All posts tagged engineers

[Tuttle rode forward with a group of reporters to see the American line finally be joined continuously across Kyushu.]

1st Lieutenant Millard Wells drove his own jeep, which he succeeded in filling with three reporters. I rode in back with Bob Bellaire of Collier’s. John Elliot sat up front as the Australian representative.

It took some time to get back near corps HQ, continue southeast on a good secure (and freshly rebuilt) road, and finally get up to the front lines near Kagoshima Bay.

We turned the drive into an hour long press conference. Lieutenant Wells shared what he could about the larger situation. Fifth corps had top priority on everything for the current breakout – ammo, air support, even toilet paper stocks were advanced to keep the divisions ‘moving.’

What Lieutenant Wells had gathered us to see was the planned meeting of American units at the north end of Kagoshima Bay. Once connected there, the American front would finally be one unbroken line all the way across Kyushu.

He described the shore there as dense with small cities. They were well situated as a hub for commerce, closer to inland parts of Kyushu than any of the larger ports. Industrial development of the coast was sparse, but in aggregate it was something worth taking.
Intelligence suggested the area was still well populated with people. The lieutenant didn’t know why, but it was another reason we had not and would not thoroughly bomb and shell the area before moving in.

We drove right to the water’s edge north of Kagoshima city. Lieutenant Wells pointed northeast across the bay. “That flat land runs north all the way into the next really big mountain [Karakuni-dake]. The 12th Cav already tried to get across once and got lit up by big artillery. Then them and the 158th [Regimental Combat Team] got shelled at random all night after pulling back.”

I asked the lieutenant if there was anything we were going to do about the long range artillery before they moved out again. He hesitated a moment then answered without looking away from the road ahead, “Not really. Heavy bombers will carpet the mountains, but they did that twice already.”

This morning found me situated with forward observers for the heavy mortars of the 322nd Infantry Regiment. We were staked out on a small hill, hurriedly cleared of brush, looking down into one of the coastal towns on the north end of Kagoshima Bay.

Behind us was a similar town, one held by American forces for many days. That town had experienced tough urban fighting, followed by heavy artillery fire from the recently pacified Sakura-jima. It was less than a ghost town. Its few charred remaining buildings offered no outline of the former city streets. Paths cleared by American engineers went straight through, with no thought to the original map.

The town ahead was pristine. One could imagine people getting up for work that morning, and children running off to school along the quiet safe streets. In fact, a keen eye could pick out heat and faint smoke from cooking fires down below. I didn’t think they had made enough breakfast for the ten thousand guests they were about to get.


[Supplying a moving force can be a hit or miss proposition.]

We crossed a small but fast running river several times as we wound our way out to the front. Most standing vehicle bridges were temporary ones laid down by American engineers. We passed several small foot bridges, ancient structures of classical oriental design and ornamentation. Their limited capacity was all that had saved them from bombardment or sabotage as the land around them was contested.

Corporal Shanahan gunned his engine to push us around or through patches of mud on the abused road. We neared Miyanojo from the south as I noticed fresh columns of smoke on the small mountain to our right. The steady rain, which had started two days before, would put them out quickly, but just then the hill was still being fought over.

Engineers and artillery men were already working to push big guns up to the marginally secure near end of the mountain’s long top. Saws and bulldozers cleared steep lanes while trains of tractors were chained together three at a time to pull one gun at a time up the wet slope.

We approached the outskirts of the city proper and were immediately pointed down a small side street to clear the main road. A steady stream of vehicles came through the other way, moving out of the town to the southwest. Finally a quartermaster man approached to find out what we had and to send us somewhere useful.

The 8th Marines had spent all the previous day fighting into the city. They got to the river which divides Miyanojo and found all its bridges gone. Any reasonable place to ford or place a temporary bridge was targeted by Japanese artillery. In fact, every part of the plain holding the city and its adjoining towns was vulnerable to fire from big guns hidden in mountains that push up abruptly about eight miles north.

Most of the 8th Marines was going to move back some and try to circle around on the left, under cover of some smaller hills. The 6th was to continue fighting from hilltop to hilltop on the right. We were directed to a new supply dump back a bit, between the rears of both regiments.


[Sakura-jima was barely half American held when Tuttle squeezed onto the island among the thousands of troops already there.]

There was nothing else to see from my viewing position on the main land, so I made my way onto the island. It was a record slow two mile trip.

The only road onto the island and into American base camps was beaten up and overburdened. A mob of fresh troops, new equipment, and odd personnel like myself were trying to move onto the island. As many injured, tired, or broken men and machines were trying to move the other way.

All along the shore road burned vehicles, or pieces of them, had been pushed onto the black beach or over ledges directly into the water. In two spots along my way engineers had no choice but to close the road for some time while cratered sections were cleaned up, and whatever temporary structure or fill was available was put in to make the road usable for a little while longer. Ambulances were cleared through but then everyone else had to wait.

