The East Caves area where the 162D Infantry first encountered the Japanese on Biak. This Japanese counterattack started about 1000 hours on 28 May 1944.

The East Caves area where the 162D Infantry first encountered the Japanese on Biak. This Japanese counterattack started about 1000 hours on 28 May 1944.

Behind the combat units were millions more men engaged in the unglamorous and not necessarily safer business of feeding the supply lines to the front. The Pacific generally had a smaller proportion of such supply troops than other theatres and those employed here worked long hours.

Sy Kahn was with the 244th Port Company, 495th Port Battalion of the Army Transportation Corps. At the time they were based on Biak island, north of New Guinea, loading shells, and other supplies including vehicles, onto ships bound for the Philippines. For someone who was in the middle of the Pacific he was remarkably well informed about the progress of the war.

Biak – described as “a shitty little malaria and typhus infested atoll”, had been invaded in May and Japanese resistance had finally been overcome in August. The Japanese had fought to the death. U.S. casualties had been 474 dead, Japanese confirmed dead 6,100, with a further 4000 unaccounted for.

Kahn had been overseas for over a year and this was the first time that he had encountered black troops. His diary, as usual, recorded everything:

October 22

The war goes well on all fronts. Advances in Holland reported. Aachen has fallen after a week of street fighting, and other minor gains in France. In Italy continued small gains toward Bologna. Russians are fighting in Belgrade. Greece is close to completely liberated. The Russians are beginning to pierce Prussia and advancing south from Riga. The net tightens, it will strangle Germany soon.

Our landing in the Philippines [on Leyte] met little initial opposition and proceeds well. Here, we continue to load ships destined for there. MacArthur has “returned,” and it is 6th Army troops that are in the show. The 41st will occupy, I imagine, when they finish taking it.

As MacArthur said, from Milne Bay, the start of the push against Japan, we have come 2,500 miles in 16 months. Another year, a year and a half on the outside, to finish these Japs. More troops landed on D-day in the Philippines than in France on their D-day. Seven divisions it’s said.

This landing in Leyte right smack in the middle of the Philippines is of great strategical importance because it splits the defending forces on the islands in two and neutralizes, to a great extent, the Jap bases to the south in Borneo, Java, Celebes, Ceram, etc. There are 1/2-million ]aps behind our lines. A funny thing, modern war.

Only in China does the situation look bad. China has already lost much ground and four airbases. The Japs still push forward, and the Chinese are unable to hold. The Jap advance there is more or less a countermove to our advances in the S.W.P. How effective it will be, time will tell. The Jap navy, time and again, has avoided a showdown fight. They will be smashed when they do stand and fight.

At work I have been handling Negro gangs. They are really funny sometimes, and I like to work with them, and sometimes prefer it. The other day one fellow said to me after a hard first hour, “I don’t mind working with you, but you moves too fast” — and later — “When I carry this hook, I needs two men to hold me up.”

They have a great sense of humor and are most always bright-spirited. They are combat troops out of the 93rd who have been converted to service troops. They have colored officers, one of whom I saw today. Norm told me about him, a grad of a Midwestern school, studying for a M.A. in music when called into the army. He drives the men under him hard.

Today “stringing them up” on the dock, I told one colored fellow to be careful that a cable caught right in lifting an eight-ton truck, while he stood between truck and ship. “If she comes your way,” I said, “jump into the water.”

“But,” he said, serious and wide-eyed, “I can’t swim!”

See Sy M. Kahn: Between Tedium and Terror: A Soldier’s World War II Diary, 1943-45

Canines of the QM War Dog Platoon were used on Biak Island, off the coast of New Guinea, to track down Japanese hidden in caves and jungle fastness.

Canines of the QM War Dog Platoon were used on Biak Island, off the coast of New Guinea, to track down Japanese hidden in caves and jungle fastness.





HMAS Australia hit by Kamikaze plane

On 21 October 1944, after bombardments in Leyte Gulf in the Philippines, Australia (II) was hit by a Japanese suicide plane. Six officers and 23 ratings were killed and her Commanding Officer, Captain E.F.V. Dechaineux DSC, RAN, later died of wounds. Nine officers, 52 ratings and one AIF soldier were wounded. Whether this was the first deliberate Kamikaze attack on an Allied ship remains the topic of debate. After this action Australia (II) was escorted by HMAS Warramunga (I) to Manus Island and thence to Espiritu Santo in the New Hebrides for repairs.

