187th Infantry Regiment (United States)
|187th Infantry Regiment|
|Branch||United States Army|
|Part of||101st Airborne Division|
|Motto(s)||Ne Desit Virtus|
(Let Valor Not Fail)
|Distinctive unit insignia|
|Background trimming for 1st and 3rd Battalions|
U.S. Infantry Regiments
|186th Infantry Regiment||188th Infantry Regiment|
The 187th Infantry Regiment (Rakkasans):21 is a regiment of the 101st Airborne Division. The "Rakkasans" special designation is derived from the Japanese word for parachute (literally "umbrella for falling", 落下傘). The name was given to the regiment during its tour in occupied Japan following World War II. When a translator dealing with local Japanese dignitaries was trying to explain what their unit was trained to do (and not knowing the Japanese word for "airborne soldiers"), he used the phrase "parachute-men" (literally "falling down umbrella men"), or rakkasan. Amused by the clumsy word, the locals began to call the paratroopers by that nickname; it soon stuck and became a point of pride for the unit. (Note that modern Japanese uses the English loanword パラシュート (parashūto) for parachute.)
Beginning as a glider infantry regiment of the 11th Airborne Division in 1943, the 187th Infantry Regiment has fought in four wars, World War II, the Korean War, the Vietnam War, and the Persian Gulf War. The 187th entered combat in World War II on Leyte Island in the Philippines, fought in two other major campaigns in the Pacific, and was chosen to be among the first American units sent to occupy Japan. The 187th was the only airborne unit used during the Korean War, operating as an airborne regimental combat team with two combat parachute jumps. In Vietnam, the 3rd Battalion, 187th Infantry Regiment, fought as an airmobile unit, making 115 helicopter assaults. In Operation Desert Storm, the Rakkasans made the longest and largest combat air assault in military history when it air assaulted from Saudi Arabia to the Euphrates River in Iraq.:374
The 1st Battalion and 3rd Battalion are the only active elements of the regiment; they are assigned to the 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 101st Airborne Division.
World War II
The 187th Infantry Regiment was originally constituted in the War Department files as the 187th Glider Infantry Regiment (GIR) on 12 November 1942 and activated with the 11th Airborne Division at Camp Mackall, North Carolina on 25 February 1943, under the command of Colonel Harry B. Hildebrand. The first recruits arrived on 2 March. The 187th went through basic training from 15 March to 21 June. After a period of squad-, platoon-, and company-level unit training, the 187th started formal glider training at Laurinburg–Maxton Army Airfield, North Carolina in late July. Although it was originally a two-battalion glider-borne infantry regiment, the men of the 187th would become dual qualified, able to enter combat either by glider or parachute.:3–10
The Knollwood Maneuver
I do not believe in the airborne division. I believe that airborne troops should be reorganized into self-contained units, comprising infantry, artillery, and special services, all of about the strength of a regimental combat team [...] To employ at any time and place a whole division would require a dropping over such an extended area that I seriously doubt that a division commander could regain control and operate the scattered forces as one unit.— Lieutenant General Dwight D. Eisenhower at the conclusion of his performance review of the American airborne forces during Operation Husky, 20 September 1943
Within the US Army hierarchy, some senior officers questioned the practicality of airborne forces as a combat entity. The Germans had successfully used airborne forces during the invasions of the Netherlands in May 1940 and Crete in May 1941. Wartime was proving tough for American airborne forces. In November 1942, as part of Operation Torch in the North African campaign, US paratroopers who missed their drop zone (DZ) marched 35 miles (56 km) to capture an airfield already in the hands of friendly forces. During the Allied invasion of Sicily in July 1943, US paratroopers once more landed far from their intended targets. But the real tragedy came when friendly fire brought down 23 aircraft and damaged 37 more; 318 paratroopers and airmen were killed or wounded. The poor performance of American airborne forces in Sicily prompted Lieutenant General Dwight D. Eisenhower to recommend to General George C. Marshall, the US Army Chief of Staff, that division-size airborne units were too difficult to control in combat.
Lieutenant General Lesley J. McNair, the Army Ground Forces commanding general, took General Eisenhower's words seriously and, in the fall of 1943, convened a review board headed by Major General Joseph M. Swing, the 11th Airborne Division commanding general, to examine the doctrine, organization, and training of US Army airborne forces. The "Swing Board," as it was informally known, convened at Camp Mackall in mid-September with experienced US Army parachute and glider unit commanders and staff officers, as well as US Army Air Forces (USAAF) I Troop Carrier Command troop carrier transport and glider pilot veterans as the other board members. The Swing Board reviewed German, British, and American airborne operations, studied the airborne division organization, and analyzed the problems encountered by the USAAF troop carrier units during the North African and Sicilian operations. At the end of September, the review was completed with the board recommending the continuation of the airborne division and the publication of War Department (WD) Training Circular 113, Employment of Airborne and Troop Carrier Forces (dated 9 October 1943), formalizing the responsibilities and relationships between the airborne and troop carrier commands. Despite the board's recommendations, General McNair was still not convinced and decided to test the effectiveness of the airborne division concept before he made his final decision. McNair ordered General Swing to plan an exercise for December in which the entire 11th Airborne Division would mount up in C–47 transports and CG–4A gliders at multiple Army airfields in North and South Carolina, take off and rendezvous over the Atlantic coast, fly a circuitous route of approximately 200 miles (320 km), a portion of which would be over open ocean at night before turning inland toward the drop and landing zones, parachute- and glider-land after dark at precise times and locations, and reinforce, resupply, evacuate, and support itself by air for three or four days. It was obvious that the future of the airborne division depended upon a successful operation. Swing and his staff commenced planning the exercise per McNair's order and WD Training Circular 113. All that remained was to write the operations order (OPORD). On 15 November, the 11th Airborne Division received its mission from Headquarters, Airborne Command at Camp Mackall. The 11th Airborne Division, reinforced by the 501st Parachute Infantry Regiment (PIR), was to assault on D-day, 7 December, capture Knollwood Army Auxiliary Airfield (present-day Moore County Airport), establish an airhead at the airfield, and prevent "enemy" reinforcement. Defending Knollwood and selected critical points was a regimental combat team (RCT) consisting of an infantry battalion, an antitank company, a field artillery battery, and a medical detachment from the 17th Airborne Division, combined with a battalion from the 541st PIR.
On 4 December, the 11th Airborne Division, with the 501st PIR attached, staged its parachute and glider units at Pope Army Airfield at Fort Bragg, Mackall Army Airfield at Camp Mackall, Lumberton Army Auxiliary Airfield, and Laurinburg–Maxton Army Airfield in North Carolina, and Florence Army Airfield in South Carolina. The 187th GIR and its direct-support 674th Glider Field Artillery Battalion (GFAB) (75mm pack howitzer) loaded their equipment aboard the gliders and awaited the mount-up order. Foul weather postponed the exercise for 24 hours. About midnight on 6 December, 200 C–47s towing 234 CG–4As (100 gliders were double-towed) began taking off from the airfields for the mass airborne assault. Numerous C–47s carried a full load of 18 combat-equipped paratroopers and towed either one or two gliders full of soldiers and equipment. As the C–47s gained altitude, they began forming into tight three-plane Vs, with three groups together forming a V-of-Vs formation, nine aircraft wide. The air armada flew east out over the Atlantic Ocean, turned north, and finally turned back west, heading back toward the drop and landing zones in and around Southern Pines and Pinehurst, North Carolina. The famed golf courses and open fields between 5 and 10 miles (8.0 and 16.1 km) west and north of the Knollwood Airfield were designated as the drop and landing zones. The assault began at 02:30 on 7 December with the gliders cutting loose from their C–47 tugs and the parachutes of the first chalks of paratroopers blossoming out the sides of the C–47s almost simultaneously. There were few difficulties. Once on the ground, the 11th Airborne Division assembled with speed, attacked the defenders, and seized its Knollwood Airfield objectives. The division then set up the airhead around the airfield and resupplied itself by air. In 39 hours, a total of 10,282 troops were delivered by parachute, glider, or airlanded. The tally of equipment and supplies was significant: 1,830 tons of equipment and supplies; 295 jeeps; and 48 1/4-ton trailers. Total maneuver casualties were two dead and 48 minor injuries. After three days, the 11th Airborne Division returned to Camp Mackall. Afterward, the entire exercise was reviewed from start to finish at Camp Mackall by commanders and the division staff. General Swing submitted his final report on the Knollwood Maneuver to General McNair and waited for a War Department decision. On 16 December, McNair's reply message read in part: "…The successful performance of your division has convinced me that we were wrong, and I shall now recommend that we continue our present schedule of activating, training and committing airborne divisions." The Knollwood Maneuver marked the end of the training period for the 187th.
Source citation: Flanagan (1997). The Rakkasans. pp. 10–12.
On 2 January 1944, the 11th Airborne Division began its move by train to Camp Polk, Louisiana. By 5 February, the 187th GIR was in the field near Hawthorne, Louisiana for two weeks of testing by Army Ground Force teams to determine the regiment's readiness for deployment to a combat zone. The exercises involved approach marches, attacks on an objective, perimeter defenses, and tactical withdrawals. In late February, the 187th returned to Camp Polk for re-equipment, physical examinations, inoculations for a variety of exotic diseases, and processing for overseas deployment. In the interim, General Swing established his first jump school at DeRidder Army Air Base. The 187th and the 674th GFAB provided volunteers who were less than enthused about further glider rides and were eager to collect the extra pay for the privilege of jumping out of airplanes (fifty dollars per month for enlisted men and one hundred dollars for officers). Thus began the first transformation of the 187th and 674th from purely glider outfits to airborne units. The tests at Camp Polk represented the graduation exercises for the 11th Airborne Division; the War Department had issued an alert for the division to be ready to leave Camp Polk and by 15 April, all units were restricted to the post, with commanders readying their units for overseas deployment.:12–13
On 20 April 1944, the 11th Airborne Division started by train to Camp Stoneman, California, where it would spend six days in final preparation for overseas movement. On 2 May, the first units marched out of Camp Stoneman to nearby Pittsburg and boarded boats for the trip to the San Francisco Port of Embarkation. The boats tied up at the Oakland Mole, near the merchant marine troopships on which the division was to sail, and the troops debarked, marched into a large wharfside shed, and mounted the gangplanks of the troopships for the next phase of their trip to war. They did not know specifically where they were headed, but since they were departing from San Francisco, they reasoned that their destination was the Pacific Theater. Only time would tell; the division staff, even if they knew, would not. After three days in hot, crowded conditions below deck, the division set sail on 6 May 1944.
After about three weeks at sea, what seemed like an eternity to the GIs jammed into the stuffy and airless triple- and quadruple-decked holds of the troopships, land was spotted. The ships sailed up the winding channel of Milne Bay, Australian Papua (modern-day Papua New Guinea), and the men got their first look at the lush, verdant jungles they would come to know and hate. After stopping to take on fresh water, the ships then moved up the east coast to Oro Bay and dropped anchor on 29 May. The troops unloaded into a fleet of DUKW "Duck" amphibious trucks that had pulled up alongside the ships. After a trip to the beach and a ride along dusty roads, the DUKWs halted at a clearing around an abandoned airstrip. The 11th Airborne Division had arrived at their new home for the next six months – the Dobodura Airfield Complex. The troops unloaded, formed up into company units, and marched with their overstuffed barracks bags in the heat and humidity to company areas that had been laid out for them. The 187th GIR's jungle phase of training and acclimation to the tropics was about to begin.
The 187th GIR spent its first month in New Guinea building its area of framed pyramidal tents, mess halls, showers and latrines, dayrooms, and chapels. One notable project was the huge, sloped thatch-roofed, 400-man division chapel built with native labor by hand and without nails, using local vegetation and lumber. Once the regiment was settled, training began again. General Swing's jump school reopened and a majority of the 187th's officers and men qualified as paratroopers. In August and September, the 11th Airborne Division operated a glider school with the USAAF 54th Troop Carrier Wing (TCW) (C–47) at Nadzab. From July to September, the division and the 54th TCW conducted combined airborne/troop carrier training for a different troop carrier squadron each week. In August and September, the 187th underwent amphibious training at Oro Bay with the 4th Engineer Special Brigade. The regiment underwent live-fire training exercises for combined-arms battalion combat teams at the abandoned airstrip at Soputa. The 674th GFAB practiced its artillery skills on the ranges at Embi Lake and Soputa. On 12 October, the 11th Airborne Division received orders for an administrative (not combat-loaded) move to Leyte in the Philippines to prepare for an operation on Luzon. A segment of the division staff flew ahead to Leyte to select and set up a campsite while the rest of the division prepared to move out. The 187th Regimental Headquarters Company and the 1st Battalion (1/187th) loaded aboard the USS Cambria (APA-36) in Oro Bay. The 2nd Battalion (2/187th) flew to Finschhafen and boarded the USS Calvert (APA-32). On 11 November, the Navy, with the 11th Airborne Division loaded on nine ships, pulled out of Oro Bay. For the unknowing men aboard the transports steaming toward Leyte, combat was just a few days away.
Source citation: Flanagan (1997). The Rakkasans. pp. 13–17.
- See also: Cannon, M. Hamlin (1993). Leyte: The Return to the Philippines (PDF).
On 18 November 1944, the 11th Airborne Division joined the Battle of Leyte by landing unopposed on Bito Beach, off Bito Lake, Leyte. The advance party from division headquarters had flown up from New Guinea to select an area for the division's encampment. Because the more desirable areas along the east coast had already been occupied, Bito Beach became the bivouac area for the division. The 187th GIR set up its first bivouac near the Filipino village of Abuyog. For its first few days on Leyte, the regiment cleared and policed the beach by moving landed supplies to rear-area dumps, built a base camp, and readied itself for its first taste of combat. It would not be long in coming. On 22 November, Lieutenant General Walter Krueger, the US Sixth Army commanding general, formally attached the 11th Airborne Division to Major General John R. Hodge's XXIV Corps, consisting of the 96th Infantry and 7th Infantry Divisions. General Hodge directed General Swing to relieve the 7th Infantry Division along the Burauen-La Paz-Bugho line and destroy all Japanese forces in that area, protect and secure all corps and air corps installations in his area of operations (AO), protect the Leyte Gulf supply bases and shipping, and coordinate operations with the 96th Infantry Division on his northern flank, running generally on an east-west line through Dagami. Swing knew that the fighting strength of his division consisted of seven small infantry battalions supported by three field artillery battalions with twenty-four 75mm pack howitzers and twelve sawed-off 105mm howitzers. But he put his division in motion piecemeal as the situation demanded. Overnight, the division went from a theater reserve role to direct combat.:17–24
Combat on Leyte
By the time the 11th Airborne Division entered the fight, Major General Franklin C. Sibert's X Corps, consisting of the 1st Cavalry and 24th Infantry Divisions, was attacking southward from the Pinamopoan-Carigara area; General Hodge's 96th and 7th Infantry Divisions were in scattered contact with the Japanese in the Dagami-Burauen foothills. When the 11th Airborne Division relieved the 7th Infantry Division in the Burauen area, the 7th Infantry Division moved south, crossed the mountains via the Abuyog-Baybay Road, and after reaching the west coast, attacked northward, compressing the Japanese between its forces and those of General Sibert's X Corps attacking southward. The 11th Airborne Division was tasked with attacking across the center of the mountains from Burauen to Albuera on the west coast.
At 07:00 on 21 November, the 511th PIR, the first 11th Airborne Division unit committed to combat, departed Bito Beach by amphibious transport and moved to Dulag, where it loaded into motor transport for its move to Burauen. The 511th's mission was to move westward across the mountains and link up with the 7th Infantry Division on the west coast. A few days later, the 188th GIR moved north from Bito Beach to protect the 511th's southern flank as it moved westward. Initially, the 187th GIR remained at Bito Beach, with Colonel Hildebrand in command of all remaining 11th Airborne Division forces. On 24 November, General Swing moved his division command post (CP) to San Pablo, a barrio outside Burauen, and occupied the former 7th Infantry Division CP. Swing moved the 75mm pack howitzers of the 674th and 675th GFABs from Bito Beach to protect the Fifth Air Force headquarters near Burauen; the glider field artillerymen, armed mainly with folding-stock M1 carbines, became infantrymen overnight. To protect Bito Beach and to provide additional protection for the 511th's pending westward move, Colonel Hildebrand sent 1/187th to the vicinity of Balinsasayao along the Abuyog-Baybay road. From that base, 1/187th sent out patrols to the west and south. Contact patrols continually worked through the Baybay Pass to keep abreast of the 7th Infantry Division advance, and some of these witnessed their first banzai charge, which the 7th Infantry Division always stopped, sometimes with canister shot fired from 37mm antitank guns. Meanwhile, 2/187th patrols from Bito Beach had no contact with the Japanese. But, for the 187th, these easy days along the Baybay Pass and on the beach would soon be over. Surprisingly, the 187th would have its counterpart, the Japanese Army airborne forces, to thank for its initial entry into combat.
On 27 November, the 511th PIR started its move into the hills to the west of Burauen. To replace 2/511th, 2/187th moved from Bito Beach through Dulag into defensive positions west of Burauen; they did not stay there long. On 2 December, 2/187th was ordered into the hills to follow the 511th. Also on 2 December, 1/187th was brought up from the Balinsasayao area to replace 2/187th at Burauen. The next morning, First Lieutenant Charles Olsen, C/187th's commanding officer, met with Lieutenant Colonel George O. Pearson, 1/187th's commanding officer, and General Swing at the division CP in San Pablo. Swing ordered C/187th sent into the hills behind 2/187th, which had already departed. He also asked for a platoon from C/187th to be detached for a combat parachute jump into Manarawat, a deserted barrio in the central highlands, halfway between Burauen and Albuera. Manarawat was nothing more than a clearing in the jungle, rising about 150 feet (46 m) above a streambed, surrounded on three sides by sheer, brush-covered cliffs and on the fourth by a more gradual slope. The clearing was about 600 feet (180 m) long and 200 feet (61 m) wide. Jungle-covered mountains rose across the streambed.
1/511th, less C/511th, was currently at Manarawat, which was becoming the hub for the 11th Airborne Division's operations along the mountain trails to the west. C/511th was in trouble. A treacherous Filipino guide had led the company and the 511th's regimental headquarters group into a Japanese ambush near Lubi on the north trail toward Manarawat. They were surrounded and their ammunition and rations were running low. After rejecting a Japanese offer to surrender, Colonel Orin D. Haugen, the 511th's commanding officer, and two men managed to crawl through the Japanese encirclement in the darkness and head back to the division CP at San Pablo, arriving two days later. When General Swing became aware of the situation, he ordered 1/511th to depart Manarawat and rescue C/511th and the regimental headquarters party. Fortunately, Colonel Haugen had already sent an eight-man patrol to Manarawat to guide 1/511th back to the ambush site. After Swing explained this situation to them, Lieutenant Colonel Pearson and Lieutenant Olsen of 1/187th did not question the jump order. They did not mention that 1/187th was a glider-borne unit, nor ask where the aircraft, parachutes, and drop containers were coming from. They simply said, "Yes, sir," saluted, and left. For the 187th GIR, the Leyte campaign was heating up.
First Lieutenant Chester J. Kozlowski and his 1st Platoon, C/187th, made the first unit combat jump of the 11th Airborne Division – one jumper at a time from L–4 and L–5 artillery light observation aircraft – into Manarawat.
Source citation: Flanagan (1997). The Rakkasans. pp. 24–30.
Battle for the Airfields
Information from captured documents and prisoner interrogations indicated that the Japanese were planning a coordinated ground and airborne attack to seize the airfields in the Burauen area.[Note 1] On the evening of 4 December, General Swing was alerted to the possibility of the Japanese airborne assault. The only combat unit immediately available at either Bito Beach or Burauen was Lieutenant Colonel Pearson's 1/187th, the division reserve.
Two days earlier, remnants of the Japanese 16th Division, about 500 men out of the original 8,800, had assembled in the foothills southwest of Dagami and prepared to join Japanese paratroopers in a combined assault on the Buri airstrip on 5 December. Because of radio difficulties, they were unaware that the parachute drop had been postponed until the night of 6 December because of forecast bad weather, and following the original orders, moved out of the hills in the early morning hours of 6 December. At 06:00, approximately 150 Japanese crossed the main Dagami-Burauen road and moved into a swamp near the airstrip. The US 287th Field Artillery Observation Battalion, whose mission was to locate Japanese field artillery by the flash and sound of their guns and to survey and make maps to mark the Japanese artillery coordinates, was located northwest of Burauen and saw the Japanese crossing the road south of their position and heading east toward the airstrip. The battalion CP immediately relayed this information to XXIV Corps headquarters.
American forces at the Buri airstrip consisted of 47 men of the 287th Field Artillery Observation Battalion and 157 miscellaneous troops from various service units attached to the USAAF V Bomber Command. At 06:30, the Japanese launched their attack – over 14 hours before the paratroopers were scheduled to land. The Japanese broke into the American bivouac area where most of the men were still asleep in their tents, bayoneting some of the sleeping men before they could get to their weapons. Some of the Americans, shoeless and clad only in shorts and undershirts, managed to grab weapons and hold off the Japanese until they could evacuate the area. Meanwhile, the Japanese entrenched in the woods to the north of the airstrip.
General Hodge had the 1st Battalion, 382nd Infantry Regiment (1/382nd), turned over to General Swing's operational control and moved southward down the Dagami-Burauen road; a reinforced 1/382nd company was already in the area and the rest of the battalion made ready to follow. Swing directed Lieutenant Colonel Pearson to fly a 1/187th rifle platoon from the San Pablo airstrip to the Buri airstrip in the artillery liaison aircraft, with the rest of his battalion to follow on foot. The L–4s made three round trips to ferry the rifle platoon to the airstrip, where they were met by a "very excited" group of disorganized service and air corps troops. Pearson arrived with the rest of his battalion at the Buri airstrip around 09:00. He left a rifle squad at the airstrip for security and directed the platoon that had flown into the airstrip to sweep the area west of the main road. Soon, Pearson could hear small-arms fire from the direction in which he had sent the patrols. In about half an hour, the patrols returned and reported that 26 Japanese had been killed. Pearson was convinced that the Japanese attack on the airstrip was more than a small combat patrol and that a larger number of Japanese remained in the area. Even with his entire battalion available, Pearson could only muster 180 men to defeat the remnants of the Japanese 16th Division. He prepared to attack.
1/187th formed into a line of skirmishers and advanced to the northeast. Not five minutes after they entered the dense jungle, they flushed their quarry and a series of close-quarter firefights erupted. For two hours, 1/187th continued to fight its way through the steaming jungle to the north of the Buri airstrip, attacking the Japanese in their defensive positions, often in hand-to-hand combat or at close range where hand grenades and bayonets were the weapons of choice. Finally, Lieutenant Colonel Pearson called a halt to check the status of his battalion. His company commanders reported 85 Japanese killed while suffering only two of their own wounded. This battle was 1/187th's first combat mission.
Source citation: Flanagan (1997). The Rakkasans. pp. 30–36.
Clearing the Airfields
General Swing flew from San Pablo to the Buri airstrip. Swing sent a messenger to Lieutenant Colonel Pearson directing him to take up positions along the Dagami-Burauen road, keep it open, and to "look to his west, from which he would soon expect a lot of trouble." Pearson deployed 1/187th (less C/187th at Manarawat) along the road and established his CP on a nearby bluff near the northern edge of the airstrip. Pearson had a problem – he had moved to the Buri airstrip under the assumption that his mission would last only a few hours and required speed in getting there; he had left the battalion's heavy equipment, packs, and mess equipment at San Pablo. Thus, 1/187th's mortar platoon had no mortars. The mortar platoon commander took his men down the road to a weapons depot and borrowed two mortars and ammunition; it would turn out to be a fortuitous move. At 15:00, Pearson sent a patrol to contact the 382nd Infantry battalion to the north of Buri. An hour later, a great deal of Japanese activity was observed on a hill to the west. Pearson called for and received artillery support. Unfortunately, the artillery fire was soon lifted because it was landing on the boundary between divisions and there was a probability that the target area was occupied by troops of the 96th Infantry Division. Japanese snipers harassed 1/187th along the Buri-Burauen road all afternoon. By 18:00, 1/187th had driven most of the Japanese back from the Buri airstrip, although a few pockets of resistance remained around its edges. Soon it was dusk and all was quiet. There were no rations and no idea when they would be brought up. 1/187th settled in for the night; its false sense of security and tranquility would soon be shattered.
The evening of 6 December erupted into bedlam when Japanese bombers began dropping incendiary bombs on the Bayug airstrip. At the same time at San Pablo, 11th Airborne Division staff members were sitting down to dinner when they heard the drone of aircraft overhead. They looked outside and saw a number of transport aircraft – C–47s, they thought – slowly flying at an altitude of only 700 feet (210 m), almost directly overhead. What the officers were witnessing was the beginning of the Japanese First Airborne Brigade's two-regiment assault to recapture the Burauen area airfields. The Japanese transports and their fighter escorts were scheduled to be over the airfields at 18:40. Fighters and medium bombers were to strafe and neutralize the defenses around the Buri, San Pablo, and Bayug airstrips. At the same time, light bombers were to hit the antiaircraft artillery positions between San Pablo and Dulag. Each transport carried 15 to 20 paratroopers. Just before dark, on schedule, the Japanese transports, fighters, and bombers arrived over the Burauen airfields. Several incendiary bombs fell on the San Pablo airstrip, setting a gasoline dump and a liaison aircraft on fire. Japanese fighters raced up and down the airstrips with machine guns blazing. US antiaircraft fire knocked down 18 Japanese aircraft.
Japanese paratroopers began descending from the transports. Between 250 and 300 paratroopers landed on or near the San Pablo airstrip. Once on the ground, the Japanese used a system of bells, whistles, and horns to assemble their units. They talked in loud tones and allegedly called out in English, "Hello, where are your machine guns?" Most of the Japanese assembled on the north side of the airstrip. They burned three or four more liaison aircraft, a jeep, several tents, and another gasoline dump. During the night of 6–7 December, a platoon of combat engineers from the 127th Airborne Engineer Battalion (AEB), armed with three machine guns, dug in on the southwest corner of the airstrip. Three times during the night, the Japanese charged the engineers' position; three times the Japanese were thrown back with heavy losses. The Japanese who landed west of the airstrip were between San Pablo and Bayug. They spread out with some moving down the sides of the San Pablo airstrip and others moving off to the west toward the Bayug airstrip, where they set fire to several liaison aircraft. The Japanese then moved into the Bayug bivouac area and destroyed the camp. Seventy-five American officers and men were at the Bayug airstrip; most of them dug in and defended the south side of the airstrip until the morning of 7 December. At dawn, after most of the Japanese paratroopers had assembled on the San Pablo runway, they moved north and west to the northern edge of the Buri airstrip and joined elements of the Japanese 16th Division.
It became clear to General Swing when he returned to San Pablo overnight that the Japanese airborne assault and air attacks were something more than a reconnaissance-in-force. But, his seven small infantry battalions were all committed either in the hills beyond Burauen or deployed near the Buri airstrip. Accordingly, he diverted other troops from their primary missions to acting infantry. Lieutenant Colonel Lucas E. Hoska, the 674th GFAB's commanding officer, whose battalion was at the mouth of the Bito River, north of Abuyog, was directed to leave his pack howitzers and move his battalion as rapidly as possible to San Pablo. Swing charged the 152nd Airborne Anti-Aircraft Battalion (AAAB) to use what men it had left to defend the division CP. He directed the 127th AEB to defend the airstrip.
At daylight on 7 December, a diverse group of soldiers from the 127th AEB and other division service units prepared to attack across the San Pablo airstrip to clear the Japanese and relieve some beleaguered division troops, including some of the 127th's own. Just as they were about to launch their frontal attack, the carbine-wielding artillerymen from the 674th GFAB arrived in DUKWs, dismounted, and swung into line on the right wing of the 127th AEB's composite unit. The two battalions then prepared to move out as a provisional infantry regiment under the command of Lieutenant Colonel Douglas C. Davis, the 127th's commanding officer. Just then, General Swing arrived. The similarity between the battle at the San Pablo airstrip and most Civil War battles became apparent with the engineers on the left, the artillerymen on the right, and both battalions drawn up in a line across the southern edge of the airstrip. In the center, between the two outfits, was the General, shouting as he directed Lieutenant Colonels Davis and Hoska in the attack. They in turn bellowed at their units, and the line stepped off. The Japanese were holed up all around the airstrip. Initially, the strongest resistance was met in front of the engineers to the west. By maneuvering his companies, Davis succeeded in pushing across to the north of the airstrip. That evening, the composite force set up in a tight defensive perimeter in that area where it remained for the next few days in defense of the San Pablo airstrip.
Meanwhile, 60 Japanese paratroopers had jumped onto the Buri airstrip. By the middle of the morning of 7 December, the Japanese had completely occupied the undefended airstrip. On the night of 6–7 December, the USAAF service personnel had abruptly fled the airstrip, leaving behind their weapons; the Japanese made "best use" of them. Late on the night of 6 December, General Swing had sent word to Lieutenant Colonel Pearson that he wanted 1/187th to clear the Buri airstrip as soon as possible. During the morning of 7 December, 1/187th was deployed along the Buri-Burauen road, taking machine-gun fire from the Japanese west of the road. Pearson directed elements of his battalion to hold this force in place while he organized his attack on the Buri airstrip to the east. At about 09:30, 1/382nd arrived from the north. At 09:45, both battalions advanced toward the Buri airstrip. Twice, 1/187th fought its way onto the northwest corner of the airstrip; twice, it was blasted off by heavy Japanese fire. 1/382nd also advanced aggressively but faltered when one of its company commanders was hit. Pearson decided to withdraw both battalions to the north and consider another way to attack the airstrip. He made a personal reconnaissance around the west end of the airstrip and decided to move a couple rifle platoons to the south side of the airstrip. In this position, machine guns and mortars could bring in supporting fire. 1/187th moved out at 14:00 to the west as planned, but ran into Japanese booby traps. Pearson directed the battalion's lead elements to turn southward while the machine guns were set up close to the edge of the landing strip. In less than a minute, their crews had the machine guns firing at a group of Japanese hurrying across the airstrip. In about 15 minutes, the machine-gun crews ran out of ammunition. Two men crawled to the rear to get more ammunition and returned with orders to withdraw. 1/187th and 1/382nd regrouped at the west of the airstrip. A/187th and B/187th attacked abreast to the northeast and A/382nd attacked due east. The three rifle companies ran into heavy Japanese fire but continued their advance. By 16:00, the "dog-tired" Americans were holding the southwest corner of the airstrip with their ammunition running low.
XXIV Corps headquarters had released the 1st and 2nd Battalions of the 149th Infantry Regiment (1/149th and 2/149th) to General Swing's operational control for employment against the Japanese in the Burauen area. The two infantry battalions had been alerted at 02:00 on 7 December for movement to San Pablo. 1/149th arrived at the San Pablo airstrip at 14:00 and was directed to attack and secure the Buri airstrip. A/149th and C/149th deployed abreast on a frontage of 200 yards (180 m) for each company. A heavy machine gun section was attached to each company and a D/149th mortar platoon was to support the attack from positions on the San Pablo airstrip. Moving out at 14:30, the infantrymen covered the first 400 yards (370 m) without incident but were stopped by a rain-swollen swamp. Attempts to bypass the swamp were fruitless and they were forced to wade through the sometimes shoulder-high water. The 149th Infantry companies lost contact with each other during the crossing. A/149th arrived at the Buri airstrip and made contact with 1/187th about 16:30. C/149th, delayed by a skirmish with the Japanese, did not arrive until about 18:00. Because of the lateness of the hour and the fact that observation had shown there were "many more Japanese" on the north of the airstrip than had been estimated, it was decided to establish defensive perimeters for the night. At 20:00, the sector was reported quiet.
With the arrival of the 149th and 382nd Infantry battalions in his area, Lieutenant Colonel Pearson felt that he could now attack and secure the length of the Buri airstrip. But that was not yet to be. Late in the afternoon of 7 December, General Swing sent word to Pearson to move 1/187th from the Buri airstrip area to defend the Fifth Air Force headquarters at Burauen along the Burauen-Dulag road. It was the target for the Japanese 26th Division descending out of the hills to the west of Burauen. By midnight, 1/187th was at the Fifth Air Force headquarters area. 1/187th then moved into the defensive positions previously occupied by 2/187th, about 800 yards (730 m) west of Burauen on a rise in the foothills of the mountains. From the heights, they could see the battle for control of the Buri airstrip. They were also in a position to block the Japanese from attacking eastward toward Burauen.
On 10 December, after a half-hour artillery concentration, 1/149th attacked north across the Buri airstrip. In their advance, 1/149th cleared the airstrip area of individual Japanese paratroopers and destroyed the remaining pockets of resistance. 1/149th went into a perimeter defense at 17:00. The Buri airstrip was finally clear.
At 19:30, a battalion-sized force from the Japanese 26th Division launched an attack out of the hills to the west of Burauen against the various US installations in and around Burauen. The Japanese were four days late in arriving at their line of departure for the planned combined assault on the Burauen airfields, primarily because they were trying to move eastward along the same mountain trails that the 511th PIR was using to move westward. Only a little more than a battalion of the Japanese division, which was to have assisted the Japanese 16th Division, managed to arrive in a very disorganized condition. The Japanese began firing at the Fifth Air Force administration buildings. The Fifth Air Force personnel were pushed back until they reached the hospital. First Lieutenant John G. Hurster, the 1/187th's mess officer, had set up his field kitchen near the hospital from where he could carry hot meals to the troops dug in the foothills to the west. The hospital's commanding officer, concerned about the safety of his staff and patients, had earlier asked Hurster to set up a perimeter around the hospital. Hurster had complied, using cooks, supply troops, and drivers to man the perimeter. During the Japanese attack, Hurster and his assortment of converted infantrymen held their position. On the morning of 11 December, they found 19 dead Japanese. That same morning, 1/187th patrols were sent out into the foothills and killed an additional 17 Japanese. This small battle marked the end of the attack by the remnants of the Japanese 26th Division and was the last major effort by the Japanese to regain control of the Burauen airfields.
The 11th Airborne Division and the 187th GIR had their baptism of fire. The 187th had landed on Leyte not expecting to be committed to combat. Under those circumstances, coupled with the surprise Japanese assault on thinly defended installations, the 187th, committed to combat unexpectedly and in haste, performed superbly. Further tests of their fighting skill were in the immediate offing.
Source citation: Flanagan (1997). The Rakkasans. pp. 36–49.
Clearing the Mountains
While the battle for the Burauen airstrips was underway, the 511th PIR was making its way over the mountains, looking for the Japanese main supply route (MSR), with 2/187th following up behind. The mission of the 11th Airborne Division was now to fight its way over the mountains to the west coast and link up with the Sixth Army, which was fighting its way up the west coast, north of Albuera. Late on the afternoon of 3 December, 2/187th reached Anonang, which was nothing more than a jungle clearing with an abandoned shack. Captain George Ori's F/187th was sent to occupy an observation post (OP) on a hill to the northwest of the Anonang perimeter. Once there, Ori discovered that the OP commanded a view of a strong Japanese position on a plateau beneath it. That night, the Japanese hit Ori's position. Ori called in mortar fire from Anonang that drove off the Japanese. The next day, Ori sent a platoon down from the OP to probe the Japanese position. The Japanese opened up with machine guns, wounding the platoon leader and two of his men. Ori ordered a withdrawal. F/187th had run up against a Japanese force on a hill that, sometime later, would become known as "Purple Heart Hill."
The 11th Airborne Division's G-2 (Intelligence) had determined the locations of the main Japanese forces remaining within the division's AO. One force that F/187th had just found was at Anonang; the other was west of Mahonag; more Japanese were infiltrating westward after they failed to seize the Burauen airfields. From 4 December until 11 December, 2/187th had several encounters with the Japanese around Anonang while the 511th PIR was continuing to fight its way westward toward Mahonag. On 11 December, Brigadier General Albert Pierson, the assistant division commanding general, arrived at Anonang. After reviewing the situation, General Pierson ordered an attack on the Japanese position below Ori Hill, the hill from which Captain Ori and F/187th had occupied earlier. On 12 December, F/187th and G/187th launched the attack with G/187th moving to strike the Japanese from the north and F/187th moving to hit from the southwest – a small pincer movement. A Battery, 457th PFAB, the unit that had parachuted into Manarawat, provided artillery support. By 13:00, F/187th had cleared Ori Hill and was working down the slope toward the main Japanese position. Presently, F/187th became impeded by friendly artillery rounds that were bursting in the trees above and behind it. The artillery's forward observers with the rifle companies could hardly find their spotting rounds through the thick jungle overhang that limited visibility to a few yards. They had reverted to adjustment by sound – which proved not entirely accurate. The attack was called off.
Late on the afternoon of 13 December, 1/187th arrived at Anonang with orders to relieve 2/187th. On 14 December, 2/187th was directed to move west to Mahonag to protect the DZ vacated by the 511th PIR. The Mahonag DZ was nothing more than a field on a hillside, about 300 yards (270 m) long by 200 yards (180 m) wide, studded with stumps and fallen trees, and packed with hundreds of slit trenches deep enough for a soldier to stand in. The DZ was littered with boxes, cans, and debris from spent airdropped ration packs. The air was filled with the odor of unburied, decomposing Japanese bodies and a large, prosperous swarm of flies. The real estate blossomed with green, yellow, and white cargo parachutes that the men of 2/187th set up as tents for shelter. For the next few days, 2/187th dug a perimeter, incorporating some of the foxholes left by the 511th.
In the middle of December, General Swing relocated his infantry battalions. The 188th GIR moved to a location near Manarawat. Colonel Hildebrand and several members of the 187th GIR headquarters staff moved to Anonang by way of Manarawat to take over command of operations in the central mountains from Anonang to Mahonag. On 20 December, F/188th relieved 2/187th of its DZ security mission at Mahonag. On 21 December, General Swing flew into Manarawat and hiked up to Mahonag, arriving late in the afternoon. At 04:00 on 23 December, Swing and 2/187th, with First Lieutenant Joseph B. Giordano's 2nd Platoon, G/187th, leading off, departed Mahonag for a two-hour march westward to make contact with the 511th PIR on Rock Hill, near Anas, and aid in the breakthrough to the west coast. Swing wanted to personally direct the breakthrough and the 511th was pushing forward along the Japanese MSR that ran along a ridge in the direction of Ormoc. At about 06:00, the column reached the approach to Rock Hill. At the same time, the 511th on Rock Hill launched its attack on a Japanese-occupied ridge to clear the last known Japanese position blocking the advance. The 511th attack cracked the Japanese defenses with demolition charges, flamethrowers, bazookas, and hand grenades. By 08:30, the ridge was firmly in the 511th's possession. Word came down for 2/187th to move forward and pass through the 511th. At noon, 2/187th with Giordano's platoon on the point passed through the 511th and took over the lead in the march to the west. After putting a Japanese machine gun position out of action and clearing out several weak Japanese pockets of resistance, Giordano and his platoon reached a point high on the western slope of a mountain from where they could see Leyte's west coast. The battalion halted and popped a purple smoke grenade, the signal for friendly forces intended to attract elements of the 77th Infantry Division that might be in the vicinity. On a ridgeline to the west, purple smoke was observed. 2/187th had made visual contact with US forces on the west coast. However, the appearance of the rugged terrain between the two US forces promised that more fighting would take place before physical contact was made.
