amphibious

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[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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[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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[Tuttle went along with a medical team on its way to reinforce the exhausted doctors on Tanega-shima.]

A call went out for volunteers on clean calm hospital ships to go get dirty for a while. Lead nurse Chief Evan Fields tells me half the ship volunteered, so this group was chosen by lottery. The group of seven is from eight different states, spanning the continent from Maine to Oregon. Pharmacists Mate Paul Atha was born on a Kiowa reservation nineteen years ago in Oklahoma. We sang him happy birthday over the sound of our ship’s engine.

Each person in the medical team had a heavy foot locker with him, and other boxes and crates, all barely luggable by one man. I needled them about their excess baggage but Dr. Federowicz corrected me. “All we have with us is the clothes on our backs. They’ve been tearing through medical supplies on the island, so we brought our own tools and all the consumables we could carry.”

Our ship tied up at a temporary pier off the south end of the American beach head. It was supposedly the safest place on the still hotly contested island. I unloaded crates for the team, as they were put to work immediately loading injured soldiers onto another boat. I followed bedraggled corpsmen and stretcher bearers to the aid station the stretchers were coming from. Their dirty green uniforms were damp with sweat in the mid afternoon sun. Just that morning they had been dry for the first time in days.

The aid station is nothing more than three twelve foot square tents. Under clear warm skies the tent flaps are wide open. One can watch four teams of surgeons working two of the tents, wading through loose bundles of dirty uniform pieces and bloody gauze on the ground at their feet. As I passed stretcher bearers took one case off the last table, carting him over to a quiet corner of the loosely organized compound. There laid rows of poncho covered bodies, some with a stake at the head holding some memento left by comrades who were still standing. Stretchers were in short supply and not left with the dead.

For a moment the bustle and flow of the scene reminded me of a casino with popular table games. Gamblers come in and out, each trying his luck. The doctors and nurses are just dealers and croupiers, they have no stake in the game, however they might cheer for the lucky and anguish over the losers. The House is death itself, and the house is doing terribly well, paying out absolute loss to losers but only meager victories to the winning gamblers.

The surgeon from that losing table stepped out into the sun, resting his weight on his knees for a moment, staring passively at the well worn dirt trail in front of his work place. After a routine cleaning of the operating table corpsmen brought another priority case into the tent. The surgeon joined his team in the third tent to change his apron and gloves and move on to their next case.

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[While at Kushikino Tuttle kept collecting and sharing reports from the other beachheads.]

Miyazaki is overlooked by mountains close to the south and tall bluffs farther inland to the west. A sizable plain stretches out to the north, dotted with small towns and villages and many level roads. The 25th Division has fought tooth and nail to claim the first peaks of the mountains in the south. After taking the near slopes, with ample Navy gun support, they are stumped by defenses on the reverse slopes, supported by more Japanese forces on the next hills. On Kyushu there is always one more hill, and somehow it’s always a little higher than the one we just took.

Rain has frustrated efforts to hit the back sides of ridge lines from the air and to observe enemy movements. Overnight Japanese infantry and a stunningly large tank formation advanced on the 33rd Division, which was in a semicircle west and north of Miyazaki. They engaged while it was still dark, after a large artillery barrage. The barrage was not a random pattern, it was directed against particular parts of the division camp. Forward supply points were a sore loss, and medical tents were not spared.

At the sound of tank engines flares shot into the sky and a giant carnival shooting gallery opened up. The main road from Miyakonojo, and several parallel to it, ran directly into the 136th Infantry Regiment. Division armor was not positioned forward, so the ground pounders fought with small towed guns and bazookas against the tank columns and their infantry support. While many tanks were flaming hulks lighting the night, others got right into the American lines, spewing machine gun rounds up and down the line. At first light a short American retreat was organized. Ammo was in desperate supply, especially anti tank rockets.

While it was still dark an estimated two thousand Japanese infantry emerged practically out of the dirt directly in front of the 130th Infantry, right of the 136th. Fighting too close for artillery or even mortar support, the forces fought with field guns, rifles, knives, and rocks through the morning. Both forces bled heavily.

