All posts for the month December, 2015

[Back from the front, Tuttle got a look around the city of Miyazaki, and American engineers quickly remade her into a military staging ground.]

The material substance of the situation is apparent to anyone who looks out over the giant hive of activity throughout Miyazaki and the territory all around it. New buildings pop up whenever one glances away from a clearing for more than a second. Men and vehicles hustle day and night to move materiel, pushing most of it immediately south and west to where First Corps is still making its current push. A regular stream of vehicles head out to fetch casualties. They move slower coming back, either to be gentle on their live cargo, or because their cargo is such that there’s no reason to hurry anymore.

The only thing that mattered in the news I was fed was confirmation that the situation is the same for the other corps. Both have one big push under way – the same ones they had going when I went to the front a week ago – and are largely sitting still on their other fronts. Real news would be if things were going much differently elsewhere, for substantially better or worse.

11th Airborne Division Headquarters was still established in Takaoka on the Oyoda river. They are anxious to pack up and move forward through the mountains. All of its combat and support units were already clustered near the new front.

I made my way on foot the five or six miles from Takaoka back to Miyazaki. It had been cloudy and cold, but dry for two days. The main road was wide and paved, but the pavement had seen better days. Our heavy trucks were the heaviest thing it had ever seen, and steel tank tracks claw obvious scratches at every turn.

Miyazaki itself, largely untouched by fighting, was a fully functioning modern city. People went about their business like in any other business district. They just happened to be all young men in matching uniforms.
I got to the far side and found the Navy had an expansive presence.

Being the only port of any substance we hold on Kyushu, the Seabees had been hard at work improving and expanding it. In just two weeks since I first came through two old canals that branch off the small harbor were dredged out for larger ships to tie up. They offload using new cranes that must have come in kits right from the U.S. mainland.

The Navy also has a new airfield, wedged in between one of the canals and the main airport. I passed a short line of small rail cars being loaded with ‘beans and bullets’ on my way to the Navy complex. They bore entirely Japanese markings. I hoped our engineers could read the dials on the curious looking locomotive.


[Tuttle rode back to the American rear, passing through a newly engaged armored unit.]

Our vehicle was converted into a rough-terrain ambulance. We would take wounded along with us, back through the mountain pass to somewhere near Miyazaki. The armored unit sent two sedated stretcher cases back with its corpsman, and I gave up my seat to Lieutenant Donald Schupp who had been in the mine-damaged tank. His right leg was pantless and heavily bandaged, but he said he’d been hurt worse playing college ice hockey back in Mankato, Minnesota.

Continuing on we passed light trucks carrying men and supplies, and armored AMTRACs hauling fuel and ammunition. Behind those we came into a thick patch of new-style heavy artillery. The big 155 mm Army artillery piece has been fit onto a large tracked chassis and armored all around for near-front-line combat. It’s not a new idea, but this was the newest model. They call it a “self-propelled howitzer.” It looks fearsome from the front. But behind them I counted at least three support vehicles for every big gun, hauling shells and fuel and supporting infantry around with them. So the armored artillery still has a soft spot.

We got past just in time not to be deafened by a handful of registration shots. The howitzers would be there a while, behind the tanks they supported and which protected them.

The first medical post of any substance we passed flagged us down and asked directly, “You hauling live or dead?” We had live injured, so they did not try to burden us with dead to take back. Lieutenant Shupp explained that they hit little resistance during the drive but were taken under by snipers from several buildings along the way. Those buildings are the ones I saw burning.

The last town before we would turn onto the mountain pass was the market and transit center for the area. Its market center backed up to a rail depot where people and goods could be sent in to the city or out to the coast. Bulldozers were working in teams to remodel the city, which had been heavily blasted by earlier bombardments. We drove parallel to the tracks for a ways before turning east back into the mountains.

Sergeant Dunklin drew a line in the air where the railroad continued into the next bunch of hills. “We’ve got teams on those tracks already, trying to get them open. There’s a railroad tunnel through the last mountain. We blasted one end shut before we even landed. The Japs blew up the other end when they pulled back.” Our vehicle lurched forward down into a washed out hole in the old river valley road, then motored up the other side.

