Monthly Archives: August 2017

Japanese Soldier Diaries in New Guinea, 1943

From Our Jungle Road to Tokyo, by Robert L. Eichelberger (Gorget Books, 2017; first published 1950), Kindle Loc. 1236-89:

It is always interesting to look at a battle through the enemy’s eyes but rarely possible. After Buna we captured many diaries kept by individual Japanese soldiers. These diaries, when translated, were informative. From them we learned that the enemy feared our mortars most, our artillery next, and our aerial strafing and bombing least. During the early stages of the campaign the entries clearly reflect the official Japanese Army propaganda line that the American was not a formidable soldier.

As the siege proceeded the point of view of the besieged began to change. But the diaries tell their own story. Dates of the entries are omitted here, but the excerpts selected follow chronologically the progress of the battle:

The enemy has received almost no training. Even though we fire a shot they present a large portion of their body and look around. Their movements are very slow. At this rate they cannot make a night attack.

The enemy has been repulsed by our keen-eyed snipers. In the jungle it seems they fire at any sound, due to illusion. From sundown until about 10 P.M. they fire light machine guns and throw hand grenades recklessly.

They hit coconuts that are fifteen meters from us. There are some low shots but most of them are high. They do not look out and determine their targets from the jungle. They are in the jungle firing as long as their ammunition lasts. Maybe they get more money for firing so many rounds.

The enemy is using ammunition wildly. I wish the main force would hurry and come.

The enemy has become considerably more accurate in firing.

Enemy approached to about 50 meters. Difficult to distinguish their forms in the jungle. Can’t see their figures.

The nature of the enemy is superior and they excel in firing techniques. Their tactics are to neutralize our positions with fire power, approach our positions under concentrated mortar fire. Furthermore, it seems that in firing they are using treetops. During daytime mess, if our smoke is discovered, we receive mortar fire.

This entry was a turning point in the diary serial-story. It seems to me probable that this was the enemy’s unconscious acknowledgment that we Americans had learned our hard lessons and that the 32nd Division had found itself. From that time on the military observations are discouraged and very brief:

From today’s mortar fire the third platoon received great damage.

Headquarters is a pitiful sight due to artillery fire.

Carried in one coconut tree and filled in all of the shelter. Now we are safe from mortar fire.

Artillery raking the area. We cannot hold out much longer.

Our nerves are strained; there is a lack of sleep due to the continuous shelling.

The enemy scouts which have been bothering us all night quit about two hours before dawn. The night strain has passed.

Enemy scouts appear everywhere and attack, shooting automatic rifles.

A second series of diary excerpts collected by my staff presents an even more interesting and unusual picture of the garrison troops. These paragraphs are highly personal and represent the aspirations, fears, and frustrations of men. They demolish the idea that the Japanese soldier, however rigorously trained, is “unemotional,” an automaton.

Morale of troops is good because we feel reinforcements will come.

Received word of praise from the Emperor today. We will hold out to the last. . . . Our troops do not come. Even though they do come, they are driven away by enemy planes. Every day my comrades die one by one and our provisions disappear.

We are now in a delaying holding action. The amount of provisions is small and there is no chance of replenishing ammunition. But we have bullets of flesh. No matter what comes we are not afraid. If they come, let them come, even though there be a thousand. We will not be surprised. We have the aid of Heaven. We are the warriors of Yamamoto [sic; probably Yamato].

How I wish we could change to the offensive! Human beings must die once. It is only natural instinct to want to live; but only those with military spirit can cast that away.

Now the tempo of retrogression heightens, and despair takes hold. Like young men everywhere, the Japanese soldiers are sad and unwilling and self-pitying in the coming presence of death. Sentences from the journals tell the story in a staccato fashion:

“There are some who are completely deteriorating spiritually. . . . We can’t eat today. Mess gear is gone because of the terrific mortar fire. . . . Everyone is depressed. Nothing we can do. … It is only fate that I am alive today. This may be the place where I shall find my death. I will fight to the last. . . .”

December becomes January and the final onrush of the Americans is at hand. These are the last entries:

With the dawn, the enemy started shooting all over. All I can do is shed tears of resentment. Now we are waiting only for death. The news that reinforcements had come turned out to be a rumor. All day we stay in the bunkers. We are filled with vexation. Comrades, are you going to stand by and watch us die? Even the invincible Imperial Army is at a loss. Can’t anything be done? Please God.

