Sample Chapters

[On December 27, 1945, Tuttle visited the temporary cemetery on the south side of Sakura-jima.]

I walked up to find the quiet area was a temporary cemetery. Poncho covered bodies laid in neat rows. A crude signpost at the far end of each row I guessed must categorize the men there by unit. I could make out a small team of men unloading an assortment of vehicles at the far corner. The vehicles were lined up almost back into the town, each bringing over bodies that had come down the mountain or been discharged from a medical station.

I walked between the rows to where the team was working. Looking closer it was clear that some of the old ponchos on the ground covered only a portion of a human body. There were five men working the yard, rotating who was off as pairs of them carried each new case. They had a few stained stretchers to use. I offered my services to the chief NCO there, to make it an even six men working.

Staff Sergeant Bill Allen looked me over for a few seconds, unsure if I was serious I suppose. Few men volunteer for the job, even the drivers who bring over several corpses at once. I was paired with a young Army corporal and we got busy clearing their backlog. Footing was tricky in some spots, the day’s rain putting wet rocks or slick mud under foot, and making them hard to tell apart.

Corporal Warner Thompson hails from Fairfax, Virginia. Most of his infantry unit is doing back-line jobs like this one. Their part of the 5th Cavalry was hit hard and probably won’t do much until it can get off the island to rebuild. We talked about his experiences in the fight, and about life back home, and pretty much everything except what we were doing.

Finally he broached the subject, by way of a standard soldier’s gripe about getting a lousy job. I asked how long he’d been at it. “This is the third day. They had us stack ‘em here almost right from the start.” Getting ambulances back and ammo forward took priority on the narrow road.

I asked if he ever started counting them. “Start? Hell, I can’t stop.” We had just finished placing one body at the end of a long row. Corporal Thompson stood arms akimbo as he allowed himself a wide look around. “Last night I tried to sleep and it was like counting sheep. They just kept coming, one at a time, all night.”

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[a portion of the entry for November 29, 1945 : X+14 – south of Kanoya, Kyushu]

…Without breaking stride, two lead tanks rolled onto the bridge, followed by two armored cars. Riflemen and gunners on the north bank eyed the south bank warily. Astride a road parallel to the river was a long cluster of houses and fish processing buildings. Behind those buildings the land again rose steeply into the next forested mountain ridge.

Up to that point we had not seen a living soul since entering town. Upon leaving town they came out to see us. The first tank rolled off the far side of the bridge and turned immediately to face the first buildings on its left. People of all different sizes and attire ran out from behind several buildings, thirty or forty people in loose columns from every alley. Some brandished sticks and clubs, others carried satchels or old suitcases. The lead tank opened up, its machine gunners ignoring spears and clubs in favor of people carrying likely bombs. The second tank pulled up close alongside to join in.

On top of the bridge two scout cars paused to bring their four machine guns into action. But from under the bridge another eight or ten figures crawled unseen over the far railing. Soldiers who had dismounted were immediately in hand-to-hand combat, rifle butt against club. That gang of civilians also had bombs, and they were only feet from the armored cars before being spotted. At least three charges went off, in close succession. The last explosion tossed one scout car, armored, model M3A1, fifteen feet into the air. Men and guns and pieces of each were tossed in all directions. The remains of the chassis came crashing down next to a splintered hole in the bridge deck, and the entire thing went smashing through, taking several bridge girders with it into the fast running water below.

Our tanks had beat off the mob attack, the lead tank taking only superficial damage from one explosion. But they were now stranded, and the hill in front of them came alive with small arms fire against American soldiers around the bridge, who were still getting up from the blasts that wrecked the bridge.

The American line on the near riverbank returned fire, a hail of bullets ripping into the brush and trees opposing us. Without prompting one or more Navy ships to our left added to the fire with automatic cannon. No one could see the enemy under the dense shade of evergreen trees, the low winter sun behind them. But an intense volume of fire was distributed over the entire hillside.

Shortly the bigger Navy guns began to walk a pattern of five inch explosive shells along the hill. The circling attack planes were circling no longer, having been released by their ground controllers to come lend a hand near the shore. They strafed in long passes near the river, after loosing rockets into crevices higher up that Navy shells could not get into.

