Southern Leyte Valley: Part One
The SHÕ Operations
In their preliminary planning, the Japanese considered that the defense of Leyte would be only a delaying action. The defenders were to inflict as many casualties as possible upon the invaders and also to prevent them from using the Leyte airfields, but the decisive battle for the Philippines would be fought on Luzon. As late as 10 October the chief of staff of the 35th Army received the following order from Manila: "Depending on conditions the 35th Army will prepare to dispatch as large a force to LUZON ISLAND as possible."1
On 21 October, after receiving news of the American landings, General Yamashita activated SHÕ ICHI GO (Victory Operation Number One). He made it clear that the Japanese Army, in co-operation with "the total force of the Air Force and Navy," was to make a major effort on Leyte and destroy the American forces on the island. The 35th Army was to concentrate its forces there. The 1st and 26th Divisions, the 68th Brigade, and an artillery unit from the 14th Area Army would be sent to augment the 35th Army troops. At the same time General Suzuki received information that the Japanese Air Force and Navy would engage in "decisive" battles in support. "The morale of the 35th Army rose as a result."
The Japanese thought that only two American divisions had landed on Leyte, and that if the 1st, 16th, 30th, and 102d Divisions engaged the Americans, a decisive victory would be theirs. General Suzuki decided to send forward the following reinforcements to Leyte: the main force of the 30th Division, only three battalions of which would remain in Mindanao; three infantry battalions of the 102d Division; and one independent infantry battalion each from the 55th and 57th Independent Mixed Brigades. These forces were in addition to the two battalions previously sent on 23 October.
General Suzuki believed that the Americans would attempt to join and strengthen their beachheads in the vicinity of Tacloban and Dulag before they tried to penetrate inland. At the same time, since Catmon Hill and the high ground west of Tacloban Valley were in Japanese hands, the 16th Division should be able to contain the Americans until reinforcements arrived.
He therefore issued orders based upon these assumptions and also upon the assumption that the Japanese air and naval forces would be victorious. The 35th Army was to concentrate its reinforcements in the Carigara area. The principal elements of the 16th Division were to occupy Burauen and Dagami, and the rest of the division would
occupy Catmon Hill and the western plateau of Tacloban. The 16th Division was to protect the concentration of the main force of the 35th Army. The 102d Division was to occupy the Jaro area and give direct protection to the 1st and 26th Divisions and the 68th Brigade. The 30th Division was to land at Ormoc Bay in the Albuera area and then advance to the Burauen area in coordination with the 16th Division and assist the main force of the 35th Army. The 1st Division was to land at Ormoc, the 26th Division and 68th Brigade were to land at Carigara. If the situation were favorable, however, the 68th Brigade was to land in the vicinity of Catmon Hill. After the main elements of the 35th Army had assembled at Carigara and the area southeast of it, they were to move down Leyte Valley and annihilate the American forces in the Tacloban area. All the important airfields, bases, and roads were also in the valley.
The part of Leyte Valley where the Americans hoped air and supply bases could be developed is a broad and level plain inside a quadrangle formed by the main roads linking Tanauan, Dulag, Burauen and Dagami. (Map 5) The region extending ten miles westward from the stretch of coast between Dulag and Tanauan to the foothills of the central range is an alluvial plain, interlaced by many streams, in which swamps and rice paddies predominate. Catmon Hill, about half way between Tanauan and Dulag, was the most prominent terrain feature near the shore line.
Catmon Hill is actually a series of hills with many spurs. This hill mass starts at the mouth of the Labiranan River above San Jose where Labiranan Head meets Highway 1, the coastal road, and extends in a general northwest direction to the vicinity of San Vicente and Pikas where it drops abruptly into the coastal plain. It is covered with cogon grass about six feet high, in the midst of which are found a few trees. The beach areas between the Calbasag River on the south and Tolosa on the north, together with much of southern Leyte Valley, are dominated by this hill mass.2
The 16th Division made use of the caves on Catmon Hill for shelters, artillery positions, and supply dumps, and established well-concealed coconut log pillboxes and observation posts at numerous vantage points on the hills. Some of these pillboxes, with good fields of fire and spider holes, were emplaced in positions to cover the roads.3 A spider hole was dug about five feet deep, sometimes camouflaged with a removable cover, and was large enough to contain a man and his weapon.
The American prelanding naval bombardment destroyed a number of field pieces of the 22d Field Artillery Regiment, which was deployed in position along the first line of defense. The gunfire also disrupted the regiment's radio service, and direct communication with the 35th Army and the 14th Area Army headquarters was temporarily broken.4
After the heavy naval bombardment on A Day and the subsequent landings by American forces in the Dulag area, General Makino moved the command post of the 16th Division to Dagami, a step which made communications very difficult and inadequate. The troops of the division were then disposed as follows: the 20th Infantry Regiment, though considerably diminished in number, was holding Julita, and one of its
LANDING AREAS AND LEYTE VALLEY as seen from a captured Japanese observation post on Catmon Hill.
96th Division Advance
21-30 October 1944
platoons patrolled the Daguitan River banks; the main part of the 9th Infantry Regiment was at Catmon Hill, while one of its battalions occupied Tabontabon.5
At the end of 20 October the Sixth Army was established on the shores of Leyte Gulf. The X Corps was in the north near Palo and Tacloban, and the XXIV Corps was in the vicinity of Dulag, poised for a drive into southern Leyte Valley. General Krueger planned to push rapidly through Leyte Valley and secure its important roads, airfields, and base sites before General Makino could regroup the 16th Division and offer a firm line of resistance.
Enlarging the 96th Division Beachhead
General Krueger had assigned the mission of seizing southern Leyte Valley to the XXIV Corps. The 96th Division was to seize Catmon Hill and its surrounding area, together with the Dagami-Tanauan road. The 7th Division was to proceed along the Dulag-Burauen road, seize the airfields in that area, and then proceed north to Dagami.
General Bradley's scheme of maneuver for the 96th Division specified a movement into the interior from the beachhead area in a northwesterly direction with regiments abreast--the 383d Infantry on the right (north) and the 382d Infantry on the left (south). The 1st Battalion, 383d Infantry, was to capture Labiranan Head and secure Highway 1 as far north as San Roque. The rest of the regiment was to proceed inland, bypass Catmon Hill at first, and then, after artillery, naval bombardment, and air strikes had neutralized it, to capture Catmon Hill and the adjacent high ground.
