Thank You for taking the time to read this. 07202021-A
Two Scots and a piper!
Strange isn’t it that Vice President “Stoner” Harris claims that the answer to the immigration problem is to solve the root cause. But the Biden administration refuses to help the Haitian government when it is calling for a limited military presents to restore calm in the aftermath of a presidential assassination, while throngs of a fearful populace batter against the gates to the American Embassy, seeking refuge in the United States. What no suit cases full of green backs? Harris where is your commitment to solving the problem, gone up in smoke?
Thank you for taking the time to read this.
Good day to all, we have reopened this site again. Which has been closed for 2 years. Once we are up and running our format will be what was intended in the beginning, a political commentary on events and people of the day. Your patients is a appreciated, thank you.
Several alternatives faced the Allied command after Naples. Should the Allied forces continue to move up the mainland of Italy? If so, how far and specifically where? The answer hinged on whether the Allied forces in the Mediterranean theater could better contribute to the cross-Channel attack scheduled for the spring of 1944 by threatening the Germans in the Balkans or by menacing southern France. And this in turn depended on the forces assigned: what units were available in the theater, how many should be committed in Italy to attain whatever goals were set for the campaign, and the extent of the additional resources that could be obtained from the Combined Chiefs of Staff. These choices were affected by estimates of German capabilities and intentions, decisions on global strategy, and worldwide allocations of shipping, materiel, and troops.
A major confusion in reaching a decision for Italy was the CCS directive that governed the operations. In exploiting the conquest of Sicily, the Combined Chiefs had stated, General Eisenhower was to eliminate Italy from the war and contain the maximum number of German divisions. The first was accomplished. But the second was so vague as to defy definition. The CCS had set no geographical objectives, and as a result the Italian campaign became, in retrospect, according to General Alexander, “a great holding attack.”
Yet the fact was that objectives had to be selected. They would determine not only how far north the Allied forces would go but also how much in terms of resources they would require. A vigorous campaign waged up the entire length of the Italian peninsula would obviously necessitate more troops, equipment, and supplies than an effort to secure, for example, Rome. In the debate that preceded decisions, a debate that stretched over the summer and fall of 1943, the matter of resources was ever present. Quite apart from the logisticians’ calculations of requirements, those who directed the operations sought to obtain all they could get, the better to assure success.
Before the invasion of Sicily, Allied Force Headquarters planners had believed that an Allied occupation of all or most of Italy was possible. At that time they had thought it unlikely that the Germans would reinforce a collapsing Italy. In the event of an Allied landing on the Italian mainland, the Germans would withdraw to the Alps or, more probably, to a line just south of the Alps, delaying an Allied advance by destroying communications, perhaps even by concentrating five or six divisions south of Rome. But the Allied forces, the planners believed, could build up enough ground and air strength in southern Italy to push rapidly north. Beyond Naples, Rome, for its airfields and political advantages, was obviously the next important objective.
Beyond Rome, the ports of Leghorn and Genoa beckoned, but were hardly essential. The heel of Italy was far more important-it would give Allied naval and air forces control of the south Adriatic and Ionian Seas, make it possible for these forces to interfere with the movement of enemy supplies to Greece and Albania, facilitate support to the Yugoslav Partisans, and threaten the Balkans sufficiently to contain German forces there. Similarly, Sardinia and Corsica would give the Allies control of the Tyrrhenian Sea and pose the threat of a landing in southern France. Ten French divisions, expected to be ready in North Africa for operational use early in 1944, plus heavy bomber attacks and the threat of amphibious and airborne operations launched from Italy and North Africa, would constitute a real and grave danger to the Germans in southern France and in the Balkans. Thus, the Allied theater command would comply with the CCS requirement of containing the maximum number of Germans if Allied troops occupied southern Italy as far north as Rome and the islands of Sardinia and Corsica. Given the current estimates of German strength, a total of ten Allied divisions would be necessary to accomplish this goal, and the commitment of such a force was reasonable in terms of the available resources.
After the invasion of Sicily, Allied theater planners, with mounting optimism, began to see an occupation of Italy as far north as the Alps as both desirable and possible. From northern Italy, overland and amphibious operations against southern France and the Balkans would be feasible. The only limiting factors would be shipping, landing craft, and German strength, but these hardly seemed serious obstacles to success.
General Eisenhower looked to the Po Valley, from where he could move east or west and from where he could provide ironclad security for air bases established anywhere in Italy. The ten divisions that the Combined Chiefs at the TRIDENT Conference in May had made available to the theater would be sufficient-provided, of course, the German troop commitment in Italy did not increase appreciably over expectations. [n3-11-3]
Was it necessary, planners in Washington asked, to go as far north as the Po Valley to insure effective bombardment of southern Germany? The reply was affirmative-the security of airfields in the Rome and Naples areas required control of the ground at least as far north as the Pisa-Ancona line. By inference, the theater planners seemed to be saying the Po Valley was not much farther north and the Alps were not far beyond that. As for operations to be developed out of a successful Italian campaign, an invasion of southern France was feasible, the principal problem being air cover; an offensive in the Balkans, which had been discussed, though no plans had been drawn, would be difficult-if undertaken, it was generally agreed in the theater, a Balkan invasion should go across the Adriatic and through a beachhead in the Durazzo area.[n3-11-4]
[n3-11-3 AFHQ G-3 Memo, Opns Against Mainland of Italy, n.d. (probably Aug 43)]
[n3-11-4 Extract, Min, JPS Mtg, 7 Aug 43, dated 9 Aug 43, ABC 384, Post-HUSKY, Sec ).
American planners at the Joint Chiefs of Staff level believed that operations beyond southern Italy would be justified if the Allied forces gained air bases near Ancona from which to intensify the bombardment of German-held areas in Europe, if the Allies drove toward an invasion of southern France in support of the projected cross-Channel attack, and if they secured bases-perhaps even in Albania and Greece-from which to supply Balkan underground fighters. The Allied ground forces, in the opinion of these planners, should move overland to Rome in order to cover strategic and tactical air bases in southern Italy, then maintain “unremitting pressure” against the Germans with the possible aim of seizing and establishing air bases in the Ancona area. No major land operations, they believed, should be launched in the Balkans. Economic aid, they also recommended, should be provided to insure tolerable living standards among the Italian people.
[n3-11-5 JPS, Plans for Occupation of Italy and Her Possessions, 7 Aug 43, ABC 384, Post-HUSKY, Sec 2.]
Early in August, General Marshall informed General Eisenhower that he could expect to have for future operations at least twenty-four American, British, and French divisions. These were more than enough, Marshall thought, for occupying Italy up to a line somewhere north of Rome, seizing Sardinia and Corsica, and making an amphibious landing in southern France-the ends Marshall believed desirable for an Italian campaign. Ten divisions could contain the German forces in Italy, the others could execute the invasion of southern France. A secure position in Italy north of Rome, occupation of Sardinia and Corsica, nothing in the Balkans-these were President Roosevelt’s immediate aims. So far as the Americans were concerned, there was to be no march all the way up the Italian peninsula.[n3-11-6]
If the Germans intended to reinforce their troops in Italy, and there were some indications to that effect in mid-August, General Eisenhower believed that a firm grasp on the Naples area would be a respectable accomplishment. Yet it would be impractical, in his view, to limit the occupation of Italy to a line just north of Rome. A balanced equation-with an Allied army in central Italy, German forces in northern Italy, and a no man’s land between-was inconceivable. Either the Allies would have to drive the Germans out of Italy or be driven out themselves.
The comparative weights of the resources employed by the opponents would decide the issue. His own capabilities, Eisenhower informed Marshall, were limited more by the shortage of personnel and materiel replacements, particularly of shipping and landing craft, than by actual strength in terms of divisions.[n3-11-7]
[n3-11-6 Marshall to Eisenhower, n.d. (about 7 Aug 43), OPD Exec 3, Item 4: Memos, Marshall for Handy and Handy for Marshall, 9 Aug 43, ABC 384: Interv, Mathews, Lamson, Hamilton, and Smyth with Marshall, 25 Jul 49, OCMH.]
