Wingtip to Wingtip, Wave After Wave

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Colonel Gerald R. Johnson, who finished the war with 22 confirmed air-to-air victories.


Colonel Gerald Johnson and the Napalm Attacks in the Philippines


The 1945 Battle for Luzon is often remembered solely by the drive from the beaches at Lingayen Gulf to the Battle of Manila, with daring special operations and air assaults conducted to rescue American civilian internees and prisoners of war.

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Men of the 37th Infantry Division crew an anti-tank gun in the house-to-house fighting in Manila, February 1945.

There is no finer work written on the tragic Battle of Manila than James Scott’s Rampage. This book is a telling, deeply emotional and vivid description of the house-to-house fighting and senseless mass murders that defined the battle. It is not an easy read, but one that provides critical insight into the mindset of American leaders in the Western Pacific during the final months of the war.  Scott’s book is a sober reminder that the cost of liberation sometimes came at an unbearable price for those who sought to liberate.


Yet, even after the fall of Manila, there was considerable fighting left to be done elsewhere on Luzon. Hundreds of thousands of Japanese troops, well-organized and deeply entrenched, had retreated into the mountainous terrain northwest of Manila and were determined to make the FilAmerican forces pay for every inch of ground they captured.

From the end of February to the end of May, the bulk of both the U.S. Eighth and Sixth Armies battered there way forward toward several key objectives: Baguio, the Philippine summer capital, the mountain passes from Central Luzon into the Cagayan Valley, and the dams that provided Manila’s water supply.

The Japanese resisted with ferocious desperation. In countless small actions, they died to the last man.  We Americans remember the Alamo, Wake Island, the 20th Maine’s stand at Gettysburg and the 1st Minnesota’s suicidal charge on the second day of that battle. What is exceptional in American military history was routine for the Japanese Imperial Army. During the fighting for these three objectives, they proved their nihilistic courage time after time. That willingness to fight to the last bullet and breath combined with the Imperial Army’s broad and relentless brutality toward civilian and captured American servicemen made the Japanese a truly terrifying foe.

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Men of the 25th Infantry Division fighting on a ridge near Baguio in April 1945. The next month, the 25th would see fierce fighting at the Cagayan passes.


From the end of February through April and May, the two U.S. Armies hammered their way forward through pouring rain that turned the few roads to rivers of mud. The Japanese made the Allies pay for every ridge they seized, and the fighting bogged down to a World War I-esque battle of attrition.


The terrain over which the 33rd Infantry Division had to advance to assault Baguio.



In April, on the Eighth Army’s front, the 33rd Infantry Division struggled forward to liberate Baguio. They faced formidable defenses built around ridges, hilltops and a river line. The Japanese dug in deep, bored tunnels in the mountain sides, carefully concealed artillery pieces that could be pulled back into deep caves after a fire mission.


US Army map of the 33rd Infantry Division’s fight to liberate Baguio.

With the Japanese Army Air Force and Naval Air Force destroyed in the Philippines, the U.S. possessed complete command of the air over Luzon. The ground troops turned to the aviators for help in breaking the Japanese resistance.

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Cockpit view of a P-38 dive bombing mission near Baguio.

Thousands of ground attack missions were carried out against specific targets, sometimes only a few hundred yards from the forward most FilAmerican troops.   The P-38 pilots in the V Fighter Command went from flying for months against Japanese bombers and interceptors, to finding themselves carrying out close air support strikes. There was no glamour here, no press, no racking up of victories that could be glued to the sides of their P-38s. It was difficult, dangerous low-altitude work that required great skill and coordination to do without killing friendly troops.


Those grinding, daily dive-bombing and strafing missions became a vital source of support for the ground troops. The few Japanese who were captured stated they feared the fighter-bombers more than they feared American artillery bombardment.  Why?



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A 25th Infantry Division squad under fire near Baguio, April 1945.


In mid-April, on the 33rd Infantry Division’s front, the 130th Infantry Regiment called for air support to help the rifle companies get through a network of fortified hills overlooking a river.  The theater’s highest scoring fighter groups—the 49th and 475th— answered the call along with several others. For days, the fighter-bombers drenched the Japanese defenses with napalm and five hundred pound bombs.  In one attack carried out by the 49th Fighter Group, a tunnel was hit with napalm, killing two hundred Japanese soldiers.


