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 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.