The 382d Infantry was to proceed inland in a northwesterly direction and seize Anibung, which was erroneously believed to have an airfield. The regiment was then to be ready to advance either to the north or to the west.6
At the end of A Day the assault troops of the 383d Infantry, commanded by Colonel May, were approximately 2,500 yards inland. The forward positions of the 1st Battalion were 400 yards up the sides of the ridge running north from where the troops had crossed the Labiranan River. The 3d Platoon of Company C had established a roadblock at the highway crossing; the 2d Battalion, protecting the regimental southern boundary, had advanced 2,600 yards inland from ORANGE Beach 1; and the 3d Battalion had established a night perimeter 800 yards southwest of the 1st Battalion on the southern bank of the Labiranan River.7
The 382d Infantry, under Colonel Dill, had made a successful landing on A Day. The 2d Battalion, on the right, had pushed inland 2,700 yards, while the 3d Battalion, on the left, had gained 1,300 yards; the 1st Battalion was in reserve. Contact had been established with the 32d Infantry, 7th Division, on the 382d Infantry's left, and with the 383d Infantry on its right.8
During the night of 20-21 October the 361st Field Artillery Battalion fired upon Labiranan Head in support of the 1st Battalion, 383d Infantry.9 In addition naval guns, supporting the 96th Division, fired harassing and interdicting missions against
possible enemy positions and lines of communication.10 At 0810 on 21 October an air strike was registered on Labiranan Head, followed by a three-hour naval and artillery barrage.
The 382d Infantry was to move inland, maintain contact with the 7th Division, and forestall any Japanese attempt to reach the beaches. Concurrently, the 1st Battalion, 383d Infantry, would advance on Catmon Hill from Labiranan Head while the 2d and 3d Battalions of the regiment would swing around the northwest end of Catmon Hill and squeeze the Japanese in a pincers.
At 1130 an assault force commanded by Capt. Hugh D. Young of the 1st Battalion, 383d Infantry, attacked the Japanese position on Labiranan Head. This assault force, a composite company, consisted of a platoon each from A, B, and C Companies, together with the weapons platoon from C Company. The troops moved up the ridge and within ten minutes after starting destroyed one machine gun and drove off the crew of another. Under cover of mortar fire, the Japanese retired to the next ridge.
In co-operation with the advance of Captain Young's force, the 3d Platoon of Company C, which had established the roadblock at the Highway 1 crossing of Labiranan River on A Day, moved out just below Labiranan Head and hit the Japanese flank. The platoon met a strongly entrenched enemy position which consisted of seven pillboxes guarding ten 75-mm. guns. There were also six coastal guns but only two of these had been even partially assembled. When the men of the platoon got within twenty feet of the enemy position, they received fire from the two flanks and the front. After knocking out a machine gun nest the platoon withdrew.
Lt. Col. Edwin O. List, the commanding officer of the 1st Battalion, then ordered Captain Young to advance northward up a covered draw and secure a small hill in the rear of the enemy force. As the troops advanced up the hill, they observed smoke coming from Labiranan Head. Company D thereupon placed mortar fire on the position which contained the ten 75-mm. guns. At 1430 Captain Young requested that the fire be lifted; this was done, and the advance continued.11
At 1600 Captain Young reported that his troops had secured Labiranan Head. At the same time, friendly naval gunfire shelled Young's troops.12 This gunfire was not stopped, since there were known Japanese positions in the vicinity and it was believed to be of more lasting importance to knock them out than to hold this one position. Captain Young evacuated Labiranan Head and withdrew his troops, who swam across the Labiranan River and formed a night perimeter on the south bank. At the end of the day the front lines of the rest of the 1st Battalion, 383d Infantry, were along the northern banks of the Labiranan River and on the high ground 800 yards west of Labiranan Head.13
During the night the 361st, 363d, and 921st Field Artillery Battalions delivered harassing fires on the positions of the 9th Infantry Regiment on Labiranan Head.14 The following morning, Captain Young's force rejoined the 1st Battalion, 383d Infantry. The 921st Field Artillery Battalion continued to pound the enemy emplacements until 1200 and then supported the attack as the 1st Battalion, 383d Infantry,
CREW OF A LIGHT ARMORED CAR M8 prepares to fire on enemy positions in the Labiranan Head sector.
with Companies A and C as lead companies, moved up the slopes of Labiranan Head. The antitank platoon of the 1st Battalion set up its 37-mm. guns in a position from which it could rake the south side of Labiranan Head from the river and support the advance of Company C on the left. The platoon knocked out four pillboxes and two machine guns and then directed fire on the enemy 75-mm. guns. Companies A and C pushed aside the Japanese and at 1630 reached the crest of the hill, their objective. They immediately dug in, consolidated the position, and then formed a night perimeter from which the entire beach area from San Roque to Dulag could be observed.15
At 1930 the Japanese centered a counterattack on Company A on the right flank of the 1st Battalion, 383d Infantry. A combined concentration from the 921st, 361st, and 363d Field Artillery Battalions repelled this assault.16 While Labiranan Hill was being secured, a force consisting of the 3d Platoon, Company C, the 1st Platoon, Company D, 763d Tank Battalion, the 1st Platoon, Cannon Company, and the battalion Antitank Platoon pushed along Highway 1, secured San Roque, and set up a roadblock.17 From the 23d to the 26th of October the 1st Battalion, 383d Infantry, patrolled the Labiranan Hill-San Roque area and protected the right flank of the 96th Division as the rest of the division slogged through swamps and rice paddies to the south.