These attacks broke the back of the Japanese resistance. The 130th got across the river and the 33rd Infantry Division liberated Baguio’s ruins on April 26, 1945.  It was a remarkable display of air-ground cooperation, and it set the table for larger operations in the weeks ahead.


Ged and 23 kill P38L

Though ordered out of combat by General Kenney, Johnson continued to fly ground attack missions with his 49th Fighter Group all the way up until July 1945 when he was promoted to a staff job within Fifth Air Force HQ. There he helped plan the air component of the invasion of Southern Japan.

Flying with the 49th during many of these attacks in support of the 130th was quadruple ace Gerald R. Johnson.  Johnson and Charles MacDonald of the 475th Fighter Group were the two leading aces still active in the SWPA by this point of the war. McGuire was dead, Kearby was dead and Bong was back home about to join the P-80 Shooting Star program.

Far Eastern Air Forces commander, General George Kenney, specifically ordered 5th Air Force commander Ennis Whitehead to pull Johnson out of combat to save him for the post-war era.  He was looking down the road and knew the USAAF would need a crop of brilliant leaders to gain independence from the Army and secure the primacy of American airpower in any future war.

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George Laven, Gerald Johnson, Clay Tice standing. Bob DeHaven, Wally Jordan, Jim Watkins in front row. The photo was taken a month after the mass napalm raids.  Watkins, Jordan and DeHaven were all aces along with Gerald.



Johnson was not having any of it. At twenty-four, he was a full colonel and in command of the 49th Fighter Group. He refused to let his men do the difficult flying without him.  Through April, he flew against the Japanese defenses around Baguio, sometimes two missions a day.  He coordinated many of the strikes from the air, communicating with the forward air controllers on the ground to get the bombs and napalm where they needed to go.

When the fighting ended and Baguio was liberated, the commander of the 130th Infantry, Colonel Arthur Collins, wrote a detailed letter to Gerald Johnson thanking him and his pilots for their skill and destructiveness.

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The ruins of Baguio, April 1945.

The following month, two major battles culminated almost simultaneously. In the Sixth Army sector, the 43rd Infantry Division was trying to take the Ipo Dam from a Japanese force that included three regiments and multiple additional battalions. The force defending the dam totaled over seven thousand men. The 43rd’s advance was slowed by the fierce Japanese resistance.

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The Ipo Dam was one of two that controlled the water supply into Manila. Capturing them from the Japanese became a top priority after the fall of the Philippine capital.

This time, V Fighter Command worked out a new type of attack to break the Japanese hold on the dam. Instead of going in as flights or squadrons, the fighter-bombers would go in as entire groups in one, rolling hammer-blow designed to drench five key defensive positions with massive quantities of napalm.


US Army map of the Ipo Dam operation showing the 43rd and 38th Infantry Division’s boundary and area of operation.

On the morning of May 17, 1945, Johnson gathered his pilots and briefed them. He was excited and exuberant—one of his pilots later described him as sounding like a high school cheerleader (he was a yell leader at Eugene High, so that fit).  As a final word to his men, the great ace declared, “We’re going in wingtip to wingtip, wave after wave!”  he then led the 49th into the fight.

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Johnson ,at left, leading the 49th on the May 17, 1945 Ipo Dam attack.

They saddled up and flew the mission—along with two hundred other fighter-bombers.   The squadrons dove down into the valley around the Ipo Dam in tight, line abreast formations, driving through clouds of smoke boiling up from the preceding attacks, and delivered their deadly ordnance on their targets.

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A P-38 (at left) makes a run over a hilltop defensive network near the Ipo Dam during the May 17, 1945 raid.

The mass attack by V Fighter Command left the Japanese defenses in a shambles. Almost seven hundred Japanese were killed outright—ten percent of  the total number holding the dam. Dozens of vehicles, guns, supply and fuel dumps were incinerated by the blankets of napalm.  Of those Japanese who survived, many panicked and fled the slicks of fire immolating their fighting positions. When V Fighter Command learned this, future attacks included a wave of light bombers dropping parafrags to kill those men as they fled.