In the end, reserves were engaged, more ammo was delivered, and American lines are back where they were yesterday. Dozens of Japanese tanks are a field of charred scrap. The attacking Japanese infantry retreated at mid-day, leaving more than a thousand bodies behind. But the American 25th and 33rd divisions are inoperative, having pushed the medical chain to its limit and beyond. And they are no closer to the heavy guns hidden inland which keep them up at night and much worse.

Japanese Type 95 tank

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[Tuttle described the relief plan of the tough situation the early landing troops on Tanega-shima were in and the first suicide boat (shinyo) attack.]

I do not expect many readers to absorb all the detail of this improvised operation. I spell it out in detail to make clear just what a big wrench in the works it is. The Japanese are sure to lose the entire substantial force which garrisoned Tanega-shima. All their effort digging caves and camouflaging guns there will be overcome and eventually lost to time. But that price has bought them a large impediment to the complicated plan of their enemy, of an inestimable value.

Yet much of that plan still unfolds, on schedule. Yesterday afternoon saw the two lead divisions at each of the three main beach heads land two combat regiments. That much was according to plan. The plan of course assumes some resistance from the enemy, but that has been consistently inconsistent. Our landed soldiers and Marines got through the first mile and more inland finding only disorganized resistance. The worst were pairs of light machine guns hastily set up in the rubble and craters made by our pre-invasion bombardment. They are also being harassed by long range fire from inland mountains and high points to the sides of each landing beach. There is nothing to do about it but to push into those heights. Forces are moving and timetables are being adjusted.

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 ships 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 and a few patrol boats were patrolling between our big ships and the island. 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 had done 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 the cargo ship’s 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. The 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.

Shinyo attack, from squadron monument marker.

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[Off the western beaches, Tuttle got a direct view of the initial landings near Kushikino.]

Our boats over here in the west were starting to move forward and Mr. Morris and his mates got too busy to entertain me. Control boats checked in as each line formed up. This information was relayed to the bombardment destroyers so they knew when to get out of the way, or to continue firing and keep enemy heads tucked down under ground.

Radio calls came in at an even tempo, from firm calm voices. Those voices had made the calls before, as they’ve had plenty of chances to practice and perform this act of the play. Boats at 2000 yards. Destroyers finishing last sweep. Boats at 1000 yards. Supporting guns cease fire. First wave still line abreast. Second wave moving on time.

The voices wavered only a little as the enemy got in on the act. Boats hit, beach Winton-3. Can you see the gun? First wave dry, Stutz beach. Taking fire, right of Stutz. Air control Winton, can you see it?

I stepped outside for a minute and looked down to the main deck. It was heavy with Marines, watching the action to our starboard quarter. They all had helmets and small arms with them, the daily uniform for today’s duty, which was to stand ready as the reserve division and as targets for any kamikaze raid that might come in.

I looked toward the beach myself. It wasn’t hard to find, being the source of a lot of noise and smoke. With my field glasses I could occasionally make out armored AMTRACs on the beach, moving inland and to the flanks. I looked up to watch a Navy attack bomber fly overhead toward the fracas. Another plane followed twenty seconds behind the first. Between the two I heard a louder “chump!” from the beach. I looked to the beach again, and the wind cooperated with my field glasses, clearing smoke from my view. I saw two figures leap from a flaming amphibious tank. Other dark shapes around the tank were infantry who had dived into the sand and gravel when the tank was hit.

The two from the dead tank moved back toward another group of dark specs behind another two AMTRACs. I imagine there was much yelling and pointing, as the two amphibians split up, steering clear of where their cousin had been wrecked. The view was again obscured as that unit of Marines worked through their first live field problem of the day.

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[The invasion start found Tuttle in a busy radio room, catching action all around Kyushu from a unique perspective.]

I found one of the radio men, Ensign Gaston Morton, from Stillwater, Minnesota, studiously memorizing the lists of ships from our invasion flotilla and every other squadron and fleet on this job. “There’s a slim chance I would ever need to relay a call for a destroyer on the far side [of Kyushu], and I could look them up in a minute anyway. But the only other thing I could do right now is clean and polish the vacuum tubes on the radio sets. What about you? What do you do when you’re waiting around to start an important job?”