[n3-11-7 Eisenhower to Marshall, 13 Aug 43, OPD Exec 3,Item 5-178]
The Allied leaders meeting in Quebec in August for the QUADRANT Conference received a warning from General Eisenhower that the immediate build-up in Italy was likely to be slow and that the Allied forces might face prolonged and bitter fighting. A firm hold on Naples might be the practical limit of the invasion at Salerno. Beyond Naples, Allied troops might have to fight their way “slowly and painfully” up the peninsula. Early exploitation to the Alps was a “delightful thought but … not to be counted upon with any certainty.”[n3-11-8]
General Eisenhower’s planners nevertheless continued to believe that the Germans would withdraw at least as far north as Pisa to shorten their lines of communication rather than reinforce their troops in Italy. Since the Allied troops after the amphibious landing at Salerno would probably be in no condition to organize an effective pursuit, a small force, the planners thought, should be ready to proceed at once to Rome, while the rest of the Allied troops consolidated and then moved north to attack in the Pisa area.[n3-11-9]
Within this optimistic frame of reference and encouraged by the willingness of the Italian Government to surrender, the Combined Chiefs of Staff on 27 August instructed General Eisenhower to draw plans for invading southern France. The operation was to take place at some unspecified time during or after the Italian campaign. Despite the uncertainty generated by the forthcoming invasion at Salerno, planners at all echelons banked on a rapid advance up the Italian peninsula and an amphibious operation against southern France mounted from northern Italy. By the spring of 1944, according to AFHQ planners, the Allied forces would certainly have forced the Germans back to the foothills of the Alps and to the Piave River. [n3-11-10]
[n3-11-8 Smith to Whiteley, 15 Aug 43, OPD Exec 3. Item 5]
[n3-11-9 AFHQ G-3 Paper. Opns in Italy After a Bridgehead Has Been Established in Naples Area. 21 Aug 43]
[n3-11-10 AFHQ G-3 Paper, Availability of Forces in Spring of 1941 After Occupation of Italy, 5 Sep 43]
Not so General Eisenhower. Just before the Salerno invasion, he informed the Combined Chiefs that the strength amassed by the Germans in Italy would probably force the Allies into a methodical advance up the Italian peninsula during the coming winter months.[n3-11-11] A week later during the critical phase of the battle at Salerno, he began to think that a painstaking advance through the mountains of southern Italy might be too difficult to be worthwhile. Meeting the Germans on other ground might bring quicker results at less cost. To him, long-range planning for the conquest of all of Italy was debatable.[n3-11-12] Yet at the end of the battle of the Salerno beachhead, a cheerful General Eisenhower informed General Marshall that the Germans might be too nervous to make a stand and fight a real battle south of Rome.[n3-11-13]
British intelligence officers agreed. The Germans appeared to have no intention of getting involved in a decisive battle in southern or central Italy and were pulling their ground and air units out, probably to the Pisa-Rimini area. The first stage of their retirement would probably be to a line through Casino in order to cover Rome and its lateral communications and to deny the Allies use of the airfields near Rome. But because their evacuation of Sardinia and Corsica had exposed their mainland flank, the Germans were likely to make a rapid withdrawal. Confined to comparatively few roads and railways that were vulnerable to air and sea attack and to Italian sabotage, facing the risk of having a famished Italian population riot and attack their supply dumps and columns, the Germans would probably move quickly to the north.[n3-11-14]
[n3-11-11 Eisenhower to CCS, 8 Sep 43, OPD Exec 3. Item 5]
[n3-11-12 Eisenhower to War Dept. 15 Sep 43. OPD Exec 3, Item 3 See also AFHQ G-3 Paper, Possible Opns in 19H, 17 Sep 43.]
[n3-11-13 Eisenhower to Marshall. 20 Sep 43, Mathews File,OCMH.]
Signs early in October supported the view that the Germans intended to withdraw to a Pisa-Rimini line. But now it appeared that they would pace their withdrawal to gain time to complete fortifications along their main defensive line in the north, stabilize internal security in the country, inflict losses on the Allies while conserving their own strength, and delay as long as possible an Allied approach to vital German areas, perhaps even the airfields around Rome. The Germans would probably employ the bulk of six to nine divisions then in southern Italy in the region west of the Apennines. They might hold temporarily south of Rome along a general line from Anzio to Pescara. But above Rome, the terrain nowhere afforded good defensive positions short of the Pisa-Rimini line.
In driving the Germans toward the Pisa-Rimini area, the Allied ground troops would enjoy certain advantages. They would have close air support from tactical air units soon to be based in southern Italy, Sardinia, and Corsica. Part of the Northwest African Coastal Air Force was to operate from bases in the Foggia area and in the heel to protect shipping and military installations; strategic air forces based in the same areas, and later near Rome, would be available not only for attacking targets in northern Italy and southeastern Germany but also for disrupting German reinforcement and supply movements.
[n3-11-14 Memo, German Intentions in Italy, 27 Sep 43, ABC 384, Post-HUSKY, Sec 2.]
With more than adequate naval support, the Allied ground forces would also be able to make amphibious flanking attacks on the east and west coasts of Italy. Where then should the Allied command make the main effort? If strong forces moved up the east coast, they could cross the Apennines at any of several lateral roads and get behind the German positions along the western part of the peninsula. Yet the road net on the east coast would limit the size of any enveloping force to two or three divisions, and numerous rivers and deep gorges would enable relatively light German forces to delay the maneuver long enough for the enemy west of the Apennines to escape. Although the ground of the western coastal plain allowed the commitment of considerable troops, including a certain amount of armor, attacks in that region were bound to be slow and laborious frontal efforts. Even so, the western portion of the Italian peninsula seemed better for a main effort beyond the line of the Volturno and Biferno Rivers, attained at the end of the Salerno invasion, and air bases near Rome appeared to be the next logical objective. While bases were opened for heavy bombers, the ground troops, after securing the nearby port of Civitavecchia, would maintain pressure on the Germans, forcing them back to the Pisa-Rimini line.
A strong attack would be necessary to breach this line, and the attack would be followed by a drive farther north. From there, the Allied command would be able either to undertake operations against southern France or to maintain a strong threat against southern France for an indefinite period. The forces on the east coast, meanwhile, would advance to protect and assist the forces in the west, heading toward the port of Ancona, an attractive objective.
What was ominous was the relative inferiority of Allied ground strength. Because some units were leaving the theater while others were arriving, total forces in Italy were expected to number the equivalent of 15 divisions by mid-October, 17 a month later, and only 16 by mid-December. In contrast the Germans, according to estimates, could bring 26 divisions into the fight. Regardless of where the major effort was made, the Allied command would have to rely on air superiority to offset not only German ground strength but also the enemy’s ability to choose the terrain on which to defend. Unfortunately, winter weather would· reduce the effect of Allied air supremacy.[n3-11-15]
General Eisenhower’s personal belief in the efficacy of waging a vigorous campaign during the fall and winter months to capture the Po Valley underwent a startling change about 7 October. Expectations that the Germans would fight only delaying actions in central Italy vanished, along with optimistic hopes of driving quickly into northern Italy. German divisions were coming from northern Italy to reinforce the troops fighting in the south below Rome. If the Germans had decided to stand fast, they had a good chance of barring the Allied forces from the Rome airfields.
[n3-11-15 AFHQ G-3 Paper, Advance to Pisa-Rimini Line, 2 Oct 43, ABC 384, Post-HVSKY, Sec 2.]
[n3-11-16 Eisenhower to Marshall, 2 Oct 43, and Eisenhower to CCS, 9 Oct 43, both in OPD Exec 3, Item 3]
General Alexander’s 15th Army Group, with eleven divisions, was preparing an all-out offensive, “but dearly,” General Eisenhower informed the CCS, “there will be very hard and bitter fighting before we can hope to reach Rome.” Was it possible and would it be better to cancel the offensive and keep the troops along the Volturno and Biferno Rivers?
Apart from the obvious renunciation of Rome and the airfields, Eisenhower thought not. The Volturno-Biferno line, in his opinion, provided insufficient depth in front of Naples and Foggia to contemplate even a temporary stabilization of forces there. The minimum acceptable position was a secure line well north of Rome. And this, it appeared, was going to be difficult to attain.[n3-11-16]
General Alexander could well understand what he believed to be the new German decision. As he judged the situation, the Germans had recovered from the gloom occasioned by the Italian surrender.
The country was quiet, the internal security problem seemed slight, and better knowledge of Allied strength showed the Germans that they held a numerical advantage in ground troops that was likely to continue. The terrain south of Rome was admirably suited for defensive warfare. Autumn and winter weather would hamper Allied offensive operations on the ground and ease the impact of Allied air superiority. Since November 1942, starting from El Alamein in Egypt, the Germans had been retreating, and Alexander could see why they might feel it was time to stop. Troop morale alone would justify the decision.
But there was now also a political reason. The Germans had rescued Mussolini from his Italian captors and had established under his nominal authority a republican fascist government. Giving this government as much territory as possible to administer under German supervision and retaining Rome as its capital would strengthen the semblance of Mussolini’s restored status.[n3-11-17]
Whatever the reasons that motivated the Germans, the Allied command was convinced by mid-October that operations beyond the Volturno and Bifemo Rivers would encounter progressively stronger resistance. Yet General Eisenhower believed, and his senior commanders agreed with him, that nothing would help OVERLORD, the projected cross-channel invasion in the spring of 1944, so much as the early establishment of Allied forces in the Po Valley. He asked the CCS to approve the allocation of additional resources to the theater to make possible small amphibious and airborne operations in the enemy rear that would hasten the Allied advance up the peninsula.