The 43rd’s assault carried through the areas devastated by the napalm raids and quickly seized the dam. An unusual number of Japanese were captured, most dazed by the aerial onslaught. They were quickly interrogated to determine the effectiveness of the napalm strikes, and the POW’s offered a few insights:


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Captured Japanese at the Ipo Dam, under guard by men of the the 43rd Infantry Division.

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Another photograph of the POW’s taken at the end of the Ipo Dam fight.

This novel attack tactic was duplicated a few days later on the Eighth Army’s front where the 32nd and 25th Infantry Divisions were locked in a terrible fight along the Villa Verde Trail and Highway Five some ninety miles north of the Ipo Dam.  The line of advance to seize the two vital passes into the Cagayan Valley was exceptionally narrow, supplied by twisting, winding roads turned to bogs by the incessant rain. The two American divisions faced two intact Japanese divisions, one of which was an armored unit. Yard by yard, the fighting here had raged since February 21st, and the Japanese were taking a terrible toll of the Americans. Ultimately, it would cost some seven thousand American and Filipinos to clear the mountains and open the passes.


To support the final assaults on the passes, V Fighter Command assigned four groups to carryout rolling mass napalm attacks on the Japanese 10th Infantry Division. For two days, Gerald Johnson led the 49th against these defenses at the Balete Pass. The defenders were smothered in flaming napalm. Following the 49th’s attacks came waves of fighter-bombers from the 475th, 8th and 58th Fighter Groups to add to the carnage on the ground. Artillery pieces were burnt in place. Dugouts and bunkers and caves were turned to charnel houses. Stunned Japanese survivors emerged from their entrenchments to flee the fires, only to be cut down by parafrags dropped by A-20s of the 312th Bomb Group.

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P-47 Thunderbolts, probably from the 58th Fighter Group, coming off target during the mass attack on the Japanese defenses around the Ipo Dam.


Both passes were captured shortly after these attacks. Some thirteen thousand Japanese died in the fighting there.

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Men of the 32nd Infantry Division advance up the Villa Verde Trail en route to the Cagayaan Valley passes.



Fighter pilots generally hated ground attack missions, preferring instead to be out hunting in the clouds.  Shooting Japanese planes down made the headlines, but these mass napalm attacks saved the lives of countless American GI’s struggling forward in the worst imaginable conditions.

For Gerald Johnson, that was one of his most meaningful accomplishments. In New Guinea and on Leyte, he’d seen first hand how the infantry lived and fought. He felt tremendous respect for them, and knew his lot in the war was much easier than what they faced.

One night, after losing a close friend, Gerald sat down and wrote of that respect to his father:

“Our men are fighting the most difficult battles of the war… Men are wounded or killed. Husbands, fathers. Brothers and sons are giving their last full measure, Dad. There are no braver or courageous men anywhere than these thousands of unsung heroes who are defeating the Jap[anese].

A few of us get the medals and become “heroes” yet we live well and have a fighting occupation that suits our stomachs.

Every time I started to complain, I think how selfish, how little I am. Those men lie awake in a stinking water-filled foxhole, waiting for a rustle of a Jap[anise] crawling on his belly. Those men who crawl out of the mud in the midst of a lead filled morning to find their buddy next to them is dead, his throat slit because he was too sleepy and exhausted to maintain constant vigilance—they are the real heroes dad.”

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A heavy weapons squad from the  25th Infantry Division at the Balete Pass.



The American troops on the ground sent messages of thanks to the fighter groups involved in these attacks:

The 130th Infantry Regiment’s commander, Colonel Collins, sent this to Colonel Gerald Johnson:

AO5Y1592AO5Y1593This was sent by the commanding general of I Corps, which carried out the assault on the Ipo Dam.  General Swift apparently witnessed the subsequent mass napalm strike on the Eighth Army’s Front at the Balete Pass a week after the dam was captured.AO5Y1600


For more on Gerald Johnson, the ace race and the fighting in the Southwest Pacific Theater, please see our upcoming book, Race of Aces, due out on January 14, 2020!

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Categories: World War II, World War II in the Pacific, WW2, WWII | Tags: | Leave a comment

The U-Boat Killer

A U.S. Navy armorer loads a long belt of .50 caliber ammo into the nose turret of an Atlantic Theater Consolidated PB4Y2 Privateer patrol bomber. Very long range aircraft like this variant of the B-24 helped ensure German U-boats had no safe place to surface and recharge their batteries while on patrol in the Atlantic. U.S. Liberators and Privateers are credited with sinking at least 23 U-boats in the course of the war.

