The Mountain Barrier: Part One
The successful completion of the campaign for the entire Leyte Valley on 2 November enabled General Krueger to embark on the next phase of his plan for the liberation of Leyte.
This action was to consist of two drives converging on Ormoc: one south through Ormoc Valley by X Corps and the other north from Baybay by XXIV Corps. The remaining Japanese on the island would thus be forced into the mountains west of Ormoc Valley where they could not offer effective organized resistance. At first, while some elements of the XXIV Corps continued to push west to reinforce the troops on the shores of Ormoc Bay and mopped up in southern Leyte Valley, the X Corps was to secure control of the coast of Carigara Bay from Carigara to Pinamopoan. With the completion of this assignment, the northern elements of the Sixth Army would be in a position to drive south along Highway 2 which twisted and turned through the northern mountains and central plains of Ormoc Valley to the port of Ormoc.1 (Map 11)
General Sibert ordered elements of the 1st Cavalry Division to occupy Carigara while the 24th Division secured the coastal corridor that ran from Carigara to Pinamopoan and then drove south along Highway 2 and occupied Ormoc. A battalion from the 24th Division was to move to the Jaro area and protect the 155-mm. howitzers of the 947th Field Artillery Battalion which was to assist the advance south by covering a trail that ran from Jaro to Ormoc.2
Since the 21st Infantry had encountered virtually no opposition in the vicinity of Panaon Strait and since it was desirable that the regiment rejoin the 24th Division, General Krueger on 30 October had directed General Hodge to relieve the 21st Infantry with one battalion of the 32d Infantry.3 General Irving ordered the 34th Infantry to continue its attack and secure Capoocan. When the town was captured the 19th Infantry was to move into it on 4 November while the 34th Infantry continued the drive west and secured Pinamopoan.4
The Coastal Corridor
Capoocan and Pinamopoan
At 0700 on 3 November the 34th Infantry moved west from its perimeter at Balaud in a column of battalions, with the 1st Battalion, under Colonel Clifford, in the lead. The 1st Battalion entered Capoocan at 0755 and within ten minutes had secured the town.5
At 0830 the battalion moved out and continued west along the coastal road to Pinamopoan.
Battle for Northern Entrance to Ormoc Valley
3-15 November 1944
After an advance of about 1,000 yards, Company B, the point, encountered an enemy force, estimated at about 100 men, entrenched on the west bank of a stream. The column halted and placed mortar fire on the Japanese but failed to dislodge them. The company then withdrew while the howitzers of the 63d Field Artillery Battalion pounded the enemy position.
In the meantime a platoon of Company B moved south to secure a ridge which paralleled the road. When the platoon located some Japanese dug in on the reverse slope Colonel Clifford sent Company A to its assistance. The guides took Company A over the wrong trail and the troops ran into the strong enemy entrenchments well concealed by underbrush on the western bank of the stream. Company A launched a frontal assault, but after the first platoon had passed the hidden positions the Japanese opened fire and forced the company to withdraw. Colonel Clifford rushed Company C to the assistance of Company A, ordering it to deploy around the left flank of Company A and onto the next ridge. The platoon from Company B returned to its morning position.
Companies A and C then started against the Japanese emplacements on the opposite bank of the stream.6 The leader of the advance squad of Company A was killed and Sgt. Charles E. Mower assumed command. As he started to lead his men across the stream, Sergeant Mower was severely wounded. From his exposed position in the middle of the stream he directed his squad in the destruction of two enemy machine guns and numerous riflemen, but he was killed when the Japanese turned their fire against him. Sergeant Mower was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor.
At 1530 Colonel Clifford withdrew Company A. After the 63d Field Artillery Battalion had blasted the ridge parallel to the road, Company B attacked, while Company C made its envelopment around the south flank and destroyed the Japanese pocket of resistance. At 1800 the 1st Battalion formed its night perimeter.7
Earlier, at 1430, Company K had made a reconnaissance in amphibian tractors from Capoocan to a point just west of Pinamopoan. Since it encountered heavy enemy fire, the company withdrew and returned to Capoocan.8
During the night the 11th and 63d Field Artillery Battalions massed their fires and laid interdiction fire up and down the highway. Under cover of darkness, the Japanese force opposing the 1st Battalion withdrew. On the following morning patrols sent out by the 1st Battalion scouted 1,000 yards to the front but encountered no enemy. The battalion therefore moved out at 0730 to Colasian where it set up a defensive position. The 2d and 3d Battalions then passed through the 1st. The 2d Battalion entered Pinamopoan and dug in, while the 3d passed through the town and continued west along the highway 1,700 yards. There it set up a defensive position just short of a ridge of hills that was later to be known as Breakneck Ridge.9 Between Capoocan and Pinamopoan the Japanese had abandoned three 75-mm., one 40-mm., and five 37-mm. guns, together with ammunition dumps, signal equipment, and many documents. The 34th Infantry found some land mines on the road and destroyed them. Since the regiment had quickly secured the coastal
corridor and had started to move down Highway 2, the X Corps was now in a position from which it could drive south.
