Burma – the Fourteenth Army get across the Irrawaddy

Troops crossing the Irrawaddy River at Katha by boat, January 1945.
Troops crossing the Irrawaddy River at Katha by boat, January 1945.
A lorry of 36th Infantry Division enters the town of Tigyiang during the advance down the Irrawaddy Valley towards Mandalay, 22 December 1944.
A lorry of 36th Infantry Division enters the town of Tigyiang during the advance down the Irrawaddy Valley towards Mandalay, 22 December 1944.

In Burma the tables had turned. After the desperate battles at Kohima and Imphal to prevent the Japanese mounting an invasion of India, the Japanese had pulled back into Burma. The British Fourteenth Army was now advancing south through Burma. There were tremendous transportation problems, and in many areas they were forced to build their own roads. To add to the difficulties the bulk of their air transport was suddenly and unexpectedly transferred to the Chinese front, to shore up positions there. However the largest natural obstacle was the great Irrawaddy River. There was virtually no specialised transport available and the Engineers had to build a range of relatively crude rafts in short order.

On the 14th January the Indian 19th Division had begun crossing at one of the river’s narrower points, where it was only some 500 yards across in the low season of January. General Sir William Slim describes the importance of securing the bridgehead on the other side:

A third battalion crossed on the night of the 16th/17th and, for the first time, on the 17th, the enemy, realizing that a serious attempt at crossing was in progress, collected his rather scattered troops and attacked heavily. This he continued at intervals throughout the day, but all these attacks were beaten off.

By the 19th, the whole of 64 Brigade was in the Kyaukmyaung bridgehead, and was steadily expanding it against increasing opposition. On the night of the 20th/21st, after heavy artillery preparation, the Japanese put in several determined attacks, which were again repulsed with heavy loss after hand-to-hand fighting.

In spite of mounting resistance and growing casualties, the brigade pressed outwards and seized a ridge of scrub-covered rock, eight hundred feet high, parallel to the river, three miles inland, and a bare peak rising abruptly from the river bank, two and a half miles south of the original crossing. These successes deprived the Japanese of direct observation over the bridgehead, blinded their artillery and thus, in fact, ensured its retention.

Farther north, the bridgehead at Thabeikkyin had been reinforced just in time to throw back a series of savage counter-attacks. The Japanese, confused by numerous feints and patrol crossings elsewhere, had not been quick to decide which were the real crossings, and even then the took some time to concentrate against them.

Every hour of this delay was invaluable to the sweating 19th Division, ceaselessly ferrying men and supplies across the river on almost anything that would float.

See William Slim: Defeat Into Victory

The men in the vanguard could have little doubt about the importance of their role. One man was to be awarded the Victoria Cross for his ‘selfless devotion to duty’ in fighting off the Japanese counter-attacks:

In Burma, on the night of 19th / 20th January 1945, Lance Naik Sher Shah commanded the left forward section of his platoon. At 19:30 hours a Japanese platoon attacked his post. Realizing that overwhelming numbers would probably destroy his section, he, by himself, stalked the enemy from their rear and broke up their attack by firing into their midst. He killed the platoon commander and six other Japanese and, after their withdrawal, crawled back to his section post.

At 00:15 hours the Japanese, who were now reinforced with a company, started to form up for another attack. Sher Shah heard their officers giving orders and bayonets being fixed prior to the assault. Again he left his section post and, in spite of Japanese covering from small arms and mortars, crawled forward and saw Japanese officers and men grouped together. He fired into this group and they again broke up and started to withdraw in disorder.

Whilst on his way back for the second time he was hit by a mortar bomb, which shattered his right leg. He regained his position and propping himself against the side of the trench, continued firing and encouraging his men. When asked whether he was hurt, he replied that it was only slight. Some time afterwards it was discovered his right leg was missing.

The Japanese again started forming up for another attack. In spite of his severe wounds and considerable loss of blood, and very heavy Japanese supporting fire, Lance Naik Sher Shah again left his section post and crawled forward, firing into their midst at point blank range. He continued firing until for the third time the Japanese attack was broken up and until he was shot through the head, from which he subsequently died. Twenty-three dead and four wounded Japanese, including an officer, were found in daylight immediately in front of his position.

His initiative and indomitable courage throughout this very critical situation undoubtedly averted the over-running of his platoon, and was the deciding factor in defeating the Japanese attacks. His supreme self-sacrifice, disregard of danger and selfless devotion to duty, were an inspiration to all his comrades throughout the Battalion.

Sher Shah was born on 14 February 1917 in Chakrala Village, near Mianwali, North Punjab, India ( now North West Frontier, Pakistan ). Sher Shah’s Battalion 7/16 Punjab Regiment, affectionately known as “Saat Solah Punjab” is now a part of the Pakistan Army, proudly known as the “Sher Shah Battalion”.

Indian troops coax mules into the water for the 500 yard swim across the Irrawaddy River, January 1945.
Indian troops coax mules into the water for the 500 yard swim across the Irrawaddy River, January 1945.
Gurkhas hold onto their mules as they swim across the Irrawaddy River in Burma during the advance towards Mandalay, January 1945.
Gurkhas hold onto their mules as they swim across the Irrawaddy River in Burma during the advance towards Mandalay, January 1945.

USS Louisville’s second Kamikaze attack in two days

The U.S. Navy battleship USS Pennsylvania (BB-38) leads USS Colorado (BB-45), USS Louisville (CA-28), USS Portland (CA-33), and USS Columbia (CL-56) into Lingayen Gulf before the landing on Luzon, Philippines, in January 1945.
The U.S. Navy battleship USS Pennsylvania (BB-38) leads USS Colorado (BB-45), USS Louisville (CA-28), USS Portland (CA-33), and USS Columbia (CL-56) into Lingayen Gulf before the landing on Luzon, Philippines, in January 1945.

As the US Navy began the bombardment of Luzon, ‘softening up’ the defences prior to amphibious assault, they encountered the Japanese suicide ‘Kamikaze’ planes in ever more persistent attacks. With Japanese airbases within easy reach and the use of Kamikaze pilots now one of their main tactics the US ships had to face an unprecedented onslaught, with many ships being hit more than once.