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The last flying PB4Y2 Privateer airborne over Chino in May 2017. The nose turret was removed when it was used as a fire bomber, starting in the 1960’s.  It served in that capacity until 2006. It just went through a thorough restoration and is now on the air show circuit.


Categories: ETO, European Theater of Operations, World War II, World War II Europe, World War II in Europe, World War II in the Pacific, WW2, WWII | Tags: | 2 Comments

Stories from Golden Gate II


Men of the 381st Infantry Regiment advance on Big Apple Ridge, June 12, 1945.


The 96th Infantry Division trained at Camp Adair, Oregon in 1943-44. Known as the “Deadeyes,” the division was one of four that called Adair home, but it was the only one sent to the Pacific. The other three went to Italy and Western Europe.

PFC Castaneda and his regiment served on Leyte Island in the Philippines first, then took part in the Battle of Okinawa in the spring and summer of 1945. In eighty-one days of continuous combat, Castaneda’s division lost over 10,000 men killed, wounded, or missing in action. Thirty-two Deadeyes are still classified as Missing in Action from Okinawa. Only the 6th Marine Division suffered heavier losses.

Louis Castaneda was killed on Okinawa on June 12, 1945, just shy of his 24th birthday, during an assault on Big Apple Ridge, a key position in the last Japanese defense line on the island. He is laid to rest at Golden Gate National Cemetery.



Categories: American Warriors, World War II, World War II in the Pacific, WW2, WWII | Leave a comment

Stories from Golden Gate

Today, I wandered through Golden Gate National Cemetery. Every marker tells a story. Here’s one:


Master Sergeant Kenji Munn Tashiro:

Sixty-one years. Three wars. Volunteered for service in 1943 despite the fact that his wife and two children were rounded up and thrown in an internment camp.

Fought with the 442nd Regimental Combat Team in Europe as part of an anti-tank gun company. Earned the CIB.

Returned home and stayed in the reserves, served in Korea and Vietnam as a military intelligence NCO. Incidentally, while he was in Korea, his son was fighting to hold the Pusan Perimeter with his brother Soldiers.

Died of stomach cancer in 1967, An American patriot to his core.AO5Y9423

Categories: Uncategorized, War in Europe, World War I, World War II, World War II Europe, World War II in Europe, WW2, WWII | 1 Comment

Chino’s Legendary Planes of Fame Airshow

AO5Y3975For one weekend every year since 1957, the skies over Chino, California fill with the sights and sounds of World War II aircraft. Nestled on an old Army Air Force base where the likes of 24 kill ace Gerald R. Johnson once trained, hosts this incredible event as one of its main fund raisers. These days, lucky visitors to Chino can see upwards of forty warbirds thunder overhead.

It is an awe-inspiring sight.


My dad found the museum one day in the mid-1950s. He was out driving around with his best friend from high school and looked over to see a Messerschmitt Me-262 jet fighter just sitting in a field. Both boys had grown up on the Southern California coast during the war and had fallen in love with aircraft as they watched F4U Corsairs and P-38 Lightnings zooming over their homes. A Corsair even crash landed in front of my dad’s place on the Balboa Peninsula in 1945.AO5Y6509

So of course, they stopped. The museum back then was basically a field full of WWII aircraft discarded by the military and somehow acquired by the founder of Planes of Fame, Ed Maloney. One plane, a Japanese J2M Raiden fighter, had been a plaything for local kids at Griffith Park in Los Angeles before Ed acquired it. Rumor has it that some thief had pulled the seat out of it and pawned it, and Ed had to go to the shop and pay $50.00 to get it out of hock and re-install it in this incredibly rare warbird.

Back then, you paid a quarter at a tent that denoted the museum’s entrance, then walked through part of a bomber’s fuselage to enter the field of warbirds.