Battling the Swamps
At 0840 on 21 October the 2d and 3d Battalions, 383d Infantry, which were to go in a northwesterly direction around Catmon Hill and isolate the Japanese force on the hill, moved out westward. They advanced through swamps and rice paddies but met no Japanese during the day. At 1640, when they established a night perimeter, the 2d Battalion was 300 yards north of Tigbao and the 3d Battalion with the regimental command group was 1,100 yards northeast of the barrio and south of Catmon Hill.18
The 382d Infantry, while protecting the left flank of the 96th Division, was to advance rapidly into the interior and seize Tigbao.19 During the night of 20-21 October artillery fire from an unknown source fell in the sector of the 2d Battalion, killing three men and wounding eight others. At 0800, on 21 October, the 2d Battalion, 382d Infantry, moved out, followed at 0812 by the 3d Battalion. These troops, like the 2d and 3d Battalions of the 383d Infantry, were confronted with waist-deep swamps which made the going slow and arduous. The 3d Battalion, 382d Infantry, immediately after moving out, ran into enemy pillboxes constructed of coconut logs and defended by machine guns and riflemen. At first the troops bypassed the pillboxes but at 1030 Company K went back and wiped them out. In addition to the morass through which the troops were moving, numerous empty pillboxes slowed up the advance, since each of them had to be checked.20 At 1430, because there was a gap between the 2d and 3d Battalions, Colonel Dill committed the 1st Battalion to close the line. The battalions then advanced abreast and kept lateral contact with the 2d and 3d Battalions of the 383d Infantry on their right. At 1630, when the battalions established their night perimeters, they were far short of their objective.21
At 1745 Colonel Dill directed all of the battalions of the 382d Infantry to move out at 0800 on 22 October--the 1st Battalion was to capture Tigbao and Bolongtohan and then push on to Hindang; the 2d Battalion was to proceed toward Anibung; and the 3d Battalion, on the right of the 1st Battalion, was to proceed to the northwestern edge of Bolongtohan.22
Since it was known that the Japanese were strongly entrenched on Catmon Hill, General Bradley had decided to bypass the hill temporarily. His plan called for the 2d and 3d Battalions of the 383d Infantry to envelop Catmon Hill from the south and then move north to make contact with the 24th Division at Tanauan.23 On the morning of 22 October, Colonel May of the 383d Infantry asked General Bradley for permission to attack Catmon Hill from the south with his 2d and 3d Battalions. General Bradley refused the request and ordered Colonel May to continue the enveloping movement he had started on 21 October.24 Later on that morning, therefore, the 2d and 3d Battalions, 383d Infantry, moved out north-northwest. Encountering a deep swamp at 1130, the troops turned northwest. This move did not materially help the situation, since they found that they had exchanged the swamp for rice paddies. The advance units reached Anibung at 1630
without encountering any Japanese. By 1800 all units had closed in on the vicinity of Anibung and set up a night perimeter 400 yards north of the barrio.
Few supplies had been brought forward because the vehicles of the battalions had advanced only 200 yards when they bogged down. The troops hand-carried their weapons and communications equipment, while civilians with about eight carabaos25 helped carry the supplies. In the transportation of supplies forward, ammunition was given priority over rations and water, even though the supply of the latter items, which had been issued to the troops before landing, was nearly exhausted. The men made free use of coconuts for food and drink.26
At 0800 on 22 October the three battalions of the 382d Infantry moved out. By 0900 the 1st and 2d Battalions had pushed through Tigbao, whereupon the regimental commander changed the orders for the day. He ordered the 2d Battalion to take Bolongtohan, the 1st Battalion to seize Canmangui, and the 3d Battalion to go into reserve.27
The 1st and 3d Battalions of the 382d Infantry made contact with each other at 1152. When patrols from the 1st Battalion did not find any Japanese at Canmangui, the battalion proceeded toward Bolongtohan. Upon nearing Mati, the 1st Battalion encountered an entrenched position of the enemy and by outflanking the position was able to knock it out. The Japanese fought a delaying action and withdrew during the afternoon. At 2000 the battalion formed its night perimeter at Mati. The other battalions of the regiment encountered no Japanese during the day's progress inland, and formed their night perimeters at 1800--the 2d Battalion 800 yards east of Bolongtohan and the 3d Battalion 500 yards southeast of Tigbao. During the day the 382d Infantry had pushed forward approximately 2,000 yards.28
At 2300 on 22 October General Makino issued an order for the defense of the island by the Japanese 16th Division. He organized his troops into the Northern and Southern Leyte Defense Forces. The Southern Defense Force was to protect the Dulag-Burauen road and the airfields in the vicinity of Burauen. It was in the zone of action of the 7th Division. The Northern Leyte Defense Force29 was to remain on Catmon Hill, the high ground south of Tanauan, and the high ground south of Palo. Elements were to be in the vicinity of Tabontabon and Kansamada, and a unit was to protect the artillery positions north of Catmon Hill. The 16th Engineer Regiment (less three platoons) was to be prepared to demolish the roads connecting Dagami and Burauen and those connecting Dagami and Tanauan, in order to check the advance of American tanks. Simultaneously, the main force of the unit was to secure the road running northwest from Dagami to Tingib. The division reserve and command post were to be in the vicinity of Dagami.30
At 0900 on 23 October the 2d Battalion, 383d Infantry, sent a patrol to investigate the enemy situation west of Pikas and near the Guinarona River. At 1130 the patrol reported that there were a few Japanese on a
hill near Pikas. The 2d and 3d Battalions, 383d Infantry, moved out at 1200 with the 2d Battalion in the lead. At 1430 Company G, the leading company, surprised some Japanese who were swimming in the Guinarona River. They were "literally caught with their pants down."31 The leading companies were able to rout the enemy and continue the advance despite small forays which were broken up; about fifty of the enemy were killed. At 1810 the 2d Battalion, 383d Infantry, reached the high ground on the north bank of the Guinarona River, 600 yards west of Pikas. A force of approximately 100 Japanese attacked the battalion as it was establishing a night perimeter. Fortunately the Americans, just fifteen minutes before, had put their machine guns and mortars in position and were thus able to fire their weapons immediately and repulse the attack. The 3d Battalion, 383d Infantry, closed in on the area at 1900 and each battalion set up a perimeter for the night.32
During the day the regiment received a small quantity of supplies by Filipino and carabao trains and by airdrop from Navy planes. The amount of food came to about one-half ration for each man. On the following day Colonel May ordered the 1st Battalion, 383d Infantry, to remain in position until a supply route could be established.33
Early on 24 October General Bradley told Colonel May to hold his present positions and sent out patrols to find roads, trails, and solid ground that could be used as or converted into supply routes to the rear.34 The communications between the regiment and the 96th Division were very hard to maintain, since the only radios the troops could move inland were hand-carried sets of short range.