The column pushed on, continuing to follow the Japanese MSR, and soon reached the approaches to a "dangerous-looking position to the front." Giordano stopped the column, put out security, and sent out a patrol to reconnoiter the position. As the column closed up, all the command hierarchy came forward to learn the reason for the halt. The patrol soon returned and reported that the ridgeline to the front was honeycombed with caves and deeply dug-in foxholes, that it appeared to have been heavily shelled and recently abandoned, and that the area was littered with dead Japanese. Giordano led his platoon to the top of the ridge and found the position well laid out, camouflaged, and dug into almost solid rock. The number of Japanese dead served as mute evidence of heavy fighting. Among the dead were two American soldiers who appeared to have been killed less than 24 hours before. When he reached the west end of the ridge, Giordano could see Ormoc and the seacoast. To his front, about 200 yards (180 m) away, he saw more dug-in emplacements that were soon alive with members of the 32nd Infantry Regiment. They were amazed to see Americans coming through the same Japanese positions that had given them so much trouble earlier. "We expected you," said one of the 32nd's infantrymen. "We saw the purple smoke, but we didn't think that you were coming over that hill. Last night, it was solid with Japanese. We lost two of our boys on it." Thus, physical contact was made with the Ormoc Corridor, the road was opened between Burauen and Anas, and the area west of Mahonag was cleared. That night, 2/187th spread out beside the Talisayan River headwaters near Albuera.
General Swing ordered the 511th PIR to secure the route from Mahonag to the coast. By Christmas Day, the 511th had cleared the mountains and was ordered back to its base camp at Bito Beach. From its base at the head of the Talisayan River, 2/187th was ordered to secure the western end of the Japanese MSR. The Japanese pocket at Anonang had still not been wiped out. The 511th and 2/187th had both butted up against this formidable Japanese position. Early on in his mountain clearing campaign, Swing realized that the Japanese position at Anonang was substantial and that it would take a well-coordinated multi-battalion effort to knock it out. He decided not to attack it in strength while the major portion of his infantry assets was fighting across the mountains to the west, which was his major mission ordered by General Krueger at Sixth Army headquarters. Now that he had linked up with the 77th Infantry Division, he felt that he could deal with the final Japanese redoubt in his AO.
The Japanese defenses at Anonang were on two parallel ridges. On the first ridge, the Japanese had dug spider holes, each between 8 and 10 feet (2.4 and 3.0 m) deep, for individual riflemen. They had also dug in machine guns with overhead cover and interlocking fields of fire on both ridges. All slope faces were studded with caves that overlooked and controlled the narrow trails. In the rear of the defensive position was a bivouac area, cached with ammunition, rations, and other supplies, large enough to accommodate a regiment. The position was a concentration point for the Japanese troops in the area and it was estimated that at least 1,000 Japanese were dug in along the ridges and gorges. The second ridge, where the Japanese had concentrated the bulk of their defenses and their manpower, would become known among the 11th Airborne troops as Purple Heart Hill.
On 18 December, C/187th moved from Manarawat and rejoined 1/187th at Anonang. 2/188th had been probing the Japanese-held ridges for three days, searching for an undefended or weakly held approach into the position – there were none. In the meantime, 1/187th had pulled back from Anonang and circled the Japanese stronghold in a wide arc, moving to the north, above the Japanese defenses. To the west of 1/187th was the Division Reconnaissance (Recon) Platoon that had traveled along the slopes of Mount Lobi to determine how far to the north that the Japanese stronghold extended; the Recon Platoon found instead that the position extended westward. Consequently, the Recon Platoon dug in on the northwest corner of the Japanese defensive network. Colonel Robert H. Soule, the 188th's commanding officer, was in overall command of the assault on Purple Heart Hill. he planned his attack for the morning of 26 December. For the assault, he had 2/188th, 1/187th, and the Recon Platoon under his command. First, he moved F/188th from Mahonag down the trail to the east to set up an ambush. He used the rest of 2/188th, located on a hill position southwest and across a gorge from the objective, first as a ploy, and then as part of the attack. Soule directed 2/188th to move southwest, away from the Japanese hill, leading the Japanese to believe that, like the four other infantry battalions that had moved out of the area, 2/188th was also moving out. Instead, 2/188th moved into a narrow, steep-sided riverbed that hid it from view, then doubled back and climbed a rock gully onto the southern slope of Purple Heart Hill. Then 2/188th turned left and moved up on the Japanese flank. As soon as they were within range and sight, the Japanese took them under heavy fire from deep entrenchments.
The Japanese on Purple Heart Hill were so well entrenched and so numerous that Colonel Soule decided to blast them with as much artillery fire as he could muster before ordering any ground attacks. During most of the night of 26 December, artillery from Manarawat and Burauen, and 2/188th's mortars pounded the Japanese. Finally, after strong artillery preparation, 2/188th stormed Purple Heart Hill on the morning of 27 December and, after intense, close-in firefights and hand-to-hand combat, struggled to the top of the hill and held it. The entire battalion closed in at dusk but had no time to dig in; they just moved into the old foxholes and revetments from which they had blasted the Japanese. Those Japanese that had not been killed in the assault scattered to the north and west. Those moving northward ran into 1/187th, which was attacking southward along the gorge and up the other ridge. The Japanese fleeing westward ran into the Recon Platoon and the F/188th ambush along the Japanese MSR. The battle for Purple Heart Hill was over after almost five weeks of containment followed by the final attack. A search of the area found 238 dead Japanese. How many were buried in the subterranean galleries was unknown. It was also discovered that the elusive Japanese MSR, which wound from Ormoc Bay, ended at Anonang. Division intelligence reasoned that, because of its extensive defenses, the fact that Purple Heart Hill was the MSR's eastern terminal, Anonang was probably the Japanese 26th Division's CP.
After the success at Purple Heart Hill and the juncture of the 511th PIR and 1/187th with the other US forces on the west coast, the main battles of the 11th Airborne Division on Leyte were finished. Most of the division withdrew to the Bito Beach base camp. The 674th and 675th GFABs, still bereft of their artillery pieces and acting as infantry, remained in the hills outside Burauen, scouting and patrolling the eastern approaches to the Leyte hills. By 15 January 1945, all division units had returned to Bito Beach. On 21 January, after a division parade and awards ceremony, reviewed by Lieutenant General Robert L. Eichelberger, commanding general of the newly formed US Eighth Army, General Eichelberger told General Swing that he was "elated" that General of the Army Douglas MacArthur, Supreme Commander of Allied Forces in the Southwest Pacific Area, had given him the "go-ahead" to invade Luzon with the 11th Airborne Division. He also assigned Swing a top priority: get to Manila, the major prize of the Pacific War to date, ahead of his competition, General Krueger's Sixth Army.
The Battle of Leyte was over. The Americans had established a base of operations from which USAAF bombers could strike Luzon, the heart of the Philippine archipelago. Ahead was more intense fighting for the Allies. In the tents on Bito Beach, in the mess lines, and wherever the GIs gathered, the main topic of conversation centered on the location of their next fight. They knew that the Sixth Army had invaded northern Luzon at Lingayen Gulf on 9 January. They had heard rumors that the 11th Airborne Division's paratroopers had been alerted for a jump ahead of the Sixth Army at Nichols Field outside Manila. But toward the end of the month, unit commanders received a supply of handbooks describing the terrain and geography of southern Luzon. Division staff studied the area from Nasugbu east to Batangas City and north to Manila. Rumor became reality when the division received orders for an operation in southern Luzon.
Source citation: Flanagan (1997). The Rakkasans. pp. 49–65.
General Krueger's Sixth Army invaded Luzon at 09:30 on 9 January 1945 with two field corps, comprising a force of some 68,000 men. The Japanese defenders numbered about 275,000. To defend the largest island in the Philippines, most of the Japanese troops withdrew from the coastal regions and prepared for a long delaying action in the island's interior. Their objective was to hold Luzon as long as possible to prevent the Allies from using it as a base of operations against the Japanese homeland. The main Japanese force of about 152,000 was deployed in several mountain strongholds in the north; another 50,000 defended southern Luzon and the hills east of Manila; the third force of 30,000 was stationed west of the Luzon Plain in the hills dominating the huge Clark Field complex.
Back on Bito Beach, Leyte, the 11th Airborne Division received an Eighth Army order on 22 January to prepare for a two-pronged operation on Luzon. An amphibious RCT would land in the Nasugbu area on Luzon's southwest corner, seize, and defend the beachhead; an airborne RCT would move by air from Mindoro bases, land by parachute on Tagaytay Ridge, about 20 miles (32 km) to the east of the Nasugbu landing zone, and effect a juncture with the RCT moving inland from Nasugbu. The 11th Airborne Division, reinforced after assembling on Tagaytay Ridge, would prepare for further action to the north and east as directed by the Eighth Army.[Note 2]
On 24 January, General Swing issued the order for Operation Mike VI that outlined in detail the division's operation plan (OPLAN) for executing the Eighth Army order. The 188th Glider Infantry RCT (188th RCT) would lead the amphibious assault at Nasugbu, followed by the 187th Glider Infantry RCT (187th RCT) with the mission of protecting the southern flank and blocking the approaches from the Balayan Bay-Calatagan Peninsula area. The 511th Parachute Infantry RCT (511th RCT), with the 457th PFAB attached, would drop onto Tagaytay Ridge when Swing could assure General Eichelberger, the Eighth Army's commanding general, that the amphibious force could link up with the airborne force within 24 hours. The Seventh Fleet would shell the beaches for one hour before the landing and the Thirteenth and Fifteenth Air Forces would provide assault and close air support. The Eighth Army designated D-day as 31 January. The order also scheduled an amphibious dry run for the 187th and 188th glider infantry units that were more prepared to enter combat by landing in a field than they were in wading ashore from a Navy landing craft. On 26 January, as directed, the first three waves loaded, pushed out into Leyte Bay, and then came churning back to "assault" Bito Beach. Swing deemed the dry run a success and ordered the division's amphibious elements to embark aboard their ships for the cruise to Nasugbu. The 187th GIR, glider and parachute trained, was now going to emulate the Marines – storm across the beaches from the sea.
The catch to the loading out of the division's amphibious elements was what ships the Navy would send, and this was not definite until the ships arrived at approximately 20:00 on 25 January. Most of the supply ships were completely loaded within 24 hours, except for the great bulk of engineer supplies, ammunition, and gasoline. The landing craft for the troops arrived at 07:00 on 27 January, and soon thereafter, the troops went aboard. The assault convoy of over 100 ships and landing craft of all types weighed anchor and steamed out to sea from Leyte that afternoon. An additional eight landing craft carried the 511th RCT to Mindoro.
Many 11th Airborne Division units went through staff and command changes. In the 187th GIR, Lieutenant Colonel George O. Pearson, 1/187th's commanding officer, took over as the 187th's executive officer; Lieutenant Colonel Arthur H. Wilson, 2/187th's commanding officer, replaced Pearson as 1/187th's commanding officer; and Lieutenant Colonel Norman D. Tipton returned from the 511th PIR to take over his old 2/187th.
Source citation: Flanagan (1997). The Rakkasans. pp. 65–68.
At dawn on 31 January 1945, the convoy arrived off Nasugbu in clear skies and calm seas. On their landing craft, the men of the 187th and 188th RCTs could see the white landing beaches, the town of Nasugbu, and the green mountains of southern Luzon beyond. The Wednesday morning quietude was broken at 07:00 when USAAF A–20s and P–38s appeared overhead, dropped down on the deck, and strafed the beaches. At 07:15, the Navy began shelling and rocketing the designated landing area. An hour later, the shelling stopped and the beachmaster landing party headed for shore. At 08:22, Generals Eichelberger and Swing received word aboard the Navy task force command ship USCGC Spencer (WPG-36) that the landing was unopposed. At 08:25, the first wave of eight landing craft motored ashore, ran up on the beach, dropped their ramps, and the 188th RCT's glider riders turned amphibians waded ashore. The first assault troops, a reconnaissance-in-force from Lieutenant Colonel Ernest H. LaFlamme's 1/188th, headed for their first objective, the town of Nasugbu 1,500 yards (1,400 m) away. Some Japanese, from positions on hills to the north and on the south flank of the beachhead, fired rifles and machine guns sporadically and dropped a few mortar rounds along the beach until LaFlamme sent off patrols to silence the opposition. General Swing and the 11th Airborne Division staff transferred to landing craft and reached the beach just behind the 188th's second wave. By 09:45, the 188th had moved through Wawa, Nasugbu, and its airstrip and started southeastward along gravel roads toward the Palico River and the entrance to the section of Route 17 that led to Tagaytay Ridge. At 10:00, General Eichelberger ordered the landing of the remainder of the amphibious force. At 10:30, Lieutenant Colonel "Harry" Wilson led the 187th RCT ashore.
After 2/188th took Lian and the Japanese had been driven back into the hills, 1/187th was attached to the 188th RCT for the march inland and up the hill on the road to Tagaytay Ridge. The remainder of the 187th RCT assumed responsibility for the Nasugbu beachhead. One battery of the 674th GFAB remained behind on the beach to support the 187th RCT's defense of the beachhead. By 13:00, all combat elements of the two RCTs were moving inland. General Eichelberger and his small Eighth Army command group had landed and joined General Swing near the head of the column marching up Highway 17 to link up with the 511th RCT.
Source citation: Flanagan (1997). The Rakkasans. pp. 68–76.
By 31 January 1945, General MacArthur had become frustrated with the Sixth Army's slow advance on Manila from the north. MacArthur's primary objective on Luzon was the capture of Manila and the air base at Clark Field, which were required to support future operations. "Get to Manila," he ordered his two field commanders. General Eichelberger reasoned that if he could make the Japanese think that his small force moving up Highway 17 across Tagaytay Ridge and heading for Manila from the south was a larger force, he would have a tactical advantage and a relatively unopposed run-up to the capital. Planning to have troops on Tagaytay Ridge before dark on 1 February, Eichelberger directed General Swing to advance the 188th RCT, reinforced with 1/187th, forward as rapidly as possible. He thought that the entire 11th Airborne Division, including the 511th RCT, could assemble on Tagaytay Ridge on 2 February, and asked the Fifth Air Force to drop the 511th RCT a day earlier than originally planned. He also requested that the 24th Infantry Division move the entire 19th Infantry Regiment to Nasugbu from Leyte to protect the port and MSR up Highway 17 to Tagaytay Ridge and free up 2/187th to join the rest of the 187th RCT on its march to Manila. The Fifth Air Force replied affirmatively, but General MacArthur agreed only to make another battalion of the 19th Infantry available in addition to the one that was already under Eichelberger's control and loading for Luzon.
The 188th RCT's first objective was the Palico River Bridge carrying the shortest and best route to Tagaytay Ridge over a gorge 250 feet (76 m) wide and 85 feet (26 m) deep. Lying 5 miles (8.0 km) miles inland from Nasugbu, the bridge could hold the 11th Airborne Division's heaviest equipment. If the division could not seize the bridge intact, it would have to ford the Palico River south of Nasugbu and work its way along poor roads to Highway 17 east of the river crossing, a time-consuming process that would require considerable engineering effort and slow supply movement. By 14:30, the 188th RCT's lead battalion, 1/188th, had reached the bridge. The 188th RCT had moved inland so rapidly that Japanese sappers on the east bank preparing to blow the bridge were stunned by the sudden, unexpected appearance of the Americans and failed to explode the prepared demolitions. The lead elements of 1/188th ran down an open hill west of the bridge, dashed across the span, and routed the Japanese. The 127th AEB inactivated the demolition charges and reinforced the bridge sections that the Japanese had weakened. By 15:30, the bridge and surrounding area were secured and the entire 188th RCT and attached 1/187th were across the Palico River and at the junction of Highway 17 with the main road from Nasugbu.
As Highway 17 began to rise more sharply, the advance slowed as the 188th RCT found itself moving cautiously through narrow passes, bordered by steep wooded banks, ideal for ambushes. At 18:00, the 188th RCT halted along Highway 17 about 4 miles (6.4 km) beyond the Palico River Bridge. The normal tactic of fighting the Japanese in the Pacific was to halt just before dark and set a perimeter defense before eating whatever rations were on hand and bedding down for the night. General Eichelberger discerned that if the 188th RCT kept moving at night, the Japanese might be thrown off balance and would not be able to practice their customary night probes of the American defenses. Eichelberger felt that he had the momentum and told General Swing to push on by the light of the full moon. At midnight, 1/187th passed through the 188th RCT and took up the lead. At 04:00 on 1 February, Lieutenant Colonel Wilson halted the march. Almost 20 hours after wading ashore at Nasugbu, the men slept for two hours and were up and off again up the road at 06:00, heading for Tagaytay Ridge.
At daybreak, 1/187th approached a defile bounded by Mounts Cariliao, Talamitam, and Apayang to the northwest and Mount Batulao to the southeast. At the foot of Mount Cariliao was Mount Aiming. The five peaks gave the Japanese a perfect defensive position that dominated the highway. When they saw 1/187th advancing toward them, the Japanese opened up with artillery, mortars, and machine guns, the heaviest barrages that the 11th Airborne Division had encountered since landing. The hostile fire from the heights around the road that slowed the advance appeared to be from a Japanese outpost on Mount Aiming. As 1/187th advanced, they ran up against the Japanese main line of resistance (MLR) across Highway 17. Air and ground reconnaissance disclosed that the Japanese defenses were hinged on Mount Aiming and anchored on the southern and eastern slopes of Mount Cariliao, north of the highway, and along the northern slopes of Mount Batulao, south of the road. Raising its crest over 1,300 feet (400 m) above Highway 17, Mount Cariliao provided the Japanese with excellent defensive terrain, while the rough slopes of Mount Batulao, almost 2,700 feet (820 m) high, afforded almost innumerable hideaways. To the 11th Airborne Division approaching along ground that gave little concealment, the key to the Japanese defenses appeared to be Mount Aiming, a sharp, bare height of some 1,180 feet (360 m) off the southeastern slope of Mount Cariliao. The MLR was a string of caves, dugouts, and tank traps, all interconnected by a zigzag line of trenches, backed up with various Japanese artillery pieces emplaced to the north and east of Mount Aiming. Artillery rounds from these guns bracketed the highway. There were Japanese infantrymen in caves and trenches on Mount Aiming and across the highway. The Japanese defenses into which the 188th RCT had now run appeared to be the line to which the Japanese had been falling back; the Japanese were now ready to fight.
General Swing gave Colonel Soule the mission of reducing the Japanese stronghold on Mount Aiming. Soule in turn directed 1/187th to lead the attack up the highway. He sent 1/188th to the left and north of the highway and 2/188th to the right and south. The 674th and 675th GFABs' howitzers were brought forward to support the infantry attack. The attack got underway at 09:00 when the 188th RCT's forward air control observer directed USAAF fighter and medium bomber close air support strafing and bombing of the Japanese positions. The artillery echelon fired concentrations on Japanese defensive positions and counter-battery fire on the Japanese artillery positions. Picking its way through what cover and concealment it could find, including a sharp gorge on the north side of Highway 17, A/188th broke through the Japanese lines and secured a foothold on the southern slopes of Mount Aiming about noon. The rifle company became separated from the rest of 1/188th and was forced to dig in. The Japanese counterattacked A/188th all afternoon but failed to dislodge the Americans. In the face of Japanese machine-gun and mortar fire, the remainder of 1/188th finally cleared all of Mount Aiming. Seizing Mount Aiming pierced and split the Japanese defenses at the defile and helped reduce the volume of point-blank machine-gun and small-arms fire that had held up the division. While 1/188th held its position on the north flank, 2/188th moved south of the road and attacked the Japanese strongpoint between Mount Batulao and the highway. Meanwhile, 1/187th moved in between 1/188th and 2/188th and, as the center of the line, attacked eastward astride the highway.
The delay occasioned by the fight at the Mount Cariliao-Mount Batulao defile had slowed the 188th RCT's advance and dashed General Eichelberger's hopes for assembling the entire division on Tagaytay Ridge by dusk on 2 February. General MacArthur had instructed Eichelberger not to bring in the 511th RCT until he was certain that the amphibious units could link up with the paratroopers within 24 hours of their drop. Since it appeared by evening that the 188th RCT might well have to spend all day on 2 February fighting its way through the defile, Eichelberger reluctantly directed General Swing to bring in the 511th RCT on 3 February.
On the morning of 2 February, the 188th RCT launched an all-out attack to the east. At 08:30, the USAAF and the two artillery battalions hit the main Japanese positions between the two mountains. 1/187th and 2/188th continued the assault to the east, passing through 1/188th, protecting the 188th RCT's left flank on Mount Aiming. Despite strong close air support by the Fifth Air Force and division artillery, the 188th RCT could make little progress during the morning. The pace quickened shortly after noon when the Americans broke through to Aga, a barrio east of Mount Aiming, and the Japanese were forced to withdraw with the capture of a regimental CP at 13:00, which showed the haste in which the Japanese departed. In the defense of their CP, the Japanese had built three tank traps across the highway 20 feet (6.1 m) wide across the top, 4 feet (1.2 m) wide across the bottom, and 25 feet (7.6 m) deep, which the 127th AEB bridged. While 1/188th moved north, 2/188th continued to attack the Japanese in the northern foothills of Mount Batulao. So far, the 188th RCT had lost six KIA and 41 WIA, and had killed about 90 Japanese. By 18:00, 1/187th, now leading the attack along Highway 17, was 3 miles (4.8 km) beyond Aga and only 2 miles (3.2 km) short of the west end of Tagaytay Ridge when.it butted up against the third and strongest position of the Japanese MLR. The advance halted for the night and the battalion prepared to resume its drive the next morning to make contact with the 511th RCT, scheduled to start dropping on Tagaytay Ridge at 08:15. Throughout the night, the Japanese harassed the forward American units with artillery, mortar, and small-arms fire. The Japanese located the 675th GFAB's firing position and forced it to displace its guns.
At 07:30 on the morning of 3 February, the 188th RCT, with 1/187th attached, attacked the final Japanese position in the stubbornly defended Mount Cariliao-Mount Batulao area. The three battalions advanced rapidly against little resistance until 11:00. 1/188th's lead company rounded a ridge-nose on the north side of a sharp bend in Highway 17 on the western edge of Tagaytay Ridge and halted after observing Japanese activity on another ridge-nose south of the bend. General Pierson arrived and Lieutenant Colonel LaFlamme told him that his point men could see Japanese on the high ground to the south. Colonel Soule drove up and was discussing the situation with Pierson when the Japanese opened up with artillery, machine-gun, and small-arms fire. Pierson jumped into a roadside ditch and Soule jumped in on top of him. Soule received a shell fragment in his buttocks and commented to Pierson that he had been hit. Not only were Pierson and Soule pinned down by the artillery fire, but so were many other high-ranking officers, including General Eichelberger and several colonels and lieutenant colonels. In one of the barrages, 1/187th's Lieutenant Colonel Wilson was wounded. In all, the barrage resulted in eight KIA and 21 WIA. The artillery barrages forced everyone to take cover. Soule removed himself from the ditch and immediately assumed command of the attack on the Japanese position. He sent orders to bring up 1/187th. Wilson ordered his lead company to swing around behind the Japanese position and take it from the rear. 2/188th moved off the road to the south and onto the Japanese-held ridge. By 13:00, the troops of 1/187th and the 188th, using flamethrowers and hand grenades, supported by the guns of the 674th and 675th GFABs, wrestled control of the ridge from the Japanese, killing over 300 in the battle. The position was obviously an important one in the Japanese defensive plan; it was honeycombed with enormous supply tunnels, reinforced-concrete caves, and strong artillery and individual firing positions. With the reduction of Shorty Ridge, named after Colonel "Shorty" Soule, the amphibious units of the 11th Airborne Division that had landed and fought their way up a difficult route of attack were ready to make contact with the paratroopers of the 511th RCT.
Source citation: Flanagan (1997). The Rakkasans. pp. 76–84.
Jump on Tagaytay Ridge
At 08:15 on 3 February 1945, while the 188th RCT and 1/187th were reducing Japanese resistance on Shorty Ridge, the first of the 1,750 paratroopers of the 511th RCT (less the 457th PFAB) began dropping from forty-eight C–47s onto the Tagaytay Ridge DZ. Because of a shortage of transport aircraft, only about one-third of the 511th RCT could be airdropped in one lift; the jump was planned for three waves delivered over two days. The first elements to be dropped consisted of Colonel Haugen, the 511th RCT's commanding officer, and his regimental command group, 2/511th, and one-half of 3/511th – about 915 officers and men overall. Tagaytay Ridge made an excellent DZ for a mass parachute drop. The area selected for the DZ was flat and over 4,000 yards (3,700 m) long and about 2,000 yards (1,800 m) wide. The only dangerous feature was the possibility of being blown off the ridge and down into Taal Lake. It was well that there was no Japanese opposition, because the paratroopers landed in an inordinately scattered fashion.
The Fifth Air Force transports had flown north from Mindoro to approach Tagaytay Ridge from the northeast in order to avoid Japanese antiaircraft fire from west of the DZ. The first 18 planeloads of paratroopers landed right on DZs marked by smoke pots set out by advance scouts. At this juncture, the aircraft in the second serial were nearly three minutes behind the lead serial. About 08:20, the second serial of thirty C–47s carrying 570 paratroopers dropped 6 miles (9.7 km) short of the DZ when its lead plane accidentally released a drop bundle. Taking this as a signal that they were over the proper DZ, all the paratroopers immediately "hit the silk." The second serial, under explicit orders to ignore the scattered parachutes on the ground, persisted in jumping short.:135 The transport pilots, realizing they had not yet reached the proper DZ, attempted to halt the drop, but the jumpmasters continued sending the paratroopers out. At about 12:10, when the rest of the regiment, the other half of 3/511th and 1/511th, came in over the ridge in the second wave of fifty-one C–47s, only about 80 paratroopers from the first five aircraft of this group landed in the proper DZs; the remainder dropped their paratroopers on the collapsed parachutes from the misplaced airdrop. When all was said and done, only 425 paratroopers dropped onto the proper DZs; 1,325 landed between 4 and 6 miles (6.4 and 9.7 km) to the east and northeast. The regiment suffered about 50 jump casualties, of whom all but two were listed as "slightly injured." One paratrooper was killed and another was carried on the casualty lists as seriously injured.
Despite the scattered landings, Colonel Haugen had all his troops reassembled by 14:00. He dispatched patrols westward to establish contact with the 188th RCT moving up Tagaytay Ridge and to secure the eastern end of Tagaytay Ridge where Highway 17 turned sharply north and downhill toward Manila. Haugen also sent patrols out along the roads and trails leading north and south from the ridge crest that found no signs of Japanese. Both Generals Eichelberger and Swing were with the 188th RCT's forward elements and contacted Haugen near the Manila Hotel Annex atop the ridge overlooking Taal Lake. That afternoon, 2/511th secured the DZ and, after 3/511th assumed DZ security, moved to the junction of Highways 17 and 25B to await further orders. The 11th Airborne Division CP moved into the Manila Hotel Annex, which was in a central position on the ridge and made a convenient control point for the troops moving east and north.
Generals Eichelberger and Swing intended to have the reinforced 188th RCT hold Tagaytay Ridge and reduce the Japanese pocket on the western nose of the ridge while the 511th RCT pushed northward toward Manila with all possible speed during the afternoon of 3 February. Swing had sent all of his available motor transport forward to Tagaytay Ridge to move the 511th RCT northward in battalion-sized shuttles and directed the 188th RCT to follow when the situation permitted. Eichelberger's hopes that the 11th Airborne Division could start its dash to Manila on 3 February did not come to fruition, because there was not enough motor transport or gasoline available to permit it. Later in the afternoon, seventeen 2 1/2-ton cargo trucks were unloaded from landing craft at Nasugbu and sent forward. By 4 February, ten C–47s landed at Nasugbu's dirt airstrip, widened and cleared by the 127th AEB, with a cargo of gasoline that was immediately sent forward.
After dark on 3 February, General Swing sent First Lieutenant George Skau and 21 men from the Division Recon Platoon, mounted in jeeps, up Highway 17 to reconnoiter the road to Manila. Swing cautioned Skau that he was driving into unknown territory and to radio back as soon as he encountered Japanese defenses. At 04:00 on 4 February, Skau reported back that the road was secure as far as Imus, a small town almost 25 miles (40 km) north of Tagaytay Ridge, where the Japanese had blown the Imus River bridge just south of the town, but he had found a dirt road that bypassed the bridge. It, too, had a bridge ready to be blown but the recon patrol had removed the charges. At 05:30, the 2/511th point moved out in two jeeps. Two hours later, the rest of 2/511th mounted trucks and set out from Tagaytay Ridge, over 12 hours behind Sixth Army elements already coming into Manila from the north.
About 11:30, forward elements of 2/511th dismounted at Imus. About 50 Japanese, holed up in an old stone building dating back to the early days of the Spanish occupation, defended the alternate bridge that the recon patrol had found. Most of 2/511th walked across the Imus River along the top of a small dam south of the town, while D/511th, supported by several of the 674th GFAB's 75mm pack howitzers, undertook to reduce the Japanese strongpoint so that the trucks could continue up Highway 17. The 5 feet (1.5 m) thick walls of the old building proved impervious to the light artillery shells, so a soldier climbed on to the building's roof, knocked a hole through the roof, poured in gasoline, and started a fire inside with a white phosphorus hand grenade. As the Japanese came dashing out, they were summarily cut down by the men of D/511th. With the Imus bridge secure, 2/511th drove on another 3 miles (4.8 km) to Zapote. Here, Highway 17 ended at a junction with Highway 25, which led northeast across the Zapote River bridge to a junction with Highway 1, south of the Las Piñas River bridge. The Japanese had prepared to demolish the bridge and defend it from positions on the north bank, but 2/511th caught them by surprise and took the span intact after a hard fight. 2/511th halted at Las Piñas while 1/511th, coming north on a second truck shuttle from Tagaytay Ridge, passed through and continued toward Manila. The 511th RCT, by truck and on foot, moved forward and was now pushing against the southern Japanese defenses of Manila. Meanwhile, back on Tagaytay Ridge, the third wave of the 511th RCT airdrop, the 457th PFAB, dropped onto Tagaytay Ridge opposite the division CP at 08:15, and the 188th RCT with 1/187th attached, having cleaned out the Japanese on Shorty Ridge, left a company to secure the area and Colonel Soule led the rest of his command on foot toward Manila.
With his division on a new mission and his MSR strung out over 70 miles, General Swing gave the 187th RCT (less 1/187th) the mission of securing the MSR. To assist in the vast task of covering the large area that the 11th Airborne Division had liberated, General Eichelberger brought ashore the 19th Infantry Regiment (less one battalion). The 187th RCT accomplished its mission by patrolling the area and establishing outposts along the entire MSR. The force was not large enough to take on large Japanese concentrations, but active patrols were able to drive the Japanese farther into the surrounding hills. One Japanese concentration was around Mount Pico de Loro; another was on Mount Sungay. In the future, the entire 11th Airborne Division would return to wipe out the Japanese pockets of resistance, but first, it had to assist in the subjugation of Manila. In a few days, both 187th RCT infantry battalions would move to the area south of Manila to join the 511th RCT in what would prove to be one of the 11th Airborne Division's bloodiest fights.
Source citation: Flanagan (1997). The Rakkasans. pp. 84–89.
Note: Whether the jump on Tagaytay Ridge was necessary is a question that cannot be answered categorically. Certainly, the drop was not required to secure Tagaytay Ridge – there were no Japanese there and elements of the 188th RCT were already on the west end of the ridge before the first paratroopers were out of their planes. On the other hand, with the allied naval forces short of amphibious lift and escorts to move the regiment any sooner, the 511th RCT, coming from Mindoro by water and then overland from Nasugbu, could not have reached Tagaytay Ridge until late on 4 February at the earliest. In such an event, the 11th Airborne Division, with insufficient strength to continue toward Manila, might have been forced to wait along the ridge another day, giving the Japanese ample time to redeploy its forces to defend Highway 17 north of the ridge. General Eichelberger hoped that the division could move in strength on Manila during 3 February and catch off balance the defenders south of the city. Whatever the case, the day or two saved by the 511th RCT's jump would prove to make no difference, for the Japanese had already fully manned strong defenses at the southern outskirts of Manila, though Generals Eichelberger and Swing could not know this on the basis of available information.:5
Attack on Manila and the Genko Line
Following Highway 1 up the shoreline of Manila Bay, 1/511th left Las Piñas behind at 18:00 on the evening of 4 February 1945. The battalion ran into increasingly heavy harassing fire from Japanese riflemen and machine gunners. At Parañaque, 2 miles (3.2 km) beyond Las Piñas, the unit found a bridge across the Parañaque River, the southern boundary of metropolitan Manila, badly damaged, defended by Japanese on the north bank, and covered by Japanese mortar and artillery fire originating from Nichols Field to the northeast. It was here, only 3 miles (4.8 km) south of the Manila city limits, that the 11th Airborne Division ran into well-planned and heavily-manned Japanese defenses that could not be bypassed; they had found the right anchor of the Japanese Genko Line.
The Genko Line consisted of a series of mutually-supporting reinforced concrete pillboxes extending eastward across Nichols Field and anchored at Mabato Point along Laguna de Bay (Laguna Lake). The rear of the Genko Line was based on the high ground of Fort William McKinley. Naval guns salvaged from damaged or sunken ships were set in permanent concrete emplacements, and horizontally-firing antiaircraft artillery was tactically located to assist in the defense. Many of the concrete pillboxes were two and three stories deep. The Genko Line held some 6,000 Japanese in over 1,200 pillboxes supported by 44 heavy artillery pieces, 164 antiaircraft artillery weapons that could fire vertically at aircraft or horizontally at ground troops. and over 500 machine guns; 100-pound bombs and antisubmarine depth charges were rigged as land mines. All roads leading to the Genko Line were heavily mined with 500-pound bombs armed with low-pressure detonators.
The Japanese blocking force that halted the 511th RCT at the Parañaque River bridge was part of the Imperial Japanese Navy Land Forces, ground combat units consisting of naval personnel organized for offensive operations and the defense of the Japanese naval facilities, and artillery units of varying armament. Northeast of the bridge, Nichols Field, the Imperial Japanese Navy Air Service base of operations, bristled with antiaircraft defenses. Heavy weapons attachments held Fort McKinley, which was 3 miles (4.8 km) northeast of Nichols Field. Other Japanese units manned antiaircraft artillery positions midway between Fort McKinley and Nichols Field. The Japanese also had a few troops at Nielson Field, 3 miles (4.8 km) north-northeast of Nichols Field. Rear Admiral Sanji Iwabuchi commanded the Manila defenses. He had 20,000 men under his command, consisting of 16,000 naval troops and 4,000 army troops who had been trapped by the American pincers movement on Manila from the north and south. Before General Krueger's Sixth Army invasion from Lingayen, Admiral Iwabuchi believed that the main American effort would come from the south, and prepared his strongest defenses accordingly.
The 674th GFAB had moved up into positions from which it could support the 511th RCT's advance. General Swing had established his CP in a cathedral near Parañaque. Lieutenant Colonel Hoska, the 674th's commanding officer, told Swing that he believed that his pack 75s could neutralize the heavy Japanese fire coming from across the Parañaque River bridge. Swing permitted him to try. Between midnight and 05:00 on 5 February, Hoska directed a single gun in a precision attack on the Japanese defensive positions, knocking out five machine-gun emplacements and two 20mm high-velocity antiaircraft guns embedded in the concrete breakwater wall 30 yards (27 m) across the river.
Admiral Iwabuchi ordered his men to blow up all of Manila's military installations and the port area, the bridges, and the municipal water and electrical power installations. On 5 February, the Japanese dynamited the northern port area and fled southward across the Pasig River, blowing all the bridges behind them. The blasts ignited fires that quickly engulfed a section of bamboo houses near the port. Shortly, much of the northern half of Manila was in flames.
On the morning of 5 February, the 511th RCT forced a crossing of the Parañaque River and started north along Highway 1 over a narrow strip of land lying between the river on the east and Manila Bay on the west. During the next two days, the 511th RCT fought its way about 2,000 yards (1,800 m) northward in house-to-house and pillbox-to-pillbox fighting, depending heavily upon flamethrowers and demolitions, losing six KIA and 35 WIA, and killing about 200 Japanese. On 6 February, General Swing called a halt to the advance. That afternoon, the 188th RCT (with 1/187th attached) and 2/187th arrived from Tagaytay Ridge. Swing proposed sending the 188th RCT and 2/187th against Nichols Field, from where Japanese artillery rounds had been falling on the division's right, while the 511th RCT continued its drive into Manila in the west, on the division's left flank. On the night of 6–7 February, the reinforced 188th RCT and 2/187th moved up to their lines of departure south and southeast of Nichols Field, ready to launch their attack at daybreak.
The 188th RCT attack on 7 February, across fairly open terrain, gained little ground in the face of heavy, concentrated, and accurate artillery, mortar, and machine-gun fire from the Japanese defenses on and around Nichols Field. To the west, the 511th RCT managed to get its right wing across the north-south stretch of the Parañaque River to positions near the southwest corner of Nichols Field, but there it stopped. During the next two days, the 511th RCT secured a narrow strip of land between the Parañaque River and the airfield's western runway and overran some Japanese defenses at the northwest corner of the airfield. The 188th RCT made contact with the 511th RCT at the southwest corner of the airfield but could gain little ground on the south and southeast. On 10 February, its last day under Eighth Army control, the 11th Airborne Division consolidated its gains and established a solid line from the northwest corner around to the southeast corner of the airfield, eliminating the last Japanese resistance on the western end of the airfield. Meanwhile, elements of the 511th RCT had continued up Highway 1 beyond Nichols Field's northwest corner.
