The same chain of events that deprived the 1st Marine Aircraft Wing on Bougainville of its Sarangani Bay assignment brought into the Leyte operation the only Marine ground troops to take part in the campaign--elements of the V Amphibious Corps Artillery. This employment of these 1500-odd Marines, under the command of Brigadier General Thomas E. Bourke, resulted from circumstances and an administrative trade: the Army's XXIV Corps had detached the bulk of its artillery to the V Amphibious Corps (USMC) for the FORAGER operation in the Marianas; when it became evident that these units could not be released from Saipan action in time to join the parent organization for the then-scheduled STALEMATE II (Yap) operation, the decision was made by CinCPOA to assign elements of the V Amphibious Corps Artillery,1 then based in the Hawaiian Islands, to the XXIV Corps for the Yap operation. When this operation was later cancelled in favor of Leyte,2 the Marine artillerymen remained with such units of the XXIV Corps Artillery as had not been committed to FORAGER, and with Marine General Bourke in command, they landed as XXIV Corps' Artillery on A-plus 1 at Leyte.
During the landing phase of the operation, General Bourke, in his staff capacity as corps artillery officer, also served as the coordinator of naval gunfire, supporting aircraft, and artillery.3
Two Marine artillery battalions and a headquarters battery,4 embarked in the USS Monitor and the USS Catskill (LSV's 5 and 6), arrived in the transport area off Leyte on the morning of A-Day. About 0830 the following morning, General Bourke, on board the USS Mount Olympus, ordered all units of corps artillery to send advance parties to meet him
on the BLUE One Beach later that day. This beach was just north of Dulag, near the little village of San Jose. (Not to be confused with another San Jose near Tacloban. See Map 5.)
Because of a heavy overload on the ships' communications systems, only the 5th (Marine) 155mm Artillery Battalion and the 287th (Army) Field Artillery Observation Battalion received this order in time to land their representatives before dark. The Commanding General and the advance parties made a reconnaissance, and initial positions were selected.
The Headquarters Battery (V Amphibious Corps Artillery), 11th 155mm Gun Battalion, FMF, and 226th Field Artillery Battalion (Army) advance parties landed after darkness on 21 October. Early on the morning of 22 October these advance parties selected additional positions and General Bourke requested the corps commander to order all corps artillery units landed.5
Unloading the 226th Battalion6 proceeded smoothly once the LST's were beached, and this battalion occupied positions ready to fire prior to darkness on A-plus 2. The 198th Field Artillery Battalion (Army) attached to the 96th Division, had been unloaded on A-plus 1. Good beaches enabled the LST's to discharge their cargoes rapidly and with no particular difficulty. The 287th Field Artillery Observation Battalion (Army) also experienced no difficulties in unloading.
However, the unloading of the remaining elements of corps artillery (Headquarters Battery, 5th and 11th Battalions, USMC) was very unsatisfactory. The USS Auriga (AK), carrying the equipment of these units, was ordered by the Commander, Transport Division-28, to begin unloading on A-Day. This was ordered without reference either to the Commanding General, Corps Artillery, or the Commanding General, XXIV Corps, and over the protests of the Commanding Officer of Troops and the Captain of the ship. Communication difficulties prevented the Commanding Officer of Troops from contacting the Commanding General and requesting that no cargo be discharged at this time. As a consequence by the time the advance parties reached the beach on A-plus 1, approximately 50% of the vehicles and weapons, as well as some ammunition, had been landed from the Auriga with no personnel on shore to handle it or direct it off the beaches into position. Equipment was scattered over several beaches, and some heavy guns were landed in areas where no positions could be obtained inland.7
By A-plus 3, all Marine artillery units were ashore, emplaced, and rendering support for the XXIV Corps. Initial position areas were confined to the narrow strip of high ground that paralleled the beach about a quarter of a mile inland. The infantry advanced from the landing point (north of Dulag near the little village of San Jose. See Map 5) and moved north toward a rock mountain8 well defended with Japanese troops driven out of Dulag by naval gunfire and air strikes. Dulag had been virtually flattened by the preliminary bombardment.9
The 5th 155mm Howitzer Battalion displaced inland almost immediately after the infantry's advance, to a position midway between Burauen and Dulag.10 (See Map 5.) Within the expanding corps beachhead the only terrain feature providing a suitable site for artillery observation was the Catmon Hill massif, a ridge some 500 yards long and 1,400 feet high at its peak. Unfortunately, this hill mass was not secured until the ground action in other areas had advanced some eight to ten miles inland. The peak of Catmon Hill was seized on 30 October, but by this time its utility as an artillery observation post had been nullified by the inland advance.