In the early morning hours of 25 October a division reconnaissance patrol, with light tanks and a motorized engineer platoon, went along Highway 1 with the mission of reconnoitering the highway as far north as the Binahaan River and making contact with the X Corps. By 1300 the patrol reached the river near Tanauan and found a damaged bridge. By 1600 the bridge had been repaired and the patrol pushed through Tanauan and made contact with Company K of the 19th Infantry, 24th Division, the first between the X and XXIV Corps since the landing.
The 382d Infantry spent 23 October patrolling. Contact was established and maintained between all of the battalions of the regiment during the day. Although the forward movement was slowed to allow much-needed supplies to come up, an advance of 600 yards was made. As the regiment advanced farther inland it became apparent that the entire area was composed of swamps and rice paddies. The roads were only muddy trails and were impassable for wheeled vehicles. The M29 cargo carriers and LVT's were pressed into service to carry supplies, but the numerous streams and waist-deep swamps soon halted all vehicular traffic. The task of supply and of evacuation of wounded soon assumed staggering proportions. For days the troops had had little food since priority had been given to the indispensable ammunition. Filipino and soldier carrying details were the only means by which the front lines could be supplied.35
FILIPINO CIVILIAN GUIDES U.S. TANK to Japanese positions in Julita.
On the morning of 24 October General Bradley ordered the 382d Infantry to have its 2d Battalion close in on Anibung. The 3d Battalion was to occupy Hindang and the 1st Battalion was to proceed through Hindang to a position about 500 yards farther north.36
At 0830 the 1st and 3d Battalions, 382d Infantry, moved astride the narrow trail that led to Tabontabon, with the 3d Battalion echeloned to the right rear. The 1st Battalion passed through Bolongtohan at 0930 and moved on in a northwesterly direction toward Hindang. At 1105, as the 1st Battalion was pushing through Hindang, it came under enemy rifle fire. The Japanese had dug spider holes under the huts, and a trench extended along the western end of the barrio. The 1st Battalion, assisted by troops from Company B, 763d Tank Battalion, moved through the town, leaving the 3d Battalion the job of mopping up. The 3d Battalion reached Hindang at 1530 and immediately attacked the enemy force there. The Japanese offered only slight resistance and then fled, abandoning thirty-six well-constructed defensive positions. At 1610 the barrio was secured.
Meanwhile, the 1st Battalion, after driving through Hindang with Companies A and C abreast, came upon a strong enemy position some 200 yards beyond the town on the left flank of Company A. A platoon of the Cannon Company and some light tanks had managed to get forward. The tanks and flame throwers flushed the Japanese into the open where they were met by the fire of American riflemen who were waiting for them. By 1600 the enemy strong
point was secured and the battalion moved northwest and formed a night perimeter at 1700.
The 2d Battalion reached Anibung without incident. The airfield believed to be in the vicinity of the barrio proved nonexistent. At the end of the day the regiment had advanced approximately 2,200 yards. The 2d Battalion was at Anibung, the 3d Battalion was just beyond Hindang, and the 1st Battalion was in a position to move northwest against Aslom.37
On the morning of 25 October the 1st and 3d Battalions, 382d Infantry, moved out in a northwesterly direction toward Aslom, with the 3d Battalion on the right, while the 2d Battalion moved out in a northwesterly direction toward Kanmonhag. The Japanese had withdrawn during the night, leaving only scattered riflemen to oppose the advance.
In their advance, the battalions were supported by elements of the 763d Tank Battalion. At Aslom the two battalions encountered a strongly fortified position of five gun emplacements and four pillboxes, which the tanks were able to knock out.38 The 1st Battalion formed its night perimeter near Aslom while the 3d Battalion pushed north 1,500 yards and formed its perimeter.
The 2d Battalion encountered only abandoned pillboxes on its front and left flank during its advance. At 1200 a patrol which reconnoitered Kanmonhag found no resistance, and the battalion pushed on to form its night perimeter on line with the 3d Battalion.39
During the first six days of the operation, the casualties of the 96th Division amounted to 5 officers and 89 enlisted men killed, 17 officers and 416 enlisted men wounded, and 13 enlisted men missing in action.40 In the same period the division had killed an estimated 531 Japanese and had taken one prisoner.41
Catmon Hill Area
By the end of 25 October the 1st Battalion of the 383d Infantry was in position to attack Labir Hill, while the 2d and 3d Battalions, remaining in position near Pikas, had sent vigorous patrols into Tabontabon, San Victor, and San Vicente. The 2d and 3d Battalions of the 382d Infantry were beyond Aslom while the 1st Battalion was still at that point. By this time the supply line had been opened up and the main swamps had been traversed. The 96th Division was deep in southern Leyte Valley and had isolated a strong enemy force on Catmon Hill. The way was now open for the division to launch an attack against Tabontabon, bypass the positions of the 9th Infantry Regiment on Catmon Hill, and secure the remainder of its beachhead area.
By 23 October the 383d Infantry, less the 1st Battalion, had crossed the Guinarona River and established a position west of Pikas. Having been ordered by General Bradley to hold this position, the regiment limited its activities to patrolling. While awaiting orders to advance, Colonel May decided to give battle training to
various units by sending them out on patrolling missions to observe the enemy.42 Tabontabon and San Victor were assigned to the 3d Battalion commander as a training mission for one of his companies, while San Vicente Hill was assigned to the 2d Battalion commander for the same purpose. Tabontabon was a key point, since it was one of the main 16th Division supply centers.
Company K, which had been selected by the 3d Battalion commander for the first mission, sent patrols into the Tabontabon-San Victor area on the afternoon of 24 October. The patrol sent to Tabontabon found that the 9th Infantry Regiment had extensively fortified the barrio. There were deep foxholes and machine gun emplacements dug in under the houses. None of the positions appeared to be occupied, but at the end of the town the patrol saw approximately twenty-five Japanese preparing their evening meal. Tabontabon was a fairly large barrio on the Guinarona River, with several blocks of shops and houses, including a church and several two-story buildings, the axis of the town running east and west.
