The 32D 'Red Arrow' Veteran Association

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The 32D Infantry Division

in World War II

The ‘Red Arrow’

Leyte Campaign

   

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Leyte Campaign

“The primary purpose of the Leyte Campaign was to establish an air and logistical base in the Leyte area in order to support operations in the Luzon-Formosa-China coast area and particularly to nullify Japanese strength in Luzon. It was hoped that the fertile Leyte Valley, broad and flat, could be utilized for major airfields and base sites from which large-scale operations could be launched against the rest of the Philippines.” (Cannon 1)


The island of Leyte is part of the Visayan Islands in the central Philippines, between the Philippines' largest islands, Luzon to the north and Mindanao to the south. The eighth largest of the Philippine Islands, Leyte extends about 115 miles from north to south and varies from 15 to 45 miles in width.

“It forms over 2,700 square miles of difficult country with the familiar southwest Pacific pattern of jungle-covered mountains, swamps, streams and a few poor roads. It is separated from the larger island of Samar to the northeast only by the narrow, 25 mile-long, San Juanico Strait. This shallow strait is navigable by small craft only.” (Blakeley 179)

A mountain range, reaching 4,000 feet, runs from the northwest end of the island to the southeast end. These heavily wooded mountains strongly favor the defense and present a formidable obstacle to rapid troop movements between the western and eastern coasts. This range separates the Ormoc Valley in the west from the Leyte Valley to the east; both valleys are important for military control of the island. The Leyte Valley, in the northeast section of the island, is where most of the airfields, key roads, and sizable cities are located.

LG Walter Krueger's (CO of Sixth Army) concept for the seizure and control of Leyte consisted of three phases.

    “Phase I provided for preliminary amphibious operations to secure the islands which dominate the eastern entrances to the Leyte Gulf.
    “Phase II was to be a major amphibious assault on the northern beaches of the eastern coast and the seizing of airfield and base sites on the coastal strip in that area, followed immediately by an advance to the northwest to gain control of Leyte Valley, the Carigara beaches, and San Juanico Strait.

    “Phase III comprised the overland and shore-to-shore operations to destroy the remaining Japanese forces on Leyte, and the seizure and occupation of southwestern Samar.”
(Blakeley 179)

On the eve of the attack, Sixth Army G-2 believed that Japanese strength on Leyte was about 21,700 troops, about half of which were from the Japanese 16th Division and the remainder consisting mainly of service troops. However, they realized that the enemy would probably be able to reinforce this garrison with units from other nearby islands.

A-Day for the attack on Leyte was set for 20 October 1944. This assault would be the largest operation in the Pacific Theater to date. For the first time during WWII, the vast majority of all of the Allied air and naval forces in the Central Pacific and Southwest Pacific Areas would be focused on a single operation; providing either direct or indirect support for the 202,500 ground troops initially committed to the invasion of Leyte.

The main naval elements consisted of Vice Admiral Thomas C. Kinkaid's Seventh Fleet and Admiral William F. Halsey's Third Fleet. The Navy would provide the majority of the air support during the initial stages of the operation.

The Allied Air Forces, commanded by LG George C. Kenney, were comprised of MG Ennis P. Whitehead's Fifth Air Force, MG St. Clair Streett's Thirteenth Air Force, and Air Vice Marshal William D. Bostock's Royal Australian Air Force. In addition to providing air support for the ground forces on Leyte, the Allied Air Forces would also provide air cover for the naval forces.

The ground forces, LG Krueger's Sixth Army, were made up of MG John R. Hodge's XXIV Corps (7TH and 96TH Infantry Divisions), MG Franklin C. Sibert's X Corps (1ST Cavalry Division and 24TH Infantry Division), the Sixth Army Reserve (32D and 77TH Infantry Divisions), and the 6TH Ranger Battalion.

“All of the assault divisions were reinforced with tank battalions, amphibian truck and tractor battalions, joint assault signal companies, and many attached service units.” (Cannon 26)


All but one of these divisions were veterans of previous victories over the Japanese; the 1ST Cavalry Division in the Admiralty Islands, the 7TH Infantry Division at Attu and Kwajalein, the 24TH Infantry Division at Hollandia, the
32D Infantry Division at Buna/Sanananda and Aitape, the 77TH Infantry Division at Guam; only the 96TH Infantry Division had not yet faced the Japanese.

Phase I of the invasion of Leyte began in the early morning hours of 17 October as the 6th Ranger Battalion assaulted several small islands at the opening of Leyte Gulf. One of their key tasks was to set up navigation lights that would direct the assault convoys to the landing beaches. At the same time, Navy mine sweepers began clearing mines from Leyte Gulf and the landing areas. Under water demolition teams began looking for Japanese-made and natural obstacles off the coast of the landing beaches. Navy destroyers provided gunfire support to these elements and also started to target Japanese facilities and defenses in the landing areas.

At 2300 on 19 October the main assault elements arrived off Leyte Gulf. They had embarked in three main groups. The XXIV Corps had embarked at Hawaii, the 1ST Cavalry Division embarked at Manus in the Admiralties, and the 24TH Division embarked at Hollandia on New Guinea. The three groups linked up along the way and formed one huge convoy, so they could arrive off Leyte at the same time. This immense convoy was comprised of over 1,171 ships (this number does not include the ships carrying the 1ST Cavalry Division), from huge battleships and 5,000-man transports to small landing craft. “The largest convoy ever seen in the Pacific up to that time. (Cannon 41) This convoy did not include numerous naval support elements, such as the four carrier tasks groups, which were in the area to support the assault, but weren't part of the convoy.

Due to a shortage of naval transports, the Sixth Army Reserve was held at its staging areas (the 32D Division at Hollandia and the 77TH Division at Guam) until transports from the assault force could be freed to go pick them up. It was estimated that it would be mid-November by the time these two reserve divisions could be brought forward to Leyte.

    “The Japanese were quick to react to this major threat to their control of the Philippine Islands, and to all the rest of their southern empire. General George C. Marshall tells what happened in his Biennial Report of the Chief of Staff for the 1943-1945 period:
    “On 19 October two assault forces, the 3D commanded by Admiral Wilkinson and the 7TH commanded by Rear Admiral Daniel E. Barbey, approached the east coast of Leyte with the Sixth Army under General Krueger aboard. It was an armada of combat and assault vessels that stretched across the vast Pacific horizon. In the covering naval forces were the battleships CALIFORNIA, MISSISSIPPI, MARYLAND, PENNSYLVANIA, TENNESSEE, and WEST VIRGINIA with their screen of cruisers and destroyers. The troops and material with which we were to seize Leyte were loaded in 53 assault transports, 54 assault cargo ships, 151 landing ships (tank), 72 landing craft (infantry), 16 rocket ships, and over 400 other assorted amphibious craft. The air cover was provided by planes from 18 escort carriers.
    “Out to sea Admiral Halsey’s mighty carrier task force, which helped prepare the way for the landings by air bombardment, now stood watch for possible Japanese naval opposition to the landings. That day a Japanese search plane discovered this great amphibious force and reported its presence to Admiral Kurita’s Singapore fleet, which then constituted 60 percent of Japan’s major naval units. This report precipitated one of the decisive battles of history.
    “The X and XXIV Corps of the Sixth Army went ashore on schedule the following day after the Navy had paved its way with drum-fire bombardment. Three days later Gen. MacArthur directed the ground forces to secure their beach areas and await the outcome of the naval battle which was now impending. The Japanese made the decision to commit their fleet in the battle to prevent America’s return to the Philippines.
    “By 26 October it was apparent that the Third and Seventh Fleets had virtually eliminated Japan as a sea power.
    “The battle for Leyte Gulf was, as General Marshall calls it,
“one of the decisive battles of history.” Its results of course affected the future activities of the 32D Division as it did those of all Allied forces engaged in the struggle against Japan. Another major development leading up to the [32D] Division’s next commitment to combat was the Japanese decision to reinforce their ground forces on Leyte.
    “Field Marshal Count Hisaichi Terauchi was the supreme commander of all the troops in Japan’s great conquered area in the Southwest Pacific. His headquarters was in Manila. The 14th Area Army, until recently commanded by Lieutenant General Shigenori Kuroda, was charged with the defense of the Philippines. It had a strength of over 260,000 men but they were scattered all over the Philippines, and Allied air and naval pressure was making it increasingly difficult to move them from place to place. Terauchi, expecting an attack somewhere in the Philippines, secured General Tomoyuki Yamashita, an officer with an outstanding war record, to replace General Kuroda. Although the landing on Leyte achieved complete strategic surprise in terms of timing, weight, and location, it was soon evident that the Japanese were going to make every effort to hold the island. Reinforcements were moved in from Mindanao, Luzon, Cebu, Panay and other islands.”
(qtd. in Blakeley 180-3)

At 0600 on 20 October, the six battleships of the assault force commenced firing on the landing beaches. At 0900 the battleships ceased fire and the cruisers and destroyers, which had moved in closer to the beaches, commenced fire. At 0945 the cruisers and destroyers shifted their fire from the landing beaches to inland targets and the flanks of the landing beaches. During this time frame, navy carrier-based aircraft also targeted Japanese facilities and defenses inland from the beaches.