Despite four days' effort, the 11th Airborne Division had been unable to substantially reduce the volume of Japanese artillery fire originating from the Nichols Field defensive complex. Supporting airstrikes and the division's light 75mm pack howitzer and short 105mm howitzer artillery were not designed for heavy duty, were almost ineffective against the heavy reinforced-concrete pillboxes held by Japanese, and had failed to knock out enough of the Japanese guns at the airfield to permit the infantry to advance without taking severe losses. Nichols Field was the center of the Genko Line and contained an interconnecting network of pillboxes and gun emplacements linked by underground tunnels. The terrain around the airfield was open, providing the Japanese with excellent fields of fire for their flat-trajectory dual-purpose antiaircraft weapons. The Japanese had embedded several naval guns on the airfield's outer rim. On 11 February, the 511th RCT attacked northward along the bay front in its sector to within 1 mile (1.6 km) of the city limits. General Swing, Colonel Haugen, the 511th RCT's commanding officer, and Lieutenant Colonel Tipton, 2/187th's commanding officer, were in conference in the 2/187th CP when a Japanese 20mm shell penetrated a window and exploded in the room, wounding "Hard Rock" Haugen in the chest. He died on 22 February during an air evacuation flight from Mindoro to New Guinea. Lieutenant Colonel Edward H. Lahti, 3/511th's commanding officer, assumed command of the 511th RCT. Meanwhile, in a series of patrol actions, the 187th RCT had secured the southeast corner of Nichols Field and its southern runway.
On 12 February, General Swing ordered a full-scale assault on Nichols Field. After airstrikes and artillery preparation succeeded in knocking out many Japanese artillery positions, 2/187th attacked eastward from the northwest corner of the airfield; the 188th RCT and 1/187th drove in from the south and southeast. Under cover of continuing artillery barrages, the infantry rushed forward to attack pillboxes and gun emplacements. In the afternoon, the Japanese counterattacked and were beaten back. By dusk, the 188th RCT and 1/187th had cleared most of Nichols Field.
Having reduced Nichols Field, the 11th Airborne Division continued its advance on 13 February. The 511th RCT advanced eastward astride the Manila-Fort McKinley road. The 187th and 188th RCTs continued their attack across Nichols Field. On the morning of 15 February, the division continued its attack across Nichols Field and toward Fort McKinley. The plan called for the 188th RCT, with 2/187th attached, to pivot and strike toward Fort McKinley and for the 511th RCT to continue its attack eastward, with all six battalions converging at Fort McKinley. At 12:15 on 15 February, following an airstrike coupled with an artillery and mortar barrage, G/187th lead off the attack. 1st Platoon, G/187th, started moving forward; there was no Japanese reaction. The platoon crossed a dry streambed and started up the slope of the other side. Suddenly, Japanese machine guns located in the streambed that 1st Platoon had just crossed opened up on the platoon's rear. Fortunately, the platoon was well dispersed. Before any return fire could be brought to bear on the machine gun locations, a shouting, screaming mass of Japanese climbed out of the streambed and charged 1st Platoon. The platoon's machine-gun crews had their weapons mounted and firing within seconds. Their fire, combined with that of the BARs began knocking the Japanese down. They still came on in a seemingly endless stream. The leading Japanese closed with 1st Platoon and all semblance of organization vanished as it became every man for himself. G/187th's commander committed his 2nd Platoon to the fight. They knocked out several Japanese machine guns in the streambed that had ceased firing because their fire was masked by their own troops. Leaving a squad to continue up the streambed, the remainder of 2nd Platoon crossed the streambed and entered the melee. For some unknown reason, the Japanese chose not to fight it out but attempted to pass through 1st Platoon to reach the shelter of their bunkers and pillboxes. Realizing that the Japanese in the bunkers and pillboxes would soon start firing even if it meant killing their own men, G/187th consolidated its two platoons (less one squad in the streambed) and started up the hill. Help arrived when F/187th, on the left of G/187th, had swung to their right and reached the top of the hill first, putting the remaining Japanese between the two American infantry companies and cut off from their positions. Within minutes, all firing ceased and G/187th moved to the hillcrest to join F/187th. Suddenly, without warning, a muffled explosion shook the area and the earth on top of the hill rose and settled, knocking most of the men to the ground. Preferring death to the disgrace of capture, the Japanese had blown the position while the Americans were on top of it, expecting the whole hill to be destroyed and killing everyone on it. Fortunately, the demolition charge was too small.
The 11th Airborne Division had now seized two-thirds of the Genko Line. The 511th RCT, with 2/187th attached, had pushed through the left end of the line, then turned eastward to join the attack on Nichols Field. The 188th RCT, with 1/187th attached, had swung northward across Nichols Field and linked up with the 511th RCT and 2/187th. With the seizure of Nichols Field, the division, for the most part, had completed its objective in the battle for Manila. Since its amphibious landing at Nasugbu, the division had suffered 900 casualties. Of this number, the 511th RCT lost 70 KIA and 240 WIA; the 187th and 188th RCTs together lost 100 KIA and 510 WIA. The division had killed about 3,000 Japanese in metropolitan Manila. Following the fall of Nichols Field, the division regrouped for the assault on the last two bastions in the Genko Line: Fort McKinley and Mabato Point, the high ground on Laguna Lake about 2,000 yards (1,800 m) south of Fort McKinley. General Swing's plan was simple: blast the Japanese defenses with airstrikes and artillery, attack the blind sides and vulnerable points, squeeze the Japanese tighter, and, if they tried to escape, hit the escape routes with airstrikes and artillery, or previously-set ambush sites.
On 14 February, General Swing assigned the mission of reducing Mabato Point and attacking Fort McKinley from the south to a special task force (TF) under the command of General Pierson, the assistant division commanding general. TF Pierson was composed of 1/187th, 3/19th Infantry, a company of M4 Sherman tanks from the US 44th Tank Battalion, and a platoon of combat engineers from C/127th AEB. The next day, TF Pierson advanced northward toward Fort McKinley. At the same time, the 188th RCT, with 2/187th attached, and the 511th RCT attacked in line eastward on TF Pierson's left flank in the face of heavy Japanese artillery and automatic-weapons fire from the fort. Between 15 and 17 February, the division consolidated its gains. On 16 February, during a reconnaissance of the eastern approaches to Fort McKinley, there was an enormous explosion that demolished the side of a hill. The concussion knocked some of the men flat. One explosion followed another as the Japanese destroyed their ammunition dumps. On 17 February, Swing received the go-ahead to launch his attack on Fort McKinley. 1/511th led the attack from the west with 2/187th on their right flank. As they closed on the fort, the artillery, antiaircraft, mortar, and small-arms fire from emplacements and pillboxes increased. Japanese suicide squads fought desperate delaying actions, but American casualties were comparatively light. Just inside the Carabao Gate, the main entrance to Fort McKinley, the attack was halted by division order; elements of the 1st Cavalry Division had crossed the Pasig River and were working toward the division from the northeast corner of the post. Aside from local patrolling, the Nichols Field-Fort McKinley fight was over. The Japanese had withdrawn to a new concentration area in the vicinity of Mabato Point.
Source citation: Flanagan (1997). The Rakkasans. pp. 90–101.
On 15 February 1945, Lieutenant Colonel Pearson, the 187th RCT's executive officer, took over the mission of reducing Mabato Point, which was on high ground on the western shore of Laguna de Bay or Laguna Lake, the largest lake in the Philippines. From their well-fortified strongpoint on top of Mabato Point, the Japanese had perfect observation and wide, grazing fields of artillery, mortar, and machine-gun fire over open and rolling terrain. Tunnels were burrowed through the hill, opening into large rooms containing headquarters, communications centers, hospitals, supply rooms, kitchens, and living quarters. A Japanese soldier could move between positions without surfacing. Pearson deployed his forces in an arc surrounding Mabato Point. He held 3/19th Infantry on the heights south of Fort McKinley, sent 3/511th to control the southern exits from the area, and put 1/187th to the west along the Manila Railroad track that ran northwest-southeast across the area and close to Mabato Point; the 457th PFAB was prepared to support the ground attack with its pack 75s.
Lieutenant Colonel Pearson launched his attack at midmorning on 18 February. A/187th and B/187th struck due east, advancing partially up the hill, but Japanese mortar fire forced both companies to withdraw off the hill. After reassessing the situation, Pearson decided to call in airstrikes and all the artillery fire he could bring to bear. In the afternoon, USAAF P–38s and P–51s and Marine SBDs blasted and strafed the area, along with hundreds of rounds of artillery and tank fire. The ground around the Japanese defensive positions was so hard that the aerial bombs merely chipped off pieces of the fortification; the artillery and tank fire was even less effective. Pearson then called for napalm airstrikes. The napalm did two things: it burned off the camouflage covering the cave and tunnel entrances, and when landing near a tunnel opening, burned up so much oxygen so rapidly that many Japanese suffocated inside the tunnels. Mabato Point was attacked again on the morning of 19 February. C/187th led the assault with armor support. The rifle company made its way partially up the hill and, again, was blasted off the hill by huge 150mm mortars. For days, 1/187th had been trying to locate the Japanese observers who were directing the mortar fire so accurately. Finally, several Japanese were spotted in trees. Sharpshooters were brought up and knocked the Japanese out of the trees. The mortar fire subsequently abated.
By 21 February, the Japanese on Mabato Point were surrounded and cut off from their escape routes. Patrol boats were sent out on Laguna Lake to block the Japanese escape by water. That morning, a group of Filipino guerrillas and a young Filipino girl were escorted to Lieutenant Colonel Pearson's CP west of Mabato Point. The girl asked Pearson if a Japanese medical officer could surrender. When asked for the whereabouts of the Japanese officer, she pointed to one of the "guerillas," a nondescript little individual who promptly surrendered. Through an interpreter, the Japanese officer stated that there were perhaps 400 more Japanese in the Mabato Point area that would surrender unconditionally if given the chance. Pearson ordered a ceasefire and sent a Filipino messenger under a white flag of truce to the Japanese commander on Mabato Point. At noon, all fire would be halted for a half hour and any Japanese defenders who wished to surrender could walk out with their hands over their heads and move down the hill toward the American lines. The Japanese commander rejected the offer out of hand. Pearson resumed the attack at 12:30 with airstrikes, artillery concentrations, and tank fire. C/187th again led the attack up the hill. The Japanese attempted to repel the assault, but finally, the ground forces who were advancing along the arc of the attack assaulted the position with rifles, grenades, flamethrowers, and fixed bayonets. That night, the 15 surviving Japanese officers marched on their commander's order to Mabato Point and committed harakiri. Later that night, a group of Japanese tried to escape down a road to the south, unaware that 3/511th and a group of Filipino guerrillas had set up ambushes along the road; the result was a slaughter of the Japanese troops.
On 21 February, the Americans moved without opposition to Mabato Point. All organized resistance in the area of Nichols Field, Fort McKinley, and Mabato Point had ceased. By 25 February, both 1/187th and 2/187th had moved back to Tagaytay Ridge for a brief respite from battle. The tranquility would be short-lived. The Japanese were far from defeated in the Philippines.
Source citation: Flanagan (1997). The Rakkasans. pp. 101–104.
On 10 February 1945, the 11th Airborne Division had passed from General Eichelberger's Eighth Army to General Krueger's Sixth Army control and, consequently, to Lieutenant General Oscar W. Griswold's XIV Corps. On 23 February, General Griswold gave General Swing the broadly–defined mission of destroying all Japanese forces in Luzon south of Manila. More specifically, this meant the reduction of the Japanese defenses on Mount Macolod on the southeastern shore of Taal Lake, the seizure of Lipa, and the clearance of Highway 19, the main route through the Lipa Corridor, for 5 miles (8.0 km) north of Lipa. It was clear to Swing that the Japanese were far from defeated in this area. One Japanese force formed a well-dug-in line from Laguna Lake to Taal Lake along Mount Bijiang, Mount Makiling, and Mount Sungay. Another force occupied the Ternate-Mount Pico de Loro sector, driven there during the 11th Airborne Division's initial drive from Nasugbu. The Japanese also manned a strong defensive position along the Mount Macolod-Lipa Hill-Mount Malepunyo hill masses. A large number of Japanese were holed up on the Bicol Peninsula north of Legazpi.
To assist the replacement-deficient 11th Airborne Division, General Griswold attached the 158th RCT. He told General Swing to open the Manila-Santo Tomas-Lipa-Batangas City highway so that the port at Batangas City on the southern shore of Luzon could be used to mount further amphibious operations. The Manila-Batangas City highway ran in a north-south line along the western shore of Laguna Lake and then to the east of Taal Lake. Griswold also told Swing to open Manila Harbor by clearing out the Japanese in Ternate, on the southern shore of Manila Bay, southeast of Corregidor Island. Swing knew that his new missions would require the total commitment of his seven-infantry-battalion division. At no time since the division entered combat did he ever have the luxury of units in reserve. Some of his battalions, through combat losses, were at a present-for-duty strength of just over 200 effectives. But Swing knew his division and his subordinate commanders, and he knew how to employ them effectively.
The 187th RCT had not yet operated as a stand-alone RCT on Luzon; its two infantry battalions were usually attached to one of the other RCTs, proving the need for a triangular regimental organization in which the regiment's main body was composed of three maneuver battalions (as with the 511th RCT), rather than a square regimental organization with two battalions. In March, the 187th RCT fought as a stand-alone regiment. General Swing planned for the 187th and 511th RCTs to attack abreast, with the 187th RCT on the right, eastward through the narrow neck of land between Taal and Laguna lakes. He sent the 158th RCT along two routes, Balayan-Lemery-Bauan-Cuenca and Batangas City-Lipa, the two prongs to join at Lipa; he assigned 1/188th to attack the Japanese entrenched in Ternate and the Pico de Loro hills on the southern shores of Manila Bay.
The 187th RCT was in a bivouac area to the west of Mount Sungay on the north shore of Taal Lake. The regiment sent out recon patrols to gather intelligence on the Japanese defensive positions dug in on Mount Sungay to its east. The 675th GFAB, the 187th RCT's attached artillery unit, harassed the Japanese on Mount Sungay with constant artillery barrages. While the infantrymen and artillerymen were fighting the ground battles, the combat engineers were carving out roads along the cliffs and defiles in the rugged mountainous terrain around Taal Lake with their small glider-borne bulldozers. One of the roads that they constructed was along a steep, sheer cliff on the north side of the lake. General Swing reasoned that if the 187th RCT moved down this cliff and took up position on the 511th RCT's right flank, it would gain much terrain for which the regiment would otherwise have had to fight by moving overland above it.
The northern arm of the pincers in southern Luzon began to move on 7 March when the 187th RCT descended the steep southern slopes of Tagaytay Ridge to the northern shore of Taal Lake. Turning eastward, the 187th RCT met no opposition until, on the afternoon of 8 March, the lead elements came under heavy mortar and automatic-weapons fire from Japanese defenses about 300 yards (270 m) west of a hill 2 miles (3.2 km) west of Tanauan. With 1/187th on the left and 2/187th on the right, the regiment deployed to double-envelop the hill. With the aid of close-air and artillery support, it took three days of heavy fighting on the north side of the hill for the 187th RCT to overrun these defenses on 11 March. This key Japanese position consisted of a fortress of pillboxes surrounding a concrete water tank. On top of the hill, the 187th RCT routed the Japanese out of an underground garrison of large, interconnected caves in which many Japanese were sealed when the exits collapsed. After subduing the Japanese, the 187th RCT moved east to Tanauan and halted pending the outcome of the 511th RCT's attack south through the Lipa Corridor toward Santo Tomas.
The 511th RCT had assembled at a barrio 7 miles (11 km) north of Santo Tomas. Here Route 1, which ran from Manila to Tanauan and then eastward through the Lipa Corridor between Mounts Makiling and Malepunyo, joined Route 21, leading eastward, through Los Banos, along the south shore of Laguna Lake. The 511th RCT's first task was to reduce the Japanese defenses on Mount Bijiang, a rough peak located at the northwestern corner of the Mount Makiling hill mass and controlling Routes 1 and 21 for about 5 miles (8.0 km) south and southeast of the 511th RCT's location. The 511th RCT launched unsuccessful frontal attacks against Mount Bijiang from 10 March through 13 March. Thereafter, supporting airstrikes and artillery reduced the defenses, which Filipino guerrillas finally overran on 19 March. Without waiting for this outcome, elements of the 511th RCT had pushed down Route 1 toward Santo Tomas. Meanwhile, other elements of the 511th RCT had moved eastward along Route 21 to a point about 3 miles (4.8 km) short of Los Banos, where the Japanese had reorganized their defenses.
Neither the 511th RCT nor the 187th RCT, nor even both operating in concert, had the strength required to overrun the strong Japanese positions in the Santo Tomas-Tanauan region. Therefore, until 23 March, the two RCTs mopped up in the areas they already held, warded off numerous small-scale Japanese counterattacks, patrolled to locate Japanese defenses, and directed air and artillery bombardments on Japanese positions Elements of the 1st Cavalry Division relieved both units on 23 March. The 187th RCT moved by motor transport from Tanauan over and around Tagaytay Ridge, south to Lemery, and north to Cuenca, at the southern base of Mount Macolod.
The 158th RCT made somewhat better progress. Striking from the vicinity of Nasugbu on 4 March, the 158th RCT secured Balayan, at the northwestern corner of Balayan Bay, on the same day. The 158th RCT then drove eastward against negligible opposition, cleared the northern shores of Balayan and Batangas Bays, and, on 11 March, reached Batangas City, on the northeastern shore of Batangas Bay. On its way eastward, the 158th RCT had bypassed strong Japanese elements on the Calumpang Peninsula that separates Balayan and Batangas Bays. The 158th RCT had to clear the peninsula to assure the security of the northern side of the Verde Island Passage and to make the shores of Balayan and Batangas Bays safe for base development. In an operation marked by minor shore-to-shore operations by both Japanese and American units, the Americans cleared the peninsula by 16 March. Most of the Japanese garrison escaped to islands in the Verde Island Passage or the Lubang Islands. Meanwhile, other elements of the 158th RCT had made contact with strong Japanese defenses blocking the Batangas-Lipa road at Mount Macolod. Numbering some 1,250 men in all, the Japanese had the support of a 300mm artillery howitzer, two 70mm guns, ten or more 81mm mortars, a few lighter mortars, and a wealth of machine guns and automatic cannons, including many removed from disabled Japanese aircraft at the Lipa airstrips. The 158th RCT, launching an attack at Mount Macolod on 19 March, had the support of two 105mm and two 155mm artillery battalions. From 19 through 23 March, the 158th RCT overran the Japanese outer defenses east of the road and southeast of Mount Macolod, which lay west of the road. The 158th RCT captured two small satellites, the hill masses of San Jose and Santa Rosa. Additionally, the 158th RCT captured Cuenca. But the 158th RCT made little progress at Mount Macolod proper and, by 23 March, when General Krueger detached the 158th RCT from General Swing's command to prepare for the Bicol Peninsula landing at Legazpi, the Japanese still had a firm hold on the mountain.
Thus, by 23 March, the 11th Airborne Division and the 158th RCT had closed with the Japanese MLR at the northern and southern entrances to the Lipa Corridor, had cleared the shores of Balayan and Batangas Bays, and had secured the northern side of the Verde Island Passage. Simultaneously, division elements had considerably reduced the threat to its line of communication (LOC) posed by the Japanese units isolated west of Taal Lake, although it was 1 April before the 188th RCT overcame the last organized resistance in the rough hills south of Ternate. Total casualties for the period from 4 March through 23 March were 75 KIA and 255 WIA, against almost 1,500 Japanese killed.
Command of the 187th RCT passed from Colonel Hildebrand to Colonel Pearson. Lieutenant Colonel Wilson departed 1/187th and became the 187th RCT's executive officer. Major David Carnahan replaced Wilson. When Colonel Tipton departed 2/187th and became the 188th RCT's commanding officer, he was replaced by Major James D. Loewus. Pearson was assuming command of the 187th RCT just as it was about to fight its bloodiest and, unfortunately, deadliest battle in its history – the reduction of Mount Macolod.
Source citations: Flanagan (1997). The Rakkasans. pp. 105–107.; Smith (1993). Triumph in the Philippines. pp. 428–429.
Mount Macolod, about 60 miles (97 km) south of Manila, rises to 3,107 feet (947 m) on the southeastern shore of Taal Lake. The mountain's northern and western slopes rise nearly vertically from the water. On the eastern and southern slopes, the drop is also vertical from about 1,200 feet (370 m); then three ridges descend gradually to the base of the mountain. Two of these ridges lead onto the highway that passes through Cuenca and the barrio of Dita. The north-south (Cuenca) ridge would become known as Brownie Ridge and the east-west (Dita) ridge would become known as Bashore Ridge, named after the 187th RCT infantry company commanders that assaulted them. Brownie Ridge was the strongest Japanese position on the mountain and was honeycombed with tunnels and caves. The third ridge connected Mount Macolod to Bukel Hill, a lesser projection about 500 yards (460 m) east of the mountain. In the saddle between Mount Macolod and Bukel Hill, on the northeastern side of the mountain, the Japanese had constructed another defensive position. Beneath camouflage and foliage, the area bristled with artillery and automatic weapons carefully aimed and emplaced to cover all approaches with interlocking fields of fire.
By 22 March 1945, the 187th RCT had completed its move from Tanauan to Cuenca and had occupied the positions of the departing 158th RCT. For its assault on Mount Macolod, General Swing assigned the 756th and 760th FABs (155mm), the 472nd and 675th GFABs (105mm), a 4.2–inch mortar company from the 85th Chemical Mortar Battalion, a platoon of Sherman tanks from the 44th Tank Battalion, and B/127th AEB.
On the night of 23 March, a Filipino guerrilla patrol had probed a Japanese position east of Dita and lost six men in a firefight. The next morning, Colonel Pearson sent armor-reinforced F/187th and G/187th to clear out the area. The tanks leveled the houses in the area and the combat engineers deactivated land mines as the two rifle companies swept the outskirts of Dita. Northwest of the barrio, the Japanese, hidden in concealed caves, stopped the attack with heavy fire. Both rifle companies withdrew with one KIA and seven WIA after dark to defensive positions 200 yards (180 m) south of Dita and the Japanese moved into the barrio. Pearson understood that patrolling alone was not going to get the job done. He was opposed by a strong, well-armed, and well-concealed force, and that he needed airstrikes and massive artillery preparation to pound the Japanese before he sent his infantrymen in again. At 09:00 on 24 March, the four artillery battalions supporting the 187th RCT concentrated on the area and Bukel Hill. A squadron of USAAF P–47s bombed and strafed Dita and the surrounding area. F/187th and G/187th again tried to clear the Japanese out of Dita in house-to-house fighting. Intense Japanese defensive machine-gun fire again halted the attack. 2/187th suffered four KIA and multiple WIA before falling back to their defensive positions; an estimated 30 Japanese were killed. It was apparent that the Japanese were retreating into their underground tunnels during the USAAF bombing and strafing runs. On 27 March, using airstrikes with napalm and chemical mortar and artillery barrages, 1/187th circled Dita to positions north of the barrio, seized and dug in on Bukel Hill.
For his attack on 28 March, Colonel Pearson sent both 1/187th and 2/187th in a frontal assault between the Cuenca and Dita ridges into the Mount Macolod area. G/187th attacked with flamethrowers and burned out three Japanese bunkers. Shortly, the company came under heavy machine-gun fire that slowed its advance. E/187th fanned out to the west of G/187th. Both companies fought their way to the top of a hillcrest, even though E/187th was pinned down by heavy machine-gun fire from ravines to the west. Major Loewus, 2/187th's commanding officer, was wounded by a Japanese sniper, evacuated, and replaced by Major Nat Ewing. Predictably, the Japanese started dropping mortar rounds. In an orderly fighting withdrawal, Ewing saved his command to fight another day. E/187th came off the mountain with 11 WIA. Both battalions were forced to withdraw. Their new positions now encircled the landward sides of Mount Macolod. During the period of 29 March to 1 April, 2/187th held position near Dita and 1/187th was dug in on Bukel Hill. The Japanese performed early-morning banzai attacks that were costly to both battalions. On 2 April, 1/187th and 2/187th attacked with all companies in line, and this time were able to clear the Dita area as far as the base of Mount Macolod, although they were unable to gain the ridges.
On 4 April, the 187th RCT's S-2 (Intelligence) and two others were killed in a Japanese ambush along the highway near Talisay, a barrio about 3.5 miles (5.6 km) northeast of Lipa at the western base of Mount Malepunyo. It was obvious to Colonel Pearson that the Japanese held Talisay with a sizeable force. At 07:00 on 5 April, F/187th and G/187th started a cross-country move to Talisay. Simultaneously, Japanese artillery rounds landed in Pearson's CP area near Munting, a barrio midway between Lipa and Talisay. About 1,500 yards (1,400 m) from the barrio, F/187th and G/187th were hit by the same Japanese guns that hit the 187th RCT CP. They did not have a chance to dig in but took cover in nearby ravines. The 674th GFAB was also caught on the move by the Japanese artillery fire. They moved into positions along the highway to open counter-battery fire. While the Japanese guns were pounding 2/187th, an aerial artillery observer spotted a muzzle flash in dense growth and directed the 674th GFAB to pour in heavy counter-battery fire on the position; this sharp artillery action silenced the Japanese guns to the east before they could completely decimate 2/187th. When 2/187th reached the area, they found that the Japanese artillery commander, apparently unaware of the need to spread out his guns, had massed all of his artillery pieces in one position. The 674th GFAB's counter-battery fire had effectively knocked out the bulk of the Japanese guns.
During the period of 3 April to 17 April, 1/187th probed the ravines and gullies that wrinkled Mount Macolod. On 17 April, they launched an all-out attack to throw the Japanese off the mountain. Preceded by heavy artillery fire, A/187th attacked along north-south Brownie Ridge, C/187th moved up the north side of Cuenca Ravine, and B/187th advanced on C/187th's right flank. The plan was to have all companies converge at the head of Cuenca Ravine. During the advance up the hill, there was little opposition. When the three companies converged, the Japanese hit them with mortar, machine-gun, and sniper fire from camouflaged positions, killing Captain Paul G. Bashore, B/187th's commanding officer, and two others in the hail of fire. An estimated force of 100 Japanese had stopped 1/187th at every turn, despite the concentrations of four artillery battalions and continuous airstrikes. The operation to date had cost 1/187th six officers, seven squad or platoon leaders, and a disquieting number of privates.
Colonel Pearson prepared a task force for an all-out assault on Mount Macolod. He placed M18 Hellcat tank destroyers along the highway west of Dita and moved 155mm artillery howitzers up to the front lines where they could fire directly into cave mouths on the side of the mountain. For three days, a campaign was waged against the Japanese on the mountain. Every second of the day and night, some type of round landed among the Japanese positions – a burst of heavy machine-gun fire, a mortar round, or an artillery round. On 18 April, Pearson launched a coordinated attack with 1/187th and 2/187th abreast in a semicircle around the southern and eastern slopes. 1/187th used Bukel Hill as its point of departure. The advance was slow and rough, especially across the bare face of Brownie Ridge, where the troops had to run and crouch through machine-gun and mortar fire. On the afternoon of 19 April, G/187th moved up the south ridge without opposition. They arrived at the summit of Mount Macolod at about 15:00 and attacked down the western slope. Hand grenades were thrown down the slopes and into the caves. The Japanese ran down the slope as soon as they realized the Americans were above them and many ran out of the caves after a grenade was thrown in. Each cave was blown shut by the engineers. Constant radio contact was maintained to keep the platoons and squads abreast and to keep from allowing the Japanese to criss-cross the American rear. 1/187th also sealed all the caves in its area; C/187th rolled drums of gasoline into the caves near Cuenca Ravine and ignited them with grenades. The resultant fires killed many Japanese, burned off the vegetation, and prevented the Japanese from infiltrating between companies.
By 20 April, the battle for Mount Macolod was over. That day, the 187th RCT lost 13 KIA and 11 WIA.
Source citation: Flanagan (1997). The Rakkasans. pp. 108–116.
After Mount Macolod fell, the last remaining Japanese stronghold in the 11th Airborne Division's AO in southern Luzon was Mount Malepunyo, a hill complex covered with tangled rainforest and bamboo thickets, surrounded by precipitous slopes and interlaced with sharp ridges. The highest peak stood at 3,287 feet (1,002 m) above the plains. There were no roads and only poorly-maintained jungle trails within the 30 square miles (78 km2) area of the mountain, which required the troops to hand-carry small loads, use Filipino bearers for resupply and casualty evacuation, and two-seater artillery light observation aircraft to airdrop emergency supplies.
General Griswold felt that Mount Malepunyo was such a formidable Japanese position that he had originally planned to reduce the mountain with two divisions, the 1st Cavalry and the 11th Airborne. At this time, General Swing had his CP in Lipa. Late on the night of 22 April 1945, Swing received a call from XIV Corps headquarters, informing him that, instead of getting the whole 1st Cavalry Division, he would only have the 8th Cavalry Regiment attached for the operation. Swing's assault plan called for the 187th RCT to move to Tiaong to relieve the 188th RCT and block any Japanese withdrawal eastward off Mount Malepunyo. He moved the 188th RCT to Alaminos, north of the mountain, for an attack southward. He held the 8th Cavalry in position at the mouth of the "Grand Canyon," a gorge on the northeastern slope of the mountain. Swing assigned the main effort to the 511th RCT, on the 8th Cavalry's right flank, which was to attack eastward along the Malaraya Hill canyon and then turn northward to join the 188th RCT. Seven artillery battalions, some organic to the 11th Airborne Division and some attached, were spread out around the base of the mountain. Supplementing the artillery were a company of Hellcat tank destroyers, a company of Sherman tanks, and a 4.2-inch mortar company. The artillerymen of D Battery, 457th PFAB, broke down their pack 75s and lugged them up the side of the mountain to fire at the caves.
The 187th RCT's area of responsibility was a large arc around the northern shore of Taal Lake. Colonel Pearson located his CP and 2/187th at Tanauan. 1/187th, directly under General Swing's control, was at Tiaong, tasked with cutting off the Japanese retreat from Mount Malepunyo.
At dawn on 27 April, General Swing launched his attack. The artillery, located around the base and sides of the mountain, fired some 5,000 mixed-caliber rounds in front of the infantry. USAAF fighter-bombers pounded the Japanese positions. The 511th RCT's paratroopers positioned themselves close to the airstrike impact points because they observed that the Japanese scampered to their caves when they heard the approaching planes and, immediately after the bombing runs, moved out of their caves to man their fighting positions. Being so near, the 511th RCT killed many Japanese as they left their caves and bunkers. On 30 April, after more air and artillery strikes, and after a bloody fight, the 511th RCT was on Mount Malepunyo's high ground. The 511th RCT swept the slopes to flush out the last Japanese remnants. Patrols found large caves interconnected by wire communications and stocked with large ammunition and supply stores. Captured documents confirmed that the mountain fortress was the last stronghold of the Japanese southern Luzon defense force.
Colonel Pearson deployed the 187th RCT's battalions along the likely Japanese escape routes. 1/187th laid ambushes up and down the Malaking Tubig River, east of Mount Malepunyo, for a distance of some 10 miles (16 km), endeavoring to cover every possible crossing; they accounted for about 400 Japanese killed or captured. On 1 May, the Division Recon Platoon reported contact with a Japanese company-sized force in the vicinity of Aya along Tagaytay Ridge. Since the contact was in the 187th RCT's sector, F/187th, reinforced with a mortar section and a light machine-gun section, was assigned to clear out the Japanese. F/187th moved out at dawn on 2 May and found the Japanese stronghold in short order. F/187th attacked the position from three sides, pouring in a heavy volume of fire. The total kill for F/187th that day was 92 Japanese. One of the squads was led by PFC Joe R. Siedenberg, a veteran of Leyte and Luzon. On 3 May, Siedenberg's squad was pinned down by heavy Japanese automatic-weapons fire. One of his men was wounded in the opening burst and fell, exposed to more Japanese fire. Siedenberg was hit in the chest as he crawled across the open ground to the wounded man, but he crawled on, gathered up the wounded man, and turned back to cover with the rest of his squad. On the way back, he was hit twice more but continued to crawl and carry the wounded man to safety. Back with his squad, Siedenberg died of his wounds. He was later awarded the Distinguished Service Cross for his gallantry. After the war and during the Occupation of Japan, the 11th Airborne Division's first post on Hokkaido was named Camp Siedenberg in his honor.
The German act of military surrender to the Allies was signed on 7 May. The War Department and the Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) expected that, despite Germany's unconditional surrender, an invasion of Japan was required for total victory. Thirty divisions from the European Theater of Operations (ETO) were on their way to the Far East. General MacArthur's headquarters staff had the plans ready for Operation Downfall, the Allied invasion of the Japanese Home Islands. The operation had two parts: Operation Olympic and Operation Coronet. Set to begin on 1 November 1945, Operation Olympic was the invasion of Kyushu, the southernmost main Japanese island. On 1 March 1946 would come Operation Coronet, the planned invasion of Honshu, the largest and most populous main Japanese island. Airfields on Kyushu captured in Operation Olympic would allow land-based air support for Operation Coronet. MacArthur had the troops. At the time, there were 1.4 million men in the Philippines; in December, there would be an additional million. The 11th Airborne Division had a part to play in both operations – in Olympic, a floating reserve; in Coronet, they would be the lead division of the XVIII Airborne Corps under Major General Matthew B. Ridgway to jump onto the Boso Peninsula forming the eastern side of Tokyo Bay and establish a beachhead for the amphibious landing of several armored divisions.
By 10 May, the 11th Airborne division had regrouped and established a base camp on the outskirts of Lipa. During May, replacements began to arrive. The 11th Airborne Division shifted to a new Table of Organization and Equipment (TO&E) that added a battalion to each of the 187th and 188th GIRs, made the 188th GIR and 674th GFAB parachute units, and added the 472nd GFAB to Division Artillery. The 187th GIR became a Para-Glider Infantry Regiment (PGIR). The division's strength increased from 8,600 to more than 12,000. With the new TO&E, all the men could now become parachute qualified. General Swing established his third jump school at the Lipa airstrip. In about two months, the jump school would turn out over 1,000 newly qualified paratroopers, including most of the 187th PGIR's glider riders. He also set up a glider school.
On 29 May, the 187th PGIR took over the garrisoning of Manila and came under the direct command of the Sixth Army provost marshal. Among other tasks, the 187th rooted out surviving Japanese soldiers, directed traffic, and guarded port areas. In general, the 187th helped control a city whose police force had not yet been re-established. When the 187th returned to Lipa, it reorganized under its new TO&E. 1/187th and 2/187th provided officers and non-commissioned officers (NCOs) for the new 3/187th. The plan moved a third of the veterans from each old battalion to the new battalion and filled out the ranks with replacements.
By mid-June, the Japanese had been pushed back into the northwestern corner of Luzon. American forces were pushing northward up the Cagayan River Valley. At the northern end of Luzon was the port of Aparri. General Krueger decided to send an airborne task force to seal off that port. General Swing formed TF Gypsy, consisting of 1,030 men of the reinforced 1/511th, Battery C, 457th PFAB, a platoon from the 127th AEB, and two platoons from B/187th. For the first time in the history of the Pacific Theater, gliders were used in combat. Six CG–4As and one CG–13 were assembled. The 317th Troop Carrier Group (TCG) supplied fifty-four C–47s and fourteen C–46s for the paratroopers. TF Gypsy began loading out at 04:30 on 23 June. The first aircraft off the Lipa airstrip was a C–47; the rest of the aircraft followed with the towed gliders bringing up the rear. At 09:00, TF Gypsy dropped onto the DZ at Camalaniugan Airfield, a few miles south of Aparri on the western side of the Cagayan River. The paratroopers landed in the proper DZ but casualties were high: two men were killed by parachute malfunction and 70 were injured. High winds and rough terrain on the DZ contributed to the high casualty rate. Once the paratroopers were down, the gliders brought in the artillery and other heavy equipment. TF Gypsy headed south to meet the US 37th Infantry Division moving north. The two forces linked up on 23 June near the Pared River, 35 miles (56 km) south of the DZ. The airborne operation had proved both useless and unnecessary. For the Sixth Army, the meeting of the 11th Airborne and 37th Infantry Divisions marked the strategic end of the campaign in northern Luzon.:570–571
During June and July, the 11th Airborne Division was involved in training and reorganization. By the beginning of August, the usual rumors were making the rounds. It was said that the division was supposed to jump ahead of the forces making the amphibious landings in Japan. At other times, they were scheduled to land in China. In August, the war in the Pacific took a dramatic turn. On 6 August, Enola Gay, a B–29, dropped an atomic bomb over Hiroshima. On 9 August, Bockscar dropped a second atomic bomb on Nagasaki. On 9 August, the Soviet Union declared war on Japan. On 10 August, the Japanese government communicated its intention to surrender.
Source citation: Flanagan (1997). The Rakkasans. pp. 116–125.
Post–World War II
Occupation of Japan
At 04:30 on 11 August 1945, the 11th Airborne Division duty officer woke General Swing with a top-secret message alerting the division to prepare to move all combat elements and equipment by air on 48 hours' notice to a staging area in Okinawa for the eventual occupation of Japan. In short, the message meant that General MacArthur, recently appointed Supreme Commander for the Allied Powers (SCAP), had selected the division to lead the Allies in occupying Japan. By 05:30, Major Edward M. Flanagan Jr., the division G-3 (Operations) for air operations, was on a flight to Far East Air Forces (FEAF) headquarters at Brisbane, Australia. Upon arrival, he was informed by the FEAF Operations officer that transport aircraft would begin arriving at Lipa, Luzon in 48 hours. A few minutes later, the situation changed dramatically when Major Flanagan was told to immediately fly back to Lipa because the transports were already in the air and would be arriving in the afternoon.
Back at Lipa, Colonel Pearson received a call from the division G-3, alerting the 187th PGIR to be ready to move out by air in 48 hours. Pearson immediately met with his battalion commanders, repeated the warning order, and sent them back to their bivouac areas to direct their company commanders to have their troops standing by in their company areas. Units were sorted as to which men and equipment would fly to Okinawa and which would follow by sea. Men and equipment were inspected to ensure that each man had the proper military and personal gear for the trip. The lead elements of the 11th Airborne Division departed Luzon on 11 August. At 23:00 on 12 August, Pearson was notified that, at 06:30 on 13 August, vehicles would arrive to transport the 187th to Nichols and Nielson Fields in Manila for air movement to Okinawa; once there, Pearson would set up a temporary encampment and await the final peace terms settlement and the details of the division's air movement to spearhead the occupation of Japan. Shortly before 11:00 on 13 August, aircraft from the 54th TCW took off from Nichols Field carrying the 187th's lead elements to Okinawa. They landed at 16:45 that afternoon.
