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All posts for the month November, 2015

[Tuttle moved with a light company to clear out a tiny peninsula which juts out into Ariake Bay.]

The official Army map clearly showed a trail continuing on out to the tip. Every person in the column wondered aloud, in a colorful palette of language, just what the map makers had seen that we couldn’t. We had assumed they used aerial photos and perhaps old file maps made by locals before the war. The analyst who drew this map may have used old horoscopes.

The trail went plainly enough to the first hilltop, where a small clearing would have been a pleasant camping spot. Today it held a captain and two lieutenants arguing about which false trailhead in front of us actually went anywhere (none of them did, it turned out). Finally they agreed to navigate by the contour map, which seemed accurate enough. We moved out line abreast, stubbornly hacking through patches of brush, to find each local high spot. No enemy were sighted, and we took no fire, even though we were making a good bit of noise, with nothing else to mask it.

About noon I did notice appreciable traffic of aircraft flying into the hills behind us, accompanied by distant thunder from exploding bombs and shells. So there was some action. Around one o’clock we were on another high spot about half way out, and a quick lunch break was called.

Out loud I ordered a hot salami sandwich with fresh pickle and a double martini. A couple guys laughed at my wisecrack so I sat with them for our lunch of cold canned rations and crackers, with vintage canteen water.

We formed up again and continued before anyone could get too comfortable. The point narrowed, so we had less area to cover, but it also got more steep. Men were walking sideways on steep slopes, ducking under branches, wary of both twisting an ankle and of being shot at from some anonymous tree top. In several places ropes were tied to make hand holds. In another two hours we were near the end and closed in on the last high spot, at the very tip of the bony peninsula.

The entire lead squad stopped, knelt down, and waved for an officer to come forward. I followed. They had come to the edge of a U-shaped clearing. The open end of the U had a clear view of the ocean. At the center was a short rectangular concrete building. It was clear even from directly behind that the front side of this reinforced pillbox had been smashed by very heavy artillery or bombs.

Supporting squads were moved out along the sides of the clearing. From the closed end the first squad advanced in line toward the wrecked fortification. A few of them had rifles shouldered, ready for trouble. Others were mostly casual, sure that the emplacement was long abandoned.

A shot rang out and an American soldier in the center of the line was down. With a bloody shriek the first Japanese soldier anyone had seen up close in days ran out the back of the bunker directly toward the American line. He fired a rifle from the hip, and got off two more wild shots before return fire cut him down. In a few seconds at least twenty American .30 caliber cartridges were snapped off toward him.

The Japanese soldier, an older corporal, fell first to his knees. He reached into a jacket pocket, which drew three more shots into his abdomen. Before he died he drew out a small crumpled rising sun flag. It fluttered open freely as he fell forward. By chance his hand caught it again on the way down. His lifeless fingers involuntarily clutched the flag, its bright red streamers flowing out across the ground next to the bleeding body.

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[The 8th Cavalry set up advance through rough terrain, Tuttle and Major Lawless sitting in with the only mechanized element of the operation.]

The central southern part of Kyushu is a mountainous peninsula which points acutely out into the East China Sea. It defines the east side of Kagoshima Bay and one shoulder of Ariake Bay. 18 miles wide at the first foothills, it tapers south by southeast 25 miles to a sharp cape which is the southernmost point of Kyushu. Except for a steep east-west pass about halfway through, the peninsula is a continuous sequence of named mountains, joined and divided by long ridges which run in a variety of directions. Small and large rivers cut through every valley. All of them ran high in the rainy season we met on Kyushu.

Yesterday afternoon I was taken by jeep up dirt trails which only a very stubborn driver can make usable by motor vehicles. The 8th Cavalry Regiment took most of the 2500 foot mountain Kunimi-yama and had been camped in spots on and around it preparing for their next move. This morning I went down the east side of the mountain on an even worse trail.