Defense of the Coastal Corridor
Some elements of the 26th Division had arrived on Leyte during the naval battle, and on 1 November most of the 1st Division and the 12th Independent Infantry Regiment of the 26th Division landed at Ormoc. The 1st Division, which had been activated in Tokyo, had served in Manchuria during the "China Incident" and had been transferred to Shanghai in August 1944. Though it had no combat experience, this division was considered by General Tomochika to be the best equipped division of the Japanese Army. Under the command of Lt. Gen. Tadasu Kataoka, it had been held in reserve by Imperial General Headquarters for the decisive battle, and it was sent to Manila with great expectations.10
The arrival of these troops was in accord with a plan devised after the Battle of Leyte Gulf. The 102d Division, coming from Panay, and the 1st and 26th Divisions, sailing from Luzon, were to land at Ormoc. General Suzuki planned to have these troops move north along the Ormoc-Limon road (Highway 2) through Ormoc Valley, from which they were to diverge in three columns and capture the Carigara-Jaro road. After seizing the road, the Japanese troops were to advance east and destroy the American forces in the area between Tacloban and Tanauan. After the 1st Division had secured Carigara, the 68th Brigade was to land in the north as 35th Army reserve. At the same time the 30th Division was to land at Albuera on Ormoc Bay and advance over mountainous trails to Burauen and later neutralize all resistance in the Dulag area.11
When General Suzuki received information that the Americans had secured Carigara, he realized that it would be impossible to drive toward San Pedro Bay with the Americans on his left flank. He believed, however, that the reinforced 1st Division could easily wipe out the American forces in the Carigara area. On 3 November he ordered the 1st Division to speed up its passage through Ormoc Valley and the 102d Division to consolidate its forces with those of the 1st Division for an all-out attack to annihilate the American troops near Carigara. The 26th Division was to advance on Jaro.12 No alternative to this plan had been prepared in case the projected operations were not successful.13 On 3 November, American aircraft struck at the 1st Division as it moved up Ormoc Valley in a ten-mile-long convoy of trucks, tanks, and artillery. They destroyed about thirty trucks and left two tanks burning. The aircraft received heavy and accurate ground antiaircraft fire, and two of the planes were shot down by the Japanese.14
The lack of defense at Carigara had come as a surprise to General Krueger, since the Americans had observed the Japanese reinforcing the area. General Suzuki had cleverly concealed from the Americans his strength and intentions and thus had gained time for a withdrawal by a "very successful" delaying action.15 At the same time, the 57th Infantry Regiment of the 1st Division had been able to move north through Ormoc Valley and establish itself in the northern mountains surrounding Highway 2.
The bringing in of reinforcements by the Japanese brought into sharp focus the lack of American aerial strength on Leyte. Although the Fifth Air Force had numerous aircraft in the rear areas, these could not be brought forward because of the very poor condition of the available airstrips. The few aircraft based on Leyte could not prevent the flow of additional enemy forces into the island or give direct support to the ground troops of Sixth Army.
Since the Japanese had been able to send without difficulty about 13,500 troops into the Ormoc area, General Krueger recognized that they were capable also of landing troops on the shores of Carigara Bay. This landing, if successful, would isolate the American forces in the Carigara area. To meet this threat, several courses of action were open to General Krueger: he could devote the full energy of the X Corps to preparing a defense against a sea force attack; he could disregard the threat and have the X Corps push vigorously south and secure a position on ground south of Limon, which was about two and a half miles southwest of Pinamopoan, before the Japanese could build defensive positions; or, finally, he could advance south with some elements, leaving others to guard the Carigara area.
If the Japanese Navy and amphibious assault forces entered Carigara Bay, the possibilities for effective countermeasures were not very promising. The escort carriers of the Seventh Fleet, greatly weakened by the Battle of Leyte Gulf, could not give support, and it was quite possible that any assistance that could be furnished by the Third Fleet might not arrive in time.
Ranking officers of the Seventh Fleet, however, did not believe it likely that the Japanese would launch an amphibious assault through Carigara Bay. The reasons given were as follows: The Japanese had never made an assault landing against defended beaches in the past; they were short of equipment to make a sustained amphibious assault; and they would be landing in the face of the combined fire of the X Corps artillery which would cover the beachhead area from positions well behind the beaches.16
Although General Krueger realized that the high ground in the Limon area was the key to operations farther south, he decided that the threat to the Carigara area could not be ignored. Since he had insufficient forces to drive south and at the same time to prepare the Carigara area for defense, on 4 November he directed General Sibert to protect the Carigara area from a seaborne attack before the advance to the south was continued. At the same time the X Corps was to send out units to explore for trails that led from Daro, about three miles southwest of Jaro, to Ormoc with the view of emplacing an artillery battalion of 155-mm. guns within effective firing range of Ormoc.17
General Sibert immediately told General Irving to defer until further orders the advance south by the 24th Division. At the same time he directed Generals Irving and Mudge to have their divisions prepare defenses to ward off a seaborne attack against the Barugo-Carigara-Capoocan area. Patrols of the 24th Infantry Division and the 1st Cavalry Division were to maintain contact at the Carigara River.18