I’m not used to my interview subjects asking back! I told him that, first of all, I don’t recall ever having a particularly important job to do. But if I did, to pass the time waiting for such a job to start, I would probably go interview someone else about his job.

There was very little time left to pass, so Mr. Morris got back to his radio set and I got back to staying out of the way. About 5 am the pre-landing bombardment kicked off, starting with the very big guns. Our shelling of the shore in the previous three days had been done during daylight. Each ship could fix its position by visual cues on land, then work accurately through its scheduled target list. Tonight the moon had set just after midnight. The pre-landing bombardment was done in pitch darkness. It was just a rolling line of thunder with no particular target except the island ahead of us.

I went back and forth between watching the action outside and listening in on radio traffic. Layered groups of fighter planes could be seen weaving a curtain to the north. Boats and amphibious transports were loaded and launched toward control lines throughout the bombardment. The other landing armies were going through the same routine at the same time. Across the island on the eastern shore they were landing on either side of the port city Miyazaki, a straight bit of coastline similar to our objective here around the town of Kushikino. In the southeast they are landing on an ideal bit of long gentle shoreline, inside Ariake Bay. But, the sides of the bay are solid lines of steep bluffs and mountain peaks.

The first serious trouble came from Ariake Bay. Over the sound of our big battleships firing in front of us, my friend Mr. Morris tuned in the Navy frequencies for the bombardment group in Ariake. The pre-invasion bombardment did not have Navy gunships enter the bay until this morning. Army bombers laid several thousands of pounds of bombs per acre all around Ariake that morning, a repeat of what they’d done three days in a row at all the invasion sites.

In a surprising development, the Navy gunships found themselves in a shooting duel with land based guns which were not hit in the earlier bombing, and which chose to reveal themselves today. Calls went out for return fire on each new enemy gun. We see the flash, in the shadows. Target square 99-11, grid S! might be one call. Mr. Morris helped me find a few of them on a copy of the same map.

The Navy had help from ground-attack aircraft under a clear sky, but still lost a cruiser and a destroyer sunk, and other ships damaged. Some number of airplanes were also lost. They had to fly low over enemy held land to make rocket attacks on the back sides of hills.

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[Not a field report, but included in Kyushu Diary, Tuttle gave readers an overview of the American battle plan.]

The primary focus of operations at the end of 1945 was to get as many troops as available onto Kyushu before winter set in. The troops available would be all the Army divisions MacArthur had used in the Philippines, and whichever Marine corps divisions were not heavily involved on Okinawa, the most recent operation.

Four multi-division army corps were set up, under a general command called the Sixth Army under General Walter Krueger. Planning staffs had labeled over 30 possible landing beaches on the southern third of Kyushu, naming them in alphabetical order from east to west by automobile brands. The final plan had us using eight of them in three clusters for the X-day assault.

The Marine Corps sent its 2nd, 3rd, and 5th divisions as the Fifth Amphibious Corps. They would land on the west coast, south of the city of Sendai. The First Corps, Army divisions 25th, 33rd, and 41st, would land on the east coast, either side of the city of Miyazaki.

South of that in Ariake Bay the 1st Cavalry Division, 43rd Infantry Division, and the Americal Division would land as the Eleventh Corps. Another corps, the Ninth, on X-2 has already made an elaborate fake landing operation toward Shikoku far to the northeast. Its 77th, 81st, and 98th infantry divisions can land as needed later. They are penciled in for a landing south of the Marines on X+3 or X+4. Ninth Corps also had the 112th “Regimental Combat Team” , which could deploy independently. Incidentally, the 98th is an all new unit, the only one here with no combat experience.

Ahead of the multiple corps, the 40th Infantry Division, reinforced with the 158th Regimental Combat Team, started landing on the smaller islands south and west of Kyushu, to eliminate them as threats to the main fleet once it arrived.