At H-Hour, 1000, on 20 October 1944, the 174,000 troops assigned to Sixth Army's initial assault force began landing at their assigned beaches on northern Leyte's east coast, opening Phase II of the operation. X Corps landed near Marasbaras and Palo with the 1ST Cavalry Division and 24TH Infantry Division side by side. Fifteen miles to the south, XXIV Corps landed at San Jose and Dulag with the 96TH Infantry Division and 7TH Infantry Division side by side.

Earlier, at 0930 on 20 October, the 21ST Infantry Regiment (detached from the 24TH Division) landed at the southern tip of Leyte, near the Panaon Straight, to secure the entrance to Sogod Bay.

The initial objectives for X Corps were for the 1ST Cavalry Division to turn north from their landing beach and secure Tacloban (the capital of Leyte) and its important air strip. Then this division was to secure the San Juanico Straight, the short, narrow stretch of water that separates Leyte from the island of Samar. Meanwhile the 24TH Division would first seize Palo and then turn northwest toward the Leyte Valley. Both divisions were then to meet up at Carigara, on the Carigara Bay on the north end of Leyte.

Meanwhile, in the XXIV Corps area, the initial objectives were for the 96TH Division to secure Highway 1 in its zone (the highway runs parallel to the coast in this area), then seize Catmon Hill (a large hill mass on the northern end of XXIV Corps' zone), and then the Dagami-Tanauan area. Part of the 7TH Division was to secure the area around the Highway 1 bridge over the Daguitan (Marabang) River at Dao, while the remainder of the division was to capture the airfield at Dulag, then head west toward Burauen.

“But in the last few days of October a series of typhoons struck Leyte and the surrounding area and slowed down both our own operations and those of the Japanese. By the end of the first week in November, enemy reinforcements and the heavy rains had practically stopped Sixth Army’ advance. The weather also made the captured airfields largely useless.” (Blakeley 183)

It was around this time that Field Marshall Terauchi decided to move his headquarters to Saigon, in French Indochina. This left General Yamashita in command of the defense of all the Philippines. The Japanese continued their efforts to reinforce their ground units on Leyte.

“By the middle of November, [Yamashita's] ground forces had increased to a strength of about 50,000 men, and this in spite of high casualties suffered both in battle and in the loss of transports bringing reinforcements. More Japanese planes were also transferred to the Philippines, and the Leyte operation rapidly developed into a great showdown of Japanese and Allied strength on land, on and under the sea, and in the air. For the Japanese, the war had reached a vital, decisive climax. Their use of planned suicide air attacks – the “Kamikaze” strikes – emphasized how fully they realized their situation.” (Blakeley 183)

As soon as the infantry units moved beyond the invasion beaches, engineer units were put ashore to begin building supply dumps, improve the roads, and prepare the captured airfields for use by the Allied air forces. It was a daunting task, partly because of the difficult terrain and heavy rainfall, but also because the Japanese were still close enough to shell these areas with artillery and attack them from the air. As soon as the runways of the captured airfields could support planes, air force units were sent in to begin operating from them.

“Among the Army flyers of the 49TH Fighter Group, an advance party of the Fifth Air Force that arrived on 27 October, was MAJ Richard I. Bong, of the 9TH Fighter Squadron, the leading ace of the Army Air Forces. He celebrated his arrival by shooting down an enemy plane.” (Cannon 96)

The 7TH and 96TH Divisions of XXIV Corps succeeding in taking their Phase II objectives by 1 November, but it had not been easy. The 2 divisions had suffered 2,095 casualties and 111 soldiers MIA. Some 6,980 Japanese had been killed, and only 25 had been captured. But now the southern part of the Leyte Valley was securely in U.S. hands and part of the 7TH Division had also pushed across the middle of the island to the west coast. XXIV Corps was now ready to begin Phase III of the capture of Leyte, which included pushing north into the Ormoc Valley and securing the vital port at Ormoc.

By 2 November the 1ST Cavalry and 24TH Infantry Divisions of X Corps had successfully completed their Phase II missions on the northern part of Leyte. They had suffered 1308 casualties and 14 soldiers were MIA. About 3,709 Japanese had been killed, and only 22 were captured. Now the northern part of the Leyte Valley was secured and X Corps was set to commence its Phase III missions, pushing south through the Ormoc Valley to eventually link up with XXIV Corps.

“In the meanwhile, the Japanese had succeeded in bringing important reinforcements into the west coast port of Ormoc. These included elements of the Headquarters of the 35th Army, of the 30th and 102d Divisions, and several independent units. Most important was the arrival at Ormoc on 1 and 2 November of the crack 1st Division. This veteran unit was reputedly one of the four best, and perhaps the very best, of the top divisions of the Japanese Army. “It did more,” says General Krueger, “than any other enemy unit to prolong the Leyte operation”. (Blakeley 183)

By 7 November the Japanese, who had been continuously pushed westward since the U.S. invasion, were able to form a formidable defensive position at the northern entrance to the Ormoc Valley. The 24TH Infantry Division, beginning its push south from Carigara Bay along Highway 2 into the Ormoc Valley, ran into this stubborn defense north of Limon at Breakneck Ridge and were initially pushed back.

“Breakneck Ridge, over which Highway 2 corkscrewed its way between Pinamopoan and Limon for about 7,500 yards, was actually a hill mass with many spurs branching off from an irregularly shaped crest line toward the shores of Carrigara Bay to the north and the Leyte River valley to the south. Shoulder-high cogon grass was thick on the low ground, and the pockets between the hills were heavily forested. The valleys were deep, with precipitous sides. The 1st [Japanese] Division had heavily fortified the area, taking advantage of the innumerable thickly wooded pockets that served as natural forts. The Japanese had also built an elaborate system of trenches and other defensive positions and had honeycombed the area with spider holes. Many of the latter were on reverse slopes some distance below the crests and were protected from direct fire. In front of each spider hole the enemy had cut fire lanes through the cogon grass, which was left so short that even a crawling soldier would be exposed to fire. The constant rainfall made the hills slippery and treacherous, and, more important, provided a protective curtain in the day and covered movements of the enemy at night.” (Cannon 211)

Gen. Krueger attempted to reduce this enemy pressure at the north end of the Ormoc Valley by having XXIV Corps continue to push its 7TH Infantry Division north along the western coast of Leyte. He also determined that it was time to commit his Sixth Army Reserve, the 77TH and 32D Infantry Divisions. The 77TH Infantry Division would be assigned to XXIV Corps and would enter Leyte with an amphibious assault south of Ormoc on the west coast in the near future. The 32D Infantry Division, currently located at Morotai and Hollandia, would be brought in to reinforce X Corps at the north end of the Ormoc Valley.

“Carrying out this plan, the 24TH Infantry Division recaptured Breakneck Ridge by 14 November except for several spurs still in enemy hands. The rest of X Corps made slow but steady progress in the adjoining areas. XXIV Corps also maintained pressure on the enemy and prepared itself to do its part in destroying the enemy forces on the west coast. But in the meantime the Japanese had succeeded in getting another Division, the 26TH , ashore near Ormoc on 9 November.” (Blakeley 184) One company from the 632D Tank Destroyer Battalion was attached to the 21ST Infantry Regiment while the 24TH Infantry Division was fighting to recapture Breakneck Ridge.

The 32D Division was assigned to the Sixth Army Reserve for the Leyte invasion on 27 September. The 32D Division was ordered to be ready for movement to Leyte on 24 hours' notice after A-day plus 3, 23 October. “Actually there was no possibility of the Division’s reaching Leyte before the middle of November because its movement there depended on the turnaround of part of the shipping used in the assault landings” (Blakeley 184).

