt had sent a message to General Dawley ordering him to take command of the troops ashore because seaward communication from the 36th Division was unsatisfactory. Dawley went ashore without receiving the message. Around noon Hewitt sent another message directing Dawley to remain aboard ship in order to confer with General Middleton, commander of the 45th Division, on the early commitment of one of Middleton’s follow-up regiments. This second message arrived at the corps command post aboard ship before the first one, around 1500, but Dawley was by then on the beach. When Hewitt’s 1000 message arrived at 1520, Dawley’s G-2 carried the messages ashore. Dawley then began an immediate inquiry to determine frontline and flank locations of his own troops and identifications of hostile forces with a view to assuming command.

Despite General Dawley’s efforts to get information back to General Clark, Admiral Hewitt, and his own headquarters that afternoon, those aboard the ships in the gulf continued to have only the vaguest notion of what was happening ashore. Most of the un-loadings seemed to be taking place over Red Beach. The enemy continued to shell all beaches. German tanks seemed to appear frequently around Paestum. The USS Savannah was furnishing fire support to the forces on Blue Beach. Enemy air activity was harassing in nature as though to test the Allied cover strength.

Since clear weather at high altitudes permitted incoming aircraft to be spotted, Spitfires intercepted and turned back several formations; but a haze at lower levels aided the enemy, and low attacks and beach strafing were nuisances. The Germans directed much of their air effort against vessels at anchor-fourteen attacks recorded in one 8-hour period though damage was slight. Hewitt appealed to General House for increased air raids on airfields around Naples, Benevento, and Foggia.

On shore, the operation in the VI Corps area went well during the afternoon of D-day. Along the water’s edge, Brigadier General John W. O’Daniel, attached from the Fifth Army to the 36th Division, had been supervising landing operations on Red and Green Beaches since about 0430, and had done much to bring about order. Although Blue Beach remained closed most of the afternoon, Yellow Beach, closed during the morning because of enemy fire, was opened soon after noon, and about 1300 two LST’s pushed up to shore under cover of smoke and began to discharge materiel. Enough supplies were getting ashore, but boxed ammunition and baled rations lined Red and Green Beaches. Landing craft sometimes found it difficult to locate space on which to let down their ramps. A few destroyed craft blocked boat lanes. Many crews had to clear the boats of cargo themselves, thereby delaying their return to the transports for additional loads. Stocks placed on the beaches could not be moved inland quickly because of a shortage of DUKW’s and trucks.

Tanks, coming in piecemeal throughout the afternoon, were on hand in sufficient numbers to be organized and employed as units. Around 1430 the 751st Tank Battalion began to exercise central control over the armored elements; most of the tanks were being used for antitank protection, many in hull-defiladed positions on the north flank. De-waterproofing was difficult in many cases; shrouds on many tanks had to be pulled off by other tanks or cut with an axe.

Vehicles of the 601st Tank Destroyer Battalion began to land on Red Beach around 1630. After dewater proofing, some moved south to support the 141st Infantry, others moved north to the Sele River. The 645th Tank Destroyer Battalion disembarked in the early evening, then moved north to take positions astride Highway 18 to help cover the gap between the VI and 10 Corps. Liaison parties controlling naval gunfire were operating with the battalions of the 36th Division Artillery, the artillery headquarters, and a few light planes that had managed that afternoon to get off the improvised flight decks ingeniously constructed on several LST’s.

Tactical aircraft patrolled the assault area throughout D-day and forayed inland to intercept enemy planes, bomb airfields, and attempt to disrupt communications. Admiral ‘Willis’ cover force alone maintained an umbrella of eight planes constantly aloft over the beach-head from 0550 to 1915. There were no missions undertaken in direct close support of the ground troops, though an air support party at the 36th Division command post was in contact with General House’s XII Air Support Command headquarters aboard Admiral Hewitt’s flagship.

The first detailed report of conditions ashore reached shipboard headquarters a little after 1700. The news was good. Intelligence officers had expected the Germans to destroy the bridges across the drainage canals and streams, to place mines along bypass sites and fords, and to block the roads.30 Instead, beach engineers reported no wire obstructions hindering unloadings, exit roads generally in good condition and usable, drainage ditch bridges for the most part intact. Steel matting was in place for roadways and supply dumps.

Soon afterward, Dawley sent word to Clark that supply operations over Green Beach, like those over Red and Yellow, were going well. More important, the 36th Division was holding positions along the line set as the objective for daylight, 10 September. At 1800 the corps G-2 reported that the 36th Division had no contact with German troops. The division had made good progress that afternoon. The 143rd Infantry, in the center, advanced to Monte Soprano and took the western slope of the nose, part of Monte Soltano, and the village of Capaccio. The 142nd Infantry on the left was in the foothills below Albanella. Only on the right the 141st Infantry was still virtually immobilized, but after darkness it too would push forward and find evidence-in burned and wrecked vehicles, in supplies hastily abandoned of a precipitous German withdrawal. If there was any cause for concern, it was on the left, where the division had not established its flank firmly on the Sele River-a gap of seven miles remained between American and British forces.

More than satisfied by the developments, General Walker made a formal request at 1740 for a regiment of the 45th Division-part of the floating reserve-to land during the night on Red Beach. Its general area of operations, he suggested, should be on the 36th Division left, specifically between the Calore and Sele Rivers. Generals Dawley and Clark approved at once and Clark decided soon after to send the 179th Infantry ashore. At 2045, General Clark informed General Alexander that the entire 36th Division, including its attachments, was ashore.

The Results of the First Day

North of the Sele River the 10 Corps had had very little difficulty landing and had secured the beaches by 0445. But as the troops began to move inland they met bitter resistance from German tanks and infantry. On the right flank, the 56th Division (Major General G. W. R. Templer) received a strong tank attack, which naval gunfire helped to break up. Patrols then advanced into Battipaglia, but German troops soon drove them out. An attempt to take the Montecorvino airfield failed. Yet the British threat in the Battipaglia area affected other parts of the beachhead. It prompted Sickenius to divert units of his 16th Panzer Division from both north and south flanks to hold the town. Loss of Battipaglia and its commanding ground would give the Allies good access to the interior and deny the Germans control of the road net immediately behind the front. In the left portion of the 10 Corps area, the 46th Division (Major General J. L. T. Hawkesworth) beat back recurring counterattacks, partially surrounded the Montecorvino airfield, and moved toward Salerno under heavy fire.

Commandos and Rangers

By the end of the first day the main forces of 10 Corps had secured a shallow beachhead, but, like VI Corps, had been unable to establish a flank on the Sele River. The gap between British and Americans was sharply defined on the evening of 9 September, when the Germans destroyed the bridge across the Sele on Highway 18, the coastal route.

A gap also separated the two divisions of 10 Corps from the Commandos operating on the left in the Sorrento peninsula. The Commandos had landed unopposed at VietrisuI Mare, but German troops quickly infiltrated the town and placed mortar fire on the beach, thereby delaying the landing of several subsequent assault and support waves. Against determined opposition, the Commandos, aided by Rangers, expanded their beachhead, fought into Salerno, and established a tenuous hold over the city.

On the left of the Commandos, the 4th Ranger Battalion had landed on the Maiori beach without opposition. After crossing the small beach and scaling a high sea wall, the men found Maiori empty of Germans. “While one company formed a perimeter defense, two companies moved off to probe the winding coastal road toward Salerno to the east and Amalfi to the west. Resistance along the road was slight-a German officer courier on a motorcycle, a concrete pillbox protecting a small roadblock force on a sharp bend, a naval observation post near a hairpin tum, and an undefended roadblock at Minori.”

The 1st and 3rd Ranger Battalions came ashore and pushed inland up the narrow mountain road to Monte di Chiunzi. After destroying two German armored cars with bazooka fire, Rangers seized the ground commanding the Chiunzi pass at the top of the mountain without further opposition. By dawn of D-day, 9 September, they held firmly the peaks on both sides of the pass, with a breathtaking view of the Bay of Salerno behind them and excellent observation of Highway 18, the main artery leading north to Naples. These positions, as well as others plugging the coastal road to Amalfi, secured the left flank of the Fifth Army.

The invasion, from most indications at the end of the day, was a success. Despite the more or less normal confusion of an amphibious operation, troops had scrambled ashore and gained lodgment. Intelligence officers judged the initial resistance to have been heavy though of brief duration. The enemy had soon withdrawn from the beaches. Though some beaches still remained under direct artillery fire, the greater part of the shore line was usable for landing additional troops and supplies.

How difficult were the landings? For any man coming ashore on a hostile beach under fire, particularly during the hours of darkness, a landing is difficult. News of the Italian surrender had relaxed tensions among the troops on the convoys and, despite warnings from commanders, the general belief had persisted among the soldiers that the landings would be purely routine. Thus any opposition was disconcerting.

Perhaps the best way of judging the actual difficulty of the invasion is by the number of casualties sustained. The 36th Division incurred approximately 500 casualties, relatively few for an opposed amphibious assault, particularly since the infantry components were over strength and the division was augmented by the attachment of numerous units. The dead accounted for about 20 percent of the casualties. Very few men drowned.

It was the lack of communications between shore and ship and the resulting absence of precise information for most of the day that made the higher echelons of command uneasy, and this contributed to shipboard impressions that the Salerno invasion was inordinately difficult. With the shore obscured first by darkness and later by smoke, rumors were rife, and the sketchy reports did little to dissipate the natural concern of those who could do little to help. The most critical moments on shore for the Americans probably occurred during two serious German tank attacks. One came at 1120 and employed 16 Mark IV tanks, of which 6 were destroyed, and another was launched somewhat earlier with 13 Mark IV’s. The rest seemed to be small probing attacks, hastily conceived and poorly executed. Antitank weapons and naval gunfire had arrived in time, and a coordinated antitank defense was functioning in the VI Corps area by midmorning, The bazooka turned out to be, as one regiment reported, “a really great defensive weapon,” accounting for at least seven tanks, even though a majority of the operators had fired only a few rounds in training and even though some men became excited and forgot to arm the bazooka shells, The rifle grenade was not particularly effective against tanks but was used with good effect against machine guns and strongpoints.

[n2-6-37 According to regimental records, the 141st Infantry lost 51 killed, 121 wounded, 31 missing; the q2nd Infantry had 32 killed, 109 wounded, 8 missing. Regimental . Sep 43.]

The naval arrangements for debarking and assembling the boat waves and getting them away from the transports had been well carried out. True, many waves did not arrive at the proper places or on schedule; landing craft and DUKW pilots were often cautious to the point of milling around aimlessly offshore; and naval shore fire control parties, landed very early to observe and direct gunfire before artillery and tanks arrived in large numbers, did not get into operation immediately; but these were unfortunate and not disastrous circumstances. Sea mines, both actual and suspected, had at first hampered naval operations and delayed gunfire support-it was necessary to sweep areas in the gulf before cruisers and destroyers could approach close enough to shore to fire effectively. Mines also inhibited the movements of landing craft and LST’s and prevented the transports from coming close in to reduce the length of boat voyages from ship to shore. The distance between transports and shore, in some instances about ten miles, led to long trips by DUKW’s and boats and retarded the build-up. At the end of D-day the transports of the Southern Attack Force were only partially unloaded.

Late in the afternoon of 9 September Allied reconnaissance pilots reported an ominous development. They had observed enemy units moving north from the toe of Italy toward Salerno. German reinforcements could be expected at the beachhead during the night. These were the troops of the LXXVI Panzer Corps from Calabria.

To Vietinghoff it seemed that his 16th Panzer Division had contained the Allied troops in a constricted beachhead. If the reinforcements arrived quickly the invasion might yet be repelled.

The battle at Salerno was still to come. Taking place on the extensively cultivated but thinly settled plain, an area devoted to truck gardening and the raising of cereals on the low ground and to the growing of grapes in the foothills of the mountains, the battle would decide whether the Allies had come to southern Italy to stay.

In North Africa on the first day of the AVALANCHE landings, General Eisenhower had only the most meager reports from the beachhead. He knew by noon there was sharp fighting on the 10 Corps front; he had no news at all from the VI Corps. Confident of the eventual success of the operation, he was nevertheless concerned by the movement of German troops north from Calabria. General Montgomery had promised to advance up the peninsula as fast as he could. But extensive demolitions by German rear guards, it was apparent to Eisenhower, would prevent Montgomery from helping Clark “for some days.” During those days, in Eisenhower’s opinion, would come the critical period of AVALANCHE.

Seeing his major task as the need to match the German reinforcement by accelerating Clark’s build-up, Eisenhower offered Clark the 82nd Airborne Division at noon of D-day, provided a feasible plan could be devised to use it. Eisenhower would have available the next morning, 10 September, some LCI (L) ‘s from Malta; the craft had a lift capacity of 1,800 troops with light equipment and could be used to send reinforcements to Clark. Perhaps some of the 82nd paratroopers could be transferred from Sicily to the beachhead. The main problem, in Eisenhower’s eyes, was assault shipping; if he had enough lift to put one more division into the beachhead immediately, he believed he could almost guarantee success at Salerno. But if the enemy appreciated correctly the slowness of the immediate Allied follow-up, “we are in,” he informed the CCS, “for some very tough fighting.” He could expect no help from the Italian Army. AVALANCHE would be “a matter of touch and go for the next few days.”

“While I do not discount the possibility of a very bad time in the AVALANCHE area,” Eisenhower reported to his superiors, he remained optimistic. My belief is that the enemy is sufficiently confused by the events of the past twenty-four hours that it will be difficult for him to make up a defensive plan and that by exploiting to the full our sea and air power, we will control the Southern end of the Boot to include the line Naples-Foggia within a reasonable time. Our greatest asset now is confusion and uncertainty which we must take advantage of in every possible way.

Slapstick

General Eisenhower hoped that Operation SLAPSTICK, the quick movement of British paratroopers in cruisers to Taranto, would promote additional confusion and uncertainty among the Germans. The decision to execute SLAPSTICK, made in the early days of September, was in the nature of an afterthought, and, as General Alexander later remarked, the code name well illustrated the ex tempore nature of the planning. Despite the suddenness of the decision to launch the operation, the reasoning behind it was complex and the action exerted a considerable influence on the development of the campaign in southern Italy.

Suggested by the Italians during the surrender negotiations, SLAPSTICK was planned to take advantage of the fact that few German troops were in the heel, though the Allied commanders had expected the area to be well defended because of its strategic proximity to Yugoslavia. If the Allies could quickly seize the major port of Taranto, together with the excellent harbors of Brindisi and Bari on the east coast, with little expenditure of men and equipment, they would gain another complex of entry points to the Italian peninsula that would facilitate the general build-up.

They would then have two independent lines of communication in Italy, one based on Salerno and Naples for the Fifth U.S. Army, a second based on the other side of the Italian peninsula for the British Eighth Army. Supporting General Montgomery’s Eighth Army from Taranto and east coast harbors would eliminate the problems of relying on the minor Calabrian ports, which had limited unloading capacity and would necessitate long overland truck hauls from the toe.

The resources for SLAPSTICK were fortunately at hand. First, the Italian armistice, which included the surrender of the Italian Fleet, made it possible on 7 September to divert four cruisers from guarding the Italian warships to transporting the paratroopers. Second, since the shortage of air carriers in the theater made it impossible to use the 1st British Airborne Division in AVALANCHE, its troops were available, and General Alexander alerted Major General G. F. Hopkinson, the division commander, to be ready to make what was hoped would be an administrative rather than an assault landing. Third, a reservoir of additional strength could be drawn upon to build up the forces in the heel: the British 78th Division was in Sicily and free for commitment; the 8th Indian Division was in the Middle East and already loading on ships for a scheduled movement to Italy on 25 September; and other divisions in the Middle East and in North Africa could be sent to the heel if the Allies controlled a complex of ports capable of receiving them. Fourth, a headquarters was available to command a large number of troops.

When Montgomery’s Eighth Army secured easy lodgment in the toe after crossing the Strait of Messina on 3 September, 10 Corps was definitely committed to participate in the AVALANCHE landings. At that time the amphibious operation at Crotone was canceled. This left the British 5 Corps headquarters unemployed and, consequently, free to exercise control over the Allied combat troops that might be committed in the province of Apulia. Eventually, after advancing beyond the toe, Montgomery’s Eighth Army would be established in Apulia, but until then Lieutenant General Sir Charles Allfrey’s 5 Corps headquarters would be ready to take responsibility for whatever operations developed in the area remote from both Salerno and Calabria.

For these reasons, 3,600 troops of the 1st British Airborne Division sailed in light cruisers and mine layers, preceded by mine sweepers, to Taranto and entered the harbor on 9 September, the day of the Salerno landings. No German forces were in the city, and the Italians manning the port defenses gave the arrivals a friendly welcome. The only untoward incident was the tragic sinking, with heavy loss of life, of the British mine layer H.M.S. Abdiel, which struck a mine while waiting to be unloaded.

The port of Taranto was in excellent condition, and British troops immediately began to organize its facilities. The 1st Airborne Division moved off in search of Germans and two days later occupied the port of Brindisi without opposition.

Unfortunately for General Eisenhower’s hope, SLAPSTICK created little confusion and uncertainty for the Germans. The lack of opposition in the heel and along the east coast had resulted from an independent decision made by the commander of the 1st Parachute Division, the only German unit in Apulia.

With Kesselring busy putting down the Italian show of force at Rome and Vietinghoff occupied by meeting the Allied landings at Salerno, the division commander, Generalmajor Richard Heidrich, acted on his own initiative. Since his forces were dispersed over a wide area and there were several points of entry vulnerable to Allied invasion, and since two of the division’s infantry battalions were detached from his control, he concluded he would be unable to offer effective resistance anywhere against what would obviously be superior invading forces. He assembled his troops and insured their security by withdrawing, though he maintained light contact with the British troops and delayed them where he could.

To those engaged at Salerno, SLAPSTICK was far less important than the progress of General Montgomery’s Eighth Army, which was moving slowly up the toe, retarded by demolitions, skillful German delaying action, and the nature of the country itself. If, as seemed likely, the Germans escaped the Eighth Army advance, moved quickly out of the toe, and reached the Salerno area in time to reinforce the defenders, the Fifth Army was in for real trouble.

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

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

World War Two: Italy; Salerno-The Opposition: The Germans In Italy (ISC-5)

World War Two: Italy; Salerno-The Opposition: The Germans In Italy (ISC-5)

News of the Italian surrender came as no complete surprise to Adolf Hitler and the German High Command. Months of suspicion and distrust of their ally had led the Germans to make elaborate plans to cope with Italy’s possible withdrawal from the war or switch to the Allied side. Yet uncertainty over Italy’s intentions complicated German preparations for the defense of the Mediterranean area, which were primarily concerned with Allied capabilities.

All political and military authority in Germany rested with Hitler. No unified command or joint staff existed to direct the national war effort except as embodied in the person of Hitler himself as German Chancellor, Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces, and Commander in Chief of the Army. Nor did Hitler consider it necessary or desirable to keep his military associates informed of his political goals and his schemes to attain them. The military had been reduced to tools, with which Hitler, regretfully it seemed, could not dispense.

Hitler had assumed leadership as early as 1938 over the Armed Forces High Command, the Oberkommando der Wehrmacht (OKW) , which acted as a personal staff for Hitler in his capacity as head of the armed forces and, at least theoretically, exercised the prerogatives of formulating grand strategy and conducting joint operations. Actually, the power of OKW was limited because the Army, Navy, and Air Force refused to acknowledge its supremacy. Each military service maintained its own separate high command- Oberkommando des Heeres (OKH) , Oberkommando der Kriegsnmarine (OKM) , and Oberkommando der Luftwaffe (OKL)-and the Navy and Air Force sent only low-ranking liaison officers to represent them in the OKW. Though OKW was responsible in theory for all theaters of operation, OKH directed operations in the east. Differences over the strategy to be followed against the Soviet Union and the failure of the Moscow offensive in November 1941 prompted Hitler to take for himself the title and functions of the Commander in Chief of the Army. His absorption in the eastern campaign led him to give more or less perfunctory attention to the other theaters. Thus OKW, with Generalfeldmarschall Wilhelm Keitel in charge of its day-to-day concerns and Generaloberst Alfred Jodl at the head of its planning section, served as Hitler’s instrument for directing operations in the Mediterranean area.

By the spring of 1943, Hitler had lost the strategic initiative. He had no overall war plan, for he lacked the basic prerequisite, a substantial strategic reserve. Losses at Stalingrad and in North Africa precluded accumulating a reserve unless he called off offensive operations in the Soviet Union and established a relatively short front. Mussolini had urged Hitler as early as December 1942 to end the war in the east by negotiation, or at least to withdraw behind an “East Wall” that would permit a concentration of forces against the Western Allies, specifically in the Mediterranean area. But Hitler refused to consider retrograde movements in the USSR. He would neither abandon his “historic mission” in the east nor forego any of his war aims in an attempt to find a political solution in the east. He would not even make concessions to the occupied countries in exchange for greater co-operation, which would lighten his troop commitments.

His vision in the summer of 1942 of his armored columns advancing through North Africa and the Caucasus to a meeting somewhere in the N ear East in the most gigantic pincer movement in history having failed him, Hitler had no positive plan for victory beyond an “Endsiege’ a final triumph founded on irrational hope and mystic faith. Earlier he had believed that he could defeat the Soviet Union by attrition, but by 1943 he was counting on an eventual split between the USSR and the Western Allies to change the fortunes of the war.

Even as Hitler saw his prospects of defeating the Soviet Union diminish, his outlook elsewhere darkened. The battle of the Atlantic was turning in favor of the Western Allies. The air superiority Germany once enjoyed was gone, and German lines of communication were becoming increasingly vulnerable to Allied bombing. Efforts to build an army in France capable of meeting an expected Allied invasion conflicted with the demands of the active theaters in the USSR and in the Mediterranean, as well as with the requirements of the inactive theaters elsewhere in Europe. And if Italy collapsed, Hitler would have to fill a vacuum in the Balkans and southern France, where Italian troops occupied the coastal regions.

Hitler had long been aware of Italy’s weakness. Italy had been ill prepared for the economic and industrial requirements of modern warfare, and as the best Italian divisions were destroyed in Greece, the Soviet Union, and North Africa, criticism of Mussolini’s conduct of the war mounted at home. The loss of 150,000 Italian troops in North Africa, along with 100,000 Germans, seriously depressed Italian morale. In May 1943, when the Axis Powers were expelled from North Africa, Hitler recognized that the unstable internal situation in Italy was moving toward a crisis. He realized that he might have to face Allied operations in the Mediterranean without being able to rely on Italy for a share of the defense.

If Italy withdrew from the war, several strategic alternatives were open to Hitler: he could assume the defense of all of Italy and the Balkans; he could surrender all Italian territory to the Allies and thereby avoid committing strong forces in what could be only a secondary theater of operations; or he could defend Italy along some geographic line to prevent loss of the rich agricultural and industrial resources of the Po Valley.