General Mudge thereupon ordered the 1st Cavalry Brigade to patrol the Carigara-Jaro road and to protect the movement of supplies and troops along the road. The 2d Cavalry Brigade was to establish two squadrons in the Carigara-Barugo area to protect the seaward approaches to the area, guard the bridge between Barugo and Carigara, and maintain the security of San Juanico Strait. The brigade was to be prepared to reinforce the 24th Division.19
General Irving, also, redisposed his forces. All the field artillery battalions had been at Carigara but, with the issuance of the order to protect the coast of Carigara Bay, the 13th and 52d Field Artillery Battalions moved to Colasian Point on 4 November, while the 63d and 11th took positions east and west of Capoocan.20
On 5 November General Sibert returned the 21st Infantry to the 24th Division and recommended that General Irving send the regiment to Pinamopoan to relieve the battle-weary 34th Infantry.21 By the end of the day the 1st and 3d Battalions, 21st Infantry, had relieved the 34th Infantry and were on the edge of Breakneck Ridge west of Pinamopoan.22
The American aircraft made two strikes at the convoy of the 1st Division as it moved north up Highway 2. The first one at about 1430 destroyed about thirty trucks, several tanks, and an ammunition dump and killed fifty to seventy-five men and thirty to forty horses. The second strike at about 1745 hit trucks loaded with Japanese soldiers who scattered when attacked. All the vehicles were camouflaged with palm leaves.23
By 6 November, since the X Corps had disposed its force to protect the seaward approaches and since the Navy had given assurance that an amphibious assault was unlikely, General Krueger felt that the attack south could be continued. He was anxious to have the Sixth Army drive rapidly down Highway 2 and secure the port of Ormoc, through which the Japanese had reinforced the Leyte garrison. He also wished to guard against the possibility that the Japanese, as more and more of their troops moved up Ormoc Valley, would attempt to debouch into northern Leyte Valley. He therefore directed General Sibert to expend his main effort in the drive south but also to send elements of his force into the mountains east of Ormoc Valley. These units were to seize the mountain passes and secure positions in the Daro area from which the artillery could deliver long-range fire upon Ormoc in support of the advance south. At the same time, elements of the XXIV Corps were to guard the mountain passages into southern Leyte Valley.24
Battle of Breakneck Ridge
The Battle Begins
On 5 November General Sibert instructed the 24th Division to complete the relief of the 34th Infantry and at the same time to push strong, aggressive patrols to the south. The 1st Battalion, 19th Infantry, was to protect a battalion of 155-mm. guns, which was to deliver long-range fire on Ormoc, about fourteen miles to the southwest. The attack south was to begin on 7 November.25
Accordingly, General Irving ordered the 21st Infantry, after the completion of its relief of the 34th Infantry, to reconnoiter Breakneck Ridge to its front on 6 November and on the following day to launch its drive south. A battalion of the 19th Infantry was to move to Pinamopoan and protect the line of communications of the 21st Infantry as the attack progressed. The rest of the 19th Infantry was to move to the mountains in the vicinity of Daro and Jaro to protect the 226th Field Artillery Battalion and secure the mountain passes that led into Leyte Valley.26
The 21st Infantry relieved the 34th Infantry in the vicinity of Pinamopoan without difficulty and sent out strong patrols to Breakneck Ridge. One of these patrols was led by Lt. Col. Frederick R. Weber, the regimental commander.
Breakneck Ridge, over which Highway 2 corkscrewed its way between Pinamopoan and Limon for about 7,200 yards, was actually a hill mass with many spurs branching off from an irregularly shaped crest line toward the shores of Carrigara Bay to the north and the Levte River valley to the south. Shoulder-high cogon grass was thick on the low ground, and the pockets between the hills were heavily forested. The valleys were deep, with precipitous sides. The 1st Division had heavily fortified the area, taking advantage of the innumerable thickly wooded pockets that served as natural forts. The Japanese had also built an elaborate system of trenches and other defensive positions and had honeycombed the area with spider holes. Many of the latter were on reverse slopes some distance below the crests and were protected from direct fire. In front of each spider hole the enemy had cut fire lanes through the cogon grass, which was left so short that even a crawling soldier would be exposed to fire. The constant rainfall made the hills slippery and treacherous, and, more important, provided a protective curtain in the day and covered movements of the enemy at night.27
On 5 November, before the relief of the 34th Infantry, Maj. Kemuel K. Blacker, leading an artillery forward observer's party from the 32d Field Artillery Battalion and a patrol from the 34th Infantry, had reconnoitered far forward on Breakneck Ridge to the top of a knoll, later called OP Hill, which was some 2,500 yards west of Pinamopoan, and was directing fire from that point.28 The party was attacked by a group of about platoon strength from the 57th Infantry Regiment and took refuge in an abandoned position. At 1230 Colonel Weber ordered the 3d Battalion, 21st Infantry, to move out to the party's assistance. Company K, on the right side of the highway, was able to secure the northern approaches
to the hill and rescue the observation party, though it ran into heavy machine gun and rifle fire. In the meantime Company I moved to the left and against stiff resistance secured a ridge later known as Corkscrew Ridge, which was about 1,200 yards southeast of OP Hill and which formed the southeastern spur of Breakneck Ridge. Since both companies needed more ammunition, vehicles with the required supply were sent up along the road. After hidden Japanese riflemen had punctured the tires, the vehicles withdrew and the ammunition was carried up by hand. A platoon of riflemen from Company I cleared out the enemy position but received mortar fire from an unknown source.29