Night falls. Thought we saw two enemy scouts. It turned out to be a bird and a rat.

It is certainly lamentable when everyone runs off and not a single person remains to take care of things. Can these be called soldiers of Japan?

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Southwest Pacific Campaigns in 1942

From Our Jungle Road to Tokyo, by Robert L. Eichelberger (Gorget Books, 2017; first published 1950), Kindle Loc. 609-28, 1153-63:

“Were the Buna and Sanananda campaigns really justified?” an acquaintance asked recently. “Why didn’t you just by-pass the Japanese garrisons and leave them there to starve and rot?”

The question shows a profound ignorance of the situation as it existed in 1942. It is true that later in the war we successfully by-passed many Japanese garrisons, cut across their sea and land supply lines, and, in the words of the callous amateur strategist, left them “to starve and rot.” But that was at a time when we had secure bases from which such operations could be maintained, when we had achieved air superiority and were on the way to supremacy at sea as well.

At this same time, it should be made clear, the Allies were also dealing with another Japanese offensive in the Pacific, the drive down the Solomons. This theater of action was under Navy command with headquarters in Noumea. The area was called “South Pacific” to differentiate it from “Southwest Pacific,” where General MacArthur was Allied chief.

In the Solomons, operating on a shoestring and with heavy losses in fighting ships and planes, Americans were seeking to maintain a precarious foothold on the advanced beachhead at Guadalcanal. I still recall the dismal August day when Admiral Leary told me the results of the Battle of Savo Island. We had five heavy cruisers and a group of destroyers there to protect our Guadalcanal transports. The engagement lasted eight minutes. The Japanese had no losses. We lost four of our cruisers — the Quincy, Vincennes, Astoria, and Canberra (Royal Australian Navy). The fifth cruiser, the Chicago, was damaged. It took considerable optimism in those days to believe we were on the winning side of the fight.

It was a poor man’s war in the Pacific, from the Allied point of view, when the Battle of Buna was fought. The miracles of production managed by American factories and American labor were slow to manifest themselves Down Under. We were at the end of the supply line. There were no landing craft for amphibious operations; indeed, because the Japanese had air control in New Guinea waters, no naval fighting ship of any size was permitted to enter the area. The Japanese had gone into the war fully prepared; in 1942 it was they who had the specially designed landing craft for amphibious campaigns, the equipment, the ships, the planes, and the battle experience.

In battle the margin between victory and defeat is often narrow. Under the terrific pressures of combat, officers and men alike tend to forget that the enemy is hard pressed too. Sometimes just plain stubbornness wins the battle that awareness and wisdom might have lost. That’s what happened at Buna. The Japanese morale cracked before ours did. Major Schroeder was one of the brave, stubborn men. He was killed in the very attack that won us the sea.

Several days of hard fighting followed. On January 2 a coordinated attack was made by both the Urbana and Warren Forces. More tanks had come in to spearhead the Warren Force attack, and the Urbana Force had succeeded in surrounding the Mission. Before nightfall we controlled the entire coastline east of the Girua River. I find that I wrote that evening: “At 4:30 p.m. I crossed the bridge (from the Island), after C Company had passed, and I saw American troops with their bellies out of the mud and their eyes in the sun. … It was one of the grandest sights I have ever seen.”

Organized resistance ended on January 3, but for many days thereafter our soldiers were hunting out Japanese stragglers in the jungle and swamps. Almost all resisted capture and had to be killed.

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Australian vs. American Military in New Guinea

From Our Jungle Road to Tokyo, by Robert L. Eichelberger (Gorget Books, 2017; first published 1950), Kindle Loc. 428-37, 1883-1904:

The attempted integration of Australian and American troops at times produced curious results. Sir John [Lavarack] laughed about the fact that he had an American officer at Toowomba who was supposed to be his operations officer. I had been told before leaving Washington that General MacArthur had asked for key American officers to assist the Australians with their staff work. The Australians didn’t think they needed much help from anyone. Many of the commanders I met had already been in combat with the British in North Africa, and, though they were usually too polite to say so, considered the Americans to be — at best — inexperienced theorists. At Camp Cable I encountered a situation that was little less than fantastic. The 32nd Division was assigned to the American I Corps for offensive training and to the Australian II Corps for defensive training. This was a military conception entirely new to me and, of course, quite impracticable. On a day when I paid a visit to observe artillery firing, Australian staff officers arrived to look over defensive techniques. The 32nd went through its paces for them too. Out of the recollections of a Sunday school boyhood there came to me a cogent bit of Scriptural wisdom: “Man cannot serve two masters.”