The USS Louisville had been hit on the 5th January with one man killed and 52 wounded, including the captain. The following day she was attacked by six successive planes, five were shot down but one got through:

The USS Louisville is struck by a kamikaze Yokosuka D4Y at the Battle of Lingayen Gulf, 6 January 1945
The USS Louisville is struck by a kamikaze Yokosuka D4Y at the Battle of Lingayen Gulf, 6 January 1945

John Duffy was one of the men on board the USS Louisville dealing with the aftermath:

All of a sudden, the ship shuddered and I knew we were hit again. I was in charge of the 1st Division men and I yelled. “We’re hit, let’s go men!” I was the first man out the Turret door followed by Lt. Commander Foster and Lt. Hastin, our Division Officer, then a dozen more men. The starboard side of the ship was on fire from the focsle deck down.

One almost naked body was laying about ten feet from the turret with the top of his head missing. It was the Kamikaze pilot that had hit us. He made a direct hit on the Communications deck.

As the men poured out of the turret behind me they just stood there in shock. Explosions were still coming from the ammunition lockers at the scene of the crash. We could see fire there too. Injured men were screaming for help on the Communications Deck above us. I ordered two men to put out the fire on the starboard side by leaning over the side with a hose. That fire was coming from a ruptured aviation fuel pipe that runs the full length of the forecastle on the outside of the ship’s hull. That fuel pipe was probably hit by machine gun bullets from the Kamikaze just before he slammed into us.

Although there was no easy access to the deck above us, I ordered several men to scale up the side of the bulkhead (wall) and aid the badly burned victims who were standing there like zombies. I also ordered three men to crawl under the rear of Turret 1’s overhang, open the hatch there, and get the additional fire hose from Officers Quarters. These three orders were given only seconds apart and everyone responded immediately, but when they got near the dead Jap’s body, which was lying right in the way, it slowed them down.

I yelled, “Carl Neff, grab his legs.” As I leaned over the body, I noticed that all he had on was the wrap-around white cloth in his groin area. I then grabbed him under the arms and lifted. When I did this, his head rolled back and his brain fell out in one piece onto the deck as though it had never been part of his body. I told Carl, “Right over the side with him.” Then I immediately went back and scooped up his brain in both hands and threw it over the side. To the men who had no assignment, I shouted, “Get scrubbers and clean up this mess.”

John Duffy was awarded an individual commendation for his actions : “displayed outstanding diligence, skill, bravery, and intelligence in combating fires and rendering aid to the wounded.” This account appears at Kamikaze images which explores both American and Japanese attitudes to the Kamikaze pilots.

The strike on the Louisville was also notable for the death of Rear Adm.Theodore E. Chandler, commanding the battleships and cruisers in the Lingayen Gulf. He was badly burnt when his Flag bridge was engulfed in flame – but later waited in line for treatment with the other men. However his lungs had been scorched by the petroleum flash and he died the following day.

USS Columbia is attacked by a kamikaze off Lingayen Gulf, 6 January 1945.
USS Columbia is attacked by a kamikaze off Lingayen Gulf, 6 January 1945.

A list of ships with their casualties resulting from “Kamikaze” hits in the Philippine area during the month of January:

USS Cowanesque (2 killed, 2 wounded);
USS Dyke (sunk with all hands);
USS Ommaney Bay (6 killed, 65 wounded, 85 missing at time of report);
USS Helm (6 wounded); USS Louisville (1 killed, 75 wounded);
USS Orca (4 wounded);
HMAS Australia (first hit: 25 killed, 30 wounded; second hit: 14 killed, 26 wounded);
USS Manila Bay (10 killed, 75 wounded);
USS Walke (15 killed, 32 wounded);
USS R.P. Leary(1 wounded);
USS Newcomb (2 killed, 11 wounded);
USS New Mexico (30 killed, 87 wounded); USS Brooks (3 killed, 10 wounded);
USS Minneapolis (2 wounded);
USS California (41 killed, 155 wounded, 3 missing at time of report);
USS Southard (6 wounded);
USS Columbia (first attack: 20 killed, 35 wounded; second attack: 17 killed, 8 wounded, 7 missing at time of the report);
USS Louisville (28 killed, 6 wounded, 10 missing at time ofreport);
USS Long (7 wounded);
USS LST 918 (4 killed, 4 wounded);
USS LST 912 (4 killed, 3 wounded);
USS Callaway (30 killed, 20 wounded);
USS Kitkun Bay (16 killed, 15 wounded);
USS Mississippi (8 wounded);
USS Leray Wilson (7 killed, 3 wounded, 3 missing at time of report);
USS Dupage (35 killed, 157 wounded);
USS Gilligan (2 killed, 6 wounded);
USS Bellknap (19 killed, 37 wounded);
USS Dickerson (13 wounded);
USS LST 778 (7 killed, 12 wounded);
USS Zeilen (5 killed, 32 wounded, 3 missing at time of report);
USS Salamaua (10 killed, 87 wounded, 5 missing.)

Action Report, COM Luzon Attack Force, Lingayen.

The kamikaze aircraft hits Columbia at 17:29.
The kamikaze aircraft hits Columbia at 17:29.

The Pacific war continues – next landing Luzon

 American soldiers take cover from fire of a Japanese machine gun in the Philippines during World War II. The troops are part of the first wave to land on Leyte Island in the Philippine invasion.
American soldiers take cover from fire of a Japanese machine gun in the Philippines during World War II. The troops are part of the first wave to land on Leyte Island in the Philippine invasion.
November 1944: U.S. landing ship tanks are seen from above as they pour military equipment onto the shores of Leyte island, to support invading forces in the Philippines.
November 1944: U.S. landing ship tanks are seen from above as they pour military equipment onto the shores of Leyte island, to support invading forces in the Philippines.

The steady progress of US forces across the Pacific continued. The first landings on the Philippines, on the island of Leyte, had now been consolidated and the US Navy was preparing for the next landings, on Luzon.

Th Japanese were now hopelessly outgunned by the overwhelming might of the U.S. arsenal.They could only resort to suicidal tactics in an attempt to slow the inexorable progress of US forces, which were island hopping towards the Japanese mainland. On land Japanese forces were digging themselves in and fighting to the death. At sea no Allied ship was safe from kamikaze attack, and almost any plane that came within range was liable to be shot out of the skies with every gun available.