Like all the mountains in the area, it’s far more than one single hill. From each peak that gets the name, there are a cascade of smaller peaks, divided by uneven valleys. The land is practically impassable. Beyond a few logging roads, there is no organized access. So American soldiers have been practicing with ropes and climbing gear, and engineers are ready to tie up cable hoists right behind them.

Through this land, the 8th was to move forward, roughly southward, in a continuous line, gather up in the next long broken valley, and attack up the next set of slopes. The east end of that valley holds the small fishing city of Uchinoura, which sits in a small bay at the southern tip of Ariake Bay. I was to ride with an armored column that would take the coastal road around the mountain, ride into town, grab the one good river bridge there, and secure it so our infantry could be supported into the next ridge line.

Our side of the operation could expect good naval support from the small bay. Farther inland the infantry would rely on close air support. Clear skies afforded unrestricted air operations, for once.

When I first arrived I was delighted to find the British reporter Major Peter Lawless, my tent mate on Okinawa, with us at the top of the mountain. We caught up on what each had seen during the ‘big show.’ He was a late comer, having only got a cast off his arm two weeks ago, after getting it broken pitching in to rebuild on Okinawa after the last storm. He went into the eastern beach head at Miyazaki on about the fourth day.

Major Lawless said he saw the 25th Division do the same thing we are about to do, on a smaller scale, a couple times. They have a long sequence of steep ridges to deal with down the coast. They could get naval support, like we were to have, but were exposed the whole time coming down the steep face of the ridge they held before even starting to work up the next ridge. It was difficult, and deadly when the Japanese chose to make it so.

Among dense trees in a rare flat spot we shared a crowded tent with an assortment of young officers, catching whatever sleep we could before getting up before dawn to pack up. We would have only about ten hours of daylight to work in. As soon as there was just enough light to see ten feet, our jeep was off.

Major Lawless and I shared the jeep with its driver, Corporal Donald Bignall, and an interpreter, Captain Doyle Dugger. Captain Dugger picked up Japanese the hard way, in schools the Army rushed to set up at the start of the war. He said the foreign language options at a small Catholic college in southern Indiana didn’t venture much beyond Latin, Greek, and German. Corporal Bignall learned some Chinese swear words growing up in San Francisco, and is sure any Japs we meet would understand them just fine.

We all cursed together, in every language any of us knew, as our jeep was tossed down the old mountain trail, more by happenstance than by steering and throttle. Supposedly a scout of some sort had run through here before the operation was approved, but we had our doubts. The mountain was not our only problem, as there were other vehicles ahead of and behind us. We had to stop short on several occasions as the jeep in front got set up for a tricky turn, praying that the one following us got the message in time.

Finally we came out through a tiny deserted village onto the coastal road. The sun was uncomfortably bright over the ocean, as we emerged from two hours of navigating through an evergreen forest. We moved back along the road to find a place in the attack column that had formed ahead of us. Driving in the dark all night, a few tanks and at least forty armored scout cars had come along the coast road from yards near Ariake Bay and Kanoya.

The gravel road was in good condition but barely one good lane wide in stretches. It took some time to find our place toward the rear of the large company. We had time though. The mechanized column had five miles to cover. The infantry beside us had less distance to cover, but they had to go up and down almost as much as forward. We were to wait until a bit after noon, or the first time the infantry made contact, to shove forward.

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[Tuttle rarely accepted an invitation from a high officer to follow a particular unit – the 1st Cavalry Division.]

General Colt caught himself about to slam down the handset, set it down easily instead, and stood up. His broad 6’2” frame made the modest Japanese bureaucrat’s desk look like a scale model. He reached out his hand and with half a smile welcomed me. His thick black hair did not betray his fifty-something years.

“What you just heard was probably the last ‘discussion’ about what this division does next. Though I’d hardly call it a discussion. The decision was made in Guam weeks ago, I’m sure.” He sat down again and lit another cigarette. “The Air Corps, they want a big air base in Kanoya, sure. They want to be certain the base is secure, I get that. But to make sure, they want us to make it happen, by clearing out every nook and cranny of all the mountains south of here.”