On the basis of information brought by the patrol, it was decided to have Company K move out the following morning to seize Tabontabon. At 0645 on 25 October Company K, reinforced, advanced and at 0730 took covered positions 200 yards east of the barrio. Under the plan for attack the 1st Platoon was to approach the northeastern edge of the village by a covered route, and await the completion of an artillery concentration scheduled for 0800. After the artillery preparation a squad from the platoon was to enter and reconnoiter for possible enemy positions. At the same time, the 2d Platoon, with a similar mission, was to enter Tabontabon from the southeast side. The 3d Platoon was to be prepared to support the action of either the 1st or the 2d. Machine guns and mortars were placed in such a way as to give direct support to both platoons.
Because of unexplained communication difficulties, the artillery did not deliver its scheduled fire at 0800. Each platoon, however, sent a squad into Tabontabon. As soon as advance elements of both platoons entered the town they came under intense rifle and mortar fire from enemy positions under the houses. It was obvious that the Japanese had heavily reinforced the barrio during the night. The reinforcements consisted of a battalion from the 9th Infantry Regiment.43
The rest of the 1st and 2d Platoons came up and a fire fight ensued. The 3d Platoon was sent in at 1000 to support the 1st Platoon, and in response to a request for reinforcements, a rifle platoon from Company I was brought up at 1040. The commanding officer of Company K advised the 3d Battalion by radio that he could take Tabontabon with an additional rifle company but could not do so with his present force without suffering heavy casualties. The battalion commander ordered him to withdraw. The withdrawal, under supporting fire from the 3d Platoon, Company K, the platoon from Company I, and mortar and machine gun fire from the weapons company, was successfully accomplished at 1155. At 1240 Company K rejoined the battalion.
General Bradley ordered the 383d Infantry to direct the patrols of the 3d Battalion elsewhere, since the 382d Infantry had been assigned the mission of securing Tabontabon. During the forthcoming attack the 383d Infantry was to protect the flank of the 382d, whose 2d and 3d Battalions were to launch a co-ordinated attack on the town. On 26 October the 2d Battalion of the 382d Infantry moved west and established contact with the 3d at 1200. After an artillery concentration had been placed on the town the two battalions moved out.
By 1600 they had forded the shoulder-deep Guinarona River under heavy enemy fire and had reached the edge of Tabontabon. As the battalions slowly pushed their way to the outskirts of the barrio, they came under heavy fire. Elements of the 9th Infantry Regiment had dug in under the houses, and connecting trenches honeycombed the streets from one strong point to another. At twilight, after heavy artillery fire, the enemy launched a strong counterattack which forced the battalions to withdraw to the river bank, where they established perimeters for the night.44 Until midnight, mortar fire from the 9th Infantry Regiment fell in the 2d and 3d Battalion areas.
At 2100 the 96th Division artillery commenced firing on the town and continued to fire throughout the night. The 1st Battalion, less Company B which had been left at Aslom to guard supplies, had by now joined the rest of the regiment. At 1000 on 27 October the 382d Infantry launched a co-ordinated attack against Tabontabon with the 2d and 3d Battalions. As Companies I and K of the 3d Battalion started to wade the Guinarona River, Colonel Dill, the regimental commander, called to the men to follow him and then dashed across the bridge, which was swept by enemy rifle fire. The 3d Battalion followed him over the bridge and to the southeast corner of the barrio.45 The troops met considerable opposition from elements of the 9th Infantry Regiment who were hidden in the tall cogon grass. After a short fire fight the two battalions worked their way slowly through the western portion of the town and then advanced northwest. Although they met fire from several pillboxes, there was no organized resistance. Night perimeters were set up about a mile northwest of Tabontabon with the 3d Battalion on the left side of the road and the 1st Battalion on the right.46
The 2d Battalion, which had hit the center of the town, encountered stiff and determined opposition. Company F proceeded cautiously down one street as Company G went through the middle of the second block on its right. The Japanese had riflemen and machine guns under the houses and on the second floors of the large buildings. By noon the two companies had worked their way through to the northern edge of the town, where they encountered the enemy entrenched in force.
The Japanese had placed machine guns to cover the exits from the barrio. The guns were aimed down each street and so placed that each gun was protected by another. Since in Company G men were dropping from heat exhaustion, Company E was sent in to relieve Company G. At the same time, the 2d Platoon of the Cannon Company moved forward, but its howitzers were unable to direct their fire effectively. Late in the afternoon, since it had become apparent
that the 2d Battalion would not be able to secure the town before nightfall, the troops were called back to the center of the town, where the 2d Battalion set up its night perimeter.47
During the night the Japanese counterattacked, but American artillery and mortar fire broke up the assault.48 At 0800 on 28 October the 2d Battalion continued the attack and succeeded in knocking out the enemy resistance northeast of the town, an action which enabled the battalion to move out north of Tabontabon at 1200. Leaving Company G to clear the area immediately outside the town, the 2d Battalion proceeded along the road toward the road junction at Kiling.49 In spite of determined opposition, the Japanese supply center of Tabontabon had at last been taken and approximately 350 Japanese killed in the area. During the three days of fighting, the 2d Battalion had thirty-four men killed and eighty wounded.
Capture of Catmon Hill
The capture of Catmon Hill falls into two separate and distinct actions--the operations of the 383d Infantry in the San Vicente sector and the assault of the 381st Infantry against Catmon Hill.
On 24 October a Japanese prisoner stated that the fortifications on San Vicente Hill, the northern tip of Catmon Hill, were guarded by elements of the 9th Infantry and 20th Infantry Regiments of the Japanese 16th Division.50 On the morning of 26 October the regimental commander ordered Company E, 383d Infantry, under Capt. Jesse R. Thomas, to make a reconnaissance in force of San Vicente Hill.51 Upon receiving his orders, Captain Thomas made his plans. The 1st Platoon was to move forward and take the left nose of the hill, operating on the right of the 2d Platoon. The 3d Platoon was to move into an assembly area fifty yards behind the line of departure.