The planners in Washington were unmoved. The Germans, they estimated, could resist in strength at only three places: the Pisa-Rimini line, the Po River line, and the Alps.[n3-11-19] Expecting the Germans to offer relatively little opposition south of Rome, they saw no reason to increase the resources previously allotted to the Allied command for Italy.
The QUADRANT decisions of August and September thus remained in force, and with respect to the Mediterranean theater, changed no decisions made at the TRIDENT Conference in May. The theater command was to withdraw seven divisions and send them to England for the cross-Channel attack, and to replace these in part by French divisions as they became ready for action after being equipped and trained; the theater was to lose by transfer about 170 bombers by December and a considerable amount of troop-carrying aircraft, assault shipping, and landing craft.
[n3-11-17 See Alexander Despatch, p. 2900.]
[n3-11-19 Memo, Smith for JCS, 13 Oct 43, ABC 384,Post·HUSKY, Sec 2. 10 War Dept G-2 :M emo, 19 Oct 43, ABC 384, Post-HUSKY, Sec 2.]
The planners at the QUADRANT Conference had allocated to the four chief theaters of operations all available landing craft and all expected from production. The priorities established gave precedence, within the European theater, to build-up in England for OVERLORD. Definite schedules were established for movement, during the fall of 1943, of a major proportion of the Mediterranean landing craft to the United Kingdom.
The Pacific, with its vast water distances, was to absorb better than half of the craft coming from American production. In addition, some craft were scheduled to move to India for an amphibious operation in the Bay of Bengal. What was to be left in the Mediterranean theater was likely to be insufficient for more than a one-division lift. In short, the Mediterranean theater was to be restricted in its resources, and consequently so was the Allied build-up on the Italian mainland. The principal effort was to go to the cross-Channel attack. Whether the Allied forces, against increased German opposition, had enough troops, equipment, and supplies to drive north in Italy fast enough to make the campaign worthwhile was a moot question. But they were going to try.
The German Decision
Hitler’s early strategy in Italy was concerned with insuring the security of the German forces in southern Italy. Kesselring as to withdraw from Calabria, hold at Salerno and Naples long enough to safeguard the routes of retirement to the north, then make a well-organized movement to central Italy, and finally fall back to the Northern Apennines where his forces would come under Rommel’s Army Group B. When Kesselring’s forces came within close proximity of the army group boundary, roughly the Pisa-Ancona line, Hitler himself would make the command change. Since Kesselring was in no danger of having his forces trapped as a result of the Allied invasion and the Italian surrender, Hitler saw no reason to reinforce him. Kesselring asked for no additional troops. And Rommel offered none.
In compliance with Hitler’s policy, Kesselring ordered his Tenth Army commander, Vietinghoff, to “fall back upon the Rome area” through a succession of defensive lines, one of them the “B” Line, later called the Bernhard Line, which crossed the Italian peninsula at its narrowest place between Gaeta and Oriona. If Hitler changed his mind and decided to defend in southern Italy, the ground along the Bernhard Line would serve admirably for a protracted defensive effort. Kesselring therefore instructed Vietinghoff to withdraw slowly in order to gain time for fortifying this line.
Kesselring advocated defending Italy at least as far south as Rome, and his argument gained considerable point after the Italian Army ceased to be dangerous and the Allies failed to land near Rome. A prolonged defense in southern Italy would delay an Allied invasion of the Balkans, which he, along with OKW, believed was the Allied strategic goal. Defending south of Rome would keep Allied bombers farther from southern Germany and the Po Valley and give Germany the obvious political advantages of retaining Rome. Kesselring estimated that he could defend in southern Italy with II divisions, even if he kept 2 mobile divisions in reserve for action against amphibious landings on his flanks; Rommel, in contrast, would need 13 to 20 divisions to defend a line in the Northern Apennines. Two defensive stands, at the Bernhard Line and in the Northern Apennines, were better than one, particularly since an Allied breach of the Apennines line would immediately threaten the Po Valley. Finally, a strong defense south of Rome would enable the Germans to mount a counteroffensive if the Allies should withdraw units from that front to launch a Balkan invasion. The only advantage offered by a quick withdrawal to the Northern Apennines, in Kesselring’s opinion, was an immediate saving of three or four divisions, which could be sent at once to the Balkans.
Rommel, on the other hand, saw a defensive line in southern Italy as too easily outflanked by Allied amphibious operations, its supply lines too vulnerable to sabotage and Allied air attacks. Favoring a concentration of forces, he recommended withdrawal from southern Italy and a simultaneous retirement from Greece.
To Hitler, Rommel seemed pessimistic, even defeatist. Kesselring’s optimism, earlier a source of irritation to Hitler, began to count in his favor. Kesselring’s resourcefulness and his unexpected success in coping with the defecting Italians and with the two Allied armies in Italy raised his stock in Hitler’s eyes. On 17 September he instructed Kesselring to make a slow withdrawal to the north, holding at the Bernhard Line “for a longer period of time.”
A few days later Hitler suddenly became aware of the importance of Apulia, the Italian heel. If the Allied command regarded southern Italy as a springboard for the Balkans, the Germans ought to deny it, and particularly the Foggia airfields. When Foggia fell into Allied hands before Hitler could act, he began
to consider a counterattack, a maneuver that seemed particularly attractive if launched to coincide with the expected Allied invasion of the Balkans. This idea gave immediate relevance to Kesselring’s concept of conducting the campaign, not in the north of Italy but in the south.
To resolve the conflicting strategies personified by the two commanders, Hitler called Kesselring and Rommel to a conference on the last day of September and listened to their views. He was particularly interested in their assessments of the prospect of regaining the Foggia airfields. Rommel expressed doubt. Kesselring was positive and optimistic.
Hitler was still unable to make up his mind. On 4 October he came La a tentative decision. He notified Kesselring to defend the Bernhard Line in strength. While Kesselring built up the Bernhard Line, Rommel was to construct a line of fortifications in the Northern Apennines. Although Hitler was not entirely convinced that Kesselring could carry out his promise to keep the Allies away from the Northern Apennines for six La nine months. he ordered Rommel to send Kesselring two infantry divisions and some artillery. It was the movement of these troops that Allied intelligence noted around 7 October.
On 9 October Hitler referred to the “decisive importance” of defending the Bernhard Line, but he continued to vacillate between the opposing strategies urged by Rommel and Kesselring. The strategy he selected would determine who would wield the over-all command in Italy.
Uninvolved in the strategic decision, the Tenth Army was making a fighting withdrawal toward the Bernhard Line, which Vietinghoff announced was to be the place for “a decisive stand.” Placing an engineer officer, Generalmajor Hans Bessel. in charge of constructing the Bernhard field fortifications, Vietinghoff specified that he wanted command Posts underground and the main battle line located on the rear slopes of hills in order to escape the devastating effects of Allied artillery fire. Advance outposts were to occupy the crests and forward slopes of the hills, and fields of fire were to be “ruthlessly cleared.” [n3-11-22]
After the reinforcing divisions arrived from northern Italy, Vietinghoff had nine divisions under two corps headquarters, a respectable force with which to oppose the Allies. Although he would have little air support-OKW considered Italy a secondary theater and not worth the risk of heavy air losses-Vietinghoff would enjoy the advantages offered by the terrain. Unless Hitler changed his mind, the German withdrawal was to come to an end in the mountains south of Rome.
[n3-11-22 Tenth Army Order 6, 4 Oct 43, Steiger MS.]
While Hitler was making his tentative decision to defend in southern Italy, the Allied command was grappling with a variety of matters related to the Italian campaign. A prospective drain on forces came from a request made of General Eisenhower by General Sir Henry Maitland Wilson, the commander of the British Middle East theater, who had become involved in the Dodecanese Islands in the eastern Mediterranean. Garrisoned largely by Italian troops, the islands in the Dodecanese chain had seemed ripe for invasion after the Italian surrender and Wilson had seized Cos, Samos, and Leros with small forces. Rhodes now attracted Wilson because he believed that a strong Allied naval and air base established there might force the Germans to withdraw from Greece. Unfortunately, Wilson not only lacked the resources to take Rhodes but also, in his judgment, to retain, against menacing German movements, the three smaller islands he had already captured. He asked AFHQ for help.