Sy Kahn was sweating it out on the transport ship USS La Salle which was part of a convoy of almost 500 ships forming up off New Guinea. As a member of the 495th Port Battalion of the Army Transportation Corps, his principal role was loading and unloading ships, although they were regarded as reserve troops for combat should the need arise. They knew they would be amongst the later waves to land on Luzon:

December 30 1944

Early this morning, about 2:00 A.M., I was waked by the “general quarters” alarm and by the blaring PA, “All men man your battle stations.” I dressed and took my life preserver and headed for the deck. In the ‘tween deck I heard the pounding of ack-ack and the chatter of machine guns. Upon reaching the deck, I saw that all fire was directed immediately over our heads.

It was a very bright night, full moon, and the luminous plane was easily spotted quite high up. With red lines of bullets chasing him and ominous black puffs of exploding 90s all around, he flew very fast, headed away from us toward open sea and a thinnish cloud bank.

Just before getting to the bank, two 90s shells burst close on each side of him. A moment later he was in the thin clouds which weren’t adequate cover. The ship’s machine guns continued to rattle, but the range was too great for anything but ack-ack.

Just as I thought he was about to get away, he began to dive out of the cloud he had sought for cover. A moment later a huge streak of flame burst from the falling plane, now out of control.

The Aichi E13A a Japanese float plane which the USS La Salle participated in shooting down on 30 December before departing for Luzon.
The Aichi E13A a Japanese float plane, known to the Allies as a ‘Jake, which the USS La Salle participated in shooting down on 30 December before departing for Luzon.

The Jap fell a long way, burning brightly and viciously all the way down. I could hear the whine of the motor as he fell earthward in ever-increasing speed. The pilot didn’t have a chance; he burned like tinder. It was the clearest sight I’ve had of a hit Jap plane.

While he fell, all the men aboard were silent and fascinated by the orange streak that marked the end of a life and enemy. No guns fired. As soon as he hit the water, a tremendous yell split the air, and we continued cheering, me included.

He fell in the sea some distance away and continued to burn brightly for some 10 minutes after crashing. Soon there was just a tiny, diminishing flame — the fiery and brief marker of one less enemy.

Undoubtedly the Japs have wind of this convoy which is forming all up and down the New Guinea coast. I hope we have all the aircraft carriers rumored. It is said there are 200,000 Japs defending Luzon.

Leyte is taken and mopping-up operations remain. Our report states that we lost about 2,700 men in that campaign to the Japs’ 113,000! I It is difficult to believe these figures. If these odds are anywhere near accurate, it is a decisive victory. [Actual postwar figures: Japanese casualties numbered 67,000; American casualties were 3,504 killed and 11,991 wounded]

There is continued air attack on Luzon, on Clark and Nichols Fields, and other less famous ones, with 214 Jap planes on Luzon reported destroyed so far, that many less we’ll have to face. The Japs shelled Mindora (ineffectively, it’s stated) while we sank three destroyers and scored hits on a cruiser and battleship!

The battle in Europe continues to sway from side to side, and we all hope that this will prove the last German offensive, the last spurt of flame before the candle goes out.

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

Nov. 25, 1944: Firefighters are almost hidden by smoke as they turn their hoses on many small fires started on the flight deck of the USS Intrepid after a Japanese suicide plane crashed into the carrier while it was operating off the coast of Luzon, the Philippines.
Nov. 25, 1944: Firefighters are almost hidden by smoke as they turn their hoses on many small fires started on the flight deck of the USS Intrepid after a Japanese suicide plane crashed into the carrier while it was operating off the coast of Luzon, the Philippines.
Nov. 25, 1944: Wounded sailors are treated on the flight deck of the USS Intrepid after a Japanese suicide pilot crashed his plane on the carrier's deck while it sailed off the coast of Luzon, the Philippines, during World War II.
Nov. 25, 1944: Wounded sailors are treated on the flight deck of the USS Intrepid after a Japanese suicide pilot crashed his plane on the carrier’s deck while it sailed off the coast of Luzon, the Philippines, during World War II.
Nov. 26, 1944: Burial at sea ceremonies are held aboard the USS Intrepid for members of the crew lost after the carrier was hit by a Japanese suicide pilot while operating off the coast of Luzon, the Philippines, during World War II. Sixteen men were killed in the kamikaze attack.
Nov. 26, 1944: Burial at sea ceremonies are held aboard the USS Intrepid for members of the crew lost after the carrier was hit by a Japanese suicide pilot while operating off the coast of Luzon, the Philippines, during World War II. Sixteen men were killed in the kamikaze attack.

Flooded Walcheren – reconnaissance by Buffalo

An aerial view of the breached dykes and flooding on the island of Walcheren.
An aerial view of the breached dykes and flooding on the island of Walcheren.
LVT Buffalo amphibians during the invasion of Walcheren Island, 1 November 1944.
LVT Buffalo amphibians during the invasion of Walcheren Island, 1 November 1944.

Walcheren island lies to the north of the Scheldt Estuary guarding the approaches to the port of Antwerp. In October 1944 Antwerp had been liberated but remained unusable as Germans continued to occupy Walcheren. During opening moves in the operation to capture it the RAF had bombed the dykes surrounding the island, causing the greater part of it to flood.

The port of Flushing had been captured in a surprise attack on the 1st November. Now attempts were made to advance on the principal town, Middelburg, and overcome the main German resistance.

The British advance was now greatly assisted by the use of amphibious craft – Alligators, Buffalos and Weasels. Joe Brown was an intelligence officer with the Royal Scots involved in the initial advance:

On the evening of November 4, our newly-appointed C.O. (he was previously Second-in-Command of the Battalion), was ordered by the Brigade Commander to stand-by to lead a white-flag party to negotiate the surrender of the German garrison in Middelburg.

The next morning I went with him to join the Brigadier to observe 4 KOSB advancing up both banks of the canal towards Middelburg, the capital of Walcheren. Although the approaches to Middelburg were being shelled, the advance was extremely difficult with a large number of concrete positions to be overcome.

The Brigadier thought the possibility of heavy casualties could be avoided and decided to send a patrol consisting of the Brigade Liaison Officer with myself and the Reconnaissance Officer of “A” Squadron 11th Royal Tank Regiment (which provided the Buffaloes: amphibious tracked vehicles) to reconnoitre a route to the west towards the main road leading in to the north of Middelburg and determine whether it was possible for a battalion transported in Buffaloes to get into a position to attack Middelburg from the north.

