About 1100 on 20 September, General Mueller had reported to Headquarters, III Amphibious Corps, that all organized resistance on Angaur had ceased and that the island was secure.1 That the island was "secure" by that time there can be no doubt. The area on the south and east, where the bomber airfield and other base installations were to be constructed, had been cleared of Japanese, the remainder of whom, General Mueller now realized, were compressed into a pocket in northwest Angaur from which they could not escape. As of 20 September, the 81st Division's G-2 Section estimated that 850 Japanese had already been killed on Angaur. In accordance with preassault estimates, this figure indicated that not many more than 350 of the enemy remained alive in the northwest hill mass. With a reinforced infantry regiment--the 322d Regimental Combat Team--available for the job, mopping up in the northwest corner seemed to pose no great problem.
Reduction of Northwestern Angaur
21 September-1 October 1944
Into the Main Defenses
Locating the Japanese
While the 321st Infantry, the 3d Battalion of the 322d Infantry, and reinforcing elements such as the bulk of the 710th Tank Battalion had been securing southern Angaur, the rest of the 322d Infantry had been probing the enemy's northwestern defenses. Company E, 322d Infantry, had spent the night of 18-19 September in a semi-isolated perimeter on the north coast, its rear protected by Companies F and G in position near the northern end of the second phase line. The 1st Battalion's left was extended southwest down the second phase line and the Northern Railroad toward the phosphate plant and the 3d Battalion. On the 19th the 1st Battalion was to attack south to join the 3d, while the 2d Battalion was to advance south on the 1st's right. The 2d Battalion was also to be prepared to swing westward into the high ground on regimental order.(Map VIII)
The 1st Battalion's attack started on schedule at 0730 on the 19th, but the 2d Battalion delayed to reassemble its scattered companies. As the 1st moved south with two companies abreast, it was subjected to
enfilade small arms and machine gun fire from high ground on its right front, but the enemy made no attempt to press home an infantry attack nor to fire artillery or heavy mortars. Because of the nature of the terrain between the Northern and Milwaukee Railroads, into which the two forward companies first moved, supporting tanks had to be dropped off. Then a swampy area was discovered southwest of Lake Aztec, and the infantry movement was channeled along the Northern Railroad. Continuing along this track and passing through many abandoned enemy positions, the battalion reached the phosphate plant and established contact with rear elements of the 3d Battalion about 1100. Since the latter unit needed no help in its drive south on the 19th, the 1st Battalion passed to regimental reserve.
The 2d Battalion had meanwhile reformed and started south. The unit moved in column around the north end of Lake Aztec, pushed west of the Milwaukee Railroad, and continued South to the junction of that line and the Western Railroad. At this junction, located approximately 450 yards north of the phosphate plant, contact was established with the 1st Battalion, and the 2d pushed on into the phosphate plant area without opposition. Colonel Venable, the regimental commander, now pulled Company G out of the battalion for a regimental reserve and ordered the rest of the unit to attack back up the Western Railroad and north along the west coast.
On the coast west-northwest of the phosphate plant rose two prominent hills, each about 100 feet high. On the southernmost was a Shinto shrine. About 175 yards to the north was Lighthouse Hill, the lighthouse itself having been toppled by preassault naval gunfire. The two hills were connected by heavily overgrown, broken, coral ridge lines along which Major Goto had stationed a detachment of some forty men with orders to hold the coastal approaches to the northwest hill mass.
Shortly after 1200 Company E started moving on Shrine Hill to capture and hold it as a base of fire while the rest of the 2d Battalion attacked Lighthouse Hill and other high ground in the immediate vicinity. Fire from supporting tanks and weapons from the remainder of the battalion kept Japanese defenders under cover as Company E started up Shrine Hill, and no serious opposition was encountered until the hilltop and shrine had been taken. Then, probing along the western slopes, the company prompted about thirty of the enemy to counterattack from a large cave. With some difficulty the Japanese were killed, dispersed, or pushed back into the cave. Protected by tanks and riflemen, engineers then blocked the cave entrance. The rest of Shrine Hill was secured against only scattered rifle fire from higher ground to the north.
Company F, sent to occupy both Lighthouse Hill and a smaller knoll about 175 yards to the southeast, accomplished both missions by late afternoon against negligible opposition. A patrol was sent up a trail leading north from Lighthouse Hill but encountered heavy automatic weapons fire from Japanese positions on wooded broken ridges 200 yards to the north. Since there was no time before dark to attack these ridges, the patrol was withdrawn. Enemy fire, probably from the same positions, started to sweep the partially bare northern slopes of Lighthouse Hill. All of Company F was withdrawn to form a line running northeast from Shrine Hill to the knoll southeast of Lighthouse Hill.