On 1 November, the Marine howitzer battalion followed the infantry advance to displace inland to the vicinity of Burauen-Dagami.11 A few days later the gun battalion also moved forward to the same general area, along with the advance echelon of Headquarters Battery, under the command of the V Amphibious Corps Artillery chief of staff, Colonel Harold C. Roberts. A Fire Direction Center (FDC) was immediately set up along the road between Burauen and Dagami, permitting the massing of fire of all artillery with the Corps across the entire XXIV Corps front.12
In the final beachhead area, Dulag-Burauan-Dagami-Tanauan, no terrain was available that permitted observation of the enemy positions to the west. At the same time, the terrain held by the enemy west of the Burauan-Dagami road rose gradually to mountain peaks and afforded him excellent observation of U.S. positions. Ground observations continued to be very poor; such high ground as became available was of little value to the corps artillery.13
For this reason, air observation played an unusually important part in employing the corps artillery; the liaison planes proved to be the backbone of artillery observation. At the outset of the operation, corps artillery had available 12 L-4 (Cub) planes, 13 pilots, and 12 observers. Pilots and planes were furnished by the Army XXIV Corps; observers were Marines and Army personnel from the Air Section of the V Amphibious Corps Artillery Headquarters, and the air sections of the battalions.14
The air sections acted as a unit, operating directly under a corps artillery S-2 representative stationed at Dulag airfield (later at Buri airfield) who had the advice of the senior pilot to guide him in technical matters and flight capabilities. This representative assigned all special missions requested, ordered planes into the air for conduct of fire missions upon requests from the battalions, and interrogated pilots and observers upon completion of any mission in order to gather all possible information.
In general, the Headquarters planes were employed for all special assignments such as reconnaissance, search and photographic missions, leaving battalion planes (two assigned each artillery battalion) to conduct fire missions for their respective battalions. However, when operational difficulties prevented battalion planes from performing all fire missions, Headquarters planes were substituted as necessary.15
To complete the XXIV Corps mission of liberating southern Leyte, 7th Division was
given the task of seizing the Abuyog-Baybay road--the only one across the mountains in the corps zone of action, and therefore essential to the plan.16 (See Map 5.) When the 7th had accomplished this seizure, they were ready to initiate a drive up the west coast of Leyte toward Japanese-held Ormoc, the principal port through which the enemy was landing reinforcements. With them on this mission went one battery of Marine artillery.
On 14 November, "B" Battery, 11th Gun Battalion, (Capt John E. King), was detached to the operational control of the 7th Infantry Division; the battery commenced displacement for the move to this area late the same night, proceeding overland to the southwest coast of the island. Over muddy, almost impassible roads, the Marine artillerymen moved to support the advance against Ormoc.17 For this action they were commended by Major General Archibald V. Arnold, commander of the 7th Division.18
Back in the Burauen-Dagami area vehicular traffic was practically immobilized by heavy rains in November, causing a stalemate to develop along the entire corps front. Lines were readjusted to defensible terrain, and as a result, the artillery battalions found themselves in many cases quite close to the front lines. Local perimeter defense, not only of the gun and howitzer battalions, but of Headquarters Battery itself, was a prime consideration throughout the campaign. Weapons were sited with emphasis on air defense during the day and ground defense at night. All units were attacked at one time or another by enemy planes; the Marine battalions, which were for some time in the vicinity of the airfields, received numerous air attacks.19
In addition, infiltrating Japanese frequently attempted to neutralize the artillery with small-arms fire. To escape detection, these intruders fired simultaneously with the artillery pieces. In some instances it became necessary to load the pieces and have the cannoneers take cover before firing in order to continue night fires.20
Since much of the enemy front line activity occurred at night, the corps artillery was obliged to maintain intermittent harrassing and interdiction fires during the hours of darkness. Keeping gun positions fully manned at night, however, left insufficient personnel available for local security purposes, and several breakthroughs resulted.
On the night of 6-7 December, at dusk, enemy planes bombed Buri airfield, on which the corps artillery air section was located. (See Map 5.) Immediately following the bombing, an estimated 250 enemy paratroops dropped in the vicinity of the field.21 The enemy concentrated his forces, joining an additional 100 to 200 ground troops that had infiltrated the area. On the early morning of 7 December this force attacked Buri field. At this time the corps artillery air section on the Buri strip consisted of about 30 officers and men, under the command of Captain Eugene S. Roane, Jr., assistant corps artillery S-2 and senior air observer. The section was armed with individual weapons and two machine guns, one of which had been salvaged from a wrecked plane. During the morning, enemy attacks gradually drove other friendly troops from their positions back to the position held by the artillery air section. The north side of Buri airstrip was seized by the Japanese; however, Roane and his beleaguered garrison of 30 mixed Army and Marine personnel, plus about 55 men from the 392d Service Squadron, U.S. Army Air Force, and approximately 120 officers
and men of the 866th Antiaircraft Automatic Weapons Battalion, continued to hold the south side of the strip.22
Captain Roane, as senior officer present on Buri Airstrip at this time, immediately assumed command of all personnel and organized a strong perimeter defense built around one 40mm gun that was adjacent to his area, and four machine guns (two previously mentioned plus two obtained from the AA units present.)