Both companies were so far in advance of the rest of the 21st Infantry that only limited supplies of ammunition and rations could reach them. As the afternoon hours wore on, the pressure from the 57th Infantry increased but the companies dug in and held their positions. During the night they repulsed three counterattacks of about fifty men each.30 On the following morning the 57th Infantry placed mortar fire upon the companies,31 augmented at first by fire from one artillery piece and later by fire from a four-gun battery.32 The intensity of this fire forced the companies to withdraw from their position and rejoin the rest of the 3d Battalion on the beach near Colasian.33
During the day the 1st Battalion tried unsuccessfully to secure positions to support the attack through Breakneck Ridge. At the close of 6 November the 57th Infantry of the 1st Division securely occupied Breakneck Ridge and its northern approaches. For the assault the following day, General Irving attached the 3d Battalion, 19th Infantry, to the 21st Infantry. The 3d Battalion, 21st Infantry, had reorganized about 2,000 yards east of Pinamopoan. The 1st Battalion was on the regiment's right, the 2d Battalion was in the center astride the highway, and the 3d Battalion, 19th Infantry, was on the 21st Infantry's left.34
The 2d Battalion, 21st Infantry, was the object of a night attack that started at 2000 and lasted for two hours. The enemy used mortars and grenades against the battalion but was unable to penetrate its perimeter.35 Colonel Weber ordered the 21st Infantry to be prepared to move out at 0800 on 7 November. The assault was to be made in column of battalions, the 2d Battalion in the lead, with a spur of Breakneck Ridge as the initial objective. This spur or branch ridge extended east and west across the road 400 yards south of the front line. General Irving ordered the 52d Field Artillery Battalion to mass its fire immediately in front of the troops for fifteen minutes just before they jumped off and then to shift its fire to the ridge. Attached to the 2d Battalion for support were a platoon from the 44th Tank Company, a company from the 85th Chemical Battalion, and a company from the 632d Tank Destroyer Battalion.36
At 0940 the 308th Bombardment Wing bombed the headquarters of General Suzuki at Ormoc and strafed the highway near by. Ormoc had also been under constant fire from the battalion of 155-mm. guns in Jaro, at a range of 25,000 yards. Only a
few houses were left standing after the bombardment was completed.37
The troops moved out as scheduled. Company E, on the west of the road, reached the branch ridge at 0915 and came under fire from enemy automatic weapons on the right. Company G ran into about 200 men from the 3d Battalion, 57th Infantry Regiment. They were well entrenched at a bend of the road on the forward slope of the high ground, and Colonel Weber had the self-propelled guns of the tank destroyer battalion brought forward. These fired into the pocket, and although they killed the commander of the 3d Battalion the unit held fast.38 Weber then called two tanks forward, but as they moved along the road a Japanese soldier jumped out of the high cogon grass and disabled one of the tanks by planting a magnetic mine against it. The other tank then withdrew.39
General Sibert was dissatisfied with the progress of the 21st Infantry and felt that Colonel Weber was not sufficiently aggressive. Accompanied by his G-2, Col. William J. Verbeck, he visited the command post of Colonel Weber at noon. Dispensing with the usual command channels and in the presence of General Irving, he relieved Colonel Weber and made Colonel Verbeck the commanding officer of the 21st Infantry. Colonel Weber was retained in the regiment as its executive officer.40
Colonel Verbeck ordered Company L, in support of the 2d Battalion, to make a wide flanking movement to the east and secure the ridge which had been denied to Company G. The company moved out at 1630 but was unsuccessful. As it withdrew it made contact with Company F which had successfully pushed forward but because of an unexplained misunderstanding of orders had withdrawn.41 Night perimeters were established on the edge of Breakneck Ridge.
On the same day Colonel Chapman, commander of the 19th Infantry, ordered his 2d Battalion to send a reinforced rifle company to Hill 1525 about 2,600 yards southeast of Limon, seize this ground, and, in support of the advance south by the 21st Infantry, direct artillery fire on Highway 2. Company G, 19th Infantry, moved out on this mission with only two thirds of a ration per man, since its kitchens were still in the Jaro area. The guides with Company G lost their way, and the company set up a night perimeter after a patrol had located a strong enemy position on a ridge west of its course. The company position was thought to be in the vicinity of Hill 1525, but it was actually far east of the hill.42
As the 2d Battalion, 21st Infantry, had failed to secure the ridge 400 yards to its front, Colonel Verbeck that night ordered the battalion, with Company L attached, to continue the attack toward the ridge after an artillery barrage on the following morning. The 1st Battalion was to secure Hill 1525, establish contact with the 2d Battalion, 19th Infantry, and from the hill envelop the southern flank of the 1st Division.43
On the morning of 8 November a typhoon, moving in from the west, swept
ENGINEERS REMOVE LAND MINES from a bridge on Breakneck Ridge.
over the entire island. Jan Valtin, a member of the 24th Division, graphically describes it: "From the angry immensity of the heavens floods raced in almost horizontal sheets. Palms bent low under the storm, their fronds flattened like streamers of wet silk. Trees crashed to earth. In the expanse of . . . [cogon] grass the howling of the wind was like a thousand-fold plaint of the unburied dead. The trickle of supplies was at a standstill. On Carigara Bay the obscured headlands moaned under the onslaught of the . . . seas. Planes were grounded and ships became haunted things looking for refuge. Massed artillery . . . barrages to the summit of Breakneck Ridge sounded dim and hollow in the tempest. Trails were obliterated by the rain. The sky was black."44 In the midst of the storm, the infantry attacked.
