All posts tagged armor

[His second hospital stay over, Tuttle was back on the job.]

It felt good to get back to the front again. I was there with my boys. Yes, they were my boys, just as much as they were Sergeant Elliot’s boys, or their mothers’ sons, or their nation’s best men. Three days of physical rest had afforded me a mental reset worth more than the physiological recovery.

I woke up later than usual, well after other men were stirring. I was ready to see this thing through, more ready than I was even at the first landing. To paraphrase Miyamoto Musashi, ‘The only blow which matters is the last.’ I didn’t plan to miss it.

Steady rain muted the sounds of war, but distant artificial thunder reassured me that it continued, and both sides were still determined. At my leisure this morning I went to look for a ride forward. I hooked up with an ambulance this time, not minding the dark red stains under the rear door.

The truck, painted dark green despite the prominent white and red crosses on all sides, carried me up a progressively worsening series of roads until we got to the very front units of the 40th Infantry Division.

The division’s 108th Infantry Regiment was about two miles north of Miyakonojo. It had fought its way there, clearing out deep rows of twisting hills. The hills were hundreds of feet tall, but they looked like stubble on the chin of the great mountain mass another mile to the northwest. The compound mountain, including Takachihono-mine and Karakuni-dake, lofted multiple peaks which all topped 4000 feet.

American units had lined up in a semicircle south of the great mountain, about a mile out from the base. They all had fought to get there, through rough terrain and resistance which took advantage of it. They all were punished with artillery fire from the mountain on a regular basis, especially if they tried to move through any of the flat areas which surrounded it. Heavy smoke screens laid over the mountains at times covered American movements, but also obscured the Japanese positions.

Another arc of good roads and developed towns circles the mountain to the north, lying in a broad flat valley. North of them the land rises abruptly into a dense rugged forest, full of beautiful waterfalls and invisible firing positions.

The men I found in the 108th Infantry were preoccupied with digging, rain or not, to make their home livable under the bombardment. To their right was the whole 11th Airborne Division, ready to swing around the great mountain on those good roads to the north. Beyond that other divisions were preparing to drive into that high forest. A mirror image of those maneuvers would happen to the west of Karakuni-dake.


[Tuttle wound up back in a sick bed, but had a kindred spirit for a ward mate.]

I had to give in and admit it – I was sick. Whatever I had caught which put me on a hospital ship a couple weeks ago never quite went away. I had shied away from tough living since then, never feeling quite up to it, but finally the bug caught up with me again.

Field hospitals were very busy this time, and they wanted to send me far back, even off the island again. This time I begged to stay close to the front. They compromised by shuttling me eastward over to where the land based facilities weren’t so busy with broken fighting men.

It was a jarring ride, even though our engineers have improved roads in the center of the island appreciably. A splitting headache, dry cough, and rumbling gut can turn the smoothest road into rough seas. I woke up miserable this morning on what I’m sure a healthy man would consider a comfortable bed, in the 40th Infantry Division primary hospital.

My roommate was feeling much better than I was. He had been there two days before me and was well over the bug that had laid him down. Master Sergeant Harold Elliot whiled away much of the afternoon telling me stories from Dodge City, Kansas. I wondered how a patch of table-flat farm land could hold many good stories, but Sergeant Elliot was good teller of tales. I didn’t mind his monologue one bit.

Finally he asked, “Don’t you ever get sick of it? Tired of writing the same story every time?” He hit a nerve. It was exactly what I’d been brooding over for days.

After every pitched battle I had to come up with a new way to say, ‘Things were destroyed. Men are dead.’ I had been at it for years. It seemed important, telling people what an awful spectacle I had seen. But somehow I still had to entertain them. I had to keep readers from becoming as numb as me and turning away from it all.

Sergeant Elliot perked up and leaned over closer at my account. “That’s exactly what I mean! I wanted to hear it from a civilian.” He confessed to me as a new found kindred spirit. “Honestly, there’s no solid reason for me to be laid up back here. I’ve been a lot sicker than this and stayed out on the line with my boys.”

He sat back against the metal headboard again and looked around the room, as if to make sure it was still just the two of us. “I’m just tired, sick and tired of it all.

Personally, I could get out there and fight forever, out on the line. In fact I was sure this was a job you just do until you get killed, no exceptions. But since they gave me those fifth and sixth stripes,” he pointed at his hanging service jacket, “all I do is feed good men into this… into that machine out there. It adds them up, spits some back out, and nobody knows how it decides.”

“And so what? So goddamned what?? These mountains, they don’t care. They’ll be here long after all of us. The ocean? It could swallow us all and not notice. Even the cities we think we destroyed, they’ll all come back. They won’t care one whit that their old people are dead, and if the new people are a slightly different color.”