“We’ll need that rail line to ever move enough crap in to support that armor. This road by itself could never be enough.”


[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.


[Tuttle’s attached unit rested for a couple days getting ready for the next move.]

Today my company made one more move, south a bit into an area already cleared by another outfit. We are on the last stretch of high hilly terrain before the broad flat valley which holds Miyakonojo and her surrounding towns. I can look directly down into the outskirts of the city. In the afternoon winter sun it might normally be a picture perfect sight.

Today the sky is overcast in a soulless gray. The wet earth is bare and muddy brown where bombs have leveled most of the trees. Ahead of us the deserted inland village is black, still burning in places where an artillery barrage was directed on a formation of Japanese troops. Or it may have been a few lost cows; we don’t seem to care much either way. Shells are cheap to us and so are quaint Japanese villages.

Now that we own the southern pass through the mountain forest, big supply trucks and heavy weapons are moving through (the northern pass is still overlooked on one side by Jap held bluffs, which direct heavy artillery onto it as needed). We could push down into the city and meet our brothers from Ariake Bay any time now. Except they still haven’t broken out at Ariake to start up this direction.

We don’t know what is holding up the 98th Infantry Division, but the elite of the airborne division here have plenty of ready excuses for the green unit. Taunts range from, “I lost my pacifier!” to various gynecological afflictions that might trouble men of the other division.

We want to lock up any Japanese still in the mountains between Ariake Bay and Miyazaki before they too escape. They still hold a two mile thick line of mountains and ridges which includes the 3100 foot high Komatsu-yama. The Americal division has been holding the line north of Ariake, but is stretched across fifteen miles of mountainous front. The 25th Infantry Division is now joined by this 11th Airborne Division, driving south from Miyazaki.


[Preferring to be up front near the action, Tuttle often found himself in sight and smell of it.]

The last bit of the day’s objective terrain was a jumbled mat of misshapen hills and winding shallow ravines, southwest of where we broke camp that morning. Contour lines on the map of this patch almost draw out rounded letter shapes. One squad ran out of high ground to scout over and moved down into a curving ravine for a while. They rounded a turn, and patient Japanese gunners waited until all dozen men were through before opening up. They were about 300 yards away and downhill from where I stood on a high clearing, the company command post for that hour.

The squad was immediately pinned down and cut off. No one could see them down low and around a bend, not even the adjacent squads. The sounds of at least two Japanese light machine guns and cries of “corpsman!” amply illustrated the situation. It was the middle squad of the middle platoon, whose lieutenant was trying to move the others to assist. But mortar fire, of mixed sizes, dropped in around the trapped men, keeping their help at bay.

Captain Leonard got involved, sending another platoon around to the left, staying low through the next couple ravines, to put eyes on the enemy machine guns. A radio man dialed up our own mortar section, ready to relay spotting to them. On the right, where we had no friendlies for some distance, the heavy weapons section set up machine guns to cover the gap while the company worked through its current problem.

Above us in the bright clear sky there were layers of fighters and attack planes circling, waiting for targets. The Captain cursed aloud, “We were supposed to have an air controller down here by now! God knows where they all are.”

The sounds below changed as another two Japanese machine guns started to fire. A squad of the other platoon was now pinned down like the first and soon bracketed by mortar fire as well. From somewhere to the west, small and medium artillery rounds began to pepper the whole area occupied by the company, heaviest around where the machine guns had set up.

It was a trap, a perfect ambush, and we were all the way in it. Holding still ensured being gradually consumed by artillery fire. Pulling out meant abandoning two dozen trapped soldiers. The captain stood up and yelled out, “Airborne! Give ‘em hell!!”

The radio man called in our situation as Captain Leonard ran forward to the platoon rears. This would be quick, but not a mad charge forward. He drew up a play like a sand lot quarterback, and his veteran unit snapped into action. I got down as close as the scattered remaining brush would still allow me a good view, which was about as close as I dared.

Two .30 caliber machine guns were marched along on the right, continuing to move so as to not be static targets for the mortar spotters. The gunners fired from the hip, each aided by two ammo handlers, sweeping the top of the high ground opposite where our men were pinned down. It was a long crescent shaped ridge, flat on top, bare in patches from many rounds of bombardment. The enemy machine guns could not be seen, but they had to be in that ugly rock. Our roving machine gunners were exposed, but they were suppressing any infantry that might be ready to protect the machine gun pits.