While this action had been going on, Company G, released from regimental reserve early in the afternoon, had started up the Western Railroad. About 300 yards above the junction of the Western and Milwaukee Railroads, the Western entered a deep cut, banked on both sides by steep slopes about 50-75 feet high. At the entrance to the defile, the company halted to send patrols to the tops of the slopes. Once atop the slopes, the infantrymen could see into a deep, broad bowl, where lay a maze of abandoned phosphate diggings, many short railroad spurs, and Lake Salome. The bowl was backed on all sides by overgrown, jagged coral ridge lines and cliffs 50 to 100 feet high.
Noticing a small Japanese party moving in the southern section of the bowl, Company G opened fire with light machine guns. Immediately, hidden Japanese light artillery, mortars, machine guns, and rifles opened fire from the backing ridges and the bowl floor. The ridge-top patrols found their positions untenable and hurriedly descended into the defile. The Japanese fire continued, some of it getting into the railroad cut. The company finally was recalled to join the rest of the 2d Battalion in night defenses, but not before five men had been seriously wounded by the enemy fire.
Colonel Venable, who now felt that the Japanese held the northwest hills in some strength, became concerned about the security of RED Beach. Two of his battalions were concentrated near the phosphate plant, while the third had moved south below Saipan Town. Since there were no defenses between the phosphate plant and the beach, Colonel Venable sent the 1st Battalion back up the route it had traveled in the morning to re-establish defenses along the second phase line between Lake Aztec and the north coast. A gap remained between Lake Aztec and the phosphate plant, but no attack was expected in that sector because the terrain consisted principally of swamp and nearly impassable wooded ridge lines. The Japanese either did not know of this gap or chose to ignore it in favor of withdrawing men from the 321st Infantry's front to the northwest hills.
The attack on the northwest was resumed on 20 September by the 2d Battalion, 322d Infantry. During the morning the unit reoccupied Lighthouse Hill and slowly probed into many abandoned Japanese positions in the surrounding rough, hilly terrain. By midafternoon the bulk of the battalion was on its way toward the southwest side of the Lake Salome bowl, which lay uphill from Lighthouse Hill. The terrain between the latter feature and the bowl's rim gave every advantage to Japanese defenders, who countered each forward movement with mortar or machine gun fire, and Companies E and F, leading the attack, could gain little ground north of Lighthouse Hill before dark. The battalion (less Company G) dug in for the night in much the same positions, except for the addition of Lighthouse Hill, as those it had held the previous night.
Company G, during the morning, had again attacked up the Western Railroad and set up mortar and machine gun positions on the ridges above the railroad defile, which later became known as Bloody Gulch, in preparation for infantry movement into the bowl. Self-propelled 75-mm. weapons (SPM's) of the Cannon Company, 322d Infantry, then lumbered up and into the defile. Two of the SPM's pushed through the 50-yard-long defile to the northern end, which opened into the Lake Salome bowl, encountering no resistance other than scattered small arms fire. As a third SPM moved
out of the defile's northern exit, one of the earlier arrivals was disabled by a land mine and another was temporarily put out of action by fire from a Japanese antitank gun brought into position on the bowl's eastern slopes. The entire crew of the SPM was wounded but was successfully evacuated in the face of increasingly heavy small arms fire. The SPM was restarted and brought back into the railroad cut.
By early afternoon Colonel Venable realized that Company G needed more support, and he sent forward a platoon of medium tanks. These vehicles could not get through the defile, which was still blocked by disabled SPM's. Without the additional support the infantry could make no progress, and the attack stalled. The colonel thereupon decided to start an advance from a new direction, and at 1400 he ordered Company B to move overland from the Milwaukee Railroad northwest toward the eastern side of the bowl. Company B reached its line of departure (on the Milwaukee about 400 yards north of that line's junction with the Western) without difficulty. Progress from the railroad toward the bowl's eastern rim was painfully slow, because it was necessary to cut trail through swamp or dense jungle undergrowth. The attack from the east therefore bogged down. Company G, without expected support on its right, could make no progress either. Finally, at 1500, the two forward units were ordered to withdraw to allow ample space for artillery registration on the bowl.
Although General Mueller had announced the end of organized resistance on Angaur, the 322d Infantry, by dusk on the 20th, had learned enough about the Japanese positions in northwest Angaur to take exception to the division commander's view. As the regiment had begun to suspect, organized resistance had by no means ceased. Indeed--for the 322d Infantry--it had just started.