Hitler never seriously considered evacuating all of Italy. He disliked giving up the Po Valley, and he had no desire to see Allied troops on his southern border. Although the Alps provided an obstacle to gl Gund invasion of Germany, air bases in northern Italy would place Allied bombers within easy striking range of southern and central Germany, and staging areas would make possible Allied amphibious operations against southern France and Dalmatia. A German withdrawal to the Alps might also suggest to some of the German satellites, Hungary and other Balkan countries, that they could disengage from the war; it might have an adverse effect on Turkish neutrality.

To occupy and defend all of Italy and the Balkans in the event of Italian withdrawal from the war was Hitler’s first idea. In May 1943, he ordered plans to be drawn to these ends should Italian resistance collapse or Italy reach what he called a “treacherous” agreement with the Allies. Yet Hitler was loath to take the first step toward an open break with his ally or to give the Italians an excuse for defection. There was some chance that the Italian Government would refuse the unconditional surrender demanded by the Allies. Thus, all German plans designed to cope with the possibility of an Italian defection were prepared in great secrecy.

Specifically, Hitler instructed Generalfeldmarschall Erwin Rommel to activate in Munich a skeleton army group headquarters disguised as a rehabilitation headquarters. Rommel was to be ready to move into Italy and take over the defense of the country. To carry out the operation, he was to receive six good divisions from the eastern theater, eight reconstituted divisions from France, and two parachute divisions from Germany, all of which were to assemble in southeastern France and in Austria for subsequent entry into Italy. But when offensive operations in the USSR threatened to take some of the divisions Rommel was counting on, he informed Hitler that without all the promised units he could not guarantee the occupation and defense of all of Italy. When Jodl agreed with Rommel, Hitler decided to defend only part of the country. He would establish a defensive line in the Northern Apennines and hold there. By July Hitler was admitting openly, “We cannot hold the entire peninsula without the Italian Army.”

While Hitler, the OKW, and Rommel made plans in anticipation of Italian defection, the senior German commander in Italy, Generalfeldmarschall Albert Kesselring, Commander in Chief, South (Oberbefehlshaber Sued-OB SUED), remained for the moment uninformed of these activities. Kesselring, who had gone to Italy in December 1941 as commander of Luftflotte 2 (Second Air Force) and whose command had subsequently been enlarged, was working in close co-operation with Comando Supremo) the Italian Armed Forces High Command. In agreement with Comando Supremo and independently of Rommel’s mission, OKW had been building up Kesselring’s strength for action against the Allies.

The Allied invasion of Sicily in July prompted an immediate increase in Kesselring’s forces. Officially attached to the Italian forces, the German units were under the operational direction of Comando Supremo. Actually, German subordination to Italian command was a nominal matter, and Kesselring was in fact the responsible commander of German troops and held accountable by OK W for their proper use and deployment.

A natural optimist with distinct Italophile views, Kesselring was convinced that Italy would continue in the war. Hitler’s distrust of the Italians was repugnant to him and talk of evacuating southern Italy even more so. He objected strongly to uncomplimentary remarks reportedly made by Rommel about Italian officers, and he resented the fact that while his own influence with Hitler seemed to be declining, Rommel’s was increasing. Shocked by Mussolini’s fall from power and imprisonment in July, Kesselring believed Badoglio’s declarations that Italy would continue in the war to be in good faith. He was convinced that even if Sicily were lost, all of Italy could and should be defended. Mussolini’s downfall greatly disturbed Hitler. In his immediate excitement he inclined toward quick action-a Coup d’état by German troops to seize BadogIio and the King, liberate Mussolini, and re-establish the fascist regime under German protection. To take whatever military measures might be necessary, Hitler dispatched to Rome by air elements of a parachute division, together with a corps headquarters. He selected a young and adventurous officer who had attracted his attention, Captain Otto Skorzeny, to go to Rome to locate and rescue the Duce.

Before any of his wild ideas could be carried out, Hitler grew more cautious, restrained by ignorance or Mussolini’s whereabouts and by the apparent willingness of the Italian Government to maintain the alliance and continue in the war. Instead of making a sudden and dramatic move, Hitler decided to occupy Italy unobtrusively by gradually increasing the number of German divisions in the country, if possible with Comando Supremo agreement. This coincides with the requirements of the final plan developed by OKW from the previously rather vague studies of hem’ to cope with an Italian collapse. The German forces in Italy needed reinforcement if they were to disarm and disperse Italian troops, destroy the Italian Navy, render the Italian Air Force inoperative, and seize or destroy key installations and communications.

The German plans for moving into Italy in strength were complicated by the threat of what the Allies might do. Had they invaded the mainland before the end of the Sicily Campaign, they would cut off and perhaps isolate the German forces fighting in Sicily and those stationed on the mainland south of the invasion area. An Allied amphibious operation against northern Italy, unlikely as it was, if made in conjunction with an attempt by strong Italian forces to block the Alpine and Apennine passes, would boule lip most of the German forces in Italy, A landing near Rome, where at least file Italian divisions could assist, would cut off a substantial number of German forces in the south. An invasion of Calabria with or without Italian co-operation, would imperil the forces in Sicily.

Other possibilities, though dangerous, were less menacing: an Allied invasion of Sardinia as a prelude to operations in northern Italy or southern France, or landings in the heel to secure the air bases at Foggia in order to simplify later operations in the Balkans. Although an Allied assault near Naples as within the realm of possibility, the Germans judged that other areas offered the Allies greater strategic and tactical advantages.

Estimating that any large-scale Allied invasion of the Italian mainland would come only after agreement with the Italian Government in order to capitalize upon that concord, the Germans believed that the Balkans rather than Italy will be the Allied strategic goal. “At present,” Hitler stated on 17 July, “it appears that the next enemy landing will be attempted there [in the Balkans]. It is as important to reinforce the Balkans as it is to hold Italy.”

To Hitler, an Allied campaign in Italy as an end in itself made little sense. German forces could use the terrain and the communications network to great defensive advantage, and an Allied march up the peninsula would reach a dead end at the Alps. Allied landings in Greece, on the other hand, would impose great difficulties on the Germans-all German reinforcements and supplies would have to be shipped over a single rail line of limited capacity; 1,300 kilometers long, the line was venerable to attack from the air and from partisan forces on the ground; political repercussions in Hungary and Rumania, allied to Germany, were likely; and Allied Success might persuade Turkey to give up neutrality.

The economic dependence of Germany on the Rumanian oil fields and on the bauxite, copper, and other resources of southeastern Europe also led the Germans to anticipate an Allied invasion in that area, while the Ljubljana Gap offered an invasion route into Central Europe that would enable the Western Allies and the Soviet Union to join in a coordinated strategy. Finally, the presence of British and American troops in the Balkans might check Russian ambitions, a point Hitler thought to be of particular concern to the British.

Thus, to cope with an Italian surrender that, in German estimates, would open the door to new Allied operations in the Mediterranean, OKW divided its plans into two parts, one for the Balkans, the other for Italy and southern France. [n5-11] In Italy there would be no German defense south of Rome. Effective on OKW order, to be issued upon news of Italian capitulation or collapse, Rommel was to occupy all the important mountain passes, roads, and railways in northern Italy, disarm Italian Army units, and secure the Apennine passes.

Kesselring was to move his forces out of Sicily and southern Italy to the north, disarming the Italian Army and crushing any resistance as he went. As soon as the units “in northern Italy became operationally connected with those in southern Italy,” as Hitler put it, Rommel was to assume command over all the German forces in the Italian peninsula. By this time, the German troops on Sardinia and Corsica were to have reached the mainland.

Kesselring remained convinced that all was well in Italy. He saw no danger to his forces or to his lines of communication, and little reason to withdraw. He needed reinforcements for the proper defense of the toe and the heel, and made repeated requests for more troops, certain that the Italian leadership and armed forces want to cooperate with us. “. . . I repeat my previously expressed opinion that Calabria (the toe) and Apulia (the heel) are not sufficiently secure. Also, in view of the strategic importance of these regions as a springboard to the Balkans, I ask again for reinforcements of German troops in southern Italy.” As late as 19 August, he was of the opinion that Italian “commands and troops will do everything possible to frustrate [Allied] attacks.”

[n5-11 15 # P-OI9 (Warlimont). The Germans increased the number of their divisions in the Balkans from six in January 1943 to more than thirteen in July.]

Hitler refused to send more troops into southern Italy. Enough forces, he felt, were already imperiled there by the double danger of Italian defection and Allied invasion. In any event, evacuation of the German units from Sicily to southern Italy would sufficiently strengthen Kesselring’s forces to make possible the orderly withdrawal Hitler had in mind.

Hitler’s disregard of Kesselring’s views and Kesselring’s knowledge that Rommel was eventually to succeed him in command led Kesselring to submit his resignation on 14 August. Hitler refused to accept it. He needed Kesselring in Italy to guarantee a continuation of the superficially smooth relationship with the Italians and watchfulness over Allied intentions.

In August OKW began to send German units into northern Italy, some with the consent of Comando Supremo, some without. When Rommel’s forces-three corps headquarters, five infantry divisions, and two panzer divisions-crossed the border into northern Italy, Rommel opened his headquarters at Lake Garda as Army Group B. Although tension between OKW and Comando Supremo mounted, neither wished to assume responsibility for an open break. The Italians felt insecure because no agreement had yet been reached with the Allies, while the Germans wished to move as many troops as possible into Italy before open hostility on the part of the Italians made movement more difficult. The Italians had no doubt that the troops in the north were in effect an occupation force, but, not daring to protest, they pretended to accept the German explanation that Army Group B and its forces comprised a strategic reserve for action in the Balkans, southern France, or Italy.

And while Comando Supremo urged OKW to use these forces to strengthen the defenses in southern Italy where an Allied attack was more likely, OKW suggested that Comando Supremo move some Italian divisions from northern to southern Italy for the same reason.

The successful evacuation of German forces from Sicily to the mainland substantially strengthened the German units in the south. To relieve Kesselring and his headquarters of the increasing detail of tactical command and to tighten control over the units, OKW created the Tenth Army headquarters on 8 August and made it operational two weeks la ter. The army commander, Generaloherst Heinrich von Vietinghoff Scheel, had commanded a corps on the Eastern Front before taking command of an army in France, Soon after his appointment but before he actually assumed command of the Tenth Army, Vietinghoff reached the conclusion that “Allied landings in the Naples-Salerno sector represent the main danger to the whole of the German forces in Southern Italy.”

Meeting with Hitler on 17 August, the day the Sicily Campaign ended, Vietinghoff learned that his primary mission was to assure the withdrawal of German forces from southern Italy to the Rome area when Italy surrendered-only a matter of time so far as Hitler was concerned. Despite Hitler’s apprehension that the Italian Army might co-operate with the Allies and block the Germans in the south, Vietinghoff was to give the Italians no excuse for defection. He was not to begin his withdrawal prematurely, He was to hold the Naples-Salerno area with three divisions, evacuate Calabria (the toe) only under Allied pressure, and keep the 1st Parachute (Fallschirmjäger) Division in Apulia (the heel), where an Allied attack seemed less probable, for observation and security duties.

These views of Hitler’s reached Kesselring in the form of an OKW order on the following day, 18 August. Assuming Italian capitulation “sooner or later,” Hitler wanted Kesselring to be sure that the Tenth Army could withdraw all its forces to the vicinity of Rome in the event the Allies landed in Italy or the Italians turned on the Germans. The German troops on Sardinia and Corsica were to defend those islands against invasion and evacuate them only if Italian troops collapsed or if Italy surrendered.

By the end of August the decision was firm. Kesselring was to be ready to disarm the Italian Army and withdraw all his forces to the Rome area, holding there only until his troops had escaped from the south and from Sardinia and Corsica. He would then move his units northward to a line somewhere along the Apennines. In the meantime, Rommel was to secure and occupy all the Alpine and Apennine passes and the major ports in northern Italy.

Thus the Germans had plans to deal with two different situations. If the Italians surrendered, the Tenth Army was to disarm Italian units in southern Italy and withdraw to the Rome area; if the Allies invaded the mainland before an Italian capitulation, the Tenth Army, with Italian support, was to repel the landings in order to guarantee the routes of withdrawal to Rome. What the Germans lacked was a firm plan of action if the two events should occur simultaneously.

For all their suspicions of Italian intentions, the Germans had no real intimation of the negotiations between the Badoglio government and the Allied high command. Extensive Italo-German conversations, discussions, and correspondence on all military and diplomatic levels continued normally even though the Germans judged the Italian will to fight as virtually nil, even though Comando Supremo had vehemently opposed, before reluctantly agreeing to, the activation of the Tenth Army. Harmony and co-operation, mutual trust and regard characterized the relations between Vietinghoff, the Tenth Army commander, and the Italian Seventh Army commander, whose areas of responsibility coincided.

When the British crossed the Strait of Messina and invaded Calabria on 3 September, Kesselring ordered Vietinghoff to fight a delaying action while withdrawing to the north. ‘When the Italian Seventh Army commander inquired whether German forces would support a counterattack he contemplated launching, Vietinghoff replied in the negative.

The Germans, in accordance with their plans, began to retire from the toe at Italy, their movements facilitated by Italian help. In order to clear his decks for action against the stronger Allied invasion of the Italian mainland he still expected, Hitler decided to resolve the uncertainty hanging over the German-Italian alliance by requiring Italy to accede to certain demands.

They were not new-the Germans had made them before-but the Italian Government and Commando Supremo had in the past been evasive without refusing altogether to make them at least the basis of discussion. On 7 September Hitler instructed OKW to have the demands incorporated into an ultimatum ready for his signature by 9 September. If Italy refused to submit. Hitler would take the steps necessary to insure the safety of the German troops stationed in the Italian peninsula, particularly those in the south.

One of the steps he contemplated was withdrawing the Tenth Army to the Rome area, the first move toward establishing a relatively short front in the Apennines north of Rome. North of this Apennine line, German troops would pacify the country and clear it of Italian forces. Three or four divisions would then become available for dispatch to the Balkans, which were, as Hitler said. “vulnerable to an Anglo-Saxon attack from Apulia [the heel].”,

As for the major Allied invasion that the Germans expected, opinion had fluctuated on the exact place of the landings. Gaeta, Salerno, Rome. Apulia, northern Italy, Sardinia, even a direct invasion of the Balkans were among the sites considered. Reports from intelligence agents were useless-according to them, attacks were likely against all possible targets and some impossible ones too.

Lacking reliable strategic intelligence. Kesselring variously stressed Calabria, Apulia, and Naples as the most likely invasion sites. His inconsistency was perhaps motivated as much by real concern as by his desire to strengthen his forces in southern Italy at the expense of Rommel’s troops in the north. When Kesselring informed OKW on 29 August that five heavily guarded Allied aircraft carriers had departed Gibraltar and were proceeding eastward, this piece of evidence tied in with observations regarding the relocation of Allied landing ships in Sicily. New Allied attacks were obviously imminent.

The concentration of Allied strength in the western Mediterranean appeared to rule out a direct invasion of the Balkans. But whether the blow would fall on southern Italy, Sardinia and Corsica. or the Rome area remained in doubt. OKW inclined toward the Salerno or .Naples area, but Kesselring, who was disturbed by the inadequacy of his aerial reconnaissance, concluded that the invasion site was “entirely unpredictable.”

To meet an Allied invasion and also the threat of Italian attack, Kesselring had considerable forces in southern and central Italy. The successful evacuation from Sicily had added 60,000 men and all their individual equipment to the 75,000 troops already in the southern portion of the mainland. The troops were organized as follows: the 26th Panzer and 29th Panzer Grenadier Divisions (about 30,000 men) were under the LXXVI Panzer Corps headquarters and withdrawing from Calabria; the Hermann Gӧring Division (reconstituted after its losses in Tunisia with troops available in Italy), the 15th Panzer Grenadier Division (activated in Italy), and the 16th Panzer Division (which had been destroyed at Stalingrad and reconstituted in France) totaled about 45,000 men and were deployed along the Italian west coast between Gaeta and Salerno under the XIV Panzer Corps headquarters.

Both corps, as well as the 1st Parachute (Fallschirmjäger) Division (about 17,000 men), which was stationed in the heel around Foggia, were under the Tenth Army headquarters. In. the Rome area, under the XI Flieger Corps headquarters, which was controlled directly by OB SUED, were the 3rd Panzer Grenadier Division (which had also been destroyed at Stalingrad and reconstituted in France) and the 2nd Parachute (Fallschirmjäger) Division-about 43,000 men.

When reconnaissance pilots on 7 September spotted an Allied convoy north of Palermo moving on a northeasterly course, destination unknown, Vietinghoff, the Tenth Army commander, ordered the LXXVI Panzer Corps to accelerate the withdrawal of its two divisions from Calabria. Specifically, he wanted the 26th Panzer Division to hold off the British Eighth Army at the Catanzaro neck, while the 29th Panzer Grenadier Division hurried to Castrovillari, ready to go from there either northeastward to Apulia or northward to Naples, preliminary steps to a withdrawal to Rome.

As pilots confirmed the movements of a large Allied convoy on the morning of 8 September, Tenth Army began to look for landings at Salerno or Naples. When reports on the size and composition of the convoy came in about noon-80 to 100 transports, the pilots suggested, and go to 100 landing craft, escorted by 10 battleships, 3 aircraft carriers, as well as cruisers and destroyers – Vietinghoff placed the XIV Panzer Corps on the highest alert status. But since the destination of the convoy remained unclear and since the Allies might land at several points, Vietinghoff kept the three divisions of this corps guarding the Naples area-the 15th Panzer Grenadier Division at the Gulf of Gaeta, from Terracina in the north to the mouth of the Volturno, the Hermann Gӧring Division stretched from the Volturno to Castellammare on the northern shore of the Sorrento peninsula, and the 16th Panzer Division along the Gulf of Salerno as far south as Agropoli. Vietinghoff also, after conferring with the LXXVI Panzer Corps commander, General der Panzertruppen Traugott Herr, and with the 29th Panzer Grenadier Division commander, Generalmajor Walter Fries, ordered the withdrawal from Calabria once more accelerated. Fries was now to move his division to the head of the Gulf of Policastro to protect that part of the Italian west coast. The 26th Panzer Division was to retire from the Catanzaro neck, but slowly enough to insure the evacuation of all its materiel, especially its antiaircraft guns.

While Vietinghoff prepared to meet an Allied invasion in southern Italy, Kesselring remained apprehensive over the likelihood that the Allies would land near Rome. His headquarters at the suburban town of Frascati had been bombed and destroyed by Allied aircraft on 8 September in a one-hour attack at noon. Air sightings of several large invasion formations, heavily protected by warships and carriers and heading toward the west continued to be reported.

The German naval command buttressed Kesselring’s feeling by believing as he did that the Allies would come ashore immediately north or south of Rome, perhaps both. Although the German naval command later that day revised its estimate and indicated an expectation of Allied landings in the Gulls of Gaeta or Salerno, Kesselring remained concerned about Rome. At last becoming uneasy about the presence of several Italian divisions near Rome, he instructed Vietinghoff to alert the 15th Panzer Grenadier Division for a possible shift from Gaeta to the capital city. Later he advised Vietinghoff to look for landings near both Rome and Naples. But above all, Kesselring emphasized, Vietinghoff was to be ready to move one or two divisions of the XIV Panzer Corps to help the XI Flieger Corps in “the decisive fight against enemy landings and Italian troops near Rome.”

Neither Kesselring nor Vietinghoff had apparently worked out detailed plans on how to meet an Allied invasion anywhere. The reasons for this state of affairs were the recent activation of the Tenth Army, which had become operational only two weeks before; the recent redeployment from Sicily of divisions that were still reorganizing and making up losses in personnel and equipment; and the necessity for the Germans to coordinate their planning, at least officially, with the Italians, whom they expected to assume responsibility for coastal defense while the Germans mounted a counterattack with their mobile and armored forces. Nor had the German commanders in Italy given much attention to meeting an Allied invasion without Italian help.

Advance preparations consisted simply of alerting certain divisions for certain movements—the 15th Panzer Grenadier Division to be ready to move to Rome, the Hermann Gӧring and 16th Panzer Divisions to Apulia. If the Allies landed north of the LXXVI Panzer Corps and threatened to cut off the troops withdrawing from Calabria, or if Italian units attacked the corps, the German forces were to follow the previous instructions: they were to fight their way northward as best they could to Rome.

When Tenth Army at 2000, 8 September, picked up a London broadcast announcing the Italian armistice, Vietinghoff immediately called his Italian counterpart, who in good faith labeled the news a crude propaganda maneuver. Vietinghoff was on the point of issuing a message to his troops to deny the truth of the broadcast when confirmation of the Italian capitulation came from OB SUED.

In a telegram to Vietinghoff, Kesselring could hardly restrain his indignation. The Italians had “committed basest treachery … behind our backs.” But the Germans would continue to fight to the utmost “zum Heil,” for the salvation of Italy and Europe. If we retain our fighting spirit and remain dead calm, I am confident that we will continue to perform the tasks entrusted to us by the Fuehrer. Italian troops will be asked to continue the fight on our side by appeals to their honor. Those who refuse are to be ruthlessly disarmed. No mercy must be shown the traitors. Long live the Führer.

A message issued by the German naval command in Italy was more direct. “Italian armistice does not apply to us,” the naval headquarters announced. “The fight continues.” The Italian Seventh Army commander in the south, disconcerted and embarrassed by the action of his government, made no trouble for his former allies. He turned over to the Germans fuel and other supplies they needed. Some Italian units allowed themselves to be disarmed by the Germans after brief negotiations, others after an ultimatum or a skirmish.

In Naples, a hungry civilian population supported some Italian soldiers who threatened an antiaircraft installation manned by the only German unit in the city, but the arrival two days later of the combat troops quickly smothered the flare-up. In the Rome area Kesselring faced several hostile Italian divisions, but after a few days of confrontation, including a clash of arms, he became master of the situation. Italian units for the most part dissolved themselves, the troops throwing away their weapons and uniforms and disappearing overnight into the countryside. The threat of Italian resistance that the Allied command had hoped to raise against the German defenders at Salerno failed to materialize.

News of the Italian surrender on the evening of 8 September came the day before Hitler planned to sign the ultimatum and deliver his demands to the Italian Government. Had the surrender announcement been made several days later, Hitler would probably have already dispatched his paper. Having signed the armistice with the Allies, Italy would have had to stall for time. By then, all of the Tenth Army would probably have started its withdrawal to Rome, Instead, upon news of the Italian surrender, German units began to disarm the Italian Army and take over the coastal defenses. When the Allied invasion force arrived off the beaches of Salerno, the Germans were getting into position to oppose landings anywhere along the west coast of Italy. Thus, despite Hitler’s earlier intentions, the Germans found themselves defending Italy south of Rome. Hitler’s reluctance to withdraw his troops as long as the slightest possibility remained that Italy would continue in the war, the timing of the armistice announcement, which prevented the delivery of Hitler’s ultimatum, and the Allied invasion itself-these made inevitable the battle on the beaches of Salerno.

