The Fight on Tanapag Plain
6 July 1944
Map No. 1: V Amphibious Corps on Saipan, morning 5 July 1944
Map No. 2: 27th Division Zone, morning 5 July 1944
On 5 July the battle for Saipan was ending its third week. Since the initial landings on Saipan, 15 June, the three divisions of the V Amphibious Corps had been in almost continuous and very bloody action. Though their losses had been high and the troops were tired, the 2d and 4th Marine Divisions and the 27th Division had kept plugging; the close of their task was now in sight. The Japanese forces were penned in the northern end of the island, and out of 30,000 enemy troops, it was estimated that only 5,000 to 7,000 were left, supported by one battalion of 77-mm guns and perhaps 20 of an original 100 tanks. Every indication, including the testimony of prisoners, pointed to a complete breakdown of enemy communications and to his serious difficulties with respect to food, water, and hospital facilities. The Japanese faced also a shortage of small-arms weapons. Many of their remaining units were disorganized by losses of officers, and the state of their morale was questionable. Information found in documents captured on 4 July confirmed other evidence that there were two principal centers of resistance in the area, five miles deep, still held by the enemy: near the Marpi airfield, zone of the 4th Marine Division, and at Paradise Valley, facing the 27th Division (Map No. 1).
These two divisions held the U.S. line on 5 July, the 2d Marine Division having been pinched out the day before. Lt. Gen. Holland M. Smith, USMC, commanding V Amphibious Corps, was preparing for the assault on Tinian Island and wanted the 2d Marine Division to be rested for this action. The 27th Division, commanded by Maj. Gen. George W. Griner, held the western end of the front with two regiments on line in a zone one and a half miles wide. The 106th Infantry was in divisional reserve. On 5 July his two forward regiments were to attack abreast from a line of departure (shown on Map No. 2, opposite), with objectives 4,000 yards to the northeast. The terrain differed greatly in the two regimental zones. To the right, the 165th Infantry was advancing in the rugged hills that characterize the interior of Saipan Island. These hills terminate sharply in an escarpment marked by frequent stretches of cliff. Below the steep wall paralleling the shoreline an 800-yard strip of coastal plain, flat or slightly rolling, bordered the Saipan beach. This coastal plain, and the edge of the hills that dominate it, fell in the zone of the 105th Infantry.
Neither attacking regiment of the 27th Division made much headway on 5 July. At the day's end the 105th, with which this account is mainly concerned, was still short of the planned line of departure, although the left-wing units alone the beach had advanced
Background: The Attack on 5 July
Map No. 3: Night Positions, 105th Infantry, 5 July
some 1,500 yards. This move had been made through terrain not previously reconnoitered, in which the Japanese had constructed extensive defenses to resist landings on the beach. Almost no opposition was encountered in these emplacements, but each in turn had to be carefully worked through, and this took time. As the line of departure was neared, some fighting began to develop all along the line, particularly to the right on the hills that walled the coastal plain.
A main road ran northeast along the beach, leading from Tanapag to the north of Saipan. Almost paralleling it was a narrow-gauge railroad, single-tracked, for service of the sugar plantation industry. Close to the line of departure, at Road Junction 2, a main road branched off east, into the hills and across the island. Just south of this junction was the most prominent landmark on the almost bare coastal plain: a large coconut grove, with tall grass beneath the trees.
The 2d Battalion, 105th Infantry, moved up into this area on the afternoon of 5 July, working along the coastal plain with E and F Companies abreast (Map No. 3, opposite). Company E, mopping up enemy defensive positions in a series of platoon actions, had finally pushed almost to Road Junction 2 when the advance stalled under intense machine-gun fire. Patrols decided that the enemy had set up one or two guns in an old landing barge which was beached on the left flank. Two tanks were sent along the coastal highway beyond the road junction, and their fire apparently silenced the enemy machine guns. Returning, the tanks pulled off the road to the south and ran into a minefield which completely wrecked one of the vehicles. Enemy fire immediately reopened in steadily increasing volume, hampering rescue of the tankers and stopping any further advance. Despite every effort to locate positions, the source of the fire was not determined by the end of the day, except that the enemy had put antitank guns somewhere in the cliffs ahead. Company E stopped to organize a night position south of and near Road Junction 2. To the right of the railroad, Company F had almost reached the coconut grove late in the afternoon, mopping up small groups of Japanese. Learning that E was digging in to the left, Company F pulled over near it to establish its night perimeter.
The 3d Battalion of the 105th had a zone that included the escarpment edging the coastal plain; therefore, its units moved northeast straddling the plain and the rough
TANAPAG PLAIN had much open ground like this, looking toward the coconut grove from the west. Hillsides on right, background. Bodies of Japanese killed in the banzai attack litter the fields (8 July) as Marines go into the grove in mopping-up operations.
Map No. 4: V Amphibious Corps, morning 6 July 1944
hillside. Company K, on the low ground, reached the southeast side of the coconut grove in the early afternoon, and there came under considerable fire both from the grove and from the hillside to its right. Tanks worked through the trees without finding enemy positions, and K made no further progress. It dug in for the night south of the coconut plantation, at the foot of the hill.
Just ahead of K's position, two steep-sided, narrow draws broke the long wall of the escarpment. On the spur between them, the cross-island road zigzagged up from Road Junction 2. A rough trail branched off this road at the edge of the plain and followed the second of the two draws. It was this second draw, to be known later as Harakiri Gulch, that showed signs on 5 July of being a center of enemy resistance. Fire from the mouth of the draw had contributed to the troubles of Company K on the plain, but it was Company L (and, farther inland, the 165th
Infantry) that made the real test of enemy strength in Harakiri Gulch.
Company L on 5 July faced the difficult ground on the hillside, its right flank in contact with the 3d Battalion of the 165th. Toward the middle of the morning, L had passed the first (western) gulch and was crossing the spur used by the road on its way into the upland. But when L's men reached the crest looking down into Harakiri Gulch, they were caught by heavy fire from cliff positions on the far side of the ravine. For the rest of the day, Company L was held on the spur. Despite every effort to neutralize enemy opposition by building up strong fire support, including antitank guns and artillery, any attempt at advance was stopped at the edge of Harakiri Gulch by a hail of fire. On the right, higher up the draw and beyond it, the 165th Infantry was meeting the same fierce resistance and was making no better progress. Company L dug in for the night on this spur, with I to its left rear on the hill slope.
The results of the day's action had been disappointing for the 105th Infantry. The lead units were still short of the line of departure, and, except on the right, they had not yet developed the enemy's positions. It was known in the 3d Battalion that Harakiri Gulch was strongly held, but no one yet realized how much this could affect the 105th's advance along the coastal plain below.
Plans for 6 July called for pressing the attack that had barely got under way on the previous day (Map No. 4, opposite). The main effort was scheduled to come in the 105th's zone; failing better progress on the plain, the 165th's flank would be exposed. But at 0905 on the 6th, when the action had already begun, General Griner received orders from Corps that appeared to simplify the 27th Division's mission.
The 4th Marine Division on the right had found the going easier and was well ahead in its zone. Further unequal advance by the two divisions, along the northeast axis of attack, would expose the flank of the 4th Marine Division. Enemy resistance appeared to be heaviest toward the west coast, so that the 27th could not be expected to catch up easily. General Holland Smith decided to continue the sweep to the northeast with the 4th Marines, while the 27th Division mopped up the enemy in a more limited zone on the left flank. Division zones were therefore radically altered; the 4th Marine Division, reinforced, would extend its front to the northwest, pinching out the 27th zone beyond Makunsha, and continue toward the end of the island (Map No. 6, page 82). All that remained for General Griner's division was to push about 2,500 yards further through hills and along the coastal plain. Division Headquarters was optimistic about completing this job quickly. Except for the G-2, and for the company commanders who had been in contact with the enemy at Harakiri Gulch, everyone regarded the Japanese strength at that point as amounting to little more than a minor pocket. Main enemy strength was still believed concentrated farther northeast, in Paradise Valley. General Griner had been on the point of relieving the battle-weary 165th Infantry with the 106th, but now decided to let the front-line units finish the job.
Map No. 5: 105th Infantry Attack, morning 6 July
By the time this new order had been received and digested by Division, the 105th Infantry was already in trouble, both on the edge of the hills and below in the plain.
Under pressure from Division to move promptly and reach their objectives, both battalions of the 105th were ready to attack at 0700 on 6 July (Map No. 5, above).
Morning of 6 July: Attack on the Plain
Maj. Edward A. McCarthy, commanding the 2d Battalion of the 105th, planned his attack with an eye to avoiding the sector where he had met trouble on the previous afternoon. Ahead of his night position, beyond the first stretch of the cross-island road, was the extensive minefield which had stopped his tanks the day before and which was in an area effectively interdicted by intense enemy fire. The mines occupied virtually the whole space between highway and railroad tracks, to an estimated depth of 100 yards. A little beyond this minefield a deep ditch ran from the base of the cliffs to the sea, providing perfect cover for enemy movement and also constituting a possible tank trap. South of the minefield, toward the coconut grove, the ground was open and could be easily covered by fire from any Japanese positions along the cliffs. McCarthy decided to bypass this whole zone by slipping his battalion to the left, along the narrow strip of beach between the water and the coastal highway.
That route would bring the 2d Battalion into a zone of prepared beach defenses, made up mainly of pillboxes emplaced for defense against landings from the sea. In order to eliminate them, McCarthy decided on an old-fashioned rolling barrage which would force the Japanese to hole up in their shelters. The infantry, following close behind this fire, would catch the enemy in their holes before they could emerge to man the firing positions.
The assault would be made in column of companies, with F leading. Company E was to follow and fan out to the right of the beach as soon as the minefield was passed. Company G, in reserve, was ordered to move back over the ground covered on 5 July, mopping up enemy elements that might have infiltrated during the night. A patrol of E was sent to the right to locate Company K, which was thought to be pushing through the coconut grove, so that E after deploying beyond the minefield could tie in with K. The patrol, three men under Sgt. Carlos A. Harris, left promptly at 0700.
The battalion attack moved off on schedule, with the 249th Field Artillery Battalion putting heavy, concentrated fire on the whole area beyond the minefield. In Company F, 1st Lt. John E. Titterington had placed his left platoon (3d) between the road and the water's edge, while the 2d Platoon moved just right of the highway, skirting the edge of the minefield.
AERIAL PHOTO OF TANAPAG PLAIN BATTLE ZONE
The advance of F Company was well coordinated and rapid, the men moving out all along the line in a series of rushes. Within a few minutes of the jump-off, both assault platoons had almost passed beyond the northern limits of the minefield, a gain of approximately 100 yards. This brought them to a point about 150 yards short of the ditch that crossed the coastal plain at right angles to the axis of advance. Company E, following close behind, was almost in position to fan out to the right. At this point the artillery fire shifted on up the road to the east and left the ditch area. Almost at once there was a heavy burst of enemy machine-gun fire, followed by a fusillade of small arms. All of the men were forced to go to earth, but they were in an extremely exposed position and began to suffer casualties. The plain was covered with foot-high grass that offered little concealment. Major McCarthy, who was with Company E, tried to get the men to start forward, moving up and down the line yelling "Up and at 'em," but the first two men in Company E who tried to get up and move were hit and killed immediately. The fire had now become intense and the whole area was alive with bullets. The supporting artillery fire was falling some distance away and had no effect on the immediate situation. So well concealed were the Japanese that none of the men along the narrow battalion front could locate the enemy fire positions.