I recalled how other air fields, like at Iwo, had been overrun long after combat troops had ‘cleared’ the area. I asked what was so hard about it, as I pulled out my pad and started taking notes. “When we landed, someone had to push up into these mountains,” the general pointed behind him with a fist and thumb, “so the Japs couldn’t put spotted fire on to the beach. That job fell to us. Then they put random fire on the beach and we had to drive in even further. Then we got hit from behind (because nobody at Corps knows what they’re doing!) and we had to turn around and clear the beach – again.”

He leaned forward more, pointing a finger at nothing for emphasis, “Now they’ve taken away a regiment, told us to reorganize on the fly, and stuck us with a big dirty job. They’ve always been out to get us! They always said the First was oversize, and top heavy [with senior officers], but this division has had the flexibility to split off units of any size, send them out for every other dirty job, and always got it done.” His pointing finger thumped the desk for emphasis of every phrase. I was starting to understand why I was invited to this interview, instead of the other way around.

General Colt sat back in his chair, hands folded across his sternum. He paused to draw an easy breath. “We’ve already broken the back of the resistance here and soaked up troops and artillery rounds that they can’t possibly replace. If Jap stragglers ever did manage to hit the airfield, they’d only do it once. They’d be mowed down in the open, damaging a few planes at most.” He sat up again and continued gesturing, pointing loosely back toward Kanoya. “We offered to set up a mobile ready response unit, regiment size, who would patrol to defend the base. But no, they insisted on a whole division to lock it up airtight, or we go in and clear it out. Corps sure as hell is not going to leave a division sitting here, so we’re going in to take the next however goddamned many mountains.”

He leaned forward and thumped the loose stack of maps in front of him. “It took us two weeks and several thousand casualties to get five miles in. Now there are twenty miles to go.” General Colt got up and paced across the small room as he finished his cigarette. “They offered us the 112th and 158th RCTs [off Tanega-shima], to land inside Kagoshima Bay. We can’t support them there, but the Navy is supposed to come in and blast the place.”

He crushed out the cigarette then apologized for not offering me one. I accepted and lit it as he asked, “So where are you going? What would you like to see next?” I said I’d like to see a warm fireplace and a cold glass of bourbon some time soon. With a hearty chuckle he moved to the far back corner of the room to light a small gasoline heater.

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[On this day a big Japanese artillery piece was finally located and taken out of action.]

Others have written about the sound of incessant artillery, and how men, especially desperately tired men, can tune it out and get decent sleep in their cozy holes. It seems the Japanese commanders have been keeping up with the literature on the subject. The nighttime artillery focused on American troops and equipment has been just that – focused. The rounds are either spread along the lines, or the obvious places one would want to set up overnight defensive lines from our side of things, or concentrated on an actual cluster of tents or an equipment dump that was observed setting up during the day. The timing is stubbornly inconsistent, but few that I talk to think it’s random.

There are always precautions against making light at night which can draw enemy fire. In this position the rules are especially strict. There’s no hope of getting a double tent with a blackout lock set up this close to front, let alone a single tent. Everyone is dug down into the earth, as far as they can get into the rocky hillside. I am rushing to get my notes written out before complete darkness overtakes the southeastern face of this mountain.

I am with the 40th Infantry Division, near Kanoya on the first (southern) slope of the multi-ridged mountain they call Onogara-dake. Yesterday our 108th Regiment moved through Kanoya to be the first Americans to touch the precious waters of Kagoshima Bay. Today the division’s other regiments, the 160th and 185th, attacked up the first ridge face of Onogara-dake and now hold it. It was not cheap – a steady parade of stretcher bearers still working their way down the hill is ready testament to the price – but there was a prize in this box of explosive Cracker Jacks. The position of one very heavy gun that has been firing on the beach, and everywhere else for a dozen mile radius, was taken and silenced for good.