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

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

World War Two: Italy; Salerno-The Plans (ISC-4)

World War Two: Wakde-Sarmi: Lone Tree Hill; The Initial Attacks (AP-10)

The Japanese at Wakde-Sarmi Japanese Plans for Western New Guinea, April-May 1944: When in late 1943 and early 1944 the Japanese had withdrawn their strategic main line of resistance westward to Wakde-Sarmi, Lt. General Fusataro Teshima’s 2nd Army had been ordered to hold that area at all costs, employing for this purpose the 36th Division, less the 222nd Infantry on Biak Island. But with the loss of Hollandia in April, Wakde-Sarmi had become an exposed salient without protection from the east, north, or south. The next base westward was 200-mile-distant Biak Island, only partially developed. With the Wakde-Sarmi area no longer defensible, Imperial General Headquarters on 2 May informed the 2nd Area Army that the strategic main line of resistance in the New Guinea area was to be withdrawn to the line Biak-Manokwari.

On 2 May it probably appeared to Imperial General Headquarters that this new line might be held for some time. The 32nd and 35th Divisions (the latter minus the 219th Infantry, reinforced, sent to the Palaus) had been dispatched from China to western New Guinea in mid-April and, at the time of their sailing, it seemed probable that they had a good chance to arrive safely at their destinations. But from the beginning, bad luck dogged the path of the Takeichi Convoy, as the two-division lift was called. One regimental combat team of the 32nd Division was practically wiped out when the ship carrying it was sunk in the South China Sea by an American submarine on 26 April. The remaining ships stopped at Manila, in the Philippines, before sailing on for Halmahera and western New Guinea.

The Takeichi Convoy suffered further disasters on 6 May, when three more ships were sunk by American submarines off Manado in the Celebes. These losses left the 32nd Division with but two infantry regiments (one of which lacked a battalion) and about one half its normal artillery. The 35th Division (exclusive of the units in the Palaus) was reduced to four complete infantry battalions and little more than a single battery of division artillery.

After the Takeichi Convoy disasters, Lieutenant General Korechika Anami, commanding the series of redisposition’s for western New Guinea. He suggested that the 219th Infantry be brought from the Palaus to Biak and that another regiment of the 35th Division be dispatched from Halmahera, where its remnants had finally landed, to New Guinea. General Anami also had some plan to send one regiment of the 32nd Division to Biak to reinforce the 222nd Infantry or at least to move the division to the Vogelkop Peninsula. He also proposed that the 2nd Amphibious Brigade, a recently organized unit trained for small-boat transportation and amphibious warfare, be moved from the Philippines to Manokwari or Biak.

General Anami’s plans were overambitious, for, as Imperial General Headquarters well knew, shipping simply was not available to undertake all the redispositions he had suggested. Moreover, Imperial General Headquarters was convinced that it would be foolhardy to risk any large ships forward of Sorong. The high command therefore approved only the concentration of the 35th Division at Sorong, which was accomplished by the end of May. Higher headquarters also decided to keep the 32nd Division at Halmahera and reorganize it there.

Meanwhile, Allied Air Forces bombers and long-range fighters, based on the newly won Hollandia fields, had begun to appear over Wakde, Sarmi, Biak, Noemfoor, and Manokwari in such large numbers that the Japanese found it next to impossible to use those bases for air operations or supply storage. Even Sorong, the Japanese knew full well, was within range of Allied attack bombers from Hollandia. These Allied air operations, coupled with increasing Allied submarine activity, such as that which had caused the 6 May disaster to the Takeichi Convoy in waters which had previously been relatively safe for Japanese shipping, convinced Imperial General Headquarters that another strategic withdrawal was necessary.

Accordingly, on 9 May, the high command informed the 2nd Area Army that a new strategic main line of resistance was to be set up along the line Sorong-Halmahera. The new line represented a strategic withdrawal of nearly 600 miles from the Wakde-Sarmi area since March. Biak and Manokwari, forward of the new line, were to be held as long as possible as an outpost line of resistance. But the Wakde-Sarmi area forces were for all practical purposes written off as a loss and instructed to hold out as best they could. This high command attitude duplicated that taken earlier in the year when the Japanese had recognized that the 18th Army was irredeemably lost.

The Japanese garrison at Wakde-Sarmi was commanded by Lieutenant General Hachiro Tagami, who was also the commander of the 36th Division. That division had begun arriving in western New Guinea from North China in December 1943, and by mid-January 1944 the 223rd and 224th Infantry Regiments (less small detachments left at Manokwari or sent inland) had closed at Wakde-Sarmi and the 222nd Infantry had reached Biak Island. In addition to the organic units of the 36th Division, General Tagami had under his command in the Sarmi area some antiaircraft units and miscellaneous airdrome engineer, medical, and other service organizations, including men of naval guard detachments. The entire force in the Sarmi area was designated the Yuki Group.

Dispositions of the Yuki Group It will be recalled that when the Allies had landed at Hollandia, the 2nd Army had sent the Matsuyama Force (comprising the headquarters and the 2nd and 3rd Battalions (less two rifle companies) of the 224th Infantry and a battalion of 36th Division mountain artillery) toward Hollandia from Sarmi. This group, commanded by Colonel Soemon Matsuyama, the commanding officer of the 224th Infantry, was at Armopa, about half-way between Sarmi and Hollandia, when the Allies landed on the mainland opposite Wakde Island on 17 May. The 51st Field Road Construction Unit, which had been building roads and bridges for the Matsuyama Force, was also in the Armopa area.

Almost coincident with the departure of the Matsuyama Force for Hollandia, General Tagami divided the Wakde-Sarmi area into three defense sectors. The Right Sector Force was responsible for Wakde Island and for thirteen miles of coast line from Tementoe Creek west to the Woske River. Besides the Wakde Island garrison, the Right Sector Force comprised 300 men of the 3rd Battalion, 224th Infantry, under a Captain Saito, the 16th Field Airdrome Construction Unit, and a five-gun battery of 75-mm. mountain artillery. It was commanded by a Lieutenant Colonel Kato, also the commander of the airdrome engineers, and numbered (not counting the troops on Wakde) about 1,200 men. The bulk of the 1st Battalion, 224th Infantry, was also in the same area, but it was apparently engaged in moving supplies forward to the Matsuyama Force and was not under Colonel Kato’s control.

West of the Woske River was the area of the Central Sector Force, under Colonel Naoyasu Yoshino, also commanding officer of the 223rd Infantry. The sector ran from the Woske west about four and a half miles to Sawar Creek and included within its boundaries Sawar Drome. The principal combat forces comprised the 223rd Infantry, less the 2nd Battalion and the 2nd Company of the 1st Battalion. Other units were a battery of three 75-mm. mountain artillery guns, the 103rd Field Airdrome Construction Unit, some antiaircraft organizations, and possibly a platoon of light tanks. The strength of the Central Sector Force was approximately 2,500 men.

The Left Sector Force, also about 2,500 men strong, was responsible for a defense sector extending westward from Sawar Creek six and a half miles to Tevar Creek, which empties into the sea immediately west of Sarmi. Troops consisted of the 2nd Battalion, 223rd Infantry (less two companies but with a company of the 1st Battalion attached), most of a battalion of 75-mm. mountain guns, a number of engineer units, and some antiaircraft artillery. The commander was Major General Shigeru Yamada, also the commander of the 4th Engineer Group, a headquarters which controlled the activities of many engineer and other service units in the area. The commander of the 223rd Infantry’s battalion was Captain Yoshio Toganae.

In addition to the three defensive sectors and the Matsuyama Force, there were a number of detached units operating under the Yuki Group. Some of these units patrolled the coast far west of Sarmi, while others were stationed at points deep inland. Service troops not specifically assigned to the defensive sectors were concentrated for the most part near Sarmi or bivouacked along the banks of the Orai River, which entered the ocean about two miles east of Sarmi.

The total Japanese troop strength in the Sarmi area, including the temporarily absent Matsuyama Force, was about 11,000 men. Of these, a little more than half were trained and effective combat troops. The most accurate Allied estimates made prior to 17 May accounted for a total of 6,500 Japanese, of whom about 4,000 were thought to be combat troops.

Reactions to the Allied Landings After the Allied landings, the first action taken by General Tagami was to instruct the Matsuyama Force to retrace its steps to Sarmi. This order was issued on 17 May, but for the next two days the general took no other decisive steps. He had lost about 250 men killed and a like number wounded before 17 May as a result of Allied air action. Operations on the 17th had caused many more casualties and had created a great deal of confusion. On that day, troops of the Right Sector Force in the Toem-Arare area fled beyond the Tor River and Tementoe Creek. On a hill near Maffin Drome, General Tagami could but sit helplessly by and watch as his 800-man garrison on Wakde Island was annihilated. Continued Allied air and naval bombardments added to his casualties, and the Yuki Group probably lost over 1,000 men from the 17th through the 20th of May. General Tagami’s food and ammunition supply, already low, was being destroyed by Allied naval and air operations and by such shore-based artillery fire as the TORNADO Task Force was able to bring to bear on his storage dumps.

His situation was anything but enviable. On 19 May the 2nd Army ordered him to attack. General Tagami planned a pincers movement. The Matsuyama Force was ordered to concentrate at Masi-masi, a coastal village about four and a half miles east of Tementoe Creek, and to prepare to attack the Allied positions at Toem. On the west flank, the Central Sector Force was reorganized. The service troops were placed under the command of a Captain Fujimura while the combat elements (two battalions of the 223rd Infantry with supporting artillery) were assigned to Colonel Yoshino for offensive operations. The new combat organization, designated the Yoshino Force, was to cross the Tor at the confluence of that river and the Foein (a point about four miles upstream) during the night of 22-23 May. From the ford, the force was to attack the Toem area from the south and southwest. Simultaneously, the Matsuyama Force was to attack from the east. The double envelopment was set for the night of 25-26 May.

While the two arms of the pincers were moving into position, the reorganizing Right Sector Force assembled along the west bank of the Tor River to prevent Allied advances toward the Maffin and Sawar airdromes. The rest of the combat troops and armed service personnel that General Tagami was able to muster he organized as a new battle force to which he gave the confusing title Yuki Group, a name which by now apparently bore three connotations—the new force, the entire garrison of the Sarmi area, and the 36th Division. The nucleus of the new Yuki Group was probably the 2nd Battalion, 223rd Infantry,11 which was reinforced by parts of various units from the Left and Central Sector Forces. The Yuki Group was to move into the hills south and southeast of Maffin Drome to defend that area in cooperation with the Right Sector Force, to which was also temporarily attached the 1st Battalion, 224th Infantry. Within a few days the TORNADO Task Force was to be put on the defensive by the Yoshino and Matsuyama Forces. But before that happened, one part of the task force was to encounter the well-prepared and skillfully manned defenses of the new Yuki Group and the Right Sector Force.

[NOTE: There is some confusion as to whether the 2nd Battalion, 223rd Infantry, was initially assigned to the new Yuki Group or to the Yoshino Force. In any case it did not join the Yoshino Force during the offensive phase of Japanese operations in the Sarmi area. The name Central Sector Force was retained by Captain Fujimura’s organization of service troops.]

The 158th Infantry against Lone Tree Hill As they awaited the outcome of the battle for Wakde Island, TORNADO Task Force units on the mainland had restricted combat operations to patrolling. Engineers had continued construction and road improvement, and the D plus 1 convoy had arrived and had been unloaded without incident. The 2nd Battalion, 163rd Infantry, sent patrols across Tementoe Creek on the east flank without finding any signs of organized enemy units. The 3rd Battalion, on the west flank, was ready to move across the Tor River to expand the initial beachhead and discover enemy intentions.

Preliminaries to a Mainland Campaign

Since there was a possibility that strong enemy forces might oppose an advance west of the Tor, General Doe, who did not believe it prudent to commit his small task force to more than one offensive at a time, postponed movement across the Tor until the capture of Wakde Island was assured. Late on the afternoon of 18 May, when it appeared to the task force commander that the situation on Wakde was well in hand, he gave the 3rd Battalion permission to push patrols to the west side of the river, but before dark there was only time for one platoon to cross. That unit established a bridgehead on the west bank in preparation for a crossing by the rest of the battalion.

On the 19th, 3rd Battalion patrols found evidence that the Japanese intended to hold the ground west of the river. Two organized and well-armed enemy patrols were encountered near Maffin No. 1, a native village on the beach about 3,000 yards beyond the Tor, and another enemy patrol was located at Maffin No. 2, a hamlet about 2,500 yards upstream. The next day a Japanese infantry force supported by mortars and machine guns launched a series of small attacks against the 3rd Battalion’s bridgehead but failed to dislodge the Company I platoon which was holding the river crossing. Intermittent Japanese machine gun and mortar fire continued throughout the 20th, and three rifle platoons of Company K were sent across the river to relieve the Company I unit. There was a threat of more serious fighting. ALAMO Force, on the basis of new, special intelligence, radioed to the TORNADO Task Force that the Japanese were planning a major counterattack against the Toem-Arare beachhead.

The night of 20-21 May passed quietly, but about midmorning on the 21st the 3rd Battalion’s positions at the mouth of the Tor were bombarded by large-caliber mortar or high-angle artillery fire. The battalion was alerted to expect an enemy attack, but no assault materialized. The remainder of the day was therefore spent in strengthening defenses, while at the Arare area the time was devoted to reorganizing and re-equipping the various 163rd Infantry units which had by now returned to the mainland from Wakde, Insoemanai, Liki, and Niroemoar Islands.

Early on the morning of 21 May the convoy bearing the 158th Regimental Combat Team, ALAMO Force Reserve, for the Wakde-Biak operation arrived off Toem. The 158th Infantry went into bivouac near Arare, while the combat team’s 147th Field Artillery Battalion (105-mm. howitzers) quickly set up its guns near the same village to reinforce the 191st Field Artillery Group’s fire on targets west and south of the bridgehead across the Tor River.

Almost coincident with the arrival of the 158th Regimental Combat Team, the mission of the TORNADO Task Force was enlarged. Originally the task force had been charged only with the seizure of Wakde Island and the immediately adjacent mainland area. These tasks had been accomplished by 22 May, but on the same date General Krueger changed the mission and assigned a new one which was reminiscent of the original concept of the Wakde-Sarmi operation. General Krueger now felt that Wakde Island would not be secure until more information concerning Japanese intentions could be obtained. Furthermore, he believed that the arrival of the 158th Regimental Combat Team would allow the task force to mount an offensive which would break up the known Japanese attack plans and would place the enemy on the defensive.

[n10-14 The Provisional Groupment on Insoemanai had been disbanded on 19 May and its troops either returned to the mainland or sent to Wakde. Liki and Niroemoar had been captured according to plan by Companies E and I on 19 May. The two companies had been transported to the objectives by two APD’s and two LCT’s, protected by DD’s. The islands proved to be unoccupied by the Japanese and the Fifth Air Force radar detachments were immediately set up. The only casualty was the native chieftain of Liki, who was wounded by the pre-assault naval bombardment. Detachments of the 163rd Infantry were left on both islands to protect the radar installations. TTF G-3 Jnl, 6-25 May 44; 163rd Inf Jnl, 13-30 May 44.]

[n10-15 The unit reached the area a day ahead of schedule, thereby causing some confusion. The beaches were not ready to receive the troops and supplies, and some of the ships, without awaiting instructions from task force headquarters, started unloading over the wrong beaches. TTF G-3 Jnl, 6-25 May 44.]

Accordingly, he ordered the TORNADO Task Force to institute a vigorous overland drive toward Sarmi, sixteen miles west of the Tor River. This decision, based upon the scanty, incomplete information concerning Japanese strength and dispositions available to General Krueger at the time, was destined to precipitate a protracted and bitter fight. The Japanese had no intention of abandoning Sarmi and the two airstrips between the town and the Tor without a desperate struggle. The fighting was not, however, to be carried out under the direction of General Doe or by the 163rd Regimental Combat Team. The task force commander decided to use the 158th Infantry to start the westward drive which ALAMO Force had ordered, and elements of the recently arrived regiment began relieving the 3rd Battalion, 163rd Infantry, at the mouth of the Tor River on 23 May.

Meanwhile the 41st Division, scheduled to invade Biak Island on 27 May, had found that it needed another general officer for that operation. General Doe, whose administrative assignment was assistant commander of the 41st Division, was the logical choice to fill the division’s command requirement. Accordingly, on 25 May, he left the Wakde area and his place as commander of the TORNADO Task Force was taken by Brigadier General Edwin D. Patrick.

The 158th Regimental Combat Team was organized on 11 May 1944 at Finschhafen in Australian New Guinea. At that time its component parts were the 158th Infantry Regiment, the 147th Field Artillery Battalion, the 506th Medical Collecting Company, and the 1st Platoon, 637th Medical Clearing Company. Other units were assigned to the combat team from time to time during its combat operations. In the Wakde-Sarmi area the combat team commander was General Patrick and the commander of the 158th Infantry was initially Colonel J. Prugh Herndon.

West to the Tirfoam River

On the morning of 23 May Company L, 158th Infantry, began advancing westward from the Tor River bridgehead. Plans for the day were to complete the relief of the 3rd Battalion, 163rd Infantry, extend the bridgehead to the west, and establish a road block at Maffin No. 1. The remainder of the 3rd Battalion, 158th Infantry, was to cross the Tor during the day and follow Company L to Maffin No. 1. At that village the battalion was to assemble and prepare to attack westward toward Sarmi at daylight on 24 May. This attack was to be supported by the remainder of the 158th Infantry, which was scheduled to move across the Tor on the 24th and 25th.

During the 23rd the advance of Company L met increasingly strong resistance. Japanese defenses were centered around three small, brush-bordered lakes near the beach about 1,800 yards west of the Tor. The rest of the 3rd Battalion, 158th Infantry, across the Tor before 1130, quickly moved forward to assist Company L, which had been pinned down along the main coastal track west of the lakes by Japanese machine gun and rifle fire. Company K pushed up to the left flank of Company L, while Company I moved toward L’s rear. With the aid of mortar fire from the 81-mm. weapons of Company M, Companies K and L were able to push gradually forward during the afternoon, advancing on a front about 400 yards wide.

Finding that the attack was not progressing as rapidly as he had expected, Colonel Herndon ordered his 1st Battalion across the Tor. The 1st Battalion did not start moving until 1400 and could not get far enough forward to join the attack before dark. Tanks would probably have been of great help to the 3rd Battalion, but by the time the mediums of the 1st Platoon, 603rd Tank Company, moved across the Tor, the forward infantry troops had already halted for the night.

Companies L and K dug in for the night across the main coastal track at a point about 400 yards east of Maffin No. 1. Here the road swung away from the beach, and Company L extended the perimeter about 500 yards north to the shore of Maffin Bay. Company I was in position along the road east of Companies L and K. The 1st Battalion bivouacked for the night on the west bank of the Tor at the river’s mouth. The 3rd Battalion had lost 8 men killed, 12 wounded, and 1 missing during the day, while 6 Japanese had been killed and 1 captured. Plans for the morrow were to have the battalion continue the attack westward.

Shortly after 0700 on the 24th, the 81-mm. mortars of Company M laid down a brief concentration in front of Companies K and L, and at 0715 the 147th and 218th Field Artillery Battalions began a fifteen-minute support bombardment. When a few artillery shells fell on Company L, the 3rd Battalion commander thought that his own artillery was falling short, and he had the fire stopped quickly. Actually, this was Japanese artillery fire. The infantry unit was mistaking Japanese artillery for its own, a failing not uncommon with troops not previously subjected to enemy artillery fire. Despite the lack of extended artillery support, Companies K and L moved out as planned at 0730. Company L, on the right, advanced along the beach encountering only scattered rifle fire but Company K, on the main road, had hardly started when Japanese machine gun and rifle fire from concealed positions in a wooded area on the left front halted its advance. Unable to gain any ground, Company K called for tank support. Two tanks, together with a flame-thrower detachment from Company B of the 27th Engineers, arrived at Company K’s lines about 1000.

With the flame throwers and tanks blasting the way, the infantrymen overran the Japanese defenses, killing ten of the enemy and capturing two machine guns. The remainder of the Japanese force, probably originally some forty men strong, disappeared into the jungle south of the road, whence scattered rifle fire continued to harass Company K. Company L reached the outskirts of Maffin No. 1 about 1400. The movement had been slow, not as a result of Japanese opposition but because the battalion commander did not believe it prudent for Company L to advance far beyond Company K. Deploying to find a crossing over the Tirfoam River, just west of Maffin No. 1, Company L was subjected to intense machine gun fire from enemy positions on the west bank. The company then moved southwest away from the beach toward the main road and up the Tirfoam. This maneuver was greeted with new outbursts of machine gun fire from Japanese positions on both sides of the river. The company commander called for tank support, and the 1st Platoon, 603rd Tank Company, sent four of its mediums forward.

As the tanks moved into position elements of the Right Sector Force, comprising Captain Saito’s men of the 3rd Battalion, 224th Infantry, and a company of the 223rd Infantry, charged out of the jungle. The Japanese were under Colonel Kato, Right Sector Force commander, who was killed as he personally led a small detachment against the American tanks. The enemy was quickly thrown back with heavy losses by the combined fire of the four tanks and Company L’s riflemen and machine gunners. However, under cover of their infantry attack, the Japanese had dragged a 37-mm. antitank gun forward out of the jungle. As the enemy infantrymen withdrew to the southwest after the death of Colonel Kato, the antitank gun opened fire. It was soon destroyed and its crew killed, but not before three of the American tanks had been so damaged that they had to be withdrawn for repairs.

The separate actions of Companies L and K during the morning had created a gap between those two units, and the battalion commander sent Company I forward to fill the Void. The reinforcing company moved west along the road to Company K’s right rear. The latter had been unable to advance because of continued enemy fire from its left flank, and, therefore, shortly after 1200, Colonel Herndon ordered the 1st Battalion forward. The 1st was to bypass opposition on Company K’s left by a deep envelopment to the south across the Tirfoam. Once beyond the river the battalion was to push northwest to a jetty which projected into Maffin Bay about 600 yards west of the Tirfoam’s mouth.