In New Guinea the fighting into the autumn was largely an Aussie show. Our Air made it possible, our Amphibs did much of the fetch-and-carry, elements of our 162nd Infantry Regiment handled themselves gallantly, but the main responsibility was borne by the 7th and 9th Australian Divisions. Because of the term “Allied Forces,” which the censors then employed, many Americans still believe erroneously that our own troops carried the burden of that back-busting advance against the Salamaua-Lae-Finschhafen sector. The Aussie advance took off from the inland village of Wau, which is about one hundred and fifty miles northwest of Port Moresby. Around Wau, which is thirty-five hundred feet high, lies one of the richest alluvial gold regions in the world. More important militarily to the Australians was the small, steeply sloping Wau airfield. An interesting and little known chapter of history was written there.

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1st Filipino Regiment & Battalion, 1945

From Our Jungle Road to Tokyo, by Robert L. Eichelberger (Gorget Books, 2017; first published 1950), Kindle Loc. 3745-58:

In the main, these island assaults [“52 D-Days” between Dec. 1944 and Aug. 1945] were made with small units of such divisions as the 24th, the 40th, the Americal. One of the colorful outfits which took part in the enterprise was the 1st Philippine Infantry. This was an American regiment made up of American Filipinos (most of them from California) who had volunteered to fight for the homeland. The regiment was organized as the result of a suggestion by the then President Quezon to President Roosevelt. I used the 1st Philippine Infantry also in the subjugation of Samar, and its record was excellent.

As a matter of fact, by this time I had requested that General Irving be assigned to me as the boss of what we called Eighth Army Area Command. This meant that Fred Irving would command combat activities in Samar as well as supervise military areas behind us. Fred fell heir not only to the 1st Philippine Infantry but to an entirely separate outfit of American Filipinos known as the 1st Philippine Battalion. These troops had sound training. When GHQ requested Spanish-speaking American troops to serve as military police in Manila, Irving recruited them from the 1st Philippine Battalion.

Ten amphibious landings were necessary to wipe out the Japanese positions astride the over-water route south of Luzon. Usually we sent Americans ashore for the quick capture of an island and then moved in native irregulars and guerrillas to serve as garrison troops. In this way we were able to use our combat veterans over and over again. Much of the credit for the speed and efficiency of the enterprise belongs to the motor torpedo squadrons of Seventh Fleet. By day and night raids, by constant surveillance, they disrupted interisland traffic and blocked evacuation of enemy units to Luzon.

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U.S. Eighth Army in Mindanao, July 1945

From Our Jungle Road to Tokyo, by Robert L. Eichelberger (Gorget Books, 2017; first published 1950), Kindle Loc. 4450-62:

I was proud of the job the 41st Division had accomplished at Zambo when the fighting was done. They laid down their guns and went to work. They cut weeds and they cleaned out debris. They became good neighbors. The Japanese had refused to allow Catholic Filipinos — there were a good many in that Moslem area — to worship at the ancient shrine of Bien Bernido al Virgen del Pilar. The shrine was about the size of an American sandwich shop, and it was tucked into a space along a section of the Fort Pilar wall which had fallen into ruin. GIs of the 41st Signal Company (and I hope my good friend Cardinal Spellman will note this) went at the work of repair and finally put up a sign welcoming all nationalities to worship there again. Before long there were hundreds of burning candles, and the glory of Pilar’s ancient shrine was restored. Methodists, Episcopalians, Congregationalists, Presbyterians, and lads of no faith at all took part in that enterprise.

I left General MacArthur at Zamboanga. I knew now what the future held. I would take over-all command of the Philippines on July 1. Sixth Army staff would be retired to plan an invasion of the southern islands of Japan. According to GHQ plan, Sixth Army would invade Kyushu — and hold. General MacArthur told me that Eighth Army later would make the main blow along with reinforcements which were still to come from the States or the European theater. Eighth Army, with most of the armored and paratroop divisions, was to land and to proceed across the Kanto Plain to capture Yokohama and Tokyo. General MacArthur’s choice of Eighth Army to make the strike was a great compliment to my men, but I knew the Kanto Plain — and what a gamble lay ahead.