On 15 August, Emperor Hirohito of Japan took the unprecedented step of addressing the nation to inform his people that Japan had accepted the Allied surrender terms.
The bulk of the 11th Airborne Division had closed on Okinawa by 15 August. The 54th TCW rounded up C–46s, C–47s, and B–24s (with troops crammed into the bomb bays) to airlift the division to Naha, Kadena, and Yotan Airfields on Okinawa. The rest of the 187th PGIR departed for Okinawa as transport aircraft were made available, and was consolidated by 18 August. A rear echelon stayed at Lipa long enough to bring up the regiment's heavy equipment by ship. For the next two weeks, the division was stuck on Okinawa, waiting for the details of the final Japanese surrender negotiations. The division had expected to remain on Okinawa for a week at the most, and all heavy equipment, including the mess kitchens, were moving up by sea. Consequently, the men lived in pup tents and ate 10-in-1 rations, C-rations, or K-rations cooked on squad cookers. The GIs listened to lectures and orientations on the Japanese people, their customs, and their country. They were warned that no one knew how the Japanese would react to the occupation; for this reason, the division would arrive in Japan loaded out for combat. General Swing still thought that he might be given the mission of airdropping a major portion of his division onto Japan. That mission never materialized, even though paratroopers tried jumping from a B–24 because the C–46 could not make the round trip between Okinawa and Japan; the B–24 was most inappropriate for dropping paratroopers.
The final leg of the trip to Atsugi Airdrome in Japan was run by Major General William O. Ryan, commanding general of the Air Transport Command's Pacific Division. By 28 August, General Ryan's command had crammed the departure airfields on Okinawa with C–54s from all over the world, enough so that C–54s, larger than the C–46s or C–47s, were the only transport aircraft that made the flight from Okinawa to Japan. The airlift plan called for both personnel and cargo aircraft to depart Okinawa at a rate of 15 planes per hour, 11 hours a day. On 28 August, an advance detail from General Ryan's headquarters and the 11th Airborne Division flew to Atsugi Airdrome to set up equipment for the main landings, including radio equipment to set up an air traffic control tower. A typhoon over Okinawa caused a 48-hour delay. At 01:00 on 30 August, the first C–54 in the division's lead echelon took off from Kadena Airfield. Aboard were General Swing and the principal division staff officers. On the second C–54 were General Pierson, the alternate division staff, and a detachment with communications equipment capable of reaching back to Okinawa. Five hours later, General Swing's aircraft touched down at Atsugi Airdrome, followed by a steady stream of C–54s. General Swing was the first man off his plane. The occupation of Japan was underway.
The 11th Airborne Division had been directed to provide an honor guard for General MacArthur's arrival on Japanese soil. MacArthur refused to meet with the Japanese until the moment of final surrender. Each division infantry regiment was to furnish a platoon for the honor guard. Captain Glenn Carter, 1/187th's executive officer, was to be the honor guard commander. The honor guard was attached to Major Thomas Mesereau's 3/188th. Early in the airlift were 3/188th, the attached honor guard, and the division band to be on hand when Macarthur arrived. Colonel Pearson and an initial planeload of the 187th PGIR landed early in the flight pattern with the mission of remaining in the Atsugi Airdrome area and guarding the airfield.
General Eichelberger and part of his US Eighth Army staff landed at around noon. At 14:00, General Macarthur arrived in his personal C–54, aptly named "Bataan." He paused at the top of the ramp dressed in his signature khakis, with his corncob pipe in his mouth, and his gold-braided uniform hat firmly in place. As he proceeded down the ramp, the 11th Airborne Division band played "Ruffles and Flourishes" followed by the "General's March," the musical honors appropriate to a five-star Army general. General Eichelberger stepped forward to meet MacArthur, saluted, and they shook hands. MacArthur and his staff then climbed into vehicles to move from Atsugi Airdrome to the Hotel New Grand in Yokohama, the site of MacArthur's headquarters for the next few days, where the motorcade was greeted by Major Mesereau, his 3/188th battalion, and Captain Carter's 11th Airborne Division honor guard.
By the end of the day, 123 C–54s had landed at Atsugi Airdrome, bringing in 4,200 troops of the 11th Airborne Division and other support units. The first serials brought in no large vehicles or heavy equipment because General Swing wanted the maximum number of men, lightly equipped, to land initially, given the unknown situation at and near the Atsugi Airdrome. What equipment came in was essential: two jeeps and one water trailer per regiment and a five-day supply of 10-in-1 rations. The 188th PIR landed first with 1,096 men; then came the 187th PGIR with 1,257 men. The 511th PIR landed next with 1,165 men. By evening, the regiments had fanned out to accomplish their assigned missions: The 511th moved to Yokohama and posted the Yokohama-Tokyo road for about 8 miles (13 km) beyond Yokohama; the 188th fanned out from Atsugi toward Fujisawa; the 187th remained at Atsugi Airdrome.
The 187th PGIR quickly took over its sector of responsibility. The regimental CP was set up at the Japanese Naval School. Motorized and foot patrols were maintained throughout the area. All Japanese installations containing military arms and equipment were seized. The 187th was given the mission of caring for the Allied prisoners of war (POWs) who began to leave the Japanese POW camps as soon as the Americans began to land and were streaming into Atsugi Airdrome for transportation out of Japan.
The morning of 2 September (3 September in Japan) 1945 was a singular moment in the annals of world history when the formal Japanese surrender occurred aboard the USS Missouri (BB-63), anchored in Tokyo Bay.
On 7 September, the 11th Airborne Division CP closed at Atsugi Airdrome. General Ryan's Air Transport Command had moved the division's 11,708 men, 640 tons of supplies, and more than 600 jeeps and trailers. At 1,600 miles (2,600 km), it was the longest and largest air–transported troop movement ever attempted and completed. The division and the 187th PGIR were now ready to begin the final occupation of Japan.
Source citation: Flanagan (1997). The Rakkasans. pp. 126–134.
On 14 September 1945, the Americal Division relieved the 11th Airborne Division of its responsibilities in the Tokyo-Yokohama area. The next day, the 11th Airborne Division began its move by highway and rail to assigned sectors in northern Honshu. For its move, the 187th PGIR moved from Atsugi Airdrome to Sendai, where the regiment was housed in a Japanese Army arsenal that would later be named Camp Schimmelpfennig, after the 11th Airborne Division's chief of staff who was killed in action near Manila.
General Swing set up the Myagi Task Force, composed of the 187th PGIR and 188th PIR and commanded by General Pierson, the assistant division commander. In addition to carrying out General MacArthur's SCAP edicts, the principal mission was to collect and destroy all Japanese arms, ammunition, and armament factories. The 187th spent most of its time improving its accommodations and patrolling its assigned sector.
By early fall, many of the 187th PGIR's combat troops had returned stateside for discharge, the dates based on the number of "points" accumulated in combat and overseas service. Replacements, officer and enlisted alike, were arriving by the hundreds to the units scattered over northern Honshu. Many were not parachute qualified. General Swing, for the fourth time, established another jump school at the former Yanome Airfield, about 15 miles (24 km) from Sendai. From March through June 1946, 3,376 men were graduated from the Yanome jump school, about 75 percent of those who started the two-week course. With over 18,066 jumps during that period, the injury rate was less than one percent. By this time, the 187th was almost completely manned with paratroopers, in keeping with Swing's 1943 requirement that 11th Airborne Division soldiers be both parachute and glider qualified. During the summer of 1946, Swing started a glider school at Yamoto Airfield, renamed Carolus Field in honor of Corporal Charles H. Carolus, killed in a glider crash near Manila on 22 July 1945. In October 1945, the division initiated a flying school using the division's liaison pilots and the artillery spotter aircraft. By the end of the six-week course, the student had accumulated 15 hours of dual and 15 hours of solo flying time. By June 1946, 25 officers and 75 enlisted men had completed the course.
In January 1946, Colonel Pearson was replaced by Colonel Wilson as the 187th PGIR's new commanding officer.
In the months after the Japanese surrender, the 11th Airborne Division moved its major elements several times. In February 1946, General Eichelberger, still the US Eighth Army's commanding general, assigned the area of northern Honshu and all of Hokkaido to the division. Division headquarters moved into a bank building in downtown Sapporo, a city never bombed during the war. The Sapporo Grand Hotel became the bachelor officer quarters and officers club. Headquarters for the 187th PGIR and 2/187th were set up in an old Japanese military barracks outside Sapporo; 1/187th moved to the port city of Hakodate; 3/187th went to Asahikawa. In March 1946, 3/187th moved to Bihoro. In the spring of 1946, General Swing built a pentagonal headquarters building at Camp Crawford in the Makomanai area outside Sapporo and surrounded it with platoon-sized barracks for the men of the 187th who had been living in winterized pyramidal tents.
On 24 June 1946, military dependents of the men interested in staying in Japan for a year or more began to arrive in ships that docked in Yokohama. In Sapporo, the 11th Airborne Division headquarters and the 187th PGIR troops used, as temporary quarters, Japanese houses that were remodeled according to American standards and filled with furniture built by the Japanese under American guidance. Later, Japanese construction companies built homes on the various military posts.
In June 1947, Colonel Pearson assumed command of the 187th PGIR once again.
"Patrol jumps" became routine for the 187th PGIR's paratroopers. Ten paratroopers would board a C–47 and drop onto little Japanese towns throughout Hokkaido. There was no such thing as a regular DZ. The paratroopers would fly around, looking for a field, then out the door they would go. Once on the ground, the NCO in charge would set up a mission, such as checking a bridge and generally making a show of strength. Very few Japanese had seen an American before and none of them had ever seen a paratrooper until he jumped in on top of them. The Japanese would dash out to the DZ and the children would help the GIs roll up their parachutes and carry their gear to a local inn. On some occasions, the whole population would come out to the edge of town to meet the paratroopers after they landed.
In June 1948, Colonel Pearson was reassigned to the Research and Development Board on Aeronautics, Office of the Secretary of Defense. Lieutenant Colonel Harvey J. Jablonsky, the 11th Airborne Division's chief of staff, was promoted to command of the 187th PGIR.
For the 11th Airborne Division and the 187th PGIR, the days of occupation duty in Japan were coming to a close. In January 1949, the US 31st Infantry Regiment arrived at Sapporo to take over the 187th's occupation duties. On 19 January, the first echelon of the 187th left Sapporo for Camp Campbell, Kentucky, the new home of the division. The main body of the 187th set sail aboard the USS General M. L. Hersey (AP-148) on 19 February and docked in New Orleans on 17 March. The 187th moved by rail to Camp Campbell and the regimental headquarters opened at 08:00 on 24 March.
Source citation: Flanagan (1997). The Rakkasans. pp. 134–140.
In March 1949, several changes faced the 187th PGIR when it arrived and settled into life at Camp Campbell. The Pentagon had wisely decided after some disastrous glider operations in World War II that the flimsy crash-prone gliders were no longer feasible for transporting men and equipment onto battlefields. The US Air Force (USAF), the newest element of the US Armed Forces created with the passing of the National Security Act of 1947, had transport aircraft that could parachute heavier loads into combat than had formerly been landed in gliders.
On 25 June 1949, the 187th PGIR was reorganized and officially redesignated as the 187th Airborne Infantry Regiment (AIR). The reorganization assigned new support units to the 187th AIR, along with some that had formerly been attached. Able Company, 127th Airborne Engineer Battalion (A/127th AEB), the engineer battalion organic to the 11th Airborne Division, became the 187th AIR Engineer Company; the division's antitank company became the 187th AIR Support Company; the 11the Airborne Medical Detachment became the 187th AIR Medical Company.
One of the highlights of the 11th Airborne Division's tour at Camp Campbell was Exercise SWARMER. During the fall of 1949, the division intensified its airborne training in preparation for the exercise, which was designed by USAF Lieutenant General Lauris Norstad to determine the feasibility of the Air Force and Army to establish and operate an airhead, a base secured in enemy-held territory where personnel and supplies could be received and evacuated completely by air, including all resupply by airlanded transport aircraft, under simulated combat conditions. During its occupation period in Japan and because of the wide dispersion of its assets over Honshu and Hokkaido, the division never had the opportunity to conduct a full-scale, division-sized airborne operation. SWARMER would provide the opportunity. The exercise planning staff set up a special headquarters at Camp Mackall, North Carolina, the division's birthplace. There, Air Force and Army planners worked out the details of the largest peacetime airborne operation ever attempted.
In April 1950, Camp Campbell became a permanent military installation and was redesignated Fort Campbell.
In early April 1950, to start the exercise, an aggressor force landed on the North Carolina coast. A second aggressor force, operating out of Florida, attacked northward. It was ironic that the 11th Airborne Division would fight over the same terrain where it had fought the 1943 Knollwood Maneuver, the airborne operation that proved that airborne divisions were practical and feasible. On 18 April, the 187th AIR left Fort Campbell for Donaldson Air Force Base in Greenville, South Carolina, to stage for the large-scale airborne operation. On the morning of 28 April, D–day, the 187th dropped onto the DZ adjacent to Mackall Army Airfield, the same drop and landing zone used for parachute and glider training in 1943. That afternoon, after the airfield had been secured to allow transport aircraft to land, the 511th PIR was airlifted in from Cambell Air Force Base, the military airport at Fort Campbell. The 82nd Airborne Division from Fort Bragg, North Carolina airdropped two airborne infantry regiments and airlanded a third airborne infantry regiment during SWARMER. In all, 60,000 paratroopers were involved in the operation. Overhead, fighters from the USAF Tactical Air Command provided air cover, and USAF transports, landing at a rate of one every three minutes, brought supplies onto the airfields captured by the paratroopers. The "battle" lasted 10 days.
Colonel Jablonsky, determined to make the 187th AIR the best regiment in the division, had instituted a tough airborne physical-training program. Jablonsky's demand for perfection in physical and tactical training paid off. The Exercise SWARMER umpires awarded the 187th the highest Operational Readiness Test score of any of the five airborne infantry regiments in the exercise. The 187th's high scores and combat readiness were instrumental in the regiment's being selected for battle in Korea two months later.
On 5 June, Colonel Jablonsky was temporarily succeeded by Lieutenant Colonel Wilson, the man who commanded the 187th AIR between Colonel Pearson's command tours in Japan. Wilson was replaced on 21 June when Colonel Frank S. Bowen, who had been a brigadier general during World War II, took command of the 187th. Colonel Bowen could not know that he was about to lead the 187th into one of the most famous and notable chapters in its history. In a very short time, the training at Fort Campbell would be over. The officers and men of the 187th would say goodbye again to families and friends as they went to war once more.
Source citation: Flanagan (1997). The Rakkasans. pp. 140–143.
Movement to Japan
On 4 July, a team of USAF officers dispatched by General Hoyt S. Vandenberg, the US Air Force Chief of Staff, arrived in Japan to discuss the differences between Lieutenant General George E. Stratemeyer's requests for additional units to bring his FEAF command up to war strength and existing USAF capabilities. One of General Stratemeyer’s requests was for an additional troop carrier wing. Discussions of air transport requirements led to a resolution whereby FEAF would be augmented with a temporary-duty stateside troop carrier group if US Army airborne units were deployed to the Far East.:69–70 Later that month, General MacArthur requested the 187th AIR as an essential element of the amphibious operation that he was preparing for Inchon. Operating from Japan, the paratroopers would be airdropped shortly after D-day to seize a "key communication center" ahead of the advancing US forces, thus facilitating the breakout from the Inchon beachhead.:81 With JCS approval, the 314th Troop Carrier Group (TCG) at Sewart Air Force Base (AFB), Tennessee, consisting of the 50th Troop Carrier Squadron (TCS), 61st TCS, and 62nd TCS, flying the C–119, the newest USAF troop carrier aircraft, that had trained with the Rakkasans during Exercise SWARMER, received a warning order on 13 July to prepare for a stint of temporary duty in Japan.:69–70 :196 The 314th TCG was almost doubled in size, with additional aircraft added from the 37th TCS and part of the 36th TCS of the 316th TCG, and personnel from the 314th TCW and 314th Maintenance and Supply Group, also at Sewart AFB.:107
The difficulty lay in meeting General MacArthur’s specified deadline of 10 September. The Army could not ship the 187th AIR until October and the 314th TCW, which had just received its warning order on 13 July to prepare for the deployment of its four squadrons, could only manage to send a token force of C–119s to Japan.:196 :81 On 26 July, four C–119s from Sewart AFB departed for Japan, ahead of the 314th TCG’s deployment. The C–119s made intermediate stops at McClellan AFB, California, Hickam AFB, Hawaii, Johnston Island, Kwajalein Island, and Andersen AFB, Guam, arriving at Tachikawa Air Base, Japan on 2 August.[Note 3] As FEAF continued planning the airborne phase of the Inchon operation, both the Army paratroopers and the USAF troop carrier units were still in the United States; the 187th AIR was still being organized at Fort Campbell, and except for the four C–119s that had arrived on 2 August, the 314th TCG was still at Sewart AFB. The 314th TCG would be available to FEAF any time after 15 August with 64 C–119s, a number sufficient to airlift 2,700 paratroopers. The Army notified the Air Force that the 187th would require a simultaneous airlift for 3,500 paratroopers and their heavy equipment. This would require 140 C–119s or their equivalents. The Air Force had augmented the strength of the 314th TCG to 96 C–119s with the addition of the 316th TCG's C–119s and stated that FEAF would have to meet the remainder of the requirement. Earlier in July, the 374th TCG’s 21st TCS at Tachikawa Air Base had converted from C–54s to C–47s, and these planes could be used by the paratroopers. To get the remainder of the needed airlift, Fifth Air Force drew personnel from the 374th TCW, including pilots from desk jobs and C–46s from all over the FEAF theater of operations, and organized the 47th TCS (Provisional) and 48th TCS (Provisional) at Tachikawa Air Base on 26 August. Fifth Air Force was notified that the 187th liaison officers were "most unhappy over plans to use C–46 aircraft and...do not want to use C–47 aircraft." When MacArthur was briefed that the 187th would not reach Japan before 21 September, he announced that he would proceed with the amphibious invasion anyway, but asked that the 187th proceed to the theater as soon as possible and be prepared for either an airlanding or parachute assault in Korea.:154
On 1 August, Colonel Bowen assembled his troops in Theater No. 3 at Fort Campbell and announced that the 187th AIR was alerted for overseas movement. On 27 August, the regiment officially became the 187th Airborne Regimental Combat Team (187th ARCT) when supporting units were added for the deployment to Japan.:153
The 187th ARCT consisted of::41–42
- Regimental Headquarters and Headquarters Company
- Regimental Service Company
- Regimental Medical Company
- Regimental Support Company
- lst Airborne Infantry Battalion (1/187th) – "Able" Company (A/187th), "Baker" Company (B/187th), "Charlie" Company (C/187th), "Dog" Company (D/187th)
- 2nd Airborne Infantry Battalion (2/187th ) – "Easy" Company (E/187th), "Fox" Company (F/187th), "George" Company (G/187th), "How" Company (H/187th)
- 3rd Airborne Infantry Battalion (3/187th) – "Item" Company (I/187th), "Jig" Company (J/187th), "King" Company (K/187th), "Love" Company (L/187th)
- 674th Airborne Field Artillery Battalion (105mm) (674th AFAB)
- Battery "A," 88th Airborne Antiaircraft Artillery Battalion (90mm) (88th AAAB)
- "Able" Company, 127th Airborne Engineer Battalion (A/127th AEB)
The following units were assigned to the 187th ARCT by General Order 34 (Confidential) from Headquarters, 11th Airborne Division:
- 187th Airborne Infantry Regiment
- 674th Airborne Field Artillery Battalion
- Battery "A," 88th Airborne Antiaircraft Artillery Battalion
- "Able" Company, 127th Airborne Engineer Battalion
The following units were added on 23 August by General Order 41 from Headquarters, 11th Airborne Division, dated 22 August 1950:
- Detachment, 11th Airborne Military Police Company
- Detachment, 11th Airborne Quartermaster Company
- Parachute Maintenance Company
- Pathfinders from the 11th Airborne Division
The following units were attached on 26 August by General Order 42 from Headquarters, 11th Airborne Division, dated 25 August 1950:
- Platoon, Ambulance Company, 11th Airborne Medical Battalion
- Platoon, Clearing Company, 11th Airborne Medical Battalion
On 28 August, IX Corps OPORD Number 1 attached the 2348th Quartermaster Air Packaging and Resupply Company to Colonel Bowen's command.
- Attached units
- 2nd and 4th Ranger Infantry Companies (Airborne) (3 March 1951 – 4 April 1951)
- Tactical Liaison Office Team, 8177th Army Unit (Tactical Intelligence)
From the date of its organization as a regimental combat team until it departed for Camp Stoneman, California on 1 September, the 187th AIR received personnel from the 511th PIR, the 82nd Airborne Division at Fort Bragg, and the Airborne Training Battalion, Infantry School, Fort Benning, Georgia, to bring it up to full strength for overseas deployment. On 31 August, the day before leaving Fort Campbell, the 187th ARCT's aggregate strength was 222 officers, 11 warrant officers, and 4,177 enlisted men.:42
The 50th TCS, 61st TCS, and 62nd TCS departed from Sewart AFB on 27 August and arrived at Ashiya Air Base on 4 September. The 314th TCG was re-formed when the 37th TCS departed from Sewart AFB on 4 September and arrived at Ashiya on 11 September.
The 187th ARCT departed from Fort Campbell aboard 14 trains. The first train, carrying Colonel Bowen and his advance party, departed at midnight on 1 September, headed for Fort Lawton, Washington. Upon arrival, they boarded transport aircraft and flew to Japan. The remaining 13 trains transported the main body of troops to Camp Stoneman, where they boarded the USS General Stuart Heintzelman (AP-159) and the USS General A. E. Anderson (AP-111) for the voyage to Sasebo, Japan, departing on 6–7 September. When the advance party arrived in Tokyo, Bowen and his staff reported to Far East Command (FEC) General Headquarters (GHQ) where they learned that the 187th ARCT was scheduled for immediate deployment to Korea to guard X Corps’ northern flank as soon as the remainder of the 187th ARCT arrived.:42 The remainder of the advance party flew on to Ashiya Air Base and then moved by ground transport to Camp Hakata, set up a temporary CP, and arranged for quarters for the 187th ARCT at Camp Wood. Camp Wood was 60 miles (97 km) from Camp Hakata, so Bowen requested that the ships carrying the main body dock at Moji, a short distance from Ashiya Air Base, instead of Sasebo. Ashiya Air Base was the home of the 314th TCG's C–119 troop carriers and the departure base for the 187th ARCT's move to Korea. The 187th ARCT reconstituted in Japan on 20 September. The main body had moved by truck from Moji to Ashiya Air Base and then almost immediately by air to Korea.:154
Deployment to Korea
Lieutenant Colonel Delbert E. Munson's 3/187th was the first to arrive in Korea, arriving at Kimpo Airfield on 22 September, a week after General MacArthur's amphibious landing at Inchon. Lieutenant Colonel Munson took command of Kimpo Airfield from the Marines. Lieutenant Colonel Arthur H. Wilson's 1/187th landed next, followed by Lieutenant Colonel William J. Boyle's 2/187th. By 26 September, the entire 187th ARCT was at Kimpo Airfield (less a small detachment at Ashiya Air Base and the Parachute Maintenance Company and regimental personnel section at Camp Kashii).:154–155
On 24, 26, and 30 September, C–119s and C–54s made 440 trips moving the 187th ARCT from Japan to Korea.:196
After the 187th ARCT had landed in Korea, it was given the mission of clearing the Kimpo Peninsula between the Han River and the Yellow Sea. By 2 October, the 187th ARCT was reassembled at Kimpo Airfield.:155–156
Operations at Sukchon and Sunchon
From the time it had arrived in Korea, FEC GHQ had held the 187th ARCT in theater reserve at Kimpo Airfield, under its direct control, waiting to use the 187th ARCT in an airborne operation. On 16 October, while Lieutenant General Walton H. Walker's Eighth US Army in Korea (EUSAK) and the Republic of Korea Army (ROKA) were advancing on Pyongyang, General MacArthur issued orders for an airborne operation north of Pyongyang to seize critical road junctions and block the main escape routes in an attempt to cut off the North Korean People's Army (NKPA) before it reached the Yalu River and sanctuary and to capture important Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) government officials and senior NKPA officers evacuating Pyongyang ahead of the EUSAK-ROKA spearheads. Planners also hoped that a trainload of US POWs, who it was assumed would be moved northward when the fall of Pyongyang seemed imminent, might be intercepted.:654 On 17 October, Colonel Bowen called a staff meeting and announced that the 187th ARCT had been alerted for an airborne operation north of Pyongyang on 21 October. Two objectives were possible, Anju on the south bank of the Chongchon River and Sukchon-Sunchon. On 18 October, Bowen was told to report to X Corps headquarters at Inchon with maps and plans to brief the FEC Operations general staff. Bowen returned with the news that due to the rapid EUSAK advance, already on the outskirts of Pyongyang, the objective was Anju, with the mission of intercepting DPRK government officials fleeing Pyongyang. D-day was set for 20 October, one day earlier than had been anticipated.:56 On 19 October, when it became apparent that EUSAK was making slower progress than anticipated on the previous day, the 187th ARCT's mission objective was changed to Sukchon-Sunchon. Briefings were held for the USAF troop carrier pilots and US Army jumpmasters. Separate briefings were held for DZ EASY (Sunchon) and DZ WILLIAM (Sukchon). It was announced that in the event of bad weather, the jump would be delayed by three-hour increments. If the jump was postponed for two successive periods and the weather was still bad, the operation would be canceled for the day. Bowen announced that P-hour (Parachute-hour) over the DZs was set for 11:00.:57–58
The 187th ARCT's mission was divided into six parts::21
- Land by parachute at P-hour on D-day, seize, occupy, and defend the Sukchon-Sunchon area
- Disrupt the MSR and LOC to prevent enemy withdrawal to the north and passage of reinforcement and supply to the south in sector
- Capture important North Korean military and civilian officials
- Facilitate advance of friendly units
- Perform such POW liberation raids as can be accomplished without jeopardizing primary missions of (1), (2), and (3)
- When contact is established, report to Commanding General, EUSAK
The 187th ARCT’s DZs at Sukchon and Sunchon were up the arms of a "V" formed by the main highway and railway routes that converged at Pyongyang. Sukchon and Sunchon commanded the approaches to the Chongchon River, 30 miles (48 km) to the north. The main highway from Pyongyang to the Yalu River and the Manchurian border at Sinuiju formed the lefthand side of the "V." Sukchon was located on this highway in a wide valley surrounded by low hills. The righthand road passed through rougher terrain to Sunchon on the west bank of the Taedong River.:654
The plan called for Colonel Bowen, his command group, and the Rakkasans' 1/187th and 3/187th to be dropped onto DZ WILLIAM, southeast of Sukchon, about 25 miles (40 km) north of Pyongyang. 1/187th was to clear Sukchon and secure the high ground to the north. 3/187th was to block the highway and rail line south of Sukchon, cutting off the MSR and LOC that led north from Pyongyang. 2/187th would come down on DZ EASY, near Sunchon, about 30 miles (48 km) northeast of Pyongyang and 17 miles (27 km) east of Sukchon. Its mission was to clear Sunchon, block another highway and rail line, and capture the POW train.:1 The paratroopers would hold their positions until relieved by EUSAK's push northward from Pyongyang. A linkup of EUSAK with the 187th ARCT was expected within two days.:8 The 27th British Commonwealth Brigade, leading the US 24th Infantry Division northward from Pyongyang, would link up with 1/187th and 3/187th at Sukchon; the US 70th Tank Battalion would advance from Pyongyang to link up with 2/187th at Sunchon.:157–158
To support the airlift requirements, FEC GHQ tasked Major General William H. Tunner's FEAF Combat Cargo Command with airlifting the 187th ARCT from Kimpo Airfield to the DZs and conducting aerial resupply as required. All equipment necessary for the immediate accomplishment of the mission was to be airdropped with the assault and follow-up echelons. All critical equipment not airdropped into the airhead but essential for sustained operations would be transported forward in the land echelon, which was attached to EUSAK until the linkup.:22 On 18 October, General Tunner had canceled all commitments of the 314th TCG and 21st TCS from their routine shuttle and airlift missions to stage at Kimpo Airfield and prepare for the airborne assault.:208 A total of 80 C–119s (57 for paratrooper airdrop; 23 for heavy equipment airdrop) of the 314th TCG and 40 C–47s (for paratrooper airdrop) of the 21st TCS were planned for D–day; 57 C–119s (21 paratrooper, 36 heavy equipment) for D plus 1, and 15 C–119s (heavy equipment) on D plus 2.:29 The "Dollar Nineteen" could carry 46 paratroopers in two sticks of 23 each, 20 overhead monorail cargo drop bundles weighing 500 pounds each that could be salvoed in 7–8 seconds, and four door drop bundles, two for each jump door; the smaller C–47 could carry one stick of 18 paratroopers and two drop bundles.:8 [Note 4] The paratroopers would jump from an altitude of 700 feet (210 m); heavy equipment would be dropped from 1,500 feet (460 m).:8 The aircraft arrived at Kimpo Airfield from Ashiya Air Base (C–119s) and Brady Air Base (C–47s) in Japan with 20 hours remaining for marshaling and loading.:29
Airborne assault, 20 October 1950
Scheduled to depart from Kimpo Airfield at 06:00 on 20 October, "Reveille" was held at 02:00 in heavy rain. The paratroopers turned out in the post-midnight darkness, ate breakfast, and were shuttled to the airfield. At 04:00, word was received that the jump would be postponed for three hours. At 07:00, the drop was delayed another three hours. The weather cleared at 11:00. Finally, 73 C–119s (seven had been scratched from the operation) and 40 C–47s, with Colonel Bowen’s aircraft in the lead, took off at noon, gained altitude, and formed into groups of tight three-plane Vs, with three groups together forming a V-of-Vs formation. When all the aircraft had assembled over the Han River estuary, they turned northward along the west coast of Korea in waves of 15 and 30 aircraft spaced about 15 minutes apart. General Tunner, piloting a C–54 and serving as the airborne commander, would personally supervise the drop, which would occur under the watchful eyes of Generals MacArthur and Stratemeyer, flying in Bataan, MacArthur’s new VC–121A that he had received in September.:654–655 :209 :8–9 :58
As its contribution to the operation, the Fifth Air Force scheduled softening-up attacks in the DZs, fighter escort for the troop carriers, and forward air control procedures for handling close air support, once the paratroopers were on the ground.:208
At 13:55, the airborne armada turned east on the base leg approach to DZ WILLIAM. At 13:57, eight minutes out, the side jump doors of the lead formation of seventeen C–119s were opened. Four minutes out, a red lamp by each jump door illuminated and the command "Stand up and hook up!" was given by the jumpmasters at the front of each stick. The paratroopers stood and hooked their main parachute static lines that would deploy their parachutes to an overhead anchor cable. "Check static lines!" Each paratrooper double-checked his static line and made sure it was properly clipped onto the anchor cable. "Check equipment!" Every paratrooper, besides his main parachute and a reserve, carried a pack, a water canteen, rations, ammunition, a .45 caliber M1911 pistol, and a .30 caliber M1 rifle or M1 carbine. They checked their own equipment to make sure it was properly secured, and that the equipment for the man in front of him was also secure. There was a pause until the one-minute warning was given. "Stand in the door!" With 10 seconds to go, door bundles were pushed out into the slipstream and held in place as the first paratrooper in each stick took his position at the jump door.:59
The show began just after 14:00 when the green lamp turned on, the jumpmasters gave the command to "GO!" and the parachutes from the lead C–119 carrying Colonel Bowen, pathfinders, unit guides, riflemen, and part of the 187th ARCT command group blossomed over the rice paddies of DZ WILLIAM. The airdrop put Lieutenant Colonel Wilson's 1/187th, the Regimental Headquarters and Headquarters Company, the 1st Platoon, Able Company, 127th AEB, Medical, Service, and Support Companies, a Pathfinder Team, and a Forward Air Control Party on the ground. The maneuver apparently caught the NKPA by surprise as attested to by the lack of antiaircraft or ground fire. Upon landing, individual paratroopers quickly formed up into squads and platoons, then headed for the high ground overlooking and controlling the DZ. Seventy-four tons of equipment were airdropped with the 1,470 paratroopers from the first two serials that delivered designated packages of men and equipment to the DZ.:59
After assembling, A/187th and B/187th moved northwest to take Hill 104 to the north of Sukchon. C/187th captured Hill 97 east of Sukchon. Meanwhile, Colonel Bowen established his CP at the base of Hill 97, along the dikes of the Choeryong River; the 187th ARCT CP was dug-in by 16:00.:161 :60
After the paratrooper drop came that of the heavy equipment organic to an airborne infantry regiment, including jeeps, 3/4-ton weapons carriers, 90mm towed antitank guns, and 105mm artillery howitzers. At 14:15, the fourth C–119 serial dropped seven 105mm artillery howitzers, seven jeeps, and 1,125 rounds of ammunition for Batteries A and C of Lieutenant Colonel Harry F. Lambert's 674th AFAB. Of these, six guns and six jeeps were in usable condition.:656 The ammunition delivered by the heavy drop was on pallets of 24 rounds per pallet. By 15:00, Battery C had two guns in position on the DZ, ready to fire. At 15:40, Battery A had four guns in position and had completed target registrations. Six missions were fired on D-day by these two batteries.:60–61
Lieutenant Colonel Munson's 3/187th dropped on to DZ WILLIAM in serials 6 and 7. Upon landing, 3/187th headed 2 miles (3.2 km) south of Sukchon where they took up defensive positions on the low hills and established roadblocks across the highway and rail line. By 17:00, 3/187th had secured its objectives and was prepared to resume the attack south along the highway and rail line toward Pyongyang. The battalion was disposed 3,000 yards (2,700 m) south of Sukchon. I/187th was on the left half of the defensive position. K/187th was on the right half and had established a roadblock on the Sukchon-Pyongyang highway. L/187th was in battalion reserve with the 3/187th CP. During their initial action, five KPA were killed and 42 captured. 3rd Platoon, Able Company, 127th AEB, attached to 3/187th, was further attached to K/187th and placed on the railroad tracks south of Sukchon where it ambushed 80 NKPA, killing six.:656–657 :161 :61
In the second airdrop at 14:20, Lieutenant Colonel Boyle's 2/187th jumped into DZ EASY, 2 miles (3.2 km) southwest of Sunchon, suffering 20 men injured in the jump.:52 Battery B, 674th AFAB, the 2nd Platoon, Able Company, 127th AEB, a Support Company 4.2-inch mortar platoon, a 90mm antitank gun section, a Pathfinder Team, and a Forward Air Control Party were also dropped in support.:161 :62 Battery B had two 105mm artillery howitzers and two jeeps dropped from the heavy drop serial. One gun became detached from its parachutes and was a complete loss; the other had its right shield sheared off but was otherwise operable. The operative gun was in position and ready to fire in 50 minutes from the time it was dropped. Six hundred rounds of 105mm ammunition were recovered from the DZ in useable condition and the battery fired two missions the first day.:62 D/187th and E/187th established roadblocks to the south and west of Sunchon, while F/187th was ordered to advance to the town. Meanwhile, the combat engineers were unable to prepare a bridge across the Kumchon River for demolition because it was under hostile fire. The engineers were then ordered to accompany F/187th to the outskirts of Sunchon and reconnoiter a railroad bridge. On the way into Sunchon, the engineers received friendly fire from elements of the ROK 6th Infantry Division that had reached Sunchon from the southeast in its push toward the Chongchon River. Once contact was established, the firing ceased.:657 :60–61
Except for intermittent shelling observed to the far south, east, and west of Hill 97, the night of 20 October found the187th ARCT on the strategic offensive and the tactical defensive.:63 Colonel Bowen was restored to his World War II rank of brigadier general on this date but did not learn of his promotion until the next day.:61 General Bowen retained command of the 187th ARCT and Colonel George H. Gerhart, the 187th AIR executive officer, was promoted to regimental command.:170
This was the first time that C–119s were used in a combat parachute operation and the first airdrop of personnel during the war. It was also the first time that heavy equipment, such as the 105mm artillery howitzer and 3/4-ton weapons carrier had ever been airdropped in combat.:77 In all, 2,860 paratroopers jumped into the Sukchon-Suchon area with only a single fatality. Many of the paratroopers landed on or near a high-tension power line that had not been spotted in aerial reconnaissance photographs.:209 Additionally, 300 tons of cargo were parachuted to earth. Most of the heavy equipment survived the airdrop. Statistics on equipment serviceability after the drop were good. The aircraft encountered only light ground fire during the operation; one C–119 suffered minor damage.:655–656 :209 :9
After General MacArthur observed the airborne assault, he flew to the recently captured Pyongyang airfield to hold a press conference. There he commented to several war correspondents that the airborne operation was a brilliant tactical maneuver that seemed to have been a complete surprise to the North Koreans. Estimating that 30,000 NKPA, perhaps half of those remaining in North Korea, had been caught between the 187th ARCT to the north and the US 1st Cavalry and ROK 1st Infantry Divisions at Pyongyang to the south, he predicted that they would soon be destroyed or captured. He termed the airdrop an "expert performance" and said, "This closes the trap on the enemy.":658 MacArthur's optimism would not be supported by events. Anxious not to expose the lightly-armed and lightly-equipped paratroopers by projecting them too far forward of the EUSAK advance, FEC GHQ had kept them back too long. The operation came too late to intercept any significant NKPA elements. Most of the NKPA remnants had already succeeded in withdrawing north, and had crossed the Chongchon River, or were in the process of doing so, while Premier Kim Il-sung's government and most important officials had moved to Kanggye in the mountains 20 miles (32 km) southeast of Manpojin on the Yalu River. Through no fault of their own, the paratroopers were less successful on one other score, that of rescuing POWs who were being moved northward from Pyongyang; most of the American POWs had been moved to more remote parts of North Korea and were unable to be rescued.:658
Only the NKPA 239th Regiment remained, having been ordered to delay the UNC forces as they attempted to follow. With a strength of 2,500 men, the regiment occupied positions on the high ground astride the road and rail lines east of Yongyu, about 7 miles (11 km) south of the Sukchon DZ.