The old master sergeant about had me convinced to resign, to give up and buy a struggling grape orchard somewhere. Since I didn’t have enough saved up to do that I continued the argument. We talked until well past the second lights out scolding from the floor nurse.

There was never a doubt that the sergeant would return to ‘his boys.’ He was part of the best chance they had to accomplish something, however indifferent the mountain might be to it, and to get back home alive. It mattered because they mattered.

We were people. Ultimately all we could worry about was people . The ambivalence of the birds we would have to live with, however many of us lived to hear them sing again back home.

I was suddenly impatient to leave my sick bed again. It felt like me getting out to witness things would help them along, just a little bit faster.

Yesterday a sand snake crawled by just outside my tent door, and for the first time in my life I looked upon a snake not with a creeping phobia but with a sudden and surprising feeling of compassion. Somehow I pitied him, because he was a snake instead of man. And I don’t know why I felt that way, for I pity for all men too, because they are men.

– Ernie Pyle, June, 1943

Ernie Pyle with front line dog


[History repeats itself, sometimes only months apart.]

I entered one important looking tent and found staff officers huddled over local maps, noting positions of subordinate units and updating strength and supply tables for each. More senior officers were working around a smaller table. They had laid out another map, not of Kyushu, but of southern Okinawa. I was familiar with the area, from watching men train there. These officers knew it better, from watching men die there.

The 77th and the 81st infantry divisions had yesterday been repulsed, with tough losses. They were trying to jump from one line of anonymous hills and high paths over onto a larger set of named peaks and ridges. The 77th had tried the same thing on a smaller scale on Okinawa and also failed on the first several attempts.

Dead and injured were still being collected from yesterday, but the new attack would not wait. They were to go again this morning, with a new plan based on old lessons. Rain was predicted to continue for a third day, but that too was just like on Okinawa.

The Navy was called in to Kagoshima Bay to support with big guns. Once the attack started they would not fire on the mountainsides which our soldiers were attacking. They would plaster the reverse slopes, where it was expected Japanese defenders were only shallowly dug in. So long as they stayed hunkered down, American teams could work methodically through the valley between the two high lines.

Noise of the renewed assault was thick and loud by the time I went up with an observer from the headquarters unit. Engineers had worked through the last two days and nights to clear rough roads through and over the forested hills. Softer parts of the road were corduroyed with felled logs, brutal riding in a round-wheeled jeep. We came out onto one of the sharper peaks, dodging a hard working bulldozer to make the top.

Heavy tanks and larger self-propelled guns had been established on most such local peaks, owing much to extreme engineering effort. More than one had been left stuck, or had simply fallen right through the edge off of a waterlogged embankment.

Our tanks would be static guns for the day. They could depress their guns better than the heavy howitzers, firing directly down into the valley. Down in that valley mixed teams of tanks and liberally equipped infantry worked along the valley at a dead slow pace. They could rarely be seen.

Usually we could only track American progress by the smoke and dust made by their magnanimous application of firepower. When one of the smaller tanks came forward, there was no mistaking the sight of its long range flame thrower scorching a substantial patch of the mountain.

The opposing ridge was rugged and wavy, with many deep crevices in the near side. Each crevice was treated as a new objective, soldiers climbing up the near edge, before tanks turned into it as the men moved around the edge. Steady rain kept visibility short and footing haphazard.

Japanese guns waited for good targets and opened up only when the side of a tank or a cluster of men presented themselves, which was often. The Japs took a toll on the approaching soldiers and armor, often firing from close range where the covering guns on our side of the valley could not safely engage them. More than once the American GIs simply backed up and waited for friendly guns to pulverize the threat, before rushing the position with grenades and charges.


[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.”


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 rejoined the hastily reconstituted 158th Regimental Combat Team as it prepared for its first action after landing south of Kanoya.]

I had no trouble getting a ride back down the mountain, as a parade of jeeps and weasels was hauling ammo a few rounds at a time up to the artillery, which they would need to paint the terrain ahead of the 158th. It was a bit of a trick to find a way over to the 158th, but I didn’t want to miss seeing them in action. A signed and inscribed copy of the division’s daily newsletter, and a signed note explaining my driver’s absence, got me a young private willing to ‘borrow’ an MP jeep for the hour it would take him to shuttle me over and get back. Private Joe Pezzotti, of Queens, New York, was no stranger to camp pranks, or to getting in trouble, from what he told me on the ride over.

The coast road was well secured by then; we moved quickly. We had no difficulty finding the 158th HQ, as it was at the geometric center of a sprawling patch of chaos. Men were generally well ordered, sorting themselves out by unit, but equipment was coming ashore for the first time. It had to be assigned on the fly to the largely improvised combat units. Some headquarters staff were reduced to traffic cops, pointing trucks and tanks different directions while flipping hurriedly through stacks of paper on heavy clipboards.