On the morning of 26 October the 155-mm. howitzers of the 363d Field Artillery Battalion laid a ten-minute concentration on the crest of the hill. This fire was ineffective, since it was too far ahead of the troops. At 1000 the platoons of Company E moved through the tall cogon grass to the edge of an open field approximately 200 yards from the base of the hill. The men were under orders not to fire until fired upon. As the leading elements of the two platoons entered the field, the 9th Infantry Regiment opened fire with rifles and mortars. The 3d Platoon then moved up into position along the line of departure, prepared to support the attack. Since the 2d Platoon was not under heavy fire, it was ordered to move to the foot of the hill and take a position from which it could support by fire the advance of the 1st Platoon. Enemy mortars were dropping shells around the center of the area, but American mortars silenced them.
The 2d Platoon reported that it was 100 yards from the base of the hill. The 2d Battalion commander, Lt. Col. James O. McCray, moved into the company command post, about seventy-five yards behind the attacking platoons at the edge of the open field. This sector began to receive
SAN VICENTE HILL
heavy fire from the right side of the hill and several men on the edge of the field were hit. Colonel McCray crawled up and started to help drag the wounded men to cover. At the same time he ordered the battalion to open fire against the hill with all weapons except artillery, but an undetermined number of enemy riflemen in the rear of the command post and on the left flank of the company started firing into the command post.
Colonel McCray continued to bring back wounded men. At this time Captain Thomas was overcome by the heat, and the executive officer of Company E, 2d Lt. Owen R. O'Neill, took over. He ordered the withdrawal of the force. It was now 1335 and the company, under continuous fire since 1000, had been unable to advance. Captain Thomas revived and again assumed command, directing the withdrawal and the bringing back of the wounded. The body of Colonel McCray, who had sacrificed his life while dragging the wounded from the hill, was found about twenty yards from the command post. The withdrawal was completed.
From 27 to 29 October, the actions of the 2d and 3d Battalions, 383d Infantry, were limited to reconnaissance patrols in the vicinity of the town of San Vicente and San Vicente Hill in attempts to find the strong positions of the enemy on the hill. At 0930 on 30 October Colonel May ordered the battalions to renew the attack from positions near the Guinarona River. The two units jumped off at 1300. The 3d Battalion advanced along the north bank of the Guinarona River, one company going through Pikas and the rest of the battalion
making a wide swing through a coconut palm grove and open fields. The 2d Battalion moved along the south bank of the Guinarona River, one company following a trail from Pikas to San Vicente and the rest of the battalion going directly to San Vicente Hill, which was taken without opposition since the enemy force had withdrawn. The 3d Battalion went through the barrio of San Vicente without difficulty but encountered some small arms fire along the river 300 yards north of the village. Both battalions formed their night perimeters near the river.
At the same time, the eastern slopes of Catmon Hill were being assaulted by elements of the 381st Infantry, which had been in Sixth Army reserve through 26 October. On 27 October Sixth Army had released the 381st Infantry to XXIV Corps control. At 1330 on the same day General Bradley ordered the regiment to relieve on the following day the 1st Battalion, 383d Infantry, which had been on Labiranan Head since 22 October. It was then to attack and capture Catmon Hill.
Catmon Hill had been under steady naval and artillery fire since A Day--20 October. The 96th Division artillery had constantly fired on targets of opportunity by day and harassed enemy positions in the area during the night. Starting at 2100 on 27 October, the 105-mm. howitzers of the 361st Field Artillery Battalion, the 155-mm. howitzers of the 198th Field Artillery Battalion, a battery of 155-mm. howitzers from the 363d Field Artillery Battalion, and the 75-mm. howitzers from the 780th Amphibian Tank Battalion were to deliver harassing fires on the hill until 1030 the following day. At that time all of the artillery units were to commence firing successive concentrations beginning at the bottom of the hill and working to the top in fifty-yard bounds. After the 381st Infantry, less the 3d Battalion, attacked at 1200 on 28 October, the artillery was to fire concentrations in front of the troops as they advanced.52
In making his plans for the capture of Catmon Hill, Col. Michael E. Halloran, commander of the 381st Infantry, decided to have the 1st Battalion make an enveloping movement from the northeast while the 2d Battalion pushed west along the main ridge. The 1st Battalion, 383d Infantry, from its position on Labiranan Head, would support the attack by fire. On the morning of 28 October the 381st Infantry, less the 3d Battalion, moved into position for the attack. After a thirty-minute preparation by the artillery, the 381st Infantry jumped off to the attack at 1200.
The 1st Battalion, 381st Infantry, moved to the foot of the hill, where it received "a bloody nose" from fire coming out of well-entrenched positions. It withdrew under cover of smoke and established a night perimeter in the vicinity of its line of departure. The 2d Battalion, however, met no enemy resistance and advanced rapidly. At the close of the day the battalion was just short of Labir Hill.53 During the night the Americans expended 3,000 rounds of artillery ammunition on Catmon Hill, chiefly in front of the 2d Battalion sector. The plans for 29 October called for a morning attack by the 2d Battalion, supported by fire from the 1st Battalion, 383d Infantry, which had not yet been relieved; the 1st Battalion,
105-MM. SELF-PROPELLED HOWITZER M7 FIRING on Japanese positions on Catmon Hill.
381st Infantry, was to seek a new lane of approach and attack at noon.
After a thirty-minute artillery preparation, the 2d Battalion, 381st Infantry, moved out at 0830. With the support of a platoon of light tanks, the battalion easily secured both Labir and Catmon Hills. By 1300 the position had been consolidated. The 1st Battalion, 381st Infantry, supported by the massed fire of forty-five tanks and the Regimental Cannon Company, jumped off at 1200. The troops moved through a heavily fortified area, and at 1600 they established physical contact with the regiment's 2d Battalion.
During the heavy pounding of Catmon Hill, the main body of Japanese troops, the 9th Infantry Regiment, had withdrawn from the hill on 26 October, unknown to the Americans, and rejoined the main force of the 16th Division in the Dagami area.54
At last Catmon Hill had been secured. The 1st Battalion, 383d Infantry, was relieved and passed to the Sixth Army reserve. The 381st Infantry's command post was moved north of San Roque, and at 1800 its 3d Battalion rejoined the regiment south of this position. During 30 and 31 October the entire Catmon Hill area was mopped up--fifty-three pillboxes, seventeen caves, and numerous smaller emplaced positions were destroyed by demolition charges. The last enemy stronghold threatening the landing beaches had been removed.