We set off in a Buffalo at about 1445 hours, and it became quickly evident that the difficulties that would face the patrol were the heavy level of flood water surrounding the approaches to Middelburg as well as the extensive minefields and numerous anti-landing devices.

These devices consisted of wooden stakes with explosive charges placed above the flood-level and were interconnected by wires and named by the Dutch Resistance as ‘Rommel asparagus’ after Field-Marshal Rommel who had ordered them to be erected. Initially the progress was slow but we reached Kouderkerke, some four kilometres south-west of Middelburg, without encountering enemy resistance.

After taking time to explore the approaches to the north of Middelburg, the failing light made us decide to return and report to the Brigade Commander that it would be possible in daylight for an infantry force in Buffalos to follow our route and with careful navigation through the various hazards to reach the outskirts of Middelburg and be in a position to attack.

On the way back we ran into difficulties at about 1750 hours when the Buffalo, manoeuvring to avoid ‘Rommel asparagus’, got one of its tracks jammed on a concrete bridge that was totally submerged and unseen under the grubby flood water. A motor-cycle was jettisoned along with other heavy ‘non-essentials’ but this did not help to dislodge and re-float the Buffalo and we remained stuck on the bridge.

The Dutch Resistance had contacted our patrol when it first entered Kouderkirke and now they came to our assistance, rowing out to rescue both the Brigade L.O. and myself. We explained to the Resistance that we needed to get back to Flushing as quickly as possible and although they readily agreed to guide us, they advised we would have to wait for first light to avoid the heavy tidal surge of flood water returning to the sea through the breached sea wall as the nearest crossing point back to Flushing was very close to the gap.

We sheltered in different houses and I shall always remember the kind and warm welcome extended to me. After receiving hospitality I was shown to a bedroom at the top of the house and experienced a few hours rest in the luxury of white sheets!

Two Resistance men called for us in the last hours of the night’s darkness and we set off to begin our wade through the flood water on what proved to be a most hazardous journey.

They had made the crossing before and knew how to attempt it, directing our efforts in handling and positioning large lengths of wood which enabled us to reach an area of submerged ground that the four of us could just about manage to stand and at that stage we were half-way across the gap.

We stood there for a moment to draw breath, clutching one another to keep balance as the tidal waters swept past us; if we had slipped we would surely have been swept into the Scheldt Estuary! With anxiety we viewed the distance still to be crossed but under the leadership and skill of our two friends of the Dutch Resistance and deft use of those valuable logs – we made it!

The men had not yet contacted the Germans but the reconnaissance had proved invaluable in opening up a route by which they could attack the next day. The German commanders in Middelburg were taken by surprise by their swift advance and the British were able to persuade them to surrender. It was only then that the Germans learned how small the attacking force actually was:

Our force of eleven Buffaloes moved into the main square of Middelburg and orders given to the German officers to bring their men into the square and pile their armaments. We had taken 2,000 prisoners with a force of 140 men and as the Germans began to realise this there was signs of unrest. However, this was kept subdued during the hours of darkness by a vigilant ‘A’ Company 7th/9th RS and having positioned well-sited machine-guns of the 7th Manchester Regiment in the four corners of the square.

Just a small part of the Second World War Memoirs of JOE BROWN, which has interesting sections explaining in some detail the work of both Signals and Intelligence officers, as well as his general memoirs of the war. The Daily Mail carried an amusing account of the capture of Middelburg on 7th November, which was reproduced in War Illustrated.

At the time it was common for the British to equate Holland with the Netherlands, as per the original captions to these images, but see comments below.

Low-level vertical aerial photograph taken shortly after the daylight attack on the sea-wall of Walcheren Island, Holland, showing a breach in the wall at the most westerly tip of the island, caused by the extremely accurate bombing, being widened by the incoming high tide and inundating the village of Westkapelle (top right).
Low-level vertical aerial photograph taken shortly after the daylight attack on the sea-wall of Walcheren Island, Holland, showing a breach in the wall at the most westerly tip of the island, caused by the extremely accurate bombing, being widened by the incoming high tide and inundating the village of Westkapelle (top right).
An RAF Humber light reconnaissance car in Middelburg, Holland, November 1944.
An RAF Humber light reconnaissance car in Middelburg, Holland, November 1944.

The US supply line stretches across the Pacific

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.

General MacArthur “I have returned” to the Philippines

Landing barges loaded with troops sweep toward the beaches of Leyte Island as American and Jap planes duel to the death overhead. Troops watch the drama being written in the skies as they approach the hellfire on the shore. October 1944
Landing barges loaded with troops sweep toward the beaches of Leyte Island as American and Jap planes duel to the death overhead. Troops watch the drama being written in the skies as they approach the hellfire on the shore. October 1944
American troops of Troop E, 7th Cavalry Regiment, advance towards San Jose on Leyte Island, Philippine Islands. 20 October 1944.
American troops of Troop E, 7th Cavalry Regiment, advance towards San Jose on Leyte Island, Philippine Islands. 20 October 1944.

In March 1942 the Unites States forces on the Philippines had fought a bloody but unsuccessful action against the Japanese invasion. Famously when General MacArthur had then been compelled to evacuate the islands he had declared that “I will return”. Now that US forces were again landing on the Philippines he was not going to let the occasion go without publicity.

General Valdes accompanied General MacArthur and Philippine President Osmeña onto the landing beaches:

Entered Leyte Gulf at midnight. Reached our anchorage at 7 a.m. The battleships, cruisers, and destroyers opened fire on the beaches and finished the work begun two days before ‘A Day’ by other U.S Navy units. The boys in my ship where ready at 9:45 a.m. At 10 a.m. sharp they went down the rope on the side of the ship. Their objective was Palo.

At 1 p.m. General MacArthur and members of his staff, President Osmeña, myself, General Romulo, and Captain Madrigal left the ship and proceeded on an L.C.M for Red beach. The beach was not good, the landing craft could not make the dry beach and we had to wade through the water beyond our knees.

We inspected the area, and at two instances shots were fired by Japanese snipers. General MacArthur and President Osmeña spoke in a broadcast to the U.S. We returned to the ship at 6 p.m. under a torrential rain. We transferred to the Auxiliary cruiser Blue Ridge flagship of Admiral Barbey, as the SS John Land was leaving for Hollandia

.
For more accounts see the Philippines Diary Project

MacArthur was now able to declare “I Have Returned”. In a speech, delivered via radio message from a portable radio set at Leyte, on October 20, 1944 he sent this message:

This is the Voice of Freedom,
General MacArthur speaking.