As a kid living in the Silicon Valley, my dad would sometimes take me down to the Chino air shows. I still have snapshots I took in the 1970s with a 126 instamatic camera of the museum’s A6M5 Zero that had been captured on Saipan’s Aslito Field in 1944. Years later, while in graduate school at the University of Oregon, I discovered my landlady had been in charge of checking in and documenting captured Japanese aircraft as they arrived in Southern California. Quite possibly the initial paperwork the U.S. Navy generated on the Planes of Fame Zero had been filled out by Marge Goodman.AO5Y5847

Anyway, the trips down to Chino became a father-son thing for us Brunings. In 1986, we stopped going. I left for college that fall, and as graduate school and a career up in Oregon dominated my time, the chance to get to Planes of Fame became a pipe dream. Then came marriage, two kids and a new career as a military historian and writer.

Finally, after I came home from Afghanistan, we revived the tradition. Five of the last seven years, we’ve road tripped down to Chino for the air show. In 2013, we brought my son and made it a tri-generational road trip. AO5Y7833

This year, my dad and I returned and spent the weekend out at the Chino Airport, amazed and inspired by the thousands who turned out to see the old birds fly.

AO5Y5938World War II is slipping from modern memory as the few remaining veterans of it pass. It won’t be long before we won’t have anyone alive who experienced the war at all. But thanks to Planes of Fame, the visceral sensation, the raw power and speed of the planes our grandparents flew in defense of our nation will endure and live in the memories of succeeding generations. Ed Maloney was a visionary, and thanks to his aircraft rescue efforts long before anyone saw value in those aluminum bodies, the sounds and sights of these amazing machines will continue to fill the skies over Southern California for years to come.AO5Y2187

It is a truly special place. If you love aircraft, make a point of coming here someday. You won’t be disappointed. You’ll be in the heart of the warbirds community.


Below are some more photos I took this weekend at the 60th Planes of Fame air show.


The Planes of Fame P-38J Lightning in 475th Fighter Group ace Parry Dahl’s markings.


Warming up the CAF Mitsubishi A6M Zero on Saturday May 6, 2017


Pilot Chris Fahey at the controls of the POF P-38. The sound of this plane’s twin Allison engines is like crack to your friendly writer.  After spending nine years researching and writing a biography on P-38 ace Col. Gerald R. Johnson, this aircraft became very dear to my heart. In the 90’s, I interviewed a lot of men who flew them in New Guinea and the Philippines during the war, and they swore by its firepower, range, speed and one-engined flight abilities.


Mark Foster at the controls of this beautiful P-51 Mustang. It wears the markings of the 357th Fighter Group, a crack 8th Air Force unit that included Chuck Yeager and ace Bud Anderson.


The Planes of Fame B-25 Mitchell making a pass over the Chino airport. This bird’s been used as a photographic aircraft for various aerial scenes in movies for several decades. After writing Pappy Gunn’s story in Indestructible, the side pack .50 caliber machine guns endear this bird to me. Every time I see it fly, I think the spirit of Pappy Gunn flies with it.


A Red Air Force Yak prepares for a flight with the Korean War demonstration part of the air show.


This year’s show included this stunning bird, a Consolidated PB4Y2 Privateer U.S. Navy patrol bomber. 


I’d never seen a PB4Y in flight before. The first pass it made during the airshow left me absolutely speechless. Loud, slow and huge, the plane is a dominating presence. I checked my Fitbit after it thundered by and saw my heart rate was at 150. I got credit for cardio, so props to the pilots for bringing on the work-out inducing excitement in their low-altitude passes.


When I was in 3rd grade, my Uncle Dean gave me a book for my birthday entitled, “Greatest Fighter Missions of the Top Navy and Marine Aces.” I read it in a recliner next to the T.V. for hours every night after school. I still have it, though it is beat up and missing its dust jacket. One of the chapters is called, “Trapped By Zekes at Rabaul” and details one of ace Ike Kepford’s most harrowing missions in the South Pacific. This weekend, a Corsair in Kepford’s markings went blasting past me, and I was taken instantly back to those nights curled up in that 70’s-era chair, engrossed by Edward Sims’ recounting of Ike’s miraculous escape from pursuing Japanese fighters.


Morning on the flight line, Saturday’s sunrise shoot.


Steve Hinton piloting an F4U in Korean War markings from VMF-214’s 1950-51 deployment. 


A bit of movie history. This was a modified BT-13 trainer altered to look like a Japanese Aichi D3A Val dive bomber, then used in the film, “Tora Tora Tora.”


The only place I know of where you can see two Japanese A6M Zero fighters fly. The bottom one is Planes of Fame’s Saipan Zeke.