“General Krueger had originally intended to use the 32D to gain control of southern Samar [a large, nearby island northeast of Leyte], but the small number of Japanese there coupled with the situation on the front of X Corps decided him to attach the Division to X Corps “in order to impart impetus to the offensive and to give some rest to the tired troops of the 24TH Division, which had been continuously in action for over three weeks”. (Blakeley 184)

On 14 November the 32D Division, minus the 121ST Field Artillery Battalion (which had departed Biak bound for Hollandia on 13 Nov.), landed on the eastern beaches of Leyte. It is interesting to note that the 112TH Cavalry Regiment, which was attached to and fought with the 32D Division at Aitape, landed on Leyte the same day, and was attached to the 1ST Cavalry Division.

Map of northern end of the Ormoc Valley on Leyte between 16 November and 14 December 1944, from Leyte: The Return to the Philippines.

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On 16 November the 32D Division started to relieve the 24TH Infantry Division at Breakneck Ridge. Several units from the 24TH Division would be left in place under the operational control of the 32D Division to protect its flanks. These units included the 2D Battalion, 19TH Infantry Regiment which had established an important roadblock on Highway 2 south of Limon; the 3D Battalion, 34TH Infantry Regiment which was on Kilay Ridge about 700 yards west of the 2D Battalion, 19TH Infantry's roadblock; and 3 field artillery battalions.

The 128TH Infantry, commanded by COL John A. Hettinger, was ordered to pass through the 21ST Infantry Regiment (24TH Division) on Breakneck Ridge and push south along Highway 2 to capture Limon. The 126TH Infantry, commanded by COL Raymond G. Stanton, was directed to relieve units of the 24TH Division fighting in the vicinity of Hill 1525, about 2-miles ESE of Limon, mop up in that area and be prepared to assist in the push south.

At 0800 on 16 November the 128TH Infantry moved out from its assembly area with its 3D Battalion (LTC William A. Duncan) on the right (west of Highway 2), and its 1ST Battalion (LTC James P. Burns) on the left. “The battalions assembled immediately in the rear of the 21ST Infantry and at 1200 pushed through that regiment and entered upon their first battle on Leyte. (Cannon 224)

LTC Burns' 1ST Battalion, 128TH Infantry, was directed to attack the enemy positions on Corkscrew Ridge, but they soon encountered stiff resistance. Company A made no progress because they ran into strong machine gun, mortar and rifle fire. Company B was only able to advance about 150 yards before they too were stopped.

The 3D Battalion, 128TH Infantry (LTC Duncan) faced little resistance and advanced south about 350 yards. From that point Co. L and Co. M were able to place long range rifle and machine gun fire on Japanese positions around Limon.

“On the morning of 17 November the 1ST Battalion reached the slopes of Corkscrew Ridge, where it dug in. At 0737 the 3d Battalion moved out along Highway 2 with companies abreast - Company K on the right and Company L on the left. Company K met no resistance, advanced about 1,000 yards, and reached a ridge about 500 yards north of Limon. Elements of the 57th [Japanese] Infantry stopped Company L almost immediately, but a platoon from the company moved fifty yards west around the pocket of resistance and destroyed it. The company then continued its advance to the ridge. Companies K and L dug in on the ridge for the night.” (Cannon 224)

On 18 November 3D Battalion, 128TH Infantry, was ordered to discontinue its advance to allow the 1ST Battalion to catch up. The 1ST Battalion attempted to advance up Corkscrew Ridge, but strong opposition prevented them from making much progress.

“Elements of the 57th Infantry had dug in on the reverse slope of the ridge, and heavy jungle prevented complete observation of these enemy positions. The Japanese regiment had placed automatic weapons to command the only routes of approach, thus forcing the American troops to move uphill in the face of hostile fire. The 2d [Japanese] Artillery Battalion had placed its guns so that they covered Highway 2.” (Cannon 224)

The 1ST Battalion, 128TH Infantry, continued to assault Corkscrew Ridge through 20 November, while the 3D Battalion held its position on a ridge looking down on Limon.

On 21 November COL Hettinger (CO of the 128TH Infantry) decided to bring up his 2D Battalion (LTC Herbert A. Smith) to join 3D Battalion in an attack on Limon the next day. Their mission was to capture Limon and seize the bridge (over a tributary of the Leyte River) south of the village. Meanwhile 1ST Battalion was to continue to maintain pressure on the Japanese on Corkscrew Ridge. “During the night the 120TH Field Artillery Battalion delivered harassing fire along the road between Limon and the Limon bridge. (Cannon 225)

At 0800 on 22 November the attack commenced with the 2D Battalion on the east side of Highway 2 and the 3D Battalion on the west. The 3D Battalion encountered almost no resistance and Co. I soon established itself on a bluff that overlooked the village and the bridge. The 2D Battalion ran into determined opposition, but by around 1400 they, along with Co. K, were able to push through Limon and had crossed the tributary of the Leyte River south of the village. A strong Japanese counterattack pushed back the 2D Battalion's left flank, which left Co. K in a precarious position. A particularly untimely flash flood of the stream left the advance elements of Co. K cut off south of the river. Eventually they were able to link up with Co. I on the bluff to their right. The 2D Battalion and the remainder of Co. K established a position for the night on a ridge east of Limon.

“On 23 November the 128TH Infantry straightened out its lines and consolidated its positions. For the next three days activity was limited to extensive patrols and the placement of harassing fire on an east-west ridge that overlooked the highway about 1,000 yards south of Limon. Entrenched on this ridge, elements of the 1st [Japanese] Division successfully resisted until 10 December all efforts of the 32d Division to dislodge them.” (Cannon 225)

 

On 23 November SSG Chelsea B. Hamilton, from Lomita, California, and assigned to 126TH Inf., became MIA, and was later declared KIA, on Leyte. Earlier he had earned the Silver Star for his actions as a PVT on 27 May ’44 near Aitape, New Guinea. [added 28 Feb. ‘13]

U.S. Army Signal Corps photo
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Soldiers from the 128TH Infantry, 32D Division, in Limon, Leyte, Philippine Islands.

U.S. Army Signal Corps photo
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Soldiers from the 128TH Infantry, 32D Division, in Limon, Leyte, Philippine Islands, take cover as enemy shells impact.

The capture of Limon essentially signaled the end of the battle of Breakneck Ridge, although some Japanese pockets resisted bitterly until the middle of December. “The battle cost the 24TH and 32D Divisions a total of 1,498 casualties, killed, wounded, and missing in action, as compared with an estimated 5,252 Japanese killed and 8 captured. (Cannon 225) The cost had been great, but X Corps had secured the northern entrance to the Ormoc Valley and could now continue its push south to link up with XXIV Corps to eventually complete the eviction of the Japanese from Leyte.

“In no small measure, the establishment and maintenance of a roadblock south of Limon by the 2D Battalion, 19TH Infantry [Col. Spragins] , and the defense of Kilay Ridge in the rear of the Japanese front lines by the 1ST Battalion, 34TH Infantry [LTC Thomas E. Clifford], had made this achievement possible. Under constant fire and greatly outnumbered, these units had prevented General Suzuki from sending additional troops into Limon”. (Cannon 225)

Both of these units had been under the operational control of the 32D Division since the relief of the 24TH Division on Breakneck Ridge on 16 November. The 2D Battalion, 19TH Infantry, had maintained its roadblock from 12-23 November under extremely difficult conditions. The 1ST Battalion, 34TH Infantry had been stubbornly holding Kilay Ridge since 10 November. Both units were often isolated, constantly outnumbered, under equipped, and under supplied. Both units received Presidential citations.

Late on 27 November a patrol from the 128TH Infantry made contact with the 1ST Battalion, 34TH Infantry on Kilay Ridge to let them know that reinforcements were on the way. This was welcome news because LTC Clifford had been seeking reinforcements for some time.