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.

At my side is your President, Sergio Osmena, worthy successor of that great patriot, Manuel Quezon, with members of his cabinet. The seat of your government is now therefore firmly re-established on Philippine soil.

The hour of your redemption is here. Your patriots have demonstrated an unswerving and resolute devotion to the principles of freedom that challenges the best that is written on the pages of human history.

I now call upon your supreme effort that the enemy may know from the temper of an aroused and outraged people within that he has a force there to contend with no less violent than is the force committed from without.

Rally to me. Let the indomitable spirit of Bataan and Corregidor lead on. As the lines of battle roll forward to bring you within the zone of operations, rise and strike!

For future generations of your sons and daughters, strike! In the name of your sacred dead, strike!

Let no heart be faint. Let every arm be steeled. The guidance of Divine God points the way. Follow in His name to the Holy Grail of righteous victory!

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

Peleliu – the Marines are still mopping up snipers

LET ‘EM HAVE IT – Crouched behind a coral wall, Marines of the First Division fire on Japanese snipers barricaded in this building on Peleliu Island in the Palau group.
LET ‘EM HAVE IT – Crouched behind a coral wall, Marines of the First Division fire on Japanese snipers barricaded in this building on Peleliu Island in the Palau group.

Almost a month after the invasion of Peleliu in what was supposed to be a four day operation, the island had still not been secured. The Japanese had changed their tactics. They were still determined to fight to the death but now they sought to make that process as costly as possible.

In previous campaigns they had engaged in ‘Banzai’ charges, suicidal mass attacks that were usually wiped out quite quickly, even if they caused some casualties. Now as individuals and in small groups, they dug themselves into caves all over Peleliu, hiding behind the US advance, only to emerge later to cause as many problems as possible. It was still a suicidal endeavour but it disrupted the US advance and long extended the period of their resistance.

R.V. Burgin with the Third Battalion, Fifth Marine Regiment, First Marine Division. They had had a few days out of the line:

On October 10, K Company was pulled out of reserves and sent to clean out a nest of snipers who had been firing down on the west road. We were well behind the front lines, in territory that was supposed to be secure. But once again the Japs had hunkered down and waited.

A week before, at a spot along the road called Dead Man’s Curve, they had fired on an Army convoy and brought it to a stop. Everyone bailed out and ran for cover, ducking down behind trucks or diving behind rocks at the side of the road.

Colonel Joseph Hankins, commander of First Division’s Headquarters Company, had come along in his jeep to check on reports of snipers. When the convoy stopped, Colonel Hankins got out and walked forward to see what was holding things up. Just as everyone yelled at him to get down, he was hit in the chest. He died lying there in the roadway, the highest-ranking Marine killed on Peleliu.

We had a couple Army tanks along with us this time to provide cover. We were taking rifle and mortar fire from several places along a cliff, but we couldn’t see where it was coming from. Hillbilly Jones’s rifle squad was just up the road, and as the morning dragged on a couple of his men were hit, and one of them was killed.

Hillbilly decided to try to get a better view of the shooters from one of the tanks. I was about 150 feet away directing mortar fire and I didn’t see everything that happened. But after discussing the situation briefly with a staff officer from battalion headquarters, Hillbilly climbed onto the back of the tank and scrambled forward to slap the side of the turret to alert the gunner what he was up to.

He was just peeking around the turret when a single shot hit him in the side and knocked him down. He rolled off the tank into the road, and the call went out for a corpsman. While we watched, Hillbilly picked himself up, bleeding from the side, and pulled himself back onto the tank. Then he stood up. The next shot caught him in the chest and knocked him flat again. This time he didn’t move.

Word spread down the line – Hillbilly’s been hit. By the time I got to the tank, stretcher bearers had carried away the body.

All the memories came flooding back. Hillbilly carrying his guitar down to our tents on Pavuvu. Lazy days singing and cracking jokes on the deck of a troopship. Guard duty drinking grapefruit juice and alcohol, and afterward the hangover, on Banika.

For the rest of the day and into the next we blasted away with machine guns, mortars, and rifle fire at every crack or opening we could find along the west road. We took plenty of fire in return, until eventually it tapered off. Not once during that time did we see a single live Jap.

See R.V. Burgin: Islands of the Damned: A Marine at War in the Pacific

RUGGED TERRAIN – Picking their way through the rocky terrain on Peleliu, a column of Marines moves up to the front lines. This is the kind of territory on which Leathernecks are doggedly battling the remnants of the Japanese forces on the island.
RUGGED TERRAIN – Picking their way through the rocky terrain on Peleliu, a column of Marines moves up to the front lines. This is the kind of territory on which Leathernecks are doggedly battling the remnants of the Japanese forces on the island.

Nijmegen: the 82nd Airborne assault across the Waal

Dutch civilians ride on a jeep during the advance towards Nijmegen, 20 September 1944.
Dutch civilians ride on a jeep during the advance towards Nijmegen, 20 September 1944.
Cromwell tanks of Guard's Armoured Division drive along 'Hell's Highway' towards Nijmegen during Operation 'Market-Garden', 20 September 1944.
Cromwell tanks of Guard’s Armoured Division drive along ‘Hell’s Highway’ towards Nijmegen during Operation ‘Market-Garden’, 20 September 1944.
The bridge at Nijmegen after it had been captured by the 82nd (US) Airborne Division. A dead German SS officer lies where he fell during the attack.
The bridge at Nijmegen after it had been captured by the 82nd (US) Airborne Division. A dead German SS officer lies where he fell during the attack.

Operation Market Garden was a series of airborne attacks on a succession of bridges on the route into Germany. The US 82nd Airborne Division had dropped in Nijmegen and been engaged in a furious fight to secure the ground around the southern end of the bridge across the Waal. They had still not secured the northern end when a small force of British tanks arrived on the 20th September.