Major McCarthy now began to try to bring up tanks or SPM's to lay down some direct fire support along the front, but when he tried to get hold of his CP by radio there was no answer. His own radio was out, and so was Capt. Clinton F. Smith's. In this emergency he sent his runner back to order up the vehicles, a mission which turned out to be a particularly slow and tedious task. By this time anyone who lifted up his head would draw heavy and accurate fire on himself, so that the runner had to crawl slowly and carefully back a distance of 150 yards before he could move rapidly. When he did get to the battalion CP, the tanks were not there and he had to go along the road all the way to Regiment on the far side of Tanapag before he was able to get the tank platoon leader and bring him up. It was 1000 before the tanks came rumbling up the road to Road Junction 2.
The period between approximately 0730, when the attack had bogged down, and the arrival of the tanks, was not entirely lost. Major McCarthy spent the first part of that time in maneuvering his men to prevent any possibility of a successful Japanese counterattack. Company E, by crawling and wriggling ahead, managed to deploy itself on a three-platoon front between the road and a point about 75 yards to the south. From this ground, just east of the minefield, the men spent the rest of the morning trying to locate the source of the fire that was causing the delay. Slowly but surely the men inched forward, a little at a time. By noon they were only 100 yards short of the ditch. About 0900, Major McCarthy decided to withdraw Company F from their cramped area between the road and the beach. He had received word from Sergeant Harris' patrol regarding the movement of Company K and now, with Company E operating along the railroad track and the road, he resolved to use Company F between E and K. He transmitted
the orders to 1st Lieutenant Titterington, and Company F had moved back out of the beach corridor at about the time the tanks arrived at Road Junction 2. Within an hour F had marched some distance around the rear of the line and was moving into position in the gap between the 2d and 3d Battalions. Carried out with caution, the movement was accomplished without casualties.
The 2d Battalion commander had also given his attention to the minefield that was causing so much trouble. Shortly before 0900 he called up his battalion engineer officer, 1st Lt. Richard M. Hughes, and ordered him to make a reconnaissance of the mined area. Hughes had to crawl through the minefield on his stomach because of the intense fire, but before 1000 had reported back that the field was about 50 by 100 yards and was composed of upended aerial bombs, fused as mines. He volunteered to begin removal at once and brought up his platoon from Company A, 102d Engineer Combat Battalion, to begin the job. This platoon had to work while lying flat and under constant heavy fire, a situation which made their task extremely slow.
With the arrival of the tanks, Major McCarthy was faced with the problem of getting them into position to lay down covering and supporting fire. The road was a questionable route of approach because of the interdicting fire. Furthermore, the road crossed the ditch ahead over a narrow bridge, which was almost certain to be mined. The beach could be used only with difficulty, and houses, trees, and shrubbery along the north side of the road cut down the fields of fire considerably. But Lieutenant Hughes in his reconnaissance had crept out along the railroad track for some distance and had ascertained the fact that it was not mined, so Major McCarthy determined to send his tanks along the right of way.
The tank force consisted of five mediums under the command of 1st Lt. Dudley A. Williams of the 762d Tank Battalion. The narrowness of the right of way made it necessary for these vehicles to proceed in single file along the roadbed. Williams sent them out about 20 yards apart. The lead tank crept along almost to the north edge of the minefield. There its tracks picked up one of the thin steel rails, and within a few seconds was unable to move in any direction. The tank was still far short of a point where it could do any good with its guns; tangled up as it was in the now twisted rails and tics of the cane railroad, it effectively blocked the path of the next tank behind it. Lieutenant Hughes was called over and was put to work with his men in an effort to clear a path through the minefield so that the second tank could be worked around the disabled one. While this work was in progress, the enemy brought antitank guns to bear along the railroad track; on the first two shots, both tanks were hit, although neither was put out of action. The crews reported that they "could see daylight through their tanks." Lieutenant Williams immediately asked for permission to get the vehicles out of the danger area until a route of approach could be laid out which would enable his tanks to keep moving. Major McCarthy agreeing, a cable was hooked onto the lead tank and both vehicles were hauled loose and clear of the area.
It was now after 1100, and the attack of the 2d Battalion had shown little or no progress. Company E was effectively pinned down between the minefield and the ditch across the front, about 150 yards north of Road Junction 2 where they had started. Company F had taken up a line behind the road that ran from Road Junction 2 to the coconut grove, holding there until the situation cleared up to the front. As yet no one had been able to locate accurately the source of the Japanese fire. Intelligence on this problem was achieved quite by accident, shortly after the tanks were pulled back out of danger.
While the two tanks were trying to move along the railroad track, the left platoon (1st) of Company E had been drawn up between the road and the beach. Extending from the road to the railroad track was the 3d Platoon. Both of these units were laying down a covering fire to the front, when one of the men, Pfc. Edwin J. Kula, happened to notice movement in the ditch close ahead. He called the attention of S/Sgt. Angelo D. Nicolette, his platoon sergeant, to the possibility that one of the enemy machine guns was located in the gully, and Nicolette immediately called for 60-mm mortar fire to be directed into the ditch. He was notified, in return, that the mortar section was out of ammunition and did not expect a resupply for some time. He crawled back, then, to Road junction 2 and talked with the driver of an SPM of the 105th Cannon Company, which had just come up the road. The driver agreed to work up the coastal road as far as he could in an effort to put fire into the spot which Private Kula had suspected. Nicolette climbed aboard and the vehicle started out, but before it had gone ten yards the same antitank fire which damaged Lieutenant Williams' two tanks began landing in the area. In view of this fire, the SPM commander decided to pull back out of the exposed area. The project was abandoned for the time being.
Sergeant Nicolette was still convinced that he could get rid of this one position at least. After some discussion with Captain Smith, he got permission to withdraw his platoon from the area along the beach and, moving around and up the railroad track, to see if he could bring fire on the ditch from there. The men had to move the whole distance by crawling, so that it was past noon before they reached a place from which they could bring weapons to bear. It cost Company E one more man wounded, and after the platoon had reached its new position it found itself still unable to do anything about the enemy gun in the ditch.
S/Sgt. William H. Allen, one of the squad leaders, now asked permission to take his squad, rush the ditch, and try to knock out the position in that manner. After carefully organizing his men, Sergeant Allen started out in a swift dash toward the trench. Almost immediately the enemy fire resumed in full strength, and most of Allen's men had to duck for cover. The sergeant, who was first up and running, made a jump for the ditch and landed there, only to find himself sprawling in the midst of about eight enemy soldiers. Allen reacted automatically, shooting two of the Japanese and bayoneting a third. In the melee that followed he was shot in the leg by a bullet that wounded him in four different places. Up to that moment,
INFANTRY AND MEDIUM TANKS of Marine units advance into coconut grove on 8 July, mopping up after Japanese banzai attack.
the squad leader had not realized he was without support, but now he looked around and decided that he was outnumbered. In one dive he was out of the ditch and crawling back toward his company. Although wounded painfully, Allen insisted that he be allowed to take his squad back to clean out the remaining enemy soldiers. He thought there were only five left. However, the volume of fire that was directed at him after he came back out of the gully had, for the first time, given Major McCarthy and his company commanders some idea as to where the main enemy strength lay. Clearly the Japanese held the ditch in large numbers, and most of the terrible and intense fire that was keeping the men down was coming from this source, not more than 100 yards away. Allen was not permitted to return to the ditch to "clean it out." It was now approximately 1300 and the 2d Battalion still had not been able to get going.
The battle on the Tanapag Plain had been just as bitter in front of Company K, which started the day facing the coconut grove. This company, like the 2d Battalion, was ready to move off in the attack at 0700, accompanied by a platoon of light tanks under 1st Lt. Willis K. Dorey. 1st Lt. Roger P. Peyre, profiting by the experience of his company on the previous afternoon, ordered K's men to move up along a deep gully that circled along the southwest edge of the grove, making use of the cover and concealment that it offered. Stealing along this trench, the men were able to get almost into the grove itself before they were detected, but as they emerged from defilade they were taken under fire by at least two machine guns firing from deep within the grove. For a short time the
whole company was pinned down, unable to locate the source of fire.
It was at this point that Sergeant Harris and his patrol from Company E blundered into the coconut grove from the west. Sergeant Harris had been told that he would probably find Lieutenant Peyre in the grove, and had worked his way directly there without realizing that it was still in the hands of the enemy. He and his two men, Pfc. John Lopez and Pvt. Keith M. Jarrell, had no sooner entered the trees than a machine gun opened up from 25 yards' distance, wounding Harris seriously in the back. Private Lopez spotted the gun at once in a small, criblike building. He told Private Jarrell to crawl back out of the grove and get back to Captain Smith with the information that Harris had been wounded. He himself would stay with the wounded sergeant to guard him until Jarrell could get back with help. For several minutes Lopez lay on the ground with his charge, and in that period was able to spot and accurately mark the Japanese machine-gun positions in the grove. While thus engaged he noticed Company K trying to work forward against this fire and without hesitation got to his knees, endeavoring to attract attention to himself and to point out the gun positions. When this failed, Lopez made his way by short rushes to a point at the rear of the grove where he could see Dorey's tanks. It took him only a few moments to orient the tank commander on the Japanese positions, and Dorey immediately waded into the grove with his guns blazing. Ten minutes later two machine-gun positions had been completely destroyed and Peyre's men were moving up into the grove. For over an hour Company K worked their way among tremendous stock piles of supplies, mostly foodstuffs, poking around in these piles in search of stray enemy soldiers. By 0815 they were through to the north edge of the trees, facing the open ground beyond the cross-island road.
Not all of Company K had taken part in the advance through the grove. Lieutenant Peyre had placed his 3d Platoon on the right of his line with instructions to keep in sight of Company L on the hills south of Harakiri Gulch. Shortly after the rest of the company began to pull through the grove, this platoon was forced to draw to the right to maintain their contact with Company L; as, a result they soon became completely separated from the remainder of their own unit. Their move brought the platoon out into the open ground just south of the grove and almost directly beneath the hills. From the very first they began drawing heavy fire from the cliffs to their right front, particularly from the north nose of the entrance to Harakiri Gulch. Using cover as much as possible the platoon managed to reach the turn in the road where it began its ascent of the hills. There fire became so intense that further movement was impossible. Lieutenant Peyre immediately ordered Dorey to take his tanks and move along the cross-island road until he reached a position from which he could put effective fire on the cliff positions to the right front. This was at 0830.