CPT Harry W. Lusk, commander of Co. C, 128TH Inf., was KIA on 28 November, he was reported MIA for a while. Originally from Pennsylvania, he entered service from Eau Claire, Wisconsin. He had been WIA and earned the Silver Star ca. 22 Nov. ’42 at Buna. [added 16 Dec. ‘12]

SSG Milton Rosenstein, from Ellenville, New York, and assigned to the 126TH Inf., was posthumously awarded the Silver Star for his actions on 28 November on Leyte. He was seriously WIA and DOW later that day. More information about him and his medal can be found on the roster of Silver Star recipients. [added 1 Feb. ‘13]

The 2D Battalion, 128TH Infantry, reached Kilay Ridge on 29 November and was placed under LTC Clifford's control. Co. G, 128TH Infantry, the first to arrive, was immediately sent to reinforce Co. C, 34TH Infantry, the most threatened unit, on the southwest end of the ridge. When the remainder of the 2D Battalion, 128TH Infantry, arrived it was initially held in reserve.

TSgt. Lloyd E. Fisher, from Newton, Kansas, and assigned to the 128TH Inf., earned the Silver Star, bestowed posthumously, for his actions on 29 November. He successfully reunited his mortar platoon with their company after they had been separated during a Japanese attack. He was KIA soon after. More information about him and his medal can be found on the roster of Silver Star recipients. [added 3 Mar. ‘14]

On 1 December, companies from both battalions attacked several knolls, believed to be key Japanese strongpoints, at the southeastern end of Kilay Ridge. While artillery and mortars from both battalions laid prepatory fire, Co. B (34TH Infantry) sent out a patrol to attempt to approach the knolls from the rear. Meanwhile Co. E (128TH Infantry) passed through Co. C (34TH Infantry) in order to directly assault the knolls, while Co. C protected its flanks with heavy machine gun fire.

“The company [Co. E, 128TH] took the first knoll easily, but heavy fire from behind a huge log on the second knoll halted Company E. Company A [34TH Infantry] sent a bazooka team forward to knock out the position and Company C [34TH Infantry] sent all of its grenades forward, but by 1320 the Japanese soldiers were still resisting all attempts to dislodge them.” (Cannon 234)

2LT John Hatlestad, Minnesota and assigned to the 128TH Inf., was posthumously awarded the Silver Star for his actions on 1 December on Leyte. He was KIA that day. More information about him and his medal can be found on the roster of Silver Star recipients. [added 28 Jan. ‘13]

No more progress was made that day and the patrol from Co. B (34TH Infantry) returned about mid-afternoon to report that it had seen no Japanese activity near its objective.

    “On 1 December General Gill ordered the 1ST Battalion, 34TH Infantry (Commanded by Lieutenant Colonel Thomas E. Clifford, Jr., former All-American West Point football star), to withdraw from its position where it had done excellent work in preventing the Japanese from reinforcing the Limon Forces. His message concluded: “You and your men have not been forgotten. You are the talk of the island, and perhaps the United States. Army beat Notre Dame 59 to 0, the worst defeat on record.”
    “Actually, it was several days before the withdrawal of Colonel Clifford’s battalion could be completed. The Japanese were still resisting strongly although their 1st Division had already sustained over 3,000 battle casualties. From postwar examination of Japanese records it appears that the 1st Division’s mission was not changed from attack to defense until 6 December “when it had reached the stage of collapse.” The fact that the enemy continued to operate with an offensive mission for some time after the bulk of his forces were actually on the defense probably accounts in part for the sporadic fighting, involving all three infantry regiments of the 32D Division, which broke out repeatedly throughout the Division’s area.” (Blakeley 185)

On the morning of 2 December, Co. E, 128TH Infantry, again attacked the Japanese positions on the knolls, while Co. F, 128TH Infantry, launched an assault against Japanese positions on another ridge south of Kilay Ridge. Co. E captured the knolls by about mid-day, and Co. F, after overcoming stiff opposition, gained the crest of the ridge by the end of the afternoon. Although the 1ST Battalion, 34TH Infantry, started to withdraw from Kilay Ridge during the afternoon, their withdrawal was halted until 4 December and wasn't completed until two days later.

On 5 December, the 32D Division consolidated its positions in preparation for a strong push down Highway 2. The renewed assault would be made with 2 regiments side by side, the 126TH Infantry (COL Stanton) on the left (east) and the 127TH Infantry (COL Frederick R. Stofft), which had passed through the 128TH Infantry, on the right.

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On 5 December, PFC William A. McWhorter was helping his unit, Co. M, 126TH Infantry, repel a fierce Japanese counterattack when he deliberately sacrificed his own life to save the life of his buddy. For his selfless sacrifice, PFC McWhorter was posthumously bestowed the Medal of Honor. His Medal of Honor citation can be read on the 32D Division Medal of Honor page of this web site.

“McWhorter, a 27-year-old machine gunner of Company M, 126TH Infantry, was from Liberty, South Carolina, and had participated in the operations at Aitape, Saidor and Morotai. Private First Class William D. Brooks, from Hazel Green, Alabama, was McWhorter’s assistant gunner, and Private First Class George O. Panzer, of Olympia, Washington, was approaching the emplacement with ammunition when the enemy rush was stopped. As Brooks tells the story: “Just as they quit, I saw an object come flying through the air and land inside our position. As I realized it was a block of TNT with a fuse attached, McWhorter rushed to it and picked it up. There was no time to do anything with it and he hugged it to his chest and bent over and turned away from me. As he did so it exploded. He had deliberately given his life for mine.” (Blakeley 187)

On 6 December, the 127TH Infantry moved out from its positions on the south side of the Leyte River west of Limon to resume the drive south along Highway 2. They soon ran into fierce opposition from excellently concealed, dug-in enemy positions on some high ground 1,000 yards south of the Leyte River bridge.

“The terrain that the troops traversed was adapted to defensive fighting, and the 1st [Japanese] Division took full advantage of this fact. There were deep ravines and steep hills where the enemy had dug in on both the forward and reverse slopes. The entire area was covered by heavy rain forest with dense underbrush. The nearly constant rainfall made observation difficult and the maps for the area were very inaccurate.” (Cannon 325)

The 3D Battalion, 127TH Infantry, was cited in War Department orders for its outstanding performance during this time frame:

     “The 3D BATTALION, 127TH INFANTRY REGIMENT, is cited for outstanding performance of duty in action against the enemy near Limon, Leyte, Philippine Islands, from 30 November to 7 December 1944. The 3D BATTALION, 127TH INFANTRY REGIMENT, was ordered to attack Hill 400, near Limon, Leyte, Philippine Islands. This hill was the key defensive position of the crack Japanese Imperial 1st Division. The assigned mission was to knock out all installations, annihilate the foe, capture and hold commanding ground which he occupied. The commanding ground of Hill 400 enabled the Japanese not only to defend the hill proper but extensive areas on both the flanks as well. Automatic weapons, mortars, artillery, and small arms which the enemy possessed in great numbers could be utilized from these positions with maximum effectiveness. The irregularity of the slopes and dense undergrowth in many places was a definite handicap to any attacking force. In addition, for several hundred yards from the crest of the objective, the ground was completely barren, affording neither cover nor concealment from enemy observation and fire. The signal to attack was given. Company L on the right made a frontal attack; Company I, supported by Company K, advanced to make a left enveloping movement; Company M, stationed on Bridge Ridge, gave supporting 81mm, 60 mm mortar and overhead machine gun fire. For 8 days a vicious battle raged. Foot by foot, yard by yard, the men of the 3D BATTALION pressed forward against fanatical enemy resistance. Numerous “banzai” counter attacks at times halted our men, and on occasion even compelled them to yield some ground, but their courage and determination never wavered. Temporary reverse only spurred them on to greater efforts. Individual acts of outstanding heroism were numerous. Time and again officers and enlisted men, severely wounded, continued to fight on, rejecting medical aid and refusing to leave the field of battle. Headquarters company personnel kept a constant flow of ammunition and supplies to our embattled forces, despite the terrific enemy fire constantly directed at them. Medical officers and enlisted men attached to the battalion treated our wounded under fire and evacuated them promptly to the rear. These operations were carried out heedless of their personal safety and numerous enemy efforts to prevent their missions of rescue. On the eighth day our men were ready for the final assault on Hill 400. Two hundred yards of barren, open, and exposed ground lay between them and the crest of the hill. Across this ground, devoid of cover and concealment, gallantly our men braved the enemy’s pointblank fire. Doggedly they advanced until the crest was reached. Hand to hand combat ensued when they attained the hill, but our men were not to be denied; they destroyed many defenders and forced the others to flee in panic. In the 8 day battle many enemy were killed and much valuable equipment captured or destroyed. A large number of maps and regimental personnel records of great intelligence value were also captured. The signal victory broke the enemy’s claimed impregnable Yamashita Line, and contributed greatly to the complete and utter defeat of the Japanese troops resisting in the upper Ormoc Valley, and the final collapse of all enemy resistance on Leyte. In outmaneuvering, out fighting, and out lasting a numerically superior foe who had an overwhelming advantage in position and firepower, the officers and men of the 3D BATTALION, 127TH INFANTRY REGIMENT, exemplified the finest traditions of American arms.” (Blakeley 187-190)

On 7 December, the 77TH Infantry Division made an amphibious assault near Ormoc, on the west coast of Leyte, in order to increase the momentum of XXIV Corps' drive north into the Ormoc Valley. The bulk of the remaining Japanese forces on Leyte were located in the Ormoc Valley. “The Japanese were caught in the jaws of a trap - the 1ST Cavalry Division and the 32D Infantry Division were closing in from the north and the 77TH Infantry Division from the south. (Cannon 313)

Map of northern Leyte on 7 December 1944, from Leyte: The Return to the Philippines.