Convergence on Kiling
Since the main force of the 96th Division was centered in the vicinity of Catmon Hill, General Bradley had decided to secure the northern limits of the corps beachhead line--the road running from Tanauan to Dagami--concurrently with the assault on Catmon Hill. On 25 October Colonel Halloran had ordered the 3d Battalion of the 381st Infantry to move north along Highway 1 to Tanauan and thence southwestward along the Tanauan-Dagami road to Dagami. At the same time the 17th Infantry, 7th Division, was advancing north toward Dagami on the Burauen-Dagami road. At 0830 on 26 October the reinforced 3d Battalion of the 381st Infantry moved out.55 The forward movement was halted by a bridge that had been mined and partially blown out. The battalion forded the river and the advance continued without tanks or vehicles, while engineers from the 321st Engineer Battalion deactivated the mines and repaired the bridge. The tanks and vehicles then rejoined the battalion. Two platoons supported by tanks were sent forward to guard the two bridges south and east of Tanauan. En route, the platoons received some machine gun and rifle fire from a hill between Vigia Point and Tanauan. During the night the enemy made his presence known by three rounds of mortar fire and by sporadic rifle fire on the bridge guards.
At 0800 on 27 October the march was renewed. The troops again came under fire from the hill between Vigia Point and Tanauan. After a delay of two hours, in which artillery fire was placed on the hill, the advance continued and the entrance into Tanauan at 1145 was unopposed. The battalion then turned southwestward along the Tanauan-Dagami road toward Kiling, which is about midway between Tanauan and Dagami. The 3d Battalion had gone about two miles along the road when it came under fire from 75-mm. guns, mortars, and machine guns. Two hours were required for Company A, 763d Tank Battalion, and two flame-thrower tanks to reduce this resistance.56 Seven pillboxes and three 75-mm. guns were destroyed and a command post was captured. A night perimeter was established on the road, at 1700, and only sporadic rifle fire occurred during the night.
At 0800 the following day the 3d Battalion, 381st Infantry, moved out and about 1500 the advance element entered Kiling. An attack supported by Battery C, 361st Field Artillery Battalion, was launched against the enemy about 1630. The Japanese countered with heavy machine gun, mortar, and rifle fire. The attack continued without success until 1800, when the 3d Battalion withdrew under a smoke screen and established a night perimeter about 1,000 yards east of Kiling. Battery C, 361st Field Artillery, fired intermittently during the night to prevent any Japanese attack against the perimeter.57
At 0800 the following morning--29 October--the 3d Battalion, supported by tanks and artillery, moved out against Kiling. On the outskirts of the barrio the battalion met stubborn and determined resistance where the Japanese, with machine guns, mortars, and rifles, fought "to the last man." The resistance was overcome, and by 1500 the Americans occupied the town,
which was honeycombed with emplacements and entrenchments. At 1600 the 3d Battalion, 381st Infantry, was relieved by the 2d Battalion, 382d Infantry, which had come up from Tabontabon by truck. At 1800 the 3d Battalion, 381st Infantry, returned by truck to the area north of San Roque.58
From Tabontabon two important roads lead to the Tanauan-Dagami road. One of these runs in a northeasterly direction and meets the Tanauan-Dagami road at Kiling; the other goes in a northwesterly direction and meets the road at Digahongan about one and a half miles east of Dagami. Colonel Dill ordered the 1st and 3d Battalions, 382d Infantry, to pass through Tabontabon on 27 October and then to proceed northwest along the latter road to Digahongan. They were then to go northeastward along the Tanauan-Dagami road and at Kiling join the 2d Battalion, which was to proceed northeast along the road from Tabontabon to Kiling.
The 1st and 3d Battalions, with the 3d Battalion in the lead, moved out of Tabontabon and advanced about three quarters of a mile to Kapahuan where they established night perimeters. During the night the Japanese charged the perimeter of the 1st Battalion. The attack was repulsed with only three casualties to the battalion, while about one hundred of the enemy were killed.
At 0830 on the 28th the 1st and 3d Battalions jumped off abreast along both sides of the narrow road for Digahongan--the 1st Battalion on the right and the 3d Battalion on the left. At 1200, when the battalions were about two miles northwest of Tabontabon, they encountered a strongly fortified position. The 16th Division had built coconut pillboxes and many spider holes, which were supported by two 70-mm. howitzers and a number of 50-mm. mortars. Flame throwers and demolition teams, supported by the artillery, knocked out this fortified area. Taking their dead and wounded, the enemy withdrew. The American troops then advanced under protection of artillery fire toward the road junction at Digahongan, which they reached at 1500. During the day the battalions had been harassed by numerous hidden riflemen, mines, and booby traps.
The 1st Battalion was to move east toward Kiling. The 3d received orders to stay and guard the road junction at Digahongan, nicknamed Foxhole Corners, where it went into night perimeter. At 1600 the battalion successfully repulsed a counterattack by about 200 Japanese. In the meantime the 1st Battalion moved as far east on the Digahongan-Kiling road as Kansamada, where it established a night perimeter. During the night several small enemy groups of six to eight men each tried to enter the battalion lines but were driven off.59
The 3d Battalion spent 29 October in patrolling the area around Digahongan and guarding the road junction. It broke up one enemy attack by about thirty men. At 0800 the 1st Battalion moved out from Kansamada toward Kiling against scattered enemy fire but at 1130 the troops were stopped by heavy automatic fire which came from pillboxes astride the road. Shortly afterward the enemy artillery opened up and the 1st Battalion was forced to withdraw about a thousand yards to a point where it established a perimeter.60 During the fight Lt. Col. Jesse W. Mechem, the commanding
officer of the battalion, was mortally wounded. His last order to the battalion was that the troops should not risk their lives to get his body out.61 That night, however, Maj. Joseph R. Lewis, who had assumed command of the battalion, led a small party forward and recovered the body of Colonel Mechem.
