ARMY AMPHIBIAN TRACTOR AND TANK BATTALIONS IN THE BATTLE OF SAIPAN 15 JUNE-9 JULY 1944
[Note: This manuscript was prepared in January 1945 by 1st Lieutenant Russell A. Gugeler of the 1st Information and Historical Service utilizing the oral history interview techniques invented by S. L. A. Marshall. It was subsequently deposited at the Office of the Chief of Military History (OCMH; now US Army Center of Military History) for reference use by historians preparing the official history of the Army. It is typical of the kinds of detailed tactical studies routinely carried out by the combat historians during World War II. The original is on file in the Historical Manuscripts Collection (HMC) under file number 8-5.3 BA, which should be cited in footnotes, along with the title. It is reproduced here with only those limited modifications required to adapt to the World Wide Web; spelling, punctuation, and slang usage have not been altered from the original. Where modern explanatory notes were required, they have been inserted as italicized text in square brackets. This item originally carried a SECRET security classification, but is now unclassified; all references to that past classification have been omitted.]
ARMY AMPHIBIAN TRACTOR and TANK BATTALIONS in the BATTLE of SAIPAN,
15 June-9 July, 1944.
RUSSELL A. GUGELER
1st Lt. FA,
1st Info & Hist Serv
20 January 1945
Three island chains guard the Japanese homeland. The Ryukyu Islands extend to the Southwest toward Formosa. The other two, the Kurile Islands to the Northeast and the Bonin and Marianas Islands to the Southeast, reach into the sea like the pincers of a lobster. The control of these island chains allowed Japan to dominate the sea around her home islands.
During the early morning of 15 June 1944 units of the United States Army and Navy and Marines massed off the western shore of Saipan Island for the landing scheduled for 0830 on that morning. Saipan is one of the southern islands in the Marianas Group and is second largest. It is 1565 miles from Tokyo.
Since Magellan discovered the Marianas Islands in 1521 Saipan has belonged to Spain, the United States, Germany, and Japan. A century after Magellan visited the islands, Spanish Jesuit missionaries settled there and Spain exercised a loose control over them. After the Spanish-American War these islands, along with the Philippines, came into the hands of the United States. The United States kept Guam because it was a stepping stone along the route to the Philippines, but returned the remainder of the conquered Micronesia Islands to Spain. Spain immediately sold the Marianas, except Guam, to Germany. Concurrent with the outbreak of World War I Japan moved to occupy these German possessions in the Pacific. During the settlement that followed the World War the Allied Powers agreed to
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allow Japan to control these islands by a mandate from the League of Nations which it did until 1936 when it resigned from the League and openly took possession of the islands—a change only from concealed to open intent. (1)
Briefly, the plan called for the landing of two Marine Divisions, attached units, and necessary supplies within a few hours. This plan was dependent upon the amphibious vehicles and their capability of movement on land and in the water. Prior to the landing the naval and air bombardment would neutralize defensive positions in the landing area. This fire would lift as the amphibious tanks and troop-laden tractors neared the shore and the shock action of a large number of these vehicle should extend the neutralization long enough to allow the first waves to push inland several hundred yards to the initial objective. This would provide a beachhead sufficiently large for the assault battalions to deploy on the ground and organize for the continuation of the attack. Subsequent waves would debark from the tractors at the beach and mop up resistance that was by-passed by the first waves. This plan to by-pass the beach defenses would also afford defiladed [sic] areas inland where troops could debark with greater safety. (2)
The ships which had carried the attacking force from the Hawaiian Islands to Saipan anchored along an uneven line about 6000 yards from shore. (3) Between the American ships and the Saipan beaches was a coral reef that paralled [sic] the shore and extended from five hundred to seven hundred yards into the sea, forming the outer edge of a shallow, sandy-bottomed lagoon. The amphibious vehicles were to move the troops and supplies from the ships, over this barrier reef and to the shore.
Saipan is about 121 miles long from North to South, about five miles across at the widest part. The northern end of the island is dominated by a single ridge that slopes upward to the South to Mt. Tapotchau, 1554 feet high and the highest point on the island. Mt. Tapotchau is a little south of the center of the long axis of the island. From here the ridge drops off to the south for another mile
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and then splits into two ridges which gradually broaden into a plateau. One ridge tapers off toward the southwest and forms Agingan Point. The other becomes the southern extremity of the island, Nafutan Point. The western ridge is from two to three hundred feet high in the southern part of the island and the eastern ridge is about a hundred feet higher. Between these two ridges is a thousand yard wide valley. This entire southern portion of Saipan is intensively cultivated, being planted mostly in sugar cane.
The southern end of the western shore had been selected as the landing beaches. The landing beaches extended over a distance of approximately 6500 yards. These were marked on the maps which all troops had studied prior to D-day and were divided into four beaches which were designated, from north to south, as Red Beaches 1, 2 and 3; Green Beaches 1, 2 and 3; Blue Beaches 1 and 2; and Yellow Beaches 1, 2 and 3. No landings were contemplated on Red 1, Green 3, or Yellow 3.
Elements of two Marine Divisions were to land abreast, the Second Division on the left on Red beaches 2 and 3 and Green Beaches 1 and 2; the Fourth Marine Division on the right on Blue 1 and 2 and Yellow 1 and 2. The Army amphibious units attached to the Marine Divisions for the operation were prepared to land half of the assault troops. A total of three hundred and ninety-three Amphibious Tractors (LVTs) and one hundred and forty Amphibious Tanks (LVT (A)s) formed the assault waves. Of these, the Army units furnished two hundred tractors and sixty-eight tanks. (4) Seven hundred and nineteen amphibious vehicles participated in the operation. Of this number, the Army furnished three hundred and sixty-seven. (5)
Opposite these beaches the LSTs dropped their anchors by 0700 the morning of D-day. (6) Within a few minutes the ramps were lowered and the LVTs started churning through the water toward the Line of Departure which was 5000 yards from shore. The amphibious tanks made up the first wave that formed at the Line of Departure.
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Amphibious tractors that followed were already loaded with troops and supplies when they left their LSTs. Naval Guide boats marked the Line of Departure and the tanks moved onto a line with them, the succeeding waves falling in behind.
The sixty-eight amphibious tanks of the 708th Amphibian Tank Battalion were divided over the four Blue and Yellow Beaches, seventeen tanks on each beach. The 773rd Amphibian Tractor Battalion followed the tanks on the two Yellow beaches. Marine tractors landed the troops on Blue beaches behind 708th Tanks. In the Second Marine Division sector to the north Marine tanks were employed on the Red and Green Beaches and a Marine tractor unit formed behind the tanks on the Red Beaches. The 715th Amphibian Tractor Battalion carried assault forces to the two Green beaches where landings were made.