A plan was now developed to launch an amphibious assault across the Waal while the tanks rushed the bridge. British canvas boats were now brought up and the 3rd Battalion of the 504th Regiment prepared for the attack. They were unfamiliar with the boats and untrained in this type of attack. On the opposite bank the Germans were well dug in in established positions. Lt James Magellis describes the opening of the attack:

At 1500 on 20 September, Major Cook blew a whistle signaling the start of the assault. Shrill cries of “let’s go” followed as the paratroopers released pent-up emotions. We grabbed the boats by the gunwales, charged up the embankment, crossed the open, flat top of the dike, and made a mad dash for the river. The boats, loaded with our gear and weapons, were heavy, and the going was tough in the loose sand.

We caught the Germans by surprise. For the first hundred yards they hadn’t fired a shot, but when they realized what was happening, all hell broke loose. They opened up with everything they had: small arms, machine guns, 20mm flak wagons, mortars, and artillery.

Magellis includes a number of different accounts of the action that afternoon in his memoirs, amongst them one written by Captain Henry B. Keep:

As we frantically scurried for the river’s edge, chaos and confusion reigned. With shells exploding all around us, we kept charging forward. At that point we were all driven by instinct and running on adrenaline with but a single purpose: to get our boats in the water and across the river.

At last we reached the drop. We let the boat slide down to the beach and ourselves slid alongside of them. We pulled our boat quickly across a short beach and everyone piled in. By this time, the situation was horrible.

The automatic and flat trajectory fire had increased and the artillery was deadly. Men were falling right and left. In everyone’s ears was the constant roar of bursting artillery shells, the dull wham of a 20-mm, or the disconcerting ping of rifle bullets.

After a false start we got stuck in a mud bar and several of us were forced to get out and go through the extremely uncomfortable process of pushing off again. We found ourselves floating in the wrong direction. Everyone grabbed a paddle and frantically started to work. Most of the men had never paddled before and, had it not been for the gruesomness [sic] of the situation, the sight might have been rather ludicrous.

Every movement in excess of the essential paddling was extremely dangerous since the bullets were flying so thick and fast that they gave a reasonable facsimile of a steel curtain. By now the broad surface of the Waal was covered with our small canvas crafts and crammed with frantically paddling men.

Defenseless, frail, canvas boats jammed to overflowing with humanity, all striving desperately to get across the Waal as quickly as possible. Large numbers of men were being hit in all boats and the bottoms of these crafts were littered with the wounded and dead. Here and there on the surface of the water was a paddle dropped by some poor unfortunate before the man taking his place had been able to retrieve it from his lifeless fingers.

Somehow or other we were three-quarters of the way across. Everyone was yelling to keep it up, but there was very little strength left in anyone. But at last we reached the other side.

We climbed over the wounded and dead in the bottom of the boat and up to our knees in water waded to shore where behind a small embankment we flopped down gasping for breath, safe for the moment from the incessant firing.

All along the beach what was left of our flimsy boats were reaching shore. Men more dead than alive were stumbling up the beach to get momentary protection behind the unexpected but welcome embankment before pushing across the broad flat plain in front of us.

See James Megellas: All the Way to Berlin: A Paratrooper at War in Europe.

Nijmegen and Grave 17 - 20 September 1944: A large group of German soldiers who have been taken prisoner in Nijmegen and the surrounding area by American paratroopers of the 82nd (US) Airborne Division.
Nijmegen and Grave 17 – 20 September 1944: A large group of German soldiers who have been taken prisoner in Nijmegen and the surrounding area by American paratroopers of the 82nd (US) Airborne Division.

The battle was very far from over, the 3rd Battalion was to fight an intense action before the bridge was finally secured at 1700. Meanwhile the 2nd Battalion was still battling it out in Nijmegan itself, as Germans now sought to retreat across the bridge they fell into the hand sod the 3rd Battalion.

The small force of British tanks were now ten miles away from Arnhem. Controversially they did not press on but waited to regroup before renewing the attack.

Meanwhile the isolated British Parachute Regiment were still battling it out in Arnhem:

Lance Sergeant John Baskeyfield VC
Lance Sergeant John Baskeyfield VC

The KING has been graciously pleased to approve the posthumous award of the VICTORIA CROSS to: –

No. 5057916 Lance-Sergeant John Daniel Baskeyfield, The South Staffordshire- Regiment (1st Airborne Division) (Stoke-on-Trent).

On 20th September, 1944, during the battle of Arnhem, Lance-Sergeant Baskeyfield was the N.C.O. in charge of a 6-pounder anti-tank gun at Oosterbeek. The enemy developed a major attack on this sector with infantry, tanks and self-propelled guns with the obvious intent to break into and overrun the Battalion position. During the early stage of the action the crew commanded by this N.C.O. was responsible for the destruction of two Tiger tanks and at least one self propelled gun, thanks to the coolness and daring of this N.C.O., who, with complete disregard for his own safety, allowed each tank to come well within 100 yards of his gun before opening fire.

In the course of this preliminary engagement Lance-Sergeant Baskeyfield was badly wounded in the leg and the remainder of his crew were either killed or badly wounded. During the brief respite after this engagement Lance-Sergeant Baskeyfield refused to be carried to the Regimental Aid Post and spent his time attending to his gun and shouting encouragement to his comrades in neighbouring trenches.

After a short interval the enemy renewed the attack with even greater ferocity than before, under cover of intense mortar and shell fire. Manning his gun quite alone Lance-Sergeant Baskeyfield continued to fire round after round at the enemy until his gun was put out of action. By this time his activity was the main factor in keeping the enemy tanks at bay. The fact that the surviving men in his vicinity were held together and kept in action was undoubtedly due to his magnificent example and outstanding courage. Time after time enemy attacks were launched and driven off.

Finally, when his gun was knocked out, Lance Sergeant Baskeyfield crawled under intense enemy fire to another 6-pounder gun nearby, the crew of which had been killed, and proceeded to man it single-handed. With this gun he engaged an enemy self propelled gun which was appoaching to attack. Another soldier crawled across the open ground to assist him but was killed almost at once. Lance-Sergeant Baskeyfield succeeded in firing two rounds at the self propelled gun, scoring one direct hit which rendered it ineffective. Whilst preparing to fire a third shot, however, he was killed by a shell from a supporting enemy tank.

The superb gallantry of this N.C.O. is beyond praise. During the remaining days at Arnhem stories of his valour were a constant inspiration to all ranks. He spurned danger, ignored pain and, by his supreme fighting spirit, infected all who witnessed his conduct with the same aggressiveness and dogged devotion to duty which characterised his actions throughout.