During the night the 9th Infantry Regiment withdrew. On 30 October the 1st Battalion, 382d Infantry, found no opposition during its advance forward to Kiling and at 1030 established contact with the 2d Battalion, 382d Infantry. The 2d Battalion, less Company G, had moved out of Tabontabon on the northeast road to Kiling on 28 October, spending the night on the outskirts of the town.
The units of the 96th Division spent the next three days in patrolling and mopping up. The division had secured the beachhead area of the XXIV Corps in its zone of action. Its units had seized the Catmon Hill mass, which dominated the landing beaches, had traversed and cleaned out the inland swamps, and had secured the important communications center and supply dump of Tabontabon and the main portion of the significant Tanauan-Dagami road. Since landing they had killed an estimated 2,769 Japanese and taken 6 prisoners in their zone of action.62 The cost had not been light. Casualties of the 96th Division since 25 October had been 13 officers and 132 enlisted men killed, 30 officers and 534 enlisted men wounded, and 2 officers and 88 enlisted men missing in action.63
1. 35th Army Opns, p. 30. Unless otherwise indicated, the following is based upon this study, pp. 30-34.
2. Allied Geographical Sec, GHQ SWPA Terrain Handbook 34, Tacloban, 25 Sep 44, p. 10.
3. 96th Div Opns Rpt Leyte, p. 88.
4. 10th I&HS Eighth Army, Stf Study of Opns of Japanese 35th Army on Leyte, pp. 2-3.
5. 35th Army Opns, pp. 22-23.
6. 96th Div FO 2, 10 Oct 44.
7. 383d Inf Opns Rpt Leyte, p. 3.
8. 382d Inf Unit Rpt 1, 20 Oct 44.
9. 361st FA Bn Opns Rpt Leyte.
10. 96th Div Arty Opns Rpt Leyte, p. 5.
11. 382d Inf Unit Jnl, 21 Oct 44.
12. 96th Div G-3 Jnl, 21 Oct 44.
13. 383d Inf Opns Rpt Leyte, p. 9.
14. 921st FA Bn Opns Rpt Leyte, p. 6.
15. 383d Inf Unit Jnl, 22 Oct 44.
16. 921st FA Bn Opns Rpt Leyte, p. 3.
17. 383d Inf Opns Rpt Leyte, p. 10.
18. Ibid., p. 9.
19. 382d Inf FO 2, 21 Oct 44.
20. 382d Inf Unit Jnl, 21 Oct 44.
21. 382d Inf Unit Rpt 2, 21 Oct 44.
22. 382d Inf Unit Jnl, 21 Oct 44.
23. 96th Div Opns Rpt Leyte, p. 38.
24. 96th Div G-3 Jnl, 22 Oct 44.
25. A carabao is a domesticated native water buffalo that is used extensively in the Philippines as a beast of burden.
26. 383d Inf Opns Rpt Leyte, p. 4.
27. 382d Inf Unit Jnl, 22 Oct 44.
28. 382d Inf Unit Rpt 3, 22 Oct 44.
29. This unit consisted of the 9th Infantry Regiment (less the 2d Battalion) and two batteries of the 22d Field Artillery Regiment.
30. 96th Inf Div Opns Rpt Leyte, Annex C, Part III, Trans, KAKI Operational Order A-387, 22 Oct 44.
31. Orlando R. Davidson, J. Carl Willems, and Joseph A. Kahl, The Deadeyes, The Story of the 96th Infantry Division (Washington, 1947), p. 23.
32. 383d Inf Unit Rpt 4, 23 Oct 44.
33. 96th Div G-3 Periodic Rpt 3, 24 Oct 44.
34. 96th Div Opns Rpt Leyte, p. 41.
35. 382d Inf Opns Rpt Leyte, p. 2.
36. 96th Div G-3 Jnl, 24 Oct 44.
37. 382d Inf Unit Rpt 5, 24 Oct 44.
38. 763d Tank Bn Unit Rpt 1, 25 Oct 44.
39. 382d Inf Unit Rpt 6, 25 Oct 44.
40. 96th Div G-1 Daily Strength Rpts, 20-25 Oct 44.
41. 96th Div G-2 Periodic Rpt 5, 25 Oct 44.
42. Unless otherwise stated the account of the patrol to Tabontabon is taken from 383d Inf Opns Rpt Leyte, Patrol to Tabontabon, 25 Oct 44, Incl 1.
43. 35th Army Opns, p. 28.
44. 382d Inf Unit Rpt 7, 26 Oct 44.
45. Davidson et al., The Deadeyes, p. 37.
46. 382d Inf Unit Rpt 8, 27 Oct 44.
47. Davidson et al., The Deadeyes, p. 38.
48. 382d Inf Unit Rpt 9, 28 Oct 44.
50. 383d Inf Opns Rpt, p. 5.
51. The operations report of the 383d Infantry for the Leyte Campaign has an "Account of Eyewitnesses Made Immediately Following the Action," which is Inclosure 2 to the report. Unless otherwise stated these statements are the basis for this account of the action on San Vicente Hill.
52. 96th Div Opns Rpt Leyte, p. 45. Unless otherwise stated the section dealing with the capture of Catmon Hill is based on 381st Inf Opns Rpt Leyte, pp. 3-3c.
53. 381st Inf Unit Rpt 4, 28 Oct 44; 381st Inf Unit Jnl, 29 Oct 44.
54. 35th Army Opns, p. 34.
55. The reinforcements consisted of a platoon from the Cannon Company, 381st Infantry; one platoon from Company A, 321st Engineers; Company A, 763d Tank Battalion; one platoon from Company A, 321st Medical Battalion; and Battery C, 361st Field Artillery Battalion.
56. 763d Tank Bn S-3 Periodic Rpt 3, 27 Oct 44.
57. 381st Inf Opns Rpt Leyte, pp. 3-3a.
59. 382d Inf Unit Rpt 9, 28 Oct 44.
60. 382d Inf Unit Rpt 10, 29 Oct 44.
61. Davidson et al., The Deadeyes, p. 41.
62. 96th Div G-2 Periodic Rpt 13, 2 Nov 44.
63. Compiled from 96th Div G-1 Daily Strength Rpts, 26 Oct-2 Nov 44.