Instructed by the Combined Chiefs to furnish whatever assistance he could, General Eisenhower conferred on 9 October with his senior commanders. They quickly decided that the available resources in the Mediterranean theater were insufficient, particularly in view of the indications of a stiffened German defense in Italy, to seize objectives in Italy and at the same time contribute toward operations in the Aegean area. General Wilson’s estimate proved to be correct. The Germans soon retook the islands he had seized, then strengthened their hold over the Dodecanese.[n3-11-23]
About the same time General Eisenhower and his principal subordinates were discussing possible ground action in the Balkans. Though convinced of the desirability of diversionary operations, they agreed that they had barely enough ground troops, base units, and assault shipping for the Italian campaign. The most they could do in the Balkans was to employ air and naval forces to help the guerrillas by furnishing them arms and ammunition to harass and contain the Germans.[n3-11-24]
Another problem that needed resolution was how Italy might contribute to the war. The Italian Fleet and Air Force had surrendered in accordance with the terms of the armistice, and the army had largely disbanded itself. The government, headed by Badoglio under the King, was established in the Brindisi area, but seemed apathetic, unable to unify the Italian people against Germany or to stimulate sabotage and passive resistance in the areas still under German occupation.[n3-11-25]
[n11-23 Eisenhower to CCS, 9 Oct 43, OPD Exec 3, Item 3. For fuller accounts, see Gral1d Strategy, vol.V, ch. II, and Matloff, Strategic Planing for Coalit. Warfare, 19-13-19-IX.]
[n3-11-24 See AFHQ Ltr to Air CinC Mediterranean, Action in the Balkans Subsequent to the Capture of South Italy, II Oct 43.]
[n3-11-25 Eisenhower to CCS, 10 Sep 43, OPD Exec 3, Item 5; AFHQ Msg 17t6, 14 Sep 43, Fifth Army G-2 Jnl; Eisenhower to War Dept, 16 Sep 43, OPD Exec 3, Item 3; Rpt on Activities of Special Opns Exec in Fifth Army Area, 9–27 Sep, dated 28 Sep 43, and 1st Ind, AG 336.2; Fifth Army Ltr, 2 Oct 43, AG 336.]
General Eisenhower believed that the participation of Italian troops in the ground campaign would be politically expedient and advantageous to the morale of the Italian people. But because Italian equipment was antiquated and supplies were lacking, and because AFHQ could equip and supply Italian units only at the expense of the Allied build-up on the Italian mainland, he decided to use only a token Italian combat force, a division at most. Much more valuable would be assistance in the form of service units-labor troops and military police to improve and guard Allied lines of communication and airfields and mechanics and repairmen for vehicles and other equipment.[n3-11-26]
When the Italian Government declared war against Germany on 13 October, Italy became an Allied cobelligerent, though not an ally. Army units capable of contributing to the war were rehabilitated, and service forces were reconstituted. A regiment of combat troops would soon join the Allied forces in their winter campaign.
The most important problem facing the Allies was the need to define the future course of the operations to be undertaken beyond Naples. The immediate objective was-by general understanding rather than by directive-the city of Rome. As early as July, Mr. Churchill had made evident his “very strong desire” for the capital. “Nothing less than Rome,” he had written, “could satisfy the requirements of this year’s campaign.” [n3-11-27] Behind the Salerno invasion, despite the immediate orientation on Naples, was the hope for Rome, a hope echoed by the AFHQ planning.[n3-11-28]
During the QUADRANT Conference in Quebec, the Allied leaders “appreciated that our progress in Italy is likely to be slow” but stressed “the importance of securing the Rome aerodromes.” [n3-11-29] In early September, before the Salerno invasion, Rome, according to one qualified observer, “was already looming large as an objective with General Clark and others,” while even General Marshall, who had reservations on the value of an Italian campaign, agreed that Rome ought to be seized as quickly as possible.
[n3-11-26 AFHQ G-3 Paper, Employment of Italian Forces, 3 Oct 43: Eisenhower Dispatch, pp. 217-28.]
[n3-11-27 Msg to Gen Jan Christian Smuts, 16 Jul 43, quoted in Winston S. Churchill, “The Second World War,” Closing the Ring (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1951), p. 36. See Matlofl, Strategic Planning for Coalition Warfare, 1943-1944, ch. VI]
[n3-11-28 See Memo, Brigadier C. S. Sugden, AFHQ Acting G-3, for Gen Smith, Assault in Rome Area, 14 Aug 43, and AFHQ G-3 Memo, Assault in Rome Area, 14 Aug 43.]
[n3-11-29 Whiteley and Rooks to Smith, 23 Aug 43. OPD Exec 3, Item 5]
On 1 October General Eisenhower[n3-11-30] expressed the hope of being north of Rome in six or eight weeks; three days later he believed, and General Alexander agreed with him, that Allied troops would march into Rome within the month. Although General Eisenhower had thought of moving his headquarters from Algiers to Naples, he now decided to wait until he could “make the jump straight into Rome.” [n3-11-31] Hitler’s decision to defend Italy south of Rome and the movement of German troops from northern Italy to the south dissipated the optimism but did little to blur the focus. With eyes fixed on Rome as the next goal, the Allied command was “pushing hard to get the necessary force into Italy to bring about the major engagement as early in winter as possible.”
[n3-11-30 Truscott, Command Missions, p. 247: Biennial Report of the Chief of Staff . .. July 1, 1941 to June 30, 1943 … , p. 20.]
[n3-11-31 Eisenhower to Marshall, 4 Oct 43, OPD Exec 3, Item 3.]
Getting a large force into Italy was no easy matter. Logisticians who sought to advance the build-up in Italy had to jockey a variety of conflicting claims from commanders who clamored for additional combat units, for components needed to complete formations already in Italy, for tactical and strategic air forces, and for support troops. The need for combat troops competed with urgent requests for equipment and supplies, particularly Bailey bridges and bulldozers. The requirements for air and ground elements were not always compatible in the light of available shipping, and priorities changed constantly as logisticians and planners tried to remain flexible in meeting the demands of the campaign. [n3-11-33] The limited number of available landing craft and ships and the restricted capacities of Naples and the nearby minor ports imposed curtailments.
With logistical facilities overburdened, certain desirable movements became impractical. For example, the transfer of the British 10 Corps to the British Eighth Army presupposed the arrival in Italy of the U.S. II Corps headquarters and additional American divisions. The II Corps in Sicily was ready to move late in September but had no transportation. Consequently, the withdrawal of 10 Corps into reserve and its movement by degrees to the Eighth Army as General Montgomery could accept logistical responsibility for it, actions earlier planned to take place at the Volturno River, had to be deferred. [n3-11-34]
[n3-11-33 See Oct Msgs, 15th AGp, Master Cable File, VI.
[n3-11-34 Eisenhower to CCS, 18 Sep 43, OPD Exec 3, Item 3; 15th AGp Msgs, 1810, 16 Sep 43, and 2230, 29 Sep 43, Fifth Army G-2 Jnl; Msg, Fifth Army to Eighth Army, II Oct 43, and Msg, Alexander to Richardson, 13 Oct 43, both in 15th AGp Master Cable File, VI.]
The need for more landing craft was of particular concern to General Alexander -“to maintain rate of build-up, to allow flexibility in build up programme, for coastwise maintenance traffic, for further seaborne landings on either Coast” -and he repeatedly requested General Eisenhower to “press most strongly for retention all craft” in the theater.[n3-11-35] An immediate partial solution to the problem of building up the combat units would be to retain the 82nd Airborne Division in the theater instead of sending it to the United Kingdom as scheduled. But the opportunities for using airborne troops in Italy seemed to the planners to be too limited to warrant keeping the entire division. Only the 504th Parachute Infantry remained.[n3-11-36]
[n3-11-35 See, for example, Alexander to Eisenhower, 25 Sep 43, 15th :\Gp Master Cable File VI.]
[n3-11-36 Fifth Army to AFHQ, 14 Oct 43, and AFHQ to 15th AGp, 15 Oct 43, both in Master Cable File, VI.]
Finally, the command structure in Italy took permanent form in early October as General Alexander’s 15th Army Group headquarters released the Seventh Army headquarters in Sicily to AFHQ control, opened the army group command Post near Bari on the east coast of Italy, and took direct control of the ground operations and command of the Fifth and Eighth Armies. Separated by the Central Apennine mountain range, a barrier of summits more than 6,000 feet high that even early in October were tipped with snow, the two armies were compartmented. The achievements of one would have little effect on the other. Given the difficult terrain in Italy and the coming of winter, General Alexander defined the objective of the campaign about to get under way as “certain vital areas which contain groups of all-weather airfields, ports and centres of communications” bases from which to launch and support strong attacks. Specifically, he directed operations to take place in two phases, the armies to take two steps. The first, to make the Foggia airfields and the port of Naples secure by advancing to the Biferno and Volturno Rivers, was already in the process of being completed. The second was to be an advance to a general line well above Rome, a line from Civitavecchia, about fifty miles north of Rome on the west coast, to San Benedetto del Trente, about the same distance south of Ancona on the east coast.