Dorey's fire worked particularly well against the enemy positions along the cliffs. It was only a matter of a few minutes before the Japanese had been driven off their guns all along the line and the fire died down. As
long as Dorey fired, the men of Company K were able to move about at will, but the moment there was any lull the soldiers could see the enemy coming back toward their guns. As a result, Dorey had to keep up a constant fire. Lieutenant Peyre was trying to coordinate this fire so that his infantrymen could advance under its support, but tank-infantry communications failed at this critical point. Peyre could neither reach Dorey on the radio nor make any impression on him with hand and arm signals. As a result Dorey simply kept patrolling up and down the road, laying down a blanket of fire on the cliffs which kept the enemy from firing, but which also kept Company K from advancing through his line of fire. Suddenly, at about 1000, Dorey pulled his tanks over to where Lieutenant Peyre had established his CP, just inside the cover of the grove, and informed him that he was almost out of ammunition and would have to return to the dumps for a resupply. He would be gone for approximately half an hour. Peyre could do nothing but let the tankers go.
His situation was not too critical. On this section of the front, in contrast to what McCarthy was facing, the Japanese positions had been accurately located. A hundred yards ahead of Company K, in the open terrain north of the grove, a small rise in the ground forming a knoll extended part way across Peyre's zone of action. Company K had now definitely located three enemy machine-gun positions behind this rise, near the same ditch that extended in front of the 2d Battalion, and all morning Dorey's tanks had put enough fire into the area to keep the Japanese from manning the guns. In addition, most of the cave positions in the side of the cliff above the ditch had been spotted and interdicted. As long as the enemy could be kept from using these weapons, Peyre's position was quite secure and tenable. Advance was another question; any forward move would carry Company K opposite the mouth of Harakiri Gulch, and, unless Company L on the right made a move down through the Gulch, Company K's whole flank would be exposed and their rear uncovered to enemy emerging from the stronghold in the draw.
For these reasons Peyre elected to stand and hold his ground until the tanks came back. He brought up his machine guns and carefully instructed his platoon leaders to place rifle fire on the already interdicted enemy positions. When this had been accomplished, he released the tanks and Dorey went off after his resupply. Peyre's men took over the task of keeping the Japanese off the guns and had no trouble at all.
The tanks had no more than disappeared (1015) when Peyre got word from Battalion that he would shortly receive new orders.
General Griner, upon hearing at 0915 of the change in divisional zones from Corps, had immediately notified his regimental commanders that there would be a new division order. Through the 5th of July, the main effort had been made on the left and had brought little result. The new division boundaries and objectives handed down by the Corps would have the effect of shifting the weight of the 27th's attack from left to right,
Change in Attack Plans
Map No. 6: The new attack zones, 1200 6 July 1944
as the axis of advance swung from northeast to due north (Map No. 6, above). This change of direction involved pivoting on the left wing while the 165th Infantry pressed through the hills inland to reach the coastal plain. Some time would be required to mount the attack on the new axis, but the battalion commanders of the 165th reported their readiness by 1130. King Hour for the 27th Division's attack was then set for 1200, when the main effort would be made by the 165th Infantry and, on the edge of the hills, by the 3d Battalion of the 105th.
This plan involved some shifting in the units of the 105th, notably with respect to the 3d Battalion. Realizing that the Harakiri Gulch position was an extremely strong one and that Company L had experienced little success in penetrating it thus far (see next section, page 86), Lt. Col. Edward T. Bradt, in command of the 3d Battalion, decided to bolster his right flank for the main
effort by inserting his reserve, Company I, on the right of his line, between L and the left wing company of the 165th Infantry. With his reserve committed and the main effort of the 105th now in his zone of action, Colonel Bradt had asked that he be allowed to withdraw Company K from the line, to use on his right if such a move became necessary. Col. Leonard A. Bishop agreed to this, stipulating that when the emphasis of the attack changed from left to right, Major McCarthy and the 2d Battalion would assume responsibility for all of the Tanapag Plain zone. The 2d Battalion commander therefore ordered his Company G, which had previously been mopping up in the rear areas, to prepare to relieve Company K beyond the coconut grove at 1200. Peyre was then to withdraw Company K to the 3d Battalion CP in reserve, and be ready on call to reinforce the effort up on the hill to the right.
Pending the relief, Company K was to limit its action to capturing the knoll in front of the coconut grove. This assignment did not seem too difficult to accomplish in the two hours before noon. Lieutenant Peyre's men had been successful in keeping the Japanese away from their machine-gun positions along the little ridge, and armored support would again be available. Lieutenant Dorey had returned with his tanks at approximately 1030, and the Company K commander discussed with him a plan for neutralizing the enemy fire both in Harakiri Gulch and along the cliffs. Peyre had decided to send his right platoon, the 3d, out ahead to capture the rise, while the left platoon remained on the fringe of the grove, delivering covering fire. Dorey, with his tanks, was to move up the cross-island road, take the trail that led up into Harakiri Gulch, and go into the gulch delivering fire on the cliffs, thus neutralizing the enemy cave positions as much as possible.
With these plans laid, Company K made ready to move off in attack between 1045 and 1100. There followed a sequence of events in such rapid order that it was difficult for the men to keep them straight in recounting the action.
When Company K's 3d Platoon moved out, the men were under orders to cover the ground to the rise as rapidly as possible; here the red earth had been ploughed, and there was not even the low grass present elsewhere on the coastal plain. With every man on his feet at the signal, the platoon jumped up from behind the road and began running at full speed across the open ground. The Japanese within Harakiri Gulch and from the cliffs along the axis of the advance had evidently been waiting for just such a move. Almost at once a deadly hail of small-arms and machine-gun fire was laid across the whole space of open ground. Most of the Company K men were forced to take to the earth almost at once, but one man, Pvt. Herman C. Patron, kept on running and managed to get all the way to the crest of the little knoll before he was hit through the chest by a bullet. Sgt. John A. Monaco, seeing Patron hit, got to his feet and ran out to where the wounded man lay. He was joined there a moment later by Tech/Sgt. Arthur A. Gilman. Together the two sergeants tried to get Patron back out of the fire, and within a few minutes had managed to drag him back behind the rest of the platoon. They called for an aid man, but while they waited Sergeant Monaco was
shot and killed. When the aid man reached their side, he was wounded.
Meanwhile, Peyre, seeing the right platoon stalled, had ordered his left platoon to make a try for the rise, and this platoon now ventured out of the coconut grove, laying down covering fire as they came. The company commander had also directed that his light machine guns and one section of heavies from Company M should move forward with the advancing riflemen. Lieutenant Peyre had his orders to capture the rise, and was making every effort to do so.
The Japanese had picked this precise moment to launch a counterattack on their own part, in an effort to get back to the gun positions along the ditch before the American attack could reach them. The men of Company K could plainly see the enemy soldiers running down from the cliffs on paths that led to the ditch just behind the rise. Sergeant Gilman, who was a few yards from the knoll at the time, with Sergeant Monaco and the two wounded men, looked up to see two Japanese running directly towards him at full speed. Just exactly what happened next has never been established, but there was a terrific explosion not more than 50 yards from the little ridge. Gilman saw the two leading Japanese fly up into the air. He described it later as a tremendous geyser of dirt and debris. Before he was knocked from his feet by the concussion, Gilman swears he saw parts of the first Japanese soldier's body flying at least a hundred feet in the air. It appears from all the testimony received that this explosion was caused when the leading Japanese inadvertently stepped on the horn of one of a series of large, spherical, sea mines that had been placed in the ground in this general area. Bits of the debris that fell within our lines consisted of parts of one of these mines, and demolition and mine-detector squads who worked in the area later found a minefield had been placed there.
Whatever the cause of this gigantic explosion, which evidently involved a number of heavy mines if not the whole minefield, its effect was devastating. Within the Japanese lines it created havoc. Crews were hurled away from their weapons, and the counterattack which had started was literally blown to pieces. For some time afterwards our troops could see random Japanese soldiers picking themselves up off the ground and wandering back up into the cliffs in a dazed manner. All firing from the enemy virtually ceased and, for over an hour afterwards, American troops wandered around in the open without having a shot fired at them.
Company K, which bore the brunt of the concussion on our side of the lines, did not suffer quite as much, although several freak accidents occurred. Nearly every man was blown from his feet. One soldier involuntarily squeezed the trigger on his gun and shot himself through the hand. Another man was hit twice by flying debris, with a distinct interval between the blows, and suffered a broken arm and a broken leg. Three men were wounded by fragments, and nearly all of the company were dazed and bewildered by the force of the blast. Reactions were confused and for a moment all organization was lost. Lieutenant Peyre, who had just called for artillery support a moment before, thought that the explosion was from our own artillery shells landing short. He
consequently yelled for the men to get back to the edge of the grove to cover. One squad of the 2d Platoon, on the left, did not hear this order and remained sprawled out on the ground near the top of the rise. The machine-gun squad from Company M, which had been displacing forward and had almost reached the top of the ridge when the explosion occurred, misunderstood the order, set up their machine gun, and then walked down off the hill, leaving it in plain view of the enemy while they waited for another explosion.
To add to all the confusion, Lieutenant Dorey's tanks just at this moment became involved in a fight in front of Harakiri Gulch, These vehicles had been slowly moving up in single file behind the infantry at the time of the explosion, and the blast shook up the men in the tanks quite severely. While they were trying to get their bearings in the disorder that followed, two Japanese soldiers ran out of the mouth of Harakiri Gulch, attached a magnetic mine to the lead tank, and threw a Molotov cocktail at another. Both vehicles were put out of action and Lieutenant Dorey hurriedly withdrew his remaining tanks. The crews of the disabled vehicles got out and "ran for it."
Lieutenant Peyre quickly took hold again in an effort to get his men back in hand. He soon realized that it was not our own artillery that had caused the explosion, and ordered his two platoons to recross the open ground and retake the rise that they had held so briefly. While the majority of the company were reorganizing, those men who had been left behind on the knoll came to, and ran back to rejoin the rest of the unit in the coconut grove. In the midst of this reorganization Capt. Frank H. Olander of Company G came up to report his readiness to assume responsibility for the zone of action, and Lieutenant Dorey came down the road with his tanks from the hillside. Under the circumstances Lieutenant Peyre decided not to try to take the rise again, but to have Company G effect its relief in the relative security of the grove.
It was while the conferences were going on relative to the relief that everyone suddenly became conscious of the Company M machine gun sitting unattended on the top of the hill. The Japanese seemed to have discovered it at the same time, and the Company K men could see one or two enemy soldiers running along the base of the cliff toward it. Sergeant Gilman and one of his men, Pfc. Rayburn E. Harlan, made a mad dash for the rise, almost 150 yards away. By hard running Private Harlan managed to get there first, dove behind the gun, and got off a burst at the Japanese who were almost on him. This burst killed both enemy soldiers, but in a moment or two Harlan himself was hit in the hands by enemy rifle fire; both he and Gilman, who had come up, had to try to find cover from concentrated fire. Another of Peyre's men was hit in the face by a random bullet.
In this situation, one of the Company M machine gunners, Pfc. Wong, commandeered one of Lieutenant Dorey's tanks and got aboard. From this exposed position he directed the vehicle out across the open ground to the man with the broken arm and leg and lifted him aboard. Then he very calmly walked over to the machine gun, picked it up and put it aboard the tank. As
he finished this task, he himself received a serious head wound, but managed to make his way back to the safety of the grove along with Harlan and Gilman, beside the tank.