I directed myself down dusty streets, freshly cleared by American engineers and found the new-old second company of the new-old second battalion. Sure enough, a couple of the NCOs I’d met on Tanega-shima were still with the unit, working to form up their groups of men into functioning units. A third of them were brand new, some only recent boot camp graduates. Any of them who had been through any further skill training were practically respected vets.

Sergeant Henry Brockell had three teams of his platoon doing last minute runs through on the two machine guns they actually had. His lead gunners were veterans now, and their assistants had been trained, but the runners had never so much as picked up a box of ammo let alone fired a burst.

The regiment was due to move out at eleven. At one thirty the first tanks finally moved out, leaving four hours of good daylight to use on the short December day. Smoke and dust were kicked up in lines ahead of the columns as artillery worked to pave the way.


[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.


[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


Today we conclude this series of specific references behind the details in X-Day: Japan. These are not formal citations, as they are not all root sources and the book is not an academic volume. The use of real historical elements for X-Day: Japan serves to educate the reader about the time, add interest to the story, and honestly it just made the thing easier to write!

November 23, 1945
Jumbo air-to-ground rocket,

November 27, 1945
1st Cavalry Division,

December 3, 1945
M29 Weasel,

December 8, 1945
M26 Pershing tank next to M4 Sherman tank (models),

December 9, 1945
War Department Technical Manual TM-12-247,
Military Occupational Classification of Enlisted Personnel,

December 10, 1945
U.S. Army Center of Military History style guide,

December 11, 1945
Battle Formations – The Rifle Platoon, for NCOs (1942)

December 21, 1945
Hospitalization and evac plan for Operation Olympic,
Logistic Instructions No. 1 for the Olympic Operation, 25 July 1945
USS Sanctuary, hospital ship AH-17

December 22, 1945
Russian communists vs Chinese communists,
– Tom Clancy, The Bear and the Dragon
Chiang Kai-shek quote on the communists vs the Japanese,

December 23, 1945
Sakura-jima and its volcanoes,

December 25, 1945
USS Hazard, minesweeper AM-240 [MUSEUM SHIP],

January 17, 1946
Radiation detection equipment,

July 18, 1945
PBY-4/5 Catalina flying boat,
Consolidated Aircraft plant in San Diego,
Consolidated Aircraft plant production and products, B-24 and PB4Y-2,

December 24, 1945
Pearl Harbor survivors, trapped under USS West Virginia,


Today we continue letting the reader see some of the specific references behind the details in X-Day: Japan. These are not formal citations, as they are not all root sources and the book is not an academic volume. The use of real historical elements for X-Day: Japan serves to educate the reader about the time, add interest to the story, and honestly it just made the thing easier to write!

August 30, 1945
Purple heart orders and production,
Giangreco, Hell to Pay, p187-193 [hardcover, 2009]

September 10, 1945
Typhoon Ursula,

September 17, 1945
Typhoon Ida,

September 21, 1945
Antitank Rocket, Methods of Use,

October 10, 1945
Typhoon Louise,

October 11, 1945
USS Laffey, destroyer DD-724 [MUSEUM SHIP at Patriot’s Point],

October 28, 1945
Downfall operational plan, 5/28/45, Annex 3 – estimated lift requirements

November 6, 1945
Petition to make Ernie Pyle’s house a national landmark,

November 9, 1945
Men lined up waiting to use the head before an assault,
Sledge, With the Old Breed
Surrender rates of Japanese soldiers,
Frank, Downfall, p28-29 and p71-72 [Penguin paperback, 2001]

November 11, 1945
Diagrams of amphibious assault boats,

November 16, 1945
USS Charette, destroyer DD-581, which had a remarkable career with the Greeks as the Velos,
USS Montrose, attack transport APA-212,

November 17, 1945
Helicopter medevac,

November 19, 1945
Estimate of Japanese tank strength and tactics,

November 20, 1945
USS Sanctuary, hospital ship AH-17,
158th RCT, “Bushmasters”

November 21, 1945
USS Athene, attack cargo ship AKA-22,
USS Kidd, destroyer DD-661 [MUSEUM SHIP],
USS Chester, heavy cruiser CA-27,
USS Windham Bay, escort carrier CVE-92,
USS Comfort, hospital ship AH-6,
Blood supply,
Giangreco, Hell to Pay, p139 [hardcover, 2009]
USS Firedrake, Mount Hood class,
USS Orleck, destroyer DD-886 [MUSEUM SHIP],
USS Guam, Alaska-class,

November 22, 1945
USS Heerman (DD-532), USS John C. Butler (DE-339), – legends of Taffy-3,
“The outcome is doubtful, but we will do our duty.”
Rear Admiral Robert W. Copeland,