Company A started the flanking maneuver about 1330 but was soon halted by machine gun and rifle fire from dense jungle south of the main road. Company C was ordered to reinforce Company A. However, by the time Company C got into position to continue the attack, darkness was approaching and the battalion commander stopped the flanking maneuver for the night. Meanwhile, Company K, upon the arrival of Company A at its left flank, had extended its right front to Maffin No. 1, establishing contact there with Companies L and I. Company L had sent patrols across the Tirfoam late in the afternoon, but these parties were withdrawn before dark and the company began setting up night defenses about 200 yards east of the river.

For the night Company L’s right flank rested on the beach, and the unit’s left was tied into Company Fs perimeter farther inland. To the left rear of Company I was Company K, with its lines stretching across the coastal track. Companies A and C were south of the road on K’s left. Company B had moved forward late in the day to rein-force the 3rd Battalion’s three rifle companies and was apparently located for the night near Companies I and L.

Casualties during the day had been heavy—28 men were killed and 75 wounded. Many others, including the commander of Company I, had dropped from heat exhaustion and had to be evacuated. The officer strength of Company I was reduced to two. Japanese casualties were undoubtedly higher, especially as a result of the Right Sector Force’s suicidal attacks against the four American tanks. Colonel Kato’s place as Right Sector Force commander was taken by Major Yasake Matsuoka, formerly a battalion commander of the 233rd Infantry, who was ordered to continue to defend the approaches to Maffin Strip.

The sacrifices of the Right Sector Force had not been in vain. Under cover of the unit’s holding action the Yoshino Force continued its wide envelopment south of the 158th Infantry toward Toem and Arare, a maneuver of which the TORNADO Task Force was as yet unaware. At the same time the delaying action of the Right Sector Force gave the Yuki Group ample time to move into the hills south and east of Maffin Strip. The 158th Infantry, ordered to continue the advance on the 25th, was soon to engage the Yuki Group and the remnants of the Right Sector Force, which had withdrawn south into the jungle and west into hills beyond the Tirfoam.

Discovering the Japanese Defenses Action on the 25th started with the withdrawal of the 158th Infantry’s forward units to a point 350 yards east of the Tirfoam, while artillery and mortar concentrations were laid on the banks of the river and on suspected enemy defenses west of the stream. Under cover of these fires the 1st Battalion relieved the 3rd, and Company E was sent forward to reinforce the left of the 1st Battalion. The 3rd Battalion reverted to regimental reserve.

Patrols of the 1st Battalion moved out about 0830, and the main body followed fifteen minutes later. The artillery and mortar fire had been effective. Japanese defenses east of the Tirfoam, strongly held the previous day, were found to be destroyed or abandoned. With only scattered rifle fire opposing its movement, the 1st Battalion reached its initial objective—a bridge which crossed the Tirfoam about 200 yards inland—at 0915. Patrols moved north and south along the east bank, dispersing enemy stragglers and securing Maffin No. 1. At 0930 Colonel Herndon decided to send the battalion across the river. The next objective was the jetty 600 yards to the west.

Preparatory to movement across the Tirfoam, the 1st Battalion’s machine guns and 60-mm. mortars (the latter attempting to get tree bursts) sprayed a heavily wooded area just west of the bridge. Patrols crossing the river shortly after 0930 reported only sporadic rifle fire which did not seem to represent an organized defense, and Companies B and C crossed the bridge without incident about 1115. Company E followed and deployed on the left flank of the 1st Battalion.

By noon Company B had reached the jetty. There the 1st Battalion paused to reorganize and lunch while the 2nd Battalion crossed the Tirfoam. By 1300 both battalions had been fed and were ready to push onward. Colonel Herndon set the next objective as Lone Tree Hill, a terrain feature which rose from the flat coastal plain about 2,000 yards west of the jetty.

Lone Tree Hill had been named for a single tree which was depicted on its crest by the map then employed by TORNADO Task Force. Actually, the hill’s coral mass was covered with dense rain forest and jungle undergrowth. Lone Tree Hill was about 175 feet high, 1,200 yards long north to south, and 1,100 yards wide east to west.

The north side dropped steeply to a rocky shore on Maffin Bay. The hill’s eastern slope was fronted by a short, violently twisting stream which was promptly dubbed the “Snaky River” by the 158th Infantry. The main road curved away from the beach to pass south of the Snaky River and Lone Tree Hill through a narrow defile. The southern side of this defile was formed by two noses of Mt. Saksin, a terrain feature about 100 feet higher than Lone Tree Hill.

The more westerly of these noses was named “Hill 225” after its height in feet. No name was given to the eastern ridge line, which pointed toward Lone Tree Hill from the southeast. There was a small native village at the eastern entrance to the defile and another at the pass’s western outlet.

Mt. Saksin was a name given to an indefinitely outlined hill mass which forms the northern extremity of the Irier Mountains, extending inland from the coast at Lone Tree Hill. The name Saksin was specifically applied to a prominent peak about 2,000 yards due south of Lone Tree. On or about 23 May General Tagami had moved his headquarters into the Mt. Saksin area, apparently on the southwest side of the central peak. As the 158th Infantry pushed forward on the 24th, elements of the Yuki Group and Right Sector Force moved onto Hill 225 and Lone Tree Hill. On these two terrain features the Japanese began constructing hasty defensive positions. These, together with the natural terrain barriers in the area, effectively guarded the land approaches to Maffin Strip, which lay less than 1,000 yards west of Lone Tree Hill.25 A sea approach was at least temporarily out of the question, since the TORNADO Task Force did not have sufficient landing craft to execute and support such a maneuver. Finally, it was not considered probable at task force headquarters that the Japanese land defenses of the Maffin Strip area would be strongly held. On the other hand, Colonel Herndon, as the result of patrol reports, did believe that a large Japanese force might be on Hill 225 or Mt. Saksin’s eastern nose.

About 1500 on 25 May, Companies B and C had reached a point on the main road a few yards below the southernmost bend of the Snaky River. There, enemy machine gun fire from the native village at the eastern entrance to the defile between Lone Tree Hill and the two noses of Mt. Saksin halted the advance. As the forward troops deployed to find cover from the Japanese fire, they were subjected to an intermittent artillery bombardment, which the battalion thought was coming from TORNADO Task Force weapons emplaced east of the Tor River; but no American artillery unit was placing fire within 1,000 yards of the 1st Battalion, 158th Infantry, at the time. For a second time part of the regiment was mistaking Japanese artillery fire for its own.

General Patrick, who had succeeded to the command of the TORNADO Task Force during the morning, was informed of the opposition encountered by the 1st Battalion. He ordered the advance stopped for the night and instructed the 158th Infantry to remain well east of the Snaky River so that American artillery could register on the native village and the defile without endangering the forward troops. Harassed by a few artillery shells, which by now had been recognized as originating from Japanese 70-mm. or 75-mm. weapons, the 1st Battalion pulled back about 500 yards east of the Snaky. A perimeter was set up with the battalion’s left resting on the road and its right on the beach. The 2nd Battalion established a series of company perimeters back along the road to the east. Casualties for the day had been 22 men killed and 26 wounded, almost all in the 1st Battalion, while about 50 Japanese had been killed.

When the attack orders for the day had been issued, it had been hoped that the 1st Battalion could reach the top of Lone Tree Hill before nightfall. Since the unexpectedly strong enemy opposition had prevented the realization of this hope, plans were made to continue the advance westward on the 26th. The ultimate objective was the east bank of the Woske River, 2,000 yards west of Lone Tree Hill, and the intermediate objective was the native village at the eastern entrance to the defile. The advance was to be preceded by naval shelling of the northern slopes of Lone Tree Hill from 0630 to 0700. A fifteen-minute artillery preparation was also to precede the advance, and the infantry was to start moving at 0845.

On the morning of the 26th the naval fire started ten minutes late. Two destroyers lying offshore shelled the northern slopes of Lone Tree Hill and the Maffin Bay area, firing on known or suspected enemy defensive positions and assembly points. After a twenty-minute bombardment the two support vessels withdrew. Artillery fire did not begin until 0830. The time lag gave the Japanese ample opportunity to prepare for the infantry attack which had been heralded by the destroyer fire. The artillery, aiming its shells into the defile and against the eastern slopes of Lone Tree Hill, ceased firing about 0845. A few moments later the 1st Battalion, 158th Infantry, Company B again leading, started moving westward. The infantry’s line of departure was nearly 1,000 yards east of the village at the southeast foot of Lone Tree Hill, and the advance had to be slow because the road ran through heavily jungled terrain. The enemy therefore had sufficient time to reoccupy positions in the defile and on Lone Tree Hill which might have been vacated during the American artillery barrage. The value of both the naval and artillery bombardment had been lost.

Company B moved forward to the point at which it had been held up the previous afternoon and was again stopped—this time by fire from the southeastern corner of Lone Tree Hill. Company D’s heavy machine guns were brought up to spray a densely wooded area in front of the point rifle platoon. The fire dispersed the Japanese riflemen, and Company B moved forward again. Less than 100 yards of ground had been gained when the company again encountered machine gun and mortar fire originating in the native village.

Company A, initially off the road to the right rear of Company B, turned north to the mouth of the Snaky River. One platoon crossed at the river mouth at 1030 but was quickly forced back to the east bank by Japanese machine gun fire from the rocky beach below the north face of Lone Tree Hill. Artillery support was called for, supplied, and proved successful in stopping the enemy fire, and about 1350 all Company A crossed the Snaky. Orders were to move down the west side of that stream to establish contact with Company B and to send one platoon up the eastern slope of Lone Tree Hill to probe enemy positions.

Other efforts were meanwhile being made to scatter the Japanese opposing Company B. Company E (less a platoon which was patrolling on Mt. Saksin) moved up to the left flank of Company B and on the south side of the main road. The combined efforts of the two rifle companies proved insufficient to dislodge the Japanese from their positions at the eastern entrance to the defile, and the enemy fire forced the American units to seek cover. Company F was therefore ordered to pass through B’s left flank and proceed to Hill 225 to take the Japanese positions from the rear.

Company F’s attack could not be started before dark and Company A, moving up the west side of the Snaky, was unable to relieve much of the pressure on Company B. Finally, Company A was forced for a second time to withdraw to the east bank of the river as a result of enemy fire from Lone Tree Hill. Tanks would have been of great help to Company B, but the bridge over the Tirfoam could not bear their weight, and the road west of the stream was in such disrepair that tanks probably could not have negotiated it.

Casualties on the 26th had been lighter—only 6 men were killed and 10 wounded—while an estimated 35 Japanese had been killed. To prevent further casualties from being inflicted by Japanese patrols which were expected to roam around the flanks of the forward elements during the night, a semicircular perimeter was established. Company B anchored its right flank near the eastern edge of the native village and extended its lines southwest across the road for a distance of about 100 yards. Company E refused the south flank by stretching the line southeast from B’s left, 500 yards up the slope of Mt. Saksin’s eastern nose. Company A tied its left into B’s right and extended the defense northeast about 300 yards from the road to a large bend in the Snaky River. The remainder of the 1st and 2nd Battalions was strung out along both sides of the main road to the rear of the three forward companies.

Operations during the day had secured less than 1,000 yards of ground in a westerly direction and about the same distance inland from the beach. However, the 158th Infantry had located and probed some of the principal Japanese defenses in the area—defenses which indicated that the Japanese guarding the land approaches to Maffin Strip were in greater strength than had been expected. Company B had discovered that the enemy was firmly dug in along both sides of the defile. A platoon of Company A had found Lone Tree Hill to be honeycombed with enemy defensive positions, especially on its northern and northeastern faces. The regimental Intelligence and Reconnaissance Platoon and a platoon of Company E patrolled in the vicinity of Mt. Saksin and Hill 225. The Company E platoon found many deserted Japanese positions along the eastern slopes of Mt. Saksin and on that hill’s eastern nose, but the Intelligence and Reconnaissance Platoon had a less optimistic report. Probing into rugged, heavily forested terrain between the east nose and Hill 225, the platoon had been ambushed. Extricating itself with difficulty, it reported that the Japanese were dug in in great strength all over Hill 225.

Orders for the next day reflected a still prevailing notion at task force headquarters that the Japanese defenses were weak. The 1st Battalion was to push on through the defile and at the same time secure Lone Tree Hill. The 2nd Battalion was to clear Hill 225. Prior to the 26th, field artillery had been supporting the 158th Infantry from positions 8,000 to 10,000 yards to the east. Once the infantry had debouched from the western end of the defile, it would move into an area beyond the most effective range of artillery support. Therefore the 147th Field Artillery Battalion’s 105-mm. howitzers were displaced forward to Maffin No. 1 to support the advance of the 158th Infantry on the 27th.

The Defile

At 0700 hours on 27 May two destroyers, firing on Lone Tree Hill and the Maffin Strip area, started scheduled fire support for the day’s advance. Artillery and infantry action on this morning was much more closely co-ordinated than on the previous day. The destroyer fire lasted until 0745, at which time the field artillery and all the 81-mm. mortars of the 158th Infantry laid concentrations on suspected and known enemy positions in the defile, on Lone Tree Hill, and on Hill 225. At 0830 Company F, moving around Company E on the south flank, started its attack. Behind close artillery support, apparently controlled by artillery liaison planes for the most part, Company F pushed up a terrain feature initially believed to be Hill 225. It was not discovered until late the next day that F Company was actually on the eastern nose of Mt. Saksin and about 700 yards east of its reported location.

Since artillery fire had knocked out two enemy machine gun nests which had been delaying the advance, patrols of Company F were able to reach the top of the eastern ridge. The rest of the company moved up the hill at 1000, encountering scattered rifle fire from enemy positions to the southwest. Company E, just before noon, arrived atop the same hill on F’s right. Company E had orders to secure the southern slopes of the defile between Hill 225 and Lone Tree Hill. Company B, still at the eastern entrance to the defile, was again unable to make any progress and during the morning was held up by machine gun and mortar fire from concealed enemy positions on the southern and southwestern slopes of Lone Tree Hill.

No sooner had some of these positions been eliminated by American artillery and mortar fire than Company B was subjected to enemy machine gun and mortar fire originating from the northeast side of Hill 225, the reported location of Companies E and F. Actually, the artillery fire had not been entirely effective, because it had not reached into deep draws or caves in which many of the Japanese weapons were emplaced. Company E, attempting to move down the northern slopes of the eastern ridge to Company B’s aid, was soon forced back by enemy rifle fire and infantry counterattacks from the west. At the same time small parties of Japanese, under cover of their own machine guns, started a series of minor counter-attacks against Company B. Company F did not become engaged in this action. Instead, the company dug in on the ridge it was holding and sent patrols to the south and west to probe Japanese defenses. It was soon discovered that the combination of rugged terrain and Japanese machine gun and rifle fire limited patrolling to a very small area.

North of Company B, Company A patrolled along the west bank of the Snaky River and on the eastern slope of Lone Tree Hill during the morning and early afternoon. About 1630 the company moved in force up Lone Tree, finding the eastern slope of the hill to be unoccupied. Most of the fire that had harassed the company during the morning had apparently originated on the beach below the northern face of Lone Tree Hill. For the night the unit dug in at the crest of the hill. Again, little ground had been gained, although the eastern nose of Mt. Saksin and Lone Tree Hill had been at least partially occupied.

The 1st and 2nd Battalions of the 158th Infantry had now been engaged in heavy combat for three days against an enemy force which was aggressive and clever on the defense. The combined Right Sector Force-Yuki Group troops were well led, taking every advantage of heavily forested terrain for cover and concealment, yet retaining their mobility. The Japanese were tried and trained troops, having had considerable experience in China and having been in the Sarmi area for over six months. The 1st Battalion, 158th Infantry, on the other hand, was in combat for the first time.

The 2nd and 3rd Battalions had been in combat on New Britain against lesser opposition and in different terrain, and both had undergone some reorganization and had received many untried replacements since. By evening on 27 May the 158th Infantry had lost almost 300 men killed, wounded, or evacuated as nonbattle casualties—the latter principally as a result of heat exhaustion. American artillery support had not been all that could be desired. Maps were so inaccurate that the artillery had difficulty finding designated targets, and it was impossible, even with the aid of spotting aircraft and forward observers, to lay fire into the enemy’s defile positions without endangering the forward troops. Finally, tank support had not been obtainable, much as it was needed by Company B, which was bearing the brunt of the defile warfare.

So important did Colonel Herndon now consider tank support that he secured permission to have two tanks brought forward to the beach at the mouth of the Snaky River. The tanks were to be transported by LCM’s (all of which were badly needed at the Arare-Toem beachhead and at Wakde Island for lightering purposes) to the mouth of the Snaky on the morning of the 28th and were to move south along the stream to aid the units trying to break through the defile.

Two rifle companies, one each from the 1st and 2nd Battalions, were assigned to the defile battle on the 28th. Two other rifle companies of the 1st Battalion were to advance over Lone Tree Hill and down its western slopes. The first objective of the latter units was the point at which the main road, after winding south around Lone Tree Hill, again reached the shores of Maffin Bay. This point was about 700 yards northwest of the hill crest and about 100 yards from the northeastern edge of Maffin Strip. In a simultaneous movement the 2nd Battalion (less one rifle company) was to move across Hill 225 to the western outlet of the defile. Thence the battalion was to strike north along the road to the eastern end of Maffin Strip toestablish contact with the 1st Battalion’s two companies.

This two-pronged attack was designed to seal off Lone Tree Hill and render Japanese positions on the hill untenable. At the same time, combined infantry-tank action was to clear the defile and open the main overland supply route to Maffin Strip. The road, which engineers had been repairing forward from the Tor for the last three days, would then be opened for traffic from the river to the airfield. The ultimate regimental objective was still the east bank of the Woske River.

On the 28th, after a well-timed preliminary artillery bombardment, Company C moved forward to the crest of Lone Tree Hill and joined Company A. The latter unit then attempted to move down the steep northern face of the hill to the rocky beach below. Japanese defenders in caves and crevices on this cliff like side stopped the attack before it was well under way. It was impossible to place fire on the Japanese positions from above, and Company A had to withdraw to the crest of Lone Tree. Company C, at midmorning, started moving in densely jungled, irregular terrain along the western slope of the hill, attacking generally to the north. About 1300 a Japanese patrol, coming out of a wooded area at the western base of the hill, fell upon Company C’s left flank. The American unit beat off this attack, principally by rifle fire, without too much difficulty, but as soon as the enemy party was dispersed Company C was pinned down by mortar and machine gun fire originating near the eastern edge of Maffin Strip. Elements of Company A then tried to move down the west side of the hill along a route south of Company C’s positions. This effort was also greeted with Japanese machine gun and rifle fire and was abandoned.

The two companies could now see Japanese movements to the southwest, movements which seemed to presage an imminent enemy attack in force against the west side of Lone Tree Hill. The terrain on the west side of Lone Tree was not well suited for defense. Moreover, both Company A and Company C were running low on water and ammunition and the 1st Battalion commander considered it probable that the terrain would prevent successful resupply efforts. He therefore ordered the two companies to withdraw to the line of the Snaky River. This maneuver began about 1600.

Meanwhile, south of Lone Tree Hill, Companies B and E had been making determined efforts to break through the defile. Patrols probing forward during the morning reported steadily increasing Japanese resistance on both sides of the pass. About noon further efforts were temporarily abandoned, while the heavy weapons of Company H and the 81-mm. mortars of Company D laid a new barrage into the Japanese positions. After this fire, B Company moved west along the road and Company E, attempting to clear ravines on the south side of the defile, followed along to B’s left rear. Company B could not get beyond the native village and the attack was unsuccessful. For the fourth or fifth time in three days the Japanese had thrown back an assault at the defile.

At 1145 Company E relieved Company B near the village. The latter unit was ordered to move to the beach at the west side of the Snaky River. There the company was to set up a defensive perimeter to protect an engineer platoon which was blasting out of the beach coral an approach for the two tanks scheduled to be unloaded there from LCM’s. While Company B was digging in at its new location it was subjected to heavy mortar, machine gun, and rifle fire from Japanese on the north face of Lone Tree Hill. At 1800 the company therefore withdrew to the east side of the river mouth. The engineer platoon withdrew from the Snaky River about the same time, but not before a tank approach had been completed on the beach east of the river mouth.

On the southern flank Company F had run into strong enemy opposition during the morning. In the afternoon the company discovered that it had not been on Hill 225, but that it was now in a difficult position in a ravine between that hill and the eastern nose of Mt. Saksin. When it was noticed during the afternoon that enemy troops on Hill 225 were maneuvering to attack, Company F withdrew up the western slopes of the eastern nose. The Japanese, forestalled in their attempt to trap Company F in the ravine, then turned their attention to Company E at the native village. An enemy force estimated to be fifty men strong moved from the southwest against Company E, which drove the Japanese back only after a sharp fire fight.

Colonel Herndon now felt that his forward positions were rapidly becoming untenable. The Japanese were apparently moving eastward and northward in some strength and the terrain west of the Snaky River made supply of the two forward battalions extremely difficult. The colonel therefore radioed to the task force commander that he intended to withdraw to the line of the Snaky River for the night. The 1st Battalion was to be on the north of the night’s defensive positions and the 2nd Battalion was to refuse the left flank by extending the lines south of the road along the eastern nose of Mt. Saksin. Colonel Herndon also planned to relieve the 1st Battalion with the 3rd on the morrow. These plans were approved by General Patrick who, early the next morning, also ordered Colonel Herndon to cease offensive efforts.

The 158th Infantry Withdraws

On 27 May General Patrick had been informed by General Krueger that two battalions of the 163rd Infantry, which was still protecting the Toem-Arare beachhead, were soon to be shipped to Biak. At the same time General MacArthur’s headquarters and ALAMO Force were considering plans to stage a division in the Wakde-Sarmi area in preparation for operations farther to the west. The two headquarters decided that the 6th Infantry Division, which had recently completed jungle and amphibious training in eastern New Guinea, would be the most logical unit to send forward.

General Krueger knew that the 163rd Regimental Combat Team was scheduled to leave the Wakde-Sarmi area for Biak, but he did not want operations in the former region to be halted for lack of troops. He therefore recommended that a combat team of the 6th Division be dispatched to Wakde-Sarmi immediately, even without its artillery if leaving the latter out of the shipment would speed the movement of the infantry regiment.

Because of the danger of overextending his lines, General Patrick had already decided to halt the westward movement of the 158th Infantry. He felt that with a garrison of two regimental combat teams the fifteen mile-long perimeter which the TORNADO Task Force was occupying could be held. Before westward advance could be resumed, however, Japanese forces which were harassing the southern and eastern flanks of the Toem-Arare beachhead defenses would have to be dispersed. As a result of an attack by some 200 Japanese on Toem during the night of 27-28 May and because there were indications that the enemy was to make further assaults against the beachhead, the task force commander recommended that no elements of the 163rd Regimental Combat Team be shipped to Biak until after the arrival at Toem of a combat team of the 6th Division.