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U.S. General Meets Sultan of Sulu, 1945

From Our Jungle Road to Tokyo, by Robert L. Eichelberger (Gorget Books, 2017; first published 1950), Kindle Loc. 4267-90:

[General] Doe’s lads of the 41st Division had dug out most of the Japanese on the island of Jolo, and I had promised to pay a formal call on Muhammed Janail Abiri[n] II, Sultan of Jolo and spiritual leader of the three hundred thousand Mohammedans in the Sulu Archipelago. This meant a round trip of approximately a thousand miles in one day, so we departed from Tacloban early. Weather was perfect. The airstrip at Jolo was no La Guardia Field, but, after circling it several times. Downer brought us in without incident. When we returned four and a half hours later, however, the wheels had sunk so far in the soft ground that it was necessary for a pair of tractors to pull the Miss Em out on the runway.

Colonel Moroney, thin and hard-bitten commander of the 163rd Infantry, veteran of Sanananda and Biak and other battles, met us, while his soldiers kept back the great crowd of Moro spectators who wanted to surge across the airstrip. First we drove through Jolo City, an ancient and once beautiful town which had been known as the “Jewel of the Sulus,” and as the “Shrine City of the Moros.” It was in ruins. The Japanese had put it to the torch when American PT boats attacked shipping in the harbor as a preliminary to invasion.

Then we started our drive inland. This was a country of great beauty, of teak and mahogany forests and dark low mountains. I knew the patriarchal Sultan (who had surrendered to Captain Pershing in 1913 at the end of the Moro War) had remained loyal to the United States during the Japanese occupation and had surreptitiously flown the Stars and Stripes at his hideout camp. When Moroney’s men came ashore he brought out the tattered old flag.

The Sultan of Jolo — sometimes called the Sultan of Sulu — had once been a wealthy man. The Japanese had stripped him (he told me) of most of his possessions; he keenly felt the loss of a saber presented to him by General Pershing and a rifle presented to him by General Leonard Wood. I was somewhat surprised by the simplicity of his living. Around his compound there was a fine bamboo fence thickly woven to keep out Jap infiltrators. Inside the compound there was a sunken fort where the women could stay in safety while the men manned the barricades. The Sultan’s unpretentious house stood on a raised bamboo platform well off the ground.

The Sultan was a gaunt, dignified old man with sunken cheeks. The room where we were received by the Sultan and his datus (leaders) seemed to be tapestried on ceilings and walls; I believe now that the tapestries actually were Persian rugs. After some diplomatic talk through interpreters, I presented him with the most modern type of American carbine and a scroll thanking him for his services to the American cause. In his presence I affixed a gold seal with ribbon to the document. I also presented him with a handsome roll of cloth as a tribute to the ladies of his household. The ladies did not appear, but during the visit we glimpsed them peeping out at us from doorways. I was told that the Sultan had eight wives and was, at seventy-two years of age, the recent father of a twenty-sixth son.

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Gen. Yamashita’s Surrender, 1945

From Our Jungle Road to Tokyo, by Robert L. Eichelberger (Gorget Books, 2017; first published 1950), Kindle Loc. 4619-68, 4674-83:

The headquarters of the 38th Division, which had been assigned the job of cleaning up central Luzon, was on a ridge only about an hour’s ride east of Manila. Major General William G. Chase, division commander, met me at Nielson Field, and we made the inspection trip to the front together. From a high hill. Chase and General Bill Spence pointed out to me the Ipo Dam area and other battlefields of the 38th; although the tempo of the fighting was now slowed, two hundred and fifty-nine Japanese were killed between dawn and dusk the day I visited there, and twenty-nine were captured. The 38th and elements of the 43rd Division inflicted appalling losses on the enemy during a six-week period. Some sixty-three hundred Japanese were killed or found dead and more than nine hundred were made prisoners. Much of this slaughter was accomplished by combined artillery fire and aerial attack. Losses of the 38th Division and 43rd Division were small.