Nijmegen and Grave 17 - 20 September 1944: British engineers removing the charge which the Germans had set in readiness to blow the Nijmegen bridge.
Nijmegen and Grave 17 – 20 September 1944: British engineers removing the charge which the Germans had set in readiness to blow the Nijmegen bridge.
A panoramic view of the city of Nijmegen, Holland, and the Nijmegen Bridge over the Waal (Rhine) River in the background.  The city was hit by German and Allied bombardment and shelling.  September 28, 1944.
A panoramic view of the city of Nijmegen, Holland, and the Nijmegen Bridge over the Waal (Rhine) River in the background. The city was hit by German and Allied bombardment and shelling. September 28, 1944.

Peleliu: US Marines attack towards Bloody Nose Ridge

September 1944 – Shot of the Marines going across the beach and airport on the initial landing.
September 1944 – Shot of the Marines going across the beach and airport on the initial landing.

It was already apparent that the landings on Peleliu were not going to be over within the four days originally anticipated. Despite the blasting that the entire island had received prior to the landings on the 15th most of the Japanese defenders had survived in their bunkers.

Eugene B. Sledge, with the 3rd Battalion 5th Marines 1st Marine Division, was keeping notes of his experiences in his New Testament Bible. He was later to develop it into one of the classic memoirs of the war. After being selected for officer training he and many others had deliberately ‘flunked out’ so that they didn’t ‘miss the war’. So it was that he found himself as a Private in the middle of one of the bloodiest operations in the Pacific.

After a sleepless night under shellfire they were all desperately thirsty, but men fell ill after drinking from a well. When water reached them in old oil drums it proved contaminated with rust and oil. That day it would reach 105 in the shade and, as Sledge points out, they were not in the shade. Their job was to attack across the airfield:

“Let’s go,” shouted an officer who waved toward the airfield. We moved at a walk, then a trot, in widely dispersed waves. Four infantry battalions — from left to right 2/1, 1/5, 2/5, and 3/5 (this put us on the edge of the airfield) – moved across the open, fire-swept airfield.

My only concern then was my duty and survival, not panoramic combat scenes. But I often wondered later what that attack looked like to aerial observers and to those not immersed in the firestorm. All I was aware of were the small area immediately around me and the deafening noise.

Bloody Nose Ridge dominated the entire airfield. The Japanese had concentrated their heavy weapons on high ground; these were directed from observation posts at elevations as high as three hundred feet, from which they could look down on us as we advanced. I could see men moving ahead of my squad, but I didn’t know whether our battalion, 3/5, was moving across behind 2/5 and then wheeling to the right. There were also men about twenty yards to our rear.

We moved rapidly in the open, amid craters and coral rubble, through ever-increasing enemy fire. I saw men to my right and left running bent as low as possible. The shells screeched and whistled, exploding all around us.

In many respects it was more terrifying than the landing, because there were no vehicles to carry us along, not even the thin steel sides of an amtrac for protection. We were exposed, running on our own power through a veritable shower of deadly metal and the constant crash of explosions.

For me the attack resembled World War I movies, I had seen of suicidal Allied infantry attacks through shell fire on the Westem Front. I clenched my teeth, squeezed my carbine stock, and recited over and over to myself, “The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for Thou art with me; Thy rod and Thy staff comfort me…”

The sun bore down unmercifully, and the heat was exhausting. Smoke and dust from the barrage limited my vision. The ground seemed to sway back and forth under the concussions. I felt as though I were floating along in the vortex of some unreal thunderstorm. Japanese bullets snapped and cracked, and tracers went by me on both sides at waist height. This deadly small-arms fire seemed almost insignificant amid the erupting shells.

Explosions and the hum and the growl of shell fragments shredded the air. Chunks of blasted coral stung my face and hands while steel fragments spattered down on the hard rock like hail on a city street. Everywhere shells flashed like giant firecrackers.

Through the haze I saw Marines stumble and pitch forward as they got hit. I then looked neither right nor left but just straight to my front. The farther we went, the worse it got. The noise and concussion pressed in on my ears like a vise. I gritted my teeth and braced myself in anticipation of the shock of being struck down at any moment.

It seemed impossible that any of us could make it across. We passed several craters that offered shelter, but I remembered the order to keep moving. Because of the superb discipline and excellent esprit of the Marines, it had never occurred to us that the attack might fail.

How far we had come in the open I never knew, but it must have been several hundred yards. Everyone was visibly shaken by the thunderous barrage we had just come through. When I looked into the eyes of those fine Guadalcanal and Cape Gloucester veterans, some of America’s best, I no longer felt ashamed of my trembling hands and almost laughed at myself with relief.

To be shelled by massed artillery and mortars is absolutely terrifying, but to be shelled in the open is terror compounded beyond the belief of anyone who hasn’t experienced it. The attack across Peleliu’s airfield was the worst combat experience I had during the entire war. It surpassed, by the intensity of the blast and shock of the bursting shells, all the subsequent horrifying ordeals on Peleliu and Okinawa.

See E. B. Sledge: With the Old Breed: At Peleliu and Okinawa

A wounded Marine, while he waits for the stretcher bearers to come for him, is given a drink of water from the canteen of a buddy while the Marines fight the enemy in rough country on Peleliu Island.
A wounded Marine, while he waits for the stretcher bearers to come for him, is given a drink of water from the canteen of a buddy while the Marines fight the enemy in rough country on Peleliu Island.

See also Peleliu 1944 a website developed by William Eagar in tribute to his Uncle, PFC JOE SOUTH, which contains not only personal memories but a selection of original battle reports as well as artwork and other material.

"2000 YARD STARE" "
“2000 YARD STARE”
“Down from Bloody Ridge Too Late. He’s Finished – Washed Up – Gone”
“As we passed sick bay, still in the shell hole, it was crowded with wounded, and somehow hushed in the evening light. I noticed a tattered Marine standing quietly by a corpsman, staring stiffly at nothing. His mind had crumbled in battle, his jaw hung, and his eyes were like two black empty holes in his head. Down by the beach again, we walked silently as we passed the long line of dead Marines under the tarpaulins.

One of the original Tom Lea pictures that Life magazine commissioned that reflects the reality of Peleliu, as featured on Peleliu 1944.

