Japanese Americans hammer Germans in Italy

Lt. General Mark Clark of the 5th Army pins ribbon awards to each member of the 100th Infantry Battalion to designate the Presidential Distinguished Unit Citation. Vada Area, Italy. (27 July 1944)

Lt. General Mark Clark of the 5th Army pins ribbon awards to each member of the 100th Infantry Battalion to designate the Presidential Distinguished Unit Citation. Vada Area, Italy. (27 July 1944)

Whilst thousands of Japanese-Americans suffered internment during the war, many of their sons were determined to to prove their loyalty to the United States. Japanese-Americans troops were not sent to the Pacific theatre, a move that avoided their likely victimisation should they ever get taken prisoner. In Europe predominantly Japanese-American units were to distinguish themselves in a several actions during the last year of the war.

Katsugo Miho was member of the 522nd Field Artillery, 442nd RCT advancing in Italy. On the 5th July they were engaged in the fierce battle for Hill 140 (there was also a battle for Hill 140 in Normandy, the number was simply assigned on the basis of the height of the objective):

This was an extremely critical battle for the 442nd because the Germans had been fully entrenched on this hilltop. You know, the battles in Italy, the American forces were always at a disadvantage, with the Germans always on the mountaintop and the Americans trying to dislodge them from the mountaintop. When you got through with one mountain, they were on the other side of the other mountain, and it was a battle of yard by yard… in Italy, it was really rough because the Germans were always in position with higher ground, and we struggled to dislodge them, yard by yard.

Hill 140 was, as we later learned, it was one of the most fierce battles of our entire campaign.

We never did [experience] that type of intensive firing, the rest of my experience. As an example, in one twenty-four-hour period, July 5 and 6 according to our record, which was at the height of the Hill 140 battle, the three batteries fired 4,500 rounds of cannon fire in support of the infantry.

Time Fire It was at this Hill 140 that the 522nd established its reputation as a time-fire expert. This is when our time firing was so fierce that the infantrymen would tell you that they felt so pitiful for the Germans because they were near enough to hear the Germans crying out because they had no way of hiding from the fierceness of the time fire. And we established our reputation in the field as experts in time fire.

In the ordinary projectile, you would fire, and it hit the ground, impacting on the ground, and bursting. So you almost have to have a direct hit on the person. People can get hurt with shrapnels and all that, but by that time, the Germans are all in foxholes. So as long as they’re in the foxhole, unless you have a direct hit above, in the foxhole, there’s no casualty by the Germans.

But the time fire is a projectile that had a timing fuse on the projectile itself that after the projectile leaves the gun, within so many seconds, it would burst in the air. And in the air, bursting, all the shrapnel would go down to the ground so there’s no protection for the Germans in the foxholes. I don’t think the Germans knew about our proficiency in the time fire up until that point. But it required consistency in setting the fuse on the projectile.

The projectile had a timing fuse which was like the inner working parts of an Elgin watch. We set the fuse by the number of seconds it would burst in the air after it left the gun. I remember it was something like, close to twenty seconds, the average timing was. We would have to set it with a gauge, wrench, that would set it according to the seconds that are on the projectile. Unless we are consistent, that people adjusting the fire could not make it ideally twenty yards above the ground to fire. So between the fire direction center and the gun crew, both of us had to be consistent in order to adjust the fire. Without that consistency, you would not be effective because at some maybe fifty yards up in the air, that would be just about useless.

We had to be consistent so that the fire direction center would work on the consistency of the gun crew. Instead of one setting at nineteen seconds, one setting at eighteen seconds, they have to depend on the nineteen seconds being accurately placed on the projectile itself. This is where our boys took extra care to make sure that we were being correct, doing things according to what it’s supposed to be.

The Hill 140 is a good example [of prolonged shooting causing gun barrels to overheat]. The barrels of our guns became so hot that we had to stop firing. We had to stop firing on A gun to let it cool off a little bit, and the other guns would fire. But it was so hot you couldn’t touch the barrel, you would get burned. Well, we were thinking, how can you [cool the guns]? So we tried a couple of times. What we did was we would lower the gun barrel a little bit and we poured water in the barrel to see if it would help cooling off the gun. But it never did help at all. Basically, the gun was too hot. So we just had to let it idle and cool off by itself. But that’s how bad it was during that 140.

The 105 Howitzer had two legs, which would brace the gun from the recoil. You know, the old World War I guns, it had no recoil, the gun would jump back, and that was the recoil. Remember the pirate ships, you would see the gun, and the gun would be rolling back, ten feet back, and then they roll it back forward. Well the 105 had a recoil system where the gun barrel would recoil. The cannon, which the Cannon Company used, had no recoil. But there was that much of a difference. But that was the short-distance gun.

The 105 had a recoil mechanism, which was a big help.

But as I said, in 140, we were firing so many rounds that the guns had to be always readjusted. We had to brace up the two shovels that we have on the back of the gun and reengage the gun, reregister the gun, because of the fierce firing that we constantly [did], without rest.

As I said, in that twenty-four-hour period, we fired close to five thousand rounds, and you figure, twenty-four hours and five thousand rounds.

Read the whole account at THE HAWAI’I NISEI STORY

Americans of Japanese ancestry of the 100th Infantry Battalion, rest on a street in Leghorn, Italy, after a gruelling Fifth Army advance, which terminated with the fall of this important seaport. (19 July 1944)

Americans of Japanese ancestry of the 100th Infantry Battalion, rest on a street in Leghorn, Italy, after a gruelling Fifth Army advance, which terminated with the fall of this important seaport. (19 July 1944)

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