It was now nearly 1230 and Company K's line was still on the north edge of the coconut grove. The next hour was spent in relieving K with Company G. Lieutenant Peyre moved his men back to the battalion CP behind the grove and Captain Olander began to organize his company preparatory to making, in his turn, an assault on the disputed rise beyond the grove. As the morning's action ended on the Tanapag Plain, the 2d Battalion was taking over the whole zone as far as the edge of the hills. No appreciable advance had yet been made beyond the positions reached the day before.
Under the original plans for 6 July, the 3d Battalion of the 105th was responsible for the hillslopes along the coastal plain. Here, Company L had reached the edge of Harakiri Gulch the day before, and then had been stopped by strong Japanese resistance. On the morning of the 6th, with Company K fighting to move past the foot of the gulch on the plain, Company L had renewed its effort to cross the draw itself, near the lower end.
The Morning Attack at Harakiri Gulch
In view of experience gained on the previous day, Capt. Robert J. Spaulding planned carefully for what promised to be a most difficult attack. Narrow and canyonlike at the mouth, the draw forked into two smaller draws as it met the long hillslopes; the larger of the two ran south, still steepsided, for 400 yards and then dwindled into a ravine that curved east around a plateau of rocky wastelands. Near the mouth on the plain both sides of the draw presented steep rock faces, almost cliffs, 50 to 60 feet high. Enemy firing positions, dug in, or using caves on the steep eastern wall, could sweep the floor and the west side of the gulch from end to end. By grazing fire they could also control the crest of the nose over which Company L must attack, and make it difficult for Captain Spaulding's supporting weapons to get direct fields of fire or even observation. Artillery could not be used effectively to get at the enemy cliff positions without endangering Company L itself. Nevertheless, supporting fire was the key to any successful advance, and Spaulding proposed to get it in two ways.
He had asked for a platoon of tanks; these he planned to send down near the plain, around the nose of high ground on his side of the gulch, and up into the draw. Tanks had tried to work down the gulch from its upper end on 4 July and two had been knocked out. Spaulding thought approach from below, along the short trail, would give the tanks better ground, and that he could help them somewhat by covering fire.
His other device for building fire support involved use of the little secondary draw that ran beside Company L's position down into the main gulch; deep, curving, narrow, and covered with foliage, the route promised protection until it reached the floor of the main draw. Beyond that point, there was no solution to the problem of finding cover; the brush on the floor of the gulch would give no protection against plunging fire. But Captain Spaulding thought his 1st Platoon could get
as far as the mouth of the ravine and there set up machine guns to control enemy positions along the gulch and on its opposite sides. Under covering fire from the machine guns and the tanks, Spaulding proposed to send his 2d Platoon straight down and across the gulch.
Timed to start with the attack in the plain below, Spaulding's effort began at 0700. His 1st Platoon crawled up over the ridge and down into the tributary ravine without drawing any fire. Moving stealthily in single file along this narrow corridor, the platoon escaped detection until they reached its mouth. There they set up two light machine guns and began firing at the caves in the face of the opposite wall of Harakiri Gulch. Only a few bursts got away before the enemy began to return the fire with .50-cal. and the 37-mm guns aboard the disabled American tanks in the gulch.1 These tanks they had cleverly camouflaged. The fire drove L's machine gunners off their weapons, and when two men were brought up with rifle grenades in an effort to put the tanks out of action, both were seriously wounded. The intense Japanese fire continued, and finally Tech/Sgt. Siegbert S. Heidelberger, in command of the platoon, went back to Captain Spaulding and described his situation. Inasmuch as he was no longer doing any good in the valley, the company commander ordered a withdrawal. Sergeant Heidelberger's platoon then laboriously made their way back up the ravine and climbed out to their
PARADISE VALLEY, near its northern end, had cliffs with cave positions like those in Harakiri Gulch. (Photo taken after 8 July.)
original starting position. This futile attempt against the enemy had consumed most of the forenoon.
The effort to bring tank fire into play at the lower end of the gulch was equally unsuccessful. The tanks assigned to the 3d Battalion, 105th Infantry, consisted of two platoons of lights under the command of Lieutenant Dorey and 2d Lt. Gino Ganio. Ganio's platoon, which Company L expected to use, consisted of four lights instead of five, the state of tank casualties on Saipan having reduced almost the whole provisional tank battalion to skeleton platoons, scraped together from whatever was at hand. Ganio's instructions on the morning of 6 July were not too explicit. He was to proceed up the coast road to Road Junction 2 and report to the 3d Battalion near the coconut grove. Delay in moving up to the front lines was caused by congestion of supply traffic on the narrow thoroughfare up the coast; when Ganio reached Road Junction 2, it was to find that no one knew exactly where the 3d Battalion CP really was.2 After moving up the inland road haltingly for some little time, Ganio finally met Lieutenant Peyre of Company K on the road in front of the grove. At that time, the Company K commander was in the midst of his attempts to neutralize his right flank troubles, and Dorey had just reported that he was running low on ammunition. Peyre, thinking that these tanks of Ganio's had been sent up to take over while Dorey resupplied, tried to put the new platoon to work. He was about to give them targets when Captain Spaulding came down the hill looking for the vehicles that had been assigned to him. After a sharp argument between the two rifle company commanders, Spaulding finally convinced both Ganio and Peyre that the tanks were meant for him. He then took the platoon on up the hill and showed Ganio what he wanted done and where he wanted him to work. It was already nearly 1000.
Captain Spaulding had not changed his original plan. He told the tank platoon leader that he wanted him to go up the trail that forked left from the main road into the middle of the gulch, and take the enemy in the cliff face under fire. Ganio told Spaulding that unless he remained buttoned up he could not move into the area, on account of heavy small-arms fire, and that if he did go in buttoned up, his work would be of little use without men on the phones to call targets. At this point Pfc. James R. Boyles volunteered to go along with the lead tank if the others would cover him. This was agreed upon and Ganio's tanks moved back down the road to the trail, made the turn around the end of the nose, and started to move up into the draw. Almost at once Boyles was shot and mortally wounded. For over half an hour Ganio worked to get him back out of the gulch, but by the time Boyles was brought back to the aid station he was dead.
Ganio now reorganized his tanks and decided to make a try at the gulch without any infantry help. Leaving the road again, his column had no sooner begun to nose up into the valley than three enemy soldiers jumped out of the bushes and clapped a magnetic mine onto the side of the third tank in line. The gunner in the vehicle behind shot down the three Japanese, but the damage
had already been done. The mine exploded and the disabled tank slid into the ditch minus a track. Lieutenant Ganio, with the help of Lieutenant Dorey, whose vehicles had now returned, helped to evacuate the crew from the crippled tank; upon completion of that task, he again organized for a drive up into the valley. Using one vehicle to cover the others, he managed to get well up into the gulch and sprayed the walls thoroughly but without noticeable effects. At the time of the explosion north of the valley, he withdrew to the mouth and the road, and while sitting there he began to receive fire from the guns of the two American tanks which the Japanese had taken over within the gulch. He withdrew altogether from the area.
Failure of the efforts to build up supporting fires had made impossible any direct attack by movement of infantry into the gulch. On the left of Spaulding's company front the 2d and 3d Platoons were behind the ridge, ready to take advantage of any break in the enemy fire. But no such chance came during the morning, whenever a man showed his head at the crest, he immediately drew a heavy concentration of grazing fire that swept the length of the ridge line. As a result of the morning's trials, Spaulding and his platoon leaders were more convinced than ever that, until the enemy firing positions on the opposite side of the draw were neutralized, no attempt to get into the center of resistance would succeed.
Meanwhile, as a result of the change in Division's plans during the forenoon, the gulch promised to become a main zone in the 27th's battle, and on a more extended front.
With the shift of weight in effort to the right, at noon six rifle companies of the 27th Division were poised to attack abreast in the hills, from the edge of the plain to the new division boundary. If their attack succeeded, they would drive the Japanese out of the high ground positions which could put dominating fire on the Tanapag Plain (Map No. 7, page 90).
The Afternoon Attack at Harakiri Gulch
The basic plan of movement called for the 3d Battalion, 105th Infantry and the 1st Battalion, 165th Infantry to attack across Harakiri Gulch and up onto the high, almost level plateau that covered the area between there and Paradise Valley. The companies of these two battalions would then wheel left, go down the face of the cliffs from above, and sweep out across the Tanapag Plain to the sea, each arriving on the plain at a point progressively farther east toward Makunsha. The 2d Battalion, 165th would proceed north down Paradise Valley, cleaning out this strongpoint, and reaching the beach just above Makunsha. While this operation was going on in the hills, the 2d Battalion, 105th Infantry, on the division's left wing, was to make a limited attack northeast along the beach.
Of the four companies attacking in zones that crossed Harakiri Gulch, two were to bear the brunt of the afternoon's battle: Company L of the 105th, near the lower end of the draw, and Company A of the 165th, further up in the hill mass. Company I, 105th was between L and A at the start, but was destined to be pinched out as the attack moved into the gulch. Beyond A, the gulch
narrowed into the ravine curving off to the east. This upper arm of the draw, Company C's zone, can be regarded as part of the action on the higher around, which will not be considered here.
The heaviest fighting fell to Company A/165th, commanded by Capt. Lawrence J. O'Brien. His unit faced the upper end of the main part of the draw, just where it began to angle southeast and grow smaller. The 3d Battalion, 165th had tried this end of the draw on 5 July, to find it as heavily defended as the lower stretch. No troops had been able to get into the valley and stay there. Captain O'Brien knew where the trouble lay; he believed, nevertheless, that the new azimuth of attack would favor his effort. It meant, instead of crossing the gulch at right angles to its axis, approaching from the higher hill slopes above the main draw, and crossing it on a long diagonal. This route had not been tried before, and it might avoid the fields of
Map No. 7: Co A 165th Inf, Afternoon 6 July 1944
AERIAL PHOTO OF HARAKIRI GULCH SECTOR.
fire of some of the Japanese positions along the cliffs in the eastern wall.
Company A's formation was in three platoons abreast on a long skirmish line. The 3d platoon on the left was near the trail in the gulch; the 1st Platoon would operate almost down the center of the draw; the 2d Platoon was near the bend of the draw and its advance, if successful, would carry on to the high ground, north of Harakiri Gulch and come on the enemy's cave positions from the rear and above.
The company faced, in its immediate front, certain unusual terrain features. The
CAPT. LAWRENCE J. O'BRIEN Commander of Company A, 165th Infantry
first, on the hill slope funneling down to the gulch, was a series of ditches that looked almost as though they had been dug in preparation for piping a water supply into a house. On each side of these ditches were the little mounds of earth which had been excavated from them, now hardened from long exposure to the weather. The ditches ran from north to south, giving the gulch the appearance of a washboard. Company A, by virtue of the direction of its attack, would work all the way through them. Interspersed in these ditches were numerous spider holes of the type which the Japanese like so well to construct and which American troops had come across before on Kwajalein and Eniwetok. Round and covered by cleverly camouflaged nets, they were deep enough for one or two enemy riflemen to sit cross-legged in them.
Another distinguishing feature of the approaches to the draw was the occasional large-trunked trees, having enough foliage above to conceal riflemen. Among the trees were little straw shacks, scattered along the slopes above the gulch at intervals of 30 or 40 yards. They were not arranged in any symmetrical pattern; had there not been so many of them, about 15, they might have been taken for the buildings of a farm.