General Mueller's statement was probably prompted by his realization that the remaining Japanese were compressed into the northwest hills and by the reports that about 850 of the enemy had been killed through the 20th. This casualty figure was an overestimation. Probably fewer than 600 Japanese had been killed through the 20th, and Major Goto still had possibly 750 men with which to conduct an organized defense in the northwest. On orders from General Inoue, commander of the Palau Sector Group, Major Goto planned no final banzai attack which would decimate his forces. Instead he withdrew over half his force to rugged terrain and emplaced them in natural or prepared fortifications. His lines of defense in the northwest were well conceived; many of his positions were mutually supporting; the amphitheater configuration of the bowl provided him with defensive areas whence heavy cross fires could be directed at attackers; the broken coral, with its crevices, fissures, caves, and ridgelets, gave him defensive advantages at least as good as those at the Ibdi Pocket on Biak; and he had available a number of artillery and antitank weapons, heavy and light mortars, and heavy and light machine guns, most of them so emplaced as to give maximum support to his riflemen. In addition, he could still exercise effective control over the men he had gathered in the Lake Salome bowl. For whatever it was worth, Major Goto was ready to conduct a protracted defense, though the best he could hope for was to tie down the 322d Infantry. The real issue at Angaur--securing the prospective airfield area--had already been decided.
The First Push Into the Bowl
What was hoped to be the final attack on Angaur was scheduled to begin at 0800 on 21 September. Companies E and F, 322d Infantry, were to push up the coast from Lighthouse Hill, find a break in the bowl's western wall, and attack eastward. Company G, with a tank platoon in support, was to strike again from the south through the railroad defile. The entire 1st Battalion was to attack west from the Milwaukee Railroad, while the 3d Battalion was to remain on the defensive along the northern end of the second phase line.
During the night of 20-21 September artillery fire was directed into the bowl area. Only 155-mm. shells could cause much damage there, but the 155-mm. battalion ashore was so emplaced that the northwest hills were short of its minimum range. One battery was therefore displaced backward to a better position at southern Angaur from which it and a 105-mm. battalion continued the fire, augmented for half an hour by rocket, automatic weapons, and 4.2-inch mortar fire from offshore LCI's. The attack on the 21st was preceded by artillery concentrations lasting an hour. Then there was a half-hour bombing and strafing attack by Navy planes and, finally, another half hour of artillery fire. As they formed for their attack, the infantrymen of the 322d Infantry were confident that the artillery and aerial bombardments must have reduced Japanese resistance in the bowl area to the vanishing point.
Company G, moving back up the Western Railroad's narrow bed, found that on the contrary the Japanese were determined to defend the steep banks of the defile. The unit could not even get into the railroad cut, let alone reoccupy the banks. By 0900 the entire advance had halted, and fifteen minutes of artillery and mortar fire support was called for. About 0945 the infantry attack was resumed. The support fire had been effective and patrols gained the top of the cut, on both sides, with little difficulty. Heavy weapons were set up to fire into the bowl, and the troops waited for tanks to make their way through the defile and for the 1st Battalion to pull up on line to the north.
Lead tanks got to the northern exit of the defile without encountering any enemy fire but found egress blocked by the SPM which had been abandoned the previous afternoon. Explosives and 75-mm. fire from the lead tank failed to move the SPM, which finally had to be towed to one side. This job took so long that it was not until after 1200 that the mediums of the 710th Tank Battalion were able to start moving into the bowl.
Eight tanks, accompanied by a rifle platoon from Company G, filed through the railroad cut and out into the bowl. There was scattered small arms fire from the Japanese, but enemy heavy weapons remained silent as the tanks pushed forward, compelled by the nature of the terrain to follow the narrow-gauge railroad beds. In the bowl the railroad spurs were laid along raised beds from which two tanks slid, one falling twenty feet to overturn and catch fire and the other getting into such a position that it had to be disarmed and abandoned. Three additional tanks moved about fifty yards into the bowl and halted to provide fire support to Company G men who were working along higher ground to the right along the southeast rim. Tank fire was directed mainly into the center of the bowl and toward the high slopes of the north rim. One enemy antitank gun was located and
ENTRANCE TO LAKE SALOME BOWL
knocked out before it could cause serious damage, but, for the most part, definite targets were impossible to find. Previous artillery fire had done little to clear vegetation.
The infantrymen moving along the crevices and fissures of the southeast rim found progress impeded both by terrain and by enemy fire from the northern rim. Hidden machine guns and light mortars increased the tempo of their fires as Company G moved forward. The terrain made co-ordinated infantry-tank attacks impossible. Companies C and I were ordered forward to reinforce Company G but arrived at the defile exit too late in the afternoon to be employed. By 1600 it had become apparent that little further advance could be made before dark. It also appeared that additional progress into the bowl would produce a salient which the Japanese could destroy at their leisure during the night. Such a salient could receive no support from either the east or west sides of the bowl, for the attacks in those areas had also failed.