Unlike the other two tractor battalions, which made up four waves on two ajoining [sic] beaches and were used as a group, the activities of the 534th Amphibian Tractor Battalion were divided among the four Blue and Yellow beaches and were used to land reserve troops and artillery reconnaissance parties for the Fourth Marine Division and the 27th Infantry Division. The 534th Battalion was completely reorganized to meet the requirements of the ground units. "B" Company was reinforced with LVTs from Headquarters and Service Company and the third platoon of "C', Company. The forty-eight tractors of "B" Company and the remaining too platoons from "C" Company, with twenty-two tractors, were attached to the Fourth Marine Division for the purpose of landing reserve troops of the 23rd and 25th Marine Regiments. The first platoon of Company "A", reinforced with half of the second platoon, was attached to the division Artillery of the Fourth Marine Division. Fifteen tractors were allocated to this platoon. Another twelve tractors from ''A" Company were attached to three artillery battalions of the 27th Infantry Division. Two tractors were reserved for use by Headquarters for control and
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The two Marine Divisions employed the amphibious vehicles according to the requirements of the terrain in their zones of action. In the southern sector the immediate objective was the eastern ridge that ended in Agingan Point. Beyond Charan-Kanoa the ridge was 1800 yards inland and from there it curved toward the southwestern point of the island. This ridge, known as Fina-Susu Ridge, was designated as the O-1 line in Fourth Marine Division sector.
The orders to the 708th Tank Battalion were to assault Blue and Yellow beaches, by-pass any strong resistance they could and get to and hold the O-1 line and be prepared for further action.
As the LVTs moved from their LSTs and jostled into position on and behind the Line of Departure the naval vessels were bombarding the shores and enemy installations. Other fire power was to come from naval LCIs that were to precede the LVTs to the reef where the LCIs would allow the amphibians to pass through. Two naval guide boats were furnished each wave to guide them to the beach. A control boat was stationed in the center of each of the four beaches to exercise control over the landing vehicles. These boats had radio communications with the unit commanders and also with the vehicles in the waves.
H-hour was originally set at 0830 but was later changed to 0840 to enable all the vehicles to form at the Line of Departure. Since the LVTs had begun debarkation soon after 0700 some of them waited at the Line of Departure for twenty or thirty minutes, others had only a few minutes wait there until 0800 when the control boats signaled the first wave to move off toward the beach. (7) Before the amphibians left the Line of Departure the message come over the radios that there would be enemy artillery markers at the reef which should be avoided. (8) These markers were small flags on bamboo sticks that were apparently a part of the
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enemy' s pre-arranged fire plan. Whatever they were, the drivers avoided them as much as possible but the enemy mortar and artillery fire, which had been scattered beyond the reef, became intense as the vehicles neared it. Our own bombardment of the enemy beach had caused a cloud of smoke and dust which obscured any point targets.
What was visable [sic] as the first tanks approached the shoreline, however, was the undisturbed condition of the beaches. The tank men of the 708th Battalion had participated in the operations on Kwajelein and Eniwetok where the beaches had been pulverized. Naval gunfire plans had called for the destruction of enemy coastal defenses, the destruction of Charan-Kanoa, the burning of cane fields, preparation fires at the beach areas as well as other missions. (9) During the last two or three days of the voyage to Saipan some of the officers had listened to airplane spotters directing the naval gunfire on Saipan and had frequently heard the "Target Destroyed" which marked the end of the fire missions. They had also been warned of the dancer of getting caught in large shell holes and (those tanks that were to go through Charan-Kanoa) getting hung up in the rubble in the town. (10) All of the tank and tractor crews were surprised, then, to find that the vegetation on the beaches was a greater hindrance to their vehicles than the promised rubble and shell holes.
Of the sixty-eight tanks in the first wave that struck Blue and Yellow Beaches, all but three arrived safely. One of these, an "A" Company tank, burned; one from "B" Company was swamped on the reef; and one from "C" Company received a direct hit from an anti-tank weapon that was firing from the shore at about a twenty-five yard range. The "C" Company tank was on the left of the third platoon. When the shell hit the tank the explosion threw Tec. 5 John J. Dombrowski completely out of the tank and into the water. The driver, Tec. 5 Robert A Mills
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and Pvt John. F. Garety, a scarf gunner, were killed. Pfc. Henry C. Zymbroski, the assistant driver, Pvt. Edward J. Falin, another scarf gunner, and Pvt. John J. Heitkemper, ammunition passer, were all injured but managed to escape from the tank although Zymbroski could not later tell how he did get out. The tank commander, Sgt Harold Gabriel, a few minutes later from the explosion. [sic] Dombrowski also was badly injured but climbed back up on the tank to get Gabriel. While Dombrowski was standing on the tank another shell from the same gun struck the tank and the explosion threw him back into the water and inflicted more wounds. Dombrowski tried two more times to save Gabriel and each time he climbed up on the tank another shell burst threw him back into the water. Before he could get back a fourth time the men in a tractor that had come alongside pulled him away.
Contrary to expectations "B" Company, commanded by Capt. John B. Straub, encountered the least difficulty in its sector which included the town of Charan-Kanoa. There were some obstacles in the town, natural and man-made, which slowed the progress, but, except for three tanks that were hung on or near the beach, the company moved through the town toward the O-1 line. The first platoon commander, Lt. Joseph C. Wein, located a route through the town by turning left toward the sugar mill and then swinging right on a road to the left of the town. The other two platoons followed him. By 0915 thirteen tanks from "B" Company were at the O-1 line.
"A" Company, just bellow "B", had run into more serious trouble. At the beach they encountered a steep bank and had difficulty locating a route over this and through the trees. Just beyond the trees was a network of trench s which appeared on the map but from inspection it appeared that these trenches could not offer serious difficulty since the officers believed the tanks could span them. "A" Company had already lost the tank that burned off the beach and now seven more were either
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hung up on obstacles or bogged down within two hundred yards of the beach. When the tanks had gone approximately six hundred yards inland they came under concentrated and effective artillery fire and three more tanks were completely demolished. Six tanks remained and these proceeded to the O-1 line and reached the foot of the ridge by 1010. (11) The first marines to come up, twenty to thirty of them, reached the objective about an hour later. In the meantime, and during the rest of the day, the tanks fired at targets on and beyond the ridge from where they were receiving mortar and machine gun fire.
The first elements of "D" Company, under Capt Oliver I. West, had reached the O-1 line by 0950. The company landed abreast on Yellow Beach 1 where a gas dump was burning, and even though some of the tanks drove through the fire they had less trouble than "A" Company had encountered in the system of anti-tank trenches on Blue Beach 2. "D" Company planned to push inland in line for a couple of hundred yards and then change formation to two platoons abreast and one in reserve and proceed to the objective. The third and second platoons proceeded as planned, but the first platoon left two tanks that had bogged down in a swamp just inland from the beach and another that had hung up on a stump. The remaining tanks moved inland to the railroad tracks which were about 1000 yards inland. Here they were momentarily stopped by an embankment which was too steep to climb. When the tanks stopped the mortar and artillery fire, which had been following their advance, increased in intensity. Lt. William F. Swanner led the third platoon to the right into the ajoining [sic] zone of action, crossed the tracks, then swung to the left to reach his assigned position on the O-1 line. The remainder of the company followed Spanner but as the tanks turned left beyond the railroad they came under heavy fire from an enemy artillery battery that was firing from a position on the ridge to their left and about fifteen hundred yards away. Two tanks, one commanded by Sgt.
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Walter G. Suckow, and one by Lt. Kenneth Hendrickson, were destroyed and set afire. While the rest of the tanks returned the fire and destroyed the enemy guns, Sgt. Joseph P. Farley moved his tank forward until he could recover the wounded men in the destroyed tanks. He evacuated these men to the rear until his own tank stopped from engine trouble. Eleven tanks were left and these moved on to the ridge, One stopped at the foot of the ridge because of clutch trouble but was in a position to deliver fire to the front. Ten tanks had reached the O-1 line.