Although subjected to intense enemy fire, this force conducted an active defense that apparently confused the enemy concerning U.S. strength; no determined attack was launched by the Japanese during the afternoon. During this period Captain Roane personally led a patrol several hundred yards outside the perimeter, killing four Japanese and capturing an antiaircraft machine gun that had been seized by the enemy. Late in the afternoon an infantry battalion arrived on the airstrip. The force under Captain Roane established contact with the battalion commander and cooperated with him in the defense of the field by holding the right flank of the position during the night and throughout the next day. One enemy attack was repulsed on this flank during the night.
On the afternoon of 8 December, the Army antiaircraft personnel were ordered off the field.23 With this loss of the bulk of his force, Captain Roane, on the advice of the infantry commander, withdrew his personnel to the infantry perimeter shortly before darkness.24
During the period that Roane had successfully held his position, corps artillery liaison pilots and observers repeatedly took off from and landed on the field, while under fire, to evacuate wounded and to bring in supplies and ammunition, contributing greatly to the successful defense of the position.25 After the withdrawal from the field, a coordinated counterattack was launched, supported by artillery and mortar fire. The entire area was successfully cleared of Japanese troops by the evening of 10 December.26
The following day (11 December) at 0800, the V Amphibious Corps Artillery was relieved of all missions in support of the XXIV Corps; the main body of the XXIV Corps Artillery had just arrived from Saipan. Headquarters Battery, 5th Battalion and 11th Battalion embarked on LST's and sailed for Guam on 13 December, on which date they were detached from operational control of XXIV Corps.27
Major General John R. Hodge, commanding the XXIV Corps, said upon their departure:
. . . The splendid performance of the Headquarters and two (2) battalions of the V Phib Corps Artillery (USMC) loaned to this Corps by CINCPOA in the absence of all but two (2) battalions of XXIV Corps Artillery on Saipan left nothing to be desired . . .28
1. The CG, VAC Arty reported to CG, XXIV Corps on 3Jul44 at Schofield Barracks, Oahu, T.H. The original plan contemplated a corps artillery composed of Headquarters Battery, V Phib Corps Arty, three 155mm Gun Battalions (1 Army, 2 Marine), two 155mm Howitzer Battalions (1 Army, 1 Marine), and one Field Artillery Observation Battalion (Army). Subsequent shipping restrictions necessitated the deletion of one Gun Battalion (Marine). MS. COMMENT, Gen T. E. Bourke: "1 Duck Company was later added to this force."
2. MS. Comment, BrigGen Bert A. Bone: "The change was not known to the CG Corps Artillery until the evening before sailing from Pearl Harbor. Several changes in loading of the staff were made to permit planning enroute."
3. Appendix 2, Annex "C," CTF 79 Attack Plan No. A304-44, Annex Easy to XXIV Corps SOP.
4. 5th 155mm (howitzer) Battalion, commanded by LtCol James E. Mills; 11th 155mm (gun) Battalion, commanded by LtCol Thomas S. Ivey; Headquarters Battery, commanded by Capt. George K. Acker.
5. MS. COMMENT, BrigGen Bert A. Bone: "Spotting planes were ordered to fly in from their carriers. All made it safely except one. This plane, flown by a Field Artillery officer, was late in getting off, became lost in a rainstorm and landed on the south end of Samar. He was carrying parts of the operation plan. He carefully buried these, hid his plane as best he could . . . and with the help of natives made his way back to his command . . . later . . . rescue party, accompanied by the pilot, found the plans, repaired the plane, and the pilot flew the plane back to Dulag Field on Leyte."
6. This unit's LST's landed on VIOLET Two, a beach (unlike the other Leyte beaches used for landing artillery) easily accessible to LST's.
7. Corps Artillery Operations Report, KING TWO, 5.
8. MS. COMMENT, BrigGen Bert A. Bone: "This was a hill about 100 meters high, about one mile south of the CATMON MASSIVE. This hill was not shown on available staff maps. It was picked up from aerial photos available and confirmed from coast & geodetic survey data obtained from 6th Army Headquarters in Hollandia."