It was known that some of the Japanese navy cruisers and older battleships have had their gun turrets removed, since for a year now it has been all but impossible for a Japanese capital ship to leave port and succeed at any military purpose. Not that our submarines or bombers or navy gunners care about the purpose – they are attacked and sunk on sight. Several Jap ships have been put down in harbors while already toothless relics. It was supposed that the turrets were melted down to make other more needful things with the steel, but some wondered about the guns.

Major Benjamin Davis of the 160th Regiment staff tells me it was an eight inch gun, they’re not sure how old. It’s larger than anything the Japanese army lugs around, and dragging it up to its hole in the mountain had to be a mean feat, along with fitting out the hole. The gun could be taken back in out of sight after firing. “We didn’t see the cave, which we think was hand dug, until about 200 yards away. It was already abandoned, but a pair of machine guns was left waiting for us to approach and check it out. They had the thing on tracks, with a manual traverse that was slow, but worked. It was right under a natural brow in the hill, with brush around it, some of it drug there recently. The whole thing looked like nothing but a dark spot on the hill, on a sunny day. Oh, they had other shallow painted fake cave entrances scattered around it. One of them we pounded with 155s and rockets for days, just a hundred yards away – for nothing.”

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[Tuttle got back out into the field, this time west of Ariake bay.]

A few people had important jobs to do, and jeeps and trucks navigated through and around muddy holes in the narrow unimproved roads. I tried to stay out of their way, not having a particularly important job, nor any particular preference for being splashed with mud.

Along the way I passed a low lying field which had been given over to a vehicle scrap yard. Rolling machines of every variety had been driven or dragged there when it was still dry. They covered several acres, with barely room to walk between the rows. Today young privates in ponchos waded through ankle deep mud with hand tools, including a portable blowtorch, hunting the new relics for usable spare parts.

My own feet were soaked, after I used up my own luck avoiding deep puddles and clenching mud along the road west. I had managed to obtain a good poncho and one pair of dry socks back in camp, but the socks were soaked again already, along with my uniform and courier bag, my only luggage for now.

After a couple hours of miserable slog, I was made to feel better in comparison to the more miserable men I was there to find. Soldiers of the 1st Cavalry Division had found no rest in camp, no change of socks, and rarely even a flat patch of land to lie down on for the last ten days.

I checked in with one battalion CO and got up to the front to see his soldiers. From mortar men in back, machine gunners up from them, and riflemen in fresh dug (and poorly draining) holes on the line, they had stories similar to what I got out of the 43rd Division. The 1st Cavalry Division had been fighting up into steep hills, in repeating lines, for over a week. Then they had to give up much of what they had won. The Japanese rush had caught parts of the division from behind. Its other regiments had to turn around 180 degrees, come down out of the mountains, and fight on the beach again.

From there I walked just across an imaginary line to the domain of the 185th Regiment, of the 40th Infantry Division. The 1st Cav will move back into the hills now that the 40th is here. The 40th just got here and saw action right away moving in to cover the side and rear of the 1st Cav.

I spoke with some of the soldiers about the large attack by civilians. There wasn’t much chatter at first, but after the first few fellows started I couldn’t get the stories down fast enough.

Probing into the outskirts of Kanoya, keeping close to ready cover should heavy artillery start again, lead units found the trip lever of a trap. Regular Japanese army soldiers opened fire from cover to the north. It wasn’t very effective, but it made most of the regiment stop moving and find cover while they could set up a response. Fire from the north stopped and immediately American rifles on the left were engaging with a mob running in from the west. Comments on the action ran from wild to tragic.

“Civilians? That’s a laugh. We found Jap Army papers in with them. They were regular units with regular orders, no ifs, ands, or buts.” “I watched dames in kimonos get torn up by our rifles, then saw one explode! She had grenades or something under the dress – if it was a she.” Other men were closer to the fighting. “We got a lot of ‘em, but they just seemed to grow more on the spot. I emptied two clips, clubbed one guy, and knifed another before I took off… Not everybody made it back.”