That evening at Chase’s headquarters I wrote General MacArthur that I had inspected the combat-active divisions on Luzon and found morale very high. My own morale was high. I was convinced that the back of Japanese opposition was broken and that the enemy was incapable of effective resistance. I might not have been so optimistic if I had known that, considerably after the official Japanese capitulation. General Yamashita was to come out of the mountain wildernesses to the northeast of Baguio and surrender forty thousand well-disciplined troops. Although negotiations with Yamashita for surrender were completed after Eighth Army had relinquished control of Luzon, the story should be told here. It must be remembered that Japanese forces at this period had little or no communication with the homeland. On August 7 — the day of the fall of the first atomic bomb — an American pilot was forced to abandon his disabled plane and parachute behind the Japanese lines in northern Luzon. He was picked up by an enemy patrol the next morning and taken after five days of forced marches to General Yamashita’s headquarters, then southwest of Kiangan.

There he was subjected to vigorous and prolonged interrogation. He was threatened with physical violence when he steadfastly refused to answer questions. On August 16 — the Emperor first offered to capitulate on August 10 — the attitude of the Japanese interrogators abruptly changed. The pilot received medical treatment for his parachute-jump injuries and was extended many small courtesies. The next day the American was guided toward the American lines; when the Japanese soldiers had gone as far as they dared, they gave the flier a letter, written by Yamashita himself, which explained the circumstances of the pilot’s capture and commended him for his military spirit and devotion to duty.

On August 24 the same pilot flew an L-5 liaison plane over the area in which he had been held and dropped a message of thanks to General Yamashita and two signal panels of great visibility. The message, written by General Gill of the 32nd Division, suggested that if Yamashita were in the mood for surrender negotiations he should display the two signal panels as evidence of his willingness to parley. The following morning another pilot found the panels staked out according to instructions; also on the ground were many cheering, hand-waving Japanese soldiers, who beckoned the plane to land. Instead, a second message was dropped. It suggested that Yamashita send an envoy to the American lines to receive detailed instructions for his surrender. Late in the afternoon of August 26 a Japanese captain, carrying Yamashita’s answer, entered the American lines under a flag of truce. The letter, which was written in English, follows:

GENERAL HEADQUARTERS
IMPERIAL JAPANESE ARMY IN THE PHILIPPINES
August 25, 1945
TO: General W. H. Gill, Commanding General
Kiangan-Boyombong Area
United States Army in the Philippines

1. I have the honor to acknowledge receipt of your communication addressed to me, dropped by your airplane on August 24th as well as your papers dropped on August 25th in response to our ground signals.

2. I am taking this opportunity to convey to you that order from Imperial Headquarters pertaining to cessation of hostilities was duly received by me on August 20th and that I have immediately issued orders to cease hostilities to all units under my command insofar as communications were possible. I also wish to add to this point the expression of my heartfelt gratitude to you, full cognizant of the sincere efforts and deep concern you have continuously shown with reference to cessation of hostilities as evidenced by various steps and measures you have taken in this connection. To date of writing, however, I have failed to receive order from Imperial Headquarters authorizing me to enter into direct negotiations here in the Philippines with the United States Army concerning the carrying out of the order for cessation of hostilities, but I am of the fond belief that upon receipt of this order, negotiations can be immediately entered into. Presenting my compliments and thanking you for your courteous letter, I remain, yours respectfully,

/s/ T. Yamashita
Tomoyuki Yamashita, General, Imperial Japanese Army, Highest Commander of the Imperial Japanese Army in the Philippines.

This message was the first of a series exchanged between Yamashita and General Gill. The exquisite courtesy of the exchanges probably has for the average reader something of the quality of Through the Looking-Glass; these same troops and same commanders had been fighting each other in the same area with no quarter whatever and in a completely barbaric manner.

Eventually an American radio group, escorted by a Japanese safe-conduct party, moved into Yamashita’s headquarters to take over communications. Details of the surrender were worked out. On the morning of September 2 General Yamashita and a party of twenty-one, which included Vice Admiral Okochi (“Highest Commander of the Japanese Naval Forces in the Philippines”), entered American lines at Kiangan. The party was escorted to Baguio where the formal instrument of the surrender of all Japanese Army and Navy personnel in the Philippines was signed in my former headquarters.

I was sorry that General Griswold who had directed XIV Corps operations could not be there to accept Yamashita’s sword. But it was entirely fitting that the 32nd Division should receive the vanquished enemy. Three years before at Buna they had won the battle that started the infantry on the jungle road to Tokyo.

General Yamashita was tried for “crimes against humanity” by an American Military Court in Manila. He was sentenced December 7, 1945, and hanged on February 23, 1946.

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