The 2d Battalion, 21st Infantry, effectively used flame throwers to drive the enemy troops out of spider holes and caves.45 Although shelled by sporadic artillery fire, the battalion continued to advance. Strong elements of the 57th Infantry hotly contested the American assault. Meanwhile Company E pushed farther along the road until it was halted at the site of a bridge which had been destroyed by the enemy. The Japanese had flanked the site with emplacements from which rifle, automatic weapons, and mortar fire resisted the frontal attack of
the company.46 At nightfall Company E fell back to its morning position. The 57th Infantry continued to make a determined stand against the 2d Battalion. Concealed Japanese riflemen fired continuously on the front, flanks, and rear of all positions and small enemy detachments infiltrated through the lines. In concert with the attack of the 2d Battalion, the 1st Battalion had moved out that morning toward Hill 1525. Since the maps were grossly inaccurate, the precise location of the hill was unknown, but the battalion reported that it had reached the southern slope of the hill at 1600 and was digging in under automatic weapons fire. At 0700 the 2d Battalion, 19th Infantry, under Colonel Spragins, moved out through a driving rain and over precipitous trails to join the battalion's Company G. During the day Company G drove the enemy off the ridge where the company's advance had been halted the previous afternoon. In their flight the Japanese abandoned much equipment, most of which was new. Of more importance, a significant field order of the 1st Division was found on the body of a Japanese officer.
When the consolidation of the battalion was made, Colonel Spragins determined that he was east of Hill 1525 as shown on the maps. Although the battalion was in a position to observe Leyte Valley, it would have to move westward in order to get a view of Ormoc Valley. At 1530 Colonel Spragins therefore sent Company E to occupy a ridge 1,000 yards to the west. The battalion then dug in for the night.47 On the following morning General Irving placed the battalion under the operational control of the 21st Infantry.
Immediately in front of the 21st Infantry was a Japanese force estimated to be of battalion strength. To the east was an undetermined number of enemy machine guns. In front of Company E a bridge was out and tanks could not pass. On the steep sides of the gulch around this bridge site, elements of the 57th Infantry with rifles, automatic weapons, and mortars stopped all attempts of Company E to move forward.48
Through the night torrential rains fell. At dawn of 9 November two begrimed, soaked, and weary battalions of the 21st Infantry jumped off to the attack, the 2d Battalion, less Company F, on the west side of the road and the 3d Battalion on the east. Heavy artillery preparations had already pounded the Japanese front lines. As the attack progressed, mortars and artillery placed fires on targets of opportunity. In destroying pockets of resistance in the gulch, grenades, rifles, and flame throwers were used, together with heavy machine guns.
At 0930 Company I, 21st Infantry, reached the crest of the intermediate ridge on the east side of the road which ran southward toward the center of Breakneck Ridge. An hour later Company E, 21st Infantry, moved out from the perimeter it had held for two days. Its mission was to cut west of the road and secure the commanding high ground in the rear of the emplaced Japanese at the bridge site where the advance of the company had been stopped on the previous day. At the same time Company L, 21st Infantry, passed through Company I and attacked the center of Breakneck Ridge as Company G started a wide envelopment to the west from Company E's position to assault OP Hill from the west. Artillery forward observer parties went with the companies
and called artillery fires on targets of opportunity.
At 1150 Company L encountered determined opposition from enemy rifle and mortar fire but doggedly pushed ahead for several hours and secured the top of the ridge. Company G reached its objective, but upon receiving intense enemy fire was forced to retire to the eastern slopes of a ridge 300 yards to the north, where it reorganized. Company E also reached its objective and then formed its night perimeter. At 1815 the Japanese launched a counterattack against the perimeter of Company G but the attack was repulsed. For the night a platoon of heavy machine guns was attached to each rifle company to protect its perimeter.
Since the position of the 2d Battalion, 19th Infantry, had by this time become clear, Colonel Verbeck ordered the battalion to move from the east and to relieve the 1st Battalion, 21st Infantry, on Hill 1525. One company was to be established on a ridge overlooking Highway 2 while the remainder of the battalion was to block the trail that passed Hill 1525.49 The 1st Battalion, 21st Infantry, was to push westward from its position on Hill 1525 and cut the Ormoc road some 1,800 yards south of Limon in order to forestall the escape of Japanese troops from Breakneck Ridge. Company A was to remain on the hill and hold it until the 2d Battalion, 19th Infantry, arrived.
The 1st Battalion, less Company A, jumped off at 0730. After it had advanced about one and a half miles and was within sight of Highway 2, the battalion was halted by heavy enemy fire from the front and both flanks. It renewed the attack and informed Colonel Verbeck that it was moving slowly northwest and was less than a mile from Limon. In the meantime the enemy attacked Company A on Hill 1525, and the company was able to maintain its position with difficulty. Because of this fight and the fact that no contact had been established with the 2d Battalion, 19th Infantry, Colonel Verbeck ordered the battalion to rejoin Company A. The troops therefore returned and took part in the fight to repel the Japanese. The 1st Battalion withstood the enemy force until 1400, when an estimated battalion of fresh troops from the 57th Infantry was thrown into the fight.50 The Americans then broke off the engagement, and the battalion, covered by Company A, withdrew from Hill 1525 to the vicinity of Pinamopoan.51
Information that the 1st Battalion, 21st Infantry, was being attacked on Hill 1525 reached the 2d Battalion, 19th Infantry, shortly after noon as it was on its way to relieve the 1st Battalion. Colonel Spragins pushed forward immediately with two companies, hoping to reach the 1st Battalion by 1500, but progress was slowed by steep, slippery slopes that were often blocked by huge fallen trees. At 1630, without having heard any sounds of battle, which they had hoped would guide them to the 1st Battalion's position, the troops reached what they believed to be the western slopes of Hill 1525. Patrols reported no contact either with friendly or enemy units and the 2d Battalion set up its night perimeter.