Ground operations, 21 October 1950
At 07:00 on 21 October, 1/187th and 3/187th assumed the tactical offensive.:63
1/187th continued its mission to seize the high ground north of Sukchon. A/187th and B/187th captured the line of hills immediately north of Sukchon, encountering only light resistance. The advance was stopped by a strong NKPA rearguard holding the next line of hills northward. At 12:30, an airstrike was conducted on the NKPA-held ridgeline. A/187th and B/187th were then directed to hold their positions and dig in. More than 75 NKPA, armed with small arms and light machine guns were dug in on the ridgeline. To the rear of the ridgeline, NKPA mortar fire harassed the 1/187th front line positions. Further, a high-velocity self-propelled gun supported the NKPA. During this time, C/187th remained in regimental reserve; one of its platoons was sent out to establish contact with 2/187th at Sunchon. The platoon followed the road east to Sunchon; contact was established at 18:30 on DZ EASY.:657 :63–64
At 10:00, 24 C–119s dropped 1,093 additional paratroopers and 106.8 tons of supplies on the Sukchon DZ. Also at 10:00, 40 C–119s carried 220 tons of vehicles, rations, ammunition, water, and lubricants, as well as 774 paratroopers, to the DZ.:52 Battery A, 88th AAAB, was among the reinforcements. They assembled on the DZ and set up a perimeter for the night. Between 20:00 and midnight, 43 NKPA were killed by the battery at a roadblock on the railroad bridge south of Sukchon, using ground-mounted .50 caliber machine guns.:66
Massacre at Myongucham
On the same day as the airborne operation, a task force composed of the 1st Battalion, 8th Cavalry Regiment, US 1st Cavalry Division, reinforced with a company of tanks from the US 70th Tank Battalion, started from Pyongyang under orders to link up with 2/187th at Sunchon. The task force arrived at Sunchon at 09:00 on 21 October, having picked up five American POWs on the way who had recently escaped from their North Korean captors. Major General Hobart R. Gay, the 1st Cavalry Division commanding general, and his assistant division commander, Brigadier General Frank A. Allen Jr., had observed the task force successfully establish contact with 2/187th from overhead in a liaison aircraft. Upon returning to Pyongyang, General Allen climbed into his jeep and, accompanied by his aide, his driver, and two war correspondents, started back for Sunchon, arriving there about noon.:661 Allen was in 2/187th's CP only a short time when a North Korean civilian was brought in to relate an account of North Koreans murdering 200 Americans the previous night in a railroad tunnel northwest of the town. Allen determined to run down the veracity of this story at once. His group set out with the North Korean civilian in tow and, on the way, stopped at the ROK 6th Infantry Division's CP in Sunchon and picked up a ROKA officer, an interpreter, and a driver in a second jeep.
The party drove to a railroad tunnel just beyond the village of Myongucham, five miles northwest of Sunchon, arriving there at 15:00. The railroad track ran along a hillside cut and entered the tunnel some distance above the level of the dirt road that the jeeps had followed. While the rest waited in the jeeps on the road, the ROKA officer climbed the hillside and entered the tunnel. He returned shortly and said that he had found seven dead Americans inside. Allen and the others then climbed up to the tunnel where they found the emaciated bodies on straw mats beside the railroad track. These men had either starved to death or died from disease; some had old battle wounds.:661–662 Meanwhile, the ROKA officer had walked on through the tunnel. He reappeared at the end and called out that he could see more American bodies. Everyone hurried outside and started down the railroad track. A little distance beyond the tunnel, a thin, wounded American soldier staggered from the brush. He was 19-year-old PFC Valdor W. John who had been held as a POW since he was captured on 20 July after the fall of Taejon in South Korea. General Allen placed his coat around the shivering boy who broke into tears and protested that he was too dirty to wear it. He then stammered out, "They're over there," and pointed into the brush. Seventeen slain Americans, all shot, lay in a gulley. Don Whitehead, an Associated Press war correspondent, accidentally stumbled upon a semicircle of 15 more dead Americans. They had been shot as they sat on the ground with rice bowls in hand. Whitehead turned back to report his discovery to Allen; on his way back, three more American survivors came out from among some bushes. Allen found six more Americans who had escaped.:662–663 These survivors told the story of what had happened. Two trains, each carrying about 150 American POWs, had left Pyongyang on the night of 17 October, making frequent stops to repair the railroad track and crawling north at a snail's pace. Each day, five or six Americans died of dysentery, starvation, or exposure, and their bodies were removed from the train. A few prisoners escaped as the train traveled north. On the afternoon of 20 October, while the 187th ARCT's parachute jump was in progress, the second of the two trains stayed in the railroad tunnel to escape the Fifth Air Force air activity in the vicinity. The group of prisoners on this train, crowded into open coal gondolas and boxcars, was the remnant of 370 whom the NKPA had marched north from Seoul more than a month earlier. That evening, the prisoners had been taken from the train in three groups to receive their evening meal.:663 PFC John detailed being taken to a field with a small group of prisoners. He portrayed the group as being shot and bayoneted, but he successfully feigned death, listening to other groups of prisoners being executed, and crawling into the woods with another survivor. The train and the North Korean guards left that night.:663
From this story, it appeared that there was another group of murdered prisoners yet to be found. A search revealed a fresh gravesite, and upon removal of a thin covering of earth, 34 more bodies were discovered. Altogether, there were 66 dead Americans (exclusive of the seven found in the tunnel) and 23 survivors, some of the latter critically wounded. Two of these died overnight, leaving 21 who survived. Later, a ROKA detachment convoyed the rescued survivors and the bodies of the dead Americans to Pyongyang. The next day, these casualties were flown to Japan.:663 :211
Ironically, if the weather had not delayed the 187th ARCT's jump, all might have been saved.
NKPA 239th Regiment encirclement, 21 October 1950
The most important action growing out of the 187th ARCT airdrop occurred in the 3/187th sector, about 8 miles (13 km) south of Sukchon in the vicinity of Op'a-ri and Yongyu. At 02:30, the K/187th roadblock on the Sukchon-Pyongyang highway was attacked by an estimated company-sized NKPA 239th Regiment force that attempted to break through and open up an escape route to the north. The attack was repulsed with the NKPA sustaining five killed and 17 captured.:64 At 09:00, Lieutenant Colonel Munson started two combat teams from the roadblock position in a reconnaissance-in-force to clear the Sukchon-Yongyu road towards Pyongyang and establish contact with the 27th British Commonwealth Brigade that was leading the 24th Infantry Division northward from Pyongyang.:163 I/187th was assigned the mission of clearing the rail line and K/187th was given the mission of clearing the highway.
Following the railroad track without opposition, I/187th reached Op'a-ri at 13:00, where it was ambushed by an NKPA 239th Regiment force of estimated battalion strength, equipped with heavy mortars and automatic antiaircraft guns. After a two-and-a-half-hour firefight, I/187th, with two rifle platoons overrun by the NKPA and 90 men MIA, was forced to withdraw west of the rail line to Hill 281. Failing to exploit their advantage, the NKPA 239th Regiment withdrew to its defensive positions on the high ground around Op'a-ri.:658 :163 :64–65 PFC Richard G. Wilson, 187th Medical Company, was attached to I/187th as a Medical Aidman. During the shootout, Wilson moved among the wounded men and administered aid to them, oblivious to the danger to himself, and constantly exposing himself to hostile fire. As the company withdrew, Wilson assisted the wounded men to safety and made sure that none were left behind. After the company had pulled back, Wilson learned that one of the men, previously presumed to be dead, had been seen moving and attempting to crawl to safety. Although his comrades protested it, Wilson returned, unarmed, to search for the wounded man who had been left behind. Two days later, a 3/187th patrol moved back into the area to search for survivors. They found several wounded paratroopers and PFC Wilson lying beside the man he had returned to aid. He had been shot several times while trying to shield and administer aid to the wounded man. For his supreme self-sacrifice, he was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor.:54 That same day, 15 NKPA were captured wearing pile jackets and jump boots taken from I/187th's dead; one of them was wearing Wilson's clothing.:166
Meanwhile, K/187th, receiving NKPA harassing fire during its advance along the highway, proceeded to a point about 1 mile (1.6 km) north of Yongyu, where it encountered an NKPA 239th Regiment force of about three companies. After a heavy firefight, the Americans forced the NKPA to withdraw. K/187th continued into Yongyu, taking up positions in the town and on Hill 163 to the north of the town.:658–659 :163 :65
I/187th and K/187th now occupied defensive positions roughly opposite each other—at Op'a-ri (Hill 281) overlooking the rail line and at Yongyu (Hill 163) overlooking the highway—yet these positions were now almost 3 miles (4.8 km) apart and unable to mutually support each other. The gap separating the rail line at Op'a-ri and highway at Yongyu was greater at that point than anywhere else between Sukchon and Pyongyang. Extending on a southwest-northeast axis, and cutting across both the highway and rail line at Yongyu and Op'a-ri, is a line of high hills offering the best defensible ground between Pyongyang and the Chongchon River. Here, the NKPA 239th Regiment had taken up defensive positions, deploying a battalion in each locality. The last organized NKPA unit to leave Pyongyang, its mission was to fight a delaying action against the expected United Nations Command (UNC) advance from Pyongyang. Now, as a result of the unexpected US airborne operation, it was encircled and found itself attacked from two separate points in its rear.:659 The NKPA 239th Regiment, by this time convinced that both routes to the north had been blocked by the US airborne forces, would attempt one last push to regain contact with the other NKPA forces that had infiltrated northward.:65
27th British Commonwealth Brigade advance to Yongyu, 21 October 1950
Following the capture of Pyongyang, EUSAK's I Corps had been ordered to continue northward to a line roughly 35 miles (56 km) south of the Yalu River. The US 24th Infantry Division was selected to lead this attack. Now the vanguard of the 24th Infantry Division, the 27th British Commonwealth Brigade had crossed the Taedong River at Pyongyang at noon with the 1st Battalion, Argyll and Sutherland Highland Regiment (1 ASHR) taking the point, moving north on the main highway to Sukchon, tasked with linking up with the 187th ARCT at Sukchon before advancing to the Chongchon River. Approaching Yongyu, Brigadier Basil A.Coad decided to halt his brigade for the night.:659–660 The Argylls sent a patrol into Yongyu, establishing initial contact with K/187th at 18:45. Contact with the British brigade was expected since General Bowen had notified Lieutenant Colonel Munson at 3/187th's CP that elements of the brigade were on the other side of Yongyu.:65
NKPA 239th Regiment breakout, 22 October 1950
At 00:15 on 22 October, the NKPA 239th Regiment attempted a breakout to the north, launching multiple attacks against K/187th at Yongyu. During the first attack, K/187th's positions in the town and at its roadblock on the northern outskirts of town were assaulted by a large NKPA force estimated at two battalions. During the attack, a small NKPA force infiltrated K/187th's CP, where an NKPA soldier began spraying the area with automatic-weapons fire, wounding the company commander and First Lieutenant Claude K. Josey. The NKPA soldier then swung his weapon around to fire on other members of the CP group, but Josey, though seriously wounded, placed his body directly in the line of fire, shielding his comrades. He was again wounded as he leaped at the NKPA soldier, wrestling the weapon from him, and was attempting to fire it when he collapsed due to the seriousness of his wounds. The extraordinary display of heroism earned Josey the Distinguished Service Cross for his actions. As the fighting continued, K/187th's executive officer was also wounded. The Americans eventually drove off the NKPA, many of whom were killed.:659 :67
After reorganizing at the base of Hill 163, the NKPA 239th Regiment attacked the roadblock again at 01:15; this attack was repulsed. At 02:30, the NKPA suffered severe losses during a third attack. After the third attack, the officer in charge of the roadblock notified the battalion CP that his men had depleted their ammunition. They were ordered to abandon the roadblock and withdraw to the north.:67 Detecting the withdrawal, the NKPA 239th Regiment attacked again at 04:00, leaving a small blocking force to hold K/187th in place in Yongyu, and concentrated the majority of its forces on the road to Sukchon. A short time after the main body of the NKPA regiment passed through, the remaining elements withdrew from Yongyu and moved north to join the main body. The NKPA 239th Regiment moved north along the road, arriving at a point 1,000 yards (910 m) south of 3/187th's CP at around 05:00. The NKPA stopped to reform, not realizing that 3/187th's Headquarters and Headquarters Company (HHC) and L/187th were dug in along the road.:659 :67–68
At 05:45, the NKPA 239th Regiment started moving north again and ran blindly into 3/187th's HHC and the perimeter elements of L/187th. They were immediately engaged with heavy losses, not only by direct fire from the HHC but also by enfilading fire from L/187th. Stunned by the volume and severity of the fire, it took the NKPA 239th Regiment about an hour to reorganize and deliver an attack. A group of about 300-350 NKPA engaged L/187th and attempted to flank and envelop its positions. Another group of about 450 NKPA engaged the HHC. The NKPA fire became exceedingly accurate as the firefight progressed. At this point, the 3/187th CP radioed the 187th ARCT CP at Sukchon describing the situation and requesting reinforcement. The 187th ARCT's request for armored reinforcement was received by the headquarters of the 24th Infantry Division in Pyongyang. Yet, with the US division still well to the rear, the Sherman tanks of the US 89th Tank Battalion encamped with the 27th British Commonwealth Brigade on the Pyongyang-Sukchon road just south of Yongyu was the closest formation, and they were ordered forward to assist 3/187th.:68
Battle of the Apple Orchard, 22 October 1950
- See also: Kirkland, Frederick; Pears, Maurice B. (1996). "Battle of the Apple Orchard". Korea Remembered. Wancliff Pty Ltd. ISBN 0-958-65891-9.
Overnight, Brigadier Coad had directed Lieutenant Colonel Charles H. Green's 3rd Battalion, Royal Australian Regiment (3 RAR) to take the lead when the brigade moved out the following morning. Captain Archer P. Denness' Charlie Company was selected to lead the Australian advance. Charlie Company, with elements mounted on the tanks of D Company, US 89th Tank Battalion, and the rest of the company following in motor transport, was to pass through Yongyu as rapidly as possible and effect a relief of 3/187th to the north. At first light, 1 ASHR advanced into Yongyu to clear the town of any remaining NKPA. At 07:00, 3 RAR, with Charlie Company on point, passed through 1 ASHR and moved through Yongyu, headed north on the Yongyu-Sukchon road.:660
At 09:00, the Australian column was stopped by hostile fire from a hillside apple orchard about 1 mile (1.6 km) north of Yongyu. Lieutenant Colonel Green, traveling with the 3 RAR headquarters group, proceeded forward to Captain Denness' location. Charlie Company had driven into the rearguard of the NKPA 239th Regiment as it was forming up for a final assault on 3/187th. Denness did not have a lot of information; there had been no contact with the Americans who were believed to be located nearby and the NKPA-held apple orchard lay between the advancing Australians and 3/187th, blocking any relief attempt. Brigadier Coad's order citing the urgent need to link up with the Americans dictated Green's decision. He chose to push Charlie Company through to continue the advance. Preparing for the assault, Green informed brigade headquarters of his plan and was advised that 3/187th was believed to be about 1,600 yards (1,500 m) further north; however, as the exact location of the Americans was unclear, the US tanks were under orders not to fire for fear of hitting their own men, and the indirect fire available to support the attack would be limited.:660
At 09:30, Captain Denness dismounted 7 Platoon and 8 Platoon and aggressively counterattacked off the line of march into the apple orchard as the tanks opened up with their main guns and coaxial machine guns. The Australians pushed uphill through the apple trees and routed the NKPA defenders. The speed and ferocity of Charlie Company's attack caught the NKPA 239th Regiment by surprise, with all its attention directed north in a final effort to break out past 3/187th. As the NKPA broke, Lieutenant Colonel Green added Able and Baker Companies, 3 RAR, to the fight. Thereafter, the NKPA 239th Regiment was no longer capable of organized resistance to the Australian thrust from the south. Nonetheless, there were still enough determined NKPA who opposed the Australians, so much so that Green was forced to commit Dog Company, 3 RAR, to clear the area to the west of the road. After committing all his rifle companies, Green's tactical headquarters group was forced to fight off an NKPA attack on their own, killing 34 with the loss of three of their own wounded.:660
As soon as 7 and 8 Platoon's success was assured, Captain Denness advanced 9 Platoon northward along the Yongyu-Sukchon road. The road led out of the heavily-treed orchard area and into an expansive open area of paddy fields that was the disputed area between the NKPA 239th Regiment and 3/187th. The Australians pressed the attack but were unable to effectively suppress the NKPA's long-range fire. At this point, Captain Denness sent the US tanks forward. The appearance of the tanks tilted the balance in favor of the Australians. Unable to move north and caught on the road between the advancing Australians and the American paratroopers, the NKPA 239th Regiment attempted to escape westward across the paddy fields, through the gap between 3 RAR and 3/187th. The NKPA again suffered heavy casualties, with many cut down by tank and rifle fire. Others fled east, escaping to the high ground where they dispersed into the hills.
At 10:30, the leading elements of the 27th British Commonwealth Brigade, consisting of 9 Platoon, Charlie Company, 3 RAR, and a company of Sherman tanks were sighted by 3/187th. Within a half-hour, Captain Denness was able to advance and relieve the 3/187th CP. 3 RAR then continued its pursuit of the disorganized and retreating NKPA 239th Regiment.:68
The Battle of Yongyu, or the Battle of the Apple Orchard as it became known to the Australians who fought in it, was over by midday for the most part. It was brought to a conclusion as 9 Platoon was directed to clear the paddy fields west of the road. Many of the NKPA that had been unable to escape westward continued to refuse to surrender, hiding in rice stooks and fighting it out or feigning death until individually flushed out and captured or killed. The platoon deployed in an extended line and, in a scene that Brigadier Coad later likened to driving snipe, the Australians proceeded to sweep the area, kicking over the stacks of straw.:660
With the link up with 3/187th complete, redeployment for the continuation of the 27th British Commonwealth Brigade's advance commenced. Within the brigade, the 1st Battalion, Middlesex Regiment (1 MR) took the lead. 3/187th returned to Sukchon with 1 MR following. There the British relieved the 187th ARCT in its positions by nightfall, occupying a defensive position 1 mile (1.6 km) north.:660–661
The land echelon's convoy departed at 09:00 on 22 October from Kimpo Airfield and established initial contact with the 187th ARCT at 23:00. The 142 miles (229 km) convoy distance required 14 hours for the lead elements to establish contact with the airborne forces; the convoy averaged 10 miles per hour, indicating the lack of suitable road networks to affect rapid resupply exploitation by ground maneuver.:38
While the Yongyu fighting was in progress, 2/187th remained out of contact and relatively inactive in its DZ at Sunchon. The ROK 6th Infantry Division performed most of the work in clearing the town and its vicinity of NKPA stragglers.:661
The morning of 23 October saw the 187th ARCT remaining in defensive positions and preparing to move to the vicinity of Pyongyang. 1/187th remained in its same location without coming into further contact with the NKPA. 2/187th moved at 07:00, marching from its bivouac area at Sunchon to Sukchon. Approximately 6 miles (9.7 km) from Sukchon, 2/187th was alerted for motor transport to Pyongyang. At 17:00, the truck convoy departed; 2/187th arrived in the new area at midnight. On 24 October, the 187th ARCT's CP was still located at Hill 97 overlooking DZ WILLIAM. At 07:30, the CP was alerted to move to Pyongyang. 1/187th departed in trucks from Sukchon to Pyongyang via Sunchon. This left the main highway free for the movement of the 27th British Commonwealth Brigade and the 24th Infantry Division. After departing from the old area at 15:00, 3/187th arrived in the new bivouac area at 21:00. The 674th AFAB departed Sukchon at 11:00 and arrived in Pyongyang at approximately 16:00. Shortly afterward, the 187th ARCT went back into theater reserve.:661 :70 In three days of operations, the 187th ARCT had seized the key communication centers of Sukchon and Sunchon, cut the main highways and rail lines to Sinanju, Anju, and Kunu-ri, and trapped the NKPA 239th Regiment defending Pyongyang. The 187th ARCT engaged approximately 6,000 NKPA, killed an estimated 2,764, captured some 3,000 prisoners, and liberated 15 POWs.:71
In total, during the 187th ARCT operations at Sukchon and Sunchon, 3,344 men and more than 600 tons of equipment and supplies were airdropped on 20 October and the days that followed, including 15 (12 recovered/serviceable) 105mm artillery howitzers, 18 (15 recovered/serviceable) jeeps, 4 (2 recovered/serviceable) 90mm antitank guns, 4 (3 recovered/serviceable) 3/4-ton trucks, 30 1/4-ton trailers, as well as 147 tons (141 tons recovered/serviceable) of ammunition, 28 55-gallon barrels of fuel, 26 55-gallon barrels of water, 77 tons (70 tons recovered/serviceable) of rations, and other supplies.:31 This operation was the first combat airdrop of troops since World War II, with resupply solely dependent upon airdrop.:21–22 The doctrine for airdrop of troops, and particularly supplies, had been neither significantly developed nor improved after World War II. This particular operation became the basis for lessons learned to conduct future parachute operations involving both troops and logistical support.:22
Much of the success of this operation can be attributed to a long-standing relationship between the 314th TCG and the 187th ARCT. The 314th TCG had been stationed 50 miles (80 km) from Fort Campbell and had regularly supported and trained with the 11th Airborne Division.:77
The command of 2/187th passed from Lieutenant Colonel Boyle to Lieutenant Colonel John P. Connor. Lieutenant Colonels Wilson and Munson retained command of 1/187th and 3/187th, respectively.:170
Shortly after its operations at Sukchon and Sunchon, the 187th ARCT took up positions in an area around Sinmak and was assigned the mission of providing security for Pyongyang and guarding the Pyongyang Airfield, Chinnampo, and the MSR.:170
During 25–26 November, Chinese People's Volunteer Army (CPVA) forces launched a series of surprise attacks across EUSAK's front in the Chongchon River valley; the CPVA concentrated on the ROKA troops, fully aware that they were the weakest elements. On 28 November, General Walker began a fighting retreat down the Korean peninsula toward Pyongyang. The 187th ARCT, EUSAK's reserve now augmented by the ROK 5th Infantry Division, the British 29th Independent Infantry Brigade, the Philippine 10th Battalion Combat Team, and the Royal Thai Expeditionary Force, moved northward through Pyongyang to the Sukchon area to set up blocking positions to keep the highway open to Pyongyang.:170–171 General Walker underwent a sudden change of opinion between 28 November, when he felt that EUSAK could hold Pyongyang, and 3 December, when he predicted that EUSAK would be forced to withdraw to Seoul; on 5 December, UNC forces abandoned Pyongyang, which they had held since 19 October.:240 General Walker's new order was to withdraw south of the 38th Parallel to the Imjin River, fighting a delaying action along the way, destroying highway and railroad bridges and culverts behind the retreat, and destroying all supplies that had been accumulated in Pyongyang.:171
On 10 December, the 187th ARCT withdrew from Pyongyang and established its CP at Sohung. As with the rest of the retreating US forces, the 187th ARCT blew up supplies left behind, setting fire to large stores of supplies and equipment captured by the regiment, blowing up ammunition and other supplies, and blowing up the Russian embassy in Pyongyang before leaving the city. The 187th ARCT dropped the Taedong River bridge a few hours ahead of the advancing CPVA, who occupied Pyongyang at midnight on the day the 187th left.:171 On 12 December, General MacArthur ordered a complete withdrawal of UNC forces from above the 38th Parallel. The 187th ARCT fought a series of battles to keep the withdrawal route open. After EUSAK had completed its withdrawal below the 38th Parallel, General Bowen called his commanders together and told them, "I'm sick and tired of running from a shadow enemy. Tomorrow morning, the 187th will turn about and move north until we contact this enemy and give him a real bloody nose.":171–172
On or about 13 December, the 187th ARCT began its move northward. For two days, the march continued without contact. Late in the afternoon of the second day, General Bowen ordered a halt for the night. On the following morning, just before 3/187th was preparing to lead out the 187th ARCT to continue its advance, a CPVA column was observed moving southward on the road about 1 mile (1.6 km) away. On foot in columns of fours, without any lead units providing protection, the CPVA moved toward 3/187th. The 674th AFAB received a call from the forward artillery observer with 3/187th for a fire mission. The CPVA column continued its move toward 3/187th, unaware of the American presence. When the Chinese were about 500–600 yards (460–550 m) away, the 187th ARCT opened fire. 105mm artillery howitzers, 90mm antitank guns, and the battalion's heavy weapons all got into action. The range was too far for small arms, so most of the riflemen just watched as the CPVA were slaughtered. CPVA in the rear, without orders to the contrary, continued to move forward to take the place of those in the lead that fell; there was never a change in the formation; they moved up, were shot down, and fell. Bodies piled up on the road, and the CPVA kept coming. A USAF airstrike bombed and napalmed along the entire CPVA line of march. When the fighter-bombers flew in for their second run, the CPVA broke ranks, not on command but in terror. After the fighter–bombers expended their major ordnance, they switched to machine guns, chasing down and strafing groups of CPVA until they ran out of ammunition and departed. There were no targets left and General Bowen was satisfied. The 187th ARCT headed southward the next day.:172–173
On 20 December, EUSAK headquarters departed Seoul for Taegu. On the same day that General Bowen received EUSAK's plan for the withdrawal from Seoul, the 187th ARCT moved south of the Han River to secure the river crossings and provide protection for the evacuation of Kimpo Airfield and the Inchon harbor area.:173
Battle of Wonju
A joint CPVA-NKPA offensive began in central South Korea when the NKPA attempted an envelopment of UNC forces along the Chunchon-Hongchon-Wonju axis. Following an all-night mortar barrage on New Year’s Eve, the CPVA, with its NKPA allies, surged across the Imjin River between Kaesong and Yonchon at daybreak on New Year’s Day 1951 and attacked toward Seoul, driving EUSAK back toward the north bank of the Han River, concentrating their strength as usual against ROKA units. In coordination with ROKA withdrawals in central South Korea, EUSAK broke contact and withdrew to bridgehead defenses around Seoul.:276 :185
On 3 January, the 187th ARCT received an order to move southward to Suwon Airfield and prepare to attack toward Inchon or Wonju.:177 On that same day, even as the CPVA suffered heavy losses from airstrikes and ground fire, it had enough strength to rout the EUSAK forces defending Seoul. When massive numbers of CPVA crossed the frozen Han River east and west of Seoul, EUSAK began its evacuation of the South Korean capital. On 5 January, Suwon Airfield was evacuated in the face of the CPVA advance. Lieutenant General Matthew B. Ridgway, who took command of EUSAK when General Walker was killed in a traffic accident on 23 December, ordered EUSAK to fall back to prearranged defensive positions some 35 miles farther south, anchored by Pyongtaek in the west, Wonju in the center, and Samchok in the east.:279 Meanwhile, a large CPVA force shifted eastward to drive down the mountainous Hongchon-Hoengsong-Wonju corridor. If the attack succeeded, the CPVA would split EUSAK's I and IX Corps and come up behind them. By 9 January, General Ridgway had determined that the CPVA was concentrating for a strong attack on Wonju and decided to make a stand on the Wonju front. He directed the US 2nd Infantry Division to deploy south of Wonju and the US 7th Infantry Division to block on an east-west line from Chechon to Yongwol. He moved the 187th ARCT to Tanyang, a road hub on the Namhan River, south of the 7th Infantry Division. The 187th ARCT was attached to X Corps and reinforced with the 3rd Battalion, 8th Cavalry Regiment.:179
On 13 January, General Bowen moved his CP to Punggi to defend the Tanyang-Punggi Pass. 1/187th and 3/187th were deployed to hold the pass with 2/187th in reserve. To defend the pass, the regiment had to fight its way up to the ridge crests overlooking the pass. 3/187th moved up one such ridge along a winding road with L/187th on the right, K/187th on the left, and I/187th in reserve, initially encountering light resistance. 3/187th ran into increasing fire when it encountered a CPVA outpost line of resistance, but succeeded in driving the CPVA off the line. Artillery and airstrikes were called in to blast the CPVA. At 14:00, the CPVA withdrew off the ridge crest and 3/187th moved onto the summit and dug in. At 21:00, the CPVA counterattacked, screaming and blowing bugles, but 3/187th was well dug in with clear lines of fire. The CPVA were cut down "like ripe wheat." As those in the front ranks fell, those in the rear passed through, only to add to the number of dead when they fell. Finally, the few remaining CPVA survivors withdrew. A check revealed no Rakkasan casualties. The next morning, inspection of the battlefield revealed dead CPVA scattered throughout the 3/187th MLR, often in piles of ten or more. Every corpse was frozen solid into grotesque, contorted positions.:173/179–180
After X Corps had captured Hoengsong, northeast of Wonju, on 2 February, General Ridgway ordered X Corps, which had completed its move to the central front of the UNC battle line, to perform a reconnaissance-in-force on 5 February, to make contact with the NKPA, determining its disposition, and discovering its intentions. Upon finding that the NKPA had abandoned its battle lines, Ridgway ordered a full-scale advance toward Hongchon that became Operation ROUNDUP, designed to disrupt NKPA preparations for a new offensive.:344 Initially, there was little opposition. The next day, the two ROKA divisions tasked with enveloping Hongchon met heavier resistance northeast of Hoengsong. By 8 February, strong counterattacks were hitting X Corps' right flank and soon spread all along the line. Intelligence and aerial observation picked up movements east and south of Hoengsong, indicating a shift of the bulk of the CPVA-NKPA forces in the west to the west-central area of South Korea. The threat of a counteroffensive became more certain. On 11 February, the forecast counteroffensive erupted on the central front held by X Corps, as two CPVA armies and an NKPA corps launched a massive counterattack along the Hoengsong-Wonju axis after nightfall, concentrating as usual on the ROKA units in the line, routing them, and driving them back. The Communists achieved initial success with the capture of Hoengsong, forcing UNC forces back toward Wonju and wiping out many of the gains registered in Operation ROUNDUP.:344 :204 CPVA had occupied the high ground on both sides of a road running out of Hoengsong, trapping about 4,000 men from the 2nd Infantry Division's 38th Infantry Regiment and the ROK 1st Infantry Division in a snarled column of vehicles and equipment at the northern end of a valley.:181–182
G/187th had been detached from 2/187th, attached to the 38th Infantry, and held a blocking position south of Hoengsong. On 12 February, G/187th moved up and found a catastrophe in the making. In ditches on each side of the road lay dead and wounded men who had attempted to run the CPVA gauntlet during the day. G/187th reached the 38th Infantry at 19:00. Key to effecting the relief of the stalled column were three partly demolished bridges held by CPVA roadblocks. G/187th pushed off in platoon formation with a platoon of Sherman tanks from the US 72nd Tank Battalion in the lead. The first bridge was successfully negotiated and CPVA holding the two successive crossings were killed. G/187th reached the stalled column about midnight and led the column back down the road to safety. Acting as a rearguard, G/187th held open the 12 miles (19 km) route to Wonju until all UNC elements had cleared the mouth of the valley. In the operation, G/187th had six KIA and "many" WIA.:182–183
Key to the defense of EUSAK's central front, Wonju was the junction of five main roads as well as a rail line from Seoul to Pusan. Whoever controlled Wonju controlled central South Korea. Expecting an all-out CPVA offensive in the Wonju area, General Ridgway ordered the 38th Infantry and the 187th ARCT to make "the strongest possible stand" to blunt the CPVA. The force included seven American, three South Korean, and one Dutch infantry battalions – about 8,000 men. He also massed over 100 artillery pieces, including thirty 155mm howitzers and the 674th AFAB's twelve 105mm guns. On the night of 13 February, the CPVA launched a major offensive along the Chipyong-ni-Wonju road and rail network. In the Chipyong-ni area, the CPVA used the ridgelines to surround and bypass the 2nd Infantry Division's 23rd Infantry Regiment and advance toward Wonju.:183–184
On 14 February, the 187th ARCT's battle area was northwest of Wonju. 3/187th was directed to clear a series of ridgelines, numbered successively from south to north as Hills 339, 340, 341, and 342. On Hill 339, K/187th, with E/187th and L/187th on flank, made contact with CPVA outposts in well-prepared positions supported by mortars and automatic weapons. On Hill 340, K/187th encountered dug-in CPVA that lobbed hand grenades from as close as 30 feet (9.1 m); K/187th charged the CPVA trenches and, with rifles, hand grenades, bayonets, and hand-to-hand fighting, cleared the summit of the hill. At around dusk, K/187th had progressed to and secured Hill 341. Needing time to resupply and secure the area, K/187th notified the 3/187th CP that it would assault Hill 342 after dark as the CPVA held strong positions and company-level strength. CPVA counterattacks started about 20:00 and were almost continuous. It was estimated that the CPVA eventually committed a regiment piecemeal to the action on Hill 342. CPVA overran K/187th's mortar section but were ejected and the mortars recovered. K/187th was then assisted by L/187th and E/187th with flanking fire. At about 02:00, K/187th halted and dug in. By daylight, the fight for Hill 342 was over except for CPVA stragglers who were rounded up as POWs. I/187th was brought up behind K/187th to prevent CPVA encirclement. K/187th suffered about a twenty–eight percent loss in effective strength with 48 casualties. CPVA losses on Hill 342 exceeded 200 dead, with around 50 inside the K/187th perimeter.:184–186
While 3/187th was fighting on Hill 342, 2/187th was fighting about 3 miles (4.8 km) northwest of Wonju in an attempt to regain two hill masses lost by the 38th Infantry to overwhelming CPVA forces. At about 14:00 on 14 February, 2/187th counterattacked with E/187th and F/187th, with G/187th in reserve. Twice, the CPVA repulsed E/187th's attack. In the final assault, E/187th fought a brutal battle up to the summit of the first hill and then moved on toward the second hill. G/187th was committed and directed to move off about 500 yards (460 m) on the right flank of the hill to begin its battle. In E/187th's sector, the paratroopers fought the CPVA at times in hand-to-hand combat and drove them off the hill. In G/187th's sector, Captain James D. Cook sent his 1st and 2nd Platoons to attack a large CPVA force to the north of E/187th. He directed his 3rd Platoon and his Weapons Platoon, which had lost its crew-served weapons in the 38th Infantry rescue mission, to seize the ridgeline on the north side of the hill. Halfway up the slope, the 3rd Platoon was stopped by hostile fire. While the 3rd Platoon laid down a base of fire, the Weapons Platoon maneuvered to the left and assaulted the summit. The Weapons Platoon was hit by scores of CPVA hand grenades thrown from the reverse side of the summit, but gained the crest of the hill and routed the CPVA, killing 451. The 3rd Platoon joined the Weapons Platoon after moving up to the summit and the 1st and 2nd Platoons joined up at dusk. Over 20 American Thompson submachine guns were found strewn about the hill, indicating the number of automatic weapons used by the CPVA against 2/187th's attack. 2/187th's occupation of this vital hill mass now blocked the CPVA from capturing the road and rail network between Seoul and Wonju.:186–188
By 18 February, the CPVA High Command understood it was fighting a losing battle and began to pull back northward to the old NKPA defenses just north of the 38th Parallel. On 21 February, in response, General Ridgway ordered the US IX and X Corps to swing eastward and execute Operation KILLER, a full-scale, battlefront-length attack staged for maximum exploitation of firepower to cut off and destroy as many CPVA and NKPA as possible while moving the UNC line north to the Han River. The well-mounted UNC ground attack caught the Reds off-balance, and supporting airstrikes wreaked heavy casualties on the overextended Communist forces.:189 :346 On 28 February, Operation KILLER concluded with EUSAK re-occupying the territory south of the Han River and capturing Hoengsong, eliminating the last CPVA/NKPA presence south of the Han River. As the month ended, this attack achieved its purpose of straightening the UNC line east of the Han River. For the first time since the Chinese intervention, UNC forces stood along a relatively stable line, with "no gaping holes, no soft spots, and no enemy salients threatening to tear it in two.":208
On orders, General Bowen pulled the 187th ARCT out of the line at Wonju. By 28 February, the 187th ARCT had closed on its rear assembly area at Taegu.:189
Operations at Munsan-ni
Rather than attempt a frontal assault across the wide and thawing Han River at Seoul, General Ridgway ordered EUSAK's IX and X Corps to simultaneously attack northward in central South Korea with Operation RIPPER at 05:45 on 7 March 1951, intending to drive a broad salient into the center of the enemy line and separating the CPVA in the west from the NKPA in the east, and intending to create a bulge east of Seoul that would permit UNC forces to envelop the capital city at their leisure. The operation also aimed to bring UNC troops up to the 38th Parallel. The offensive made rapid progress as the IX Corps’ US 25th Infantry Division established a bridgehead across the Han River near its confluence with the Pukhan River, about 15 miles (24 km) east of Seoul.:190–191 :349 :211
The northward EUSAK advance in central South Korea had the effect of outflanking Seoul, and when EUSAK seized the commanding heights east of the city, the CPVA had to choose between abandoning Seoul or defending it at a disadvantage. The former alternative was chosen when, quite suddenly on the night of 14 March, the CPVA abandoned Seoul without a fight, and Seoul changed hands for the fourth and final time when UNC forces once again liberated the battered South Korean capital. The city had been devastated by fighting, and its population had been reduced to a fraction of its prewar size.:191 :351 :211
Planners in Tokyo had hoped to drop the 187th ARCT into the Seoul area, but the speed of the EUSAK advance initially caused the airdrop objective to shift to Chunchon, the major NKPA supply center just below the 38th Parallel in central South Korea. The new objective had several advantages, in that Chunchon was an important rail terminus and a promising site for an airfield. The 187th ARCT would be dropped when EUSAK's front line was 10 miles (16 km) away and the two forces would link up within 24 hours.:28 D-day for the Chunchon airdrop was initially planned for 22 March. On 20 March, aerial reconnaissance reported that Chunchon was no longer occupied by the NKPA. The US 1st Cavalry Division’s armored columns drove into Chunchon without difficulty. The capture of Chunchon had placed EUSAK within 8 miles (13 km) of the 38th Parallel, and the 187th ARCT had lost its airborne assault objective. Meanwhile, Brigadier General John P. Henebry had been keeping his 315th Air Division (Combat Cargo) troop carrier assets in readiness for an airborne operation.[Note 5] On 21 March, even though there was some doubt as to whether paratroopers would jump at Chunchon, General Henebry had brought 80 C–119’s and 55 C–46’s from Ashiya and Brady Air Bases in Japan to Taegu Airfield. Parked wingtip to wingtip, the big transports filled the dusty graveled parking area to overflowing.:351
Even though he canceled the airdrop at Chunchon, General Ridgway soon had other employment in mind for the paratroopers. Because of the CPVA/NKPA withdrawal from Seoul, Ridgway had directed an expansion of Operation RIPPER, designated Operation COURAGEOUS, that was designed to trap large numbers of CPVA and NKPA between the Han and Imjin Rivers north of Seoul. The intent of Operation COURAGEOUS was for EUSAK's I Corps to advance quickly to the Imjin River with all possible speed to trap the Reds fleeing northward. Designated Operation Tomahawk, Ridgway wanted the 187th ARCT, with two US Army Ranger companies attached, dropped behind the NKPA at Munsan-ni, a village on the south bank of the Imjin River, 20 miles (32 km) north of EUSAK’s front lines. D-day was planned for 23 March.:352 Two armored task forces would attack to the north through Uijongbu and Munsan-ni, with the Munsan-ni task force linking up with the 187th ARCT, trapping the NKPA between the two forces. The ROK 1st Infantry Division and US 3rd Infantry Division would follow the armored task forces.:192