From the south rim of the gulch, Company A proceeded cautiously down the steep slopes of the hill. Captain O'Brien had called for an intense mortar barrage with his own 60-mm tubes and with the 81-mm mortars of Company D. This lasted for ten minutes before the actual attack began. As the men moved forward there was almost a dead silence in the valley below. Moving from cover to cover and taking advantage of every little hillock and bush, the whole company reached a line almost 200 yards from the jump-off point atop the high ground. This brought them 20 or 30 yards into the valley itself. Then, suddenly, came a strange interruption, as a series of explosions shook the little shacks. Most of A's men dove for the ditches and took cover. The explosions continued over a period of 15 minutes and then ceased. Infantrymen edged forward and peered into the first of the buildings. Inside, three Japanese soldiers had committed suicide by holding grenades to their abdomens. In the next hut there were four more and in the next, two. Altogether, later investigation showed that 60 enemy soldiers had unaccountably committed suicide in these little houses over a period of a few minutes. This
was the incident that gave the valley its name of Harakiri Gulch.
The suicides became all the more mysterious in the light of events that soon followed. The men of Company A continued to move ahead cautiously for a few more yards. 2d Lt. Matthew C. Masem, commander of O'Brien's 1st Platoon, had jumped into one of the ditches and from there was looking cautiously around when he was joined by three other men from his platoon. just as they jumped into the ditch, a rifle shot rang out ahead and a bullet thudded into the earth near Masem's head. S/Sgt. Clarence L. Anderson, one of the men who had just jumped into the hole, poked his head up over the mound of earth and spotted something moving in one of the trees a short distance ahead. It looked like a rope that might have been used by a Japanese soldier to climb up into the heavy foliage and it was still swinging as though, whatever it was, it had been used very recently. Anderson rose up to take a shot at the tree and, as he did so, received a serious wound that felled him. One of the other men in the ditch with Masem and his group was Tech. 4 Kice, the company aid man. Kice immediately told the others to "get the hell out of the hole so I can work on him." All of the little group except Kice and Anderson immediately scrambled for cover somewhere else. Masem and S/Sgt. Joseph R. Murphy tumbled back into a ditch behind them, and two other men, including Pfc. John Sekula, jumped behind a tree a few feet away. Sekula received one shot which ripped away his canteen, and then the men suddenly realized that the whole area was literally alive with bullets. The one that hit Sekula's canteen came from somewhere behind him.
Lieutenant Masem was very worried about the situation. The fire was so intense that neither he nor any of his men could risk movement without being reasonably certain of being hit. He decided to pull back to the base of the slope at the top of the draw, where the ditches were deeper and where no one would be behind him, until he could locate the source of all this fire and do something about it. He called over to Kice and asked him if Anderson could be removed from the hole to a safer place. Anderson answered, "Kice is dead." The aid man had been hit in the head while bending over the wounded man. Sergeant Murphy, the platoon leader, now called over to Pfc. Shires, acting platoon sergeant of the 3d Platoon on his left, and asked Shires if he could borrow his aid man to help take care of Anderson. Shires sent Pfc. Standlee Morgan over to the 1st Platoon area, and the aid man ran down one of the ditches to where Masem was. However, just as he tried to scramble across the hump of dirt to where the wounded man lay, he was hit in the ankle and tumbled back into the ditch behind. Shires himself came crawling over to where Morgan lay and, together with Pfc. Arthur Coats, he managed to work the wounded Morgan back out of the fire to safety. When Shires attempted to get back to his own platoon, he was trapped in a hole in the 1st Platoon area and couldn't move.
New complications had now arisen in the valley. The shacks which had been occupied by the suiciding Japanese had caught fire and were burning merrily. Most of Masem's men, lying in the ditches, were so close at hand that the heat was unbearable.
It was imperative that the platoon get back, but the problem of the wounded Anderson was still to be solved. Masem, in radio contact with Captain O'Brien, was trying to control his platoon and direct their fire. Shortly after Shires had crawled back with Morgan, Masem again asked if anyone would volunteer to try to get Anderson out of the hole. Pfc. Joseph Becay and Pfc. George Brieling volunteered. When they were given permission to go ahead, Becay yelled over to Anderson and told him to take off all of his equipment. After Anderson called back that this had been done, the two men made one dive and landed in the hole squarely on top of Kice and Anderson. Without wasting time, they picked the wounded man up by the head and heels and threw him bodily into the ditch behind. They then dove over after him. After that Becay dragged Anderson back along the trenches to the edge of the gulch and carried him up the hill.
During this time, the 3d Platoon on Masem's left had become badly disorganized. They had run into the same accurate grazing fire that had caused so much trouble in the 1st Platoon. Almost in the center of the 3d there was a little stretch of open ground that offered no cover whatsoever, so that Shires had to split his platoon around it. Leaving a BAR man to cover the open space, Shires stayed with the right squad of his platoon; during the attempt to get back to them after the rescue of Morgan, he was cut off altogether. When the fire broke out among the shacks, the 3d Platoon was in the most danger and suffered the most from the intense heat. Three of the men made their way back to Captain O'Brien and explained the platoon's situation. The company commander ordered the men to pull back out of the heat to the slopes above the valley. Before they could execute this maneuver two more men received bullet wounds.
Captain O'Brien had been trying frantically to keep his company moving ahead by getting men around the flanks of the hidden Japanese. His own 2d Platoon, on his right, and Company I, 105th Infantry, on his left, could not make much progress in spite of the company commander's pleading.
The 2d Platoon, which was advancing half in the gulch and half on the high ground beyond it, was under the command of 1st Lt. George E. Martin, O'Brien's executive officer. Martin was with the lower half of his platoon, the part in the draw, and with them had advanced out across the floor in conjunction with the units on his left. When the shooting started in the 1st Platoon area, Martin was hit almost as soon as Anderson, going down with a serious bullet wound in the shoulder. The platoon was then in command of Tech/Sgt. Medina, over on the other end of the platoon, who described the action of the afternoon as follows:
The 2d Platoon jumped off with Company C tied into our right squad, commanded by Sgt. Frank Destefano, and the 1st Platoon of Company A was on our left. We moved about 200 yards downhill and the 1st Platoon began to get some sniper fire. After 15 minutes, our whole line moved forward again and this time Charlie Company3 got pinned down. After waiting several minutes, Charlie Company asked for help and Lieutenant Martin sent me and Tech. 4 Cantrell, (our fighting cook), to see if a tank could come down the hill and give support to Charlie Company. The
tank came halfway down the hill and that was all. It didn't do any good. By this time the line is ready to move forward again. So we resume the advance. (All this time there hasn't been a shot fired from the enemy, only one or two over in the 1st Platoon area, plus some shacks which are blowing up with Japs inside of them.) But to our surprise the Japs are entrenched in a large trench at the bottom of the hill, and the Sons of Heaven, they let us come within 25 or 30 yards of the trench. They are looking up at us and we cannot see them. At this time, all hell broke loose.
The 2d Platoon's sector extends from a little gully, or ditch on the left, where the left squad under S/Sgt. J. R. Murphy is anchored, to a point over on the ridge4 where I am with Sergeant Destafano's squad. On our right rear is another deep draw5 and that is where Charlie Company ties in with us.
The Japs open up first with machine-gun fire from the ridge to our front and with a lot of rifle fire from the ditches below us. I could hear Lieutenant Martin yell, "Keep going men," but we did not go very far as the fire was tremendous. The first man I saw go down was Pfc. Harold Lees, the scout of Destafano's squad. He got hit in the leg, and I saw Sergeant Destafano reach out and pull him in and give him first aid. I ordered everybody to get in as good a position as they could, as the squad area had no cover and we were more or less at the mercy of the Japs. All this time I am only about ten yards from Lees, but I cannot move as the minute I do, a sniper puts two or three shots right in front of my eyes. I hadn't heard from Lieutenant Martin for some time, so I yell, but he does not answer. After hesitating a few minutes I decide I better take a chance and find out what has happened. I took a dive and somehow or another I got back about ten yards to a hole where the radio man was. I asked him where Martin is, but he don't know. I took the radio and contacted Captain O'Brien. He told me that Lieutenant Martin was hit and had gone back. The place where I am now is worse than the first place and is getting hotter, so I again dodge bullets and moved. The next thing I know, Sharkey is hit on the left flank, next to the 1st Platoon. I called Captain O'Brien and asked for two litters. The situation is really getting bad now. Captain O'Brien tells me to withdraw my platoon. But first I got casualties to get out of the line of fire. I brought my light machine gun up and placed it and told the gunner to fire along the crest of the ridge we are on and down towards the trenches below. Overhead fire it was. Then I coordinated this fire by radio with D Company's heavies which were high up on the hill behind us, and tried to evacuate Pfc. Lees. Now I cannot get to Destafano, who is with Lees, because of the heavy fire which is coming all around, but I hear Destafano ask for a volunteer from his squad. Pfc. James Fitzpatrick volunteered and together he and Destafano get Lees out of that spot and start back towards me, about ten yards away, but just when they get to the spot where my CP is now, a bullet goes clean through Lees' arm, which is around Fitzpatrick's shoulder, and goes through Fitz' chest, killing him instantly. By this time the litter bearers (damned good men) are crawling up behind and they evacuate Lees. Charlie Company has now drawn back on our rear. My next move is to get my platoon back. God only knows how I did it. I asked for a tank. No soap. Then, again, I placed fire all along the front to keep the Nips' heads down. First, I told my platoon guide, S/Sgt. Claude Browne, to withdraw the support squad under Sergeant Mogalski. This was accomplished. Then I signaled the 1st squad on my left to move all at once, through a ditch, to a point out of the line of fire. I also signaled Destafano's squad, on the front of me, to move, but they didn't make it. Only the left squad6 accomplished the move.
During the heat of the battle I had got separated from most of Destafano's squad and a gap had come to exist between the 1st and 2d squads.
I attempted four times to get to them, but I could not make it and I could not get to Murphy (Destafano's second in command), because the enemy fire was out in front of me. Everywhere I go they shoot. I believe Tokyo designated this particular sniper just to shoot at me that day. I yelled my brains off at Murphy; no soap. Finally I got back to my little CP and called Captain O'Brien on the radio to tell him that I could not withdraw Sergeant Murphy's squad because I could not get to him. Little did I know that Murphy was having one hell of a time in the sector where he was. Captain O'Brien told me to stay put till Murphy got out. From there on it is Murphy's story.
Murphy was Sgt. James R. Murphy, one of several men by that name in the company. He was called "Spanish" Murphy due to the fact that he was born in Los Angeles of Spanish parents who, several generations before, had somewhere adopted the Irish name. Murphy was a wiry, dark-skinned little man who spoke in a strongly accented tongue and in moments of excitement was more than likely to lapse into fluent Spanish.