Categories: Uncategorized, World War I, World War II, World War II in Europe, World War II in the Pacific, WW2, WWII | Tags: , , | 2 Comments

B-25 Chronology

BPG (Before Pappy Gunn):


APG (After Pappy Gunn):


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The Ardennes Offenisive Begins

59th signal ban rail jeep 1st army bastogne belgium 121644 (1 of 1)December 16, 1944, the German Army launched the largest offensive operation ever conducted against United States ground forces. Known as the Battle of the Bulge, the fighting raged for over a month and consumed most of the Third Reich’s remaining reserves of fuel and oil. Somewhere between 65,000-125,000 Germans troops were killed, wounded, captured or missing during those furious six weeks of fighting. The U.S. Army suffered more than 89,000 casualties and the loss of over eight hundred armored vehicles and tanks.

Photos from the early days of the German offensive are few and far between, but here are some shots taken on December 16, 1944 throughout the Western Front by U.S. Army Signal Corps photographers. Over the next few weeks, we’ll be posting more photos that captured key moments during the Ardennes Offensive and the subsequent Allied counter-offensive.

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Men of the 26th Infantry Regiment, 1st Infantry Division, muscle a 57mm anti-tank gun into position at what became known as the Hot Corner, a patch of ground the division denied to the advancing Germans which ensured the North Shoulder of the Bulge would hold. The photo was taken on December 17, 1944.


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Some German units employed American vehicles during the Ardennes offensive. This captured M8 Greyhound armored car was knocked out during the pivotal fighting for St. Vith, Belgium.


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Fighting along the Western Front did not stop with the German offensive in the Ardennes. Here, a patrol from the 45th Infantry Division’s 180th Regiment fights house to house in Bobenthal, Germany under sniper fire on December 16, 1944.

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Men of the 807th Tank Destroyer Battalion, 90th Infantry Division, rain shells down on German positions near St. Barbara, Germany on December 16, 1944. The 90th would later be thrust into the American counter-attack and ended up fighting around Bastogne.

A Waffen SS soldier with Kampfgruppe Hansen seen after elements of the 14th Cavalry Group were ambushed and destroyed outside of Poteau, Belgium on December 18, 1944.

Categories: War in Europe, World War II Europe, World War II in Europe, WW2, WWII | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Deeds, Not Words

hurtgen forest troops and mmg fall 44173 8x10December 1, 1944

Grosshau, Germany

Eastern Edge of the Hurtgen Forest


Cold, wet and hungry Soldiers hunkered down in foxholes, side by side with complete strangers. In two weeks, the 22nd Infantry had lost 151% of its riflemen while fighting for six thousand yards of ground in the Hurtgen Forest. Urged forward time after time, the line companies had endured an onslaught of German artillery barrages, machine gun fire and minefields. Many attacks had been stopped cold, smothered by German shells and bullets. So many men had been lost that the rifle companies were filled with green replacements thrown into the line with bewildering speed. Once considered the pride of the 1st Army, the 22nd had become a shell of its former self.

The attacks continued with relentless intensity until the 22nd Infantry had lost almost all its veteran dogfaces, the men who had come ashore at Utah Beach earlier in the summer. Somehow, the regiment ground forward, inch by inch against withering fire and counter-attacks until by the end of November, one of the 22nd Infantry’s battalions had reached the outskirts of Grosshau, Germany, the last town before the Roer Plain. Take the town and another push would thrust the entire 4th Infantry Division into open ground where the 5th Armored Division, waiting in reserve, would exploit.

gst marcario garcia cmh147 5x7On November 27, 1944, B Company 1st Battalion 22nd Infantry advanced into a German kill zone while pushing on for Grossau. Pinned down by machine gun fire, B Company was soon hit by an artillery and mortar barrage. With casualties mounting, an acting squad leader named Private Marcario Garcia launched a one-man attack on the machine gun nest. Despite being wounded, he pressed his assault, killed three Germans and knocked out the machine gun. He returned to the company line, which was now being raked by another machine gun nest. He located it and stormed the nest, killing three more Germans and capturing four others. The second attack freed up B Company and the advance continued. Only then did Garcia go to the rear for medical treatment.gst marcario garcia cmh146 4x6

Private Garcia received the Medal of Honor for his actions that day, the first Mexican citizen to receive America’s highest award for bravery. He became an American citizen in 1947. Shortly after President Truman bestowed the MOH on him at a White House ceremony in 1945, Garcia tried to order food at a restaurant south of Houston, Texas. The owner refused to serve him because he was Hispanic. When Garcia protested, the owner beat him with a baseball bat. Walter Winchell later reported on the incident, and Garcia’s beating became a rallying point for Latino-Americans.