[n11-37 Alexander Despatch, p. 2897; Alexander to Clark and Montgomery, 2330, 29 Sep 43, Fifth Army C-2 Jnl; Fifth Artillery History, Part II, pp. 75ff.]
Significantly. Alexander made no mention of Rome. Perhaps its importance was so all-pervading that the city as an objective was implicit in the campaign. More probably, he had issued his directive to the army commanders on the basis of the early intelligence estimates that had promised a quick advance into central and northern Italy. The new indications of a stiffening German attitude in southern Italy required no change in the Allied plans. The Allied forces in Italy were to drive northward, to Rome and beyond.
How long this would take, no one, of course, was prepared to say. Garibaldi’s campaign eighty-three years earlier offered certain parallels. Garibaldi had entered Naples unopposed on 7 September 1860, and then fought near Capua and Caserta, not far from the Volturno River. When he defeated the Bourbon troops, the entire Kingdom of the Two Sicilies, except for the towns of Capua and Gaeta, fell to him. It took him a month to capture Capua and cross the Volturno. On 21 November he was at Gaeta, where he besieged his enemy, Francis II. Not until 12 February of the next year did Garibaldi triumph. In 1943 and 1944, it would take the Allied forces somewhat longer to take Gaeta, to say nothing of Rome.
SOURCE: SALERNO TO CASSINO; by Martin Blumenson (United States Army Center of Military History)
When enemy penetrations in the Pusan Perimeter at the bulge of the Naktong caused General Walker to withdraw the 1st Provisional Marine Brigade from Task Force Kean, he ordered the 25th Division to take up defensive positions on the army southern flank west of Masan. By 15 August the 25th Division had moved into these positions.
The terrain west of Masan dictated the choice of the positions. The mountain barrier west of Masan was the first readily defensible ground east of the Chinju pass. The two thousand-foot mountain ridges of Sobuksan and Pil-bong dominated the area and protected the Komam-ni (Saga)Haman-Chindong-ni road, the only means of north-south communication in the army zone west of Masan.
Northward from the Masan-Chinju highway to the Nam River there were a number of possible defensive positions. The best one was the Notch and adjacent high ground near Chungam-ni, which controlled the important road junction connecting the Masan road with the one over the Nam River to Uiryong. This position, however, had the disadvantage of including a 15-mile stretch of the Nam River to the point of its confluence with the Naktong, thus greatly lengthening the line. It was mandatory that the 25th Division right flank connect with the left flank of the 24th Division at the confluence of the Nam and the Naktong Rivers. Within this limitation, it was also necessary that the 25th Division line include and protect the Komam-ni road intersection where the Chindong-ni-Haman road met the Masan-Chinju highway.
The Southern Anchor of the Army Line
From Komam-ni a 2-mile-wide belt of rice paddy land extended north four miles to the Nam River. On the west of this paddy land a broken spur of P’il-bong, dominated by goo-foot-high Sibidang-san, dropped down to the Nam. Sibidang provided excellent observation, and artillery emplaced in the Komam-ni area could interdict the road junction at Chungam-ni. Colonel Fisher, therefore, selected the Sibidang-Komam-ni position for his 35th Infantry Regiment in the northern part of the 25th Division defense line. The 35th Regiment line extended from a point two miles west of Komam-ni to the Nam River and then turned east along that stream to its confluence with the Naktong. It was a long regimental line—about 26,000 yards.
The part of the line held by the 35th Infantry—covering as it did the main Masan-Chinju highway, the railroad, and the Nam River corridor, and forming the hinge with the 24th Division to the north—was potentially the most critical and important sector of the 25th Division front. Lieutenant Colonel Bernard G. Teeter’s 1st Battalion held the regimental left west of Komam-ni; Colonel Wilkins’ 2nd Battalion held the regimental right along the Nam River. Major Robert L. Woolfolk’s 3rd Battalion (1st Battalion, 29th Infantry) was in reserve on the road south of Chirwon from where it could move quickly to any part of the line.
South of the 35th Infantry, Colonel Champney’s 24th Infantry, known among the men in the regiment as the “Deuce-Four,” took up the middle part of the division front in the mountain area west of Haman. Below (south) the 24th Infantry and west of Chindong-ni, Colonel Throckmorton’s 5th Regimental ombat Team was on the division left. On division orders, Throckmorton at first held the ground above the Chindong-ni coastal road only as far as Fox Hill, or Yabansan.
General Kean soon decided, however, that the 5th Regimental Combat Team should close the gap northward between it and the 24th Infantry. When Throckmorton sent a ROK unit of 100 men under American officers to the higher slope of Sobuk-san, enemy troops already there drove them back. General Kean then ordered the 5th Regimental Combat Team to take this ground, but it was too late.[n20-2]
The N.K. 6th Division Regroups West of Masan In front of the 25th Division, the N.K. 6th Division had now received orders from the North Korean command to take up defensive positions and to await reinforcements before continuing the attack.[n20-3] From north to south, the division had its 13th, 15th, and 14th Regiments on line in that order. The first replacements for the division arrived at Chinju on or about 12 August. Approximately 2,000 unarmed South Koreans conscripted in the Seoul area joined the division by 15 August. At Chinju, the 6th Division issued them grenades and told the recruits they would have to pick up weapons from killed and wounded on the battlefield and to use captured ones. A diarist in this group records that he arrived at Chinju on 13 August and was in combat for the first time on 19 August. Two days later he wrote in his diary, “I am much distressed by the pounding artillery and aerial attacks. We have no food and no water, we suffer a great deal. … I am on a hill close to Masan.”[n20-4]
[n20-2 Interv, author with Throckmorton, 20 Aug 52; Throckmorton, Notes for author, 17 Apr 53.]
[n20-3 ATIS Res Supp Interrog Rpts, Issue 100 (N.K. 6th Div), pp. 37-38.]
[n20-4 Ibid., p. 38; ATIS Interrog Rpts, Issue 2, Rpt 712, p. 31, Chon Kwan O; ATIS Supp Enemy Docs, Issue 2, p. 70, Diary of Yun Hung Ki, 25 Jul-21 Aug 50.]
Another group of 2,500 replacements conscripted in the Seoul area joined the 6th Division on or about 21 August, bringing the division strength to approximately 8,500 men. In the last week of August and the first week of September, 3,000 more recruits conscripted in southwest Korea joined the division. The 6th Division used this last body of recruits in labor details at first and only later employed them as combat troops.[n20-5] As a part of the enemy build-up in the south, another division now arrived there—the 7th Division. This division was activated on 3 July 1950; its troops included 2,000 recruits and the 7th Border Constabulary Brigade of 4,000 men.
An artillery regiment had joined this division at Kaesong near the end of July. In Seoul on 30 July, 2,000 more recruits conscripted from South Korea brought the 7th Division’s strength to 10,000. The division departed Seoul on 1 August, the men wading the neck-deep Han River while their vehicles and heavy weapons crossed on the ponton bridge, except for the division artillery which was left behind. The 7th Division marched south through Taejon, Chonju, and Namwon.
The 1st and 3rd Regiments arrived at Chinju on or about 15 August. Two days later some elements of the division reached Tongyong at the southern end of the peninsula, twenty-five air miles southwest of Masan. The 2nd Regiment arrived at Yosu on or about 15 August to garrison that port. The 7th Division, therefore, upon first arriving in southwest Korea occupied key ports to protect the 6th Division against possible landings in its rear.[n20-6]
[n20-5 ATIS Res Supp Interrog Rpts, Issue 100 (N.K. 6th Div), p. 38.]
[n20-6 ATIS Res Supp Interrog Rpts, Issue 99 (N.K. 7th Div), p. 34; ATIS Interrog Rpts, Issue 2, p. 94, Capt So Won Sok, 7th Div.]
The reinforced battalion that had driven the ROK police out of Tongyong did not hold it long. U.N. naval forces heavily shelled Tongyong on 19 August as three companies of ROK marines from Koje Island made an amphibious landing near the town. The ROK force then attacked the North Koreans and, supported by naval gun fire, drove them out. The enemy in this action at Tongyong lost about 350 men, or about half their reinforced battalion; the survivors withdrew to Chinju.[n20-7]
By 17 August, the reinforced North Koreans had closed on the 25th Division defensive line and had begun a series of probing attacks that were to continue throughout the month. What the N.K. 6th Division called “aggressive patrolling” soon became, in the U.S. 24th and 35th Infantry sectors, attacks of company and sometimes of battalion strength. Most of these attacks came in the high mountains west of Haman, in the Battle Mountain, Pil-bong, and Sobuk-san area. There the 6th Division seemed peculiarly sensitive where any terrain features afforded observation of its supply and concentration area in the deeply cut valley to the west.