Sergeant Murphy was with Destafano's squad. As originally constituted at the time of the attack on the afternoon of 6 July, this squad was composed of nine men, of whom three, Destafano, Lees, and Fitzpatrick, were now casualties. One of the other six, the Private Sharkey mentioned by Medina, had been wounded early and was lying helpless. The five men remaining were far enough over the crest of the north wall of Harakiri Gulch to be out of the line of fire of the enemy in the trenches below. As a result, Sergeant Murphy had kept pushing his men forward without realizing that the rest of the platoon on his left, and Company C on his right, had been pinned down. After moving 40 to 50 yards forward, he stopped and ordered two of his men, Pfc. William Drew and Pvt. Raymond Johnson, to creep up to the crest of the ridge and look over into the valley to see what the situation was below. By this time the five men had moved out far enough so that they were well along the high ground, which dropped off into Harakiri Gulch on their immediate left in a system of ledges that went almost straight down. When Drew and Johnson had managed to creep up to the crest of this ridge and look over, they found themselves staring down at 30 or 40 Japanese in trenches below them. These enemy soldiers were armed with machine guns and rifles and were very methodically firing at the rest of Company A further up the valley. Drew and Johnson pulled out grenades and rolled them down the hill, but in both cases the missiles were caught in the folds of the ground and exploded harmlessly. The two men next tried throwing them, but this did no good either. By this time the enemy had become aware of their presence and had taken the skyline under fire. Neither of the two men could lift his head.
Farther back, near Murphy, was Pvt. John Shuart, rifle grenadier of the platoon. Shuart had evidently been watching the two men up forward with their grenades because, when they were pinned down by the fire, he moved forward. He talked briefly with Drew and Johnson, found out the situation below, and then moved out into the fire to the rim of the gorge where he could see what was going on below. Shuart moved very deliberately, crawling along the edge of the hill until he came to a tree. He turned to Drew and Johnson and yelled that he'd found a place
from which his grenade discharger would be effective. He loaded his piece and got to his knee, taking aim. At that moment an enemy bullet hit him squarely in the heart and he dropped over dead.
It was during this time that Sergeant Medina attempted to tell Murphy to withdraw his squad, but without success. When Medina reported his failure to the company commander, Captain O'Brien had finished talking with members of the 1st and 3d Platoons who were withdrawing under his orders. One of these men, Sergeant St. John, had seen where Sergeant Murphy and his men were and thought that perhaps he could reach them by using a route along the ditches and thence up over the ridge through some bushes that grew there. Captain O'Brien gave him permission to try it, and St. John took two men, Pvt. Peter Bolger and Pfc. Harold Brewer, and started out. Using the route that St. John had previously marked out, these men finally reached Murphy almost a half hour later.
In the meantime, however, Murphy had discovered the situation he was in. He realized that he and his five men, one wounded (Sharkey), were isolated and that two of the five, Drew and Johnson, were trapped well out in front of him. He turned his attention first to getting Drew and Johnson in. He sent his one remaining unwounded man out with a BAR to lay down fire on the Jap positions so that they would have to keep their heads down long enough for the two trapped men to get out. The plan worked, and now Murphy asked for volunteers to go back to Captain O'Brien with word on his situation. Private Drew volunteered immediately. Neither Drew nor Murphy knew exactly where the company commander was and neither knew of any safe route to the rear, having been out of sight of the rest of the company when they pulled back. After a careful consultation between the two, they both decided that Drew should go back into the ravine where Company C was supposed to be, work through it, and out the other side. This meant that Drew would come out into open ground for about 100 yards, but both men thought he could make it by running hard.
Drew did get through the ravine all right, but he had no sooner emerged into the open ground, running up the slope towards Hill 721, than he was felled by a shot in the side and mortally wounded. Only one man saw him go down and this was Sgt. Lonnie McIntyre of Company D who had a section of machine guns sitting back up under Hill 721. McIntyre got to his feet and ran down the slope to Drew's aid, but when he got to the wounded man's side, he, too, was seriously hit. Murphy did not know of the loss of his messenger, but kept waiting for someone to come back from Captain O'Brien. When St. John and his party arrived some time later, Murphy assumed that they were the result of his message and asked no questions. With the help of St. John's three men, Sharkey was dragged down the hill to the trench system and Murphy's little party was withdrawn. By the time that Company A was all reassembled at the entrance to the gulch it was well after 1500, and not until an hour later did Murphy realize that Drew had been hit. At almost the same time, Company D reported that Sergeant McIntyre had
not returned after his dash down the hill. By that time the situation in front of the battalion was well known, and Captain O'Brien would not risk losing more men in a search for the two wounded men. He did authorize a night patrol of volunteers, and shortly after dark eight men under Lieutenant Masem and 2d Lt. Robert W. Chester of Company D moved some 600 yards back down into Harakiri Gulch. They found Drew and McIntyre still alive and huddled in the bushes. Both men had given up hope of being rescued and were in bad condition. Drew died just after he reached the aid station, but McIntyre lived.
One factor contributing to the troubles of Company A was its lack of support on either flank. To its right, C (165th) had to approach the narrow ravine (running east from the main draw) over down-hill ground without any cover from enemy fire on the plateau. Only one of C's platoons was in position to help Company A, and this platoon was delayed in starting until after A had been repulsed. As a result, the platoon made what amounted to a lone effort and was shot to pieces on the open hillside. Further northeast, the 2d Battalion of the 165th found it impossible to get into Paradise Valley in their own zone, received permission to use the 1st Battalion's zone, and (since the 1st had made no progress) was stalled the rest of the day.
Lower down Harakiri Gulch, the 3d Battalion of the 105th failed to get into the draw, or even to get enough pressure on the enemy to help A's attack at the head of the draw. Company I, next to O'Brien, moved off at 1200 when the whole line made its attack, but after moving 75 yards down into the gulch began receiving sniper fire that pinned most of the company down on the hillside unable to move. Capt. Ashley W. Brown, in command of the company, tried to work small patrols forward to locate the source of this fire, but before the patrols got back Company A, 165th Infantry on Brown's immediate right, had become involved in the full-scale battle already described. Brown held his men on the hillside with no further attempts to descend further into the gulch. At 1600, he withdrew his company to the top of the hill and dug in for the night, tied in with Company A on the right and Company L, 105th Infantry on the left.
Company L had not moved a yard all afternoon. All of his efforts to penetrate Harakiri Gulch during the morning having failed, Captain Spaulding decided that it would be a useless waste of men to attempt again to push through the gulch until he had accurately located and eliminated the source of fire that caught his men coming down over the nose. Furthermore, his tanks had left him just before the attack was scheduled to move off, and without their mobile fire support he could do little. He did, however, order several small patrols to creep up to the edge of the gulch and take points of observation from which they were to see if they could locate some of the enemy positions. One of these patrols was just starting out when the gigantic explosion occurred in front of Company K, and, although they were almost 300 yards away and behind a hill, two Company L men were wounded seriously by falling debris. A little later, at approximately the time Company A, 165th Infantry
was running into their trouble below, Sergeant Heidelberger, who was manning one of the observation posts, was killed by the intense rifle fire that still continued to pour over the south wall of the canyon. Only a few minutes later Pfc. Herman C. Kutch was killed in the same fashion. At the close of the afternoon, Company L was still waiting for a chance to move.
Shifting the Division's effort to the hills in the afternoon attack had thus failed to accomplish any gains. Two battalions of the 106th (1st and 3d) had moved up behind the 165th, and spent the day near Hill 767 waiting for possible employment. There was no chance for their use until too late in the day to be worth while.
Map No. 8: Final Attack on the Plain
1st and 2nd Bns 105th Inf
After Company K was relieved at the coconut grove and went into reserve for the 3d Battalion's effort at the gulch, the 2d Battalion of the 105th held the Tanapag Plain, all three companies in line. Company G was at the grove, F was on the open ground to the left, and E was just south of the railroad track. The zone from the rail line to the beach had been left unoccupied as Major McCarthy shifted his forces to the right. Two BAR teams covered this flank, and there was little danger that enemy forces could infiltrate through the narrow gap. Companies E and F still faced the ditch that ran across their front and was now known to be strongly held. Company G had completed its relief of K by 1340, and was confronted by the same problem K had faced: passing the little rise, some 200 yards to the front and dominated by Japanese positions on the cliffs. While waiting for G to get in line, Major McCarthy had bent every effort to getting the minefield cleared up so that tanks could reach the ditch; at the same time E and F were inching their way forward on their stomachs in an effort to come close enough for a direct assault. They had been able to make about 25 yards by 1400.
Afternoon: Plans for a New Attack (105th Infantry)
After another hour brought no change on the plain, Division Headquarters intervened. At 1520 General Griner issued an order by telephone to Colonel Bishop, commanding the 105th. He was directed to commit his reserve battalion, the 1st, on the right of the 2d. It was to attack toward an objective on the beach 1,200 yards beyond Road Junction 2 (Map No. 8, page 99).
Lt. Col. Wm. J. O'Brien, commanding the 1st Battalion, received orders to report to the regimental CP at 1530; he alerted his battalion for movement, and the executive officer was ordered to get the men under way toward the front. They had 2,000 yards to cover before they could reach their position in line. At Regiment, Colonel O'Brien was
told to move into line with all three companies abreast, but with the right company (C) echeloned to the rear. The 2d Battalion would shift its units north to make room on the right of the plain. This was to be accomplished by moving Company F back around E to the beach strip, while Company G at the coconut grove, would be attached to the 3d Battalion to carry out a most important mission. Captain Olander was to swing this company across the mouth of Harakiri Gulch, pivoting on his right wing, to contain the enemy in the gulch and protect the rear of the 1st Battalion's advance. Next day, the isolated Japanese in the gulch were to be mopped up by the 3d Battalion.
The 2d Battalion, in its narrowed zone, was reorganizing to take part in the new attack on the plain. Before it was ready to go, a small tank action took place that was to
A PAUSE IN THE BATTLE north of the coconut grove. Men of the 3d Battalion, 105th Infantry are waiting for resumption of the attack (afternoon, 6 July). The view is taken toward the shore. Japanese fire from hillside (off to right) was evidently under control, as crews are bringing up 37-mm antitank guns for use against cliff positions, and soldiers are sitting in the open.
have a considerable effect on the afternoon's battle.
At 1530, Lieutenant Dorey returned to the 2d Battalion front with three vehicles; he had spent the early afternoon back at the maintenance dump, refueling and resupplying. Reporting at the coconut grove, Dorey found that Company G would not be ready to use the vehicles for some time. On his own initiative, Lieutenant Dorey moved down toward Road Junction 2 in search of a mission. When he arrived at Company E, the minefield had at last been cleared up on that sector and the way was open to the ditch line which had stopped the morning attack. Dorey decided to wander out and see what he could find in the lower end of the ditch facing the 2d Battalion. He discovered on approaching it that the ditch was literally full of Japanese, and returned at once to report to Captain Smith of Company E. Smith wasn't ready yet to start his attack, so Dorey went back with his three tanks. For over half an hour, Dorey's vehicles moved up and down the ditch, as far east as the cliffs, driving the enemy into corners and then slaughtering them with canister and machine-gun fire.
Enemy opposition was ineffective after one attempt to knock out the tanks by magnetic mines. During the first turn up the ditch, some Japanese infantry managed to get a mine against a light tank, commanded by Sergeant Alloco, and blew off its track. Dorey tried to combine the job of evacuating Alloco's crew with the attack on the trench. Leaving his third tank to cover Alloco, Dorey went on alone with the offensive along the ditch. In the end, despite Dorey's effort, Alloco and his assistant driver were killed, and the light tank had to be destroyed.