But on the morning of 29 May, General Krueger notified General Patrick that the two battalions of the 163rd Infantry would have to leave for Biak the next day. General Patrick considered that the one remaining infantry battalion of the 163rd Regimental Combat Team would not be sufficiently strong to hold the Toem-Arare beachhead area. He therefore ordered the 158th Infantry to send one of its battalions back across the Tor River.

On the morning of 29 May the 1st Battalion, 158th Infantry, relieved the 3rd Battalion, 163rd Infantry, at Arare. General Patrick ordered the rest of the 158th Infantry to improve its positions along the Snaky River and to defend that line until the arrival of a 6th Division regimental combat team on or about 4 June. The 1st Battalion, 158th Infantry, was replaced on the Snaky River line by the 3rd Battalion of the same regiment.

Early the same morning Company F of the 158th Infantry, holding an exposed position on the eastern nose of Mt. Saksin, found itself surrounded by enemy patrols. The Japanese appeared to be maneuvering for an attack and Company F hurriedly withdrew. The unit had to fight its way back to the perimeter of Company G, which was located on the main road about 800 yards northeast of the eastern nose.

As a result of this action, and because the Japanese were continuing pressure against the 3rd Battalion’s Snaky River lines from both the south and west, Colonel Herndon felt that his river positions could not be held much longer. Worse still, from his point of view, his 1st Battalion had been withdrawn east of the Tor. Without this strength he believed his forces insufficient to hold the line at the Snaky and, at the same time, prevent the Japanese from outflanking his units to the south and cutting his line of communications back to the Toem-Arare beachhead area. Therefore, after consultation with his battalion commanders, he ordered the 2nd and 3rd Battalions to withdraw to the east bank of the Tirfoam River, 2,000 yards to the rear, and form a new defense line.

Just past 1500 Colonel Herndon informed General Patrick of the decision to redispose the forward area forces. At first General Patrick was not inclined to consent to this withdrawal, but upon reconsideration gave his approval. The movement began immediately, under continuing Japanese pressure from the south. About 1600 General Patrick arrived at Colonel Herndon’s command post, which by then had been moved away from the Tirfoam, where the new defense line was taking shape, to a point approximately 1,800 yards east of that stream. Shortly thereafter General Patrick reported to General Krueger: “Investigation convinced me that [the] withdrawal [was] unwarranted.” General Patrick relieved Colonel Herndon and placed in command of the 158th Infantry Colonel Earle O. Sandlin, who had recently arrived in the area and who had been acting as his chief of staff.

Meanwhile, under Colonel Herndon’s direction and in the face of continued harassing from Japanese on the south flank, the withdrawal had been completed without the loss of a single man or piece of equipment. Companies E, K, L, and M set up defenses along the east bank of the Tirfoam, with Company E echeloned slightly to the left rear of the other three. Within the perimeter were 3rd Battalion headquarters, the Cannon Company, and Company C, 27th Engineers, the latter about 900 yards east of the Tirfoam. The rest of the 158th Infantry maintained defenses back along the main road to the mouth of the Tor, where were located the 147th Field Artillery, Company I, and various medical units.

At the Tirfoam Company E had not completed digging in when it was subjected to heavy mortar and machine gun fire. The troops manned their weapons, but the Japanese withdrew without attacking. About midnight approximately fifty Japanese bypassed Company E and fell upon Company C, 27th Engineers. Colonel Herndon’s fears of attack along his line of communications had been well taken, for the Right Sector Force had begun flanking movements designed to recapture the entire Maffin Bay area. However, the combat engineers quickly proved their versatility by driving off the enemy force with rifle, carbine, and machine gun fire. Five of the engineers were killed. Enemy casualties could not be estimated since the Japanese removed their dead and wounded during the night.

The remainder of the night was more quiet, and the next morning the defenses along the Tirfoam were improved. There were a couple of minor attacks during the afternoon and desultory rifle and 70-mm. or 75-mm. artillery fire was directed against all American units still west of the Tor. The 147th Field Artillery Battalion, withdrawing to the east bank of the Tor late in the afternoon, was struck by some of this enemy artillery fire and lost one man killed.

Final Operations of the 158th Infantry While the new line along the Tirfoam was being developed on 30 May by the 158th Infantry, the 1st and 3rd Battalions of the 163rd Infantry, together with regimental headquarters, departed for Biak. The 2nd Battalion remained on the west bank of Tementoe Creek, which marked the eastern flank of the TORNADO Task Force, but it and the rest of the 163rd Regimental Combat Team were soon to follow the other battalions. Through 30 May, after which elements of the 163rd Infantry engaged in little activity in the area, the regiment had lost 46 men killed and 154 wounded. Other elements of the combat team lost 8 men killed, 10 wounded, and 1 missing.

Redisposition’s of the TORNADO Task Force

Upon the departure of the 1st and 3rd Battalions, 163rd Infantry, many changes were made in the dispositions of the TORNADO Task Force until, by the end of the day, the task force was spread out over almost twelve miles of coast line between Tementoe Creek and the Tirfoam River. The 2nd and 3rd Battalions, 158th Infantry, and other attached or organic units held perimeters west of the Tor. Various field artillery units were emplaced at the east side of the Tor’s mouth. Task force headquarters was at Arare, close to the principal supply and ammunition dumps, and was protected by the 1st Battalion, 158th Infantry. At no point did the lines of any task force elements extend inland as much as a mile from the beach.

At dusk there were twenty-one perimeters of varying sizes, strengths, and distances from each other. Antiaircraft units were especially spread out in an effort to secure the maximum possible protection against low-flying Japanese planes. The 40-mm. guns and some .50-caliber weapons of Batteries A and B, 202nd Antiaircraft Artillery Battalion, were strung out in beach emplacements between the Tor River and Tementoe Creek. Between the task force headquarters perimeter at Arare and the position of Headquarters, 191st Field Artillery Group, near the mouth of the Tor, a distance of almost 5,000 yards, there were six separate antiaircraft gun emplacements. Only one of these perimeters, that at the mouth of the Unnamed River west of Arare, contained other than antiaircraft troops, and these were men of the Cannon Company, 163rd Infantry, and Battery A, 167th Field Artillery Battalion. The fifteen other perimeters included infantry positions or some engineer and artillery posts which were over 2,000 yards from the nearest infantry units. The perimeters east of the Tor were all-around defenses, and those west of the river were oriented principally toward the west, where most of the Japanese strength was apparently located. These widespread dispositions presented the Japanese with an opportunity to destroy all or parts of the TORNADO Task Force in detail.

Even while the 158th Infantry had been engaged in heavy fighting around Lone Tree Hill, the two arms of General Tagami’s planned double envelopment had been slowly closing in on the Toem-Arare area. Bypassing the 158th Infantry by moving along routes up to four miles inland, the Yoshino Force had crossed the Tor at the junction of the river with the Foein on the night of 25-26 May. On the 26th, leading elements of the Matsuyama Force, advancing from the east, had moved into position about two and a half miles south of Toem. About 200 men of the Matsuyama Force had attacked the positions of the 1st Battalion, 163rd Infantry, near Toem during the night of 27-28 May and had killed two Americans and wounded fourteen others. Friendly fire during the confusion of the night action killed four other American soldiers.

The 1st Battalion killed about thirty Japanese by rifle and machine gun fire and hand grenades, and before dawn on the 28th the enemy had withdrawn southeastward. It was this attack, coupled with a suspicion that such assaults might be repeated in the near future, that had prompted General Patrick’s 28 May request that the 163rd Regimental Combat Team be retained in the Wakde area until a regiment of the 6th Division arrived. But, despite the fact that this request was disapproved and the bulk of the 163rd Infantry left his area on 30 May, it appears that General Patrick was not particularly alarmed about Japanese forces on his south flank. He had halted the advance westward until the few Japanese he believed to be on the south flank could be dispersed, and he had brought one battalion of the 158th Infantry east of the Tor to replace the two of the 163rd Infantry which had left for Biak. On 28 May General Patrick estimated Japanese strength in his area to be 2,000-3,000 on the west flank, 300 east of Tementoe Creek, and 300 “in roving bands” south of Toem and Arare.

The TORNADO Task Force had underestimated the strength of Japanese forces in the area. The figure for the number of enemy east of Tementoe Creek was three or four days old on 28 May and, apparently, had been estimated on the basis of a single aerial reconnaissance. Instead of roving bands south of the Toem-Arare perimeter, there were over 2,000 organized troops of the Yoshino and Matsuyama Forces within three miles of the coast at Toem. Total enemy strength in the Wakde-Sarmi area was still over 8,000 men rather than the maximum of less than 4,000 estimated by the TORNADO Task Force.

American patrols found no signs of large, organized enemy forces south of the central perimeter for the two or three days following the attack during the night of 27-28 May, an attack which marked the beginning of a series of minor assaults against the Toem-Arare area. As a matter of fact, few American patrols were sent out. On the 28th a party from Company F, 163rd Infantry, moving about three quarters of a mile up

the east bank of Tementoe Creek, found one small Japanese bivouac area. A patrol of Company B, 163rd Infantry, found a recently cut trail 1,200 yards south of Arare, but saw no Japanese. The next day the 2nd Battalion, 163rd Infantry, sent two patrols up and across Tementoe Creek, but neither encountered any Japanese.

The only patrol which operated in the area west of Tementoe Creek on the 29th seems to have been sent out by the 218th Field Artillery Battalion. This party moved about 3,000 yards up the east bank of the Tor past Maffin No. 2. Thence the patrol marched overland back to its base, where it reported that it had found no signs of enemy activity. There are no indications in the TORNADO Task Force’s records that any American patrols were sent south in the area between the Tor River and Tementoe Creek on 30 May.

Japanese Attacks East of the Tor Gun position No. 6 of Battery B, 202nd Antiaircraft Artillery Battalion, was located in an isolated perimeter on the beach about 900 yards west of Arare. The position was approximately 500 yards distant from the two nearest friendly units, both of which were other isolated antiaircraft gun posts.

At 1830 on 30 May, No. 6 gun position was attacked by a squad of Japanese infantrymen from the Yoshino Force. The antiaircraft artillerymen, after losing one man killed, killing ten of the enemy, having their .50-caliber machine guns jam, and running out of rifle ammunition, retired to gun position No. 7 of Battery A, 500 yards to the east. The latter position was attacked intermittently from 1840 to 0430, but the combined gunners of the two positions threw back each assault with rifle and machine gun fire. About 500 yards west of Battery B’s No. 6 position was situated Battery A’s No. 6. The latter perimeter was harassed by mortar, rifle, and machine gun fire from shortly after 1830 hours throughout the night. It was attacked by Yoshino Force troops at least twice, but the antiaircraft gunners managed to drive the enemy back each time. Gun position No. 8 of Battery B, another 400 yards to the west, was also attacked about 1830. The .50-caliber multiple machine gun in the position became overheated and jammed. The men in the position, running low on rifle ammunition, scurried out of the gun pit and took cover in the brush along the beach. Here they stayed until the enemy withdrew at 0430.

In the action against the four gun positions, the Japanese captured one .50-caliber machine gun, damaged a multiple .50-caliber mount and removed the gun barrels, damaged two 40-mm. guns, and destroyed miscellaneous electrical and communications equipment. Using the captured .50-caliber machine gun to good advantage, the enemy force which attacked Battery B’s No. 6 position and A’s No. 7 moved away from those two gun pits toward the task force supply dump and the perimeter of Company B, 158th Infantry.

One group from the Yoshino Force began delivering machine gun and rifle fire on the 1st Battalion, 158th Infantry, about 1900, and at 2200 the Yoshino Force launched a furious, suicidal attack against Company B. This assault continued until 0430, while the Japanese tried to fire the task force supply dumps with “Molotov Cocktails” and demolition charges and engaged in hand-to-hand fighting with the men of Company B, who used rifles, hand grenades, pistols, knives, and bayonets to beat off the assault. At 0430 the attack abated and the enemy withdrew to the south. Total American losses during the night action were twelve killed and ten wounded. At daylight fifty-two dead Japanese were counted in front of the antiaircraft and infantry positions. There were signs that the enemy had carried away dead or wounded men and it was therefore estimated that the Japanese losses were much higher than those actually counted.

On the morning of 31 May the TORNADO Task Force, in expectation of more night attacks, set to work to strengthen the defenses between the Tor River and Tementoe Creek and to reduce the number of separate perimeters along the beach. This action was given added impetus during the day by receipt of a message from ALAMO Force which was interpreted to mean that the remainder of the 163rd Regimental Combat Team (the 2nd Battalion, 163rd Infantry, the 167th Field Artillery, engineer units, etc.) was to be sent to Biak immediately.45 General Patrick thereupon ordered the elements of the 158th Infantry still west of the Tor to withdraw to the east side of that river and take over the perimeters still held by parts of the 163rd Regimental Combat Team. A bridgehead was to be maintained on the west bank of the Tor, but the main task force perimeter was to be reduced to the area between Tementoe Creek and the Tor and no further offensive efforts westward were to be undertaken until the arrival of a combat team from the 6th Division.

Colonel Sandlin, commanding the 158th Infantry, was made responsible for setting up the new task force defenses. He decided to leave the 2nd Battalion, 158th Infantry, west of the Tor. The 3rd Battalion, less Company K, was to move to Tementoe Creek to relieve the 2nd Battalion, 163rd Infantry, while Company K was to reinforce the perimeter around the task force supply and ammunition dumps at Arare. The total number of separate perimeters was to be drastically reduced and those left were to be strengthened. All units assigned defensive missions, especially the infantry elements, were to undertake intensive patrolling south of the Toem-Arare beachhead area.

By nightfall redisposition’s had been completed. In contrast to the situation the previous night there were now only eight separate perimeters. One, held by the 2nd Battalion (reinforced) of the 158th Infantry, was west of the Tor. General Patrick decided to keep the 2nd Battalion, 163rd Infantry, ashore during the night. Therefore, the 3rd Battalion, 158th Infantry, did not move to Tementoe Creek but remained on the east bank of the Tor at the river’s mouth. In the same perimeter were regimental headquarters and field artillery, antiaircraft, and engineer units.

The next perimeter to the east was at the mouth of the Unnamed River, west of Arare. At the latter village and at Toem were other defensive positions. Another large perimeter stretched back along the beach from the mouth of Tementoe Creek. The antiaircraft gun positions, with but two exceptions, were well within the perimeters of larger units and the two exceptions were within 400 yards of supporting forces. The precautions taken by Colonel Sandlin were undoubtedly well advised, but in comparison with the previous night, the night of 31 May-1 June proved abnormally quiet.

The Japanese Withdraw

On the morning of 1 June General Patrick was informed by ALAMO Force that the 2nd Battalion, 163rd Infantry, and the other remaining elements of the 163rd Regimental Combat Team were not to leave for Biak until a regimental combat team from the 6th Infantry Division arrived at Toem. General Patrick, who by now considered that the Japanese operations on the south constituted a real threat to the TORNADO Task Force, decided to make no major changes in dispositions until the arrival of the 6th Division unit. Instead, for the next few days the task force further strengthened its positions in expectation of strong Japanese attacks.

But the Yoshino and Matsuyama Forces had already missed whatever chance they may have had to destroy the TORNADO Task Force in a piecemeal fashion. Apparently neither Colonel Yoshino nor Colonel Matsuyama could co-ordinate operations of the two arms of the double envelopment, and because of communication and supply difficulties and the distance involved, General Tagami, still ensconced in his command post in the Mt. Saksin area, could exercise no tactical control over the two forces, which could organize no more effective attacks. The Japanese, having suffered heavy losses in vain, now decided that further efforts to seize the Toem-Arare beachhead would be futile.

On 10 June the Yoshino Force started withdrawing southwest across the Tor to take up new positions in the Maffin Bay area. The Matsuyama Force, having difficulty reorganizing and collecting food, did not begin retiring westward until two days later. Meanwhile, the TORNADO Task Force had settled down to await the arrival of a combat team from the 6th Infantry Division before resuming offensive operations.

While enemy attacks east of the Tor gradually stopped after 1 June, many small attacks had to be beaten back west of the river at the bridgehead held to 3 June by the 2nd Battalion, 158th Infantry, and after that by the 3rd Battalion. During the first week in June, all elements of the TORNADO Task Force undertook extensive patrolling which was productive of definite evidence that the entire 223rd Infantry, 36th Division, was in the Sarmi area.

Prior to the landings near Wakde on 17 May, the Allies had believed that only parts of the 223rd and 224th Infantry Regiments were stationed in the Sarmi area, but shortly after D Day all three battalions of the 224th Infantry had been accounted for. On the basis of this information and the discovery during the first week of June that the entire 223rd Infantry was also in the area, Allied intelligence officers raised their pre-assault estimates of Japanese strength from 6,500 men to 10,776—the latter estimate being remarkably close to the Japanese figure of 11,000. The Allies believed that of the original 10,000-odd less than 4,750 Japanese, including 3,500 combat troops, were still alive by the end of the week. According to Japanese sources, this estimate was low and should have read a total of 8,000 men and over 4,000 combat troops.

The Relief of the 158th Infantry

General Patrick now believed, as Colonel Herndon had previously, that the enemy would maintain a strong defense against any new offensive westward from the Tor and considered it probable that resistance would center in the Lone Tree Hill area. He had already made plans to bypass that area by a shore-to-shore movement to Sarmi Peninsula, whence Lone Tree Hill could be attacked from the rear. This plan had been temporarily abandoned when the 163rd Infantry left for Biak Island and the Japanese started their attacks east of the Tor. However, the new strength estimates, coupled with his belief that Lone Tree Hill and Hill 225 would be strongly held, prompted General Patrick to revive the bypassing plan. The imminent arrival of reinforcements from the 6th Division would, he thought, provide the troop strength necessary to carry out the maneuver.

The TORNADO Task Force commander planned to send one battalion to Sarmi Peninsula on 9 June and another the following day. Scouts had already landed on the peninsula and had reported it undefended. It therefore seemed possible that the proposed movement would meet with no opposition. Once the peninsula had been secured, the two battalions (both of which were to be from the 6th Division) were to move southeast down the coast ten miles to Lone Tree Hill. This movement was to be coordinated with a simultaneous drive westward from the Tor River by the 158th Infantry.

Again the shore-to-shore movement had to be postponed when it was discovered that necessary naval support vessels could not be made available because they were engaged in operations off Biak Island, 200 miles to the northwest. Then, when the 6th Division began to reach Toem on 5 June, that division’s commander requested that none of his troops be employed offensively until at least two regimental combat teams were ashore and his men could become acquainted with the terrain and situation in the area. Finally, landing craft to be used in the bypassing maneuver had to be used to unload the large ships which brought the 6th Division to Toem. The first units of the 6th Division to arrive in the Wakde-Sarmi area were the 1st Infantry Regiment and the 6th Engineer Battalion (C). The 1st Infantry immediately relieved that part of the 158th Infantry which was holding the Toem-Arare beachhead perimeter.

General Patrick, although he had canceled the amphibious movement to Sarmi Peninsula, now decided to resume the advance westward with the 158th Infantry moving overland from the Tor. This attack was to begin on the morning of 7 June. The first regimental objective was the Lone Tree Hill-Hill 225 area, and the final objective was the Woske River, as it had been on 25 May.

The 1st Battalion, 158th Infantry, crossed the Tor on 6 June and relieved the 3rd Battalion, which moved back to the east bank, and the 2nd Battalion joined the 1st on the next day. The enemy west of the Tor remained inactive on 7 June while the 1st and 2nd Battalions patrolled toward Maffin No. 1 and made preparations to move westward in force the next morning. The 1st Battalion was to advance along the coastal road while the 2nd, on the left, was to push cross-country in a deep enveloping maneuver south of the beach. The advance was to be cautious, and the progress of the 1st Battalion was to depend upon that of the 2nd. All units were to halt at 1600 each day to begin organizing night defensive positions. Both the 1st and 2nd Battalions, 158th Infantry, jumped off in the attack at 0830 hours, 8 June. The advance was supported by a platoon of the 603rd Tank Company and was preceded by a brief concentration fired by the 167th Field Artillery. During most of the morning there was little opposition. About 1100, however, enemy rifle and machine gun fire began forcing the 2nd Battalion back toward the main road, and Company E, south of the main body of the battalion, lost contact with the rest of the attacking force for two or three hours.

After 1200, resistance also began to stiffen on the 1st Battalion’s front. The attack bogged down at a line of bunkers and pillboxes which guarded the coastal road just west of the small lakes 1,500 yards east of the Tirfoam. These defensive positions had been constructed, repaired, or reoccupied since the last time the 158th Infantry had covered the same terrain. Tank support was requested.

Two tanks arrived at the front late in the afternoon and soon reduced the pillboxes, but by the time this mission had been accomplished, it was time to start digging in for the night. The 1st Battalion set up its defenses along the line of destroyed positions and extended its perimeter from the road north to the beach. The 2nd Battalion, reassembled on the road by 1600, refused the south flank. Casualties during the day had been 4 men killed and 13 wounded, while 27 Japanese had been killed and 1 captured. A quantity of enemy arms and ammunition had also been seized.

The night passed without incident and early on 9 June patrols began to probe westward toward the Tirfoam. Scouts reported that the Japanese were holding another defense line, including reoccupied bunkers, on a slight rise at the west bank of the river.

About 1000 hours, tank-infantry teams began to destroy the Japanese-held positions along the new line. While tank 75-mm. fire was destroying bunkers or forcing the Japanese to seek cover, infantrymen crept forward to toss grenades into bunker gun ports or shoot down Japanese who tried to escape from the area. While these tank-infantry team operations were taking place, the rest of the two infantry battalions rested. Japanese 75-mm. fire, from a weapon emplaced on the beach between the Snaky River and Lone Tree Hill, harassed the 1st Battalion for a while, but this fire was summarily stopped when a 155-mm. howitzer of the 218th Field Artillery Battalion scored a direct hit on the enemy piece. By 1130 the enemy defensive positions had been cleaned out and the 1st and 2nd Battalions resumed the advance westward.

Aided by fire from the 147th Field Artillery, which had supplanted the 167th in the close support role, the two infantry units probed cautiously forward, and it was not until 1530 that both reached the east bank of the Tirfoam. Opposition was scattered, but the American units lost 6 men killed and 6 wounded. It was estimated that 50 of the enemy had been killed and one was captured.

Undoubtedly the 158th Infantry could have crossed the Tirfoam River during the afternoon, but, late in the morning, the unit’s mission had been changed as a result of new orders from General Krueger, who planned to employ the 158th Infantry for an assault on Noemfoor Island, 300 miles northwest of Sarmi, in late June or early July. It was necessary that the unit be prepared to move from Wakde-Sarmi on short notice and General Krueger ordered General Patrick not to involve it deeply in offensive operations. Advances west of the Tirfoam had therefore been postponed until a second combat team of the 6th Division could arrive in the area to relieve the 158th Infantry.