The surviving platoons, save one reserve squad, hustled forward, crouching low. Explosions kicked up dirt around and among everyone. They dodged between clusters of surviving brush and along hill sides, until they could see the problem.

The ravines our boys were stuck in curved together into a vee shape. The vee pointed directly into the arcing hill, across a small flat. Guns dug into the hill could fire down both lanes. A higher ridge some ways west afforded visibility to enemy spotters observing any approach into the trap, or anyone trying to flank it.

Captain Leonard crawled with the center most squad, on the high ground in the point of the vee. From there one could make out the Japanese machine gun positions, more by muzzle flash than physical features of the emplacements. Mortar and artillery rounds began to close up on the platoons as Japanese observers figured out where they were all clustered. The captain stood up and fired his .45 pistol at the enemy hill.

On that mark everyone rushed. One of our machine guns to the right began to rake the hill side, joined by three BARs. Two bazookas fired rockets from the left toward different Jap guns, both near misses. The Japanese gunners didn’t flinch at the direct fire. They had nowhere to hide or retreat. One immediately swung over to where the bazooka rockets had come from, tearing up one of the teams.

American smoke grenades began to fill the air in front of the machine guns. The Jap guns fired continuously, sweeping the whole flat, for a full two minutes. Certainly their guns would be melted quickly. Artillery fire from the distant ridge began to land near the crescent hill, undeterred by the presence of friendly forces. Aircraft began diving on the taller ridge, by direction or from seeing our plight themselves. The Japanese artillery men would have to close up shop and hide.


[Tuttle was keen to include textbook details of tactics from the better small infantry units he saw.]

Charlie Company, 3rd Battalion, 188th Glider Infantry Regiment, 11th Airborne Division, welcomed me in to their un-named hilltop HQ. The artillery behind them had rated hill “number 260.” This unit would not have a named home until they took a taller hill across the valley, hill “number 367.”

Company CO Captain Arthur Leonard told me a bit about the trip forward. “We practically hiked straight in. We took up old positions the 162nd [Infantry Regiment] held and then another couple hills past that.” He pointed back up to the mortar squad behind them that I passed on the way. “The Japs had pulled out. All we saw were two snipers, and we’re still looking for booby traps here.” He drew a wide circle around the camp which had been a Japanese infantry camp facing the other direction. Captain Leonard said the land here isn’t too different from where he used to hunt in the Alleghenys east of Pittsburgh.

Platoon Sergeant Walter Strauss, also of Pennsylvania but more accustomed to the flat Erie lake shore, was standing next to us and pointed out the sandbag berms his men were set behind. “We even got to reuse the Jap sand bags. Except they left grenades jammed under some of them.” That drew a couple chuckles from some shovel-hefting enlisted men, even though the first grenade caused two casualties. “I’ve sent back three medical cases so far,” the captain explained. “One of them was a bit of grenade shrapnel in a guy’s butt, but another was a twisted ankle his buddy got diving from the grenade. He tumbled straight down the steep end of the hill, arms swinging like he was swatting off bees.”

The unit was digging in for the night. Some gentle encouragement from the sergeants was required to get the holes textbook deep, as they had yet seen no enemy soldiers nor any artillery rounds. I had drawn a bedroll and extra blanket to camp under as winter weather was finally being felt on the temperate island. With clear skies the temperature would get below 50 and stay there until the sun made its brief appearance the next short day.

Artillery was heard that night, to either side of us, less than two miles away. They were short barrages, but of heavy caliber from far away. We never heard the sound of the launch, which would have followed some seconds after the report of the exploding shells in the passes east and west of us. Some small villages sat in the river valleys that made up each pass, but all were deserted save for a few American sentries.

Before dawn the third watch roused everyone and men fumbled to gather their gear under a moonless sky. At the pre-appointed time, artillery and mortars from several distances behind us began their almost daily ritual. Flashes of light walked up the hillside opposite us, and on many other faces up and down the American line. When we couldn’t see the flashes any more, the explosions were on the back sides of the objective hills, and it was time to move out.