But the enemy positions in the northern and deeper end of the ditch had been, to all intents and purposes, wiped out. When Companies E and F were finally ready to go, at 1700, they were able to stand up and walk forward for the first time since they had started past Road Junction 2. They found the trench littered with dead Japanese, and credited Dorey with wiping out 100 to 150 enemy. Those left were disorganized and demoralized by the time the infantry attack was launched.
Colonel O'Brien, commander of the 1st Battalion, was a notably aggressive officer and had twice led his battalion in rapid and important advances during the Saipan battle. On 6 July, characteristically, he had his battalion under way before he knew its mission, so that by the time his orders were defined the men were well up toward the front. O'Brien had then picked up his company commanders and driven them forward to the coconut grove for a briefing on the ground. As he outlined to them his plans for the attack, O'Brien stressed the necessity of "keeping going. The Old Man wants us on the beach for the night, and we will be there."
Advance of the First Battalion (105th Infantry)
The 1st Battalion was in line before 1645, and, with the 2d on its left, spent 30 minutes in resupplying and reorganizing. At 1715 the two battalions moved off in a coordinated attack, with the main effort in the 1st Battalion's zone. The 1st Battalion's left
boundary angled on a long diagonal toward the beach, pinching out the 2d Battalion and leaving it a relatively small zone to advance through. The going, for the units on line, was to be progressively tougher from left to right.
Company A was O'Brien's left wing and moved out rapidly with two platoons abreast from the road in front of the coconut grove. Mortar fire had preceded the attack, but artillery was used only lightly, on points some distance up the plain. Lieutenant Dorey's two tanks were still tied up in the attempt to rescue Alloco's vehicle. No other tanks were present, although shortly after the jump-off a platoon of self-propelled guns came up from the Cannon Company to the coconut grove, and later gave direct fire support to Company C.
Company A's attack progressed rapidly for the first 150-200 yards, against the lightest kind of opposition. An occasional shot
CP OF THE 1ST BATTALION, 105TH INFANTRY. Lt. Col. William J. O'Brien (center) is issuing orders to his staff and company commanders just before the attack of 1st Bn. (afternoon of 6 July). The place is Tanapag village, beside an enemy fuel tank.
rang out from the hills on the extreme right and one or two came from directly forward. The men were practically running across the open ground, although Capt. Louis F. Ackerman had ordered them to move by bounds. The first halt in the company's advance came at the ditch which had caused so much trouble all day. Here, the right platoon encountered a nest of 15 to 20 Japanese. Some of these were wounded and some were trying to hide from Dorey's tank fire by hugging the walls of the trench on the near side. These enemy were surprised by the sudden appearance of the infantry. Ackerman's men waded into the ditch with bayonets and knives. For 20 minutes a sharp hand-to-hand fight ensued, and then the pocket had been cleaned out. The men of Company A moved on forward, across the ditch, and on a diagonal toward the beach. Japanese fire from the hills on the right was becoming more serious, machine guns having taken up the fire, but the company commander urged his men ahead. Spectators in the 165th Infantry OP on Hill 721 could look down on the plain and see a rapidly advancing wave of men in one long skirmish line pushing across the level ground. Lt. Col. Leslie R. Rock of the 4th Marine Division, who was attached to the 165th Infantry as liaison officer,
THE DITCH THAT DOREY CLEANED UP ran from the edge of the hill (background) down to the sea. Lt. Dorey, with a light tank, enfiladed the enemy in this position, which had held up the 2d Battalion, 105th Infantry during morning of 6 July. Photo, taken 8 July, near the narrow-gauge railroad, shows bodies still there.
was moved to remark to his superiors at the time, "The 105th has broken through. They're going a mile a minute up the island and if they go as fast as they are now, they'll be in Makunsha in about twenty minutes. They're all over the place. This looks like the end."
The headlong rush of Company A continued for 500 yards beyond the ditch. Then fire again began coming from the front. Captain Ackerman halted his men and waited to see where the fire was coming from. Directly ahead there was a small house and a little stone building that might have been a cistern or a stable. There were snipers in the house. Two men, Pfc. Joseph S. Jarosewicz and Pfc. Frank N. Saetes, moved on to try to rout out the enemy riflemen, while the rest of the company waited. Saetes turned his BAR on the under part of the house while Jarosewicz crept forward and slipped a grenade under the floor. The grenade came flying back out and landed at Saetes' feet where it exploded, wounding Saetes severely in the legs. While Jarosewicz had been looking for the place to throw the grenade, Saetes had cautiously approached the house and was holding his BAR in one hand while he tried to light the straw of the roof with a match he held in the other.
Captain Ackerman now ordered two more men forward, and Sgt. Cleo B. Dickey moved up and walked boldly in the front door. A moment later he had killed at least one of the snipers and wounded another. While he was doing this, Tech. 4 Hermans, the company cook, stepped up and set the house on fire. This time it burned. The one live Japanese in the house got off a last shot,
CAPT. LOUIS F. ACKERMAN Commander of Company A, 105th Infantry
wounding Saetes again while he was being carried back out of the way. Throughout this whole episode the fire from the side of the hill had been getting heavier. It was now almost 1800, less than an hour to darkness.
While Ackerman and Company A were busy trying to burn down the house, Company B came abreast on the right and took cover on the ground to wait, trying to find some protection from the machine guns in the cliff. This company had advanced almost as rapidly as Company A, but being closer to the cliffs had suffered more from the harassing fire which landed in their zone of action in some volume. Capt. Richard F. Ryan had finally been forced to move his men by short bounds, but by constant encouragement and urging he had managed to
keep the company well abreast of Ackerman Only one man had been wounded during the advance.
When Company A had been held up the second time, Ryan ordered his men to dig in as well as they could and then ordered his 1st Platoon, accompanied by two light machine guns, out to his extreme right flank. Here they built up a defensive line facing the cliffs, and the machine guns began laying down fire all along the hillside. This seemed to stimulate the Japanese, for within a few minutes the enemy fire had doubled in intensity. Two of Ryan's machine gunners were wounded in the new and heavier fire.
In view of this increased enemy activity, which was becoming serious, Captain Ryan went over to Company A and talked with Captain Ackerman. Both company commanders decided to send out a strong patrol, composed of members of both companies, in an effort to knock out at least the nearest machine gun. Just after this decision was made, however, Colonel O'Brien came running up from the coconut grove to find out what was holding up the advance. He sympathized with the two men, but insisted that the battalion should move forward. He had no sooner given this order than a shot killed Captain Ryan at his side. 1st Lt. Hugh P. King now assumed command of Company B and, acting in accordance with O'Brien's orders, canceled the patrol and made ready to move forward. Colonel O'Brien had brought an SPM forward with him and this was used to demolish the concrete building. An advance of another 100 yards was then made before the battalion commander called a halt for the day.
While Companies A and B had pushed home their assault with rapidity, Company C, following along behind Company B's right rear, had run into considerable trouble. Their route of approach led this unit directly along beneath the cliffs where the enemy were holed up. Almost from the time he pushed off from the road, 1st Lt. Bernard A. Tougaw's unit was under direct, heavy, small-arms fire, but mindful of Colonel O'Brien's instructions he ordered his men to keep moving. The company commander was using a peculiar formation to execute his mission. Each rifle squad was deployed as skirmishers, but each platoon was formed into a triangle. The company itself formed a huge diamond, with the 1st platoon at the leading point of the diamond, the 2d on the right side, the 3d on the left, and the Weapons bringing up the rear. Just as the company moved out from the road one man was wounded by the heavy fire which came from the northeast nose of the entrance to Harakiri Gulch. They also received fire from the machine guns atop the little knoll to their direct front. These were the same guns that Dorey's tank fire had driven the Japanese
CLIFF WALLS at foot of hill bordering coastal plain, between Harakiri Gulch and Paradise Valley. Marines are blasting out enemy snipers from a cave position (8 July). From such positions, up and down the hillside, the 105th Infantry received flanking fire in its attempts to drive along the Tanapag Plain (5 and 6 July).
from earlier in the day, and the same guns Lieutenant Peyre had worked so diligently to keep the enemy from using before K was relieved at noon. The men of Company C could plainly see the Japanese soldiers manning the positions. The American fire was fairly heavy on the area, but the Japanese had evidently formed relays to serve the guns, out of a group of about 30 men. These enemy soldiers were hiding in a cave in the cliff, connected with the ditch running down toward the beach and passing just behind the knoll. The men of Company C would see one of the Japanese run pell-mell out of the cave, and do a beautiful baseball slide that ended up under the gun. Then he would squeeze off one or two short bursts at the leading platoon and roll down the knoll in back, out of sight. Here they may have picked themselves up and crawled back into the cave to await their turn again. This system was so arranged that they did not use the two guns in any regular order; it was impossible to tell just which of the two weapons they would run for. Tech/Sgt. Ralph N. Gannaway, in command of the 1st Platoon, ordered his men to lie prone on the ground, and assigned half the platoon to watching each gun. In this manner, every time a Japanese popped over the horizon, one of Gannaway's men picked him off. Gannaway said later the Japanese "just couldn't seem to realize what was happening. They kept right on coming at the guns until they were all dead." Colonel O'Brien, who at the time was in the coconut grove not far away, watched the whole spectacle, and about halfway through it he sent over one of his SPM's that had just come up and ordered them to fire into the cave. However, the SPM fired only one round, which scored a direct hit on one of the Japanese coming at the guns. This evidently satisfied the vehicle crew and they moved on up the same plain toward which Companies A and B had gone. Lieutenant Dorey and his tank also took a hand in the proceedings, from farther down the ditch, but with little effectiveness.
When the Japanese stopped coming toward the gun, Gannaway decided that it would be safe to assault the position. Three men, Pfc. Irvin A. George, Pvt. Harold L. Peterson, and Pfc. Robert L. Jones, volunteered to rush the guns. All three got up and ran full speed up the little knoll to a point where they could look directly down into the ditch, almost at the point where it connected with the cave. They found several Japanese trying to hide in the ditch. For the next two or three minutes these three men engaged in a fire fight at point-blank range. But they were heavily outnumbered, and when Jones received a face wound Gannaway ordered them to get back to the platoon. Shortly after this move was accomplished, the Japanese from the caves loosed a shower of grenades into the midst of the platoon. Gannaway ordered the men to withdraw out of range. Leaving S/Sgt. Raymond G. Norden in charge, he told Norden to hold while he went back to the battalion CP and tried to get an SPM to come up and help.
While Gannaway and the 1st Platoon had been engaged with the Japanese in the ditch, Lieutenant Tougaw with the 3d Platoon, the Weapons, and Company Headquarters had been moving on forward. Tougaw had been following O'Brien's orders to
keep moving no matter what happened; when Gannaway had stopped to take care of the knoll, the company commander had taken the left platoon and the trailing elements, sideslipped to the left, and bypassed the knoll to follow the battalion assault. The 2d Platoon, which was echeloned to Gannaway's right rear, was even closer to the cliffs than the 1st Platoon, but took no part in the action at the knoll. When the 1st Platoon stopped, they also halted. This left Gannaway with two platoons at the rear, while Tougaw with the rest of the company had pushed on forward.