In the end, the American line held, but they say about two hundred more of our men are gone, half of them for good. The burial detail has made room for five hundred Japanese, and they think that may just about do it. Facilities are being assembled to lock up the survivors, pending interrogation to sort out any regular military left among them.

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[Tuttle took this day to catch the reader up on action around Kyushu.]

The 43rd Division is being pulled out, entirely. Its losses of officers and equipment can’t be replenished fast enough to make it worth feeding its idle units until that time comes. Its healthy men will be redistributed to other units, which are thirsty for veteran replacements.

The 1st Cavalry is the one division here to have four regiments, most others switching to three before the war. This may have been a compensation to the division for losing its horses in favor of trucks and scout vehicles. But that compensation is over. The 7th Cavalry Regiment is being split up, too expensive to rebuild while other units are too depleted to function. If it remains an active regiment, it will materialize somewhere back in the States as the regimental colors are presented to a column of new boot camp graduates.

The 40th Division is still being landed, charged with defending the whole middle of the line while everyone else prepares to move back into the mountains around Ariake Bay.

In the west, the Marines did take Kagoshima and Sendai, experiencing tough urban fighting, and attacks by civilians, after a week of slogging through a maze of defended hills. They scarcely hold either city though, as every night and some days heavy artillery from vantage points looking down into the cities hit known key points in each. The 2nd and 3rd Marine divisions hold the Sendai-Kagoshima line, having took in multiple waves of reinforcements to keep the advance going, ten miles in ten days.

South of Kagoshima the 5th Marine Division has been making painful progress down the five mile wide peninsula. It is a ¾ scale model of southern Okinawa, but there is only one Marine division instead of two Marine and two Army divisions working to clear pits and caves and tunnels which defend each other. All of it is in range of Navy guns, and I don’t doubt that it’s quite a show when they light up a stubborn hill. Engineers got to work in earnest on an airfield behind the Marines yesterday, sure that it’s now out of Jap artillery range. It should boost by half the volume of ground support flights they can run on a good day.

South of the Marines, the 77th and 81st infantry divisions made good progress at first, pushing through open flat land west of Kaimon-dake, which was undefended. The small mountain was expected to be a tough fort and the Navy was almost disappointed at not getting to blast at it. The Army divisions are now coming into hilly territory and finding the going considerably slower and more bloody.

In the east around Miyazaki the story has been mixed. In from the beach is a plain almost ten miles deep. American spotters can observe all of it and direct Navy guns on any part quickly. The Japanese did not try to fortify it. Miyazaki itself was largely deserted, save for bands of scared or angry civilians who did not evacuate with the others. Some of them attacked American soldiers in small groups, to limited direct effect but it makes our soldiers ever more wary.

South of Miyazaki the 25th Division did the tough job of taking hills close to the beach, which overlook American camps. There the Japanese did defend, and it was all the 25th could do to take the first line of mountain ridges before digging in to rest. Miyazaki will become the first developed place we really hold on Kyushu. Its port and airfields will be opened up ‘soon.’

Early on the beach head at Miyazaki faced a dress rehearsal of the big counter attack that just finished in Ariake Bay. They figure that parts of “only” two veteran Japanese divisions drove into American lines, supported by about fifty tanks. The attack at Ariake was more than twice as large.

One thing that has everyone surprised is the number of Japanese tanks that have been thrown at us. Intelligence men are optimistic that we’ve already seen most of what they can muster, but when pressed they have to admit they just don’t know for sure. Movement of troops far to the north has been seen by our aircraft when weather permits. When weather does not permit observation, Japanese reinforcements can move without aiding our insight.

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[After the Japanese attack into Ariake Bay, Tuttle rode along with a beat up infantry platoon as they pulled out.]