The ridge which had been designated as the O-1 line for the Blue and Yellow beaches was approximately four thousand yards long since it extended to the right beyond the landing area on the beach. Along this ridge, then, there were thirteen tanks from "B" Company on the left, six from "A" Company, ten from "D" Company, and four from "C" Company which had arrived there soon after 0930. The third platoon from "C" Company, which was commanded by 1st Lt. Dean Coulter, and was on the right flank of Yellow Beach 2, had orders to swing to the right just beyond the beach and move across Yellow 3 (no landings were made on that beach) and beyond that to Agingan Point—a distance of one thousand yards. This platoon was told to hold this until "B" Company of the 1st Battalion of the 25th Marines had occupied the point. During the planning on the boat, Lt. Col. Mustain, commander of the 1st Battalion, had ordered "B" Company Marines to occupy this point fifteen minutes after they landed regardless of losses. (12) Lt. Raymond Brown, "C'' Company liaison officer, had explained to Capt. Asbill, who commanded "B" Company of the Marines, that this was faster than the tanks could travel on good terrain and Capt. Asbill had reiterated that he could be on Agingan Point fifteen minutes after he landed and would probably have to move ahead of the tanks. ("B" Company of the Marines was in the fourth wave. The second and third waves of Marines were to ride the LVTs to the O-1 line.)
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Most of the thirty-three tanks had reached the objective between 0900 and 1000. A few scattered Marines had also reached the objective during that time but there was no organized strength of ground troops along the line during the morning except in the zone occupied by ''D'' Company. The first Marines that followed Capt. West's tanks arrived at the O-1 line by 1040 and by 1100 they were there in considerable strength. Neither were these tanks able to form a solid line along this ridge. The tanks on the ridge were occupied with targets of opportunity that appeared to their front—mostly machine gun nests, mortars, and some counter-battery fire. The tanks shifted their position often to avoid fire from the enemy.
Otherwise, there were not many of the enemy encountered. A few could be seen carrying ammunition on and beyond the ridge and several of the tanks ran into individual Japanese soldiers.
"C" Company met the only fierce and organized resistance along the ridge that morning. Lt. Dean Coulter, whose platoon had the mission of overrunning Agingan Point, had lost the tank in which Dombrowski was riding. Three more of his tanks struck in tank traps just to the right of Yellow 2. Coulter, nevertheless, continued with his mission of securing Agingan Point. He reached the point which was about a thousand yards from where he initially landed and there met heavy mortar and artillery fire. After waiting there for a few minutes he returned for help, found one of his own tanks commanded by Sgt. Laun W. Young, that had been stalled after a shell fell beside it, and another from the second platoon and with these he returned to Agingan Point. He reached it the second time at 0945. On the point were three undisturbed Jap pillboxes but Coulter received no fire from them and he saw no evidence that they were manned. He was, however, receiving heavy mortar fire that came from enemy positions inland. While Coulter And his two tanks were out on this point waiting for the Marine troops, Lt. Brown, liaison officer, was
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on the beach and heard someone tell Lt. Col. Mustain that there was a counter-attack forming in that area. Mustain asked for naval fire. This began falling on the point while Coulter was there and he immediately contacted Brown and asked to have it stopped. Brown told Coulter about the counter-attack and Coulter sent Sgt. Glenn J. Dunne, commander of the other tank with him, inland beyond the ridge to look for signs of developing enemy action or a reconnaissance but could find nothing. Nevertheless, to escape our naval fire, the enemy fire, and that from our own air planes, which were now strafing the point, he pulled hack and went to look for the Marines.
The Marines, meanwhile, had trouble enough of their own. The first two waves were to have remained in the tractors until they reached the O-1 line. The fourth and fifth waves had been ordered to debark at the beach and mop up. Because of the heady fire at the beach the first two waves also left the tractors at the beach and proceeded afoot. The third wave—the one Coulter was to have met on Agingan Point, got out of the tractors at the beaches as planned and started off to the right. They soon faced bitter resistance.
By 1100, "C" Company had, as mentioned before, four tanks at the O-1 line and three that had been moving back and forth on Agingan Point. Three other tanks had been immobilized in tank traps on the beach. S/Sgt. John Y. Dixon had stayed behind with his tank to pull out these three but by the time this was accomplished all four tanks were overheated and in no condition to move forward. Dixon formed them on a line about two hundred yards from the beach where they could support the Marines that were fighting their way inland. By 11—the Marines had pushed beyond the support of these three immobilized tanks but had been stopped and were pinned down on a line perpendicular to the center of Yellow 3.
Having been driven from Agingan Point by out [sic] own naval and air power, Coulter
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had driven inland, circled behind the Marines and manuevered [sic] his three tanks through their lines to a position where he could bring the machine guns to bear on the Japs. The marines had no machine guns and the extra fire power was sufficient to scatter the resisting enemy infantrymen and free the ground troops for the time being. About this time a wounded Marine climbed on Dunne's tank and fell across the front. There were other Marine casualties in the immediate vicinity so Coulter directed Dunne to pick up the casualties and return them to the beach. Since Dunne's tank could move only in second gear Coulter did not consider it practical to use the tank in combat and Dunne, with the one Marine that was lying across the front and six others, returned to the beach.
Coulter then asked the Marines with him if they could advance to Agingan Point but the Marines said they had passed up so much enemy resistance they considered it impracticable to advance further before cleaning up the strong points behind them. Around 1130 they moved back between two and three hundred yards to the left edge of Yellow beach 3 and there encountered more of the same fierce fighting. Since the Marines had no communications of their own Coulter used his radio to contact a Marine officer and asked for reinforcements. The Marine officer (Coulter did not know with whom he was talking) ordered the advance to the O-1 line to continue. Coulter explained that this was impossible and the Marine officer then promised to send up reinforcements. Coulter then called his platoon sergeant, S/Sgt Don H. Martz whose tank had been immobilized at the beach, and asked if there were any tanks that could help him. Martz had freed his tank by this time and promised to meet Coulter. He tried three times to drive along the beach to Coulter's position and each time he met heavy small arms fire. Sgt Edward J. Kielb, who was with him, received one bullet in his shoulder and another that grazed his head. Even then Kielb refused to be evacuated and, after contacting Coulter again, Martz drove
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inland before attempting to move south.
While all this was going on Lt Henry R. Fitzhugh and three tanks from the first platoon had been on the O-1 line. The Japs had placed a barrage of heavy caliber fire on their position and the few Marines that were on the ridge were unable to hold the position and withdrew. The tanks followed them and started back toward the beach. This was around 1330. Three of these tanks that were returning to the beach met Martz while he was trying to reach Coulter and Sgt young. These three tanks joined Martz and together they went to help Coulter. A few minutes later Capt Asbill brought help for the Marines and in another few minutes Lt Fitzhugh joined the other tanks. There were now eight tanks from "C" Company on a line from five to seven hundred yards from the point where they had originally landed that morning. The time was around 1400 or 1430.