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On 9 December SSG Francis E. Lisovitch (Lisovich), from Sharon, Pennsylvania, and assigned to the 126TH Inf., was KIA on Leyte. Earlier he had earned the Silver Star for his actions on 27 May ’44 near Aitape, New Guinea.
[added 28 Feb. ‘13]

On 10 December, elements of the 1ST Cavalry Division came out of the mountains and onto Highway 2 a considerable distance south of the 32D Division, at a point roughly midway between Limon and Lonoy. While the 32D Division had been spearheading the drive down Highway 2 into the Ormoc Valley, the 1ST Cavalry Division had been fighting the Japanese in the rugged mountains south and east of the 32D Division's zone. Now the 1ST Cavalry Division would take over the lead in the push down Highway 2 while the 32D Division would continue to eliminate the Japanese positions that remained along the stretch of highway that now separated the 2 divisions.

PFC Raymond M. Baser, from Howell County, Missouri, and assigned to Co. E, 126TH Inf. was posthumously bestowed with the Distinguished Service Cross for his actions on 10 December 1944. The medal had to be awarded posthumously because he was KIA on 3 April 1945 on Luzon. More information about him and his medal can be found on the roster of DSC recipients. [added 31 Jan. ‘13]

From 11-18 December, the 128TH Infantry patrolled the vicinity of Limon to wipe out the Japanese pockets that were bypassed by the assault units in the push south along Highway 2.

SSG Marvin E. Borgman, from Grand Rapids, Michigan, and a medic with the 126TH Inf. was KIA on 11 December on Leyte. He had earlier earned the Silver Star during a Japanese air attack on 29 Oct. ’42 near Tupuseli, New Guinea. He was a PVT in Med. Det., 126TH Inf., Michigan National Guard, at Grand Rapids, MI, when 32D Div. mobilized on 15 Oct. '40. [added 18 Feb. ‘13]

Most of the 32D Division spent 12 December consolidating its positions south of Limon after bypassing several stubborn Japanese pockets. The 2D Battalion, 126TH Infantry, was meeting the fiercest opposition in the Division's sector at this time. Even with heavy support from their mortars and four attached tanks, they were only able to make small gains. “However for a patrol from Company I [127TH Infantry] it was a red letter day in that the patrol found a bottle of U.S. Golden Wedding Wiskey [sic] at an evacuated Jap hospital. It was consumed. (Cannon 325) During the night the Division's artillery battalions laid protective fires around the 126TH and 127TH Infantry positions and harassing fires along Highway 2 toward Lonoy to the south.

U.S. Army Signal Corps photo

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Camouflaged U.S. tanks are shown on Highway 2, between Limon and Lonoy, Leyte, Philippines.


On 13 December, the 2D Battalion, 126TH Infantry, with mortar and tank support, was able to assault through the enemy positions that had been holding it up. It was also able to eliminate some of the pockets that had been bypassed earlier, in spite of determined resistance. By the end of the day it was in a position about 200 yards north of a roadblock established by elements of 3D Battalion, 126TH Infantry Meanwhile, 3D Battalion (minus Co. L holding high ground above the road) advanced down the east side of the road to come up alongside the 1ST Battalion, 126TH Infantry, the southernmost unit of the Division. Late in the afternoon, 3D Battalion spotted six Japanese tanks approaching, but after a fierce fight the tanks were turned back. The 1ST Battalion, forced to advance over open ground, successfully dislodged a Japanese position between it and 3D Battalion.

“The men of the battalion were hungry, having been without food since the previous afternoon. The commanding officer of the battalion renewed a request for additional rations and ammunition, since the one-third ration that had been received the day before was insufficient.” (Cannon 326)


Meanwhile, the 1ST and 2D Battalions, 127TH Infantry, were ordered to move south, past 3D Battalion, 126TH Infantry, and establish contact with 1ST Battalion, 126TH Infantry. The 1ST Battalion, 127TH Infantry, had gone 400 yards before it was stopped by about 50 Japanese on some high ground just west of the road who threw TNT charges and grenades down on them.

“The night of 13-14 December was not quiet. At 2300 an enemy force from the 1st Infantry Regiment [1st Division] broke into the command post of the 126TH Infantry. The Japanese set up a machine gun in the area and attacked with grenades and rifles. Bitter hand-to-hand fighting ensued but by 0325 the enemy force was evicted and the area quieted down.” (Cannon 326)


On 14 December, the 126TH and 127TH Infantry Regiments continued their gradual advance south in the face of persistent enemy opposition. At the end of the day they were established about a mile south of Tolibaw. At about 1730 on 14 December, soldiers from the 127TH Infantry knocked out 2 Japanese tanks that were attempting to move north. Also on 14 December, the 121ST Field Artillery Battalion (which had been detached from the
32D
Division for the Biak operation) landed on Leyte and rejoined the 32D Division on 16 December.

“Some idea of the difficulties of the advance can be gained from the Army’s official history of the campaign: “Every bend of the road was lined with foxholes dug into the banks of the road and spider holes dug underneath the roots of trees and under logs on the hillsides. It was bitter, close hand to hand fighting, and because of the steepness of the terrain, and denseness of the tree growth, the inaccuracy of maps and the nearness of adjoining units, artillery and mortar fire could not be used to its full advantage in reducing these positions.”(Blakeley 190)

“The Japanese were well entrenched on a series of ridges overlooking Highway 2. A heavy rain forest covered the ridges and the deep ravines in between. The enemy had carefully selected his defensive positions and camouflaged his machine guns, which were flanked by hidden riflemen. Targets could not be spotted beyond a range of about seventy-five feet. The employment of mortars was very limited because of the lack of visibility, and the hazards of tree burst were equally dangerous to both the Japanese and the Americans. The troops had to “approach within spitting distance of the [Japanese machine] guns” before they could locate the weapons.” (Cannon 339)

 

“The main Japanese defensive line had been reached. By 14 December the 32D Division had advanced more than two miles south of Limon. The 77TH Division had crushed the Cogon defenses and was in a position to drive north and make juncture with elements of X Corps. The northern and southern entrances to Ormoc Valley were denied to the Japanese. The jaws of the Sixth Army trap were starting to close.” (Cannon 328)


“Although it was often unknown to the front line troops, repeated Japanese attempts to bring in reinforcements both by sea and by air were a constant source of concern to senior officers.” (Blakeley 190)

During the next several days the
32D
Division continued its slow but determined drive against the stubborn, well-entrenched enemy positions, often only able to gain 30 or 40 yards per day. As usual, there were numerous acts of outstanding valor.

 

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On 15 December, SGT Leroy Johnson was leading 3 other Soldiers from Co. K, 126TH Infantry, in an attempt to eliminate a Japanese machine gun position. When SGT Johnson saw 2 grenades land near his Soldiers, he threw himself on them and sacrificed his own life to save the lives of his Soldiers. SGT Johnson was posthumously bestowed the Medal of Honor. SGT Johnson, from Oakdale, LA, had previously been awarded the Silver Star for his gallantry near Sanananda, during the Papuan Campaign. His Medal of Honor citation can be read on the 32D Division Medal of Honor page of this web site. Some information about his Silver Star can be found on the roster of Silver Star recipients.