Companies E and F, pushing up the coast from Lighthouse Hill, had been unable to find any route over the western ridges--which in many spots were sheer cliffs 50 to 100 feet high--into the eastern side of the bowl. On the other hand, by 1045, the companies had moved 250 yards up the west coast without opposition. From a base at BLACK Beach, where the 323d Infantry had feinted on F Day, patrols were sent on up the coast to Angaur's northwest tip. Many unoccupied enemy positions along the coast were found and destroyed, but still no route over the cliffs could be located.
The 1st Battalion had started westward on schedule from the Milwaukee Railroad in an attempt to co-ordinate an attack from that direction with Company G's effort. The battalion had to cut its way through dense undergrowth and found that the terrain became increasingly rough toward the southeast rim of the bowl. Only light resistance was encountered from enemy ground troops, but some Japanese 150-mm. mortar shells fell near the head of the battalion column. By 1600 the bulk of the unit had moved only 200 yards forward, although Company B had managed to cut a rough trail most of the way to the bowl's southeast rim.
Believing that night action in exposed positions and rough terrain--almost entirely bare coral at the bowl's southern entrance--might result in heavy casualties, the frontline battalion commanders recommended withdrawal from the forward areas before dark. To this Colonel Venable agreed, and by nightfall defenses had been re-established generally along the same lines which had been held the previous night.
For the morrow it was decided to send three rifle companies, a tank company, and a 4.2-inch mortar company into the bowl through the southern defile entrance. Two rifle companies of the 1st Battalion were to conduct holding attacks against the eastern rim, but the effort to move the entire 1st Battalion into the bowl from that direction was to be abandoned. Finally, two other rifle companies, reinforced with engineer demolition teams, were to push up the west coast from BLACK Beach to destroy all enemy positions that could be located and to find or make a route over which an attack could be made into the bowl from the west. The 3d Battalion (less Company I) was to take over the defense of the rest of Angaur from the 321st Infantry. Company I was attached to the 2d Battalion.
Shortly after 0730 on the 22d, both the coastal and southern defile attacks were resumed. The coastal effort met little opposition,
but again no feasible route over the western cliffs and ridges could be located. At 1500 the two companies were withdrawn to take up new positions at the southern defile entrance. In the railroad cut the experience on the morning of the 21st was repeated, for the Japanese had reoccupied the ground abandoned the previous evening. Three tanks pushed back into the bowl along the railroad beds and by noon were in position to provide fire support for infantry units penetrating deeper. By the same time, the 2d Battalion had secured the southern rim of the bowl for a distance of about 200 yards both east and west of the defile entrance.
Units were now regrouped for another co-ordinated effort, which began at 1300. The main strength was placed on the right (southeast) section of the bowl, and tanks fired along the eastern rim about 200 yards in front of the leading elements. The mediums had been undisturbed by enemy fire all morning, but, apparently attracted by an incautious grouping of officers and men near the lead tanks and defile exit, a Japanese antitank gun opened fire from a hidden emplacement along the east rim. Three officers (including Colonel Venable, who was in the forward area to observe the new attack) and one enlisted man were severely wounded and had to be evacuated.
Meanwhile, the attacking companies had moved slowly forward from the south and southeast. Leading elements reached the shore of Lake Salome and proceeded north along the east side of the depression in which the lake lay. By midafternoon the advance had gained over 250 yards and much of the ground around the lake had been at least temporarily cleared of Japanese. But the troops in the depression and on surrounding higher ground were in an extremely precarious position. Their location made it impossible to provide them with any close artillery or tank support, whereas they could be subjected to vicious cross fire from nearly inaccessible Japanese positions hidden in almost incredibly rough terrain to the north, east, and west. Again, it was decided to pull back to more tenable positions for the night.
Frustration at the Southern Entrance
During the retirement on the 22d, one of the three forward tanks was so badly damaged by a mine or buried shell that it could not be moved through the defile. This tank blocked the defile's northern entrance and prevented the withdrawal of another medium, which had to be destroyed to keep it from falling into Japanese hands. In four days of fruitless effort to push into the bowl from the south, three tanks and two 75-mm. SPM's had been lost. Heavier infantry losses also began to be sustained now that the Japanese, cornered, were fighting to the death. On the 22d, for instance, the 2d Battalion lost 2 men killed and about 35 wounded.
The regimental commander, Colonel Venable, was replaced after his evacuation by his executive officer, Lt. Col. Ernest H. Wilson. The 2d Battalion's commander wanted to make another complete withdrawal out of the defile before dark, but this was not approved. General Mueller had directed that night defenses be set up at the point of deepest penetration each day. However, when Colonel Wilson learned of the dangerously exposed position of the two companies around the shores of Lake Salome, he authorized them to move back
to higher terrain near the defile entrance. The rest of the troops held their ground. As if in vindication of the judgment that the 322d Infantry could hold the rugged terrain in the forward area during the hours of darkness, the night passed with only minor attempts at infiltration on the part of the Japanese. The forward units gained some measure of confidence that they could operate during the night as effectively as the enemy could.