[n20-7 ATIS Res Supp Interrog Rpts, Issue 99 (N.K. 7th Div), pp. 34-35; ATIS Interrog Rpts, Issue 2, p. 94, Capt So; GHQ FEC G-3 Opn Rpt 57, 20 Aug 50; New York Times, August 21, 1950.]
Enemy Attacks at Komam-ni (Saga)
It soon became apparent that the enemy 6th Division had shifted its axis of attack and that its main effort now would be in the northern part of the Chinju-Masan corridor just below the Nam River. General Kean had placed his strongest regiment, the 35th Infantry, in this area. Competent observers considered its commanding officer, Colonel Fisher, one of the ablest regimental commanders in Korea. Calm, somewhat retiring, ruddy faced, and possessed of a strong, compact body, this officer was a fine example of the professional soldier. He possessed an exact knowledge of the capabilities of the weapons used in an infantry regiment and was skilled in their use. He was a technician in the tactical employment of troops. Of quiet temperament, he did not court publicity. One of his fellow regimental commanders called him “the mainstay of the division.” [n20-8]
The 35th Infantry set to work to cover its front with trip flares, but they were in short supply and gradually it became impossible to replace those tripped by the enemy. As important to the front line companies as the flares were the 6o-mm. mortar illuminating shells. This ammunition had deteriorated to such a degree, however, that only about 20 percent of the supply issued to the regiment was effective. The 155-mm. howitzer illuminating shells were in short supply. Even when employed, the time lapse between a request for them and delivery by the big howitzers allowed some enemy infiltration before the threatened area was illuminated.[n20-9]
Lieutenant Colonel Arthur H. Logan’s 64th Field Artillery Battalion, with C Battery, 90th Field Artillery Battalion, attached, and Captain Harvey’s A Company, 89th Medium Tank Battalion, supported Colonel Fisher’s regiment. Three medium M4A3 tanks, from positions at Komam-ni, acted as artillery and placed interdiction fire on Chungam-ni. Six other medium M26 tanks in a similar manner placed interdiction fire on Uiryong across the Nam River.[n20-10]
[n20-8 Interv, author with Corley, 6 Nov 51; Interv, author with Throckmorton, 20 Aug 52; Interv, author with Brigadier General Arthur S. Champney, 22 Jul 51. Throckmorton and Champney agreed substantially with Corley’s opinion.]
[n20-9 1st Bn, 35th Inf WD, 14-31 Aug 50, Summ of Supply Problem.]
In the predawn hours of 17 August an enemy attack got under way against the 35th Infantry. North Korean artillery fire began falling on the 1st Battalion command post in Komam-ni at 0300, and an hour later enemy infantry attacked A Company, forcing two of its platoons from their positions, and overrunning a mortar position. After daylight, a counterattack by B Company regained the lost ground. This was the beginning of a 5-day battle by Colonel Teeter’s 1st Battalion along the southern spurs of Sibidang, two miles west of Komam-ni. The North Koreans endeavored there to turn the left flank of the 35th Regiment and split the 25th Division line. On the morning of 18 August, A Company again lost its position to enemy attack and again regained it by counterattack. Two companies of South Korean police arrived to reinforce the battalion right flank. Against the continuing North Korean attack, artillery supporting the 1st Battalion fired an average of 200 rounds an hour during the night of 19-20 August.[n20-11]
After three days and nights of this battle, C Company of the 35th Infantry and A Company of the 29th Infantry moved up astride the Komam-ni road during the morning of 20 August to bolster A and B Companies on Sibidang. While this reinforcement was in progress, Colonel Fisher from a forward observation post saw a large enemy concentration advancing to renew the attack. He directed artillery fire on this force and called in an air strike. Observers estimated that the artillery fire and the air strike killed about 350 enemy troops, half the attack group.[n20-12]
[n20-10 35th Inf WD, 1-31 Aug 50; 89th Med Tank Bn WD, 16-17 Aug 50.]
[n20-11 35th Inf WD, 17-20 Aug 50; 1st Bn, 35th Inf WD, 19 Aug 50.]
The North Koreans made still another try in the same place. In the predawn hours of 22 August, enemy infantry started a very heavy attack against the 1st Battalion. Employing no artillery or mortar preparatory fires, the enemy force in the darkness cut the four-strand barbed wire and attacked at close quarters with small arms and grenades. This assault engaged three American companies and drove one of them from its position. After three hours of fighting A Company counterattacked at 0700 and regained its lost position. The next day, 23 August, the North Koreans, frustrated in this area, withdrew from contact in the 35th Infantry sector.[n20-13]
At the same time that the North Koreans were trying to penetrate the 35th Infantry positions in the Sibidang-Komam-ni area, they sent strong patrols and probing attacks against the mountainous middle part of the 25th Division line. Since this part of the division line became a continuing problem in the defense of the Perimeter, more should be said about the terrain there and some of its critical features.
[n20-12 1st Bn, 35th Inf WD, 20 Aug 50; 25th Div WD, 20 Aug 50.]
[n20-13 35th Inf WD, 22 Aug 50; 25th Div WD, 23 Aug 50. ]
Old mine shafts and tunnels on the western slope of Sobuk-san provided the North Koreans in this area with ready-made underground bunkers, assembly points, and supply depots. As early as the first week of August, the North Koreans were in this mountain fastness and had never been driven out. It was the assembly area for their combat operations on the Masan front all during the month.
Even when American troops had held the Notch position beyond Chungam-ni, their combat patrols had never been able to penetrate along the mountain trail that branches off the Masan road and twists its way up the narrow mountain valley to the mining villages of Ogok and Tundok, at the western base of Battle Mountain and Pilbong, two peaks of Sobuk-san. The patrols always were either ambushed or driven back by enemy action. The North Koreans firmly protected all approaches to their Sobuksan stronghold. [n20-14]
When the 25th Division issued orders to its subordinate units to take up defensive positions west of Masan, the 2nd Battalion, 24th Infantry, was still trying to seize Obong-san, the mountain ridge just west of Battle Mountain and Pil-bong, and across a gorge like valley from them. At daybreak of 15 August, the 2nd Battalion broke contact with the enemy and withdrew to Battle Mountain and the ridge west of Haman. The 3rd Battalion of the 24th Infantry now came to the Haman area to help in the regimental defense of this sector.[n20-15]
[n20-14 Interv, author with Fisher, 5 Jan 52; 159th FA Bn WD, 12-15 Aug 50; 1st Bn, 24th Inf WD, 15 Aug 50.]
[n20-15 2nd Bn, 24th Inf WD, 15 Aug 50; 25th Div WD, 15 Aug 50.]
This high ground west of Haman on which the 24th Infantry established its defensive line was part of the Sobuk-san mountain mass. Sobuk-san reaches its highest elevation, 2,400 feet, at Pil-bong (Hill 743), eight miles northwest of Chindong-ni and three miles southwest of Haman. From Pil-bong the crest of the ridge line drops and curves slightlynorthwestward, to rise again a mile away in the bald peak which became known as Battle Mountain (Hill 665). It also was variously known as Napalm Hill, Old Baldy, and Bloody Knob. Between Pil-bong and Battle Mountain the ridge line narrows to a rocky ledge which the troops called the Rocky Crags. Northward from Battle Mountain toward the Nam River, the ground drops sharply in two long spur ridges. Men who fought there called the eastern one Green Peak.[n29-16]
At the western base (enemy side) of Battle Mountain and Pil-bong lay Ogok and Tundok, one and a quarter air miles from the crest. A generally north-south mountain road-trail crossed a high saddle just north of these villages and climbed to the 1,100-foot level of the west slope, or about halfway to the top, of Battle Mountain. This road gave the North Koreans an advantage in mounting and supplying their attacks in this area. A trail system ran from Ogok and Tundok to the crests of Battle Mountain and Pil-bong. From the top of Battle Mountain an observer could look directly down into this enemy-held valley, upon its mining villages and numerous mine shafts. Conversely, from Battle Mountain the North Koreans could look down into the Haman valley eastward and keep the 24th Infantry command post, supply road, artillery positions, and approach trails under observation. Whichever side held the crest of Battle Mountain could see into the rear areas of the other. Both forces fully understood the advantages of holding the crest of Battle Mountain and each tried to do it in a 6-week-long battle.