On 10 and 11 June the 158th Infantry limited its activities to patrolling, consolidating defensive positions, and driving Japanese outposts westward. One outpost, lying southeast of the 2nd Battalion, was manned by about a hundred Japanese and had to be cleared by tank fire and infantry assault. The Japanese, who were members of a 223rd Infantry company assigned to the Right Sector Force, fled toward Mt. Saksin, leaving behind 4 heavy machine guns, 1 light machine gun, 270-mm. howitzers, and 137-mm. antitank gun. Patrolling after the 11th was productive of one strange piece of enemy equipment—a pair of Japanese ice skates.

On 14 June the 20th Infantry, 6th Division, relieved the 158th Infantry at the Tirfoam. The 158th recrossed the Tor and went into a defensive perimeter on the west bank of Tementoe Creek. Patrols sent south and east during the next week encountered a few stragglers from the Japanese garrison at Hollandia or from the Matsuyama Force. On the 22nd the entire regimental combat team was relieved of all combat responsibility in the Wakde-Sarmi area and began final preparations for the Noemfoor Island operation.

During its operations in the Wakde-Sarmi area the 158th Regimental Combat Team lost 70 men killed, 257 wounded, and 4 missing. The unit took 11 Japanese prisoners and estimated that it killed 920 of the enemy.

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

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

World War Two: Seizure of Wakde Island (AP-9)

Korean War: First Battle of the Naktong Bulge (1950) (17)

 The dog days of August were at hand. The men in Eighth Army who survived that period spoke afterward of it as “the days along the Naktong.” The Eighth Army no longer could withdraw when enemy pressure became oppressive. It had to stand and fight and hold, or be driven out of Korea.  

General Walker’s defense plan centered on holding the road and rail lines running in a large oval east of the Naktong, from Pusan north through Miryang to Taegu, and hence east through Yongchon to Kyongju, where they turned back south to Pusan. Any further withdrawal and loss of these lines of communication would render difficult any later U.N. attempt at a counteroffensive.  

The North Koreans, in preparing to attack the Pusan Perimeter and its communication system, had available four lines of advance toward Pusan: (1) through or past Masan south of the confluence of the Nam and Naktong Rivers, (2) through the Naktong Bulge to the rail and road lines at Miryang, (3) RITTER VON LEEB, Defense through Taegu, and (4) through Kyongju and down the east coast corridor. They tried them all simultaneously in August, apparently believing that if they did not succeed at one place they would at another.  

Along the Perimeter, the most important terrain feature for both the United Nations and the North Koreans —helping the former and hindering the latter—was the Naktong River, the second largest river in Korea. It formed a huge moat in front of almost three-fourths of the Perimeter. Its numerous great folds and bends resembled a huge snake contracting its length before coiling. Along its lower course, the river is generally from one-quarter to half a mile wide and more than six feet deep. Great sand beaches appear at many places when the river is not swollen by rain. Hills come down close to the water’s edge on either bank, and rice paddy valleys of varying sizes finger their way among the hills.

 In Korea, the term hill came to mean to the soldiers anything from a knoll to a towering mountain. A few of the hills bordering the lower Naktong below Taegu on the east side rise to 1,200 feet elevation; three or four miles back from the river they climb to 2,500 feet. On the west, or enemy, side of the Naktong, the hills bordering the river are higher than on the east, reaching 2,000 feet in many instances. North of Taegu, along the upper reaches of the river, from Waegwan in a semicircle east to Andong, the hills rise still higher, many of them to elevations of 2,000 and 3,000 feet.  

The line of the Naktong as organized by the American forces was a series of strongpoints on the highest hills, affording views of both the river and the natural avenues of travel from it. During the day, these points were hardly more than observation posts. At night they became listening posts and tight little defense perimeters. Some of the posts were manned only in the daytime. Others were held by no more than half a squad of men. No one expected these soldiers to fight in position; they were a form of intelligence screen, their duty being to observe and report. Jeep patrols during the daytime ran along the river road. Quite obviously, the river line was thinly held. Reserve troops some miles back from the river were ready to counterattack against any enemy crossing.

 Artillery and mortars were in positions back of the river. They were laid to fire on known ferry and other probable crossing sites. The role of the artillery and the mortars was to be a vital one in the Perimeter fighting; their fire could be massed, within limits, against any major enemy effort. The infantry and the artillery together were disposed so as to hold the commanding ground and control the meager road net. The roads necessarily were all-important. No one doubted that the North Koreans intended to force a crossing of the Naktong without delay. Time was against them. Every passing week brought closer the prospect of more American reinforcements—troops, tanks, artillery, and planes. North Korean Premier Kim Il Sung had set 15 August as the date for final victory and the liberation of all Korea. This date marked the fifth anniversary of freedom from Japanese rule.

The Naktong Bulge

Seven air miles north of the point where the Naktong turns east and the Nam enters it, the Naktong curves westward opposite Yongsan in a wide semicircular loop. The bulge of land formed by this river loop measures four miles east-west and five miles north-south. This particular loop of the river and the land it enclosed on three sides became known to the American troops as the Naktong Bulge during the heavy fighting there in August and September.  

Northward from the confluence of the Nam with the Naktong, the 24th Division held the line of the lower Naktong for a distance of sixteen air miles, or a river front of about thirty-four miles. The 34th Infantry was on the lower, southern part; the 21st Infantry was on the upper part together with the ROK 17th Regiment. The 19th Infantry, just arrived from Masan, was re-equipping in the rear. In general terms, the 34th Infantry held the area west of Yongsan in the Naktong Bulge, while north of it the 21st Infantry held the area west of Changnyong.  

The 3rd Battalion, 34th Infantry, held the river line in its regimental front, while the 1st Battalion was in a reserve assembly area about four miles back from the river near Yongsan. The 3rd Battalion front was about nine miles, or 15,000 yards long. One may contrast this battalion frontage of 15,000 yards with one of 10,000 yards for a division at tall strength, which U.S. Army doctrine considered normal.

 The three rifle companies of the 3rd Battalion—I, L, and K, in that order from north to south—were on high hills overlooking the Naktong River. An unoccupied gap of more than two miles lay between I and L Companies, and another of more than three miles lay between L and K Companies. Because of the river’s course around the bulge, the three company positions resembled the points of a broad triangle; I and K were the two extremities at the eastern base and L the apex at the bulge of high ground extending westward in the big fold of the river. Along this stretch of river there were at least six ferry crossing sites.  

For almost the entire regimental front, hills 500 to 600 feet high rose from the narrow river valley, in some instances abruptly from the water’s edge. In this nine miles of front two valleys formed entrances from the river into the hill masses stretching eastward. The northern entrance was at the Ohang village ferry crossing. This crossing lay in the gap between I and L Companies at the northern edge of the bulge. The other natural entrance into the regimental zone lay four air miles south at the underside of the bulge.  

The 4.2-inch mortars supporting the 3rd Battalion were about a mile and a quarter back of the river in the draw that penetrated the hills from the Ohang ferry site. The 3rd Battalion command post was half a mile farther southeast in this same draw, at the village of Soesil. Commanding the battalion was Lieutenant Colonel Gines Perez, just arrived from the United States. At Yongsan, six miles east of the river, Colonel Beauchamp had his regimental command post.  

General Church ordered all civilians in the 24th Division zone to evacuate from an area five miles deep east of the river. He warned them that if they failed to do so, his troops might shoot them on sight as possible enemy agents. He said he could take no more chances with civilians; “If we are going to hold here, we cannot have any enemy behind us.”

The N.K. 4th Division Attacks Into the Naktong Bulge

The first enemy crossings of the Naktong River, west of the Andong mountain barrier, other than reconnaissance patrols, came on 5 August at three different places. Two were north of Waegwan in the ROK Army sector. The third was thirty miles south of Waegwan opposite Yongsan in the 24th Division sector, in the big bulge of the Naktong. This third crossing of the river was made by the N.K. 4th Division and was the one to have consequences which first threatened the Perimeter.  

Major General Lee Kwon Mu commanded the N.K. 4th Division. Already he had received the highest honors, the “Hero of the Korean Democratic People’s Republic” and the “Order of the National Flag, 1st Class,” for achievements with his division. Forty years old, Lee had been born in Manchuria, had served in the Chinese Communist 8th Route Army, and, according to some reports, he had been a lieutenant in the Soviet Army in World War II. After attending a school in the Soviet Union in 1948 he returned to Korea where he became Chief of Staff of the N.K. Army. Eventually he was relieved of this post. Shortly before the invasion he was recalled by Premier Kim Il Sung’s personal order and given command of the 4th Division. The division itself in August 1950 held the honorary name of “The 4th Seoul Division,” “Seoul” indicating recognition of the division’s part in the capture of that city.  

By 4 August, the N.K. 4th Division had concentrated its three regiments in the vicinity of Hyopchon and was studying the American dispositions and defenses opposite it on the east side of the Naktong. An officer from the division headquarters, captured later, estimated the division had a total strength of about 7,000 men at this time with about 1,500 men in each of the infantry regiments. The division, with little or no preparation for it, intended to make an immediate crossing of the river in co-ordination with other crossings northward.

[n17-6 ATIS Interrog Rpt 612, Issue 1, p. 25, Lieutenant Jun Jai Ro; EUSAK WD, 8 Oct 50, G-2 Sec, PW

Interrog, ADVATIS 1074, Junior Lieutenant Chon Cho Hong. ] 

On the American side, General Church considered the northern part of the 24th Division zone the more difficult to defend and reinforce because of its poor road net. He believed for this reason that the North Koreans were more likely to cross the river in that part of the division zone rather than in the southern part. Therefore, when the N.K. 4th Division crossed in the southern part, opposite the 34th Infantry, the crossing was not where he had anticipated it would be, and it also came sooner than he had expected. Red and yellow flares burst over the Naktong at midnight 5 August, as 800 North Koreans of the 3rd Battalion, 16th Regiment, began the crossing. Most of the men stripped off their clothing, rolling it and their weapons into bundles to be carried on their heads, and stepped into the shoulder-deep water. Others made rafts to float their clothes and equipment across. This crossing was at the Ohang ferry site, three and a half miles south of Pugong-ni and due west of Yongsan. There is some evidence that the 1st Battalion of the regiment also crossed at this time. None of the units in this initial crossing brought along mortars or heavy weapons. After reaching the east side, the enemy soldiers dressed, and in a column of platoons, marched southeast up the draw leading into the American lines. Their objective was Yongsan.  

Simultaneously with this crossing, another enemy force tried to cross the river some miles farther north in the zone of the 21st Regiment, 24th Division. This force, after running into a mine field and being shelled by artillery, was machine-gunned by infantry and driven back across the river in confusion.  

The enemy force that crossed at Ohang penetrated the gap between I and L Companies of the 34th Infantry, and followed the draw leading southeast to a little valley through which the Yongsan-Naktong River road passed. The battalion command post and the mortar position were approximately two miles from the enemy crossing site and directly in the line of enemy advance.  

At 0200, 6 August, the 34th Infantry reported to the 24th Division that an enemy force had penetrated between I and L Companies. The North Koreans moved along the draw without making any effort to attack the companies on the hills overlooking the river. They overran the 4.2-inch mortar position, but Colonel Pak Kum Choi. Colonel Pak gave the strength of the N.K. 16th Regt as follows: 1st Bn-500, 2nd Bn-500, 3rd Bn-800, Arty Bn-300, all other units in so doing fully alerted the battalion command post nearby. Aware now of the enemy penetration, most of the troops there escaped to the rear. Colonel Perez, commander of the 3rd Battalion, made his way back three miles along the Yongsan road to the 1st Battalion command post and there gave Colonel Ayres his first news of the enemy crossing.

 Colonel Beauchamp, the 34th regimental commander, at 0520 reported to General Church: “Enemy are across river in force in center of my sector. It’s pretty dark and situation is obscure. I am committing my reserve [1st Bn] at daylight to clear up the situation. Get me a liaison plane in the air at dawn.” 12 Beauchamp ordered Ayres to counterattack with the 1st Battalion and restore the regimental position. At dawn there was no indication that the rifle companies of the 3rd Battalion on the hills along the river, except L Company, had yet come under attack. Some elements of L Company had been forced out of position and withdrew about a mile from the river. The enemy apparently was content to leave the river line troops alone except where they lay across his axis of advance. He was concentrating on penetrating behind the river positions.  

After the escape of the 3rd Battalion headquarters troops, the positions of B Battery, 13th Field Artillery, eastward at the northwestern base of Obong-ni Ridge lay completely exposed to the enemy. At 0830 this battery reported small arms fire in its vicinity. The 24th Division now estimated that 800 enemy were east of the river in its zone.

 Upon receiving the order to counterattack straight down the Yongsan-Naktong River road, Colonel Ayres directed his executive officer to mount C Company in trucks and send it down the road until he, Ayres, stopped it. Behind C Company, A, B, and the Weapons Companies under the executive officer were to follow on foot. Just the day before, 187 replacements had joined the battalion.  

Ayres, his S-3, and the Assistant S-3 set off in a jeep down the road toward the river, ahead of the troops, to form an estimate of the situation. They reached the vacated 3rd Battalion command post without sighting enemy troops. While looking around the command post and making plans for deployment of the 1st Battalion when it came up, Ayres and those with him received fire from the hills above them. The trucks carrying C Company now began to arrive. While the men detrucked, enemy fire hit two of them.  

Ayres hurried to Captain Clyde M. Akridge, who had been in command of C Company only a few days, and directed him to attack and seize the high ground above the former 3rd Battalion command post. Akridge organized his company and started forward as enemy fire gradually increased. In leading the attack, Captain Akridge was wounded three times and was finally evacuated.  

Ayres took shelter at a culvert a short distance to the rear. From there he, the weapons platoon leader, and mortarmen placed 60-mm. mortar fire on the enemy-held hill until their ammunition was expended. While standing up to direct this fire, the mortar sergeant was practically cut in half by machine gun fire. Other men, lying prone, were hit. Ayres saw that he would have to get back to A and B Companies if he were to influence the actions of the battalion. With several members of the battalion staff he dashed across the rice paddy. Enemy fire hit two of the party but all reached the slopes of Obong-ni Ridge. They worked their way around the now abandoned artillery position to the rear. 

Before Ayres and his party escaped, B Battery, 13th Field Artillery Battalion, had come under enemy fire. At 1030 the battery commander assembled about 50 men and withdrew along a narrow road with one howitzer, four 2½-ton trucks, and three smaller vehicles. They abandoned four howitzers and nine vehicles. The battery lost 2 men killed, 6 wounded, and 6 missing.

 Meanwhile, in its attack, C Company had no chance of success; enemy troops were on higher ground in superior numbers. The North Koreans let loose a heavy volume of small arms and automatic fire against the company, and soon the dry creek bed in which the men were moving was strewn with dead and dying. After Colonel Ayres had dashed from the culvert across the rice paddy, Lieutenant Payne and Lieutenant McDonald Martin, the latter wounded, ran from the same culvert to a grist mill a short distance away, and south of the road. There, others joined them in the next few minutes. In the fight outside, more than half the company became casualties. According to the recollection of the battalion commander, there were about thirty-five survivors in the company. [n17-17]

 While C Company met the advancing North Koreans, A and B Companies had started forward on foot from the battalion area before rations could be issued to them. When he arrived at the 1st Battalion command post at Kang-ni, Colonel Beauchamp learned that C Company had lost heavily to enemy action up ahead and had been dispersed. He went forward at once and joined A and B Companies, the latter cautiously leading the advance. The B Company point met an enemy squad and killed ten of the enemy soldiers as they tried to run back. Two antiaircraft vehicles, each mounting four .50-caliber machine guns, were in the forefront of the attack that now got under way with A Company on the left of the road and B Company on the right. Colonel Ayres rejoined the battalion at this time. Even though enemy resistance at first was light, the intense summer heat slowed the pace. Soon B Company on the right encountered strong enemy forces on Cloverleaf Hill. They halted its advance and knocked out one of the quad-50’s on the road. On the left, A Company under Captain A. F. Alfonso continued its advance with only a few casualties, passing the overrun artillery positions and reaching the area where C Company had been overwhelmed by the enemy. [n17-18] 

[n17-17 24th Div WD, 6 Aug 50; Interv, author with Corporal Stewart E. Sizemore (D Co, 34th Inf, 6 Aug 50), 30 Jun 51; Ltr, Major Charles E. Payne to Ayres, 13 Dec 54, copy in OCMH; Interv, author with Ayres, 18 Nov 54.]

 [n17-18 Ltr, Alfonso to Ayres, 27 Nov 54, copy in OCMH; Interv, author with Ayres, 16 Nov 54; Interv, author with Beauchamp, 18 Nov 54; Ltr, Ayres to author, 5 Jan 53; Ltr and comments, Beauchamp to author, 20 May 53. The 1st Battalion, 34th Infantry, had only 20 officers and 471 enlisted men when it began the counterattack on 6 August. See 34th Inf WD, 7 Aug 50.] 

The light tank in the lead fired on the grist mill, supposing it to be enemy held, and scored a direct hit. This fire killed one, mortally wounded two, and wounded less severely several other C Company men inside. Then the tank and A Company men came charging up to the mill where several survivors of C Company had been fighting off North Koreans since early morning. North Korean soldiers several times had rushed to within grenade range of the building but had not succeeded in entering it. Inside, the men had stacked their dead against the walls to protect the living from small arms fire. Thus, after a day-long ordeal, the survivors were rescued by the A Company attack.  

Captain Alfonso and his men set about loading dead and wounded into abandoned but still operable 2½-ton trucks. This done, he put a driver and two riflemen from his company on each truck, and, with the tank leading, he sent the vehicles back through enemy fire toward friendly lines. Lieutenant Payne, knocked unconscious when the tank shell exploded against the grist mill, regained consciousness for a few seconds when he was thrown into a truck and heard a man say, “Payne is dead as a mackerel.” A little later he again regained consciousness when the truck ran into a ditch under enemy small arms fire. This time he was able to crawl and walk the remaining distance to safety.

Following the road, Alfonso continued his attack toward the river against light resistance. Just after sunset, about 2000, A Company reached the river and joined part of L Company which was still in its position overlooking the Naktong. The combined group was only about ninety men strong. They sought temporary safety in a well dug perimeter position. Fortunately they succeeded in establishing radio contact with the 1st Battalion through an L Company artillery forward observer’s radio by relay through B Company.

 While A Company pushed on to the river, B Company dug in on part of Cloverleaf Hill. Quiet gradually settled over the area. The day’s action made it clear that the North Koreans had penetrated eastward north of the Yongsan-Naktong River road to Cloverleaf Hill, but had not yet crossed south of the road to Obong-ni Ridge. Cloverleaf and Obong-ni together formed a high backbone across the Yongsan road about three miles east of the Naktong River and nearly halfway to Yongsan.  

While the 1st Battalion counterattack was in progress, I Company abandoned its hill position northward overlooking the river on the regimental right flank. The Heavy Weapons Company, a mortar platoon, and A Company, 26th Anti-aircraft Automatic Weapons Battalion, joined I Company in withdrawing northeast into the zone of the 21st Infantry.  

These units were not under attack. Adjacent units of the 21st Infantry saw this movement and reported it to General Church. He immediately ordered Colonel Beauchamp to stop this unauthorized withdrawal and to relieve the company commanders involved. Beauchamp sent his executive officer, Colonel Wadlington, to the scene at once. Wadlington found the men moving east, turned them around, and marched them back toward their former position. At noon General Church sent the 24th Division Reconnaissance Company to block the Naktong River-Changnyong road adjacent to I Company’s former position. The Reconnaissance and I Companies then attacked an enemy force that had by now occupied a hill near Pugong-ni, but they were repulsed with considerable loss. 

By midmorning, General Church had become convinced that the bulk of the enemy east of the river were in the bulge area. He thereupon committed the 19th Infantry in an attack west along the northern flank of the 34th Infantry. In this attack, the 19th Infantry trapped approximately 300 enemy troops in a village east of Ohang Hill, a mile from the river, and killed most of them.  

The day’s action had not been without creditable performances by the American troops. The counterattack of the 1st Battalion, 34th Infantry, had driven back the enemy’s advanced units and regained part of Cloverleaf Hill. This, together with the fact that K, L, and A Companies held hill positions above the Naktong without any sign of panic, prevented the enemy from seizing at the outset the road net through Yongsan. Also, it gave time for the 19th Infantry, and later the 9th Infantry, to move up for counterattack. Artillery fire and aircraft had kept the crossing sites covered, and after daylight prevented enemy reinforcements from reaching the east side of the river. When darkness fell, the artillery continued interdiction fire on these crossing sites. The 24th Division had seventeen 105-mm. and twelve 155-mm. howitzers available to deliver supporting fires covering thirty-two miles of front. 

Just as the battle of the Naktong Bulge got under way, regrouping of ROK troops made it necessary for Eighth Army to order the ROK 17th Regiment released from the 24th Division. This regiment had been holding the right flank of the division line. To take its place temporarily in the emergency, General Church hastily formed Task Force Hyzer (3rd Engineer Combat Battalion, less A Company; 78th Heavy Tank Battalion, less tanks; and the 24th Division Reconnaissance Company). Eighth Army allowed Church to keep the ROK 17th Regiment in line the night of 6-7 August, and before dawn it repulsed several enemy crossing attempts in its sector. On the morning of 7 August Task Force Hyzer relieved it, and the ROK 17th Regiment moved to Taegu to rejoin the ROK Army. This weakening of the line had been partly offset the previous afternoon by the arrival of the 1st Battalion, 9th Infantry, 2nd Infantry Division, at Changnyong for attachment to the 24th Division. On the evening of the 6th, as the enemy held firmly to his bridgehead, General Church ordered the 34th and 19th Infantry Regiments to continue the counterattack the next morning.

Here The Enemy Gains Cloverleaf—Obong-ni  

During the night of 6-7 August, the enemy succeeded in moving an unknown number of reinforcements across to the east side of the river in the bulge area. Then, on the third night, 7-8 August, an estimated two more battalions crossed the river in four different places. Enemy units that tried to cross north of the bulge were driven back by the 21st Infantry; they then shifted southward to cross. 

The continuation of the American counterattack in the bulge, on the morning of 7 August, by the 19th Infantry and B Company of the 34th Infantry was a feeble effort. Extreme heat and lack of food and water were contributing factors in the failure to advance. The situation was not helped when friendly aircraft mistakenly strafed the 19th Infantry positions. In its zone, B Company, 34th Infantry, fell back after rescuing a few men of the Heavy Mortar Company who had been missing since the previous morning. On their part, the North Koreans pressed forward and occupied the greater part of Cloverleaf Hill and Obong-ni Ridge. In doing this, they established themselves on dominating and critical terrain astride the main east-west road in the bulge area.