Gannaway had no sooner given Sergeant Norden charge of the platoon than Norden received a radio call from Tougaw, who wanted to know where the other platoons were and why they weren't moving. Lieutenant Tougaw was extremely put out about the failure of Gannaway to move forward. It was now 1830 and the rest of the battalion was already digging in for the night, with darkness only half an hour away. Norden tried to explain the situation to the company commander, but, when Tougaw asked what the 2d Platoon was doing, Norden didn't know. Tougaw thereupon ordered Norden to bring the 2d Platoon and come forward at once. The 1st Platoon could move up as soon as they cleaned up the pocket they were facing at the knoll. Norden did as he was ordered, moving the 2d Platoon back and around the 1st.
This left the 1st Platoon by itself to face a strong enemy group. The Japanese were very obviously getting added strength, but no one knew from where. For the next 45 minutes all Gannaway's men, lying on
T/SGT CHARLES GANNAWAY of Company C, 105th Infantry
the ground, engaged in a vicious fire fight with the enemy in the trench not 30 yards away. Darkness came and the fight continued, with both sides using every possible weapon, grenades, rifles, and machine guns. Three of the Americans were hit, two by grenade fragments. One of them was an acting staff sergeant, the other a squad leader who was knocked unconscious and caused a good deal of trouble in the efforts to evacuate him.
A few minutes after dark, Gannaway's efforts to get an SPM bore fruit; one of the vehicles reported to the platoon and from 40 yards away proceeded to pour howitzer shells into the Japanese positions. While the SPM was at work, Gannaway had taken a small
patrol forward to look for Lieutenant Tougaw, explain what was happening, and calm the company commander's ire, but in the darkness the platoon sergeant was unable to find anyone. While he was gone, S/Sgt. Frederick A. Westlake, whom he had left in charge of the platoon, received another irate call on the radio from Tougaw who told him in no uncertain terms to get forward. Westlake assured him he would just as soon as he could get his wounded men evacuated. Tougaw called the Battalion CP and asked that aid men be sent over to help in this evacuation.7 At the time the battalion aid station received this call, they were in the process of moving forward from the coconut grove to the new battalion perimeter, and the carrying party that went out looking for Westlake could not find him. After waiting some time for this party to come, Westlake finally gave up. He talked with the driver of the SPM and finally got a ride for Jones back as far as the Regimental CP. Pvt. Paul A. Flessenkemper, who had suffered multiple wounds in the legs from grenade fragments during the fire fight, voluntarily walked all the way back through the coconut grove in the darkness to the 3d Battalion aid station, where he managed to hitch a ride on a medical jeep to the regimental aid station. Westlake and one of his men carried French back to the coconut grove, where they hailed a passing medical jeep and got French aboard and out of the way. Westlake, then, after all this delay, ordered his platoon to move up in the darkness and join the rest of the company. By moving all the way over to the railroad tracks and following them north, the platoon managed to find Tougaw and the rest of the company by 2100. Before they left the pocket which had caused them so much trouble, it had been virtually wiped out by the action of the SPM.
It will be remembered that Company G, attached to the 3d Battalion, had the mission of guarding the flank facing Harakiri Gulch during the attack. Captain Olander's task was to swing his unit across the mouth of the gulch, and so bottle up the Japanese in that corridor.
Olander's men were in the coconut grove at the opening of the attack; he moved them out in single file to the cross-island highway, in the shelter of the ridge on which Company L was still immobilized. Around the corner of this ridge was the entrance to the gulch. Olander assembled the company near the sharp hairpin turn in the highway, established contact with L, above, and set out alone to make a personal reconnaissance of the mouth of the draw. Ahead of him, the nearer leg of the hairpin curve skirted the nose of sloping ground that marked the end of the west wall of the gulch; from this leg, the trail branched off the road and led up into the draw. Just short of the junction was the tank lost by Lieutenant Ganio earlier in the day, tipped over in the ditch. Within the U of the hairpin turn was a small pocket of extremely rough terrain, covered with brush
and bushes, and somewhat lower, perhaps by five feet, than the little shelf which supported the highway.
When Olander started out on his reconnaissance he sneaked along the ditch edging the highway, and got as far as the tank. Following him at a short interval were his radioman and one rifleman. Olander saw nothing to indicate the presence of the enemy and told his radioman to move up the 1st Platoon. This platoon moved out immediately, coming down the edge of the road where they could jump into the ditch, if necessary. The leaders had not reached a point more than halfway to the crippled tank when the Japanese opened up on them with rifle and machine-gun fire from the bushes in the pocket of the U and from the nose of ground on the right front. Two men were hit almost at once and the whole platoon was pinned to the ground.
Captain Olander appeared to be forward of the fire that was coming from the left, behind the fire on the right, and in the midst of the enemy. He very calmly called back on his radio and told his 2d Platoon to move up on the high ground and his 3d Platoon to move into the area below the hairpin. From there they were to be prepared to support the advance of the 1st Platoon by fire on the suspected areas.
The execution of this order consumed approximately 20 minutes; it was now after 1800 and darkness was rapidly approaching. The enemy fire had died down completely as soon as the 1st Platoon gave evidence that they were not trying to move. Captain Olander had used the time to poke around in the bushes below the road, trying to find out where the enemy were. (The men in his company thought this was very foolish, a sure invitation to suicide.)
S/Sgt. Edward J. Wojcicki, platoon sergeant of the 3d Platoon, below the road, had been working his men forward along the lower ditch and had gotten about halfway to where Captain Olander was visible in the dusk, beating the bushes. At that point, the company commander ordered Wojcicki to halt the platoon and come forward with a six-man patrol through the brush to where he was. Wojcicki knew that there were Japanese in the area and he said later that he was sure Olander was crazy, but he followed orders. The men had no sooner stepped out of the ditch than they found themselves squarely in the middle of a large Japanese patrol or outpost which had been lying quietly in the bushes. Wojcicki later said that the first thing he knew he had stepped squarely on one of the enemy soldiers; then the ground seemed to erupt. Machine guns opened up, grenades began going off, men started running in all directions. Captain Olander, a short distance away, fired his carbine, then used it as a club until he broke it, and finally picked up a saber which he wielded to good effect. Nearly every one of Wojcicki's men were engaged in wrestling or kicking their opponents as well as shooting and bayoneting them. The rest of Company G, who could barely see what was going on in the darkness, did not dare to shoot for fear of hitting their own men. In the furious melee that raged for the next few minutes, two of Wojcicki's men, Pfc. James Messer and Pfc. Vernon Bug, were killed. Another, Sgt. Benjamin J. Drenzek was wounded four
Map No. 9: V Amphibious Corps
Evening, 6 July 1944
different times. On three occasions Wojcicki's men killed Japanese who were trying to carry Drenzek away, up into the gulch. After the last attempt to kidnap the wounded man, Olander told Wojcicki to get back out of the area. A few minutes later, after he rejoined the company himself, he ordered all the platoons to pull back to the starting point near the bend in the road.
Once here, the company commander called Colonel Bradt on the radio and told him that he didn't think it was possible for him to build the line across the mouth of the gulch, but that he thought he could control it from the nose of ground overlooking Road Junction 64. He was given permission to dig in up on this nose, and moved his company across the road and up onto the higher ground. During the establishment of the perimeter, the company was constantly harassed by machine-gun fire from across the gulch. During this time, Captain Olander
made personal reconnaissance and spotted an enemy gun in a cave in the opposite wall. He called up a volunteer, Pvt. Joseph F. Kinyone, to fire a bazooka at this position, but as Kinyone moved up to position he was hit by a bullet and killed.
This ended the day's activity for Company G. Once again, no impression had been made on the enemy stronghold in the gulch, and, although the mouth of the canyon was covered by the fire of Company G. there was no solid stopgap to keep the enemy from emerging there in force.
The remainder of the 2d Battalion, Companies E and F, together with most of H and Headquarters Companies, had moved forward in the assault at 1715 with the 1st Battalion. Major McCarthy had placed his Company F on the battalion left, between the beach and the road. Company E had extended from there to the left flank of Company A, across the railroad tracks. The work of Lieutenant Dorey's tanks had had its greatest effect in front of the 2d Battalion. The ditch position which had been the enemy's main strongpoint all across the 2d Battalion front, and which had held up Major McCarthy's advance since he arrived at Road Junction 2, had been very effectively reduced not 30 minutes previous to the time set for the attack. When Company E moved off in the attack it was, therefore, with surprising ease. The men simply got up and walked forward. Within minutes they were at the ditch, and hardly a shot had been fired. At the ditch the men could see without much trouble that Dorey had done effective work. In the words of Sergeant Nicolette, "We had to walk across that ditch on dead Japs." About 20 minutes were spent in mopping up remaining enemy in the ditch, and then the company pushed rapidly on to the north. By 1800 they had advanced several hundred yards, and there held up to tie in with the 1st Battalion on the right and Company F on the left. Company F had almost as easy an advance, although they were delayed by passing a series of pillboxes and dugouts that dotted the beach. No Japanese were encountered in most of these, but each one had to be carefully investigated. Just before reaching the objective, the 3d Platoon, next to the road, did find a shelter occupied by three Japanese. The platoon sergeant and another man were wounded by a grenade which they threw into the shelter and the Japanese threw back out.
The 2d Battalion (less Company G) dug in for the night between the railroad track and the beach. The 1st Battalion was south across the rail line, with a considerable gap on its right flank separating it from Company G at the gulch.
The day had ended in a success for the 27th Division, but the night was to bring disaster. Gathering the bulk of their remaining troops, the Japanese launched their greatest suicidal attack of the war. The banzai charge hit with particular force on the two battalions of the 105th, left by their very advance in an exposed advance position. The enemy's main assault struck along the coastal plain, and it also used Harakiri Gulch as a corridor to hit the gap between Companies C and G. In a matter of a few hours the 1st and 2d Battalions of the 105th, suffering 900 casualties out of 1100-1200 effectives, had virtually ceased to exist as combat units.
Table of Contents ** Previous Chapter (Pointe du Hoe) * Next Chapter (Santa Maria Infante)
1. These were lost higher up the gulch in attack on 4 July.
2. Lieutenant Dorey, taking a different route, had arrived right on time. He was helped, to some extent, by knowing where he had left K Company on the preceding afternoon.
3. On his right (east) faced with crossing the ravine.
4. That is, the nose of high ground, north of the draw, as this curved eastward and dwindled to a ravine.
5. This draw is the ravine running east.
6. That is, the part of the platoon on lower ground, in the draw.
7. It may be well at this point to call attention to a feature of this action which is characteristic of fighting in the Pacific; as this day's story shows at several points, evacuation of the wounded so often caused serious delays during attacks. Unit commanders were aware of, and disturbed by, the tendency of men to halt an advance to see that wounded were safely taken back. Measures to prevent this were difficult to enforce. Two features of Pacific fighting differentiated it from that in Europe; the Japanese fought on in suicidal fashion if bypassed, even very small groups or individuals; and they killed wounded men without mercy. U.S. soldiers were aware of this and felt strongly about leaving wounded comrades in the wake of an advance, to fall victims to any bypassed enemy snipers.