[20-16 Interv, author with 1st Lieutenant Louis M. Daniels, 2 Sep 51 (CO I&R Plat, 24th Inf, and during the Aug 50 action was a Master Sergeant (Intel Sergeant) in the 1st Bn, 24th Inf); Interv, author with Corley, 4 Jan 52 (Corley in Aug 50 was CO, 3rd Bn, 24th Inf; in September of that year he became the regimental commander); AMS Map, Korea, 1:50,000.]
The approach to Battle Mountain and Pil-bong was much more difficult from the east, the American-held side, than from the west, the North Korean side. On the east side there was no road climbing halfway to the top; from the base of the mountain at the edge of the Haman valley the only way to make the ascent was by foot trail. Stout climbers required from 2 to 3 hours to reach the top of Pil-bong from the reservoir area, one and a half air miles eastward; they required from 3 to 4 hours to get on top of Battle Mountain from the valley floor.
The turnaround time for porter pack trains to Battle Mountain was 6 hours. Often a dispatch runner required 8 hours to go up Battle Mountain and come back down. In some places the trail was so steep that men climbed with the help of ropes stretched at the side of the trail. Enemy night patrols constantly cut telephone lines. The wire men had a difficult and dangerous job trying to maintain wire communication with units on the mountain.
Bringing dead and seriously wounded down from the top was an arduous task. It required a litter bearer team of six men to carry a wounded man on a stretcher down the mountain. In addition, a medical aide was needed to administer medical care during the trip if the man was critically wounded, and riflemen often accompanied the party to protect it from enemy snipers along the trail. A critically wounded man might, and sometimes did, die before he reached the bottom where surgical and further medical care could be administered. This possibility was one of the factors that lowered morale in the 24th Infantry units fighting on Battle Mountain. Many men were afraid that if they were wounded there they would die before reaching adequate medical care.[n20-17]
In arranging the artillery and mortar support for the 24th Infantry on Battle Mountain and Pil-bong, Colonel Champney placed the 4.2-inch mortars and the 159th Field Artillery Battalion in the valley south of Haman. On 19 August the artillery moved farther to the rear, except for C Battery, which remained in the creek bed north of Haman at Champney’s insistence. Champney in the meantime had ordered his engineers to improve a trail running from Haman northeast to the main Komam-ni-Masan road. He intended to use it for an evacuation road by the artillery, if that became necessary, and to improve the tactical and logistical road net of the regimental sector. This road became known as the Engineer Road.[n20-18]
When Colonel Champney on 15 August established his line there was a 4,000-yard gap in the Pil-bong area between the 24th Infantry and the 5th Infantry southward. The 24th Infantry had not performed well during the Task Force Kean action and this fact made a big gap adjacent to it a matter of serious concern. General Kean sent 432 ROK National Police to Champney the next day and the latter placed them in this gap.[n20-19]
[n20-17 Interv, author with Corley, 4 Jan 52; Interv, author with Daniels, 2 Sep 51; Interv, author with Champney, 22 Jul 51; 24th Inf WD, 1-31 Aug 50, Special Problems and Lessons. ]
[n20-18 Interv, author with Champney, 22 Jul 51; FA Bn WD, Aug 50, and sketch maps 5 and 6.]
The first attack against the mountain line of the 24th Infantry came on the morning of 18 August, when the enemy partly overran E Company on the northern spur of Battle Mountain and killed the company commander. During the day, Lieutenant Colonel Paul F. Roberts succeeded Lieutenant Colonel George R. Cole in command of the 2nd Battalion there. The next day, the enemy attacked C Company on Battle Mountain and routed it. Officers could collect only forty men to bring them back into position. Many ROK police on Pil-bong also ran away—only fifty-six of them remained in their defensive positions. American officers used threats and physical force to get others back into position. A gap of nearly a mile in the line north of Pil-bong existed in the 24th Infantry lines at the close of the day, and an unknown number of North Koreans were moving into it.[n20-20]
[n20-19 Colonel William O. Perry, EUSAK IG Rpt, 24th Inf Regt, 1950, testimony of Captain Alfred F. Thompson, Arty Line Off with 24th Inf, 24 Aug 50; 24th Inf WD, 15-16 Aug 50.]
[n20-20 1st Bn, 24th Inf WD, 19 Aug 50; 159th FA Bn WD, 19 Aug 50.]
On 20 August, all of C Company except the company commander and about twenty-five men abandoned their position on Battle Mountain. Upon reaching the bottom of the mountain those who had fled reported erroneously that the company commander had been killed and their position surrounded, then overrun by the enemy. On the basis of this misinformation, American artillery and mortars fired concentrations on C Company’s former position, and fighter-bombers, in thirty-eight sorties, attacked the crest of Battle Mountain, using napalm, fragmentation bombs, rockets, and strafing. This friendly action, based upon completely erroneous reports, forced the company commander and his remnant of twenty-five men off Battle Mountain after they had held it for nearly twenty hours. A platoon of E Company, except for eight or ten men, also left its position on the mountain under similar circumstances.
On the regimental left, a ROK patrol from K Company’s position on Sobuk-san had the luck to capture the commanding officer of the N.K.15thRegiment but, unfortunately, he was killed a few minutes later while trying to escape. The patrol removed important documents from his body. And on this day of general melee along Battle Mountain and Pil-bong, the North Koreans drove off the ROK police from the 24th Infantry’s left flank on Sobuk-san.[n20-21]
General Kean now alerted Colonel Throckmorton to prepare a force from the 5th Infantry to attack Sobuk-san. On the morning of 21 August, the 1st Battalion (less A Company), 5th Regimental Combat Team, attacked across the 24th Infantry boundary and secured Sobuksan against light resistance. That evening a strong force of North Koreans counterattacked and drove the 1st Battalion off the mountain. At noon the next day, the 1st Battalion again attacked the heights, and five hours later B Company seized the peak. General Kean now changed the boundary line between the 5th Regimental Combat Team and the 24th Infantry, giving the Sobuk-san peak to the former. During the night, the North Koreans launched counterattacks against the 1st Battalion, 5th Regimental Combat Team, and prevented it from consolidating its position. On the morning of 23 August, A Company tried to secure the high ground 1,000 yards southwest of Sobuk and link up with B Company, but was unable to do so. The enemy considered this particular terrain feature so. important that he continued to repulse all efforts to capture it, and kept A Company, 5th Regimental Combat Team, nearby, under almost daily attack. [n20-22]
[n20-21 24th Inf WD, 20 Aug 50; 3rd Bn, 24th Inf WD, 20 Aug 50; EUSAK IG Rpt, 24th Inf, testimony of Major Eugene J. Carson, Ex Off, 2nd Bn, 24th Inf, answer to question 141, 14 Sep 50; Ibid., statement of Captain Merwin J. Camp, 9 Sep 50.]
Northward from B Company’s position on Sobuk, the battle situation was similar. Enemy troops in the Rocky Crags, which extended from Sobuk-san toward Pil-bong, took cover during air strikes, and napalm, 500-pound bombs, and strafing had little effect. As soon as the planes departed they reoccupied their battle positions. Elements of the 24th Infantry were not able to extend southward and join with B Company of the 5th Regimental Combat Team.[n20-23]
[n20-22 Interv, author with Throckmorton, 20 Aug 52; Throckmorton, Notes and sketch maps, 17 Apr 53; 25th Div WD, 21-24 Aug 50: EUSAK WD, G-3 Sec, 21-22 Aug 50; Ibid., 23 Aug 50. ]
[n20-23 1st Bn, 24th Inf WD, 23 Aug 50; Corley, Notes for author, 27 Jul 53. The code name King 1 was given to this rocky ledge extending from Pil-bong south toward Sobuk-san. See 159th FA Bn WD, 19 Aug 50.]