 From the crests of Cloverleaf and Obong-ni the North Koreans could see the American main supply road stretching back to Yongsan five miles away and, for a distance, beyond that town toward Miryang. Cloverleaf (Hill 165), as its name indicates, is shaped like a four-leaf clover with its stem pointing north. Cloverleaf is somewhat higher than Obong-ni Ridge across the pass to the south of it. Obong-ni Ridge is a mile and a half long, curving slightly to the southeast with a series of knobs rising from 300 to 500 feet above the rice paddies at its base. The road, where it passes between Cloverleaf and Obong-ni, follows a winding, narrow passage of low ground. The village of Tugok (Morisil) lies at the southern base of Cloverleaf just north of the road.28 Obong village lies at the eastern base of Obong-ni Ridge half a mile south of the road. These two related terrain features, Cloverleaf Hill and Obong-ni Ridge, were the key positions in the fighting of the Naktong Bulge. The battle was to rage around them for the next ten days.  

On the morning of 7 August, while the North Koreans were seizing Cloverleaf Hill and Obong-ni Ridge, Colonel John G. Hill received a summons to come to the 2nd Division headquarters. There he learned from the division commander that General Walker had ordered the 9th Regiment (—) to report to General Church. Hill started his troops to the bulge area at 0130, and reported to General Church about 0830, 8 August. Church told Hill he wanted him to attack at once and drive the North Koreans from the bulge salient. [n17-29] After some discussion it was agreed that the 9gth Infantry would attack at 1600.

 The 9th Infantry, at full strength in troops and equipment and its men rested, contrasted strongly with the regiments of the 24th Division on the line. On 8 August, the strength of the 24th Division regiments was approximately as follows: 34th Infantry, 1,100; 19th Infantry, 1,700; 21st Infantry, 1,800. The combat effectiveness of the 24th Division then was estimated to be about 40 percent because of shortage of equipment and understrength units. Fatigue and lowered morale of the men undoubtedly reduced the percentage even more.

 Hill’s 9th Infantry relieved B Company, 34th Infantry, on part of Cloverleaf Hill and members of the Heavy Mortar Company who were fighting as riflemen across the road near Obong-ni Ridge. Colonel Hill placed the 1st Battalion of the 9th Infantry on the left of the Yongsan road, the 2nd Battalion on the right side. His command post was at Kang-ni, a mile and a half eastward toward Yongsan. Two batteries of the 15th Field Artillery Battalion (105-mm. howitzers) supported his attack, with twelve 155-mm. howitzers and additional 105-mm. howitzers of the 24th Division on call. Hill’s immediate objectives were Cloverleaf Hill and Obong-ni Ridge.

 [n17-29 Interv, author with Hill, 1 Oct 52; Brigadier General John J. Hill, MS review comments, 2 Jan 58. The designation (—) has been used to indicate a combat organization that is lacking one or more of its organic units.]

 Colonel Hill’s 9th Infantry attacked straight west late in the afternoon of 8 August against Cloverleaf and Obong-ni. On the right, the 2nd Battalion succeeded in capturing part of Cloverleaf by dark, but not control of it or that side of the pass. On the left, the 1st Battalion likewise succeeded in gaining part of Obongni Ridge. But that night the North Koreans regained the ridge. This situation changed little the next day.

 The enemy by now had begun to show increased interest in the hill positions along the Naktong still held by American troops. At dawn on 7 August, Captain Alfonso of A Company, 34th Infantry, discovered that the enemy had occupied the ridge on his right which overlooked his position. By radio he directed artillery fire on the hill. When he started a patrol out to determine the result, enemy fire drove it back. An airdrop of supplies that afternoon was only partially successful. The company recovered little more than half the drop and lost some men to enemy fire in the process. The night passed quietly.  

The next morning, 8 August, Alfonso’s men could see North Koreans crossing the Naktong below them in six boats, each holding about ten to twelve men. They radioed for an air strike, and later, at a range of 1,000 yards, engaged the enemy force with their .50-caliber machine gun, causing the North Koreans to disperse along the river bank. There the air strike came in on them, with undetermined results.  

That afternoon, the North Koreans began registering mortar and artillery fire on A Company’s position, but ceased firing as soon as their registration was accomplished. Alfonso and his men noticed an enemy column far off, moving toward them. From this and the mortar and artillery registrations, they concluded that the enemy would deliver a co-ordinated attack against them that night. Alfonso requested permission to withdraw at 2300, and this was approved by both the battalion and regimental commanders.  

At 2230, Alfonso removed his wounded to the base of the hill; the others followed. As the company started to withdraw along the road, heavy enemy fire fell on their vacated position. The North Koreans soon learned that the Americans were not there and redirected fire along the road. The company was supposed to withdraw to friendly lines south of the road at the southern end of Obongni Ridge. But, in a series of mistakes, one platoon kept to the road or close to it and ran into an enemy position at the northern end of Obong-ni. There it lost heavily. The rest of the company and the L Company men with it finally reached the 1st Battalion lines east of Obong-ni well after daylight, 9 August.  

Farther south near the river that morning, K Company received enemy attacks, one enemy group overrunning the company’s forward observation post. Even though the enemy was behind it, the company received orders to hold. The next day, 10 August, reorganized L Company took positions behind its right flank.  

On 10 August, at the critical battleground within the bulge, the North Koreans on Cloverleaf Hill launched an attack which met head-on one by the 9th Infantry. Officer losses had been severe in the 2nd Battalion on 8 and 9 August. On the 10th, F was the only rifle company in the battalion with more than one officer. In this fighting the North Koreans regained all the ground they had lost earlier at Cloverleaf. But north of Cloverleaf, the 2nd Battalion, 19th Infantry, succeeded in capturing several hills along the Naktong, the most important being Ohang Hill. The enemy repulsed all its efforts to advance south from Ohang. The fighting on 10 August in the vicinity of Ohang Hill reduced the 2nd Battalion, 19th Infantry, to about 100 effective men in the rifle companies. [n16-35]  

That evening General Church placed Colonel Hill in command of all troops in the Naktong Bulge. The troops comprised the 9th Regimental Combat Team (less the 3rd Battalion), 2nd Division; and the 34th and 19th Infantry Regiments, and the 1st Battalion, 21st Infantry, 24th Division, together with supporting artillery and other attached units. This command was now designated Task Force Hill.  

[n16-35 24th Div WD, 9-11 Aug 50; EUSAK WD, 22 Aug 50, ATIS Interrog Rpt 703, Kim Chi Ho; Hill, MS review comments, 2 Jan 58; Interv, author with Montesclaros, 1 Oct 52. In the 2nd Battalion, 19th Infantry, F Company effectives numbered about 25; G Company, about 40; and E Company about 30.] 

General Church ordered Colonel Hill to attack the next morning and restore the Naktong River line. Hill and the other commanders involved worked out the attack plan during the night. It called for the 9th and 19th Regiments to drive southwest through the heart of the bulge. The 1st Battalion, 21st Infantry, was to move during the night from the northern part of the division zone to a point near the southern end of Obong-ni Ridge, and from there attack southwest on the left of the 9th Regimental Combat Team. Meanwhile, the 34th Infantry would protect the left flank of the combat team at Obong-ni.

 As it chanced, enemy reinforcements reached the east side of the river during the night and vastly increased the difficulty of this attack. Colonel Hill had received reports as early as 8 August that the North Koreans were working at night on an underwater bridge across the Naktong at the Kihang, or Paekchin, ferry site in the middle of the bulge. The enemy 4th Division completed this underwater bridge during the night of 10 August, and before daylight had moved trucks, heavy mortars, and approximately twelve artillery pieces to the east side of the Naktong. Some of the equipment crossed on rafts. Additional infantry units of the enemy division also crossed the river during the night. A few tanks may have crossed at this time. By the morning of 11 August, therefore, five days after the initial crossing, the North Koreans had heavy weapons and equipment across into their bridgehead.  

The North Koreans built many underwater bridges across the Naktong during August, 1950. They consisted of sandbags, logs, and rocks to a point about one foot below the surface of the water. In effect, they constituted shallow fords. In muddy water they were hard to detect from the air. Underwater bridges similar to them had been built, and used extensively, by the Russians in World War II, often as a surprise factor in battles on the Eastern Front. They played an important part, for instance, in the crucial battle of Stalingrad.  

The attack on 11 August, intended to push the enemy into the river, failed completely. The N.K. 4th Division fought the 9th and 19th Regiments to a standstill at their lines of departure and in their positions. Furthermore, the enemy drove the 1st Battalion, 21st Infantry, from its assembly area before it could start its part of the attack. During the morning a new feature appeared in the bulge battle—North Korean use of artillery in three groups of 6, 4, and 4 pieces, all emplaced near Kogong-ni, about a mile behind the enemy positions on Cloverleaf and Obong-ni. In the afternoon General Church found it necessary to change the order for Task Force Hill from attack to one of dig in and hold. The greater part of the N.K. 4th Division had now crossed into the bulge area. That night the division completed its crossing of the river.  

[n16-39 9th RCT Unit Rpt 4, 10-11 Aug 50; 24th Div WD, 11 Aug 50; EUSAK WD, 28 Sep 50, Interrog Rpt of Maj Choe Chu Yong; EUSAK WD, 18 Aug 50, G-2 Sec, ATIS Interrog Rpt 644. Kim Dok Sam, a ROK officer, monitored enemy radio conversations about N.K. artillery positions.]

Yongsan Under Attack

During 10-11 August, when the North Korean build-up on Obong-ni and Cloverleaf was increasingly apparent, enemy groups also began to appear in the extreme southern part of the 24th sector. By 11 August there was unmistakable indication that enemy forces in some strength had moved around the main battle positions at Cloverleaf and Obongni and were behind Task Force Hill.

 On that day enemy artillery fire brought Yongsan under fire for the first time. East of the town, enemy sniper fire harassed traffic on the road to Miryang. South of Yongsan, an enemy force drove back a patrol of the 24th Reconnaissance Company. And during the morning, North Koreans surprised and killed a squad of K Company, 34th Infantry, guarding the bridge over the Naktong at Namji-ri. Enemy control of this bridge cut the Yongsan-Masan road and broke the only direct vehicular communication link between the 24th and 25th Divisions. The situation was confused south of Yongsan on 11 August, at the very moment Task Force Hill’s attack was being thrown back a few miles westward. In this emergency, General Church dispatched the 14th Engineer Combat Battalion to Yongsan, and General Walker ordered the 2nd Battalion, 27th Infantry, in army reserve at Masan behind Task Force Kean, to attack north across the Naktong River over the Namji-ri bridge into the southern part of the 24th Division zone.

 That night, 11-12 August, North Koreans built up their roadblock east of Yongsan to greater strength and extended it to a point three miles east of the town. A staff officer awakened Colonel Hill before daylight to inform him that the enemy had ambushed several ambulances and trucks two miles east of Yongsan. Although hard-pressed at Cloverleaf, Hill immediately ordered F Company, 9th Infantry, out of the line there and dispatched it together with a platoon of mortars to attack the roadblock. The 15th Field Artillery Battalion helped by turning some of its guns to fire on it.

 Simultaneously, 24th Division headquarters assembled from eight different units about 135 men, including clerks, bakers, military police, and Reconnaissance Company troops, under the command of Captain George B. Hafemen, commanding officer of Headquarters Company. This force hurriedly moved west from Miryang and took up a position at the pass near Simgong-ni on the Yongsan-Miryang road. Its mission was to block further eastward penetration of the enemy. Two tanks accompanied Hafemen’s force. Hafemen and his men held this position all afternoon against North Korean attack. Three times armored cars came through to them with food, water, and ammunition.

 [n16-42 Interv, author with Hill, 1 Oct 52; 24th Div WD, 11-12 Aug 50; New York Herald Tribune, August 14, 1950, Bigart dispatch. General Order 111, 30 August 1950, awarded the Silver Star to 1st Lieutenant William F. Coghill for gallantry in this action. 24th Div WD. ]

 The next day at noon, 13 August, General Church sent a plane to bring Colonel Hill for a conference with General Walker at the 24th Division command post. Walker asked Hill, “Can you raise the roadblock?” Hill replied, “Yes, I have just flown over it, and I can clear it by night.” Walker seemed satisfied with this assurance.

 In the meantime, and pursuant to General Walker’s order on the 11th, Colonel Murch’s 2nd Battalion, 27th Infantry, had been engaged in helping to clear the enemy from the area south of Yongsan. On the 11th Murch’s battalion departed from its assembly area near Masan and rolled north toward the Naktong River. A steady stream of Korean refugees clogged the road. As the battalion pushed its way through this traffic a refugee cart overturned, exposing about fifteen rifles and several bags of ammunition. Approximately twelve North Korean soldiers disguised as refugees accompanying it fled across an open field. Infantrymen near the scene killed eight of them. Continuing on, Murch’s battalion engaged and dispersed an estimated 200 enemy troops near Iryong-ni, a few miles south of the Naktong River bridge. The battalion crossed the river and by midnight had established a bridgehead on the north side against enemy small arms fire.

 The next day Eighth Army attached the 27th Infantry to the 24th Division with the mission of attacking north to Yongsan. Army estimates credited two enemy battalions with being east of the Yongsan-Masan road. In the fight northward during 12 August, Murch’s 2nd Battalion encountered entrenched enemy who fought with mortars, machine guns, and small arms. An air strike co-ordinated with the ground attack helped it drive the enemy from his positions. In this attack, the 2nd Battalion killed about 100 enemy, wounded an unknown number, and captured twelve machine guns and a number of “Buffalo” guns (14.5caliber antitank rifles).

 The attack continued northward the next day with the 3rd Battalion, 27th Infantry, assisting the 2nd Battalion. By midafternoon of 13 August both battalions reached their objective, the high ground north and east of Yongsan. Colonels Hill and Beauchamp met Colonel Murch in Yongsan as the latter’s 2nd Battalion effected juncture with Task Force Hill. In this advance, the 27th Infantry troops overran four pieces of enemy artillery; two of them were captured U.S. 105-mm. howitzers.

 Still another American reinforcement had been converging on the enemy at Yongsan—the 1st Battalion, 23rd Infantry, of the 2nd Division. This battalion had just arrived at Miryang where it received orders to attack west. In this, its first action, it had nine cases of heat exhaustion but only one battle casualty. Some of its troops met an advanced unit of the 27th Infantry a mile east of Yongsan.  

Thus, by evening of 13 August, General Walker’s prompt action in committing the 27th Infantry, together with the 24th Division’s employment of headquarters and engineer troops, had eliminated the dangerous enemy penetration south and east of Yongsan.  

On the 14th, a reinforced company of the 35th Infantry, 25th Division, took up a defensive position south of the Naktong River at Namji-ri bridge, relieving units of the 27th Infantry there. Responsibility for protecting the bridge passed from the 24th to the 25th Division. 

Enemy action in the southern part of the 24th Division sector from 10 to 13 August convinced Colonel Hill that K and L Companies were doing no good in their isolated hill positions near the Naktong. Accordingly, he issued orders —received by the 3rd Battalion, 34th Infantry, at 0200, 14 August—for these companies to abandon their positions and assemble in the rear of the 1st Battalion as regimental reserve. They carried out this movement without incident.

Battle at Cloverleaf-Obong-ni

During the enemy infiltration around Yongsan, fighting continued at Cloverleaf, Obong-ni, and northward. There, the 9th Regimental Combat Team, the 19th Infantry, and elements of the 34th Infantry succeeded in denying gains to the enemy division, and so tied down its main force that the N.K. 4th Division could not exploit its penetrations southward.  

Task Force Hill still had its mission of driving the enemy out of the bulge and back across the Naktong. With the North Korean penetration south and east of Yongsan eliminated on 13 August, Colonel Hill planned an attack the next day with his entire force against the Cloverleaf-Obong-ni positions. One hundred aircraft were to deliver a strike on these positions. Artillery was to follow the strike with a concentrated barrage.  

The attacking ground formations were essentially the same, and held the same relative positions, as during their abortive attack three days earlier. The enemy division apparently had its 5th Regiment on the north in front of the 19th Infantry, the 16th Regiment on Cloverleaf and Obong-ni, part of the 18th Regiment back of the 16th, and the remainder of it scattered throughout the bulge area, but mostly in the south and east. 

Task Force Hill was far from strong for this attack. The two battalions of the 9th Infantry were down to approximately two-thirds strength, the 19th Infantry was very low in combat-effective troops, and the three rifle companies of the 1st Battalion, 34th Infantry, had a combined strength of less than that of one full strength rifle company.

[n16-51 9th RCT Unit Rpt 9, 14 Aug 50, gives the strength of its 1st Battalion as 599 enlisted men and that of the 2nd Battalion as 609 enlisted men, against an authorized strength of 883 enlisted men each. Ayres, Notes for author, 24 Jan 55.]  

Monday, 14 August, dawned over the bulge area with a heavy overcast of clouds. Rain had been falling since 0300. This prevented the planned air strike. The 24th Division artillery, down to an estimated 40 percent combat effectiveness at this time, had massed most of its guns in the low ground just west of Yongsan under the command of Lieutenant Colonel Charles W. Stratton, Commanding Officer, 13th Field Artillery Battalion. These guns delivered a 10-minute preparation. Then the infantry moved out. The two battalions of the 9th Regimental Combat Team, the 1st on the right and the 2nd on the left, started up the slopes of Cloverleaf, while B Company, 34th Infantry, began a holding attack against Obong-ni south of the road. Although it almost reached the top of Obong-ni early in the morning, B Company was driven back by 0800.  

The main battle took place northward across the road on Cloverleaf. There the American and North Korean troops locked in a close battle of attack and counterattack. The 1st Battalion lost sixty men killed or wounded in one hour of fighting. Both battalions of the 9th Regimental Combat Team gained parts of the high ground but could not control the hill mass. Northward, the 19th Infantry made no gain.  

That night on Cloverleaf was one of continuing combat. The North Koreans attacked and infiltrated into the 9th Infantry’s dug-in defensive positions. The case of Master Sergeant Warren H. Jordan of E Company reflects the severity of the fighting on Cloverleaf. From 10 to 17 August, he was forced on five different occasions to take command of the company because all company officers had been killed or wounded, or had suffered heat exhaustion.

 The enemy attack on the night of the 14th was not confined to Cloverleaf. South of Obong-ni enemy troops virtually surrounded the 1st Battalion, 21st Infantry, and inflicted numerous casualties on it. At 0300 Colonel Hill ordered Smith to withdraw. The battalion fought its way out of encirclement before dawn and took up a new defensive position. It held this new position at the south end of the main battle line with the help of a counterattack by the 3rd Battalion, 34th Infantry, which had been strengthened that morning by the return of K and L Companies from their river hill positions.

 Very few of its members had any hope of dislodging the enemy when Task Force Hill continued the attack on the morning of 15 August. Clouds and rain still hampered air support. On the south end of Obong-ni, A and B Companies, 34th Infantry, fought a savage encounter with North Koreans on the ridge line. The 2nd Platoon of A Company, led by Sergeant First Class Roy E. Collins, assaulted across a shallow saddle to an enemy-held knob. Enemy troops were just over the crest of it on the reverse slope. A grenade fight immediately developed. Men exchanged rifle fire at ten paces. One enemy soldier dived over the ridge line and tackled Collins around the waist. To his amazement, Collins learned that the enemy soldier wanted to surrender. This was the only way he could do it. Within fifty minutes after launching the attack, the platoon lost 25 men killed or wounded of the 35 who had dashed across the saddle. Ten men withdrew while Private First Class Edward O. Cleaborn, a Negro, stubbornly stayed behind to get in one more shot. He lost his life trying to get that shot. With them the 10 able-bodied survivors took 9 wounded men, 3 of whom died before they reached an aid station.

 [n16-55 Gugeler, Combat Actions in Korea, ch. 2, “Attack Along a Ridgeline,” pp. 20-29; 24th Div WD, 15 Aug 50; Abstract of A Co, 34th Inf Morning Rpts, 14-15 Aug 50. In his account, Gugeler describes all the action as taking place on 15 August. Some of the preliminary incidents took place on the 14th, according to the morning reports of the company.]

 Elsewhere, the North Koreans fought Task Force Hill to a standstill. Colonel Hill had used all the resources at his command and had just barely held the enemy on his front. Having no reserve he was powerless to maneuver. General Church came up to Colonel Hill’s command post during 15 August and the two of them talked over the situation. Although they felt that the N.K. 4th Division was growing weaker from attrition and might have exhausted its offensive power in the costly stalemate fighting at Obong-ni and Cloverleaf, they did not see how they, on their part, could continue the attack. They agreed to discontinue the attack and defend in place.

 General Walker had by now become most impatient at the lack of progress in driving the enemy from the bulge. Church told Walker on the 13th that the entire N.K. 4th Division was across and in the 24th Division sector. General Walker discounted this with the curt rejoinder, “That is not my information.” Church insisted nevertheless that such was the case. Intelligence later confirmed General Church’s estimate. When the attack of 15 August failed, General Walker knew he must commit more strength into the bulge if he was to drive out the enemy. Impatient and angry, he came to Church’s command post during the morning and said, “I am going to give you the Marine brigade. I want this situation cleaned up, and quick.”

 Walker returned to Taegu about noon and called a conference of some of his key staff officers to determine what forces were available to reinforce the 24th Division. The Marine brigade was en route from the Masan area to Miryang where it was to bivouac in army reserve. About 1300 Walker decided definitely that he would use the marines in the Naktong Bulge and directed Colonel Collier to fly to Miryang immediately and discuss the situation with General Craig, the Marine brigade commander, who was expected to arrive there momentarily. Collier told Craig of General Walker’s instructions as the two sat talking in a jeep. General Craig immediately ordered the brigade headquarters to break bivouac and head for Yongsan.

 General Walker’s decision on the 15th is only one of many that could be mentioned to illustrate the command problems he had to face during the two and a half months of the continuing battles of the Pusan Perimeter. Serious trouble had developed at many places at this time. A quick glance around the Perimeter for the period 11-15 August will show that Eighth Army reserves were needed almost everywhere. Task Force Kean suffered its severe setback at Bloody Gulch on 12 August. At the same time Task Force Hill had failed at Obong-ni Ridge and Cloverleaf in the Naktong Bulge and strong elements of the N.K. 4th Division were behind it near Yongsan. In action yet to be described, the North Koreans had crossed the Naktong and were approaching Taegu north of the bulge. Eastward, the ROK forces were being driven back at a steady pace and the Perimeter was shrinking visibly in that quarter. The N.K. 5th Division had entered Pohangdong on the east coast and was in position to drive down the Kyongju corridor to Pusan.