Moving the other way on the coast road in a steady stream were war-weary soldiers and trucks. One truck was barely half full of tired men. I knew it was full to capacity with stories to tell, so I hitched a ride.

Benches along either side of the bed were occupied by men sitting upright or sideways or variations in between the too. At the front on the right side was the only officer. First Lieutenant (provisional) Manchester B. Watson had his feet up on the bench and was sound asleep, possibly dreaming of his hometown of Greenville, South Carolina. “He ain’t slept in five days,” Private Johnnie Garrett told me, along the way to mentioning that he and the Lieutenant were from the same town.

On the flatbed floor was a chaotic assortment of equipment, from cases of grenades to post hole diggers. I picked up an ammunition belt that had all of 13 cartridges left in it. Private Garrett explained, “They told us to grab whatever equipment we could and move out on the first truck that came for us, after we carried back injured and dead all morning. Everyone took up exactly one armful of junk, tossed it in, and got on board.” Some of the men were asleep sitting up.

Behind us was towed a small artillery piece, an Army 105 mm, I think. I asked around and learned everyone on the truck was with the same infantry platoon. “That’s not ours, and we couldn’t tell ya where its crew got off to. Nothing but empty crates around it when we found it.” Corporal Judson McBrine of Newport, Rhode Island continued, “The driver couldn’t stand to leave it there. Whoever left it took the breech pin with them , but otherwise it’s in good shape.”

For the rest of the trip across Ariake Bay I heard competing stories of ocean fishing from men of the unit. Most of the 43rd Infantry Division was from New England, and anyone who wasn’t a commercial fisherman was a keen angler, or at least talked a good game. There were nineteen men on the truck. I asked about the rest of Lieutenant Watson’s platoon.

“This is it, the whole thing.” The new voice was Staff Sergeant Clifford Blais, who’s accent from Providence they tell me is different from the Newport man. I can’t tell the difference. “They sent two trucks to bring us back, and said a third was coming. We sent the second away and the third one is probably still looking for someone to carry.”

I moved up front with the Sergeant, the ranking non-com on board. We talked quietly as he filled me in on the experience of his unit so far. They were among the first ashore and had been fighting in the hills north of Ariake Bay since the first day.

Their regiment, the 103rd, had no trouble getting to the beach. Other parts of the 43rd Division had to maneuver around shipwrecks in the shallows and took sporadic but accurate heavy fire from hideaways in the hills. The 103rd Regiment rushed on toward its second day objectives right away – up into those hills.

All of this was perfectly predictable to the defenders, so the American charge went right into a trap with multiple rows of teeth. Little American artillery had made it ashore yet, naval support was limited by the angle of the hill slopes to the bay, and air support was limited when anti-aircraft guns became priority targets for the Navy attack planes. The infantry had to knock out positions one at a time with rifles, grenades, and a few bazookas.

Obscured by smoke from bombardment and brush which had survived the bombardment, Japanese positions did not reveal themselves until American troops were at close range. Each one generated casualties that had to be carried back to the beach, as a plan was improvised to regroup and take out the new enemy pit or pillbox or cave.

They kept at it for five days, repeatedly taking out small networks of enemy positions and seizing small objectives, until the last hills with direct view of the American beach were under American boots. A halt was called there, not that it mattered. Sergeant Blais said they were spent. They couldn’t take another ant hill, let alone the ever larger mountain peaks in front of them. Word went up and down the line that every other unit was in about the same shape.

In the course of fighting off the large Japanese counter attack of the previous days, they fell back twice, taking many casualties back with them. Fighting was hand-to hand during one early morning charge. Some small units elsewhere in the division were wiped out to a man on the worst day. But other Army units closed up those gaps, recovered the dead, and retreated in some semblance of order. This was a veteran division, and had been for some time.

withdrawal by platoons

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[Tuttle found himself literally in the middle of the long pre-planned great Japanese counter-attack on Kyushu.]