Coulter's tank, however, had run out of oil so Coulter took the vehicle Martz had just brought up and sent Martz back to the beach with the one he had been using. The Marine officer, Capt Asbill, apparently fearing that the other tanks were preparing to leave also requested that the tanks stay with him. "The tanks have got us this far and can't leave us now," he said. (13) The remaining seven tanks supported the marines until that evening at 1630 when the line had been pushed back between four and five hundred yards—to a line perpendicular to the right edge of Yellow 3. Here the tanks remained for the night to protect the line and the flank since the line was spread thinly and there was a vulnerable gap on the left flank.
While "C" Company was engaged in fierce and close fighting and suffering from poor communications (Most radio sets were wet or had lost the antenna) and the resulting lack of control, the other three companies were occupying the ridge to the north. Capt West, with "D" Company, was fighting almost according to plan.
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The Marines had occupied the ridge in sufficient strength during the morning and ''D" Company supported their action during the afternoon. "A" Company dropped back a couple of hundred yards from the ridge, picked up all the casualties they could find and with them returned to the beach between 1530 and 1600. (14) They had received no orders to return but neither had they received any support on the ridge and it was necessary for them to return for both fuel and ammunition. Two of their tanks stuck in the swamp on the return trip, the other four reached the beach.
''B" Company was having a successful afternoon at the left end of the ridge. Anticipating the most trouble on the left, flank Major William Rossing, the battalion executive officer, had elected to accompany ''B" Company and be in a position to help guide the tanks through Charan-Kanoa. This would also place Major Rossing on the highest point of Fina-Susu Ridge and afford to him the advantage of height in exercising control of the battalion in case they re-formed for a new offensive. The radios operated well and Capt Straub was able to manuever [sic] his tanks to fire at targets that he or other men of his company observed. Before noon he had the thirteen tanks of his company in position on the reverse slope of Fina-Susu Ridge. Straub wanted to locate a route to the top of the ridge other than the road which was covered with enemy mortar fire. Straub sent Lt Wein and his platoon to probe the ridge north of their position for a possible route to the top of Fina-Susu and also to look for any possible action in that area. Wein's platoon went north to a postion [sic] just beyond the road, found a few Marines there and stayed with them for a while firing on targets in the swamp around Lake Susupe. Straub set off to make a reconnaissance of the area on his right. About four hundred yards south of the position of his company he encountered what he believes to be about thirty enemy infantrymen. The Japs were armed with rifles but made no attempt to fire at
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Straub's tank then or while he was turning it around, which he did in order to be in position to move if the force proved to be larger than he then thought. When the tank had reversed its position Straub halted it and waited while the Japs walked toward his tank, rifles in their right hands, their left hands aloft. Some carried pieces of white cloth. The Japs continued to walk toward the tank but Straub, uncertain of their intentions and in no position to care for that many prisoners, ordered his scarf gunners to destroy them. The machine gunners killed all of them. Straub then started back toward the rest of his company when he noticed another group of similar size following in the came manner. Straub believes they must have seen the first group killed but they continued to walk toward his tank and all but one of these severe disposed of in the same manner. During the afternoon he met other smaller groups that displayed the same strange behavior. He met no organized resistance but neither did Straub's tanks make contact with any of "A" Company tanks on the right or with any Marines with the exception of one platoon that Major Rossing saw shortly after 1200, and another group, about the size of a squad, that appeared a little later. At 1700 Straub was ordered to return to the beach for fuel.
There was, howsoever; no fuel to be found. "B" Company tanks went back to the LSTs and spent the night there. The four tanks left from "A" Company stopped at the beach and Lt Kurt Grayland organized the company bivouac after hunting along the shore for the scattered remnants of his company. Capt West had taken half of "D" Company tanks to the beach at 1600 to refuel and return, but since they could find no fuel there he left them and returned to the ridge to send the remainder back where they could refuel and return in the morning. West and his crew and the men from an immobilized tank remained on the O-1 during the night.
The tractors of Lt Col David L Edwards' 773rd Amphibian Tractor Battalion
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that landed the assault troops behind "D" and "C" Companies of the 708th tanks followed them from the Line of Departure after a three minute interval, or a distance of three hundred yards. The first two waves of tractors had orders to follow the tanks to the O-1 line. The troops in the third and fourth wares were to debark from the LVTs at the beach and move inland toward the O-1 line mopping up the resistance that had been by-passed bar the first waves. (15) If any LVTs were stopped unexpectedly here the troops were to debark immediately and proceed on foot.
By the time the tanks had reached the shore the first tractors had crept up to within fifty yards of them and the two waves jammed up on the narrow beach. Between the reef and the shore both "A" and "B" companies lost one tractor from the heavy shell fire. Sgt James A. McLean, a tractor commander, was just behind Dombrowski's demolished tank when his tractor received three direct hits from mortar fire. Thirteen of the twenty-eight men in McLean's vehicle were killed and only the assistant driver, Pfc Ralph L. Schlessinger, escaped any injury. The other tractor, which belonged to Sgt Steven Spradley, was knocked out with small arms fire and later towed inland. Spradley operated the machine gun until the grips of the gun were shot out of his hands. Pfc Peter Wilson, another tractor commander, had located the gun that hit Dombrowski's tank and had silenced it with machine gun fire.
Since the leading wave of amphibious tanks had stopped momentarily at the edge of the beach the tractors were forced to halt there also.
"B" Company on the left was allowed to move ahead after a few minutes and, after penetrating fifty yards inland the tractors reformed into a column with Lt Lester E. Ravlin lending and headed for the railroad spur that was seven hundred and fifty yards ahead. Twenty-one of the tractors reached that position at 0905. The Marines in Sgt Roy E. Selin's tractor had decided to leave it in favor of
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fighting on the ground and Selin had returned to the transfer line. Another vehicle belonging to Lt Henry Nunlist stopped at the beach because of a faulty clutch.
Faced with a delay while the tractors searched for a route across the railroad embankment, the Marines, who were anxious to get down on the ground anyway, decided to abandon the vehicles and proceed afoot. The Marine commander who was riding with Lt Ravlin said he preferred to fight on the ground and ordered the Marines to unload there. The ground troops were half way to their objective and had arrived there almost in tact. These were the troops that joined Capt West's tanks later on the O-1 line and occupied their assigned position successfully.
Two of the twenty-one "B" Company tractors that reached the railroad spur were knocked out of action before they returned. One of these lost a track, the other received a direct mortar hit. The remaining LVTs picked up the casualties and returned to the beach in an orderly column. By the time these two waves returned Sgt Spradley had gotten his tractor ashore and, after stationing Cpl Stanley M. Snodek on guard, had initiated repairs. Snodek killed seven Japs who were firing from a trench system close by.
"A" Company, meanwhile, had waited at the beach until Capt Watts' tanks moved inland. There was heavy mortar and artillery fire around them besides small arms fire coming from the entrenchment system that had trapped the tanks. One of the vehicles had stalled from overheating. The commander notified the Marines that he could not proceed and the troops debarked and dug in where they were. Within a minute or two the rest of the Marines left the tractors and Capt Ray C. Suttle moved his twenty-three remaining LVTs back to sea.