PFC Herman M. Clemenson was one of those 3 Soldiers whose life was spared by SSG Johnson’s valor on 15 December. He was from Horace, North Dakota, and had fought on New Guinea as well as Leyte. PFC Clemenson was seriously WIA by a grenade the next day, 16 December. He earned the Bronze Star and Purple Heart. He was able to participate in the dedication of the WWII Memorial in Washington, D.C. in 2004. He passed away on 3 March 2012 at the Veterans Affairs Hospital in Fargo, North Dakota. [added 15 Feb. ‘13]

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On 15 December, PFC Dirk J. Vlug, from the 1ST Battalion, 126TH Infantry, single handedly destroyed 5 Japanese tanks that threatened his unit's position. PFC Vlug was bestowed the Medal of Honor for "one of the most heroic exploits of the war but also as an amazing example of the efficient use of weapons under the most difficult circumstances (Blakeley 192)." His Medal of Honor citation can be read on the 32D Division Medal of Honor page of this web site. PFC Vlug, age 29, was from Grand Rapids, MI, and had joined the 126TH Infantry at Camp Livingston, LA. Dirk Vlug passed away in Grand Rapids, MI, on 25 June 1996.

 

Technician Fourth Grade James J. Madigan, from Munsing, MI, was an eye witness of the event: “My battalion had set up a roadblock along the Ormoc Road to prevent the Japs from getting behind our lines. In the after . . . we saw five Jap tanks coming down the road. The first tank was laying a smoke screen to conceal their movements. They started firing at us with heavy machine guns and 37 mm cannons. All of us took cover except Private Vlug, who grabbed a rocket launcher and about six rounds of ammunition. I saw him move out toward the road by himself. The Japs in the lead tank started to direct heavy machine gun fire at him.” (qtd. in Blakeley 192)

 

CPT James K. Sullivan also provided testimony of PFC Vlug’s exploits: “With one accurately fired round, he knocked out the first tank, killing its occupants. The second one stopped. Nip soldiers came out to attack Vlug. Using his pistol, he instantly killed one of them and forced the rest to return to the tank. Before they could get it moving, he used his launcher to demolish the vehicle. Meanwhile three more Jap tanks were moving up the road. Sighting Vlug, they immediately opened fire with their machine guns. Maneuvering to one side, he succeeded in putting the third tank out of action with a shot from his launcher. Despite the hail of enemy bullets, he pressed the attack against the remaining two tanks, which were now at close range. He destroyed still another of these tanks with his bazooka. Using his last round of ammo, he hit the last tank as it was trying to move around the burning wreckage of the other tanks, putting it out of control and causing it to swerve off the road and fall down a steep embankment.” (qtd. in Blakeley 192)

Co. C, 127TH Inf. was awarded the Distinguished Unit Citation (now known as the Presidential Unit Citation) for establishing a roadblock on Highway 2 (a.k.a. the Ormoc Highway) and repelling a strong enemy attack on 15 December:

     “COMPANY C, 127TH INFANTRY REGIMENT, is cited for outstanding performance of duty in action against the enemy near the Ormoc Highway, Leyte, Philippine Islands, on 15 December 1944. As a result of a wide flanking movement by our forces a large Japanese pocket was trapped. The only supply or evacuation route open to this enemy force was the Ormoc Highway. On 15 December 1944, COMPANY C, 127TH INFANTRY REGIMENT, was ordered to establish a roadblock on the Ormoc Highway to prevent these troops from being supplied or reinforced. Many enemy tanks were known to be in the area and were expected to resist any attempt by our forces to establish or maintain the block. The men of COMPANY C, armed with grenades, rifles, automatic weapons, mortars and bazookas, had just moved into position when the enemy struck. Ten light tanks supported by well-armed ground troops comprised the enemy force. In addition, the enemy directed intense 75-mm and 150-mm artillery fire against COMPANY C’s positions. Although the men were subject to point-blank fire from the enemy tanks, a hail of bullets from the numerically superior enemy ground troops, and the point-blank fire from the enemy artillery, they never ceased to face the challenge and return the fire to the foe. The men of COMPANY C, by accuracy of their fire and excellent coordination of small arms and bazookas, completely routed the enemy. The mortars and a special patrol succeeded in putting out of action two 75-mm and one 150-mm artillery piece which the enemy had been employing. When the smoke of the battle cleared there remained nine enemy tanks completely destroyed and the other severely damaged. The crews of these tanks as well as many of the supporting ground troops were killed. An aggressive assault against the disorganized remnants of the routed foe resulted in his complete annihilation. The courage and disregard for personal safety shown by the officers and enlisted men of COMPANY C, 127TH INFANTRY REGIMENT, are a credit to the armed forces. This operation was a determining factor in the final successful break-through by our troops during the following days and played a vital role in the successful completion of the task of breaking all enemy resistance on Leyte.”

PVT Victor H. Meinberg, from Wisconsin Rapids, WI and assigned to the 129TH FA Bn., earned the Bronze Star for his actions at the Ormoc Highway roadblock on 15 December near Limon, Leyte. His citation was summarized in his hometown newspaper thusly: A member of a forward observer party serving with an infantry company which was attacked by five enemy tanks, he and another soldier braved the cannon and machine gun fire that swept the area to carry much needed ammunition to rocket launcher operators. This action made possible the destruction of the enemy tanks.” PVT Meinberg was a member of Btry. E, 120TH FA Regt., Wisconsin National Guard, at Wisconsin Rapids, WI when 32D Div. mobilized on 15 Oct. '40. [added 1 Apr. ‘14]

 

CPT Erwin Joseph Nummer, Commander of Company H, 126TH Infantry, was KIA 16 December 1944. He was a SGT in the Michigan National Guard at Grand Rapids, MI, when the Division was mobilized. He was bestowed with the DSC for his actions as 1LT and Commander of Co. F, 126TH Inf. on 30 Nov. ’42 at Buna; he was also WIA that same day. He is interred at the Manila American Cemetery. [added 12 Dec. ‘12]

By the morning of 17 December, the lead units of the 126TH Infantry were in positions approximately 4,000 yards south of Limon. The 1ST Battalion launched an assault (with some heavy mortar fire support) at 0730, but they soon ran into a platoon-size enemy position on a knoll about 300 yards east of the road. It turned into an intense struggle that lasted all day. When it got dark, 1ST Battalion dug in where they were to establish a defense for the night.

The 2D Battalion, 126TH Infantry, with the massive support of all of its mortars, machine guns and 37-mm guns, plus 4 attached tanks, attempted to dislodge a strong enemy position (including many foxholes, coconut log bunkers and elaborate L-shaped fighting positions dug into the side of the mountain) that was blocking their advance. “A rain of steel descended upon the Japanese on the high ground directly east of the battalion. (Cannon 340) The massed supporting fires had been very effective and the battalion was soon established on top of the ridge. The battalion captured 8 medium artillery pieces and 150 enemy dead were found in the area.

Co. I, 3D Battalion, 126TH Infantry, eliminated a Japanese roadblock that they had established the day before. Then, supported by 4 tanks, they moved down Highway 2 with little opposition to a point near 2D Battalion. The rest of 3D Battalion protected the road and patrolled the area throughout the day.

The 127TH Infantry, a little farther to the south, held its positions throughout the day so that the 126TH Infantry could come up on line with it.

On 18 December, the 126TH Infantry was established on a line that ran east of Highway 2. In front of them, units of the 1st Japanese Division held three main positions that formed a line about 800 yards wide and ran from east to west across Highway 2. The first enemy position was atop a north-south ridge along the east side of Highway 2, from which the Japanese could roll hand grenades down onto the road. The second enemy position was on another north-south ridge about 200 yards further east. The third enemy position was a knoll even further to the east.

The 126TH Infantry commenced their assault (after heavy supporting fires from mortars and tanks) at 1010 on a 2 battalion front, 1ST Battalion on the right and 2D Battalion on the left. The 1ST Battalion objective was the ridge on the east side of the road. After some heavy fighting, during which both sides made liberal use of machine guns, grenades and bayonets, the 1ST Battalion was able to advance the 200 yards to the crest of the ridge by about 1230. Although the fight didn't end then and it was 1800 by the time 1ST Battalion had full control of the top of the ridge.