A few men pushed through off road on foot, but overnight rain made that sticky in some places. In sandy places those men will have picked up abrasive grit that they will be chasing out of their boots for days.

Everything was compressed into a narrow band at the base of the mountain. Since there clearly wasn’t enough capacity over the one road for all the division services to support its two cavalry regiments – and the Marines, which had only small boats connecting them to Kagoshima city – the facilities had to set up on the island. An artillery battery worked across a narrow alley from a field kitchen. A medical aid station was uncomfortably close to a pile of fuel drums.

Eventually I got through to the one substantial town on the south shore. It was a cluster of poor looking buildings, two blocks deep from the shore, formerly prospering in whatever fishing and commerce happened through its few docks and piers. North of the town was a gentle rocky slope, almost a plain. In it was a quiet spot, relative to every other clear area, which were all being put to immediate use.

I walked up to find the quiet area was a temporary cemetery. Poncho covered bodies laid in neat rows. A crude signpost at the far end of each row I guessed must categorize the men there by branch and unit. A small team of men was unloading an assortment of vehicles at the far corner. The vehicles were lined up almost back into the town, each bringing over bodies that had come down the mountain or been discharged from a medical station.

I walked between the rows to where the team was working. Looking closer it was clear that some of the old ponchos on the ground covered only a portion of a human body. There were five men working the yard, rotating who was off as pairs of them carried each new case. They had a few stained stretchers to use. I offered my services to the chief NCO there, to make it an even six men working.

Staff Sergeant Bill Allen looked me over for a few seconds, unsure if I was serious I suppose. Few men volunteer for the job, even the drivers who bring over several corpses at once. I was paired with a young Army corporal and we got busy clearing their backlog. Footing was tricky in some spots, the day’s rain putting wet rocks or slick mud under foot, and making them hard to tell apart.

Corporal Warner Thompson hails from Fairfax, Virginia. Most of his infantry unit is doing back-line jobs like this one. Their part of the 5th Cavalry was hit hard and probably won’t do much until it can get off the island to rebuild. We talked about his experiences in the fight, and about life back home, and pretty much everything except what we were doing.

Finally he broached the subject, by way of a standard soldier’s gripe about getting a lousy job. I asked how long he’d been at it. “This is the third day. They had us stack ‘em here almost right from the start.” Getting ambulances back and ammo forward took priority on the narrow road.

I asked if he ever started counting them. “Start? Hell, I can’t stop.” We had just finished placing one body at the end of a long row. Corporal Thompson stood arms akimbo as he allowed himself a wide look around. “Last night I tried to sleep, and it was like counting sheep. They just kept coming, one at a time, all night.”


[Still recuperting on a hospital ship, Tuttle had to get second hand news about a heavy kamikaze raid on the city.]

Japanese Army bombers joined the kamikaze wing this time, covered by a few of their newest top-line fighter escorts. The bombers came down out of the clouds in four or five waves, mostly dead-on target. They were hunting fixed locations on a land mass which would be well familiar to them.

They say our fighters actually intercepted and damaged most of the Jap heavies, but the mass of each bomber, and its substantial payload, isn’t deflected by a few machine gun bullets. High explosive and incendiary bombs, wrapped in plane parts, first hit on and around the facilities in Miyazaki harbor. The largest old wooden pier burned for hours. One newly built metal causeway was cut in half by a recently erected metal crane which fell through it into a freshly dredged corner of the harbor.

The Japanese were lucky to find a laden tanker car in the main rail yard. The odds were good since there is almost always a tanker loading there, to bring fuel forward to our thirsty heavy armor. Some hundred thousand gallons of gasoline lit the city for an hour, consuming untold other buildings and equipment with it.

At least one road bridge was cut in two. A number of the more densely occupied building blocks were also hit. The Japanese seemed to know just where the key facilities were set up. First Corps headquarters was barely missed. Medical staff on my ship are anxious to get word about the hospital complex, which had a falling bomber explode just outside the largest building. The building was badly damaged and may not be usable. Dozens of patients and staff were killed.

I was more motivated than ever to get back into the action, but all I could do was write about activities and conversation on the hospital ship. There is little for men to do on a ship like this but to one-up each other with combat stories, or try to chat up the outnumbered nurses. I held a losing hand at either game, so I caught up on news from far away.

Home front news which should be encouraging was bemusing at best to men deployed here. A rush to demobilize and kick start the peacetime economy was both exemplified and fueled by boat loads of servicemen returning from Europe. Tokyo Rose reminded us often that guys at home had a head start on taking all the good jobs – and good women. I myself couldn’t help but scan the major newspaper mastheads for new editors and feature columnists.


[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 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.


[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.


[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.


[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.


[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