On the afternoon of 21 March, the same day they were assigned the new objective, Generals Henebry and Bowen, along with the commanders of the 314th TCG (C–119) and 437th TCW (C–46), visually reconnoitered the Munsan-ni area from the vantage point of a low-flying C–46 and selected two small DZs, one about 1 mile (1.6 km) northeast of Munsan-ni and the other about 3 miles (4.8 km) southeast of the town. Returning to Taegu Airfield, they met with General Ridgway to confirm that they could execute the operation at 09:00 on 23 March, weather permitting. The delay of the airborne operation must have caused General Henebry some anxiety, for his transports would have to sit on the ground at Taegu Airfield an overly long time. Because of the dust problem, the transports would not be able to run up their engines before they took off. On the other hand, the same paratrooper and equipment loadings worked out for Chunchon would be used for Munsan-ni. Since some 12,000 CPVA and NKPA were believed to be in the vicinity of Munsan-ni, it was emphasized that there must be no slip-up in the timing of the airdrops – the 187th ARCT must be on the ground in the two DZs without delay once the drops began.:192 :352
The bulk of the 187th ARCT would jump onto the north DZ: General Bowen and his staff, 3/187th, 2/187th, the two Ranger companies, and the 674th AFAB. 1/187th would jump onto the south DZ to provide early-on linkup with the armored task force moving north.:194
Airborne assault, 23 March 1951
At 03:00 on the morning of 23 March, under a full moon, the paratroopers rolled out of their sleeping bags and started their pre-jump rituals – breakfast, loading into their combat gear, forming into sticks, moving to their assigned aircraft, and putting on the parachutes that they had checked the previous day and left at the planes. Each paratrooper carried a full battle load: main and reserve parachutes, combat pack, water canteen, rations, first aid packet, basic ammunition load, hand grenades, pistol, and rifle. The paratroopers carried their combat packs slung in front of their knees. A few drifting clouds promised a weather-perfect day for the airborne operation. By 07:00, the 187th ARCT, US 2nd Ranger Infantry Company (Airborne), and US 4th Ranger Infantry Company (Airborne) were loaded aboard their assigned aircraft. One after another, spinning propellers churned up the dust as the long line of transports begin to taxi to the runway, churning up even thicker blankets of dust that obscured much of the runway area. At 07:30, Operation TOMAHAWK, the largest single-day airborne operation of the war, got underway as General Henebry’s C–54 command and control aircraft led the way. The lead formation, led by Colonel Richard W. Henderson, the 314th TCG's commanding officer and commander of the airborne delivery phase of Operation TOMAHAWK, took off from Taegu Airfield, formed up, and headed for its rendezvous point over the Yellow Sea, west of the Munsan–ni objective area. Thereafter, at 10–second intervals, the rest of the transports followed in dust so thick that the pilots flew blind until after liftoff.:193–194 :352
FEAF filled the skies between Seoul and Munsan-ni. As the troop carriers began to climb out from Taegu Airfield, two groups of B–26s from Japan had already begun to soften the objective areas with 500-pound airbursting bombs and low-level strafing attacks. Thirty-two B–26s began working northward from the outskirts of Seoul against enemy troop positions along the road to Munsan-ni; twenty-four B–26s operated against enemy areas closer to the DZs. Sixteen P–51s joined the transports as they passed into enemy territory.:352–353
As planned, 3/187th with the 4th Rangers attached jumped first at 09:00, having been given the mission of securing the north DZ. The second serial, with 1/187th aboard, had encountered bad luck shortly after takeoff when the formation leader’s C–46, with Colonel Wilson and his staff aboard, encountered engine trouble, forcing the pilot to return to Taegu for a replacement aircraft. The plan went awry when the deputy formation leader's C–46 mistakenly followed the lead serial and dropped 1/187th onto the north DZ. The other aircraft in the formation dropped their paratroopers based on the lead aircraft, compounding the problem. The operation got back on track when the third serial dropped 2/187th with the 2nd Rangers attached, General Bowen and his regimental staff, engineers, medics, and others squarely on target in the north DZ. The fourth serial, composed entirely of C–119’s, delivered the 674th AFAB’s paratroopers and the artillery heavy airdrop accurately in the north DZ.:353 :338–339 Colonel Munson, already on the ground with 3/187th, recalled "All those unscheduled people (1/187th) dropped on top of us, on a DZ that was already badly congested. It was like a Chinese fire drill. But what was more serious was that we didn't have a force on the south DZ, which was the linkup point for the armored task force.":195
Shortly after 10:00, a single stick of paratroopers jumped from a C–46 over the south DZ. The replacement aircraft carrying Colonel Wilson and party had finally reached Munsan-ni, and its passengers had jumped into the correct DZ, not knowing that they would be the only troops in the area.:339 When Wilson arrived over the south DZ, he was startled to find no parachutes on the ground where his battalion had supposedly jumped. "There was nobody there," he recalled. "We thought that they must have picked up their chutes and moved on. So we jumped anyway." When they landed, Wilson and the 29 members of his battalion staff were greeted with machine-gun fire from nearby hills. Fortunately, the NKPA stayed in the hills.:195
Overcrowding caused by the misdirected drop complicated the assembly, but 1/187th and 3/187th managed to sort themselves out and secure the north DZ. An unexpected annoyance was created by civilians who appeared in the DZ and began carrying away the parachutes. Shots fired over their heads ended the attempted theft. 2/187th proceeded to occupy the high ground northeast of the DZ, and under the command of its executive officer, 1/187th, less B/187th, moved north and northwest, clearing Munsan-ni itself in the process.:339
B/187th proceeded on a rescue mission to the south DZ after learning that 1/187th’s command group had come under fire from a hill overlooking the DZ. B/187th forced the NKPA off the hill and reached the DZ by 15:00.:195 The rescue force and the 1/187th command group arrived at the regimental CP in the north DZ about two hours later. By that time, General Bowen’s forces had secured all assigned objectives.:339
Before the day was over, 72 C–119s dropped 2,011 paratroopers and 204 tons of supplies and equipment, while 48 C–46s unloaded 1,436 paratroopers and 15.5 tons of supplies and equipment.:353 Delivery of the 187th ARCT’s heavy equipment posed a more difficult problem. Due to the shortage of C–119s, two equipment drops had to be scheduled for each aircraft. In the morning, a formation of 23 C–119’s made an excellent airdrop in the face of increasing NKPA ground fire. One C–119 caught fire after its drop; five crew members managed to bail out before an explosion destroyed the aircraft, killing the pilot and copilot. The other C–119s returned safely to Ashiya Air Base to take on another load of heavy equipment. Twenty-eight C–119s were able to muster for the afternoon drop. One C–119 received minor damage from small-arms fire, while a second dropped its load prematurely when a restraining strap broke while en route to the DZ. The two drops delivered 277 tons of heavy equipment to the 187th ARCT, including 27 jeeps and trailers, two 3/4-ton weapons carriers, four 105mm howitzers, twelve 75mm pack howitzers, and 15 load-bearing platforms each carrying 600 pounds (270 kg) of supplies.:196–197 :29–30
The 187th ARCT faced only weak opposition on the ground and established a defensive perimeter by noon at the cost of one KIA and 18 WIA.:30 There were 84 jump casualties; almost half of the jump casualties returned to duty immediately after treatment.:339 At about midmorning, Air Force H–19 helicopters landed on the DZs to evacuate the wounded. This was the first combat use of the Air Force H–19 for the evacuation of wounded.:197
The point of the armored infantry task force reached Munsan-ni at 18:30 on 23 March, but the remainder of the extended column took several hours longer. The task force encountered no NKPA along its route of march but was kept to an intermittent crawl by having to lift or explode over 150 live land mines, some of them booby-trapped, and almost as many dummy mines, including a 5 miles (8.0 km) stretch of buried C-ration and beer cans. Four M46 Patton tanks, two jeeps, and a scout car were disabled by land mines. As the last of these tanks hit a mine below Munsan-ni, the explosion attracted NKPA artillery fire that damaged two more tanks. The tail of the task force finally arrived at the airborne position at 07:00 on 24 March.:198 :340
Although the airborne operation at Munsan-ni enabled EUSAK's I Corps to close up to the Imjin River very rapidly, its results in terms of NKPA killed and captured were negligible. NKPA casualties included 136 dead counted on the field and 149 taken captive. Estimated NKPA losses raised the total considerably higher. Contrary to expectations, prisoner interrogations indicated that NKPA forces who had been in the objective area had numbered between 300 and 500 members of a second-rate combat outfit. Disturbingly enough, the NKPA prisoners insisted that as early as 21 March their regiment had received warnings that the 187th ARCT was going to drop at Munsan-ni on 23 March and most of the remainder had withdrawn above the Imjin River well before the airborne landing.:354 :340
The Munsan-ni airdrop, like the earlier Sukchon-Sunchon operation, had little tactical value. Munsan-ni could have been taken easily by EUSAK's ground offensive. Like the Sukchon-Sunchon experience, however, the airdrop could be rated a success, at least as a realistic training exercise.:30
Ground operations, 24–28 March 1951
I Corps' orders for 187th ARCT operations called only for patrolling. Having been given control of the armored infantry task force, General Bowen built his principal patrols around the task force's Patton tanks and sent them to investigate ferry sites on the Imjin River and to check Route 2Y, a dirt road running east from Munsan-ni as far as the village of Sinchon, 10 miles (16 km) away. One patrol made contact while checking an Imjin River ferry site and ford 10 miles (16 km) northeast of Munsan-ni. Six NKPA were killed and 22 captured. The patrol had no casualties, but a tank had to be destroyed after it bogged down at a stream crossing while approaching the river. Meanwhile, a few rounds of artillery fire fell in the north DZ but caused no casualties.:340
With no profitable employment forthcoming for the 187th ARCT at the Imjin River, I Corps quickly ordered General Bowen to pull in his patrols and prepare to move northeast of Uijongbu to capture the high ground about 10 miles (16 km) north of Uijongbu behind the CPVA opposing the advance of the US 3rd Infantry Division up the road from Seoul toward Yonchon and prevent the CPVA from withdrawing. The 3rd Infantry Division was to continue its northward attack and drive the CPVA against Bowen’s position.:341 Launched on this attack over inaccessible rain-soaked roads before its MSR was opened to Seoul, the 187th ARCT had a great need for continuing aerial resupply for the basics of combat: food and ammunition. On 24 March, 36 C–119s airdropped 40 men and 188 tons of supplies at Munsan-ni to get the paratroopers started.:354
The 187th ARCT started east on Route 2Y at 18:00 on 24 March, intending to march as far as Sinchon during the night and open its attack the following morning. Only a single tank company was able to move out with the paratroopers; all others had too little fuel after patrolling and were directed to catch up with the column after being resupplied from Seoul. A force shaped around the tanks led the way toward Sinchon. But after 7 miles (11 km), as the column moved through a system of ridges, landslides in defiles twice trapped the leading tanks, and in the second instance, no bypass could be found. As engineers tried to open the road, rain began to fall and became steadily heavier. With the rain making a poor road even worse, General Bowen ordered the tanks back to Munsan-ni. After the engineers had cleared the road sufficiently, his remaining forces proceeded to Sinchon, arriving about 06:00 on 25 March. Half an hour later, Bowen ordered 2/187th, with 3/187th following in support, to seize Hill 228 on the west side of Route 33. Running into small-arms, machine-gun, and mortar fire from positions on several nearer heights and hampered by a continuing driving rain, the two battalions at day's end were some 2 miles (3.2 km) short of Hill 228, and Route 33 remained available to the CPVA in front of the 3rd Infantry Division if they chose to withdraw over it.:341–343
Withdrawal seemed to be the CPVA intention. The 3rd Infantry Division met only light resistance when it resumed its attack from the south on 25 March and advanced beyond the hill masses where strong CPVA positions had delayed it the day before. A tank company moved ahead on Route 3X, a secondary road angling northwest off Route 33 to Sinchon, in an attempt to contact the 187th ARCT. Mines along the road disabled four tanks and kept the tank company from reaching its destination, but it encountered no CPVA positions. The CPVA withdrawal was confirmed on 26 March when the 3rd and 25th Infantry Divisions moved well forward against little or no opposition. To the north, the CPVA continued to oppose the 187th ARCT's efforts to capture Hill 228. Using Route 33 and a lesser road to the west, two tank columns from the 3rd Infantry Division joined the 187th ARCT during the afternoon of 26 March, but, even with armored support, it was 09:00 on 27 March before the paratroopers captured Hill 228.:343 Using the remainder of the day for reorganization and resupply, General Bowen attacked the heights on the east side of Route 33 early on 28 March and occupied them after an all-day battle, suffering heavy casualties in eliminating stiff CPVA resistance.:200–204 Meanwhile, the US 15th Infantry Regiment of the 3rd Infantry Division made contact with the 187th ARCT late in the afternoon of 27 March. Despite I Corps' hopes for the operation, the 3rd Infantry Division drove no CPVA into the 187th ARCT's guns. Either the CPVA resisting the eastward attack of the 187th ARCT had kept Route 33 open long enough for the forces withdrawing before the 3rd Infantry Division to pass north, or the withdrawing CPVA had used another road, perhaps Route 3.:343
Once they were on the road, four C–46s airdropped an additional 10 tons of supplies to the 187th ARCT on 26 March, and 12 C–119s airdropped an additional 66 tons of supplies on 27 March. The last two days' airdrops were of vital importance, for the 187th ARCT's men and guns were getting hungry; many of the men had eaten only once in 36 hours, and one artillery battery was down to its last five rounds of ammunition.:354
After the linkup with the 3rd Infantry Division, the 187th ARCT moved back to Taegu to reorganize, reequip, reman, and retrain. General Ridgway made it clear that, in the future, he did not favor using the 187th ARCT in a strictly ground combat role; he felt that the highly trained paratroopers should be used primarily for airborne missions – dropping deep behind the enemy and boxing him in while ground forces moved forward for the kill.:204
When the CPVA and NKPA withdrew in the face of Operation RIPPER, they fell back across the 38th Parallel to a strong line anchored by well-constructed fortifications along the southernmost edge of the "Iron Triangle" – the region bounded by Chorwon, Kumhwa (modern-day Gimhwa-eup), and Pyonggang. It was known that the Communists were preparing for another offensive, making use of the supply centers and transportation facilities around the Iron Triangle. Following the conclusion of Operation COURAGEOUS, General Ridgway notified General MacArthur that he was developing plans for an operation that would take EUSAK above the 38th Parallel. The first phase of this operation would be to occupy the ground that would serve as a base of operations for continuing toward the Iron Triangle and, given the enemy’s evident offensive preparations, for developing a defensive position. Known as the KANSAS Line, this defensive position followed the Imjin River to a point a few miles north of the 38th Parallel and then ran eastward to the Yangyang area on the coast. It would take advantage of a water barrier in the center, the Hwachon Reservoir. The US I and IX Corps would seize and occupy the western segment of the KANSAS Line between the Imjin River and the Hwachon Reservoir, the US X Corps would occupy the central portion, and the ROK III and I Corps were to take the eastern section. This plan was submitted to General MacArthur, who approved it without consulting Washington.:215
The new advance, designated Operation RUGGED, began on 5 April 1951. On the same day, General Macarthur, in one of his last messages to the JCS, explained its objectives. He added that plans had already been drawn up for additional advances, at some future date, to bring UNC forces 10 to 20 miles (16 to 32 km) north of the 38th Parallel and enable them to dominate the Iron Triangle. Limitations of supply, weather, and terrain, together with the strength of the enemy, indicated that any farther advance "is not feasible at this time.":215 Operation RUGGED proceeded generally according to plan. By 9 April, the US I and IX Corps had fought through shifting resistance to the KANSAS Line. I Corps and the left-flank IX Corps' units had continued the attack toward Chorwon.:205
On 11 April, at the direction of President Truman, General Ridgway relieved General MacArthur as UNC and FEC Commander-in-Chief because of MacArthur’s insubordination and his determination to expand the war into China. MacArthur had, on several occasions, publicly criticized the administration’s war and foreign policies. General Ridgway was succeeded by Lieutenant General James A. Van Fleet as EUSAK's commander.:205
By 19 April, I Corps' lead elements were prepared to attack the Iron Triangle. General Ridgway had called a 48-hour halt to bring supplies forward before moving north. He ordered the attack, designated Operation DAUNTLESS, to resume on the morning of 21 April. Ridgway felt that the operation would provoke a major Communist attack for which he was prepared to fall back in order, trading real estate for the opportunity to kill the enemy. On the morning of 22 April, the I and IX Corps' assault regiments were advancing. The capture and interrogation of several CPVA revealed that the CPVA would launch a major offensive that night.:208
At 22:00 on 22 April, the CPVA, mobilizing three field armies totaling 700,000 troops for the operation, launched a massive offensive in the west and west-central operational areas that Radio Pyongyang confidently predicted would destroy the UNC. By dawn the next morning, CPVA were attacking cross the entire Korean peninsula. The major effort, mounted by almost half of the CPVA troops, making it the biggest battle of the Korean War, was a double envelopment designed to isolate and capture Seoul. The initial CPVA attack fell upon I Corps on the south bank of the Imjin River, near Yonchon, north of Seoul, and IX Corps, near Hwachon, northeast of Seoul. The UNC lines held firm across the front except in IX Corps' AO where the CPVA smashed against the ROK 6th Infantry Division, driving it back and leaving a 10 miles (16 km) gap in the line. Rather than see his army engulfed, General Van Fleet gave the order for I and IX Corps to fall back to the KANSAS Line. Van Fleet made plans to halt the CPVA in front of Seoul and north of the Han River.:208–209 On 29 April, the Communist offensive was halted in the west 5 miles (8.0 km) short of Seoul and north of the Han River, but by the end of April, I and IX Corps had lost everything gained during the last six weeks. Aerial reconnaissance indicated that Red divisions were side slipping toward the east-central and eastern AOs.:365 :216
Despite the hindrance of air attacks, the Communists shifted their strength and completed a concentration against the Chunchon-Inje sector that was held by the US X Corps and the ROK III Corps. During the early evening hours of 16 May, twenty-one CPVA and nine NKPA divisions delivered a powerful blow down the center of the Korean peninsula, striking southward down the roads from Chunchon and Inje that converged on Hongchon. ROKA forces broke under the attack, exposing the flank of the US 2nd Infantry Division. X Corps faced serious trouble. The 2nd Infantry Division held off the Red tide until 18 May and then, with the US 1st Marine Division, moved east to fill the gap vacated by the ROKA. By 20 May, after gaining initial success, the Communist offensive was blunted, leaving the CPVA over-extended and under constant aerial attack. This would be the last all-out CPVA offensive operation for the duration of the war and paved the way for General Van Fleet to gain the initiative. In a meeting on the previous day, Generals Van Fleet and Ridgway discussed the possibility of an offensive with Lieutenant General Edward M. Almond, X Corps' commanding general. General Almond believed that the time was ripe for a strong attack northeasterly up the Kansong road to Inje and beyond, cutting off the escape routes required by the CPVA moving northward in their long march up the coast., but he needed fresh troops. Almond reasoned that the 187th ARCT, which was in X Corps' reserve and had been out of combat for some time, was the unit he needed. He would equip the paratroopers with vehicles, tanks, and artillery, and when the CPVA had driven even deeper, strike with the 187th ARCT. Ridgway had previously forbidden the use of the 187th ARCT as a ground force. He reasoned that paratroopers near an airfield, launching on short notice, would be a constant threat, causing thousands of enemy troops to remain in rear areas to counter potential airborne attacks. Even so, Van Fleet recognized the possibilities in Almond's plan and, after a five-minute discussion with Ridgway, decided to give the 187th ARCT to Almond. The plan, as developed by Ridgway and Van Fleet, would have X Corps hold the CPVA in place for a few more days and prepare to counterattack on 23 May. The 2nd Infantry Division, spearheaded by a task force consisting of the armor-reinforced 187th ARCT and X Corps artillery, would advance from Hangye toward Inje, then northeasterly to Kansong to encircle and trap the retreating CPVA and NKPA and retake the ground lost by the ROKA.:210–212
Bloody Inje and Wontong-ni
At 09:40 on 24 May, General Almond arrived by helicopter at the 187th ARCT CP at Hangye. He told General Bowen that it was critical to move out the 187th ARCT for Inje with all due speed. Almond ordered Bowen to form a battalion-strength task force to advance to the Soyang River, 15 miles (24 km) away, and establish a bridgehead; the remainder of the 187th ARCT would follow as soon as possible in motor transport. The 2nd Infantry Division would furnish, according to Almond’s order, four half-tracks with quadruple .50 caliber heavy barrel machine guns, and not less than two tank companies for armored reinforcement. He ordered the task force, not yet formed, to jump off at noon – two hours twenty minutes later. Bowen gave command of the task force to Colonel George H. Gerhart, his executive officer.:213 :183–185
2/187th was the infantry battalion assigned to TF Gerhart. A company of Sherman tanks from the US 72nd Tank Battalion was already attached to the 187th ARCT and occupied indirect firing positions near Hangye. The 72nd Tank Battalion's eight remaining tanks assigned to TF Gerhart were approximately 20 miles (32 km) southeast of Hangye; the distance and the condition of the road were such that the tanks would need between three and four hours to reach Hangye, thereby making it impossible to be on hand at the appointed departure hour. The 72nd Tank Battalion's tanks would form up with the mounted 2/187th as soon as they arrived. The rest of the 187th ARCT would follow later in the day. To speed things up, Colonel Gerhart organized a lead-out force consisting of a reconnaissance squad from the regimental Intelligence & Reconnaissance (I&R) Platoon and a combat engineer platoon from the 127th AEB. A platoon of four tanks from the 72nd Tank Battalion made up the TF Gerhart armored point and was directed to move forward about 3 miles (4.8 km) to a rendezvous point designated on the map as Puchaetul (Puchaedol) (modern-day Buchaedeul-gil), selected by Gerhart as the departure point for the task force.:213 :185
The hour for launching TF Gerhart passed, and the force was neither complete nor organized. About 12:30, Colonel Gerhart reached the departure point where the task force was forming. Gerhardt had sent the I&R squad and the engineers forward to search for land mines on the road, and he had obtained a company of twelve Patton tanks from the 64th Tank Battalion that would be ready to move out with the main task force body. Gerhart ordered the lead Sherman tanks with Major Charles A. Newman, the 72nd Tank Battalion's assistant executive officer, in overall command of the armored point force, to get underway at about 13:00. About 2 miles (3.2 km) beyond the departure point, the tanks came upon the I&R squad and the engineers. The I&R squad consisted of 11 men riding in three jeeps; each jeep mounted a .30 caliber machine gun. The engineers had two 2 1/2-ton cargo trucks. The column was re-formed with two tanks in the lead, a jeep, two tanks, a jeep, and then the two trucks, followed by the third jeep. The column advanced another 1 mile (1.6 km) to a friendly advance outpost at Koritwi-ri (Koridwi-gol), where it halted at 14:00 while the engineers went forward to probe the road for land mines and Major Newman took time to correct faulty radio communications with the I&R squad.:214 :186 :481
Arriving over the scene by helicopter, General Almond, already unhappy over the tardy start of the operation, landed to learn the reason for the halt. Major Newman explained that the column had temporarily stopped to permit a check of the road by mine detectors and to establish communications between the tanks and the I&R squad. Almond was impatient. "I don’t care about communications !" he said, emphasizing this by shaking his swagger stick at Newman. "You get those tanks on the road and keep going until you hit a mine. I want you to keep going at 20 miles (32 km) an hour." Newman ordered the column to move forward, instructing the tank commanders to shift to fifth gear, which would be equal to about 22 miles (35 km) an hour. The small armored point column reached Umyang-ni on the south bank of the Soyang River at 16:30 and set up a perimeter. By the time the main body of TF Gerhart arrived two hours later, Newman's armored point was in full possession of the bridge site.:214 :186–191 :481
Meanwhile, General Almond had flown back south to the 187th ARCT CP at Hangye to check on the main body of TF Gerhart, which he found still forming. Standing in front of the CP tent was Major James H. Spann of the 72nd Tank Battalion who had been left behind to contact and guide forward the rest of the battalion's tanks when they arrived. Almond, in rapid succession, asked Major Spann to what outfit he belonged, why the tanks weren’t moving, and the name of his battalion commander. Almond replied when Spann had answered these questions, "to get that tank column moving whether the tanks have infantry support or not." In the meantime, Colonel Gerhart had formed the elements of his task force in their relative positions in the column and had moved the column onto the road. Before Major Spann could relay Almond’s order through Lieutenant Colonel Elbridge Brubaker, the 72nd Tank Battalion's commanding officer, it reached Gerhart through his own staff. Gerhart then told the commander of the assigned Sherman tank company to disregard the task force organization and to get the tanks up the road to the Soyang River as fast as possible. The tanks, however, were intermingled with 2 1/2-ton trucks, half-tracks, and jeeps throughout the task force column, and it was not possible to immediately separate the tanks from the rest of the column. After spending considerable time jockeying tanks and other vehicles around in the column, a platoon of tanks succeeded in separating and was sent along to join the tank platoon leading the armored point. By late afternoon, TF Gerhart had fought its way 13 miles (21 km) through enemy defenses along the road ridges to Morumegi (Molmegi) (modern-day Morubak-gil), about 2 miles (3.2 km) south of the Soyang River, and joined up in the point force perimeter at 18:30. 2/187th remained there in bridgehead defense until 26 May.:214 :187 :481
Late on 24 May, with TF Gerhart occupying the lower bank of the Soyang River at Umyang-ni, General Almond issued orders for the US 23rd Infantry Regiment to move up on the morning of 25 May, pass through TF Gerhart, throw a treadway bridge over the river, and seize Inje in order to block large CPVA concentrations that aerial observers had sighted withdrawing up the Pungam-ni-Hyon-ni-Inje road ahead of the pursuing US 38th Infantry Regiment. On the morning of 26 May, after the 23rd Infantry established the Soyang River bridge, TF Gerhart and the remainder of the 187th ARCT were to assemble under corps control just south of Umyang-ni for a rapid drive to seize Kansong on the coast.:482
On the morning of 25 May, the remainder of the 187th ARCT, in motor transport with 3/187th leading, began its move up the Hangye-Inje road. CPVA were dug in on the high ground along the route of advance. As the lead vehicles of the motorized column passed, CPVA would emerge from camouflaged foxholes, throw grenades, and retreat back under cover, knocking out vehicles that had to be pushed off the road to keep the column moving. K/187th deployed two rifle platoons to clear the high ground of CPVA at least 200 yards (180 m) deep. Hundreds of CPVA died in their foxholes as K/187th probed the ground with fixed bayonets. With the hazard close to the road removed, the column progressed slowly forward at about 1 or 2 miles (1.6 or 3.2 km) an hour. As the terrain flattened out, the area had to be cleared on both sides of the road. I/187th used two rifle platoons to clear the area between the road and the river. Enemy defenses stiffened as the 187th ARCT closed on the CPVA supply base at Inje, receiving mortar, artillery, and automatic-weapons fire. CPVA fire knocked out several tanks on the road, but the other tanks pushed them aside. The 187th ARCT closed up with TF Gerhart by late evening on 25 May. That evening, General Bowen called Lieutenant Colonel Rye Mausert, who had replaced Lieutenant Colonel Munson as 3/187th's commanding officer, to the regimental CP and issued him orders to move out at dawn to clear the single-lane road that ran along the bank of the Soyang River that cut through the hills to Inje. Later that night, CPVA ambushed a supply and ammunition vehicle convoy moving up behind the infantry column.:214–215 :483
Early on the morning of 26 May, 3/187th moved out with K/187th deployed along the high ground for flank security. As the column moved slowly along the narrow roadway, the point ran into a sizable CPVA roadblock. 3/187th attacked in force, killing and capturing many of the Chinese. The battalion moved a few miles farther up the road and ran into another strong CPVA defensive position. K/187th began taking heavy casualties. Lieutenant Colonel Mausert directed I/187th to pass through K/187th and take the CPVA position holding up the advance. Supported by the heavy weapons platoons from both rifle companies and M/187th's fire support, I/187th assaulted the ridge, clearing it of CPVA. I/187th's 1st Platoon, riding on tanks, reached the outskirts of Inje just before dark; it had taken over ten hours to fight up 10 miles (16 km) of road.:216
The next morning, CPVA attacked from the high ground. K/187th, with I/187th in reserve, was ordered to clear and hold the high ground. In taking the high ground, K/187th repelled three CPVA attacks, leaving only a hill summit to their front in CPVA hands. I/187th was directed to take up the attack. At the same time, G/187th mounted tanks and rode up the road until forced by intense fire to dismount and fight on foot. Hills dominated the left side of the road and the Soyang River was on the right. G/187th neared a river ford just beyond Kwandae-ri (Gwandae-ri) and started across with 2nd Platoon in the lead. 2nd Platoon secured the high ground on the riverbank as the remainder of G/187th waded ashore and moved on north up the road. Finally, the tanks crossed the ford and the attack continued ahead. Without the protection of the hills, G/187th began taking heavy casualties. F/187th continued the attack through G/187th, deploying in line and sweeping forward to clear the hills to the front. 2/187th moved forward into the low hills east of the Soyang River and set up a defensive position for the night. At sunup on 28 May, 3/187th, supported by the quad-50 half-tracks of A Battery, 88th AAAB, continued the attack up the western side of the Soyang River. While 3/187th cleared the western side of the river along the primary road, 2/187th recrossed the river to the west side across a man-made rock footway. After reaching the road, 2/187th turned north and assumed the point of the 187th ARCT advance.:216–217
On 29 May, G/187th attacked Hill 420 at Wontong-ni. CPVA artillery, located about 1,000 yards (910 m) behind the hill, had been shelling G/187th since daybreak. G/187th's leading 3rd Platoon crested Hill 420's summit with little opposition and destroyed the CPVA position on the reverse slope, but began taking on heavy fire from another knoll. 3rd Platoon was then caught in the open by a strong CPVA counterattack. The paratroopers organized in the face of the CPVA fire and managed to hold position; G/187th would be forced to hold Hill 420 for four days. Just before midnight, 3rd Platoon was struck by another CPVA attack, followed by two more before daylight on 30 May. With nothing but machine guns, rifles, and grenades, 3rd Platoon held its position on the knoll. During the night of 30–31 May, G/187th was repeatedly attacked by CPVA so often that 3/187th was running short of ammunition. Resupply came forward just in time to fend off another assault.:218
At 02:00 on 31 May, CPVA stormed 3rd Platoon frontally and 1st Platoon on the left flank of Hill 420. PFC Carl M. Hamrick occupied a foxhole with Corporal Rodolfo P. Hernandez on the forward slope of the sector of Hill 420 occupied by 3rd Platoon, G/187th. According to Hamrick, the CPVA attacked with artillery, mortars, and automatic weapons. The attack was aimed directly at the sector where Hamrick and Hernandez occupied their foxhole. The CPVA massed just beyond a drop-off on the slope, about 25 yards (23 m) from their position. As the CPVA charged up the slope, 3rd Platoon opened up with machine-gun and small-arms fire. A fierce hand grenade battle ensued in which both Hamrick and Hernandez were wounded. A 3rd Platoon machine gun position was knocked out of action and several men on both sides of Hamrick's and Hernandez's position began to withdraw. The CPVA fire grew heavier as Hamrick and Hernandez continued to return fire with their rifles until Hernandez's rifle jammed. Without a word, Hernandez jumped out of the foxhole and charged the CPVA with his jammed rifle, bayonet fixed. He threw hand grenades as he disappeared in the darkness. At daybreak, Hernandez was found about 25 yards (23 m) in front of the foxhole. He was lying head to head with a dead CPVA soldier. There were four other dead CPVA in the immediate vicinity. All of the dead CPVA had deep bayonet wounds in their upper bodies. Hernandez was badly wounded and unconscious and was evacuated to the rear. Hernandez survived his injuries and was awarded the Medal of Honor.:218–219
Along the route to Inje, 1/187th fought the same determined CPVA forces that faced 2/187th and 3/187th, suffering 11 KIA and over 40 WIA.:219
At month’s end, EUSAK had made rapid progress against the demoralized Reds. The US I Corps had easily advanced north of Seoul to Munsan-ni and Uijongbu, while the US IX and X Corps had converged toward Hwachon to cut off Red troops. EUSAK would regain the line just north of the 38th Parallel, around the towns of Hwachon and Inje. The UNC counterattack would be halted by the Chinese and a subsequent offensive stand-down would begin the stalemate that lasted until the armistice of 1953. The 187th ARCT had suffered severely - 286 KIA or WIA. General Almond pulled the 187th ARCT out of its hard-won positions near Inje and moved them to a rear area near Wonju. By early June, General Bowen received orders to move the 187th ARCT from Korea to Japan, where, in proximity to USAF troop carrier bases and transport aircraft, the paratroopers would remain in EUSAK reserve, ready to mount another airborne operation in short order to reinforce the troops in Korea.:221–222
As the first year of the Korean War was coming to an end, South Korea had been cleared of the CPVA and NKPA and UNC forces had pushed north of the 38th Parallel. On 23 June, in a radio address delivered in New York City, Jacob A. Malik, deputy foreign commissar of the Soviet Union and its delegate to the UN, suggested that the time had come for a peaceful solution to the Korean problem. Calling for negotiations between representatives of the UNC and the CPVA/NKPA, Malik stated "The Soviet peoples believe that as the first step, discussions should be started between the belligerents for a ceasefire and an armistice providing for mutual withdrawal of forces from the 38th Parallel.":222 :370–371
Return to Japan
The 187th ARCT had been severely bloodied during its tour in Korea – two combat parachute jumps followed by weeks of sometimes savage, close-quarters combat in bitter cold and rain over steep, rocky ridges and hills against an enemy capable of seemingly endless replacement. The paratroopers gladly welcomed the order to leave Korea, return to Japan, set up camp, train replacements, prepare to return to battle by parachute, and remain EUSAK's reserve. Life in Japan consisted of training, jump school, parachute jumps at various camps, and nightlife in town. At the Camp Hakata jump school, the golf course was the DZ, and the golfers would have to wait while the paratroopers dropped onto the DZ. The small jump school shortly began parachute training for the Japanese Army Self-Defense Force.:222–224
Koje-do is a rocky, hilly island in the Korea Strait 30 miles (48 km) southwest of Pusan. In June 1952, Koje-do Island was the location of United Nations Prisoner of War Camp No. 1. From its beginning in 1951, the prisoner-of-war camp produced nothing but problems for the UNC.
The camp consisted of four enclosures, each divided into eight compounds, with each compound designed to hold up to 1,200 prisoners. It was grossly overcrowded; by May 1952, around 150,000 NKPA/CPVA POWs and civilian internees were held in an area designed for 38,400, living in a mix of squad tents, Quonset huts, and great, flat one-story buildings with corrugated sheet metal roofs. High barbed wire fences surrounded the square compounds with sentry towers at each corner. The camp administrators carefully carried out the principles of the 1949 Geneva Conventions regarding POW rights and the International Red Cross frequently inspected the camp. Tunnels linked all the surrounding compounds and messages were openly sent between compounds by wigwagging or hurled by rocks from compound to compound. Amazingly, each compound was permitted to have a metalworking shop, prisoners were issued gasoline to start fires, and gates and sally ports were left unlocked to facilitate work details entering and leaving more easily. Guards were kept out of the grossly dangerous compounds after dark.
There were constant clashes between pro- and anti-Communist factions. It was known that General Nam Il, the NKPA High Command's Chief of Staff and the Communists' chief delegate at the Panmunjom armistice talks, had infiltrated NKPA fifth columnists into the camp to plan, organize, and stage incidents and murder uncooperative POWs and civilians. As early as June 1951, violence became the norm in the camp when several NKPA officers in Compound 76, the POW headquarters, protested having to dig latrines and garbage pits. When a ROKA guard detail entered the compound, the prisoners stoned the guards and the soldiers opened fire, killing three prisoners. Two months later, a prisoner demonstration left eight dead and 21 wounded. In September, a pro-Communist POW "kangaroo court" ordered 15 of their own executed. Mass riots required UNC troops to rush in and save some 200 POWs whose lives were in danger. In October, in the face of increasing tension in the camp, General Van Fleet activated the 8137th Army Unit Military Police Group to assist the prison security forces in policing the camp. In November, a battalion of the US 23rd Infantry Regiment was added to supplement the security force. By December, more than 9,000 US and ROKA troops were guarding the camp; this was still some 6,000 fewer than the number requested by the US 2nd Logistical Command in charge of all POW camps. On 18 December, a fight broke out between compounds, followed by demonstrations and riots that left 14 dead and 24 injured.
On 18 February 1952, over 1,000 inmates fought the 3rd Battalion, 27th Infantry Regiment that was providing security for teams screening POWs to extricate and release South Korean civilian conscripts, estimated to number around 38,000, who had been swept up with the NKPA. Fifty-five POWs were killed that day, 22 died later, and 140 were injured. One American was killed and 38 were wounded. On 23 February, the North Korean and Chinese delegations at Panmunjom protested against the "sanguinary incident of barbarously massacring large numbers of our personnel." The Reds managed the news to the extent that, thereafter, the camp became a prison run by the inmates, while the guards could do nothing more than stay outside the wire, under orders not to use force.
On 8 April, the UNC began screening POWs to determine those who did not wish to return to North Korea or China. Because of this screening, carefully planned violence by the POW leaders escalated to savage proportions. Two days later, when medics went into a compound to retrieve a wounded man, they were surrounded by a wave of prisoners and taken hostage. Brigadier General Francis T. Dodd, the camp commandant, rescued them by sending in a hundred unarmed ROKA troops. The pro-Communist POWs continued to forcibly resist the screening with mass demonstrations and riots. General Van Fleet warned General Ridgway that the screening could continue only by forced entry. The Communist prisoners and the UNC appeared to have reached a stalemate; the former had interior control of the compounds, but could not get out without violence; and the latter had exterior control, but could not get in without violence. With the cancellation of forced screening, the UNC indicated that it was willing to accept the status quo rather than initiate another wave of bloodshed in the camp.