Under smoke from the bombardment, and a deliberate smoke screen, the tankers disabled their vehicles and got back across the river along one remaining truss of the tattered bridge. All the injured and most of the dead were recovered, and this special task force of the 8th Cavalry Regiment pulled back out of downtown Uchinoura, to the relative safety of “uptown” Uchinoura.

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November 16, 1945 : X+1 – off Kyushu

…This morning the weather brought low clouds with a chance of rain and heavy kamikaze showers. Before that a wave of suicide boats made out from the many nooks on Koshiki-retto, through a dim pre-dawn haze. The 160th regiment of the 40th infantry division has been working to clear any threats from that island since X-4, together with Navy destroyers circling the jagged shore. Much ordnance has been expended against the rocks there, blasting any suspicious looking crevice which might hide a small ship. But there are a great many crevices and clearly some of the deadly boats survived.

Kamikaze planes were expected at the first bit of bad weather, but the risk from attack boats was supposed to be eliminated. Destroyer picket screens against incoming aircraft are well beyond Koshiki-retto from this invasion fleet. Just one destroyer was patrolling between our big ships and the island, and she was busy this morning just keeping them at bay from her own hull. The USS Charette claims five shinyo sunk, with another probable. That may have been most of them, but we know at least three more got through, because they found the cruiser USS Little Rock and my recent acquaintance the USS Red Oak Victory. The Red Oak was back to her old job of at-sea re-supply of ordnance to Navy ships. The Little Rock did her share of pre-invasion shore bombardment, and was to continue the job of delivering fire support after taking on more deadly packages.

The Red Oak Victory was parallel to the shore, less than two miles off, tethered to the Little Rock. Gunners on the Red Oak may have hit some of the attacking boats, but the Little Rock reports that two of them got close enough to blow big holes in her hull, possibly starting off secondary explosions in the holds, and put her under in a blink. It was all the cruiser could do to cut the transfer lines and get clear of the sinking ship so they wouldn’t smash any swimming survivors. Little Rock’s gunners barely caught a glimpse of a final suicide motorboat gunning past the rolling wreck. The boat closed the last few dozen yards to the Little Rock and its multi-hundred-pound bow charge ripped through the light cruiser’s armor. I have no word on fatalities from below, but one machine gun crew on deck reported injuries from wood splinters and impact from one severed human hand.

The Little Rock is still afloat, after a scary stretch of fire fighting and damage control work. As the news came in, I sat in my corner of the radio room with an angry knot in my stomach at the certain fate of so many of my friends from the hard-working Red Oak Victory. Radio traffic continued its steady professional cadence. Hold picket screen, do not adjust. Oakland to assist. Task two fleet tugs. Notify USS Comfort.

Radio calls picked up urgency as two radar pickets ships saw a swarm of objects at the same time. A loose mass of objects came at cloud level from the direction of Nagasaki . Dozens more stragglers spanned fifty miles behind the main body. It was just at first light , so our radar equipped night fighters were still on station. One at a time they braved the cloud layer to hunt by glowing scope. Flying singly in strict zones to avoid collisions, they would do little to reduce the pack.

Close flying through clouds is no picnic, even for veteran pilots. Our second line of picket ships reported at least one pair of wrecked planes tumbling down out of the clouds, probably after a mid-air collision. Minutes later the outer ring of destroyers in our invasion fleet opened up with radar-directed flak at the approaching mob. Other ships joined in before I heard excited Japanese from one of the radios which had been silent.

I ran outside to look, brushing aside a scolding ensign, who shut the hatch behind me. Scores of Japanese planes dropped down out of the clouds. Two dozen Navy fighters, up and ready from the early radar picket alert, were inbound from the west to meet them. Once the forces merged it would be impossible for ships’ gunners to target Japanese planes without endangering American pilots. This rarely stopped American gunners under kamikaze attack.

One Japanese plane broke out, faster than the others, directly at my ship. I didn’t run or even flinch. Some how I knew she was not meant for me. The Jap plane streaked along low and level, shifting sideways just enough to be difficult to hit. The pilot was cool and experienced. I could see that his plane had no bomb. He did have two U.S. Navy “Hellcats” on his tail. The Japanese plane tore over my ship and I recognized it as one of the newest types, a Shinden, faster and stronger than the famous Reisen “Zero” that gave the world so much trouble through 1942.