The company advanced in two waves of squad columns, in a chevron formation. At least that’s what the captain told me it was. I went out behind the second wave in any case. The next peak was about three-quarters of a mile away, but we had to go down about two hundred feet and up three hundred to get to it. Our side was a single slope, but the opposite side was broken and wavy.

We had some light by then. Groups of men moved in and out of the remaining clusters of trees. Previous artillery fire had roughly cleared deliberate sight lines, which were good for us to spot the moving enemy, but of course they work both ways. Half charred felled trees were a nuisance everywhere.

A half hour passed before the first shots were fired. A few rifle shots went up into trees that could hide a lurking sniper, but a submachine gun was preferred to rake the tree tops. Forty minutes of careful hiking, two or three stumbling steps down, followed by a rifle-ready scan of the opposing hill, had the front wave at the bottom of our hill. Runners reported adjacent companies all on track and no trouble to the sides. The lead squads advanced again, up the next hill.

Columns drifted apart some in the twisted terrain, and lieutenants made adjustments to keep us lined up and to cover blind spots. The point of the advance was moving directly toward the crest of “hill 367,” groups of men trailing it left and right in a vee. They paused at the last trees before a clearing at the top, letting the line come up more even. Then the whole line moved forward over the top.


[For this entry Tuttle included part of a printed transcript of a high level Army press briefing from a couple days before.]

Let me back up for a minute to last October, when we lost two hundred ships to the storm. Something had to give. We couldn’t bring in a dozen divisions with what was left. We could have waited another two months, instead of two weeks, for more ships but that would put us into next spring by the time this island is ready to support full-scale bombing of Honshu, for the invasion of Tokyo itself.

Yes, that’s the next target, and the Japs know it. Anybody with a map knows it.

If we can’t land at Yokohama until the summer, we’ll be fighting there into the typhoon season. Plus they just get more time to dig in, making it take even longer. No one wants to be fighting through next winter. So we have to get the job done here quick.

Most of you have been up into the hills with the troops. It’s not tank country, contrary to what some generals drew up back in Australia. Lacking transports to get everyone and everything here at once, we went with everyone. Troops first, tanks later. Most previously fielded tank battalions came along, but none of the new heavies.

Yes, yes, we could have used heavy tanks here and there. But that’s always been the problem with armor – it’s never right where you want it when you want it. Or all the support vehicles couldn’t keep up and the armor can’t keep going for very long. It was debated hard, let me tell you, but it was decided that the infantry could get by with the new field guns you may have noticed. Anyway, the heavy armor is here now, and it’s going to keep coming.

We’re going to clean up the mountains this week. Then we are going to tear right through the central plains, right up to the central forest. These last obstacles [Sakura-jima, Karakuni-dake, and a ridgeline between Karakuni-dake and the marines’ front line] will be surrounded and pulverized.

We didn’t get the air cover we hoped for, with the nutty weather. But now our soldiers are going to bring along their own support!

In the next few days the 11th Airborne Division will be into Miyakonojo, and the 98th will come up to meet it. Then we’ll have all this [mountains east of Miyakonojo] cut off. By then the marines* can converge with the 40th over these rocks [Sakura-jima and Onogara-dake] and the 1st Cav will move around to meet the marines and stitch up [Kagoshima] bay.

* Army press style did not include capitalization of “Marine”.
** [Editor’s note, 2015: It still doesn’t. – sdm]


[Tuttle was as surprised as anyone at a large surprise attack across the I Corps front. he got up front again, getting a good look at the ‘busy beaver’ engineers.]

I learned about the operation only by chatting up another fellow down where hot showers had been set up near the river. Soap still in my ears I toweled off and jogged back into town in my week old dirty uniform. In short order I was hitching a ride further west on the back of an armored bulldozer.

On the dozer with me was a two-man chainsaw team and their two-man chainsaw. Corporal Vernon Starr, of Eugene, Oregon, informed me that Lumberjack is a real official U.S. Army specialty, job number 329 if you want to sign up. “They actually came out recruiting us, and it’s a good thing.” He didn’t look away as he thumbed toward the forest. I didn’t look either. It didn’t matter which way he pointed, there was nothing but forest filling every horizon and most of the sky.