What we need out of Kyushu most of all is airbases. You may have noticed, B-29 bombers are not small. They need room to stretch out those long wings, and they prefer wide long runways. In addition, there are supply depots and workshops and barracks for a million men (or more) to build. But Kyushu does not have an abundance of flat land to offer. It is woven from a coarse thread of steep ridges and volcanic peaks, interrupted only briefly by flat valleys and a few small plains. To get enough space for our uses, and secure it from Japanese long range artillery or sneak attack, we plan to push well into the hills north of the last set of valleys.

As a layman looking at all this, the invasion plan at first looked like a focused application of awesome force, and it was impossible to see how such a large and well equipped invader could be turned away. But I had been at this a little while by then, and I did a little calculating. I’m sure real staff officers in many headquarters and Pentagon offices had run the same numbers many times.

Okinawa is about 5 miles across in its southern portion where we had four divisions abreast fighting stiff resistance for two months to advance about 15 miles, taking casualties all the way. Southern Kyushu is 90 miles wide, and we plan to land maybe 13 divisions. That would spread forces out almost six times as thin. Total area to be taken is well over 5,000 square miles. They talk about having ‘maneuver room’ and ‘flexible force concentration’ to overcome this. Time will tell.

Planned hospital beds for evac casualties from Operation Olympic

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[Tuttle got a break from the overcrowding on the transport ship, conversing with what turned out to be the only woman on board.]

The evening sun was almost on the water. Its direct and reflected light put a studio-grade golden light upon her calm face. Mrs. Cyrille Simms was a club singer in St. Louis before the war, while working her way through school. She volunteered to me being 24 when the war started. She finally signed up just a year or so ago, got her military training, tended maimed soldiers in Hawaii for a while, and was here for her first big live shootout.

With over 1500 men on this ship, doing everything from hauling equipment around to nervous pacing on dark decks, there was a likely need for medical attention in the week long span we could be embarked. Once all the men from our ship were ashore, she would go after them to a division field hospital, or transfer to a hospital ship if needed. Either location was expected to be busy.

She spoke idly about her adventures so far, while staring out over the sea toward a blank spot north of the setting sun. I heard tales of woe and loss, senseless loss, which if they had affected her she wasn’t letting on. She was here to do a job, ready to see it through, and as matter-of-fact about it as the most hardened master sergeant.

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[Tuttle explains the name “X-Day” and bemoans the popular presumptions around “D-Day”.]

We are in Fifth Corps (amphibious), with three Marine divisions, the 2nd, 3rd, and 5th. Two other similar size corps, Eleventh and First, will assault the island elsewhere. The augmented 40th Infantry Division is already ahead of us landing on some of the smaller islands off Kyushu. Another whole corps, the Ninth, is staging a feint far to the northeast, and there are an ‘unspecified number of follow-on units.’

So far as I am told, until recently it was U.S. military practice to always call the day of an invasion, amphibious or otherwise, “D-day.” (They also call the hour that it starts “H-hour.”) Something changed in the last year, now that “D-day” has become something of a brand name.
Newspapers take D-Day to mean specifically the June, 1944 expansion of the war against Germany with landings on the Normandy coast of France. They already forget about the other fights which raged even then in all corners of Europe.

If they do that much in a year, I have to wonder what people will be told of this war fifty years from now. There might be just one D-day, which decided the whole fight in Europe. Never mind the massive land war in Russia, the back-and-forth turf wars in north Africa, or the painful struggle through Italy. In a hundred years they may just call it “The D-Day War” .

Anyway, since Normandy and “D-Day” are forever linked in the public mind, the military had to get more creative. For the invasion of Luzon in the Philippines they called it “S-day.” At Okinawa, April 1st, which happened to also be Easter Sunday, was called “Love Day,” much to the chagrin of superstitious or wry-witted soldiers and Marines who saw the setup of a bemusing but possibly bitter irony.

This time around our invasion of the island of Kyushu, set for November 15th, 1945, will begin on “X-day.” That makes today X-4. I for one am glad we are back to a simple single letter.

Operation Olympic - X-Day

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