9. MS. COMMENT, BrigGen T. E. Bourke: "During the Battle of Leyte Gulf when the Japanese Central Force penetrated close to our transports, I was ordered by Gen Hodge, the XXIV Corps commander, to turn the two 155mm Gun Battalions toward Leyte Gulf and prepare for the defense of the beachhead in that direction, against elements of the Japanese Fleet then believed to be approaching. As these Battalions were originally trained in Coast Defense methods this was readily accomplished."
10. MS. COMMENT, Maj J. W. Hughes: "The reason for this was the shorter range of the howitzer compared to the guns."
11. During the Leyte campaign, the average time required to displace an artillery battalion (pieces and initial ammunition loads) was about eight hours. Reasons for the excessive length of time required for displacement: shortage of transportation and prime movers (only half the normal allowances had been brought along for the operation because of limited shipping facilities), heavy monsoon rains, poor condition of the roads, and the heavy traffic on the few serviceable roads. Special Action Report, KING TWO, VAC Arty, 28Dec44. MS. COMMENT, Maj M. C. Gregory: "Guns in particular had to be dug out of the mud, in one instance taking over an hour merely to get the guns on bogies."
12. Special Action Report, KING TWO, VAC Arty, 28Dec44.
13. Ibid. Like Catmon Hill, a second observation point, Hill 120, was quickly left behind by the rapid advance.
14. MS. COMMENT, Col Floyd Moore.
15. Ibid. MS. COMMENT, BrigGen Bert A. Bone: "The light observation planes were invaluable. Had they not been available practically no observed fire missions would have been possible by the Corps Artillery. They also performed numerous other jobs including observation for Divisional Artillery."
16. However, Gen Krueger delayed sending all of the 7th Division over the mountains, as he wished to prevent the Japanese reinforcements from debouching into the Leyte Valley.
17. MS. COMMENT, LtCol W. V. Crockett, Jr.: "In many places the road was widened to permit passage of the guns. Many of the bridges would not take the weight and fords were constructed. All in all it was a most difficult displacement. The guns were initially set up as Coast Artillery pieces at Baybay pending the drive north."
18. Memorandum to author from Maj S. H. Fletcher, dtd 2Mar51. Hereinafter cited as Fletcher. Much of the information contained in this section on the V Phib Arty (USMC) was furnished by Maj Fletcher.
19. Ibid. The 5th Battalion shot down two enemy planes; the 11th, one. MS. COMMENT, Maj M. C. Gregory: "The 11th was also accused of shooting down a B-25 over Buri, from San Pablo #2 . . ."
20. MS. COMMENT, LtCol W. V. Crockett, Jr.: "The heaviest firing schedules of the 11th Gun Battalion were conducted during the night hours."
21. Only the Marines' part in the "Battle of the Airstrips" is discussed here, owing to space limitations. M. Hamlin Cannon's "Leyte: Return to the Philippines," (preliminary draft), a volume in the series U.S. Army in World War II, The War in the Pacific, gives a much more detailed account, in Chapter XVII, "The Battle of the Airstrips."
23. Special Action Report, KING TWO, VAC Arty, 28Dec44. Document does not indicate who issued these orders. MS. COMMENT, BrigGen Bert A. Bone: "At the time these orders came in, the observation planes were able to fly off a small strip constructed near XXIV Corps Headquarters on the beach, so that holding the strip was not vital; also, an Infantry organization had started an attack to drive the enemy from the field and had been partially successful. I believe they did clear the field by the next night. I do not know who ordered the AAA personnel from the field but my recollection is it came from the Antiaircraft command of the 6th Army as the personnel were desired at other fields, more vital to the operation."
24. Capt Roane was later awarded the Silver Star for his part in the above-described action.
25. Special Action Report, KING TWO, VAC Arty, 28Dec44. During these operations all planes were hit by enemy small-arms fire, and one pilot and one mechanic were wounded. MS. COMMENT, Col F. R. Moore: ". . . as the enemy troops were dispersed and driven away from the airfield they attempted to filter back to their own lines by a route which passed through the corps artillery position areas. As a result perimeter defenses around the artillery positions were able to inflict additional casualties on these enemy elements and the toll of counted enemy dead passed the hundred mark by the time the Marines were withdrawn from the island."
26. Opns Report, XXIV Corps in Leyte (P. I.) Campaign, 20Oct-25Dec44, 14.
27. Special Action Report, KING TWO, VAC Arty, 28Dec44.
28. Foreword to Operations Report, Leyte, XXIV Corps, 20 Oct-25 Dec 1944.
Transcribed and formatted for HTML by Jerry Holden for the HyperWar Foundation