When the next two waves reached the reef tractors in the proceeding waves had pushed inland for enough on Yellow 1 to allow Headquarters and Service Company to
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penetrate the beach and unload the troops as planned. All twenty-four LVTs reached the beach. Two were immobilized there and one vehicle which was a tractor-tank combination (a holdover from the days when this battalion had been a land tank outfit) continued inland toward the O-1 line. This tractor, mounting a 75mm howitzer, was under the command of Sgt Edward Dembrowski who had the special mission of taking Lt Col Hudson, commander of the 25th Marines, to the O-1 line. Before Dembrowski reached the railroad tracks, however, the vehicle was hit, there were four casualties and he later returned to the beach.
Yellow Beach 2 was already congested with seventeen tanks and twenty-four tractors when Capt Joseph E. Manro and two waves from "C" Company approached. Manro elected to wait at the reef until the first two waves of tractors either continued inland or returned to the transfer line. (16) After a wait of about ten minutes the tractors continued, unloaded the troops, and moved back to the transfer line. There had been neither vehicle nor personnel casualties.
On the return trip S/Sgt Thomas H. Erdwein picked up Dembrowski, Zymbroski, Falin and Heitkemper, the survivors of the demolished tank, and took them to the transfer area where they were put aboard a naval boat that carried them on out to a hospital ship.
Eight of the ninety-five vehicles in the initial four waves returned to the transfer line. All except those from "B" Company, which had gone inland to the railroad, reached the transfer line a few minutes before 0930. There the tractor crews waited until around 1100 when the LCVPs arrived with the first load of supplies and troops.
"B" Company returned to the beach the second time as a group but drew so much fire they abandoned the plan thereafter. The other companies broke formation and worked alone after they reached the transfer line the first time. During the
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afternoon the LCVPs were waiting at the transfer line to unload supplies in the first LVTs they could contact. Two Headquarters & Service Company tractors were loaded with barbed wire and duffel bags but Lt Walter Coleman saw this before the LVTs started for the beach and threatened to have the wire and duffel bags thrown into the sea unless they were taken off. The loads were finally reloaded on the LCVPs and taken back to the ships and the LVTs were loaded with troops.
Late in the afternoon the surf, which had ranged up to eight feet during the day, swelled to fifteen feet. (17) By 1800 nine tractors were known to have been swamped and Lt Ralph B. Tautfest and Tec 5 Orrin W. Heitman, both from Headquarters & Service Company, were drowned when their tractor was turned over at the reef's edge. Most of the Marine troops who were riding with them also went under. At 1820 Lt Col Edwards ordered the tractors to load on LSTs.
The order to reload LVTs on the LSTs was not easy to follow. Just about the time that Lt Col Edwards ordered the tractors aboard their mother ships the latter were ordered to retire to a safer distance from shore. The LSTs closed their doors and moved back while the LVTs followed them at a slower speed. Eventually most of the tractors were taken aboard, but not until 2200, and a fear were not loaded until 0200 the next morning. Lt. Paschal E. Alford kept the six tractors he had with him that evening on the shore and a few others floated on the water all night. The crews that were on LSTs worked, in most cases, all night repairing, servicing, and re-loading their tractors.
The Fourth Marine Division's plan to carry the assault troops to defilated [sic] areas inland before unloading had all but failed. The 715th Amphibian Tractor Battalion succeeded no better in landing the Second Marine Division.
The immediate objective of the amphibious vehicles on Green Beaches was the Tractor Control Line which lay two hundred and fifty to five hundred yards inland
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from the beach. Extending the length of and just inland of the Green Beaches was a small enemy air strip. The north end of this strip was scarcely more than fifty yards from the water's edge, the south end about two hundred and fifty. Beyond the airstrip was a narrow guage [sic] railroad and, crossing the railroad, a powerline. The Tractor Control line was designated as a line following the railroad tracks at the upper end of Green 1 and, where the pourer line crossed the tracks, south along the power line.
Thirty-six tanks from a Marine unit were also included in the first wave of tractors on the Green Beaches. These tanks were to hold inverted V formations on the flanks of the first wave and also between the four platoons. This first wave, twenty-four tractors and thirty-six tanks, was to proceed inland to the Tractor Control Line. There the tractors were to debark the troops and, from this position, cover the debarkation of the remainder of the assault waves. When the Marines were in a position to move forward of this line the LVTs were to return to the traffic control vessel to haul additional troops or supplies. The tanks were to support the advance of the ground troops. Tractors of the first ware that were stopped by obstacles prior to reaching the Tractor Control Line were to debark the troops immediately, provide fire support as practicable and then return to the control vessel. (18)
The second, third, and fourth waves were to debark the troops on the beaches and return at once to the transfer area. (19) There was a five minute interval between the first and second waves; eight minutes between succeeding waves. This lag, it vas thought, would afford ample time for the waves to hit the beach, debark the troops, execute a flank movement and, in column formation, move to the flank of the assigned beaches and then return by platoon to the LVT pool at the transfer area where naval LCVPs would range along side and reload them for the next trip.
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The infantry company in front lint combat into longer the compact and orderly group that passes in review on the parade ground and this easily diagramed plan begin to fail soon after the first wave crossed the Line of Departure. There had been no difficulty in forming and the waves moved off as scheduled. Just beyond the Line of Departure, however, the naval guide boat on the right flank began crowding to the left. Lt Charles F. Parks, platoon commander on the extreme right and Lt Harry R. Coates with the platoon on Parks' left, both noticed this and tried to motion the guide boat to the right but were unable to make anyone in the boat understand. The left guide boat was shifting over a little but not as much as the one on the right flank and the LVTs in the first wave were being squeezed between the two guide boots. The commander of the 2nd Battalion of the 8th Marines, Lt Col Jim Crow, had started out in a tractor in the third wave but had worked up until he was just behind the first wave of LVTs and he, also, tried to move the guide boat to the right. By the time Col Crow caught up with the first wave, Parks' six tractors had been pushed to the left and had moved ahead of the tanks. The tanks had moved to the left and ahead of Coates' platoon thus forming three separate waves from the line of the right flank. This forced the tanks to hold their fire on the approach to the beach and also made it unsafe for a part of the tractors to use their automatic weapons. (20)
There was scattered enemy fire beyond the reef that became heavy near the artillery markers on the reef. Nevertheless, all but two of the one hundred tractors reached the shore. One driver, Pvt Forest K. Crihfield, was killed by small arms fire that penetrated the tractor and the assistant driver, Pvt John B. Purvis, was severely burned by the heated transfer case when he tried to
remove Crihfield's body from the driver's sent so he could regain control. The crew of this tractor was evacuated seaward of the reef and a Marine took the vehicle on in.
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Another tractor was swamped at the reef.
Because of the crowding to the left the first wave had grouped together and landed on Green 1 and Red 3, or about one beach left of the assigned positions. The Marines that were to land on Red 3 had also move to the left. Directly in front of the tractors was a bank and atop this bank were trees that constituted a second and effective barrier for the tanks and tractors alike. The Marines left the LVTs at the edge of the water and took cover behind the embankment. Within five minutes after the twenty-four tractors and thirty-six tanks of the first wave had landed the second group arrived and landed a little to the right of the first. By the time the third wave landed the Marines had dug in on the shore and were being squeezed between the tractors jamming up behind them and the Japs in front. When the fourth wave of tractors crowded onto the beach the first wave had been there for about ten minutes, had realized they could not push inland and were beginning to return to the LVT area beyond the reef.