On the 29th, 3rd Battalion, 22nd Infantry fought its way into Grosshau with the help of a platoon of tanks. The Germans defending the town refused to surrender, and the fighting devolved into point-blank building-to-building battles. Grossau, which had been subjected to countless barrages of American artillery, was almost completely destroyed in the fighting. Germans held out in cellars and within the ruins until nightfall, but the 3rd Battalion eventually cleared them out and secured the town.

hurtgen forest us troops fighting 1944351 8x10One more push and the regiment would clear the Hurtgen Forest and break into the open ground beyond. The regiment was ordered forward, reinforced by the 46th Armored Infantry Battalion, the regiment tried to clear the Hurtgen on the 30th. Little progress was made beyond reaching the woodline on the far side of Grosshau.

On the 1st, 2-22 and the 46th tried again. The men ran into a massive German artillery barrage that pinned them down and savaged their ranks.  The Germans counter-attacked and flung the 2nd Battalion back. The Germans were stopped only when the battalion’s reserves were thrown into the fight. By the end of the day, 2-22 was down to a hundred and twenty-five men.

On of the 22nd Infantry's 81mm mortar crews firing in support of the rifle companies holding off a German counter-attack at Grosshau on December 1, 1944.

On of the 22nd Infantry’s 81mm mortar crews firing in support of the rifle companies holding off a German counter-attack at Grosshau on December 1, 1944.

Colonel Charles T. Lanham, the 22nd’s commanding officer, saw that his men had nothing left to give. With his battalions down below company strength and the Germans massing on his northern flank for another counter-attack, he organized a scratch force composed of headquarters troops and supply clerks. That gave him a hundred man reserve.

Lanham was a highly regarded officer who’d been with the 22nd since Utah Beach. Known for his grit, he was also a warrior-poet and short story writer. Ernest Hemingway befriended him that fall while the 22nd fought its way through the Siegfried Line and later described him as, “The finest and bravest and most intelligent military commander I’ve ever known.”

Ernest Hemingway and Colonel Lanham together in the fall of 1944.

The Germans hit Lanham’s 3-22 the next day in a furious counter-assault. The onslaught was too much for the battalion, and one skeletal company was overwhelmed. The Germans poured into the regiment’s rear, hitting both the headquarters of 1st and 3rd battalions. Lanham ordered his men to hold on and keep fighting. He threw in his scratch reserves, supported by a few tanks. They contained the German breach, cleared it and restored the line.

That night, the 4th Infantry Division commander, Major General Raymond Barton, sent in a regiment from the 83rd Infantry Division to effect a relief in place. As it was underway, the Germans hit the 22nd again and overran part of 1-22. Again, headquarters troops and a few men from a heavy weapons company contained the German attack and eventually threw it back. Later that day, as the 22nd was pulling out, about thirty Luftwaffe fighter-bombers made a final, parting attack on the regiment. Fortunately, the trees that had sheltered the German defenders from American air power returned the favor for the 22nd that day, and few men were hit in that last crucible in the Hurtgen Forest.

1st army 4th inf div 22nd inf regt jeep in grosshau germany 120144 (1 of 1)

Grosshau, Germany December 1, 1944. A jeep from the 22nd Infantry moves among the ruins.

In eighteen days of close quarters combat among the woods and hills of the Hurtgen, the 22nd Infantry suffered 2,773 casualties. They’d gone in with a total strength of about 3,200 men. Everyone suffered, not just the line units. In the Hurtgen, there were no rear areas, only targets for German long-range artillery. During the battle, Lanham’s men captured 762 German soldiers. They had advanced six thousand yards and had taken their main objective despite some of the worst terrain and most formidable defenses the U.S. Army encountered in Europe during World War II.





Categories: ETO, European Theater of Operations, World War II, World War II Europe, World War II in Europe, WW2, WWII | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

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