The 2D Battalion, 126TH Infantry, objective was the strong enemy position on the knoll. The dense vegetation allowed them to advance to within 30 yards of the knoll before the Japanese spotted them and opened fire. The 2D Battalion, supported by machine guns and mortars, was able to seize the knoll after 5 hours of bitter combat. Both the 1ST and 2D Battalions established defensive positions for the night, within 50 yards of the Japanese front line. During the day, “The 3D Battalion of the 126TH Infantry moved south along the road and closed the gap between the 126TH and 127TH Infantry Regiments. (Cannon 341)

On 19 December, the 126TH launched another attack at 1100, with its 1ST and 2D Battalions side by side, against strong enemy positions on another ridge to their front. The left flank of 1ST Battalion was immediately pinned down by heavy fire from six machine guns. The battalion pulled back while it called in a mortar concentration (over 200 rounds) and placed heavy machine gun fire on the Japanese positions. The battalion resumed their advance but still ran into determined resistance.

“Elements of the 1st [Japanese] Division had dug in on the top and both sides of a ridge and had utilized caves to construct a defensive position in which there were more than 100 foxholes with communicating trenches. Heavy fighting continued throughout the day. The 1ST Battalion used mortars, flame throwers, white phosphorus grenades, hand grenades, rifles, and supporting flanking fire from its heavy and light machine guns, but was able to advance only seventy-five yards. Although the battalion overran many emplacements, a determined Japanese force remained to be overcome when the battalion established its night perimeter on the eastern slope of the ridge.” (Cannon 341)


The 2D Battalion, 126TH Infantry, met scattered, light resistance and was able to advance 200 yards and secure its area of responsibility by 1200. Throughout the day 2D Battalion was able to provide supporting machine gun and rifle fire for 1ST Battalion's attack to its right. At about 1530 on 19 December, the 2D Battalion was relieved by 1ST Squadron of the 112TH Cavalry Regiment and moved to an assembly area to the rear. The 112TH Cavalry had been conducting operations in support of the 1ST Cavalry Division's advance further to the east and had also been protecting the
32D
Division's left flank.

By nightfall on 19 December, Co. B, 126TH Infantry, which had encountered the most stubborn opposition in 1ST Battalion's area, had one platoon established on the east side of the ridge, another platoon on the west side, and the remainder of the company to the south. Throughout the night Co. B was able to keep constant pressure on the Japanese position, by firing on it from 3 sides. “At dawn, and without breakfast, the company rushed the position and by 1000 had complete control of the area. Two hundred Japanese dead were found. (Blakeley 197)

On 20 December at 1245, the 127TH Infantry assumed responsibility for the 1ST Battalion, 126TH Infantry's hard won sector and the battalion moved to an assembly area to the rear.

1SG Richard J. Pieh, from Adrian, Michigan, and likely assigned to Co. B, 126TH Inf., was bestowed with the Distinguished Service Cross for his actions on 20 December on Leyte. He was a PVT in Co. B, 126TH Inf., Michigan National Guard, at Adrian, MI, when 32D Div. mobilized on 15 Oct. '40. He had earlier earned the Silver Star for his actions as a SGT during a patrol on 8 Dec. '42 at “New Strip” near Buna, New Guinea. More information about him and his decorations can be found on the roster of DSC recipients and the roster of Silver Star recipients. [added 19 Feb. ‘13]

On 21 December, at about 1645, the lead elements of the 77TH Infantry and 1ST Cavalry Divisions linked up on Highway 2, at a road junction between Kananga and Libongao. The entire highway was now open from Pinamopoan in the north to Ormoc in the south.

“The Ormoc Valley, in which the Japanese had so tenaciously resisted the American advance, was now securely in the hands of Sixth Army. The northern and southern prongs of the trap had closed. There remained only Palompon as an exit for the Japanese forces. To the securing of that port, the X and XXIV Corps, acting in concert, could concentrate their main efforts. Plans had been readied. The Sixth Army was poised in a position from which it could drive westward to the sea and bring the Leyte campaign to a successful conclusion.” (Cannon 346)

“In General Marshall’s biennial report, previously quoted; the last phase of the Leyte Campaign is briefly summarized:

    “Toward the end of December the 7TH, 24TH, 32D, 77TH and 96TH Divisions, the 1ST Cavalry Division, and the 11TH Airborne Division, closed out organized Japanese resistance on the island. It was at Kilometer 79 on the Ormoc Highway that the Japanese 1st Division command post, defended by 500 exhausted, defeated soldiers made the last stand. This little band, made up every element General Kataoka had been able to reassemble, quit on the night of 21 December and fled south and west. Men of the 32D Division found this letter, written by an unknown Japanese soldier: “I am exhausted. We have no food. The enemy are now within 500 meters from us. Mother, my dear wife and son, I am writing this letter to you by dim candlelight. Our end is near. What will be the future of Japan if this island should fall into enemy hands. Our air force has not arrived. General Yamashita has not arrived. Hundreds of pale soldiers of Japan are waiting our glorious end and nothing else. This is a repetition of what had occurred in the Solomons, New Georgia, and other islands. How well are the people of Japan prepared to fight the decisive battle with the will to win?”(Blakeley 197)"


“Less than two months before, Yamashita had sent to his troops a message which carried all the tremendous prestige and authority of an Imperial Rescript: “The Army has received the following order from His Majesty, the Emperor: ‘Enemy ground forces will be destroyed.’ Fighting literally to the death, the Japanese could no longer carry out the orders of their Emperor. The fanatic courage with which they tried is testified by the enemy’s casualty totals for the Leyte Campaign: 56,263 killed, 392 captured.” (Blakeley 197)

U.S. Army Signal Corps photo from National Archives & Records Administration
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Troops of the 127TH Infantry, 32D Div., look over burning Japanese tanks knocked out by American tanks north of Lonoy, Leyte, P.I. on 22 December 1944.

U.S. Army Signal Corps photo from National Archives & Records Administration
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T5 Russell W. Smith, Service Co., 127TH Infantry, 32D Div., of Clarksburg, W. Va., using bulldozer to clear destroyed Japanese tanks from road to Lonoy, Leyte, P.I., to make room for passage of Sherman tanks on 22 December 1944.


On 22 December, the 127TH Infantry entered Lonoy and established contact with the 7TH Cavalry Regiment.

On 22 December, General Gill issued General Orders 104, Headquarters, 32D Infantry Division:

     “Today the “Red Arrow” Division successfully completed its primary mission of forcing a passage through the mountains from Pinamopoan to the Ormoc Valley. After thirty-six days of the bitterest hand-to-hand fighting yet experienced in this war the Division has annihilated the 1st Imperial Division (reinforced), and by this determined action has shortened the completion of the Leyte Campaign.
    “Every officer and every enlisted man in the Division as well as those attached played a vitally important part in the Division’s success.
     "I wish to compliment each individual and to express my personal appreciation for the splendid work accomplished by them in this campaign. Without this coordinated effort of each individual the Division could not have been successful.
     “I extend the Season’s Greetings to each of you, and in so doing, express my confidence in your continued success. May God watch over you and help you through the strenuous days ahead.” (Blakeley 197-198)”

Now that the Ormoc Valley was secured, the majority of the remaining Japanese forces on Leyte had been forced into the northwest corner of the island. Sixth Army's next objective was to eliminate those enemy units and prevent their escape for future use elsewhere. Four U.S. divisions would now turn 90 degrees and push west off Highway 2 to the sea to finalize the capture of Leyte. The southernmost unit, the 77TH Division, would advance to seize Palompon, the last main port available to the Japanese. To the right (north) of the 77TH Division would be the 1ST Cavalry Division, then the 32D Division, and then the 24TH Division.

“The northwestern mountains of Leyte west of Ormoc Bay provided a difficult barrier to any movement toward the northwest coast. The area was the last one available to the Japanese either for escaping from Leyte or for staging defensive actions. In general, the terrain was rough, increasing in altitude from broken ground and low hills in the north to steep rocky ridges and high hills in the south. The northern part was either under cultivation or covered with cogon grass. Toward the south, the cultivated fields and grasslands were gradually supplanted by dense forests.” (Cannon 347)

On 23 December, the 127TH and 128TH Infantry dispatched patrols westward and at 0800 on Christmas Eve both regiments began their arduous march toward the coast. Along the way, they met little effective opposition from the small groups of Japanese they ran into. However, the torrential rain, thick vegetation, and steep hills were a formidable obstacle.