Behind the Shinden were the two American fighters. Behind those were three older Japanese Navy planes just coming into view, each with an oversize bomb slung below. Our F6s were almost upon the dodging Shinden, and the lead Hellcat tore into it, throwing .50-caliber slugs through its structure and making the engine smoke. The Jap pilot pulled up into a full 180 degree reversal, adding a half barrel roll near the top, keeping up airspeed along the way. The surprised American fighters started a long level turn to come around and finish their prey. But the lead Japanese pilot had done his job. His three followers stormed ahead free of opposing fighters. They weaved near wave top, daring Navy gunners to shoot so low they could hit other ships. Gunners did fire, from every angle, and shortly the left plane erupted into a shower of debris which scattered over the water. The other two bore on, absorbing minor hits, engines screaming.

Just 300 yards forward and to port of my ship was the transport USS Montrose, also carrying elements of the 5th Marine Division. Like us she was still full, waiting for the division to get orders ashore. With barely a dozen yards to spare, gunners on the Montrose found the right plane in the remaining suicide pair, causing it to break apart, but it was too late. Most of both planes plowed into the side of the lightly armored transport, the bomb from the damaged plane impacting somewhere below the water line. In a dramatic flourish the injured Shinden pilot finished his flaming dive directly into the superstructure of the rapidly listing transport.

The Montrose sank in eight minutes. The Third Battalion of the 28th Marines ceased to exist.

http://www.eckleyaviationart.com/

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December 7, 1945 : X+22

Infantry in the field have little use for calendars. The day of the week means nothing to a man who is on the job all seven days no matter what, and hasn’t seen Sunday church services in months. Prayers out here are whispered on the schedule of artillery barrages and frontal assaults, not according to the program in a hymnal. The day of the month is immaterial to a soldier who pays no rent, though it should be cheap for accommodations consisting of a muddy hole and half a tent.

Those few here who do still keep track of what day it is recognize this as Pearl Harbor day. December 7th, four long years ago, the mighty Japanese Imperial Navy launched the surprise attack that ultimately brought us here. It would seem fitting for us to present them with an unpleasant surprise today, a little ‘thanks for the memories’ token of appreciation.

But I don’t think there will be any surprises offered in this part of the world. We assaulted this island with a quarter million combat troops and thousands of trucks and hundreds of tanks over three weeks ago. Our navy guns and artillery have pulverized in detail thousands of acres of Japanese home territory. I think they know we’re here.

One surprise for them might have been that the air force is operating out of the large airfields in Kanoya, but they tell me that won’t happen until tomorrow. We have been flying ground attack fighters from small improvised strips near the beaches since early on. Engineers get busy on the larger permanent airfields as soon as they are taken, but regular air operations don’t commence until the field is out of enemy artillery range and threat of night infiltration attacks.

Kanoya has the biggest prize airfield in this area, but it lies in a valley between what a civilian might call ‘beautiful mountain backdrops’, or the military calls ‘commanding heights’. Those heights must be cleared of unfriendly ‘sightseers’ before the field is safe to use.

The 1st cavalry division has nearly flushed out the last resistance in the rugged peninsula to the south. The 40th division believes it has a firm hold on the near sides of the dominating Onogara-dake, a 3600 foot jagged mountain that I imagine will be featured on postcards they will sell at Kanoya if it ever becomes a civilian airport.

So the plan is by this time tomorrow to have aircraft of many types able to land at Kanoya, quickly turn around, and rejoin the fight. Each captured or improvised airfield that opens up in a combat zone gets put to use like this as soon as it’s safe, and often before that. I can tell you several reason why, and why it’s important.

The first and most obvious thing is that the hours flying back and forth from a far-back air base to the front don’t have to happen. An attack plane can make many short trips in a day instead of one long one, delivering its presents to a greater number of naughty boys on the ground. A patrol fighter can spend many hours circling a patch of sky, or fight until its guns are empty instead of the gas tanks.

Sometimes people look at a map which says that target such-and-such is now in range of aircraft type so-and-so and they think ‘Great, that’s a done deal! It’s practically ours already.’ But if they stop and do the math they’ll realize the severe limits of operating at range. If a plane has say 12 hours endurance, as they call it, and it’s five hours away from the target each way (assume it’s the same both ways for simplicity), the plane can spend no more than two hours “on station” over the combat area. If you need to have constant coverage, and let me tell you the boys on the ground would really appreciate it if you made that happen, it now takes a squadron of twelve planes just to keep two at a time where they can do any good. Flying at great distance is what they call a “force divider”.