Only two tractors penetrated beyond the beach, both of them from "A" Company. One of these, driven by Tec 5 Preston Smith, landed just in front of a small road that led through the trees and Smith followed this to the air strip, then turned north and drove up the landing field for about one hundred and fifty yards. Here he met three Jap tanks and in the excitement Smith stalled the motor and was unable to start it again. The Marines and crew abandoned the tractor there and made their way back to the beach. Pfc John Kuskiewiecz drove another LVT over the airstrip and made his way to the radio tower which was seven hundred yards inland. Nothing was seen of Kuskiewiecz until two mornings later when he walked back to the beach, got into another vehicle that had been left until the motor cooled, and in this he returned to the LST area. He was suffering from shock and was afterward unable to tell how he got inland with his tractor or back to the beach. His LVT was later
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recovered at the radio tower.
The tractors that held a fair line on the initial run returned as soon as they could move away from the congested beach. The plan to return in a column of platoons disintegrated as the radio communications failed. On the first trip the communications had been good enough to establish contact among the tank commanders except in "A" Company. One of the radio operators in "A" Company had left his set switched to "transmit" rather than "interphone" and this had prevented other radios from using the net. By the time the tractors reached the transfer line, however, most of the radios were unserviceable because of water in the set, in the earphones, or the microphone. A few tractors could communicate and receive but, generally, the company commanders and even platoon commanders had little control over the tractors in their command. However, the crews had been well briefed on the plan and were told to work individually in case there was any trouble in reforming the waves. And, because of the Japs' practice of concentrating mortar and artillery fire upon a group of LVTs, it soon became evident that an effort should be made to disperse the tractors rather than group them in platoons.
Except for the relative few vehicles that were immobilized on shore, and the two that failed to reach the beach initially, all tractors returned to the LVT pool. Before leaving the beach the LVTs had gathered up the casualties to return them to hospital ships. One of the vehicles carrying wounded men received a shell hit on the return trip. S/Sgt John O. Gudie and Pfc Blaz C. Gamex were in the cargo compartment with three Marine casualties when the shell pierced the side of the tractor and landed in the cargo compartment. Gudie was supporting one of the Marines by the shoulders and insists that he saw the shell fall inside and remembers wondering if it would exclude. The shell did explode and killed the three Marines,
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Pvt Ronald C. Knight, Tec 5 Thomas L. Mooney and Gamez. The driver, Cpl William C. Wales, eyes injured but Gudie, oddly enough, escaped with only superficial injuries.
During the rest of the day the tractors operated individually. There had apparently been no restrictions on who was to command the amphibious vehicles and the tractor commanders took orders from the bench master, Marine officers, the control beat, and other naval officers as well as their own. All had high priority missions for the tractors. The LCVPs which brought the supplies and troops to the transfer line loaded their cargo on the first LVT they could find and the tractors started the run back through the heavy shell fire which did not decrease in intensity during the day. Most vehicles made seven or eight trips and one tractor, commanded by Lt Robert W. Strickler, made twelve. Strickler worked himself loading and unloading his LVT and had solicited as much help as he could from shore party men. Other tractor commanders had difficulty finding anyone on the beach who would help unload the supplies and did most of the work themselves. Frequently the tractors were dispatched to a beach only to learn that the supplies were not wanted there end the beach musters would sent them to another beach with their cargo.
A similar situation existed at the transfer line when the vehicles arrived there with casualties. The crews found few boats to take the wounded men and were forced to run their tractors out to the LSTs and, even there, had trouble finding ships that would take the casualties aboard. There were special LCVPs designated to haul casualties from the transfer area to the ships but LVT crews, most of whose radios were out of order, could not contact the boats. Capt Robert C. Babb finally wrote "casualties aboard" on the shield of his tractor which helped attract the LCVPs and expedited the handling of the wounded.
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By 1830 the surf at the beach was rolling high and become treacherous to the amphibious vehicles. (21) One tractor already had been turned over by the surf. At 1906 the executive officer of the battalion, Major Calvin F. Peters, ordered the suspension of work and told the LVTs to return to the LSTs.
The tractor crews had been up since 0145. It was already dusk when the LVTs were released and as they moved out to their ships the LSTs had already begun closing the doors to the tank deck and a few had moved out to sea. Some of the LSTs had been turned into hospital ships during the day and were unable to take the LVTs aboard again. Others were secured for the night and were loath to re-open the doors and lower the ramp. The tractors churned the water in the dark looking for any ship that would take them aboard and a part of the battalion did get aboard for the night but most of them stayed on the water. The company and platoon commanders, in the meantime, had lost complete control of their tractors and, at the end of D-day, could provide no accurate estimate of the condition or strength of the companies. (22) Capt William H. Schmidt and his maintenance sergeant, T/Sgt Norvel J. Allen, could account for only seventeen of "A" Company's thirty-three tractors and this figure included those that had been knocked out during the day.
The crews aboard LSTs spent most or all of the night servicing and loading their vehicles. The other tractors grouped together on the water or floated by themselves.
While the assault waves jammed the Blue and Yellow Beaches seventy LVTs from the 534th Amphibian Tractor Battalion waited at the Line of Departure for the Signal to land reserve troops of the 23rd and 25th Marine Regiments. These tractors were launched from a LSD between 0730 and 0750 and moved in column to the Line at Departure where they took on the Marine troops. Forty-eight "B" Company LVTs,
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under Capt Robert M. Toll made up four waves opposite Blue 1 and the other twenty-two, with Capt Alexander H. Pregnal, Jr., formed two waves to land on Yellow 1. At 0938 Toll was ordered to land on Blue 2 (23) and had previous instructions to move from there inland to an assembly area directly behind the sugar mill where the tractors were to await orders for a proposed attack on Aslito Airfield. Pregnal's two platoons from "C" Company were to deliver the troops two hundred yards inland and then return to the transfer line.
The first elements of "B" Company landed at 1010 with all but one tractor which fell out because of engine trouble. The others landed according to plan and, once on shore, turned north toward the assembly area—a distance of about thirteen hundred yards. The route to the assembly area led through Charan-Kanoa and entailed a certain amount of trouble. Of the forty-seven tractors that reached the beach only twelve vehicles with Lt Earl H. Joynt reached the rendevous [sic] area which turned out to be part of a large swamp that surrounded Lake Susupe. The other were stopped by obstacles or had jammed up in the narrow streets of Charan-Kanoa.
Joynt and his twelve LVTs waited in the swamp for fifteen or twenty minutes before anything happened. Then the Japs placed heavy artillery and mortar fire in that area and hit three of the vehicles. The remaining nine tractors left the troops there and returned to the beech between 1300 and 1330.
At 1400 the Marine commander ordered Capt Toll to collect all the tractors he could at the Yellow 1 transfer line for transporting supplies. By 1500 Toll had rounded up twenty-five of his original forty-eight vehicles and with these he started back to the transfer line. The beach master, however, took ten of the vehicles to haul casualties to hospital ships and the naval officer in the control beat off Blue 1 took most of the remaining LVTs and dispatched then to haul ammunition.
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The two platoons from "C" Company intended to land on Yellow Beach 1 but the naval guide boat took them too far to the right which put them on the adjoining beach. The shore was still crowded with troops and vehicles when Pregnal's twenty-two LVTs arrived and, although a few carried the Marines inland, most of them debarked the troops at the beach, picked up the casualties, and went back.