“Normally we want to think ahead on a tree line. They have to come down a certain way, in a certain order, for the lumber picker to drag them back and get them to the mill. Out here they want us to fell them just one direction – the hell outta the way!” We are rolling through what the Japanese have designated a national forest. They are here to reduce it, more than just a little bit.

The forest between Miyazaki and Miyakonojo does not have hills and mountains as steep and high as in other places, but the hills run into each other with no order and no interruption. It is dense terrain and almost impossibly thick with tall evergreen trees. Other areas we had fought in had only a few roads and trails. The forest preserve had no roads at all, until now.

There are exactly two reasonable passes through the forest toward Miyakonojo. It was not surprising that the Japanese defended them, but the scale and stubbornness of the defense has been a big problem. Going around the forest proved unworkable, so now we are going through it.

Engineers have been working since we first secured this part of the forest, and for some time while it was still contested, cutting roads through. Where they can manage it the roads run arrow straight, “To make shooting lanes if the enemy comes out at us.” Our dozer climbs and falls as we pass from one high spot to the next.

Most hilltops have a clearing with some kind of camp on it. We passed communications, kitchen, and medical groups in order until we got to the first combat units. A new artillery base was still being cleared as men bedded in a pair of our truck-size 155 mm guns , sisters to another pair not far away. Incredulous about how they got there, I asked. The answer was a derelict tracked tow vehicle shoved off to the side. Of the six tractors they used to bring up guns and shells, three of them were torn up and didn’t make it back. That one was abandoned in place up there on the hill.


I got my first good look at the southwest shoreline of Kyushu. The stretch just north of Ariake Bay could be called rugged, but the stretch north of that, closer to Miyazaki, defies English adverbs. Scandinavian languages may have a word for the shape of the coast, as it looks something like postcard pictures of Norwegian fjords. Deep parallel ravines cut into a long giant ridge, some of them carrying sizable rivers. A couple of the rivers have laid a small delta plain at the ocean edge, to which small towns cling, perilously close to falling into the ocean.

American troops have been trying to jump across some of these ravines for weeks, and their smaller nooks held suicide attack boats that took out the heavy cruiser Guam early on. My transport gave the coast plenty of space, allowing a pair of patrolling destroyers and their team of smaller boats plenty of room to work.

We unloaded at the middle of a long pier in the well functioning harbor of Miyazaki. We had to wait for a line of tanks to rush down the busy pier. At the end a ship was letting them off directly to drive one at a time to the shore. These were our new model of heavy tank*, much bigger than the Sherman. I had only seen it before on promotional tours in the States.
After the tanks were on their way, the pedestrians with me walked toward the shore. I walked the other way, right to the ship which had just let out the new tanks. Seamen were stowing rigging and getting ready to put up their ramp and get the lightened vessel ready to leave. I bothered a pair of them for a minute with standard questions about their ship.

Then I asked what they thought of that new tank. The sailors looked at each other quizzically for a moment, then one of them decided he had an answer. “I’ll tell you what I think of that tank – it had better be good.” Seaman Second Class Duane Surber re-hung the chain he was stowing and pointed up into the hold. “Those things are so big, we can’t quite get four of them across on the main deck. We could squeeze Shermans in five wide. We can’t carry barely half as many, and now we have to go all the way back to Manila to get more.” A big dent in the right bow door illustrated his next point, “That long ass gun is a problem, too.” My question answered I let them get back to work and made my way through the city.

[ The M26 Pershing tank had better armor and a bigger gun than the M4 Sherman. It was also slower, burned more fuel, weighed 30,000 lb more, and was three feet wider than the venerable adaptable Sherman.]


[Tuttle wondered what surprises might be offered the Japanese on the anniversary of the Pearl Harbor attack.]

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 Imperial Japanese 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, thousands of trucks, and hundreds of tanks over three weeks ago. Our naval guns and army 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 Corps is operating out of the large airfields in Kanoya, but I’m told 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 can’t commence until the field is out of enemy artillery range and the 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 sold at Kanoya if it ever becomes a civilian airport.