A subtler point is the drain long flights have on the airmen. It’s physically taxing, and a unique mental strain. I’ve seen this in every flying unit, but the problem was most acute with the long range B-29 pilots I visited in the Marianas. A squadron leader in one wing, Major Ralph Praeger of Great Bend, Kansas, explained it to me. “A bombing mission from here might be 8 hours out and 7 coming back. All of that is over wide open deep blue ocean. There’s very little to do but think about the risks, how on every large mission a few planes don’t come back, and for no known reason. They just don’t show up. Getting shot at over the target area is one thing. It almost seems fair [the Japs shooting back], I think some guys look at it that way any how. The rest of it though, it’s just nerve wracking.” Indeed it isn’t fair, one little (relatively) aluminum skinned bomber up against a humongous piece of fickle nature like the whole Pacific ocean.

The B-29, being a complexity-no-object state-of-the-art machine, requires plenty of maintenance after a long flight. If you ever get a chance to see a cutaway of one of those 18 cylinder supercharged radial engines that power these bombers, four at a time, I recommend it. It’s a thing of beauty, but remember that all those parts have to keep working together dozens of hours at a time, without service or inspection, for a loaded bomber to do a job. Now, if you get a chance to see a cutaway of a bomber pilot, I do not recommend it, because it’s pretty messy, but also a lot more complicated than even that radial engine or an entire bomber. Bomber crews sleep for a whole day after a big job. After an all-day mission they typically aren’t asked to fly again for three days or more.

Another reason we want close land air bases sooner-than-possible is the way it opens up the Navy’s aircraft carriers for their best uses. Navy and Marine flyers love supporting ground troops, but they also love their ships. The majority of the sea based planes here have been doing air defense, and as we’ve seen the fleet itself is the thing most in need of protection. The British sent every carrier they could muster, but their planes are 100% tasked with protecting their own part of the fleet.

The impatient airmen I talked to today, watching their new home air base being roughly finished, explained that the carriers would be free to move around more once the Army lets them go, and one thing they’ll like to do is go hunting for small airfields and harbors the enemy suicide planes and boats have been coming from. Shooting Japanese planes on the ground and boats at anchor would bring us back to symmetry with December 7, 1941.

It’s been a grand show , but I will not be sad to see the navy pull up its circus tent and take the show on the road, with a different script.

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The greatest historians remain those who tell the story as it happens, with fidelity but without theories to advance and without trying to build a story by selection and speculation. We believe that Walt Tuttle’s “Kyushu Diary” is just that sort of direct honest work – history from the own eyes of the historian, which will be cited without caveat or argument for generations.

In this time of uneasy peace and ‘containment’ policies, we are pleased to present the second edition of “Kyushu Diary”. Great armies are again poised across imaginary lines from each other, as tangled webs of ancient rivalries, incompatible cultures, territorial ambition, and new existential threats challenge the lasting peace and trust many hoped they had fought for in the preceding generation. What we have learned, mostly the hard way, about the new epoch of nuclear warfare may temper impulses to action, or drive them with desperate immediacy. Only time will tell.

History may be a never ending game of unfinished business. Only the last person left in history will have a clear view to say. For his part, Walt Tuttle has limited his post-war edits of this book to a few footnotes (which highlight the unknowns of battle), some choice historical quotes to caption each chapter (to remind the readers, politicians, generals, and citizens alike that very little changes in human history), and a reflective postscript. (Walt refused to put any preface before the journal entries, which might color perspective of the reader.) The daily reports remain as we originally printed them in 1946.

With one exception: The War Department has let us re-submit the raw diary through the military censors. A number of details are no longer redacted. Some paragraphs flow better, stories are more complete, and details such as the positions of maneuvering units are now in print.

We didn’t get everything through though. The military is wary of letting loose information on tactics that may still be current. No one will say if Japanese imperialists, Chinese communists, Russian communists, or some other group will present the next military challenge, but for once the U.S.military is ready to admit in a post-war time that there will be a next challenge.

– Francis Dixon, Stone Lake Press
February, 1952
Saratoga, New York

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