At 0730 on the morning of the 23d, the 2d Battalion, with Companies B, C, and E attached, continued the attack into the bowl from the south. Companies B and C worked up the east shore of Lake Salome. Companies I and G pushed toward the southwest and western shores, while Company F paid particular attention to caves along the southwest rim of the bowl. During the first part of the attack all companies moved forward rapidly, and Company I reached the northwest corner of the lake without much trouble. But Company B, pushing forward against increasingly heavy Japanese fire from the north, was pinned down by this fire when it reached the northeast corner of the lake. Company C was sent north on B's right to try to outflank the enemy machine gun and mortar positions from which the fire on Company B originated. The intention was to flush the Japanese from their positions and push them southwest and south against the main body of the 2d Battalion. But Company C could make little progress toward the northern section of the bowl, and its own position became precarious as Japanese mortar and machine gun fire increased and the 1st Battalion's own 81-mm. mortar ammunition ran out, making further mortar support impossible. Japanese fire continued to increase and the positions of all forward companies became untenable. A general withdrawal to the defile entrance was ordered.
The withdrawal was painfully slow; companies were broken up; all units suffered more casualties. One small group of Company I, separated from its parent unit, worked over the cliffs and ridges at the bowl's western rim to the coast at BLACK Beach. Company B, retreating in small segments, lost men as it withdrew from the northeast corner of the lake. All told, the 2d Battalion and attached companies lost 18 men killed and over 75 wounded during the day.
Overcoming the Last Resistance
The withdrawal to the defile on the afternoon of the 23d was the culmination of five days' effort to get into the bowl from the south, effort that had proved so costly that it was decided that continued attack from the south would not be worth the results achieved. Artillery close support for the infantry attack from the south was severely limited by the nature of the terrain; infantry was channeled into two narrow lines of approach around the shores of Lake Salome toward the enemy's strongest positions, at the northern side of the bowl; and, finally, no support could yet be provided by other overland attacks from the north, east, or west. A major change in plans seemed to be necessary.
A Change in Tactics
First, it was decided that on Sunday, 24 September, an effort would be made to entice the remaining Japanese into surrender by means of propaganda broadcasts over a public address system. If this effort proved fruitless, then all available artillery would
bombard the entire bowl area while preparations were made to attack into the bowl from the north or northeast.
The propaganda effort was made on the morning of the 24th, but only two Japanese surrendered. Claiming that 300-400 Japanese remained in the bowl under Major Goto's control, these prisoners told of shortages of food and water among the bowl defenders. The prisoners' estimate--later proved reasonably accurate--was not accepted by the 81st Division's G-2 officers, who, on the basis of reports of Japanese already killed on Angaur and realizing that Japanese enlisted men seldom had much knowledge of the general situation, concluded that not more than 150 Japanese were left in the bowl.
With the failure of the broadcasts, a 155-mm. battalion and two 105-mm. battalions began concentrated bombardment of the bowl and the surrounding ridges and cliffs. The fire continued throughout the afternoon of 24 September and the ensuing night, greatly changing the appearance of the bowl interior and the inner rims. Much of the thick foliage was knocked off the tops and sides of cliffs and ridges into crevices and gullies. The contours of the rough, broken terrain emerged more clearly and visibility was greatly improved. It was expected that the artillery fire would have reduced Japanese defenders to a mere handful, most of whose fortifications would have been destroyed or laid bare, and the 322d Infantry hoped that one final infantry attack would reduce the last enemy stronghold.
Colonel Wilson planned his next strong attack at the north. The 3d Battalion (less Company I but plus Company A) was to attack south over the northern rim from the north coast. If necessary, a road would be built along the north coast west from the first phase line to the point of attack and thence south into the bowl so that tanks and supplies could be brought up.
On the morning of the 25th, the 3d Battalion assembled at the northern end of the first phase line and moved west along the coast, following the route taken by elements of the 2d Battalion a week earlier. The battalion pushed on, looking for routes south over the cliffs, to a point within 500 yards of Angaur's northwest tip. No route was found. Moreover, it was estimated that the terrain along the north coast was so rough that it would take weeks to blast a tank and supply road forward to the point where the 3d Battalion had halted. After personal reconnaissance by LVT along the north coast, Colonel Wilson decided that further effort on the north would be impracticable, and he therefore ordered the 3d Battalion to move back to the morning assembly area. A new line of advance had to be chosen. As a result of ground and aerial reconnaissance, it was decided to push the new attack west-southwest from a point near the northern end of the Milwaukee Railroad. This route was chosen for two reasons. First, the reconnaissance had disclosed that a road could be bulldozed through the proposed area of advance and second, a successful attack into the bowl from the new direction would have a good chance of splitting the remaining Japanese force.