This was no frenzied banzai charge. The Japanese moved quickly, but fought from cover and applied combined arms to reduce our hasty defenses and keep American units moving backward. It was all by the book, right from the latest war college papers* [*I had a lot of time to read on Okinawa].

Progress for the Japanese was terribly expensive. Their vehicles were easy prey to the growing variety of field guns packed by U.S. infantry. Long range naval fire was not an option for us with the Japs intermingled among American forces, but the destroyers which had come in close yesterday had positioned themselves to put direct line-of-sight fire on key roads and passes. In one surreal scene a Japanese tank commander brought his team of four tanks into a side-by-side line just a mile from the beach. They began to fire on the destroyer John C. Butler. The destroyer lined up her 5 inch guns and dueled mano a mano with the armored squadron. The destroyer won.

The latest kamikazes had only a limited impact, but one of their successes was to hit the destroyer Heerman, just once but low near the water line. The Heerman, no stranger to a tough fight, beached herself to keep from sinking and kept up fire support against targets on land.

American planes raged through the sky all day. Many of them went up with oversize rockets built for crushing hardened concrete bunkers deep under many feet of rock. I saw first hand one of those giant rockets slam into a Jap tank, practically re-smelting the entire steel monster, redistributing its constituent elements back into the earth from which they came.

Troops on Japanese trucks soon learned they were also priority targets. They quickly dismounted, by choice or by explosive force. The Japanese attack eventually slowed to a foot soldier’s pace. They kept coming though, merely tightening the focus of the attack. They were driving right through the middle of the 98th Division, the least experienced large unit in the invasion, whether they knew it or not.

My particular platoon of the 98th eventually made it back to a low long hill one mile in from the beach, where the 391st Regiment had regrouped to set up a fighting line. The acting commander, by that point a Lieutenant Colonel, had thought we were long lost and had set up the line without us. We were sent all the way back to the short dikes by the beach – right where we were supposed to have landed – to be the true last line of defense.

Tiny Tim rocket

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[Tuttle attached himself to a rookie-led platoon, which quickly got itself lost.]

Lieutenant Cooper didn’t complain when I followed him and his sergeant to find the HQ for which ever unit was there. It was our sister company in the 389th Regiment. Their Captain Charles Harrison, of New Orleans, Louisiana, said it was good to see us. His modest Cajun drawl was welcoming.

“We were holding the line with rifles and mortars. I was told to expect no heavy artillery support, and to get in line to request armor.” I told him about the loaded LSTs that went down in the bay yesterday. “Well that explains it. Still, we’re holding, or we were last I saw. My company came back here to get a rest while our reserve unit took over. So, what are y’all doing here?”

Lieutenant Cooper explained in schoolbook terms about variable force vectors and combat adaptability and was interrupted by the captain, “So, ya got lost! Well welcome to the party in any case. I suppose you want to find the rest of your unit. I’ll tell you what I know, and you can grab extra ammo here before you move out.”
As the officers talked, runners went to grab boxes of machine gun ammo and rifle clips which were passed on with a quiet “good luck.” Conversation was interrupted several times by low flying aircraft, each time a single Navy fighter-bomber, flying low under the persistent clouds.

We got directions to head roughly west on a local road. It was covered by a line of hills to the right, out of enemy view, until the point where we should meet our own division. For the next hour we marched, still under assault packs, until nearing the end of the last protective ridge.

We faced a broad shallow valley. Nothing moved in the valley, except the occasional cloud of dirt kicked up by an exploding artillery shell. Across the valley I could make out American soldiers and trucks, moving back southwest along the base of the hill which defined the valley between us. Vehicles had struggled to move over the soaked earth, more than one was abandoned in axle-deep mud. An occasional heavy shell streaked from left to right, probably from our Navy gun ships. Smaller rounds moving from right to left, from Japanese cannon and mortars, could not be seen until they exploded.