All but one tractor returned from the initial run and continued to haul supplies during the rest of the day. A medic, S/Sgt Harold G. Anderson, had riden [sic] in the other vehicle with instructions to evacuate casualties from the aid station. After debarking the troops, Anderson went to the aid station where Capt Issac Vandermyde, medical officer from the 708th Battalion, was already giving plasma to the wounded. Before Anderson loaded any men a Marine officer asked the tractor crew to go out and push a naval landing boat off of the reef. While the crew was doing this several shell fragments hit the LVT and left holes in the thin armor plate but Anderson returned to the beach at 1100 and picked up ten casualties from Capt Vandermyde. Anderson went first to LST 341 where an officer told him there was no room aboard and to go to LST 222. At this ship he received the same answer and a suggestion to try APA 58. Neither was there room on this ship so Anderson started back toward the patrol boat since water had leaked into the pontoons and the tractor was getting heavy in the water. He hoped to transfer the
casualties into a naval boat but before he reached the boat his tractor started to sink. Anderson got all of the casualties into the water and they and the crew were picked up a few minutes later, at 1450, by a LCVP.
The 1st Platoon of "A" Company landed at noon with twelve tractors that carried reconnaissance personnel and some equipment for the 14th Marines, and artillery unit.
D-day operations had cost the four amphibian battalions thirty men killed,
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seven missing and one hundred and sixty-four wounded—a total of two hundred and one of which one hundred were suffered tar the 708th Battalion. One [i.e., Out] of the three hundred and fifty-two vehicles that had participated in the assault nineteen were demolished, twenty-seven were swamped or sunk, forty-eight were missing or temporarily out of action because of enemy action, and seventy were inoperative because of repairs. (24)
D plus 1
By the morning of the second day the company commanders had located their vehicles and the organization that was lost during the initial phase of the landing was restored. Those vehicles that had been aboard LSTs debarked by 0600 and others were taken aboard LSTs for repairs or fuel before they started hauling to the beaches. Vehicles operating below Charan-Kanoa endured heavier shell fire than they had contended with on the previous day, whereas the 715th had only moderate fire until noon when it grew heavier and continued with the some fierce intensity of D-day. The LVTs still operated individually, but with supply dumps organized ashore and equipment moving evenly from the ships it was unnecessary for the commanders to exercise control over their vehicles.
There was still, however, confusion caused by overlapping command and conflicting orders. On shore the tractor crews had difficulty finding anyone who wanted, or would take, the supplies they delivered and the crews were usually forced to unload the cargo. The drivers also had trouble delivering casualties to the ships because they could not locate the hospital ships and many of the LSTs refused to take wounded men aboard. (25) The aid stations were unable to handle all of the casualties and the drivers often took them straight out to the ships before the wounded received any treatment. One man, Sgt Samuel E. Turner from the
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773rd Battalion picked up twenty-two Marine wounded at 1500 and searched until 1830 before he found a ship that would take the men off his hands. Before the wounded could be taken aboard, however, the ship received orders to move out to sea and Turner followed it until 0830 the following morning before the casualties were placed on the ship.
Nine of the 708th amphibious tanks had spent the first night on the O-1 line, seven with Coulter on the extreme right flank and two with Capt West. West's tank was knocked out by shell fire during the night and two of the nine tanks from "D" Company that had stayed it the beach were lost from enemy fire. The remaining seven tanks from "D" Company and the "A" Company vehicles spent the day looking for fuel and escaping the mortar and artillery concentrations the Japs places [sic] on the beach. Later in the afternoon most of the men from "A" Company returned to LSTs, and Capt Bonner and Lt Grayland searched the beach for their vehicles and took these back to the ships for fuel and repairs. Lt Coulter's seven tanks from "C" Company remained in support of the Marines until they were relieved at 1200. There had been no action during that time and, when relieved, the tanks returned for fuel and repairs. "B" Company, whose tanks had been refueled on the LSTs during the night, Was attached to the 25th Marines and moored inland at 0600 to a position to the right of Charan-Kanoa and about a half mile inland. The tanks were not used during the day and were ordered back to LSTs that evening. The seven tanks from "D" Company did not find gasoline until late in the afternoon of D plus 1, then returned to their zone of action and remained there during the night and the following day but were not used by the Marines.
D plus 2
The other three tank companies supported the advance to Aslito Airfield on D
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plus 2. The general line of combat in the morning was hinged at Mt. Fina-Susu and extended south from there. "A" Company moved up to Fina-Susu Ridge beyond Charan-Kanoa, "B" Company supported the drive in the center and "C" Company, on the right flank, supported the 165th Regiment of the-27th Infantry Division that had relieved the Marines the night before. There was organization and coordination between the ground troops and tanks and by evening the line had moved forward to the edge of Aslito Airfield. Only on the left flank had the amphibious tanks run into serious trouble. There, at 1400, Capt Bonner, after conferring with the Marine commander, took Lt Grayland with him and the two tanks moved off to the left, supposedly on a reconnaissance mission. Bonner also notified Lt Paul Silberstein and the other three tanks to follow but before they had gone far both Bonner's and Grayland's tanks received direct hits. Bonner, S/Sgt Mikey Rickard, Pfc Salvador Chavez, Sgt Rudy Mills, Sgt William G. Willison, Pfc James A. Edwards, Pvt Donald V. Norquist, Cpl Otis B. McNeill and Pvt Richard Barrett were killed in these tanks. Grayland and Pvt Leo A. Pinnick were wounded. Silberstein and the other two tanks started to fellow but one of these was hit and it and the other tank turned back and went to the beach. Silberstein picked up what casualties he could and followed.
By this time "A" Company had lost all of its officers but Lt Silberstein who was new to the organization and only attached. Bonner was dead, Lt Homer Amonson and Grayland were badly wounded and Heise was suffering from severe shock. The men and equipment were scattered along the beach and on several LSTs. That evening S/Sgt Darwin V. McPherson, who had been on the LST during the day, gathered all of "A" Company personnel and equipment and moved to the beach where he searched the beach for the remainder of his organization and formed a bivouac on the beach.
Most of the tractors were hauling from the ships inland to the front lines by the third day. The front lines on the Green Beaches had been pushed forward five
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or six hundred yards and clearings made to permit the LVTs to unload on the air strip.
That evening all ships not needed for immediate unloading were ordered to withdraw and not return the next day. The Commander of the Fifth Fleet reached this decision the previous day after considering the approach of the Japanese Fleet but the Amphibian Battalions were not
informed of the order until late in the afternoon of the following day. (26) The 715th received orders at 1600 to move everything possible ashore and managed to get most personnel and equipment unloaded before the ships moved out. The 773rd had ordered all maintenance equipment set up ashore that morning at 0715 and the personal baggage and other equipment was moved late in the afternoon. The 534th Battalion still had twenty-two tractors and one hundred and eighty-two officers and men aboard ships when they put to sea. Some of the ships returned a day or so later but many of them were at sea for several days and a few went to Eniwetok and did not return until three weeks later.
On June 18, 19, and 20 the 708th tanks were used to support the ground troops either actively or as reserve on call. These amphibious tanks were now used as land tanks although much of the time they were held in reserve during the day and released at night without having been used. Often, however, these thin skinned tanks moved in advance or in support of the ground troops. By 21 June all of the tanks were allowed to remain in the battalion assembly area to perform maintenance.