In accordance with the new plan, Company B, 306th Engineers, started road construction during the afternoon of 25 September. The attack along the new route was to begin on the 26th, with the 3d Battalion, 322d Infantry, leading. The 2d Battalion, the bulk of which had spent the 25th disposed around the southeast and southern
INTERIOR OF LAKE SALOME BOWL
rims of the bowl, was to conduct a supporting attack from the southeast with two companies. Two other companies were to remain at the southern defile entrance to prevent Japanese escape in that direction.
The 3d Battalion's attack on the 26th began about 0730, with Companies A and K advancing abreast. There was little opposition and shortly before noon the advance platoons of Company A gained the top of the bowl's eastern rim northeast of Lake Salome. From this new vantage point, the troops could obtain their first clear view of formidable-looking ridges and cliffs at the northern rim of the bowl.
As Company A arrived at the top of the eastern rim, Japanese defenders to the north and northwest discovered the new threat. Major Goto had either no time or no desire to shift troops to meet the advancing Americans, but the enemy did begin to direct small arms, mortar, and machine gun fire at Company A. Using available cover from this fire, Company A moved slowly down the inner side of the eastern rim, reaching the bowl floor at a point north-northeast of Lake Salome and some 250 yards north of the farthest penetration during the attacks from the southern entrance. Not much more than 250 yards to Company A's right lay the rough terrain of the north rim, and beyond that the broken, jagged ridges between the bowl and the north coast. But now vision to the north was blocked by a thickly overgrown nose protruding from the east rim and lying on Company A's immediate right flank. To the left and left front lay broken terrain of abandoned phosphate diggings
and an overgrown coral mound about twenty feet high and seventy-five yards in diameter. Between this mound (which soon came to be known as "The Island") and the east rim lay an open draw.
As Company A slowly moved along the east rim ridges, cautiously probing into abandoned or partially destroyed enemy positions, K Company came over the rim, shifted to A's left, and started moving toward The Island and into the draw. As the leading elements crossed the draw, Japanese automatic weapons opened up from the northern cliffs, positions to the northeast, and from The Island. The ensuing cross fire quickly pinned down Company A and most of Company K. Withdrawal was necessary but nearly impossible. Finally, it was executed with the aid of supporting mortars, which placed smoke shells on the enemy positions along the north and northeast ridges, and with the help of approaching darkness. New positions for the night were found slightly to the south and southeast along the inner base of the east rim.
During the day Companies E and F, executing the supporting attack, had managed to get to the top of the southeast rim at a point about 350 yards south of Companies A and K. The 2d Battalion companies found themselves in the rear of positions from which the Japanese had done much to prevent successful earlier attacks through the southern defile entrance, but they pushed on down into the bowl against increasingly heavy opposition, clearing out many cave positions. Many of these caves were still occupied, and before dark the companies had suffered thirty-seven casualties from enemy fire. As night fell, the two units established a defensive perimeter which extended from the southeast corner of Lake Salome to the defile entrance.
All in all, operations on the 26th had been quite successful. The 3d Battalion had secured a foothold in the northern section of the bowl; the Japanese forces were at least partially split; the 2d Battalion had destroyed many enemy installations along the southeast rim; and apparently excellent positions had been obtained for a resumption of the attack on the morrow. On the other hand, the forward companies suffered about forty casualties. The night of 26-27 September was by no means restful. A heavy tropical downpour lasted most of the night and was accompanied by a number of sharp but un-co-ordinated Japanese attacks against Company A. These attacks were beaten back only after the company lost a few more men.
On the morning of the 27th the attack was continued on all fronts. Two companies of the 1st Battalion again moved up the west coast toward the northwest corner of the bowl; Companies A, K, and L pushed into the northern section of the bowl from the east; Companies E and F continued pressure from the southeast; and Companies I and H remained at the southern defile entrance. Operations during the morning were extremely laborious. Each enemy position, of which there were seemingly an ever-increasing number, had to be reduced individually in the face of heavy automatic weapons fire from the north rim and high ground beyond. Company L, which had followed the route of Companies A and K over the east rim, had to mop up a number of Japanese who had either infiltrated behind the two more forward units during the night or had emerged from bypassed or insufficiently blasted caves.