It was a complete surprise when I saw an enemy aircraft fly across our stern, bank, then fly from our port quarter, apparently aiming at our bridge. ‘I called to our captain, who came over to the port after corner of the compass platform. We watched the kamikaze strike our tripod foremast, debris and flames, apparently from the petrol, covered the whole of the upper bridge.




General MacArthur “I have returned” to the Philippines

The famous image of General Douglas MacArthur making his return to the Philippines.

People of the Philippines: I have returned. By the grace of Almighty God our forces stand again on Philippine soil – soil consecrated in the blood of our two peoples. We have come, dedicated and committed to the task of destroying every vestige of enemy control over your daily lives, and of restoring, upon a foundation of indestructible strength, the liberties of your people.




Belgium: US troops stuck on the Siegfried Line

A wounded US soldier is attended to during fighting in the heavily wooded Ardenne region, Autumn 1944.

After that tragedy they began to probe every inch of ground with trench knives, gently working the knives in at an angle, hoping to hit only the sides of mines. This way they came upon many devilish little mines handmade from cottage cheese-type crocks and sealed with wax. Their only metal was the detonator, which was too small to be picked up by mine detectors.




USAAF Liberator explodes in mid air over the Wirral

A USAAF Consolidated Liberator takes off in the early morning light from a bomber base 'somewhere in England'

Several bodies were half embedded in the soft soil, having clearly fallen from a height. We left the scene quite soberly. Several days later the police visited our school and others in the area warning against possessing live ammunition. Apparently, every single dangerous round of half inch calibre ammunition had been removed from the gun turret, and it was believed that schoolchildren were responsible.




Germans civilians caught in Battle for Aachen

GI M1919 machine gun crew in action against German defenders in the streets of Aachen on 15 October 1944

Unfortunately, that was not all. Terrible things happened: Three Americans came to search the house for German soldiers. They were most friendly and polite. The commanding officer, a young, handsome, adorable boy… Yes, I was young! And then the unthinkable: they combed through the house and the factory… but they did not find anything, of course. The situation eased. They stayed for a while to discuss the situation.




One man versus three machine guns

A 5.5-inch gun of 77th (Duke of Lancashire's Own Yeomanry) Medium Regiment, Royal Artillery being manhandled into position to fire in support of 3rd Division advancing on Venray, 16 October 1944.

The destruction of these three machine gun posts singlehanded by Sergeant Eardley, carried out under fire so heavy that it daunted those who were with him, enabled his Platoon to achieve its objective, and in so doing, ensured the success of the whole attack. His outstanding initiative and magnificent bravery were the admiration of all who saw his gallant actions.




Holland: Death in a minefield on the front line

A sniper demonstrates the superior 'Hawkins' prone firing position (right) next to another in the standard position, at the 21st Army Group sniping school near Eindhoven, 15 October 1944.

Unfortunately, the changed route apparently had not been reconnoitred and the inevitable happened — the carrier was blown up on a mine. Driver Smith was killed instantly, his left leg torn off at the thigh. Patrick was injured, sustaining a severe head wound (he told me years later that he still has a piece of metal in his head).




Rommel is invited to commit suicide

Rommel with his aides in the Libyan desert in the spring of 1942.

Field Marshal Erwin Rommel had achieved worldwide fame as the ‘Desert Fox’, after the Wehrmacht ‘Afrika Korps’ were sent to save the Italian forces on the brink of defeat in North Africa in 1941. He had then taken a leading role in building the Atlantic Wall across occupied France, and had played his part in […]




Arrested by the Nazis for “undermining morale”

Reichsführer SS Himmler addresses a meeting of the newly formed Volkssturm in October 1944.

So much for the window. On the walls, the inevitable obscenities and calculations of time still to be served — in weeks, days, hours, and minutes, even. Then, a veritable flood of Soviet stars, which gave the idea that the entire Red Army had been imprisoned here. And lastly, scratched into the concrete with a key, perhaps, the words, so very applicable to me: ‘My God, why hast Thou forsaken me?’ I read this, and darkness envelops me.