“The commanding officer of the 127TH Infantry [COL Stofft] said of the hills encountered on 24 December:
   
“The morning was spent in climbing to the top of a mountain ridge. The climbing was difficult but as we later found out, the descent was much worse. The trail led almost perpendicular down the side. After reaching the bottom, another ridge was encountered, this almost straight up, everyone had to use hand holds to pull themselves up. All in all there were seven ridges from the bottom of the first descent to the first possible bivouac area.”
(Cannon 356)

On Christmas Morning, the 1ST Battalion, 127TH Infantry, ran into a force of about 400 Japanese, who were quickly dispersed.

    “Supply, which had been a major problem throughout the campaign, was now nearly impossible. Rations were soon low or completely gone. It wasn’t a question of Christmas dinner but rather would they eat at all? The problem was solved largely by the use of the artillery’s “grasshoppers” – the little observation planes that were certainly never designed as cargo carriers. Although their drops were understandably not always accurate, the planes did get enough supplies to the doughboys to enable them to push through to the coast." (Blakeley 198)
    “Carrying 50 lb. loads, the tiny planes shuttled from the airstrip to the advancing troops. All that day and the next they flew, swooping low over the trees to drop the supply cases, and then returning for another load. Shoes, leggins, clothing, food, ammunition, radio batteries, atribrine and all the other items needed on the march made up the cargoes. For two consecutive days the four battalions were completely supplied by this method. It was the largest operation of this kind ever successfully attempted in any theater.” (Blakeley 196)

On 25 December, Gen. MacArthur declared that all organized resistance on Leyte had ended. In spite of this declaration, numerous pockets of Japanese forces held out on Leyte for some time. Some of these groups were large and still willing to fight. Eight U.S. divisions were involved, for varying lengths of time, in seeking out and eliminating these pockets from 1 January to 8 May.

By the afternoon of 29 December, both regiments had attained their goals on the west coast of Leyte. The 128TH Infantry was looking out over Compopo and Tabango Bays. About three miles to the south, the 127TH Infantry had a commanding view of Antipolo Point. Patrols were dispatched to reconnoiter the surrounding areas and to link up with the 1ST Cavalry Division to the south as well as the 24TH Infantry Division to the north.

    “A last tragic message came into the Division’s command post near Limon on the morning of 31 December 1944, just as it seemed as if the phrase, “Happy New Year” might have a little meaning. Herman Bottcher, the “fine combat soldier” whom General Eichelberger had recommended for promotion to captain from staff sergeant for his leadership in the Buna fighting, had been killed.”  (Blakeley 198)

The 32D Cavalry Reconnaissance Troop received a citation for its roll in the Leyte campaign.

     “THE 32D CAVALRY RECONNAISSANCE TROOP is cited for outstanding performance of duty in action against the enemy from 20 November 1944  to 2 January 1945 during the Leyte, Philippine Islands campaign. Operating in the Ormoc Valley sector for a period of 43 days, THE 32D CAVALRY RECONNAISSANCE TROOP established a patrol base behind enemy lines and near his rear area installations. From this patrol base the troop conducted numerous reconnaissance patrols, harassing raids, and maintained observation posts which directed long-range artillery fire on these installations and activities with devastating result to the enemy. Throughout the period operations were conducted under the most adverse conditions of weather and terrain. Heavy rains, with difficult mountainous jungle tracks and intermingled open valleys and forested mountains, made the movement of patrols ever subject to fire from enemy troops which occupied the area. The troop, operating with an average of 80 men from which its patrols and command posts were drawn, was attacked by enemy forces 14 times, but each attack was driven off and a total of 86 Japanese killed, with several hundred more being credited to artillery fire directed by the troop’s observation posts. Ambushes set by the troop resulted in the capture of 11 prisoners of war for intelligence interrogation. The harassing raids resulted in the destruction of three important bridges over which the enemy was moving supplies, and the reconnaissance patrols pinpointed three artillery positions upon which counterbattery fire was placed. Patrols also furnished information on troop movements and concentrations in the Ormoc Valley from Valencia to Lonoy and west to Palompon. This information, because of its timeliness and accuracy, permitted large scale tactical planning which contributed greatly to the utter defeat of the Japanese troops resisting in the upper Ormoc Valley and the final collapse of all enemy resistance on Leyte.” (Blakeley 198-200)

On 1 January 1945, the 77TH Division was directed to relieve the 32D Division. Shortly thereafter, the 32D Division began to assemble in the Carigara-Pinamopoan area on Carigara Bay. There it received some well-earned rest, but it couldn't rest for long because it also had to start preparing for its next mission, the invasion of Luzon.

The
32D
Infantry Division suffered nearly 2,000 battle casualties during its 47 days of combat during the fight for Leyte, 450 of its soldiers had been killed, 1,491 soldiers wounded, and 8 soldiers were MIA.

“General Krueger paid tribute to the troops of Sixth Army in a general order at the end of the Leyte operations:

     “The combat troops have displayed the highest degree of gallantry, skill, tenacity and fortitude in fighting a resourceful and determined enemy under adverse conditions of weather and on exceedingly difficult terrain. They have added a glorious page to the history of our army and the country. The exploits of the combat troops were equaled by the devoted highly effective work of the service units, who are deserved of the highest praise for unremittingly toiling day and night to serve and support their comrades in the battle line.” (Blakeley 201)”

“The service units of the 32D Division now had about three weeks in which to get the weapons, transportation, communications equipment, medical supplies, clothing, and personal equipment ready for another extensive campaign. The 732D Ordnance Company in particular had to meet extraordinarily heavy demands. The Leyte Campaign had been hard on weapons, vehicles and instruments. Inspections showed that about ten percent of the Division’s motor transport was now unserviceable and would have to be salvaged. Thirty crated 2 ½ ton trucks had to be assembled, serviced and delivered to Division units. Hundreds of repair jobs were accomplished by mechanics who worked almost around the clock. When loading began in preparation for the sailing of the Division convoy set for 24 January 1945, the Division’s arms and equipment were not perfect or complete, but they were adequate.” (Blakeley 201)

Next Section - Luzon Campaign - The Villa Verde Trail

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Bibliography (primary sources for historical information regarding the 32D ‘The Red Arrow’ Infantry Division’s exploits during World War II):

Blakeley, H. W., Major General, Retired.  The 32D Infantry Division in World War II.  The Thirty-second Infantry Division History Commission, State of Wisconsin, n.d.
Cannon, M. Hamlin.  Leyte: The Return to the PhilippinesU. S. Army Center of Military History, 1954.
Carlisle, John M.  Red Arrow Men: Stories About the 32nd Division on the Villa Verde.  Detroit: Arnold-Powers, Inc., 1945.

Drea, Edward J.  Defending the Driniumor: Covering Force Operations in New Guinea, 1944.  Fort Leavenworth, Kansas: Combat Studies Institute, U.S. Army Command and General Staff College, 1984.

Drea, Edward J.  New Guinea - The U.S. Army Campaigns of World War II.  U. S. Army Center of Military History, n.d.
Hill, Jim Dan, Major General, Retired.  The Minute Man in Peace and War.  Harrisburg: The Stackpole Company, 1964.
Jungwirth, Clarence J.  Diary of a National Guardsman in World War II.  Oshkosh, WI: Poeschl Printing Company, 1991.
Mayo, Lida.  Bloody Buna.  Canberra, Australia: Australian National University Press, 1975.

Miller, John, Jr.  Cartwheel: The Reduction of Rabaul.  U. S. Army Center of Military History, 1959.

Milner, Samuel.  Victory in Papua.  U. S. Army Center of Military History, 1957.
Papuan Campaign - The Buna-Sanananda Operation.  Washington, D.C.: Historical Division, War Department, 1945.
The Red Arrow - 1955 - The 32D Division, Wisconsin National Guard.  n.p., 1955.
Smith, Herbert M., Lieutenant Colonel, Retired. Four Score and Ten: Happenings in the Life of Herbert M. Smith.  Eau Claire, WI: Heins Publications, 1995.

Smith, Herbert M., Lieutenant Colonel, Retired. Hannibal Had Elephants II.  Eau Claire, WI: Rev. William A. Heins, 1995.

Smith, Robert Ross.  The Approach to the Philippines.  U. S. Army Center of Military History, 1953.
Smith, Robert Ross. 
Triumph in the Philippines.  U. S. Army Center of Military History, 1963.

 

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