By midafternoon Companies A and L had reached the base of the north rim. In the south it had become obvious that Japanese
opposition was weakening, since Companies E and F found the going easier along the inner side of the east rim. Company I moved in through the defile entrance to the southwest ridges and found that most of the Japanese who had previously held that area had either been killed or had evacuated. By dusk, a perimeter extended clockwise around the inside of the bowl from a point on the north rim 300 yards north-northwest of Lake Salome to Company I's new position on the southwest. Japanese escape from the unguarded portions of the bowl and northwest ridges was impossible. To the north lay the sea; to the west was Company C, strung out along the coast north of BLACK Beach; and to the east was Company G, which extended from the coast northeast of the bowl over the rough terrain to tie in with Company L's lines at the bowl's northeast corner. The new tactics of attack from the northeast had isolated Japanese resistance, split the enemy forces, and secured for the 322d Infantry a firm foothold inside the bowl.
Mop Up in the North
The fight at northwest Angaur now resolved itself into an infantry slugging match for a few days, with minor reverses and local gains occurring almost each day. But different from most action in the next week was that on the 28th of September. Companies B and I, which had started up the northwest rim from inside the bowl, were subjected to an intense enemy mortar barrage and were forced to withdraw for reorganization and officer replacements. There were about eighty casualties on the 28th, the highest number suffered by the 322d Infantry during any single day of action on Angaur.
Despite these casualties, by dusk on the 29th the entire bowl floor was cleared of enemy and all organized opposition was isolated on the northwest rim and on higher, broken ground between that area and Angaur's northwest tip. Another co-ordinated attack toward the last enemy stronghold now seemed possible, and on 1 October all three battalions began a new effort. The 2d Battalion moved west along the coast between the sea and the north rim, while the 1st and 3d Battalions attacked generally north into the high ground from the inside of the bowl. Tank support was now available, for the new road from the northeast had been completed and the mediums of the 710th Tank Battalion could make their way into the northern section of the bowl. The 1 October attack, which cost the 322d Infantry some thirty more casualties, was not as successful as had been anticipated. Companies B and K drove through the Japanese defenses in the northwest hills to the north coast, but in so doing missed many of the strongest defenses. But the day's action did succeed in discovering the boundaries of final resistance. The remaining Japanese were compressed into an area measuring less than 500 yards from east to west and 150 yards north to south in the northwest ridges between the bowl's northwest rim and the sea.
After the 1 October attack it was decided that there would be no more costly all-out infantry assaults. Instead, tanks, 4.2-inch mortars, and artillery were brought into the bowl for close-in fire. A few 155-mm. howitzers were brought up to the southern defile entrance to lay direct fire on the enemy positions at a range of 700 yards. On 6 October artillery and mortars undertook an especially heavy bombardment. From 0700 to 1030, 155-mm. howitzers
MOPPING UP IN NORTHEAST ANGAUR. Note coral outcroppings.
fired at especially chosen targets, including a suspected Japanese observation post, while 105-mm. howitzers, 4.2-inch mortars, 81-mm. mortars, and 60-mm. mortars laid concentrations on the flanks and rear of the remaining Japanese-held area to prevent any Japanese from escaping. At 1030 the artillery and mortars switched to smoke shells to blanket the Japanese area and at 1035 these weapons ceased fire. Automatic weapons and small arms then took up the fire to indicate the beginning of an infantry assault, while two infantry companies began moving toward the Japanese flanks. The Japanese fell for the bait and began moving out of covered positions to set up machine guns to forestall the infantry attack they apparently expected. Allowing a little additional time for more Japanese to move to exposed positions, the 81st Division's 155-mm. howitzers laid down another heavy concentration, while the 105-mm's. and mortars resumed their fires around the periphery of the Japanese positions.
This type of firing continued until 1400, by which time a large concrete and steel emplacement, probably Major Goto's command post, had been uncovered and destroyed by direct fire from 155-mm. howitzers. How many more Japanese positions were knocked out and how many casualties were caused is unknown, but it is certain that the Japanese did not escape unscathed. After 1400, infantrymen of the 1st and 2d Battalions, 322d Infantry, moved back to positions from which they had withdrawn immediately before the day's bombardment and succeeded in killing a few more Japanese before dark.
Infantry action was limited to extensive use of sniper teams, small combat patrols, ambushes, and booby trapping. The intention was to hem in the remaining Japanese and close all possible routes of supply and escape. Since the proximity of American troops to the Japanese positions now prevented use of 81-mm. mortars, 60-mm. mortars were used exclusively. These weapons were for the most part removed from the rifle companies and placed in one battery which fired under regimental control.