Lieutenant Cooper wanted a better look. He took a sergeant a ways up the hill next to us to get a better view to the north. He stood up tall at the crest, pointing and talking while looking through his binoculars. One minute after that the earth shook all around us, trying to swallow the entire platoon. Veterans instinctively threw themselves against the adjacent slope. Sergeants and corporals screamed at their charges to follow suit and get cover behind the hill.

The violence of heavy exploding shells defies description in terms any adult knows. The whole earth, the fundament upon which all our plans begin, is ripped apart and shot in all directions. To understand when something one has always relied on to suddenly be gone, one must try to remember the helpless fright of a small child. Almost anything can be terrifying to a person who hasn’t yet learned about the supposed permanence of the world around him.

The large artillery that terrorized us thankfully diminished quickly, but soon after it high trajectory mortar rounds fell close behind the hillside. We gathered up into a decent line and crawled up the ridge line toward the top, but not exposing ourselves like the looey, who was still curled up in a ball near the crest.

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[Aboard a transport in Ariake Bay, Tuttle witnessed a kamikaze attack of unprecedented scale and coordination.]

An occasional dull thud or distant crack sounded out from the front lines on land. I was standing under a lashed assault boat to stay out of steady rain, two cups of coffee in me, when the sea all around erupted with gun fire.

Radar directed five inch guns were quickly elevated from shore support positions to fire at aircraft somewhere in the dark rain clouds. I saw scattered flashes of light from land where anti-aircraft batteries had been set up. They must have been firing blindly, following whatever the Navy guns were doing.

Sailors on the Athene ran all directions toward battle stations. Soldiers moved down into the holds, where they were instructed to wait out any attack. I ran, field glasses in hand, toward any ladder I could find that took me up higher for a better sightseeing location.

I got to my best vantage point, forward and several decks up on the superstructure, just as the medium anti-aircraft pieces across the invasion fleet came alive. All guns were firing to the northwest, over land. Whatever the threat was, it was coming from the interior of the island. In my binoculars I could just make out flaming planes falling out of the sky, one and two at a time. A few flew down out of the clouds under power, still over land – over our lines. Pulling up and turning clumsily, surprised at the lack of water and naval targets, each was chewed up by ground fire shortly after coming into view.

Ships in the fleet began to slew their AA batteries different directions, as the radar targets came almost directly overhead. Some guns were at maximum elevation before the first live planes came diving out of the sky. Just as those planes came diving, more planes, slow and low flying, were spotted coming out over land at tree top. Patrolling Navy fighters, helpless to intercept the cloud-covered waves, shot out to intercept those low flying bogies while they had a chance.

Planes diving out of the clouds had a short window in time to find a target. They had no fighter escorts, all were suicide bombers. Most were probably inexperienced pilots flying old planes, but there were hundreds of them, and they were right on top of the fleet.

Kamikazes came down so thick that for a time it looked more like part of the weather than a contrivance of man. American gunners kept up a furious pace of firing. The hardest part of their job was choosing which target to work on, out of so many deadly options. Airplane wreckage and small oil slicks littered half the bay before the first of the suicide planes found success.

I watched myself as the destroyer USS Kidd was hit twice. The old cruiser USS Chester took three impacts amidships and was still burning at noon when she was abandoned. But the focus of the onslaught was clearly the transports. Most of the troops were already ashore, but our heavy support equipment was largely still waiting on the water. In close sequence I saw a heavily laden cargo ship and two tank landing ships next to her put down with multiple impacts from one well-disciplined formation of suicide planes. Behind them the tanker USS Kishwaukee, loaded with aviation fuel, lit up the eastern sky brighter than the sun after just one near vertical impact drove straight through the ship, flooding the sea with burning fuel.

After an intense few dozen minutes, the assault from above and over land was down to a few stragglers, aircraft which got up late or got lost. One at a time they were easy prey for fighters and Navy guns. Then an alert went out about more planes coming from land to the northeast. Practically out of the ground around Takahata-yama another thirty-some planes launched toward the rear of our fleet.

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