naval fire support

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[Night action! Companies all along the line moved forward in a largely improvised attack, trying to overrun a retreating Japanese column. It was tough going.]

The end of our wait was a nervous twenty minutes, as the barrage line walked out of the valley, right up towards us. With ten minutes to go we could see the explosions directly, and the noise was becoming uncomfortably loud. Most men gave up spectating for a place back in their foxholes.

With two minutes to go the world again fell silent. The appointed minute came, and we moved out.

Captain Leonard figured we could manage the terrain ahead with modest difficulty. He was worried about men to our left, where three severe peaks broke up the landscape. It would be impossible for them to move in clean lines at any speed. And if they tried to work around the mountains, they would have to navigate in the dark to regain their place in the larger line.

We made our way down the face of our hill and picked through the forest below for a quarter mile before heading up again. It was relatively easy going under the mature forest canopy, where even the dense evergreens had thin lower limbs. Progress slowed in patches of shorter brush and was dead slow where our artillery had made a quick demonstration.

Felled limbs and shattered trunks littered the woods. In the harsh light of our star shells broken trees were levered aside or simply climbed over. Some weren’t stable and shifted or rolled under the weight of a scrambling GI. We suffered a casualty when one man had his leg broken under a falling twisting log. It cost us two men when his lieutenant detailed another man to wait with him until first light when he could be safely moved.

A distant rumble suggested that an American armored column was moving down to our right, out of the forest hills, into the outskirts of the city. It was confirmed by the sound of a series of small cannon shots from the same direction. Division was pulling out all stops to trap the Japs ahead of us this time.

We had started about 10 pm. It was just after midnight that we ran head on into the company to our right. That wasn’t supposed to happen, so another fifteen minutes were spent going over maps, arguing about which wavy contour line was which by artificial star light. The line got squared away, and we were off again, moving due south with only the near ends of our units in earshot of each other. We had only a mile to go to be at the road on our left (it ran northeast to southwest in our assigned zone).

With a half mile left we found our first band of Japanese, holed up behind a small knob, about 200 feet in elevation above the road bed.

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