The US Marines hit the beach at Peleliu

PELELIU PRELUDE – A massive wall rises from the water of Peleliu as 8.000 lbs. of tetrytol explode to mark the successful conclusion of a UDT mission and the prelude to assault.  The following day our forces swept ashore through the channels cleared by the underwater demolition men and opened the grim battle for the Palaus.
PELELIU PRELUDE – A massive wall rises from the water of Peleliu as 8.000 lbs. of tetrytol explode to mark the successful conclusion of a UDT mission and the prelude to assault. The following day our forces swept ashore through the channels cleared by the underwater demolition men and opened the grim battle for the Palaus.
The first wave of LVTs moves toward the invasion beaches, passing through the inshore bombardment line of LCI gunboats. Cruisers and battleships are bombarding from the distance. The landing area is almost totally hidden in dust and smoke. Photographed from a USS Honolulu (CL-48) plane. Date	September 15, 1944.
The first wave of LVTs moves toward the invasion beaches, passing through the inshore bombardment line of LCI gunboats. Cruisers and battleships are bombarding from the distance. The landing area is almost totally hidden in dust and smoke. Photographed from a USS Honolulu (CL-48) plane.
Date September 15, 1944.

The steady progress of the US forces across the Pacific towards Japan continued. One more island needed to be taken to protect the flank of attacks on the Philippines. The Palau islands would also provide another airfield in the region.

The 11,000 Japanese troops on Peleliu had been busy. Japanese military strategists now favoured developing a defence in depth as they realised they would now be on the defensive. A network of concealed bunkers had been built across the island. Overlooking the beaches a series of bunkers protected with steel shutters hid 20mm guns.

The three day preliminary bombardment by US Navy ships offshore and aircraft hit the 6 square mile island with 519 rounds of 16 inch (410 mm) shells, 1,845 rounds of 14 inch (360 mm) shells, and 1,793 500 lb (230 kg) bombs. The US Navy believed they had run out of targets. On 15th September the 1st Marine Division went in for what was expected to be a four day operation.

Russell Davis was a Marine in the third wave of Amtrac assault tractors, he describes the run into the beach :

We went quickly into line, backing and plunging a bit in the surf like race horses in the starting gate. The control oflicers in the picket boats sighted along the line and then waved us ahead. We took off into the wake of the second Wave, but it was hard to see them when they were in the troughs of the swells.

Everyone was up and yelling but Buck and the squad leader. They crouched low; both of them were young but their faces looked old with determination and fear. When We hit the beach they would have the job to do, and we would do whatever they told us to do.

It was almost a glorious feeling, roaring in toward he beach with fear gone for the moment. We were in motion with thousands of tons of armed might at our backs; and it seemed that nothing could stop us. We were an old and tried outfit, led by men like Buck and the squad leader, who would know what to do when the time came to do it. As we rolled in on Peleliu, and before we were hit, the excitement took us and we were not afraid of anything. Some men began to chant: “Drive! Drivel!Drive!”

I saw the amphibious tractor in front of us go up in a shellburst. For a moment I didn’t realize what I had seen. Somebody said: “Hey, I think they hit him,” in a complaining tone, as though it were against the rules to do that.

The amtrac flamed, spread gas on the water, and wallowed in a puddle of fire. Men spilled from it. The driver of our tractor screamed so loud we heard him above everything. He had seen the hit and he was very frightened.

Wingy also screamed, begging for an order to open fire with the machine gun. The squad leader bellowed at him: “You crazy kid, there’s nothing in front of you but our own guys. If you fire one burst I’ll chop you down.”

The first shell came in and hit in our wake. It sprayed water all over the men in the rear and slewed the back of the amtrac around. The driver fought it straight and we went on. But now we were all trying to cram ourselves back down inside the steel sides. And there was less space, for some reason. Quiet fear shrinks men; wild fear expands them.

Small-arms fire racketed along our side. A man’s shoulder showed a putt and then a dark stain, and he clasped it with his other hand and swore briefly. Buck said: “Machine guns. How can they reach us out here?”

Buck and the squad leader had jumped up when the return fire began. They were the best kind of old men, who never left an inch of themselves exposed when there was nothing to be done. But when there was trouble they were up.

The squad leader stumbled over heads and fell toward Wingy. “What’s going on, kid? Are they reaching us?” Wingy turned his thin face, and it was all big eyes. The rest of his features had retreated. “They’re hitting them all,” he said. Again he complained, as though it were against the rules. “What will we do?”

“Fire at that near point,” the squad leader ordered. “Keep high.” Wingy fumbled with the belt and slide, trying to full-load. But he didn’t fire. He stood up straight and then fell over among the men. And he seemed to vanish. I don’t remember seeing Wingy again, but he must have still been in the amtrac. People and things dropped suddenly out of sight in action. Or at least the memory of them did. The squad leader and Buck began to feed and fire the machine gun.

Fire chopped and roiled the sea around us, and water sloshed in over the gunwales and steamed on the hot metal. Some men were crouched down but others pressed their faces in against the steel sides. We were bumping on something underneath. Buck and the squad leader fired on. The radioman started a gobbling call into his set, even though he couldn’t have been getting through to anyone.

The tracks bumped on, hitting high places in the sand underneath the water. The tracks would hit, grind, spin, and then kick into free water throwing high geysers as the whole amtrac shot forward.

“I can’t get any farther in,” the driver yelled. “Get out of here, before we get hung up.”

“Get in,” Buck yelled. “Get on in farther, or I’ll blow you into the water.”

See Russell Davis: Marine at War

As a rocket-firing LCI lays down a barrage on the already obscured beach on Peleliu, a wave of Alligators (LVTs, or Landing Vehicle Tracked) churn toward the defenses of the strategic island September 15, 1944. The amphibious tanks with turret-housed cannons went in in after heavy air and sea bombardment. Army and Marine assault units stormed ashore on Peleliu on September 15, and it was announced that organized resistance was almost entirely ended on September 27. (AP Photo)
As a rocket-firing LCI lays down a barrage on the already obscured beach on Peleliu, a wave of Alligators (LVTs, or Landing Vehicle Tracked) churn toward the defenses of the strategic island September 15, 1944. The amphibious tanks with turret-housed cannons went in in after heavy air and sea bombardment. Army and Marine assault units stormed ashore on Peleliu on September 15, and it was announced that organized resistance was almost entirely ended on September 27. (AP Photo)