The lack of discipline and anarchy reached a climax on 7 May when General Dodd, after talking to a group of prisoners through the wire, was grabbed and dragged into Compound 76. When Van Fleet got word of the incident, he sent Brigadier General Charles F. Colson, I Corps Chief of Staff, to take command of the camp and inform the prisoners that Dodd no longer was in command and could make no decisions. To further bolster his forces, Van Fleet sent the 3rd Battalion, 9th Infantry Regiment to Koje-do. During the night of 9–10 May, 20 Patton tanks, five equipped with flamethrowers, arrived on Koje-do and were brought into position. Dodd was finally freed on 10 May. On Dodd's release, Brigadier General Haydon L. Boatner took over command of the camp.
The time had finally arrived to put down the revolt in the compounds. In the early hours of 16 May, orders arrived at the 187th ARCT CP at Camp Chickamauga near Beppu, Japan for General Trapnell to move his regiment to Koje-do. At the same time, Major General Chester E. McCarty was notified that the 315th Air Division would airlift the 187th to Pusan, beginning that afternoon. General McCarty and his staff left Tachikawa Air Base for Ashiya Air Base. General Trapnell and his staff also flew to Ashiya. Together, the generals and their staffs, along with Colonel Maurice F. Casey, 403rd TCW commanding officer, set up a joint CP at Ashiya. The 187th moved out of its training areas and barracks at Camps Chickamauga and Wood in some haste. In an outstanding example of "off-the-cuff" unit movement by air, the 315th Air Division's C–119s, C–47s, and C–46s were marshaled for airlifting the 187th and its combat equipment, vehicles, and supplies from Ashiya and Brady Air Bases to Pusan East Airfield. Alerted at 09:00 hours on 16 May, the last of 160 transport aircraft landed at Pusan at noon on 17 May, taking only 17 hours to move 2,361 troops and 889.1 tons of equipment to South Korea in what airlift historian Annis G. Thompson termed "the fastest and most efficient air combat move of the entire war.":559 :33–34 The paratroopers assumed they were going to make another combat jump; they were displeased when, at Pusan, they were issued a basic ammunition load and shoved aboard LSTs. They learned that their target was the POW compounds at Koje-do on the overnight trip by water. The 187th arrived at Koje-do and unloaded from the LSTs, mounted up in motor transport, and drove through a series of dirt streets surrounded by the POW compounds. One A/187th rifleman's first impression of Koje-do was one of indignation – all the compounds were flying North Korean, Chinese Communist, and Russian flags; the barbed wire fences were strung with written epithets in English, and in each compound, the inmates had constructed a reviewing stand complete with prominent Red Stars. The POWs postured, marched, sang Communist songs, and practiced their own form of bayonet drill.
During the next month, the 187th established itself on Koje-do in battalion areas some distance from the POW compounds. Then the paratroopers got into the construction business. Relieving the 38th Infantry, they began a mission of breaking up the 4,000-to-6,000-man compounds into smaller, more controllable units. To accomplish this, they first built 2,000-man compounds divided into four sections holding no more than 500 prisoners each. The sections that came under 187th control were Compounds 76, 77, 78, 80, and a female compound, totaling some 20,000 NKPA and CPVA prisoners. Compound 76 was the headquarters of the POWs on Koje-do. To block the view inside the compound, the prisoners began hanging blankets on the barbed wire fences, which the 187th paratroopers burned with flamethrowers. The POW leader complained to the Red Cross, but no more blankets were issued. The 187th would quell rioting and disturbances in the various compounds with tear-gas grenades that, because of their long-burning fuses, were sometimes picked up and thrown back by the prisoners. When the 187th received a shipment of fast-burning tear-gas grenades and used them, the prisoners grabbed them as usual, with the grenades exploding in their hands.
During the weeks that the 187th had been on Koje-do, they had been gathering intelligence concerning the prisoners and their armaments. It was known that they had been saving their gasoline, storing it inside their buildings, and making Molotov cocktails for use against the guards. They had homemade knives and spears. They had dug a trench network inside and outside the tents and buildings. They were prepared to resist a takeover.
By 9 June, the 187th was ready to move the prisoners from Compound 76 to the new, smaller compounds. General Trapnell’s OPLAN called for 3/187th to face the compound's entrance; 2/187th would support from the rear of the compound; and 1/187th would enter by force, if necessary, to move the 6,400 prisoners to the new area. On the afternoon of 9 June, General Boatner notified the POW commander that the transfer would take place the next day.
At 06:00 on 10 June, the 187th took up its planned positions around Compound 76. General Boatner summoned the POW commander to the main gate and ordered him to have all his men put down their weapons, form into 150-man groups for the transfer, and sit on the ground with their hands on their heads, prepared for movement to the new compound. He refused. Boatner gave him a 30-minute ultimatum to form up the prisoners. Long after the 30 minutes had elapsed, the prisoners had still refused to comply. The 187th moved in.
On order, tear-gas and concussion grenades were lobbed over the wire. The 127th AEB’s engineers had cut a hole in the wire for 1/187th to breach the compound. A/187th moved forward and made the initial breakthrough. When the Rakkasans moved through the wire, the prisoners took their positions in trenches, ready to resist. Others retreated to tent and barracks fortifications. Many were carrying spears made from tent poles with attached metal knives; the spears were 4 to 6 feet (1.2 to 1.8 m) long with blades up to 15 inches (38 cm). Others carried flails made from barbed wire. They had contrived homemade gas masks with eyepieces made from cigarette packages and filters made from tin cans filled with sugar and charcoal. The prisoners reacted frantically, throwing spears, Molotov cocktails, and rocks at the advancing Americans. They ignited hidden gasoline caches stored in the tents and huts, setting the compound ablaze.
1/187th pushed through to the first trench line located 10 feet (3.0 m) inside the wire. A group of prisoners was spotted running into a tent that was ordered to be destroyed with flamethrowers. At this point, a prisoner speared a flamethrower carrier in the groin; he died before he could be evacuated from the compound. Another paratrooper seized the flamethrower and the 1/187th line moved to the first row of tents. The tents were well dug in with long, corrugated metal-roofed sunken burrows with 3 feet (0.91 m) high mud and stone walls behind them. These were the strong points from which the prisoners made their most determined stand.
Prisoners were thick in the tents and trenches surrounding them. They stabbed at the paratroopers with their spears and threw Molotov cocktails amid the moving squads. Retaliating with thermite hand grenades and flamethrowers, the tents were soon on fire. The paratroopers drove or dragged the screaming, slashing, and fighting prisoners out of the trenches; they pulled approximately 200 prisoners from the first tent. As quickly as they were subdued, the prisoners were moved to the rear and herded into the new enclosures.
Meanwhile, 2/187th had moved into Compound 76 from the rear and had forced thousands of shouting, screaming prisoners into a huge, tightly massed mob. Within about 10 minutes, the 187th halted their advance at the center of the compound, and flamethrowing tanks moved in behind the infantry line. The Rakkasans could see prisoners who tried to surrender being murdered by the camp leaders. Finally, after about two hours, the 187th gained control of the compound. The prisoners threw down their arms and walked to the gates to be moved to the new areas. They were herded out of Compound 76, stripped naked, and stuffed into open semi-trailers with wire mesh stretched over the tops. At the new compound, they were issued new uniforms and a rice bowl.
The POWs suffered 31 killed, half by their own officers, and 139 wounded. The 187th lost one man and suffered 13 injured. After the burned-out, filthy compound was cleared, the 187th found 1,000 Molotov cocktails, 3,000 metal-tipped spears, 4.500 knives, thousands of dollars in currency, a working telegraph set, and mockups of rifles and machine guns. In an isolated part of the compound, they found the bodies of more than 50 anti-Communist prisoners who had been executed and thrown down wells. They found another 100 bodies in unmarked shallow graves. They also found plans for a POW breakout and the seizure on Koje-do Island, set for 20 June.
The next morning, the 187th deployed to Compound 78, ready and armed to clear that compound. The prisoners had witnessed the previous day’s onslaught and decided that peaceful surrender was the better course of action. General Trapnell gave the 6,000 prisoners a half-hour to form up and move out. After returning to their tents to gather personal effects, they peacefully complied on time. When the 187th searched the compound’s headquarters and mess areas, they found that every desk drawer, file cabinet, and scores of pots and pans on the still hot stoves were loaded with human excrement.
The epitaph to the 187th’s Koje-do deployment was a Life magazine cover a couple of weeks after the burndown and reestablishment of UNC control over the POW camp: the cover pictured Major David Korn, the 187th’s Intelligence Officer, holding Colonel Lee Hak Ku by the hair of his head amid the carnage of Compound 76. Colonel Lee had been found cowering in a ditch, disguised as a female, before capture. Lee, who had expected to be killed, was placed in solitary confinement for the remainder of his imprisonment on Koje-do.
Koje-do was "mission accomplished" for the 187th ARCT. But it was not back to Japan for the Rakkasans. It was back to Korea and the defensive line near the Iron Triangle with a new commanding officer.
Source citation: Flanagan (1997). The Rakkasans. pp. 224–234.
After Koje-do, the 187th returned to South Korea and established a base of operations near Taegu Airfield. On 29 July 1952, Colonel William C. Westmoreland flew into Taegu to replace General Trapnell as the 187th ARCT's commanding officer. At this time, 1/187th was commanded by Lieutenant Colonel Russell E. Whetstone, 2/187th by Major Charles M. Holland, 3/187th by Lieutenant Colonel Dow S. Grones, and the 674th AFAB by Lieutenant Colonel Stuart M. Seaton.
When he joined the 187th ARCT, Colonel Westmoreland had more than 50 parachute jumps to his credit (he had commanded the 504th PIR, 82nd Airborne Division, in 1946 and 1947, but had not jumped in more than a year). On 30 July, one day after assuming command of the 187th ARCT, he participated in a training jump with one of his infantry battalions. He made a point to jump with each of the battalions. His second jump almost cost him his life. Westmoreland later recalled that he made a poor exit from the aircraft and his parachute failed to open. He finally succeeded in shaking the parachute loose, allowing it to fill with air and blossom about 300 feet (91 m) above the ground. "I should have pulled my reserve chute. I had flirted needlessly with death."
On 4 August, the Rakkasans moved north to the Chipo-ri marshaling area in preparation for movement up to the front line. On 8 August, Colonel Westmoreland, his staff, and the battalion commanders were briefed on the 187th ARCT's new mission at the 17th Infantry Regiment's CP. The OPLAN called for the 187th to secretly relieve the 17th Infantry in place above Changnim-ni in the Iron Triangle. The purpose of the secrecy was to prevent the CPVA/NKPA from knowing that the 187th ARCT was on the front line as a ground unit and not an airborne threat to their rear areas. All identifying unit patches and traces of unit designation were removed from their uniforms, vehicles, and equipment. The 17th Infantry screened the 187th ARCT's movement to the deployment areas selected by Westmoreland. The paratroopers came on line in the vicinity of the Hantan-gang River-Namdae-chon River valley area on the central front. The 187th ARCT settled into defensive positions for the next two months.
The UNC war of maneuver was over for the most part in Korea. Neither the 187th ARCT nor any other UNC unit was allowed to conduct more than limited offensive operations to gain control of dominating terrain, deny the CPVA or NKPA the use of forward OPs, capture prisoners, and keep their opponents off guard. Many of the 17th Infantry's positions inherited by the 187th were poorly sited and considered indefensible by Colonel Westmoreland. He adjusted and pushed out his lines, straightening bulges and covering avenues of approach. He also ordered platoon-sized combat patrols and raiding parties to strike enemy positions across the valley.
The 674th AFAB was deployed in firing battery order behind the 187th ARCT MLR, in direct support of the infantry battalions. Each rifle company had an artillery forward observer (FO) at an OP in a forward position from which the FO could see the terrain in front of the infantry and observe the enemy lines across the valley. The FO had a Battery Command (BC) Periscope used for both forward observation and measurement of angles of sight and azimuth for artillery fire, in addition to a 40X magnification spotting scope through which he could examine enemy positions in detail. The FOs were in direct radio contact with the 674th fire direction center (FDC) and each other.
Early on the morning of 14 August, the 674th's A Battery FO team in support of C/187th was on duty in the team's OP bunker observing the valley to its front through the BC scope when it observed what appeared to be a 187th combat patrol walking near a known CPVA position in the vicinity of a preplanned artillery concentration point. C/187th's company commander was radioed about the patrol's location and the FDC was given the concentration point number. The patrol was observed walking back toward friendly lines when hundreds of CPVA suddenly ran out to cut them off. The FDC was given the order for the 674th's three firing batteries to fire for effect on the preplanned concentration point. The artillery rounds landed squarely on the CPVA, stopping them in place. This gave the American patrol, now identified as belonging to A/187th, time to start running toward the 187th's lines, and putting them squarely in the path of another group of CPVA trying to trap them.
Smoke and debris from the exploding artillery shells obscured the view from the FO bunker and visual contact was lost with the A/187th patrol. Without visual confirmation of the patrol's location, a ceasefire order was about to be given when a voice, later identified as that of Corporal Lester Hammond, the patrol's radio operator, came over the infantry radio net in the FO bunker. Hammond said "Keep firing. Your shells are landing right on them. I can see Chinese all over. There are many dead. You killed a lot. Keep firing." The FO passed the order to the FDC to keep firing, that the FO had radio contact with the patrol, and that the fire was effective. Hammond now called for several adjustments that were passed to the FDC. The artillery rounds now began cracking over the OP in rapid order as they traveled downrange to their targets. Hammond reported that he was shot in the leg but he continued to adjust the artillery fire. Within 15 minutes, the infantry radio net went silent. Hammond was no longer transmitting and he wasn't responding to calls from the FO bunker. It wasn't known if the CPVA were too close and he didn't want to reveal his position, or if he was KIA.
Now, other groups of CPVA were running toward the scene of the battle, so the FO started directing artillery fire at them, splitting the 674th's three firing batteries. Still concerned about the lost A/187th patrol and Corporal Hammond's silence, the FO was about to request a ceasefire in that area when Hammond's voice again came over the infantry radio net, very weakly, saying "Keep shooting...the Chinese are all over...I can see hundreds dead," and then it faded out again. The FO could hear artillery shells exploding very close to Hammond when he pressed the radio's microphone button. The FO continued to call in artillery knowing Hammond was hurt. Hammond's weak voice was heard again calling for an adjustment that the FO thought would result in the shells landing on him. Hammond's next words were to the effect, "Don't argue with me. Shift fire. The Chinese will kill me anyway." He was asked if the rest of the A/187th patrol was near him. Hammond replied that he was alone. His last words were "For God's sake, keep firing." The FO had a tough decision to make – shift fire onto Hammond's position and probably kill him, but save the lives of others, or not shift fire and maybe save Hammond, but lose the patrol. The decision was made to shift fire as Hammond requested. There was no response from Hammond after the artillery fire was shifted onto his position. Corporal Lester Hammond was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor for giving the ultimate sacrifice.
Lieutenant Colonel Whetstone, 1/187th's commanding officer, arrived at the OP to set up a C/187th relief force to find the A/187th patrol and bring it back. Shortly thereafter, Colonel Westmoreland appeared. More CPVA were spotted along the valley floor. The FO adjusted the firing batteries as targets came into view. From the valley, the relief force reported many CPVA dead and some "seemingly disorganized and disoriented." Later that day, the relief force made contact with the lost A/187th patrol and recovered Corporal Hammond's body. As the relief force was withdrawing, the CPVA attacked. At one time, six fire missions were being conducted on six separate targets, using the 674th's three 105mm firing batteries, 155mm howitzers from Corps Artillery, and 4.2-inch and 81mm mortars from several 187th units. CPVA counter-battery fire whistled over the OP and landed in the rear.
The battle raged on throughout the afternoon with the CPVA trying to block the escape of the C/187th relief force and the A/187th patrol. The FO called for 4.2-inch mortar fire on a CPVA-occupied hill to his front. Unfortunately, the mortar crews were out of high explosive rounds. The mortar crews were directed to fire whatever they had – "smoke, flares, or anything you got." The FO checked the area through his BC scope and saw hundreds of CPVA swarming over the hill. When the mortar smoke rounds landed, CPVA near the smoke halted since they knew from past experience that smoke usually preceded an airstrike. But no airstrike had been planned. Suddenly, all the CPVA stopped and squatted, knelt in place, or laid down. The FO saw a lone F–51 fighter-bomber descending out of the sky in a dive-bombing position. It released a bomb that landed on the CPVA in the white smoke area, causing the CPVA to turn and run back toward their own caves in complete panic. Later that afternoon, the C/187th relief force and the five surviving members of the A/187th patrol came back safely to friendly lines, carrying Corporal Hammond's body.
Two days later, it was revealed that Corps Artillery had planned an airstrike deep in the Kumhwa Valley with the target identified by white smoke from a 155mm howitzer. The F–51 pilot missed the 155mm smoke round, dropped his bomb load on the 187th's 4.2-inch mortar smoke round, and saved the day for 1/187th.
During this period of limited offensive operations, EUSAK directed all units along the line to capture CPVA soldiers for their intelligence value. The 187th ARCT's S-3 (Operations) staff devised a plan to send a liaison aircraft over CPVA lines, have it develop engine trouble, have the pilot bail out, then have the aircraft fly over a hill and crash on the other side, out of sight of the CPVA lines. It was hoped that the CPVA would exit their caves to capture the pilot. With Colonel Westmoreland's enthusiastic approval, it fell on the Aviation Officer and the regimental I&R Platoon to implement the scam. They built a dummy and cannibalized an abandoned aircraft from the 7th Infantry Division's airstrip for parts to build a smoke screen.
At midnight on 28 September, the I&R Platoon slipped out through friendly lines in squads five minutes apart and followed an abandoned aqueduct toward a CPVA-occupied hill. The I&R Platoon arrived at a small grove about 200 yards (180 m) from the base of the hill and took up watch positions throughout the day. At about 17:00, the I&R Platoon heard the liaison aircraft in the distance. CPVA on another hill took it under fire. Suddenly, the plane belched a cloud of white smoke, spun earthward, then leveled off and glided over the I&R Platoon's position. The dummy pilot was thrown out, its parachute popped open, and came to rest about 600 yards (550 m) away from the American position. The plane wobbled out of sight behind a hill and the engineers set off an explosion with a barrel filled with napalm. The I&R Platoon waited in hiding. Soon, about two squads of CPVA came down a trail. The Rakkasans held their fire until the last minute, then the entire platoon opened up. It was over in seconds. When the order was given to cease fire, they had captured one wounded CPVA and immediately set out to return to their own lines, under covering fire from E/187th as they crossed the valley. Unfortunately, the CPVA prisoner died long the way. Colonel Westmoreland met the I&R Platoon behind the forward lines and congratulated them on the almost successful ruse.
The 187th ARCT was pulled off the line, moved to an airfield north of Seoul, and restored to its original airborne unit designation with the return of its unit insignia.
The Rakkasans' last mission on its second tour in Korea involved a part in Operation FEINT, designed to lure CPVA/NKPA forces into the open, making them easier targets for airstrikes, naval gunfire, and artillery barrages. According to the OPLAN, EUSAK would "go through the motions" of preparing for a major offensive to link up with an amphibious landing over the beaches at Kojo on North Korea's east coast. The 187th ARCT would theoretically make a combat jump somewhere in the vicinity of the amphibious landing. Each battalion made a practice jump. 1/187th hit the Taegu DZ in good order, occupied a nearby village, marched 5 miles (8.0 km), and boarded motor transport for the ride back to the airfield. High winds canceled the second day's jump. On the third day, the jump went as scheduled with the exception of a 3/4-ton weapons carrier that dropped without the restraint of parachutes. For the next two days, the 187th ARCT was confined in barbed wire enclosures around their tent city near Taegu, with no visitors or native laborers allowed in camp. On the fourth day of their isolation, the Kojo beachhead was pummeled by airstrikes. On 15 October, the US Navy launched mock amphibious landings along the east coast. The C–46s and C–119s, with only their flight crews aboard, flew over the mock DZ and headed out to sea. Waves of fighter-bombers then hit the area. All in all, enemy reaction was minimal. EUSAK called off the operation and Operation FEINT lived up to its designation. That night, C–124s began lifting the 187th ARCT back to its home bases in Japan.
Source citation: Flanagan (1997). The Rakkasans. pp. 234–244.
Japan and Korea – The Third Time
When they returned from Korea to Camps Chickamauga, Wood, and Kashii on Kyushu, they found their noncombat gear and personal effects about as they had left them in their barracks and footlockers. The 187th ARCT's mission, that of theater reserve, required that they remained in a state of readiness for rapid deployment back to Korea by parachute or other means. This mission complemented Colonel Westmoreland's training schedule, intended not only to keep the Rakkasans sharp in individual and unit combat skills, but also to wear them down so that by nightfall they had little energy left to search for off-post diversions. He ordered a stop to overnight passes that caused a momentary wave of complaints, but morale in the 187th ARCT reflected Westmoreland's concern for his soldiers, and their realization that his orders did not mean he was their antagonist.
Colonel Westmoreland was promoted to brigadier general on 7 November 1952 at the age of 38, making him one of the youngest US Army generals in the post-World War II era. The winter and spring of 1952–1953 was a period when General Westmoreland sharpened the 187th ARCT to a fine edge of military perfection and combat readiness. The paratroopers had always been proud and tough, believing that "legs," soldiers who were not in Airborne units that wore their dress uniform trousers with an unbroken front seam down to "low quarter" dress shoes rather than soldiers who were in jump-status Airborne units that bloused the legs of their dress uniforms into "jump boots," a boot that was part of the Airborne tradition, were in a lower caste on the military scale. But in the Westmoreland period, he glazed the 187th with a new patina of the martial way of life. They were inspected in ranks at morning formation, had their barracks and lockers checked daily, paraded sometimes once a week, and, on occasion, stood full field inspections with their personal gear precisely laid out in front of their carefully aligned pup tents. Westmoreland saw to it that their parachuting proficiency, physical fitness, and combined arms skills were as sharp as their soldiering expertise.
Initially, parachute training jumps were limited in size, sometimes using just a single aircraft. At Camp Wood, an open field adjacent to the camp served as both an airfield and a DZ. A C–47 would arrive, take on a load of paratroopers, take off, make a pass over the field, drop the paratroopers, land, pick up another planeload, and repeat the process. Later, the jumps at Ashiya Air Base expanded into battalion-size and larger tactical maneuvers. One such jump was an airborne maneuver near Mount Fuji in the spring of 1953. Thirteen C–119s delivered a reinforced infantry company in a three-hour, nonstop flight from Ashiya and dropped the paratroopers on the slopes of the snow-covered, 13,090 feet (3,990 m) mountain. It was the first time paratroopers of any nation had ever jumped on the slopes of the sacred Japanese mountain.
Meanwhile, the war in Korea continued to fluctuate back and forth along the front lines up near the 38th Parallel. On 28 May 1953, while truce talks were again taking place at Panmunjom after a six-month hiatus, US hopes for an armistice faded when the CPVA launched a powerful offensive along the entire truce line that forced the US 25th Infantry Division to withdraw from five hilltop outposts east of Panmunjom. The main thrust of the offensive occurred on 10 June against the ROKA positions at the Kumsong Salient. Under overwhelming force, several ROKA divisions wavered, broke, and ran, leaving large holes in the defensive line. Lieutenant General Maxwell D. Taylor, who had assumed command of EUSAK on 11 February, filled the gap with reserve divisions and stabilized the front by 18 June. Even so, he wanted additional forces from theater reserve deployed along the line – this meant, among others, the 187th ARCT in Japan. On 19 June, the alert order went out to all three camps. Within hours, unit commanders loaded their troops onto trains for the ride to Brady and Ashiya Air Bases. At the airfields, the men were issued green, camo-colored silk scarves, the 187th's personal combat trademark, signaling that they were headed back to the line in Korea.
The 187th ARCT, less the 674th AFAB that was attached to IX Corps Artillery in support of the ROKA on the front line, went into theater reserve near Seoul and continued its training and practice parachute jumps along the banks of the Han River. On 13 July, the CPVA attacked IX Corps' right flank with three divisions and broke through the ROKA lines. All along the line, the ROKA retreated under heavy CPVA pressure. While the 187th was moving up on the line, the 674th AFAB moved to get into position to directly support the 187th. The 187th moved into defensive positions in the vicinity of Kumhwa, under the command of and on the US 2nd Infantry Division's right flank, in roughly the same area it had occupied in the fall of 1952. General Westmoreland, after extensively reconnoitering the area and aware of the CPVA presence to his front, placed Major Frederick J. Kroesen's 1/187th on a hill overlooking the entire IX Corps' front. From the hill, 1/187th could observe the east and west routes along which IX Corps' artillery echelon was deployed. The corps artillery covered one likely CPVA invasion corridor through the Kumhwa valley. Westmoreland deployed his other two battalions to the west of 1/187th, returned to the 187th ARCT CP, which was set up adjacent to the 674th AFAB's 105mm howitzer firing positions, and prepared to repel any CPVA attacks down the corridor defended by his paratroopers.
When a CPVA attack during the middle of a rain-soaked night opened a gap in the line between two adjacent units, it left the 187th ARCT holding a critical section of terrain. The 2nd Infantry Division's CP telephoned General Westmoreland with an order to withdraw 1/187th from its current position and reposition it. Westmoreland considered the hill currently occupied by 1/187th key to his defensive strategy and objected to the order. Additionally, he did not consider it advisable to move his battalion without reconnaissance into a new position at night without exposing his own CP, requiring it also to be moved. When the order was repeated, Westmoreland insisted that he deemed the move ill-advised and again requested the division commander to reconsider the order. When he was threatened with removal from his command, Westmoreland had no choice but to obey, but he made it clear that he was following the order under protest. Major Kroesen executed the 1/187th withdrawal flawlessly. To ensure the integrity of the 187th ARCT's position, Westmoreland organized a provisional force made up of service personnel to occupy a blocking position for 1/187th's withdrawal. As it turned out, American counterattacks eliminated the CPVA salient before they could occupy the key terrain vacated by the Rakkasans.
Even though the CPVA had launched their last major offensive of the war, skirmishes and artillery duels along the front did not stop. Patrols from both sides raided across the line, firefights and harassing sniper fire were routine, and night infiltration through the wire was common even as the armistice neared. On 27 July, the 187th ARCT received word that the truce would become effective at 22:00. Orders were passed to clear weapons at 18:00 so as to prevent any incident that might compromise the truce. The 187th was doomed to lose one more member, the last of the Korean War when, five hours before the ceasefire, Sergeant Carl A. Hammer, 22, was killed in a skirmish along the MLR. At the first light of dawn, the regiment began the burdensome job of policing up and getting gear together in preparation for departing their positions. Orders came down to dismantle the MLR bunkers and defenses, move back several thousand yards, and construct new and more elaborate positions. For the next three days, bunkers, strongpoints, and outposts on the old MLR were blown up. By 1 August, the 187th ARCT had moved to the new line and started construction of the "Blackjack Bastion," a system of bunkers and trenches straddling the "bowling alley" into Seoul.
On 1 October, the 187th ARCT received orders to move back to Japan. On 3 October, the 187th boarded the USS General John Pope (AP-110) at Inchon for the trip back across the Yellow Sea to Kyushu, arriving at the port of Moji on 5 October. The next day, the troops assigned to Camp Chickamauga moved by train to Beppu. The Rakkasans staged an impressive 'combat dress' parade to the camp. The troops assigned to Camp Wood continued by water to Sasebo, arriving there on 7 October.
The arrival of the 187th in Japan marked the end of the RCT's third and final combat tour in Korea. It also marked the end of General Westmoreland's command of the 187th ARCT. On 19 October, Brigadier General Roy E. Lindquist assumed command of the 187th in a change-of-command ceremony at Camp Chickamauga.
For the next twenty-one months, the 187th went about its duties and training in Japan. New men arrived and were integrated into the units as "point" accumulation sent many of the combat veterans back to the States. The 187th conducted training exercises with the US Marines and, in a unique international training effort, opened a jump school for officers of the Japanese Army Self-Defense Force. In October 1954, the Camp Hakata jump school graduated the first Japanese paratroopers that became the nucleus for a Japanese parachute unit.
By October 1954, rumors floated through the camps that the 187th was being transferred back stateside. The US Army had instituted Operation Gyroscope, whereby US units would replace their overseas counterparts. Unit rotation, thought the Army planners, was more efficient to maintain unit integrity than sending individual replacements every month to fill the vacancies left by rotating overseas personnel. The 508th ARCT from Fort Bragg, North Carolina was selected to replace the 187th ARCT in Japan on an equal basis. The exchange would involve one of the largest airlifts in US Air Force history.
In February 1955, an advance party from the 508th ARCT arrived at Beppu to plan the major exchange. The Air Force planned to airlift both RCT's in C–124s for the 12,900 miles (20,800 km) trip from Fort Bragg to Japan and return to Fort Bragg. The 187th ARCT's leg of the round trip would involve stops along the way at Wake Island, Hickam Field in Hawaii, Travis Air Force Base in California, and the Camp Mackall airstrip, the original home of the 187th and adjacent to Fort Bragg, the 187th's final destination. Camp Hakata became the marshaling area and Itazuke (Brady) Air Base the departure airfield. The first element of 400 Rakkasans moved out on 27 May in commercial aircraft, while an equal number of 508th paratroopers arrived at Itazuke. On 30 May, the first C–124 carrying elements of the 508th landed at Itazuke; the waiting 187th advance elements immediately boarded the C–124. On 12 July, the first C–124 carrying the main body of 187th paratroopers taxied down the runway at Itazuke and was airborne at 10:00. A few minutes past Wake Island, Colonel Curtis J. Herrick, former deputy commanding officer of the 187th, assumed command of the 187th from General Lindquist. Colonel Herrick's command tour would only last until August when he was replaced by Colonel Joseph F. Ryneska.
From Japan to California, across the Rocky Mountains and the Mississippi River, and to the pine-covered hills of North Carolina, the Rakkasans were finally home after five history-making years in the Far East, veterans of Korea, guardians of Japan, and the most mobile striking force in the Pacific. By 17 July, thousands of paratroopers and their dependents had made the 52-hour flight and the biggest airlift in history was over.
The assignment of the 187th to the XVIII Airborne Corps at Fort Bragg marked the end of the RCT's five years in the Far East and the beginning of a series of confusing assignments.
Source citation: Flanagan (1997). The Rakkasans. pp. 245–255.
Post–Korean War and Air Mobility
Army Reorganizational Turmoil
The late 1950s and early 1960s were a turbulent time for the Rakkasans.
Veterans left for reassignment or return to civilian life. For the next few months, the 187th ARCT's ranks were filled with new men who had to be trained in the unique and rigorous military expertise that had become the regimental standard, as well as indoctrinated in the Rakkasan spirit. At Fort Bragg, the 187th was under the direct command of the XVIII Airborne Corps. The stay at Fort Bragg would be relatively short-lived. In January 1956, another transfer loomed.
After the Korean War, the US Army went through a major reorganization as it prepared to meet the challenges of the Cold War. Gyroscoping units moved back and forth across the Atlantic and Pacific. "Massive retaliation" became the strategic term of the day and resulted in drastic cuts in manpower during the Eisenhower years (1953–1961). The Army believed itself in danger of being completely overshadowed by the Air Force and attempted to accommodate the new strategy with two major divisional-level reorganizations that caused upheaval in the Army's ranks and command structure. First came the Pentomic Plan of 1957–1959, followed by the Reorganization of Army Divisions (ROAD) of 1962–1964. Central to these reorganizations were developments in tactical nuclear weapons, without loss of massed firepower, a mandatory characteristic for military forces. Combat areas in future nuclear wars were viewed differently than past battlefields, requiring small, self-contained, fast-moving units. Speed was essential, not only for the concentration of offensive forces, but also in force dispersion for defense. However, the Army had to retain the ability to fight limited or non-nuclear wars, where mobility and dispersion were not as important. The 187th ARCT found itself in the middle of these changes.
In the spring of 1949, the 11th Airborne Division had arrived at Fort Campbell, Kentucky, after combat in the Philippines in World War II and almost four years in occupied Japan. In the spring of 1956, the 11th Airborne Division gyroscoped to Germany. Rumor had it that the 101st Airborne Division of World War II European Theater fame was about to be reactivated, and the 187th ARCT would have a major role in forming the new division. The rumor was true. At Fort Bragg, in January 1956, Colonel Ryneska received the order to move the 187th to Fort Campbell. The Rakkasans left Fort Bragg on 19 January by bus and truck convoy and settled into Fort Campbell in barracks only recently vacated by the 11th Airborne Division.
On 27 March, the 187th ARCT formed a combat test group and began a series of training exercises and tests in the Army's new pentomic division concept. There were four tests over four months, during which the 187th rarely left the field. The tests included a parachute assault and a linkup with an armored force; an air transportability test; a raid in which the paratroopers dropped into a DZ, destroyed an enemy installation, and extracted by air transport. The fourth test was a final examination testing all aspects of ground combat.
On 19 June, the 187th ARCT felt the changes brought on by the Pentomic Plan. The 187th was deactivated as an RCT and was temporarily dropped from the roster of active Army units. On the same day, the three battalions of the 187th were assigned to cadre the 101st Airborne Division, reactivated on 21 September at a ceremony attended by General Maxwell D. Taylor, now the US Army Chief of Staff. At the ceremony, General Taylor, who commanded the 101st in the Normandy invasion and later in the fight across Europe, presented the colors of the 101st "Screaming Eagles":13 to its new commander, Major General T. L. Sherburne. With its reactivation, the 101st became a pentomic division, a poorly conceived organization centered on a Pentagon concept: to replace a three-regiment infantry division, a pentomic infantry division had five 1,400-man battle groups, each larger than a battalion but smaller than a regiment, that could be employed in battle singly or in combination, plus separate units for command and control, communications, engineers, and artillery. Since the battle group replaced both the battalion and the regiment, one command echelon was eliminated, which cut down on staff overhead. It was an organization doomed almost from its beginning. On this same date, the 187th AIR became the 187th Airborne Regimental Combat Group.
On 1 March 1957, 1/187th was reactivated as the 1st Airborne Battle Group (ABG) of the 187th Infantry Regiment, under the command of Colonel Norman G. Reynolds, and assigned to the 11th Airborne Division in Germany. It departed Fort Campbell in the spring of 1957 and remained overseas for the next 14 months. On 25 April, 2/187th became the 2nd ABG, 187th Infantry, under the command of Colonel Melvin Zais, a distinguished World War II paratrooper and later the 101st Airborne Division's commanding officer in Vietnam. 3/187th was deactivated on the same day.
The 1st ABG, 187th Infantry, joined the 11th Airborne Division in Augsburg, Germany, and moved into Gablingen Kaserne. For almost a year, the 1st ABG trained with the 11th Airborne Division at the US Army Garrison Hohenfels Training Area. On 15 March 1958, Lieutenant Colonel Thomas W. Sharkey assumed command of the 1st ABG. On 1 July, the 11th Airborne Division was deactivated and the 1st ABG, 187th Infantry, joined the 2nd ABG, 503rd Infantry, in the 24th Infantry Division (Pentomic).
In the spring of 1958, US interests were compromised when rebel uprisings threatened pro-Western governments in the Middle Eastern countries of Jordan, Iraq, Lebanon, and Syria. On 14 July, King Faisal II of Iraq was killed during a coup d'état that overthrew the government. President Eisenhower reacted by putting US forces on alert for deployment, including the 1st ABG, 187th Infantry, in Germany. On 14 July, the 1st ABG returned to Gablingen Kaserne by airdrop after two weeks of training at Hohenfels. On 15 July, Colonel Sharkey received the order to move the 1st ABG from Germany to Adana, Turkey. On 16 July, the 1st ABG began a massive airlift from Fürstenfeldbruck Air Base, near Munich, Germany, to a staging area in Adana, Turkey, and then to the international airport in Beirut, Lebanon, which had earlier been occupied after some 5,000 US Marines had landed "to help preserve that country's government in the wake of internal revolts and a coup in neighboring Iraq." By the time the airlift was over, some 1,800 paratroopers and all their combat equipment had flown to Beirut in 76 C–119s, C–124s, and C–130s. The Rakkasans set up camp in an olive grove near the airport and were assigned perimeter defense around the airport. By October 1958, the situation had eased sufficiently to permit the 1st ABG's return to Germany. On 20 November, Colonel Donald C. Clayman took over command of the 1st ABG at a change-of-command ceremony at Gablingen Kaserne.
Shortly after its return to Germany, it was the 1st ABG's turn to gyroscope. On 9 February 1959, the 1st ABG arrived in New York harbor aboard the USNS General Simon B. Buckner (T-AP-123), staged through the Brooklyn Navy Yard, and boarded trains for a trip to Fort Bragg, where it reassembled in March and joined the 82nd Airborne Division as part of the XVIII Airborne Strategic Army Corps (STRAC). The 187th Infantry Regiment now had the distinction of having been part of the 11th, 82nd, and 101st Airborne Divisions.
In June 1958, Major General William Westmoreland had become the 101st Airborne Division's commanding general. It was during his tour with the 101st that he became disillusioned with the pentomic division concept. As Westmoreland prepared to relinquish command of the 101st in 1960, he recommended that the pentomic division be abolished, primarily because he found that control of five separate battle groups by a division headquarters and five companies by a battle group headquarters was difficult. Westmoreland recommended the establishment of a regiment-level headquarters and better communications as necessary to give the division staying power. That was what the Army eventually adopted.
In December 1960, based on General Westmoreland's recommendations and those of other pentomic division commanders, the Department of the Army directed Continental Army Command (CONARC) to reevaluate the pentomic division concept. In April 1961, the Secretary of the Army approved the CONARC ROAD study,basically returning the Army division to a triangular concept with three brigades or battle groups per division. The ROAD reorganization began in February 1962. By June 1964, all 15 regular infantry divisions had been reconfigured in accordance with the ROAD plan.
On 21 December 1960, Colonel Arndt L. Mueller assumed command of the 2nd ABG, 187th Infantry. In late 1962, it went on full combat alert as a reactionary strike force during the Cuban Missile Crisis.
Meanwhile, the Army was in the process of initiating another major development in tactics and organization in which the 187th Infantry Regiment would play a part – the theory of air assault.