 Beginning in the second week of August 1950, and continuing for the next six weeks, the two forces locked in combat at nearly all points of the Perimeter. Because it is necessary to separate the farflung conflict into parts in order to describe it, an element of distortion is thus introduced into the Pusan Perimeter story. As the reader follows each single action for this period he must constantly keep in mind, if he is to view the scene at all as the contemporary commanders did, that equally intense and costly struggles were in progress elsewhere.

 Because of this multiplicity of battles taking place simultaneously at different parts of the Perimeter, it is difficult to describe satisfactorily the command problems daily confronting General Walker. He had to know, or guess correctly, where the next crisis would appear. Or, if surprised by an enemy action, he immediately had to find the means to meet it and act quickly. A commander has to think of all the actions in progress, or imminent, and make tactical decisions, balancing the needs of one part of his defense lines against those of others. A commander’s viewpoint, hour by hour, is determined by changing factors of a complex situation. During the Pusan Perimeter battles in the summer of 1950 in Korea General Walker faced a trying time. As historical perspective is gained with the passing of time, Walker’s chief claim to a high place in United States military history may well rest on the tactics of his masterful defensive operations on the Pusan Perimeter.

 General Walker always considered the Yongsan-Miryang area just above the confluence of the Nam River with the Naktong as a very dangerous axis of enemy attack. In mid-August he considered the crisis in the Naktong Bulge to be the most serious and important of the several that faced his forces. Accordingly, he then committed there his strongest reserve. Eighth Army attached the 1st Provisional Marine Brigade to the 24th Division on 15 August, and ordered an attack as early as possible on 17 August to destroy the enemy in the bulge east of the Naktong.

 On 16 August, as the tired men of Task Force Hill waited in their foxholes for help, the North Koreans attacked the 9th Infantry on Cloverleaf. The attacks were intense and at close quarters. North Koreans occupied some of the American foxholes after killing their occupants. On the right, the 2nd Battalion, 9th Infantry, lost ground. There was severe fighting also on Ohang Hill where elements of the 19th and 34th Regiments narrowly escaped being trapped. Captain Barszcz, commanding G Company, 34th Infantry, distinguished himself by bravery and leadership in this action.

 In the midst of the battle of the bulge a new enemy crossing of the Naktong occurred in the 1st Cavalry Division sector, just above the 24th Division boundary. This enemy force, estimated at two battalions, established itself on Hill 409, a mountain near Hyongpung. Because the area concerned was more accessible by roads from the 24th Division sector than from the 1st Cavalry Division sector, General Walker on the evening of 13 August shifted the 24th Division boundary northward to include this enemy penetration.

 Just after midnight, 15-16 August, Eighth Army by telephone ordered the 24th Division to take positive action against the enemy force on Hill 409 at the division’s northern extremity near Hyongpung. This force had now increased to an estimated regiment. Prisoners said it was the 29th Regiment of the N.K. 10th Division, a division not previously committed in action. Before daylight, the 1st Battalion, 23rd Infantry, arrived near Hill 409 to reinforce the 21st Infantry. The regiment had arrived from the United States on 5 August and had gone to an assembly area near Taegu with the certainty that it would soon be committed at some point around the Perimeter. The enemy troops on Hill 409 posed a particular danger. At any moment they might begin a drive southeast into the already desperately hard pressed American forces fighting in the Naktong Bulge. [N16-61]

 But this enemy force, fortunately and most comfortingly, made no effort to leave Hill 409 where it had established itself during a most critical moment of the bulge battle. Its inactivity within the American defense perimeter demonstrated either a lack of co-ordination by the North Korean command or an inelastic adherence to plans.

Marines Attack Obong-ni  

Although the situation did not look good for the American forces in the bulge on 15 August, the harsh prospect nevertheless gave a distorted view unless one knew something of the picture on the “other side of the hill.” Actually, the N.K. 4th Division was in desperate straits. Its food was in low supply. Ammunition resupply was difficult One regiment, the 18th, reportedly received its last ammunition resupply on 14 August. Desertion among replacements, according to prisoners, reached about 40 percent. Half the replacements did not have weapons, and they were used for labor services in digging foxholes, carrying ammunition, and foraging for food. The slightly wounded received but little medical attention, and were immediately put back into the front line. A large part of the severely wounded died from lack of medical care. Only the former Chinese Communist Forces fanatical squad and platoon leaders maintained high morale.

 [n16-61 24th Div WD, 12-16 Aug 50; 21st Inf WD, 1216 Aug 50; ATIS Res Supp Interrog Rpts, Issue 104 (N.K. 10th Div), p. 47; Captain William M. Glasgow, Jr., Platoon Leader in Korea, MS in OCMH (Glasgow was Ldr, 2nd Plat, B Co, 23rd Inf, 2nd Div); Interv, author with Stephens, 8 Oct 51; EUSAK WD, 5 Aug 50, G-3 Sec, Briefing for CG; 23rd Inf WD, Aug 50 Summ.]

 In discussing plans for the attack with Marine brigade and regimental commanders—Craig and Murray—Church and Hill learned that they did not want to launch an attack until the carrier-based Marine Corsairs could participate. The USS Badoeng Strait and the USS Sicily would not be in position to launch their planes until 17 August. Plans were made, therefore, to attack on that day.

 General Church was to command the co-ordinated attack of Army and Marine troops. The attack plan placed the 1st Provisional Marine Brigade on the left in front of Obong-ni Ridge. On the extreme left, the 1st Battalion (—), 21st Infantry, was to protect the marines’ left flank. The 9th Infantry stayed in front of Cloverleaf where it had been fighting for a week. The road between Cloverleaf and Obong-ni was the boundary between it and the marines. The 34th Infantry was north of the 9th Infantry. Beyond it the 19th Infantry formed the extreme right flank of the attack formations. The plan called for the 9th Infantry, after it took Cloverleaf, to be pinched out by the units on either side of it. They were to drive on to the Naktong. The 19th Infantry was to attack to the river and seize Ohang Hill, which the North Koreans had regained. The attack was to begin at 0800, 17 August. Fifty-four 105mm. howitzers and one battalion of 155 mm. howitzers were in place to support the attack.

 The 5th Marines had moved from the Masan front to Miryang, and then on 16 August it received orders to attack Obong-ni the next morning. The 2nd Battalion was to lead the assault, followed by the 1st and 3rd Battalions in that order. The 2nd Battalion reached its assembly area in front of Obong-ni Ridge after midnight.

 General Church had planned to coordinate a 9th RCT attack against Cloverleaf with the Marine attack against Obong-ni Ridge. Colonel Murray, however, requested that he be allowed to attack and secure Obong-ni first before the 9th RCT began its attack. Murray considered Obong-ni Ridge as his line of departure for the main attack and thought he could capture it with relative ease. Church, on the other hand, considered Obong-ni and Cloverleaf to be interlocking parts of the enemy position and thought they should be attacked simultaneously. However, he granted Murray’s request. Between Obong-ni and the Naktong River three miles away rose two successively higher hill masses. Both Murray and Church expected the enemy to make his main effort on the second ridge, the one behind Obong-ni. Information gained later indicated that Colonel Chang Ky Dok’s 18th Regiment, reinforced by a battalion of the 16th Regiment, defended Obong-ni Ridge. Other elements of the 16th Regiment apparently defended Cloverleaf.

 Lieutenant Colonel Harold S. Roise’s 2nd Battalion, 5th Marines, moved to its line of departure on the east side of a narrow valley in front of Obong-ni about 1,000 yards from the ridge crest. There it waited for the preliminaries to begin. The men studied intently the almost bare ridge opposite them, with its series of six knobs—Hills 102, 109, 117, 143, 147, and 153—rising progressively in height southward from 300 to 450 feet above the valley floor. Deep erosional gullies ran down from the saddles between the knobs leaving ribs of ground projecting from the ridge spine. About midway of the ridge a big landslide had exposed a large gash of red ground.

 A 10-minute artillery preparation, falling on areas back of Obong-ni, began at 0735. Intentionally, there was no artillery preparation on Obong-ni itself. Instead, eighteen Corsairs delivered an air strike on the ridge. The strike was impressive. To observers, Obong-ni seemed to be blowing up—”was floating,” as General Church described it.

 Two companies, E on the left and D on the right, moved out from the line of departure at 0800, using the red gash on Obong-ni as the boundary between their zones of advance. Four platoons, numbering about 120 men, constituted the assault formation that crossed the valley and started up the slope. From the ridge itself they encountered no enemy fire, but from Tugok village across the road to their right (north) came heavy small arms and machine gun fire Some fire also came from their left flank near Obong village. Mortar fire fell on the assault group when it reached the slope of Obong-ni.

 At one point only did any of the marines reach the crest. This was just to the right of the red gash where a rain-formed gully led upwards. Near the crest the gully was so shallow it provided scarcely enough cover to protect one man lying down. Using this gully as cover for part of his platoon, 2nd Lieutenant Michael J. Shinka reached the top with twenty of his original thirty men. As they scrambled into empty North Korean foxholes, grazing enemy machine gun fire from the right swept over them and North Koreans in a second row of foxholes a few yards down the reverse slope jumped up and attacked them with grenades. Five marines were casualties in this attack; Shinka ordered the rest off the ridge. They complied quickly, pulling their wounded back on ponchos.

 Corsairs now returned and worked over the Obong-ni Ridge line and reverse slope with a hail of explosives. A shortage of fuel tanks prevented use of napalm. After the strike ended, the marines started upward again from halfway down the slope where they had waited. Tanks moved out into the low ground east of the ridge and supported the second attack by direct fire into Tugok village and against the ridge line. At first there was little enemy fire. Within a few minutes after the air strike had ended, however, the North Koreans moved into their forward foxholes at the crest. From these points they placed automatic fire on the climbing marines and rolled grenades down on them.

 Again, only Shinka’s platoon reached the top. This time, starting with fifteen men, he had nine when he got there. The small group could not stay on the crest, and they fell back down the slope. Shinka crawled to the crest to see if he could find any marine wounded on top; enemy fire hit him twice, one bullet shattering his chin, another entering his right arm. He rolled down the hill. Enemy fire, inflicting heavy casualties, pinned the other units to the ground on the side of the ridge.

 The heavy enemy fire from Tugok and part of Cloverleaf Hill on the right (north) was an important factor in turning back the Marine attack on Obong-ni. At 1500 the 2nd Battalion held positions about halfway up the slope. In seven hours it had lost 23 killed and 119 wounded-a casualty rate of almost 60 percent of the 240 riflemen who had taken part in the attack.

 Because of the heavy losses in the 2nd Battalion, General Craig had already decided he would have to pass the 1st Battalion through it if the attack was to continue. At 1245 Colonel Murray relayed the order to Colonel Newton to move his 1st Battalion in position to resume the attack on Obong-ni. The latter completed the relief of the 2nd Battalion on the slopes by 1600.

24th Division Attack Gains Cloverleaf

It was apparent during the morning that the Marine planes had failed to destroy the enemy soldiers in their deep foxholes on the reverse slope of Obongni. It was also clear that the heavy enemy fire from gun positions in Tugok village and on the high spurs of Cloverleaf had worked havoc among the marines trying to climb the exposed slope of Obong-ni. In the plan for resuming the attack there was one important change. Colonel Murray, now convinced that it would be necessary for the 9th Infantry on his right to attack Cloverleaf simultaneously with his attack against Obong-ni, went to General Church and told him of his changed view. Church said the 9th Infantry would attack after an artillery preparation. Murray informed Church and Hill shortly after 1500 that the 1st Battalion, 5th Marines, would be ready to launch its attack at 1600.  

Shortly before 1600, the 24th Division began to deliver scheduled preparatory fires on Cloverleaf, raking it from top to bottom. Part of the fire was time-on-target air bursts. The flying shell fragments of the air bursts spread a shroud of death over the crest and reverse slope. Then, at 1600, the 9th Infantry and the marines began their co-ordinated attack. The 2nd Battalion, 9th Infantry, took Cloverleaf without difficulty. The artillery barrage had done its work; enemy soldiers surviving it fled down the hill. From Cloverleaf, the 9th Infantry now supported with its fire the attack of the marines against Obong-ni. 

At Obong-ni, the North Koreans again stopped the frontal attack of the marines. But this time, with enemy fire from Tugok and Cloverleaf almost eliminated, the righthand platoon of B Company near the boundary with the 9th RCT was able to move to the right around the northern spur of Obong-ni and reach its crest here above the road. The marines captured this knob, Hill 102, about 1700. Then the next two knobs southward, Hills log and 117, fell to a flanking attack from the direction of Hill 102, supported by fire from that hill. Enemy fire from the next knob crest of Hill 117 back to its eastern slope.  

Just before dark the North Koreans made their first use of tanks in this battle of the Naktong Bulge. While digging in for the night, men on Hill 102 noticed three T34 tanks coming from the west. A fourth tank, not in view at first, followed. They came steadily along the road toward the pass between Obongni and Cloverleaf. By radio, B Company notified its battalion command post in the valley that tanks were approaching.  

Three American Pershings (M26’s) clanked forward to positions at a curve in the road in front of the Marine 1st Battalion command post. The 75-mm. recoil less rifles already commanded the road where it emerged from the pass. Two 3.5-inch rocket launcher teams hurried into position at the north side of the road. Three Air Force P-51’s sighted the enemy tanks and made several strafing runs over them but without visible effect. Marines on Hill 102 watched with fascination as the T34’s rumbled into the pass.  

Down below, a dust cloud rising over a shoulder of ground warned the waiting bazooka teams that the T34’s were about to come around the bend in the road. Seeing the steel hulk of the leading tank slowly come into view, one of the bazooka teams fired the first shot at a range of 100 yards, hitting the tank in its treads. The tank came on with all guns firing. A second rocket struck it just as a shell from a 75-mm. recoilless rifle tore a hole in its hull. The tank stopped but continued firing its guns. In another moment, the foremost American Pershing scored a direct hit on thisT34, setting it on fire. At least one enemy crew member abandoned the tank. Small arms fire killed him. The second enemy tank now came into view. The bazooka teams knocked it out. Two Pershing tanks destroyed the third T34 the moment it swung into sight. Air action destroyed the fourth tank before it reached the pass and dispersed enemy infantry accompanying it. In this action, Pershing tanks for the first time came face to face with the T34.

When darkness fell, the marines dug in on a perimeter defense where they were. From Hill 102, B Company extended its line over Hill 109 to the saddle between it and Hill 117; there it met the defense line of A Company which bent back down the east slope of 117 to the base of the ridge. During the day the marines had 205 casualties—23 killed, 2 dead of wounds, 180 wounded. While this severe day-long battle had been in progress at Obong-ni, the 34th and 19th Infantry Regiments on the 24th Division right started their attacks late in the afternoon after repeated delays. Heavy air attacks and artillery barrages had already hit on Ohang Hill during the afternoon. This attack moved forward, but with heavy casualties in some units, notably in L Company, 34th Infantry, which came under enemy fire from the rear at one point. Ohang Hill, overlooking the Naktong River at the northern end of the bulge, fell to the 19th Infantry by dusk. That night the 24th Division intercepted an enemy radio message stating that North Korean troops in the bulge area were short of ammunition and requesting permission for them to withdraw across the Naktong.

Obong-ni Falls

That evening, 17 August, American mortars and artillery registered on corridors of enemy approach to Obong-ni and Cloverleaf and on probable centers of enemy troop concentrations. Some artillery pieces fired on the river crossing sites to prevent enemy reinforcements arriving in the battle area. On Obong-ni that night, the marines, sure of an enemy counterattack, set trip flares in front of their positions. One quarter of the men stood guard while the remainder rested. On the left of the line, A Company had lost its 60-mm. mortars in the evening when four white phosphorus mortar shells struck in the mortar position, destroying the weapons and causing eighteen casualties.  

At 0230, 18 August, a green flare signaled the expected enemy attack. Coming from Hill 117, the North Koreans struck A Company and isolated one platoon. Their attack formation then drove on and penetrated into B Company. The glare from bursting 81-mm. mortar illuminating shells revealed the North Korean method of attack. An enemy squad would rise from the ground, hurl grenades, and rush forward a short distance firing to front and flank with automatic weapons, and then drop to the ground. Successive enemy groups would repeat the process. The attack forced A Company from its positions and back into the saddle south of Hill 109. In its sector, however, B Company drove the enemy from its perimeter in forty-five minutes of hard fighting. Before daylight the North Korean attack ceased.  

The total North Korean losses in this night battle was not known, although 183 enemy dead were counted later around the A and B Company perimeters. The Marine losses were heavy. Digging in that evening with 190 men and 5 officers, B Company the next morning at daylight had no effectives; A Company, starting the night with 185 men, had only 90 men at daylight who could take their place in the line.

 After daylight, the Marine 1st Battalion reorganized, and A Company prepared to attack south against Hill 117, to which the enemy attack force had withdrawn. The company crossed the saddle easily, but machine gun fire stopped it on the slope. The company commander called for an air strike. After carefully checking the designated target, a Corsair dropped a 500-pound bomb which scored a direct hit on the enemy emplacement. When bomb fragments, rocks, and dirt had settled, the 3rd Platoon leaped to its feet and dashed up the slope. At the enemy emplacement they found the machine gun destroyed and its crew members dead. In five minutes A Company was on top of Hill 117.

 The attack now continued on across the saddle toward Hill 143. Air strikes and artillery fire greatly helped to win that point. The process was then repeated with Hills 147 and 153. At nightfall only one small pocket of enemy resistance remained on Obong-ni, and it was eliminated the next morning. The formidable ridge had been captured by an attack beginning on the right flank and moving progressively south and upward along its series of knobs and saddles.

The Enemy Bridgehead Destroyed

While the 1st Battalion was driving to the southern tip of Obong-ni on 18 August, the Marine 3rd Battalion started an attack from the northern end of the ridge toward Hill 206, the next ridge line westward. The 9th Infantry supported this attack by fire from Cloverleaf. The 3rd Battalion was on its objective within an hour. It met virtually no opposition.  

The reason for this easy advance was apparent. At the same time that the 3rd Battalion was climbing Hill 206, aerial observers, forward artillery observers, and front-line infantry units all reported seeing enemy groups attempting to withdraw westward to the Naktong. They reported this movement about noon. Forward observers adjusted air bursts (VT) and quick fuze artillery fire on these groups. Part of the artillery firing on the river crossing sites employed delayed fuzes for greater effectiveness against underwater swimmers. Fighter planes ranged over the roads and trails leading down the western slopes to the river and caught many enemy groups in the open.  

After the capture of Hill 206, Colonel Murray ordered the 3rd Battalion to continue the attack toward Hill 311, the last ridge line in front of the Naktong. This attack slanted northwest. At the same time, the 34th and 19th Infantry Regiments on the right flank of the 24th Division drove south and southwest into the bulge. Only in a few places was resistance moderate and as the afternoon wore on even this diminished. Troops of the 19th Infantry on Ohang Hill could see groups of 10 to 15 North Koreans in the river, totaling perhaps 75 to 100 at one time, trying to cross to the west side. Fighter planes strafed these groups all afternoon. Before dark the Marine 3rd Battalion captured most of Hill 311, the 34th Infantry captured Hill 240, and the 19th Infantry captured Hill 223—the high hills fronting the river. 

It was clear by evening, 18 August, that the enemy 4th Division was decisively defeated and its survivors were fleeing westward across the Naktong. The next morning, 19 August, marines and 34th Infantry troops met at the Naktong. Prisoners captured that morning said most of the North Korean survivors had crossed the river during the night. By afternoon, patrols to the river found no enemy troops. The battle of the Naktong Bulge was over. 

The N.K. 4th Division lost nearly all its heavy equipment and weapons in the first battle of the Naktong Bulge. The Marine ordnance section, which gathered up most of the destroyed or abandoned enemy heavier weapons, recovered 34 enemy artillery pieces, 18 of them lined up along the Yongsan-Naktong River road for supporting fires along the main axis of enemy attack. The largest enemy artillery piece was 122-mm. in size. The North Korean casualties in this battle were heavy. The 24th Division buried more than 1,200 enemy dead. According to prisoners captured at the end of the battle, each of the three rifle regiments of the N.K. 4th Division had no more than approximately 300 to 400 men left after they recrossed to the west side of the river. These prisoners said that about one-half their wounded died for lack of medical care. The entire 4th Division reportedly numbered about 3,500 men on 19 August at the end of the bulge battle.

[n16-82 Wood, “Artillery Support for the Brigade in Korea,” op. cit.; GHQ FEC Sitrep, 20 Aug 50; 24th Div WD, 19 Aug 50; 24th Div Arty WD, 22 Jul-25 Aug 50; ATIS Res Supp Interrog Rpt, Issue 94 (N.K. 4th Div), p. 49; EUSAK WD, 21 Aug 50, ATIS Interrog Rpt 705, Mun Il Pun; Ibid., 8 Oct 50, G-2 Sec, ADVATIS 1074, Jr Lieutenant Chon Cho Hong, N.K. 4th Div Hq, said the 18th Regt had 900 men left; Ibid., 28 Sep 50, ADVATIS, Major Choe Chu Yong, Opn Off, Arty Regt, 4th Div, said the division artillery crossed the Naktong with 12 guns and lost them all; ATIS Interrog Rpts, Issue 2, Rpt 703, p. 8, Kim Chi Ho; Interv, author with Church, 25 Sep 52. ]

After the Obong-ni battle ended, a count of enemy weapons destroyed or abandoned there reportedly included 18 heavy machine guns of Russian or American manufacture, 25 light machine guns, 63 submachine guns of Russian or American manufacture, 8 antitank rifles, 13.5-inch rocket launcher, and quantities of ammunition and grenades. Included in the captured enemy equipment was a U.S. Army radio, SCR300, in good operating condition, set to the frequency of the 1st Battalion, 5th Marines. This indicated that the enemy had been intercepting conversations between A and B Companies the night of 17-18 August and probably had known precisely their locations and dispositions. 

The destruction, for all practical purposes, of the N.K. 4th Division in the battle of the Naktong Bulge was the greatest setback suffered thus far by the North Korean Army. The 4th Division never recovered from this battle until after the Chinese entered the war and it was reconstituted. Ironically, on 19 August, the day its defeat became final, the division received from the North Korean headquarters the order naming it a “Guard Division” for outstanding accomplishments in battle (Taejon). 

On the afternoon of 19 August, the bulge battle over, Eighth Army ordered the 1st Provisional Marine Brigade released from 24th Division control. The brigade, reverting to Eighth Army reserve, assembled in the south near Changwon, east of Masan, where it remained until 1 September. [n16-83 2nd Bn, 5th Mar SAR, 19 Aug 50, p. 9 (this source says there were 36 enemy machine guns on Obong-ni); 1st Bn, 5th Mar SAR, 18 Aug 50.]

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

Korean War: Battle for the Eastern Corridor to Pusan 1950 (18)

Korean War: First American Counterattack-Task Force Kean (August 1950) (16)