"At this time," states the 24th Infantry Division operations report on Leyte, "it began to dawn on all concerned that Hill 1525, as shown on the map, was not a single hill mass, but a long ridge of many knolls and hilltops."52
VIEW FROM THE RIDGES LOOKING NORTH UP THE LIMON VALLEY
Breakneck Ridge: Second Phase
On 9 November the Japanese 26th Division arrived at Ormoc in three large transports with a destroyer escort. The troops landed without their equipment and ammunition, since aircraft from the Fifth Air Force bombed the convoy and forced it to depart before the unloading was completed. During the convoy's return, some of the Japanese vessels were destroyed by the American aircraft.53
The arrival of these troops was in accord with a plan embodied in the order which had been taken from the dead Japanese officer on the previous day. This plan envisaged a grand offensive which was to start in the middle of November. The 41st Infantry Regiment of the 30th Division and the 169th and 171st Independent Infantry Battalions of the 102d Division were to secure a line that ran from a hill 3,500 yards northwest of Jaro to a point just south of Pinamopoan and protect the movement of the 1st Division to this line. With the arrival of the 1st Division on this defensive line, a coordinated attack was to be launched--the 1st Division seizing the Carigara area and the 41st Infantry Regiment and the 26th Division attacking the Mt. Mamban area about ten miles southeast of Limon. The way would then be open for a drive into Leyte Valley.54
General Krueger was quick to realize the significance of this order. Since General Suzuki apparently wished to make the mountains of northern Leyte the battleground for
the island, Krueger disposed his forces to meet the enemy threat. The X Corps was to continue its drive south down Highway 2 but at the same time was to dispose units in the central mountain range to protect the exits from Ormoc Valley into Leyte Valley. The XXIV Corps was to send a reinforced regiment into the hills northwest of Dagami to prevent any Japanese from infiltrating into Leyte Valley, and the corps was also to be prepared to assist elements of the X Corps that guarded the trail running from Daro to Dolores, a village about six miles northeast of Ormoc. A regiment of the XXIV Corps was to be placed in Sixth Army Reserve at Dagami, where the central mountain range began.55
General Sibert then ordered the 24th Division to continue its attack south. The 112th Cavalry Regimental Combat Team, under Brig. Gen. Julian W. Cunningham, which was expected to arrive on 14 November, was to relieve elements of the 1st Cavalry Division that guarded the beaches in the Carigara-Barugo area. The 1st Cavalry Division was then to drive southwest from the central mountains and relieve some of the pressure against the 24th Division.56
General Hodge at the same time ordered the 96th Division to seize the high ground between Jaro and Dagami, secure all routes of exit from the west coast through the central mountain range, and send patrols through the passes to the west coast of Leyte. The division was also ordered to maintain in the vicinity of Dagami one infantry regiment in Sixth Army Reserve. At the same time elements of the 7th Division had reached the shores of Ormoc Bay in the vicinity of Baybay and were ordered to send patrols toward Ormoc and to prepare the route for a future advance in strength.57
If the attention of the Japanese could be fastened upon the X Corps in the north and northeast, it might be possible for General Krueger to put into effect his plan to send a strong force from the XXIV Corps over the mountains far to the south along the Abuyog--Baybay road to the eastern shores of Ormoc Bay in order to reinforce elements of the 7th Division already there. This force was to drive north toward Ormoc while elements of the X Corps pushed south toward the town along Highway 2. It might even be possible later to land an amphibious force, perhaps as large as a division, at a point just below Ormoc. But first it was all-important that the Japanese be contained in Ormoc Valley and that their attention continue to be directed to the north.58
On 9 November General Irving ordered the 24th Division to launch a co-ordinated assault on the following day to drive the 1st Division from Breakneck Ridge and also deny it commanding ground from which the Japanese could conduct delaying actions just south of the barrio of Limon. (See Map 11.) The 21st Infantry was to drive south along Highway 2 and the 2d Battalion, 19th Infantry, was to proceed west from its position on the east flank of the enemy and establish a roadblock on Highway 2 about 2,000 yards south of Limon. The 1st Battalion, 34th Infantry, was to make a wide enveloping movement around the west flank of the 57th Infantry and seize the high ground known as Kilay Ridge which was about 700 yards from Highway 2 and west of the proposed roadblock of the 2d Battalion, 19th Infantry. General Irving announced: "Success of the Leyte Campaign
depends upon quickly and completely destroying hostile forces on our front."59
By the morning of 10 November the 1st Battalion, 21st Infantry, had reorganized and re-equipped itself. The 2d and 3d Battalions of the regiment were disposed along a ridge southwest of Pinamopoan. The companies of the two battalions were intermingled.60
The rains continued to pour down upon the troops, and the thick mud was slippery and treacherous underfoot. After the artillery had fired a ten-minute concentration on Breakneck Ridge, the 21st Infantry attacked at 0945. Company A, the lead company, passed through Company E and pushed south. At 0955 Company G seized OP Hill. Simultaneously, Company I moved to the site of the destroyed bridge 300 yards east of OP Hill. Company L moved toward the high ground 300 yards southeast of its position and at 1120 secured this ground.
Colonel Verbeck then ordered the 1st Battalion to attack a ridge 200 yards to its front by maneuvering through the defiles on each side of the enemy-held spur. The maneuver was unsuccessful and the 1st Battalion resumed its former position.61 The Japanese resisted all efforts of the 2d Battalion to move down the reverse slope of OP Hill.62 During the day the 1st Battalion, 34th Infantry, and the 2d Battalion, 19th Infantry, moved out to secure the commanding positions south of Limon.63
The ten guns of the 2d Battalion, 1st Artillery Regiment of the 1st Division, were moved to a position east of Limon where they could be used to assist the 57th Infantry Regiment.64 During the night of 10-11 November the 57th Infantry severed the telephone lines from the headquarters of the 21st Infantry to all of the regiment's battalions.