The work of the tractor battalions, meanwhile, had subsided into routine hauling. There was time to organize the company areas, some of the men had a chance to rest, and the maintenance work on the tractors was begun. The battalions started salvaging some of the LVTs that had been abandoned during the first few days and, although some of the maintenance equipment was on the ships at sea, they made many repairs by robbing some of the damaged vehicles to replace parts on
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On the evening of 20 June an ammunition dump exploded near the 715th Battalion. "A" Company was bivouacked about fifty yards from the dump, "B" Company was two or three hundred yards removed end "C" Company was located about six hundred yards from the dump. At 2130 the dump blew up with a grand roar with a series of detonations following. Capt Schmidt ordered "A" Company vehicles taken out on the reef for the night and all personnel to either the reef or the beach. "B" Company, at a greater distance, preferred the safety of fox holes to the exposure necessitated by moving, whereas "C" Company was far enough away that the men were bothered only by the explosions and the whistling of the shell fragments. After a brief lull, fortunately long enough to allow "A" Company to escape from the immediate area, the explosions began with new fury and color set off by the pyrotecnics [sic] and air bursts of shells that had been thrown into the air by previous detonations. No one on the beach that night slept and few of them stepped improving their foxholes.
After 22 June two companies from the 708th were sent out each day to support, or remain in reserve, for the ground troops. The companies that remained behind worked on maintenance of the vehicles. On 10 July "A" Company took twelve tanks and moved along the shore to the northern end of the island with the mission of firing into the cliffs of overhanging caves. "B" Company went on a similar mission on 12 and 13 July, and "A" Company returned on the following day.
Roughly half of the amphibious tractors operated after 20 June and the rest were held in the battalion areas for repairs. By D plus 5 most LSTs had moved in to the reef and much of the hauling was from the reef inland. By D plus 7 the battalion areas were well organized and some had a latrine and shower constructed.
On the evening of 6 July Lt Col Edwards, 773rd commander, ordered Lt Frederiksen to load fifteen tractors with supplies and take them to the 27th div-
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ision advanced supply dump which was located at Mutcho Point, just above Garapan. Frederiksen spent the following morning loading the vehicles and reached Mutcho Point at l300 that afternoon. There he reported to Lt Col Ferris, G-4 of the 27th, who told him to unload, proceed to the 27th C P and report to Lt Col Bidwell, G-1 of the division, who was about four hundred yards below Tarapay Point—about five thousand yards north of Mutcho Point. Bidwell instructed Frederiksen to proceeded to Tanapag Point to rescue men from the 105th Regiment who had been isolated and pushed into the water during the furious Jap counter-attack.
Just of[f] Tanpag Point Frederiksen's tractor drew machine gun fire. He maneuvered closer to shore and killed the two Japs who manned the enemy position then started loading the casualties. That evening at 2030, when the job was finished, Col Bidwell estimated that between three and four hundred men were evacuated and saved. Other tractors, twelve with Capt Bouler and seventeen with Capt Suttle, had hauled rations and ammunition to Mutcho Point. During the night the 106th Regiment replaced the 105th on the line and by mid-morning the infantrymen were forcing the enemy back. At 1155 that morning Capt Bouler led ten LVTs up to the front lines to pick up the bodies of the 27th Division men who had been killed in the bonzai attack. Only five of the vehicles, however, were used and these were loaded with between forty and fifty bodies which were hauled to the 27th Division Cemetery at Yellow Beach 3. Tractors were kept near the front lines during the following three days and used to haul the recovered bodies to the cemetery.
On 5 July a radio message was received from. Lt Gen Holland K. Smith commending the army amphibious tractor and tank units which had helped unload 127,000 tons of supplies and equipment.
A few days later, on 9 July, Lt Gen Holland M. Smith declared the Island of Saipan secured. Although much mopping up of Japanese remnants remained to be done,
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the capture of the Island had been accomplished.
Total Casualties Amphibious Tractor and Tank Battalions for Saipan Operation.
(1) Japan's Islands of Mystery, pp 22-24.
(2) Appendix 1 to Annex Item OPN Plan 4-44, Special Landing Instructions. 4th Marine Division. 6 May 1944. Paragraphs l and 2(a).
(3) Annex H to OPN O NO 18, 2d Marine Division, Special Landing Instruction, par 4a.
(4) See Line of Departure Diagrams, Enclosure (A) to Appendix "5" to Annex "J" to CTF 52, Attack Order No. A 11-44.
(5) Memorandum; S-LVT-122, Continuing Board for Development of Landing Vehicles, 27 October 1944.
(6) S-3 Unit Journal, 715th Amphibian Tractor Battalion.
(7) Journal 708th Amphibian Tank Battalion.
(8) Journal 773rd Amphibian Tractor Battalion.
(9) Annex Easy to OPN Plan NO 4-44, FORAGER NAVAL GUNFIRE.
(10) The expected destruction in Charan-Kanoa was one of the considerations that influenced Major William Rossing, Executive Officer of the 708th Amphibian Tank Battalion, to accompany "B" Company.
(11) Statement of Lt. Paul D. Silberstein.
(12) Lt Dcan Coulter and Lt Henry R. Fitzhugh heard Lt Col Mustain give this order to Capt Asbill, commanding officer of "B'' Company Marines.
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(13) Lt Raymond C. Brown and Lt Henry R. Fitzhugh agree that these were Capt Asbill's words.
(14) The unit Journal of the 708th Amphibian Tractor Battalion states that the tanks returned at 1800 but the officers of "A" Company believe it was shortly after 1500.
(15) Paragraph 3(b) and (c) Appendix 1 to Annex Item to OPN Plan 4-44. Special Landing Instructions.
(16) 773rd Amphibian Tractor Battalion Unit Journal, message at 0900 Charley 6 Oboe, "Am sitting at edge of reef waiting for traffic tieup on beach to disperse fourth and fifth waves."
(17) Report on Amphibian Tractors during FORAGER Operation, Headquarters 773rd Amphibian Tractor Battalion, 2 July 1944, par d(7).
(18) Annex H to OPN O NO 18, 2d Marine Division.
(19) Annex H to OPN O NO 18, 2d Marine Division.
(20) Lt Marshall L. Wilson, Lt Harry R. Coates and L. Charles F. Parks, officers of the 715th Amphibian Tractor Battalion, believe the naval guide boat on their right had a defective compass.
(21) Entry in 715th Amphibian Tractor Battalion Unit Journal at 1825.
(22) At 0445 on 16 June the Battalion Commander asked for a report on all available LVTs on ships. The reports from the companies indicate only twenty amphibian tractors available. S-3 Unit Journal, 715th Amphibian Tractor Battalion.
(23) 534th Unit Journal, 0938.
(24) These figures were tabulated from the S-3 Unit Journals and from reports turned in by the battalions after the operation.
(25) Report on Amphibian Tractors During FORAGER Operation, 773rd Amphibian Tractor Battalion, 2 July 1944, par i(a)
(26) Joint Expeditionary Force, (TF 51) Office of the Commander, U.S.S. Rocky Mount, Flagship. 24 August 1944. C.A.E. A 16-3(3). Serial 00704, par 43.
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