Still farther northward along the mountain spine, in the Battle Mountain area, affairs were going badly for the 24th Infantry. After C Company lost Battle Mountain, air and artillery worked over its crest in preparation for an infantry attack planned to regain Old Baldy. The hot and sultry weather made climbing the steep slope grueling work, but L Company was on top by noon, 21 August. Enemy troops had left the crest under the punishing fire of air, artillery, and mortar. They in turn now placed mortar fire on the crest and prevented L Company from consolidating its position. This situation continued until midafternoon when an enemy platoon came out of zigzag trenches a short distance down the reverse slope of Old Baldy and surprised L Company. One enemy soldier even succeeded in dropping a grenade in a platoon leader’s foxhole. The other two platoons of the company, upon hearing firing, started to leave their positions and drift down the hill. The North Koreans swiftly reoccupied Old Baldy while officers tried to assemble L and I Companies on the eastern slope. Elements of E Company also left their position during the day.[n20-24]
American air, artillery, mortar, and tank fire now concentrated on Battle Mountain, and I and L Companies prepared to counterattack. This attack made slow progress and at midnight it halted to wait for daylight. Shortly after dawn, 22 August, I and L Companies resumed the attack. Lieutenant R. P. Stevens led L Company up the mountain, with I Company supplying a base of fire. Lieutenant Gerald N. Alexander testified that, with no enemy fire whatever, it took him an hour to get his men to move 200 yards. When they eventually reached their objective, three enemy grenades wounded six of them and at this his group ran off the hill. Alexander stopped them 100 yards down the slope and ordered them to go back up. None would go. Finally, he and a BAR man climbed back and found no defending enemy on the crest. His men slowly rejoined him. The remainder of the company reached the objective on Battle Mountain with a total loss of 17 casualties in three hours’ time. A few hours later, when a small enemy force worked around its right flank, the company withdrew back down the hill to I Company’s position.[n20-25]
[n20-24 Corley, notes for author, 27 Jul 53; Interv, author with Corley, 4 Jan 52; EUSAK IG Rpt, 24th Inf Regt, 1950, testimony of 2nd Lieutenant Gerald N. Alexander, L Co, 24th Inf, 2 Sep 50; Ibid., testimony of Major Horace E. Donaho, Ex Off, 2nd Bn, 24th Inf, 22 Aug 50; 24th Inf WD, 21 Aug 50; EUSAK WD, G-3 Sec, 21 Aug 50.]
Fighting continued on Battle Mountain the next day, 23 August, with ROK police units arriving to reinforce I and L Companies. The American and South Korean troops finally secured precarious possession of Old Baldy, mainly because of the excellent supporting fires of the 81-mm. and 4.2-inch mortars covering the enemy’s avenues of approach on the western slope. Before its relief on the mountain, L Company reported a foxhole strength of 17 men, yet, halfway down the slope, its strength had jumped to 48 men, and by the next morning it was more than 100. Colonel Corley, in command of the 3rd Battalion, 24th Infantry, said, “Companies of my battalion dwindle to platoon size when engaged with the enemy. My chain of command stops at company level. If this unit is to continue to fight as a battalion it is recommended that the T/O of officers be doubled. One officer must lead and the other must drive.” The situation in the Haman area caused General Walker to alert the Marine brigade for possible movement to this part of the front.[n20-26]
[n20-25 Interv, author with Corley, 4 Jan 52; EUSAK WD, G-3 Sec, 22 Aug 50; Ibid., Summ, 22 Aug 50; EUSAK IG Rpt, 24th Inf Regt, 1950, testimony of Corley, 26 Aug 50, and testimony of Alexander, 2 Sep 50.]
On 25 and 26 August, C Company beat off a number of North Korean thrusts on Battle Mountain—all coming along one avenue of approach, the long finger ridge extending upward from the mines at Tundok. At one point in this series of actions, a flight of Air Force planes caught about 100 enemy soldiers in the open and immediately napalmed, bombed, and strafed them. There were few survivors. Task Force Baker, commanded by Colonel Cole, and comprising C Company, a platoon of E Company, 24th Infantry, and a ROK police company, defended Battle Mountain at this time. The special command was established because of the isolated Battle Mountain area and the extended regimental battle frontage. It buried many enemy dead killed within or in front of its positions during these two days. [n20-27]
The 3rd Battalion, 24th Infantry, now relieved the 1st Battalion in the Battle Mountain-P’il-bong area, except for C Company which, as part of Task Force Baker, remained on Old Baldy. Corley’s battalion completed this relief by 1800, 27 August.[n20-28]
[n20-26 24th Inf WD, 24 Aug 50; Interv, author with Corley, 4 Jan 52; EUSAK IG Rpt, 24th Inf Regt, 1950. testimony of Alexander, 2 Sep 50, and testimony of Corley, 26 Aug 50. ]
[n20-27 1st Bn, 24th Inf WD, 26 Aug 50; 24th Inf WD, 26 Aug 50; 25th Div WD. 26 Aug 50. ]
[n22-28 3rd Bn, 24th Inf WD. 27 Aug 50; 25th Div WD, 27 Aug 50.]
The North Korean attacks continued. On the 28th, an enemy company-sized attack struck between G and I Companies before dawn. That night, enemy mortar fire cell on C Company on Old Baldy, some of it obviously directed at the company command post. After midnight, an enemy force appeared in the rear area and captured the command post. Some men of C Company left their positions on Battle Mountain when the attack began at 0245, 29 August. The North Koreans swung their attack toward E Company and overran part of its positions. Airdrops after daylight kept C Company supplied with ammunition, and a curtain of artillery fire, sealing off approaches from the enemy’s main position, prevented any substantial reinforcement from arriving on the crest. All day artillery fire and air strikes pounded the North Koreans occupying E Company’s old positions. Then, in the evening, E Company counterattacked and reoccupied the lost ground.[n20-29 24th Inf WD, 29 Aug 50.]
An hour before midnight, North Koreans attacked C Company. Men on the left flank of the company position jumped from their holes and ran down the mountain yelling, “They have broken through!” The panic spread. Again the enemy had possession of Battle Mountain. Captain Lawrence M. Corcoran, the company commander, was left with only the seventeen men in his command post, which included several wounded.[n20-30] After daylight on the 30th, air strikes again came in on Battle Mountain, and artillery, mortar, and tank fire from the valley concentrated on the enemy-held peak. A wounded man came down off the mountain where, cut off, he had hidden for several hours. He reported that the main body of the North Koreans had withdrawn to the wooded ridges west of the peak for better cover, leaving only a small covering force on Old Baldy itself. At 1100, B Company, with the 3rd Battalion in support, attacked toward the heights and two hours later was on top. [n20-31]
[n20-30 Ibid.; 25th Div WD, 29 Aug 50; EUSAK IG Rpt, 24th Inf Div, 1950, testimony of Corcoran,1 Sep 50. Corcoran said fire discipline in his company was very poor, that his men would fire at targets out of range until they had exhausted their ammunition and at night would fire when there were no targets. He said that in his entire company he had twenty-five men he considered soldiers and that they carried the rest.]
Units of the 24th Infantry always captured Battle Mountain in the same way. Artillery, mortar, and tank fire raked the crest and air strikes employing napalm blanketed the scorched top. Then the infantry attacked from the hill beneath Old Baldy on the east slope, where supporting mortars set up a base of fire and kept the heights under a hail of steel until the infantry had arrived at a point just short of the crest. The mortar fire then lifted and the infantry moved rapidly up the last stretch to the top, usually to find it deserted by the enemy. [n20-32]
Battle Mountain changed hands so often during August that there is no agreement on the exact number of times. The intelligence sergeant of the 1st Battalion, 24th Infantry, said that according to his count the peak changed hands nineteen times.[n20-33] From 18 August to the end of the month, scarcely a night passed that the North Koreans did not attack Old Baldy. The peak often changed hands two or three times in a 24-hour period. The usual pattern was for the enemy to take it at night and the 24th Infantry to recapture it the next day. This type of fluctuating battle resulted in relatively high losses among artillery forward observers and their equipment. During the period of 15-31 August, seven forward observers and eight other members of the Observer and Liaison Section of the 159th Field Artillery Battalion, supporting the 24th Infantry, were casualties; and they lost 8 radios, 11 telephones, and 2 vehicles to enemy action.[n20-34]
[n20-31 24th Inf WD, 30 Aug 50; 25th Div WD, 30 Aug 50.]
[n20-32 Interv, author with Corley, 4 Jan 52. ]
[n20-33 Interv, author with Daniels, 2 Sep 51.]
[n20-34 159th FA Bn WD, 1-31 Aug 50.]
In its defense of that part of Sobuksan south of Battle Mountain and Pilbong, the 1st Battalion, 5th Regimental Combat Team, also had nearly continuous action in the last week of the month. Master Sergeant Melvin O. Handrich of C Company, 5th Regimental Combat Team, on 25 and 26 August distinguished himself as a heroic combat leader. From a forward position he directed artillery fire on an attacking enemy force and at one point personally kept part of the company from abandoning its positions. Although wounded, Sergeant Handrich returned to his forward position, to continue directing artillery fire, and there alone engaged North Koreans until he was killed. When the 5th Regimental Combat Team regained possession of his corner “of a foreign field” it counted more than seventy dead North Koreans in the vicinity.[n20-35]
The month of August ended with the fighting in the .mountains on the southern front, west of Masan, a stalemate. Neither side had secured a definite advantage. The 25th Division had held the central part of its line, at Battle Mountain and Sobuk-san, only with difficulty and with mounting concern for the future.
[n20-35 Department of the Army General Order 60, 2 August 1951, awarded the Medal of Honor posthumously to Sergeant Handrich.]
SOURCE: South to the Naktong, North to the Yalu; BY: Colonel Roy E. Appleman (United States Army Center of Military History)
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.]
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.
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)
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)
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)
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 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)