That night the American artillery fired heavy interdiction fires, and before 0900 on 11 November it delivered preparations, including white phosphorus shells, on enemy pockets and strong points on Breakneck Ridge. Company C of the 85th Chemical Battalion maintained constant harassing fires on the reverse slopes of the east ridge and OP Hill, at the rate of approximately two 4.2-inch mortar rounds every five minutes.65 Colonel Verbeck attached Company L to the 2d Battalion.
The 21st Infantry resumed the attack at 0900 with the 1st and 2d Battalions abreast, the 1st Battalion to the north of OP Hill and the 2d Battalion south and west of the parts of Breakneck Ridge previously captured.
Strong elements of the 57th Infantry from the south and from positions in the wooded ridges east of Corkscrew Ridge immediately fired upon the 2d Battalion and pinned it down for the rest of the day. The 1st Battalion encountered little opposition until it reached a point about 300 yards south of the crest of Breakneck Ridge, where the Japanese strongly resisted. The troops then moved west of the enemy left flank about 200 yards to enable the tanks from Company A, 44th Tank Battalion, to make an attack against the main position of the 57th Infantry on Breakneck Ridge.66
The tanks proceeded along Highway 2 up Breakneck Ridge and down its reverse slope. They destroyed an estimated twenty-five enemy positions which contained automatic
weapons. One tank got stuck when it went off the edge of the road. As darkness approached, its crew was rescued by another tank which then put a 75-mm. shell into the stalled vehicle to prevent its use by the Japanese.67
At 1600 the 308th Bombardment Wing dropped twenty-eight 500-pound bombs on the Valencia airfield in the middle of Ormoc Valley and twenty-four 500-pound bombs on a Highway 2 bridge in the vicinity of the airfield.68
At nightfall the 1st Battalion had secured its objective, a ridge 300 yards to the southwest of OP Hill, and all positions were consolidated. During the night the 226th and 465th Field Artillery Battalions placed harassing fire on the enemy positions. In order to shake the morale of the Japanese, the artillery fired its rounds at exact five-minute intervals but scattered the fire throughout the enemy-held area.69
On the morning of 12 November the 3d Battalion, supported by six tanks and a platoon from the 632d Tank Destroyer Battalion, moved out along the road skirting the crest of Breakneck Ridge. By 1115 it had passed over the crest and was moving down the reverse slope. After the 3d Battalion crossed the hill, the 1st Battalion attacked on the right of the road with the mission of enveloping the Japanese left (north) flank.70 There was little resistance, and soon after 1200 the crest of Breakneck Ridge was in the hands of the 21st Infantry. But shortly afterward the 2d Field Artillery Battalion of the 1st Division shelled the regiment and stopped all forward advance.71
On 13 November the 1st and 2d Battalions took up the fight, with machine guns from the vicinity of OP Hill firing in support. The 1st and 2d Battalions advanced 600 and 400 yards, respectively. By 14 November it appeared to General Irving that the 21st Infantry had eliminated nearly all resistance on Breakneck Ridge. The regiment controlled the ridge proper, but several adjacent spurs, notably Corkscrew Ridge, were still controlled by the 57th Infantry. On 15 November the 1st Battalion, the most advanced unit, was about 1,500 yards north of Limon. On 16 November the 128th Infantry of the 32d Division relieved the 21st Infantry. The battle of Breakneck Ridge had not been an easy one for the 21st Infantry; it had lost 630 men killed, wounded, and missing, together with 135 men from other causes. By actual count it had killed 1,779 Japanese.72
1. Sixth Army FO 28, 3 Nov 44.
2. X Corps FO 6, 3 Nov 44.
3. Sixth Army FO 27, 30 Oct 44.
4. 24th Div FO 5, 2 Nov 44.
5. 1st Bn, 34th Inf, Unit Jnl, 3 Nov 44.
6. 1st Bn, 34th Inf, Unit Jnl, 3 Nov 44.
7. 1st Bn, 34th Inf, Unit Jnl, 3 Nov 44.
8. 24th Div Opns Rpt Leyte, pp. 39-40.
9. Ibid., p. 40.
10. Tomochika, True Facts of Leyte Opn, p. 18.
11. 10th I&HS, Eighth Army, Stf Study of Opns of Japanese 35th Army on Leyte, Part I, p. 5.
12. Ibid., Part I, pp. 5-6.
13. Ibid., Part IV, p. 2, interrog of Col Junkichi Okabayashi, CofS 1st Div. Colonel Okabayashi makes the following statement about Japanese planning: "It is not the ordinary practice in the Japanese Army for higher headquarters to provide unit commanders with alternate plans. When conferences are held between unit commanders and the staff of higher headquarters, all possible alternatives are, of course, discussed. At any rate, unit commanders are invariably oriented with the general plan of higher headquarters. In the event an original order cannot be carried out because of the changing battle situation, the responsibility for making changes in plans devolves upon the commander of the unit concerned."
14. Rpt of Sixth Army G-3 Liaison Sec, 3 Nov 44. Sixth Army G-3 Jnl, 3 Nov 44.
15. Sixth Army Opns Rpt Leyte, p. 38.
16. Memo, Maj Reppert for Col Clyde D. Eddleman, Rpt of Conf with Rear Adm William M. Fechteler, 5 Nov 44, Sixth Army G-3 Jnl, 5 Nov 44.