The Japanese had under their control in the final pocket a number of Angaur natives, three of whom had managed to make their way into 322d Infantry lines after a surrender broadcast on 1 October. These related stories of hardships suffered in caves where the Japanese had kept them closely guarded and also told the 322d Infantry that more natives were being held in the northwest pocket. First attempts by native volunteers to lead some of the others out were unsuccessful, but on the 8th of October 137 more natives made their way out of the pocket to an area where elements of Company B, 306th Engineers, were working. The next day, three native volunteers led 90 more out of the pocket. About one-fifth of the total of 183 natives rescued from the Japanese needed extensive medical attention and all the rest were suffering from malnutrition. The healthier ones rebuilt their own village and some were ultimately used as labor on various projects at Angaur.
On 13 October a final concerted attack was begun. The 1st Battalion moved against the last enemy positions from the west, while the 2d Battalion pushed forward from the north and northeast. By the 18th of the month the new effort had succeeded in compressing the remaining Japanese into a pocket roughly 100 yards long and 50 yards wide. The next night Major Goto was killed. Two days later the last isolated pockets of resistance were overcome, and
by the 23d it was evident that all but a few Japanese stragglers had been wiped out. The infantry battalions were withdrawn from the northwest area and the Antitank and Cannon Companies were left in the bowl to track down and kill the few enemy who might still be alive there.
Results of Operations on Angaur
From a number of conflicting statements, it is impossible to assign a definite termination date to the Angaur operation. General Mueller had declared the island secure and organized resistance over on 20 September. The island was secure then but, as the 322d Infantry soon discovered, organized resistance was far from over. On 14 October Headquarters, III Amphibious Corps, terminated the attack and occupation phase of operations on Angaur. At that time certain administrative responsibilities passed to the garrison force commander, but the 81st Division retained control over defense and operations at the northwest pocket. From a tactical point of view, the operation did not end until 21 October, when the 322d Infantry overran the last organized Japanese defenses in the northwest.
Through 21 October approximately 1,300 Japanese had been killed on Angaur and 45 had been captured. The 321st Infantry's part in the operation had cost that regiment 26 men killed and 135 wounded. The 322d Infantry, which fought longer and against stiffer opposition, lost 211 men killed and 772 wounded. Total battle casualties for all units on the island during the period 17 September through 21 October were 264 men killed and 1,355 wounded or injured. In addition, there were 244 cases of battle fatigue and 696 hospital cases from various types of sickness and disease. Thus, total casualties were 2,559, of which number 1,394 were ultimately returned to duty at Angaur, and the rest evacuated.2
The capture of Angaur, however costly, helped to secure the Palaus and to eliminate that island group as a threat to Allied lines of communication across the western Pacific toward the Philippines. Moreover, Angaur provided the Allies with another air-base site in the forward area. Airdrome construction on Angaur was begun on 20 September, F plus 3, by the 1884th and 1887th Engineer Aviation Battalions. The first plane, a C-47, landed on the field on F plus 28, 15 October. Four days later two 6,000-foot landing strips were completed and work on taxiways, gasoline storage, and other air-base installations was well along.3
Air-base construction on Angaur presented difficult problems. There was available no conveniently located Japanese airfield which the Allies could repair, improve, and expand. Instead, the work had to begin at the beginning. Jungle had to be cut away, swamps filled, and rough terrain leveled. There was no hope that an airstrip could be prepared in three or four days as had been the case on many other islands in the Pacific. The completion of two 6,000-foot runways by 19 October, F plus 32, represented a considerable accomplishment.
The Japanese Army, when it decided to conduct a protracted delaying action in the Palaus, also chose to defend Angaur. The enemy apparently considered Angaur as a sort of outpost, the early loss of which might have rendered more difficult the defense of
the remainder of the island group. In defending Angaur, the enemy lost a heavily reinforced infantry battalion which was well equipped, splendidly trained, and admirably led. While this force might better have been used elsewhere in the Palaus, it accomplished the delaying mission for which it had been stationed on Angaur. For three days it delayed the greatly superior strength of two American regimental combat teams from securing Angaur, and it delayed the start on Allied airdrome construction an equal length of time. Finally, Major Goto's Angaur Sector Unit immobilized for over a month the 322d Infantry, which might well have been used to better advantage on Peleliu, where the 321st Infantry had been fighting for a month.
1. This chapter is based principally on Drummond, The Palau Campaign, Chs. VI and VII (Ch. VII incomplete). The records of the 81st Division and attached units, especially those of the 322d Infantry and the 710th Tank Battalion, were employed to complete the story.
2. Casualty figures are from: 81st Div Opns Rpt Angaur, p. 112; 321st Inf Opns Rpt Angaur; Ltr, Gen Mueller to Gen Ward, 29 May 51, no sub, in OCMH files.
3. 81st Inf Div Opns Rpt Angaur, pp. 99-100; CINCPAC-CINCPOA, Opns in POA Sep 44, p. 65.
Transcribed and formatted for HTML by Jerry Holden for the HyperWar Foundation