17. Ltr of Instns, CG Sixth Army to CG X Corps, 4 Nov 44, Sixth Army Opns Rpt Leyte, p. 199.
18. Ltr, CG X Corps to CG's 24th Div and 1st Cav Div, 4 Nov 44; X Corps G-3 Jnl, 5 Nov 44.
19. 1st Cav Div FO 7, 4 Nov 44.
20. 24th Div Opns Rpt Leyte, p. 103.
21. X Corps Opn Plan, 5 Nov 44, Sixth Army G-3 Jnl, 5 Nov 44.
22. 24th Div Opns Sum, 5 Nov 44, X Corps G-3 Jnl, 5 Nov 44.
23. Msg, G-2 X Corps to G-3 Sixth Army, 5 Nov 44, Sixth Army G-3 Jnl, 6 Nov 44.
24. Sixth Army FO 29, Nov 44.
25. X Corps Amendment to FO 6, 5 Nov 44.
26. 24th Div FO 7, 5 Nov 44.
27. Col William J. Verbeck, A Regiment in Action (n.p., n.d., copy in OCMH), p. 16; 24th Div Opns Rpt Leyte, p. 42.
28. 24th Div Opns Rpt Leyte, p. 42.
29. 24th Div G-3 Jnl, 5 Nov 44.
30. 24th Div G-2 Jnl, 6 Nov 44.
31. Rad, Maj Clark, X Corps, to G-2 Sixth Army, BA 669, Sixth Army G-3 Jnl, 6 Nov 44.
32. Msg, S-2 21st Inf to CG 24th Div, 6 Nov 44, 24th Div G-2 Jnl, 6 Nov 44.
33. 24th Div Opns Rpt Leyte, p. 42.
34. Sixth Army G-3 Jnl, 7 Nov 44.
35. Msg, S-2 21st Inf to G-2 24th Div, 7 Nov 44, 24th Div G-2 Jnl, 7 Nov 44.
36. 21st Inf FO 19, 7 Nov 44, 24th Div G-3 Jnl, 8 Nov 44.
37. Msg, 308th Bombardment Wing to Sixth Army, 7 Nov 44, Sixth Army G-3 Jnl, 7 Nov 44.
38. Msg, CO 21st Inf to CG 24th Div, 7 Nov 44, 24th Div G-3 Jnl, 7 Nov 44; 35th Army Opns, p. 57.
39. Msg, S-3 21st Inf to GG 24th Div, 7 Nov 44, 24th Div G-2 Jnl, 7 Nov 44.
40. Interv with Col Verbeck, 26 Sep 51. Colonel Verbeck stated that for the remainder of the campaign Colonel Weber was an excellent and loyal executive officer.
41. Msg, S-3 21st Inf to G-3 24th Div, 7 Nov 44, 24th Div G-3 Jnl, 7 Nov 44; 24th Div Opns Rpt Leyte, p. 43.
42. 24th Div Opns Rpt Leyte, p. 43.
43. 24th Div G-3 Jnl, 7 Nov 44.
44. Jan Valtin [Richard J. Krebs], Children of Yesterday (New York, The Readers Press, Inc., 1946), p. 187.
45. 24th Div G-3 Jnl, 8 Nov 44.
46. 24th Div G-2 Periodic Rpt 20, 8 Nov 44.
47. 24th Div Opns Rpt Leyte, p. 45.
48. Msg, CO 21st Inf to CofS 24th Div, 8 Nov 44, 24th Div G-2 Jnl, 8 Nov 44.
49. Msg, G-3 24th Div to G-2 24th Div, 9 Nov 44, 24th Div G-2 Jnl, 9 Nov 44.
50. 24th Div G-3 Periodic Rpt 21, 9 Nov 44.
51. 24th Div Opns Rpt Leyte, p. 47.
52. Ibid., p. 48.
53. 35th Army Opns, p. 59.
54. Ibid.; Sixth Army Opns Rpt Leyte, p. 50; Sixth Army G-3 Jnl, 9 Nov 44.
55. Sixth Army FO 30, 11 Nov 44.
56. X Corps FO 12, 12 Nov 44.
57. XXIV Corps FO 23, 10 Nov 44.
58. Sixth Army Opns Rpt Leyte, p. 57.
59. 24th Div FO 8, 9 Nov 44.
60. 24th Div G-3 Periodic Rpt 22, 10 Nov 44.
61. 24th Div Opns Rpt Leyte, p. 49.
62. 24th Div G-2 Jnl, 10 Nov 44.
63. Ibid., pp. 53, 61.
64. 35th Army Opns, p. 60.
65. 24th Div Opns Rpt Leyte, p. 49.
66. 24th Div G-3 Jnl, 11 Nov 44.
67. 24th Div Opns Rpt Leyte, p. 50; 44th Tank Bn Opns Rpt Leyte, p. 2.
68. Msg, 308th Bombardment Wing to Sixth Army, 11 Nov 44, Sixth Army G-3 Jnl, 11 Nov 44.
69. X Corps Arty S-3 Periodic Rpt 22, 12 Nov 44.
70. 24th Div G-3 Jnl, 12 Nov 44; 24th Div Opns Rpt Leyte, p. 50.
71. 24th Div G-3 Periodic Rpt 24, 12 Nov 44; 35th Army Opns, p. 62.
72. 24th Div Opns Rpt Leyte, p. 51.