Source citation: Flanagan (1997). The Rakkasans. pp. 255–261 and 263.
On 15 January 1960, the US Army Chief of Staff established the Army Aircraft Requirements Review Board, chaired by Lieutenant General Gordon B. Rogers, CONARC's deputy commanding general. The "Rogers Board" met at Fort Monroe, Virginia between 29 February and 6 March to consider the Army Aircraft Development Plan that provided for an orderly aviation development through the decade of the 1960s. The board was directed to recommend as a matter of first priority a course of action to meet the requirements for light observation aircraft and to explore the possible courses of action to improve the Army's capabilities in the areas of combat surveillance and tactical transport. Finally, the board was to submit its best estimate of the Army's requirements during the 1960–1970 time period, supported by a proposed procurement program, to include cost and quantities by year, of current and future types of aircraft.:115–116 The scope of the 1960 Rogers Board was limited in that it did not constitute a major advance in tactical mobility for the Army.
The Army continued to study and forward its aviation requirements to the Pentagon. During January and February 1962, Department of Defense (DOD) analysts reviewed the Army's submissions with criticism. On 19 April, Secretary of Defense Robert S. McNamara sent the Army a strong message in which he concluded that the Army's current program was "dangerously conservative" and that the Army should open its mind to innovation and break away from the tactics and equipment of the past. Secretary McNamara directed the Army to investigate enhanced "land warfare mobility" in an "open and free atmosphere." The result of McNamara's memo was a Department of the Army directive to CONARC to establish the Tactical Mobility Requirements Board, presided over by Lieutenant General Hamilton H. Howze, the XVIII Airborne Corps' commanding general at Fort Bragg. The board became known throughout the Army as the "Howze Board." CONARC, under guidance from the Department of the Army, directed General Howze to look to the future and determine the Army's aircraft requirements and tactical organizations for the 1963–1975 time period. In short, General Howze's mission was to determine if "ground vehicles could be replaced by air vehicles and, if so, to what extent?" The Army did not know it at the time, but these would be the years of US buildup, combat, and withdrawal from Vietnam, a place where the Army's air mobility and air support would be put to the ultimate test.
The Howze Board reached out to the Army, Air Force, and industry for new ideas, equipment, organization, and tactics. The board recommended the use of Army helicopters and fixed-wing aircraft in close support roles, battlefield transport, and as tank-killers. It conducted tests in basic flying techniques, small-unit deployment, and air support with helicopters. The board's recommendations were so extensive that the Army decided to test them with an entirely new division as the test bed. On 1 February 1963, the 11th Airborne Division was reactivated at Fort Benning, Georgia as the 11th Air Assault Division (Test), under the command of Major General Harry W. O. Kinnard, the 101st Airborne Division's G-3 (Operations), to explore the theory and practicality of helicopter assault tactics. The division was to be "light," capable of air movement by Army and/or Air Force aircraft.
The 3rd ABG, 187th Infantry, not active during the Pentomic era, was redesignated on 1 February 1963 as 3/187th Infantry, assigned to the 11th Air Assault Division at Fort Benning, and activated on 7 February 1963. The infantry battalion was joined by the 3rd Squadron, 17th Cavalry Regiment (minus B Troop), and the 10th Transportation Brigade, which was composed of several battalions of both rotary- and fixed-wing aircraft.
On 1 July 1963, the 11th Air Assault Division's 1st Airborne Brigade was augmented with the activation of 1/188th Airborne Infantry and 1/511th Airborne Infantry. With these additions, the 187th, 188th, and 511th, the original glider and parachute infantry regiments of the original 11th Airborne Division formed in February 1943, were once again on the muster rolls – this time as an "air assault" division. In addition to the standard infantry, artillery, and support units, the 11th Air Assault Division included an aviation group with enough air assets to simultaneously lift one-third of the division.
During the same month, Lieutenant General Westmoreland, former 187th ARCT commanding officer in Korea and 101st Airborne Division commanding general, assumed command of the XVIII Airborne Corps.
For more than two years, the 11th Air Assault Division developed, tested, refined, and retested the division's equipment, organization, and tactics in the low country and swamps of Florida and the hills of Georgia and North Carolina. The 187th Infantry tested the helicopter in various combat roles, command and control, attack formations, scouting and screening, reconnaissance, aerial resupply, and air-assault tactics. During the testing period, the Air Force and Army argued over ownership of the close support mission on the battlefield and tactical air mobility.
3/187th Infantry stayed with the 11th Air Assault Division, serving as a test unit to help validate the Army's air mobility concept. It was relieved from the 11th Air Assault Division on 3 February 1964 and was reassigned as an organic unit to the 101st Airborne Division's 3rd Brigade at Fort Campbell, where its airmobile expertise was put to good use in training the rest of the division. On 6 March 1964, the 1st ABG, 187th Infantry, that had served in Germany, Beirut, and Fort Bragg, was designated 1/187th Infantry, relieved of assignment to the 82nd Airborne Division at Fort Bragg, and transferred to the 11th Air Assault Division at Fort Benning for training and testing. The 2nd ABG, 187th Infantry, remained assigned to the 101st Airborne Division and was inactivated on 1 February 1964.
The Pentagon decided that the 11th Air Assault Division's colors should be cased. In June 1965, the colors of the 1st Cavalry Division in Korea were flown to Fort Benning. In a simple ceremony, the 1st Cavalry's colors were presented to the 11th Air Assault Division. On 30 June, the 11th Air Assault Division (Test) and 1/187th, 1/188th, and 1/511th were inactivated. On 1 July, the 1st Cavalry Division (Airmobile) was officially activated, rostered from the 11th Air Assault Division (Test) and the 2nd Infantry Division at Fort Benning. It was a formidable force of 15,847 officers and men, six Grumman OV-1 Mohawk fixed-wing aircraft, 287 Bell UH-1 Iroquois helicopters, and 48 Sikorsky CH-37 Mojave helicopters.
By 1965, the sole identity of the 187th Airborne Infantry Regiment rested with 3/187th, one of three relatively standard infantry battalions in the 3rd Brigade, 101st Airborne Division at Fort Campbell. Soon, it would prove its fighting mettle again – this time in Vietnam.
Source citation: Flanagan (1997). The Rakkasans. pp. 261–266.
Vietnam War (interim edit)
The Vietnam War was an entirely new experience for the Rakkasans. The war had no fixed battle lines and no set plans to seize and hold terrain or to invade and attack the enemy on his own ground. The US military strategy was complicated and difficult to comprehend. The GIs who fought in South Vietnam had to adapt to new tactics, including the need to be able to distinguish just which Vietnamese was the enemy. They became experts in helicopter assaults into hot landing zones (LZs), requiring them, fully combat loaded, to jump from hovering helicopters under fire, to search for the elusive enemy in thick tropical jungles, sheer mountains, vast swamps, coastal plains, and in cities and villages. It was a war to destroy the enemy. In some cases, combat was purely defensive – establish and maintain small outposts in rural areas. In other cases, combat was purely offensive – surround the enemy, blast him with artillery, helicopter gunship rockets and machine guns, carpet-bomb him with B–52 Arc Light missions, napalm the forests covering him, and then attack to destroy him with the infantryman's weapons – mortars, machine guns, rifles, pistols, hand grenades, and even bayonets. It was a whole new ball game.:269
On To Vietnam, 1965–1968 (interim edit)
Between 6 July and 29 July 1965, Colonel James S. Timothy's 1st Brigade, 101st Airborne Division, became the first Screaming Eagles unit to deploy from Fort Campbell to South Vietnam, arriving by water at Cam Ranh Bay and establishing a temporary base camp in the vicinity. Within two weeks of their arrival at Cam Ranh Bay, the brigade was sent northward by water on its first combat operation to Qui Nhơn, 130 miles (210 km) up the coast, then moved inland to An Khê in the Central Highlands with the mission of clearing and securing the area as a base camp for the 1st Cavalry Division (Airmobile) that would be arriving from the United States in a matter of days.:269–270
At a mountain pass overlooking An Khê, the helicopter landings began. After months of specialized training at Fort Campbell, this was it, the moment every man knew would come. A battalion-size Viet Cong (VC) force had been reported to be in the area and the airborne infantrymen expected instant contact. But it didn't come. The VC were evasive, biding their time. It was an anticlimax for the men. This was their first lesson in Vietnam – no big battles when expected; instead, a nagging war of attrition with primitive booby traps and snipers, small unit actions, and ambushes in the jungle. Only when he thought the situation was favorable, would the enemy show himself in force. So, the long, hard task of ferreting out the Communist enemy began, and the men of the 1st Brigade were good at their job. By the end of September, they had killed 600 VC. As the advance elements of the 1st Cavalry Division began arriving at An Khê, they commenced taking over the area secured by the Screaming Eagles. Finally, the men of the 1st Brigade, 101st Airborne Division, were free to head south and establish their own home base in Vietnam. From An Khê, the brigade moved 170 miles (270 km) southward to the coastal town of Phan Rang. This was to be their permanent camp ... as soon as it could be built. Though weary from their campaign in the hill country, they worked throughout October until the base camp had been set up. General Westmoreland, commanding general of Military Assistance Command, Vietnam (MACV), visited the Screaming Eagles on Thanksgiving Day and inspected the camp at Phan Rang. He was pleased with their performance at An Khê and congratulated them on a job well done. Even as he returned to Saigon, the brigade was conducting local search and destroy operations.
As 1966 began, the entire 1st Brigade deployed to Tuy Hòa, 100 miles (160 km) to the north in Phú Yên Province. Known as the Rice Bowl, this was the richest rice growing region in central Vietnam. Crops from this fertile area fed all the people in central Vietnam. But the VC had been seizing the harvest and collecting unbearable taxes from the frightened farmers. Now came the Screaming Eagles to protect the rice harvest and stop the VC. Code named Operation Van Buren, the orders read "search out the enemy in the Tuy Hòa sector and destroy him." This assignment was tedious. The VC deserted their dwellings and avoided confrontation with the Americans. Yet the district was infested with an enemy who made night raids and continued to molest the farmers. The search went on. Brigadier General Willard Pearson took over command of the Screaming Eagles on 29 January. He stepped up the pressure on the VC. The VC were pursued across the broad reaches of Phú Yên Province. For the most part, they evaded capture and withdrew to disappear in underground sanctuaries. In the wake of US military operations, the enemy rice raids diminished. But the VC themselves mingled with the local people and were often bypassed, attacking the Americans from the rear at night. On 8 February, General Westmoreland's deputy commander came to Tuy Hòa to personally evaluate the situation. What he saw convinced him that the enemy was well entrenched in the district and that it would require repeated efforts by the brigade to dislodge the Communist guerillas. Operation Van Buren became Operation Harrison; February became March and, daily, the Screaming Eagles patrolled the jungles and foothills surrounding the Tuy Hòa rice fields. The VC's main force headquarters was located and hit by USAF B–52 bombing raids. The men of the brigade went in to check the results and prepared field reports for USAF intelligence. Daily they went out and daily they returned. In 90 days, they gained control of the Tuy Hòa region. Now operating in small units, they killed 516 hard-core VC troops between February and April. The rice crops were saved. In mid-April, the 2nd Battalion, 327th Infantry was left to guard the rice harvest at Tuy Hòa, while the rest of the brigade moved out on Operation Austin IV; two weeks in the area around Phan Thiết then onward to Nhân Cơ, near the Cambodian border. Here, where the Ho Chi Minh Trail entered South Vietnam, the Screaming Eagles met the 141st NVA Regiment. For a while, the fighting was intense. The 2nd Battalion, 502nd Airborne Infantry Regiment took a number of casualties. It took six days, from 14 May to 20 May, for the US paratroopers to drive the NVA aggressors out of their positions in the Nhân Cơ foothills. The NVA regulars were well-disciplined, well-equipped, and tenacious. In spite of heavy ground fire, Army aviators got in with their Dust Off helicopters and the wounded were evacuated to safety. Over 100 NVA were killed in the mountains and victory at Nhân Cơ belonged to the paratroopers.
But for the Screaming Eagles, the greatest testing was still to come. Far to the north in Kon Tum Province, the 1st Brigade launched Operation Hawthorne in the area around Đăk Tô. Kon Tum Province was a forbidding wilderness, lying in the foothills of the mountain country that marked the border with Cambodia. It was the first week in June. Until then, the enemy held sway there. About 30 miles (48 km) north of Đăk Tô, Company A, 326th Engineer Battalion, erected a crude bridge. A few miles beyond was an American Special Forces camp that had been under siege by the VC for nearly a week. Supplies and ammunition were badly needed, and relief troops needed to get through. Near the bridge, the artillerymen of B Battery, 2nd Battalion, 320th Field Artillery Regiment rained 105mm artillery rounds down upon the VC attacking the camp. Each time the shelling started, the VC withdrew its attacking forces to escape the punishing fire. When it was lifted, the VC would regroup and again try to take the camp. Despite week-long USAF airstrikes, the VC had shown no signs of withdrawing. But the artillery fire, directed by the camp's defenders, had a telling effect. The Screaming Eagles came under fire when a VC force of battalion strength came to silence the guns. Automatic-weapons and small-arms fire from all sides kept the artillerymen pinned down as the VC crept in and tried to overrun the American positions. Then the VC made their move. This was it – live or die. The Screaming Eagles positions remained unbroken and they counterattacked, driving off the VC, and a small part of Operation Hawthorne was over. Throughout June, Operation Hawthorne continued. In Kon Tum Province, the Screaming Eagles repeatedly beat back the NVA. In sixteen straight days of combat, the 1st Brigade enveloped the 24th NVA Regiment and killed more than 500 NVA. It was the largest single battle of the war for the men of the 101st Airborne Division. At last, the fighting was done.
On 21 July, following surveillance operations along the Laotian and Cambodian borders, the 1st Brigade returned to Tuy Hòa. A new operation, code named John Paul Jones, got underway. Its purpose was to open and secure a 16 miles (26 km) stretch of National Highway 1 between Tuy Hòa and Vũng Rô Bay on the coast. The purpose of the mission was to speed up logistics support of the Tuy Hòa area by permitting ships to unload at the nearby bay. The operation began with elements of the 502nd Infantry landing by water at cliff-guarded bay, where, without encountering resistance, they began moving inland to link up with the oncoming units of the helicopter-landed 327th Infantry. The inland forces pushed forward, securing the highway and sweeping the adjoining countryside. Supported by helicopter gunships, heliborne assault troops cleaned up the operational zone within six weeks. By early September, they had secured Vũng Rô Bay and the highway north to Tuy Hòa. Sweeping through the mountains, the 1st Brigade captured 40 NVA and VC, and killed 209 others. While Operation John Paul Jones was still in progress, the 326th engineers began construction of the connecting highway between Vũng Rô Bay and Highway 1. The Screaming Eagles had done their job well and a new seaport was born. In the weeks that followed, the 1st Brigade protected the rice farmers as they harvested some 17,000 metric tons of the precious grain. Once again, the Tuy Hòa sector became a battlefield. and the VC suffered heavy losses with 239 killed and 42 captured. The VC had enough and were nowhere to be found.
On 9 December, the brigade's odyssey continued – from Tuy Hòa back up north to Kon Tum Province. The VC had been cleared from Phú Yên Province by this time and the Screaming Eagles were moved north by air in a record 48 hours. The deployment of the 1st Brigade by parachute marked the first jump in more than a year for many of the paratroopers, but they were in superb physical condition and the jump went well. As 1966 drew to a close, the brigade descended upon Kon Tum Province to take part in Operation Pickett. Fighting side by side with ARVN forces and militia, the brigade once again scoured the countryside, finding and finishing the enemy.
The operations in Kon Tum Province continued until 21 January 1967. Then, after more than a year's absence from their base at Phan Rang, the brigade was ordered back for a rest. To the men of the 1st Brigade, it seemed a long time since the LSTs first moved them up to Qui Nhơn as they headed for their first combat around An Khê. Now, the LSTs took them home. On 26 January, the last convoy rolled into camp at Phan Rang. Two days later, General Pearson transferred command of the 1st Brigade, 101st Airborne Division, to the new brigade commander, Brigadier General Salve H. Matheson. The Screaming Eagles bid farewell to the commander who led them in 14 combat operations from one end of South Vietnam to the other. For the Screaming Eagles, as for the rest of the US military forces in South Vietnam, the valiant efforts to keep that young nation free continued.
The remainder of the 101st Airborne Division received orders to move to Vietnam. Operation EAGLE THRUST began on 8 December 1967 with the departure of Major General Olinto M. Barsanti, the 101st Airborne Division's commanding general, from Campbell Army Airfield in an aircraft piloted by General Howell M. Estes Jr., commanding general of the USAF Military Airlift Command. By 18 December, the last aircraft touched down at Biên Hòa Air Base in Vietnam, ending the largest and longest airlift operation by the US Air Force of US combat forces directly into a combat zone. The Military Airlift Command required 369 C–141 aircraft missions and 22 C–133 aircraft missions to transport 10,024 paratroopers and over 5,300 tons of the division's essential support equipment from Fort Campbell to Vietnam.:270
The first paratroopers of the 3rd Brigade, 101st Airborne Division, to arrive in Vietnam during Operation Eagle Thrust were those of 3/187th. Truck convoys transported the Rakkasans from Biên Hòa Air Base about 30 miles (48 km) north of Saigon to begin setting up and occupying their base camp at Phước Vĩnh. Once established there, 3/187th's squads and platoons worked in the field on small unit tactics. Over the next four years, the Rakkasans would fight in twelve major campaigns, conducting numerous air assaults and search and destroy missions.:270
During one such mission on 16 March 1968, as part of the US effort to push the North Vietnamese Army (NVA) away from Saigon after the Tet Offensive, elements of 3/187th were inserted by helicopter on a reconnaissance-in-force mission into a suspected NVA stronghold southwest of Phước Vĩnh, in the so-called "Iron Triangle." For the next two days, Captain Paul W. Bucha's 89-man D/187th conducted reconnaissance along with the 3rd Brigade's Phantom Force, the long-range reconnaissance patrol (LRRP), engaging in firefights, destroying fortifications and base camps, and eliminating scattered resistance along the way. Late in the afternoon of 18 March, Delta's LRRP point element, about 12 men, stumbled upon a base camp containing an entire NVA battalion bivouacked for the night, made heavy contact, and were immediately pinned down. Captain Bucha moved forward to organize a defense to protect the men who were cut off and ordered up reinforcements from D/187th. Bucha determined that his unit could not hold its position against the repeated NVA assaults and ordered a withdrawal into a tight defensive perimeter from which he could direct fire on the NVA. During the night, Bucha constantly moved throughout the perimeter, distributing ammunition, and checking the integrity of the defense. He directed artillery and helicopter gunship fire on the NVA strongpoints and attacking forces, marking the positions with smoke grenades. He did everything he could think of to make the NVA believe that his vastly outnumbered force was larger than it was – directing his men to lob hand grenades at set times from different positions and spreading the firing patterns along the edges of his perimeter. Using flashlights, he directed the medical evacuation of three helicopter loads of seriously wounded personnel and the helicopter resupply of his company. At daybreak, Bucha led a rescue party to recover the KIA and WIA of Delta's ambushed lead element. Afterward, B/187th joined D/187th in an assault on the NVA base camp, destroying it in a two-day fight. The NVA melted away, leaving 156 dead on the battlefield. After Bucha’s dead and wounded had been medevaced out, he loaded the rest of his company, about 40 men, onto helicopters and returned to Phước Vĩnh. For his "extraordinary heroism, inspirational example, outstanding leadership, and professional competence," Captain Bucha was awarded the Medal of Honor.:270–271
For the next few months, 3/187th, from a temporary base camp near Đắk Tô made a number of small-unit helicopter assaults to help secure the Special Forces outpost near Đắk Pék. Until June, NVA contact was minimal. 3/187th's mission was to relieve the 199th Light Infantry Brigade and assume the defense of the Phước Vĩnh compound, make local daylight sweeps and set night ambushes. On 13 June, 3/187th deployed by air to the 25th Infantry Division's base camp at Củ Chi, where it came under the division's operational control. Its mission was to conduct reconnaissance-in-force operations along the Vàm Cỏ Đông River to interdict LOCs and MSRs from Cambodia and Laos into the Saigon area.:272
On 26 August, the 101st Airborne Division was redesignated the 101st Airborne Division (Airmobile).
At the beginning of September, 3/187th was based at Trung Lập. B/187th and C/187th built Firebase Shafter near the Saigon River, east of the Trung Lập ARVN Training Center. On 14 September, 3/187th moved to an area 6 kilometres (3.7 mi) south of Ho Bo Woods and spent two days building Firebase Pope. On 20 September, Firebase Pope was closed and 3/187th moved to an area southwest of Trung Lập, and for the next five days set up Firebase Patton II. On 27 September, the battalion command group and B/187th moved to Bàu Trai to work with the 25th Infantry Division. Since its arrival in Vietnam, 3/187th had moved so often that it became known as the "Nomad" Battalion. In early October, Major General Melvin Zais, the 101st Airborne Division's commanding general, ordered 3/187th moved back to his control. On 8 October, Firebase Patton II was closed, and by 15:00 that afternoon, C Battery, 319th AFAB, then in support of 3/187th, moved by helicopter back to Phước Vĩnh. While the infantry was waiting for motor transport to move them to the Củ Chi airstrip, enemy mortar rounds dropped inside the perimeter, wounding 19 men. The convoy left the firebase at 18:30. Along the way, a truck was hit by a rocket-propelled grenade (RPG), killing six and wounding twelve Rakkasans. The convoy closed at Củ Chi at 23:00. For the next ten days, 3/187th marshaled and outloaded from Phước Vĩnh to the Huế-Phú Bài airstrip to rejoin the 101st Airborne Division. By 18 October, all battalion elements had closed in.:272–274
On 29 October, 3/187th received orders to move north to Camp Eagle, south of the Imperial City of Huế, the 101st Airborne Division's major base, and operate in a new AO. On 1 November, 3/187th moved to Camp Evans and took over control of Firebases Miguel, Long, and Helen in their AO.:274–275
During 1968, 3/187th fought small and large battles in all four Corps Tactical Zones, suffered 48 KIA and 149 WIA. For the Rakkasans in Vietnam, there was far more yet to come.
When the battalion colors returned to Fort Campbell, the unit had distinguished itself by earning two Valorous Unit Awards, and its third and fourth Presidential Unit Citations for the battles of Trang Bang and Dong Ap Bia Mountain (commonly known as "Hamburger Hill").:282–301 The Iron Rakkasans emerged from the Vietnam War as the country's most highly decorated airborne battalion.
Assignments in South Vietnam
|3/187th Infantry arrived in Vietnam on 16 December 1967|
|Phước Vĩnh||Phuoc Vinh||December 1967||3rd Bde, 101st Airborne Division|
|Đắk Tô||June 1968|
|Củ Chi||July 1968|
|Long Bình||October 1968||3rd Bde, 101st Airborne Division (Airmobile)|
|Biên Hòa||Phong Điền District, Cần Thơ||November 1968|
|Ta Bat||July 1969|
|A Shau Valley||Firebase Berchtesgaden||August 1969|
|Biên Hòa||Ta Bat||September 1969|
|Phong Điền||October 1969|
|Mai Loc||November 1969|
|Phong Điền||Phong Điền||December 1969|
|Huế||Phu Bai||September 1970|
|Camp Carroll||Camp Carroll||March 1971|
|April 1971||1st Bde, 5th Infantry Division (Mechanized)|
|Huế||Phu Bai||May 1971||3rd Bde, 101st Airborne Division (Airmobile)|
|August 1971||US Army Forces, Military Region 2|
|November 1971||3rd Bde, 101st Airborne Division (Airmobile)|
|3/187th Infantry departed Vietnam on 10 December 1971|
3/187th Infantry's exploits from 10 to 20 May 1969 on Hill 937 in the A Shau Valley were depicted in a 1987 movie using the hill's nickname Hamburger Hill as the title. For this action, the unit received the Presidential Unit Citation.
When the 101st returned from Vietnam, most of its personnel in the rank of staff sergeant and below were discharged upon arrival at Oakland, California, or Seattle, Washington. What remained largely consisted of a command group of staff officers and senior NCOs. The division settled into buildings recently vacated by the US Army Training Center at Fort Campbell.
When the 101st was rebuilt, the separate 173rd Airborne Brigade was inactivated and its assets used to form the 3rd Brigade as an airborne unit consisting of 1/503rd Infantry, 2/503rd Infantry, and 3/187th Infantry. The partial airborne capability also extended to supporting units of the division (i.e., one company of three in a supporting unit was airborne). This lasted only until April 1974, when jump status for the 3rd Brigade was terminated, and the Airmobile Badge (renamed Air Assault Badge later that year) was introduced.
In October 1983 the 1st, 2nd, and 4th Battalions, 187th Infantry, were activated, and on 21 November 1984, 5th Battalion was activated. The 1st and 2nd Battalions were assigned to the 193rd Infantry Brigade in the Panama Canal Zone and the 3rd, 4th, and 5th Battalions were assigned to the 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault) at Fort Campbell. The 4th and 5th Battalions were created by reflagging the existing 1/503rd and 2/503rd, the colors of which were soon reactivated in Korea within the 2nd Infantry Division. The Panama-based 2/187th included one airborne company (Moatengators) within the battalion, and later jump status was expanded to the entire battalion. 2/187th was the last airborne battalion of the 187th. During a realignment of the Army's combat forces in 1987, the 1st and 2d Battalions were inactivated and the 5th and 4th Battalions were reflagged as the 1st and 2nd Battalions, respectively.
From July 1984 to January, 1985, the 4th Battalion, reorganized at TF-4-187 (Rakkasan Raiders) deployed to the Sinai Desert, Egypt as the United States' contingent of the Multinational Force and Observers peacekeeping mission.
From September 1988 through March 1989, the 1st Battalion reorganized as Task Force 1–187 and deployed to the Sinai Desert, Egypt as the United States' contingent of the Multinational Force and Observers peacekeeping mission.
In September 1990 the Rakkasans were deployed to Saudi Arabia during Operation Desert Shield. In February 1991 two companies from the 1st Battalion captured 434 Iraqi soldiers during the air assault into Objective Weber and on 25 February the Rakkasans conducted the deepest and largest air assault operation in history. Striking 155 miles (249 km) behind enemy lines into the Euphrates river valley, the assault led to the timely defeat of Iraqi forces and contributed to a total allied victory. The unit moved farther north than any other unit during Operation Desert Storm.
Between the Gulf War and the Global War On Terrorism
From 1991 to 1993 the 3-187 was commanded by Lt. Colonel (later General) David H. Petraeus who renamed the battalion the "Iron Rakkasans" after the physical training test he created. CSM Donald Purdy was the Battalion Command Sergeant Major during this time.
In 1995 the Iron Rakkasans battalion was organized as Task Force 3-187 and deployed to the Sinai Peninsula in July 1995. The Iron Rakkasans were responsible for the southern portion of Zone C and based at South Camp, Sharm el Sheik, Egypt. During the deployment, they were instrumental in the recovery of casualties from an accident near one of the sector control centers and evacuating them to hospitals utilizing Multinational Forces Helicopters. On 23 November 1995, the 7.3 Mw Gulf of Aqaba earthquake hit the Sinai Peninsula. Again the Iron Rakkasans performed road recon and rescue operations throughout the peninsula. The Iron Rakkasans earned an Army Superior Unit Award for their actions during the deployment. The unit returned to the United States in January 1996.
In September 1996, elements of Raider Rakkasan (2nd Battalion), Alpha Co. "Blackhawks," Charlie Co. "Hard Rock," and Bravo Co. "Warriors," 2nd Battalion deployed to Saudi Arabia through April 1997 in support of Operation Desert Focus, providing force protection for U.S. personnel in support of U.S. air assets in Saudi Arabia relocated from Dhahran and from Riyadh to the remote Prince Sultan Air Base, Camp Eagle Town II. The move's purpose was force protection, and came in the wake of 25 June 1996 terrorist bombing at Khobar Towers which killed 19 airmen and wounded many more. U.S. and Saudi Arabian officials agreed to split the $200 million cost of relocating more than 4,000 US troops. Some 2nd Battalion soldiers were awarded the Armed Forces Expeditionary Medal, the Army Achievement Medal Army Superior Unit Award and the CIB. LTC Twomey was the battalion commander. Elements of 1/187th, deployed to Saudi, were part of Operation Desert Eagle, From Sept. to Dec. 1997.
From February 2000 through August 2000 1-187 deployed to Kosovo for peacekeeping operations as a part of Task Force Falcon in support of Operation Joint Guardian.
Afghanistan and Iraq
In 2001–2002, following the attacks of 9-11, the Rakkasans deployed to Afghanistan in support of Operation Enduring Freedom where they most notably participated in Operation Anaconda in the eastern Shah-i-Khot region. The 2d Battalion (Raider Rakkasans) as well as Companies B,C, and D, 1st Battalion (Leader Rakkasan), were awarded the Valorous Unit Award for combat valor during this period.
In 2003, the Rakkasans, commanded by Colonel Mike Linnington, were deployed for the 2003 invasion of Iraq. The 3d Battalion, 187th Infantry was temporarily attached to the 3d Infantry Division and accompanied them during the push into Baghdad. While attached to the 3d Infantry Division, 3d Battalion cleared the Republican Guard headquarters and Baghdad International Airport in April 2003. For this action the battalion earned an unprecedented fifth Presidential Unit Citation. Following the invasion, 3d Battalion conducted six months of security operations near Rabia, Iraq, on the Syrian border, to block the flow of foreign fighters. Prior to returning stateside in January 2004 the Iron Rakkasans conducted combat operations in Husaybah, Iraq with the 3d Armored Cavalry Regiment. Once back in the US the battalion added a forward support company.
Before moving north to Ninawa Governorate (province), the Rakkasans conducted extensive stability and support operations in Baghdad's southeast sector. The Rakkasans conducted the majority of their operations in the northwest of Ninevah province with the 1st Battalion, 187th Infantry focusing efforts around Tallafar, Zumar, and Avgani. The 2d Battalion, 187th Infantry worked primarily around Sinjar and Baji, and the 3d Battalion was headquartered in Rabia.
They returned to Fort Campbell in 2004 and redeployed to Iraq again in the fall of 2005. During their second tour in Iraq, they focused operations in Salah ad Din province, with the 3d Battalion. The brigade commander was Colonel Michael D. Steele. During this deployment that the brigade conducted "Operation Swarmer," one of the largest combat operations in Iraq since the initial invasion. Rakkasans worked with Iraqi Army soldiers throughout Salah ad Din province defeating insurgents, Al Qaeda cells, and uncovering numerous caches of weapons and explosives.
In October 2007 the Rakkasans again deployed to Iraq in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom 07-09 led by brigade commander Col. Dominic Caraccilo. The brigade was headquartered at Camp Striker near Baghdad with an area of operation that extended from the Euphrates river in the west to the Tigris in the east and ran south from Baghdad to Al-Mahmudiyah. This area included the Triangle of Death which had seen significant violence in the war and was often a staging area for the insurgency. As a unit following the surge, the Rakkasans manned combat outposts throughout the rural areas to provide local security for the populace, partner with Iraqi defense and police forces, and facilitate numerous economic and developmental projects. When the Rakkasans redeployed to Fort Campbell at the end of their tour in November 2008, they did not transfer authority to an incoming U.S. military unit. Instead, the area became the responsibility of the partnered Iraqi forces marking a significant step in the transference of security and authority from coalition forces to the Iraqis.
In January 2010, the Rakkasans again deployed to Regional Command East in Afghanistan for a 12-month deployment.
On 6 September 2016, the U.S. Army announced it would deploy about 1,400 soldiers from 3d Brigade Combat Team to Afghanistan in fall 2016 in support of Operation Freedom's Sentinel – the U.S. counter-terrorism operation against the remnants of al-Qaeda, ISIS–K and other terror groups. Senior leadership referred to the 3d Brigade Combat Team as being exceptional. Brig. Gen. Scott Brower stated that the Rakkasans are trained, well-led, and prepared to accomplish any mission given to them.
Heraldry, lineage, and honors
Coat of arms
- Shield: Azure on a pale nebuly Argent a double handed sword erect Gules.
- Crest: On a wreath Argent and Azure between a Japanese city symbol Gules and a mullet of seven points per fess wavy of the last and of the second, a sea lion Or charged on the shoulder with a heart Purpure and holding in his dexter paw a sword bendwise of the first with hilt and pommel of the fourth the blade notched three times to base of the third.
- Motto: Ne Desit Virtus (Let Valor Not Fail).
The symbolism includes: Slang term : Angels From Hell, For retired insignia.
- Blue is for the Infantry.
- The partition line of the pale heraldically representing clouds and the doubled-handed sword, an ancient infantry weapon, symbolizes the character of the organization as an Airborne Infantry unit.
- Crest: The golden seal lion, adapted from the seal of the President of the Philippines, represents the award of the Philippine Presidential Unit Streamer for the campaign on Manarawat, scene of the first combat jump of the 187th.
- The heart on the lion's shoulder points out the action on Purple Heart Hill.
- The winged sword with three notches in the blade signifies the unit's score of three combat jumps, one in the Philippines and two in Korea.
- The red diamond shape is the insignia of the city of Yokohama, Japan, where the 187th landed as the first American combat troops and began four years of occupation duty.
- The seven-pointed star, divided in the manner of the Korean Taeguk stands for the unit's seven campaigns in that country.
The coat of arms was originally approved on 15 December 1952 for the 187th Airborne Infantry Regiment. It was redesignated for the 187th Infantry Regiment on 7 February 1958.
- Regiment Constituted 12 November 1942 in the Army of the United States as the 187th Glider Infantry Regiment.
- Assigned 25 February 1943 to the 11th Airborne Division and activated at Camp Mackall, North Carolina.
- Allotted 15 November 1948 to the Regular Army.
- Reorganized and redesignated 30 June 1949 as the 187th Airborne Infantry Regiment
- Reorganized as the 187th Airborne Regimental Combat Team on 1 August 1950 and posted to Japan where it served in the Korean War
- Relieved 1 February 1951 from assignment to the 11th Airborne Division.
- Regiment assigned 1 July 1956 to the 101st Airborne Division.
- Company A reorganized and redesignated 1 March 1957 as Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 1st Airborne Battle Group, 187th Infantry, relieved from assignment to the 101st Airborne Division, and assigned to the 11th Airborne Division (organic elements concurrently constituted and activated).
- On 25 April 1957, the following actions took place:
- Regimental Headquarters relieved from assignment to the 101st Airborne Division; concurrently reorganized and redesignated as the 187th Infantry, a parent regiment under the Combat Arms Regimental System.
- Company B reorganized and redesignated Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 2d Airborne Battle Group, 187th Infantry, and remained assigned to the 101st Airborne Division (organic elements concurrently constituted and activated)
- Company C inactivated at Fort Campbell, Kentucky, and relieved from assignment to the 101st Airborne Division; concurrently redesignated as Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 3d Airborne Battle Group, 187th Infantry
- 1st Airborne Battle Group relieved 1 July 1958 from assignment to the 11th Airborne Division and assigned to the 24th Infantry Division.
- 1st Airborne Battle Group relieved 8 February 1959 from assignment to the 24th Infantry Division, and assigned to the 82d Airborne Division.
- HHC 3d Airborne Battle Group redesignated 1 February 1963 as Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 3d Battalion, 187th Infantry, and assigned to the 11th Air Assault Division (organic elements concurrently constituted)
- 3d Battalion activated 7 February 1963 at Fort Benning, Georgia.
- The following actions took place on 1 February 1964:
- 1st Battalion, 187th Infantry Regiment constituted and activated at Fort Benning, Georgia, as an element of the 11th Air Assault Division.
- 2d Airborne Battle Group relieved from assignment to the 101st Airborne Division.
- 3d Battalion relieved from assignment to the 11th Air Assault Division and assigned to the 101st Airborne Division.
- 2d Airborne Battle Group inactivated 3 February 1964 at Fort Campbell, Kentucky.
- 1st Airborne Battle Group inactivated 25 May 1964 at Fort Bragg, North Carolina; concurrently consolidated with the 1st Battalion, 187th Infantry, and consolidated unit designated as the 1st Battalion, 187th Infantry, an element of the 11th Air Assault Division (later redesignated as the 11th Airborne Division)
- On 1 October 1983, the following actions took place:
- 187th Infantry Regiment Regiment withdrawn from the Combat Arms Regimental System and reorganized under the United States Army Regimental System
- HHC 1st Battalion relieved from assignment to the 11th Airborne Division, assigned to the 193rd Infantry Brigade, and activated in Panama.
- HHC 2d Airborne Battle Group redesignated as HHC 2d Battalion, 187th Infantry, assigned to the 193rd Infantry Brigade, and activated in Panama
- 1st Battalion inactivated 1 May 1987 in Panama and relieved from assignment to the 193d Infantry Brigade.
- 2d Battalion inactivated 10 July 1987 in Panama and relieved from assignment to the 193d Infantry Brigade.
- On 16 September 1987, the following actions took place:
- 1st Battalion activated at Fort Campbell, Kentucky and assigned to 101st Airborne Division.
- 2d Battalion activated at Fort Campbell, Kentucky and assigned to 101st Airborne Division.
- On 16 September 2004, 1st Battalion and 3d Battalion were relieved from assignment to the 101st Airborne Division and assigned to the 3d Brigade Combat Team, 101st Airborne Division
- On 1 October 2005, the following actions took place:
- 1st Battalion, 187th Infantry redesignated as the 1st Battalion, 187th Infantry Regiment
- 3d Battalion, 187th Infantry redesignated as the 3d Battalion, 187th Infantry Regiment
Campaign participation credit
- World War II:
- New Guinea;
- Luzon (with arrowhead)
- UN Offensive (with arrowhead);
- CCF Intervention;
- First UN Counteroffensive (with arrowhead);
- CCF Spring Offensive;
- Korea, Summer-Fall 1952;
- Korea, Summer 1953
- Counteroffensive, Phase III;
- Tet Counteroffensive;
- Counteroffensive, Phase IV;
- Counteroffensive, Phase V;
- Counteroffensive, Phase VI;
- Tet 69/Counteroffensive;
- Summer-Fall 1969;
- Winter-Spring 1970;
- Sanctuary Counteroffensive;
- Counteroffensive, Phase VII;
- Consolidation I;
- Consolidation II
- Defense of Saudi Arabia;
- Liberation and Defense of Kuwait
The 187th is one of the most highly decorated units in the United States Army. Its unit awards include the following:
- TAGAYTAY RIDGE
- TRANG BANG
- DONG AP BIA MOUNTAIN
- OIF 1
- Valorous Unit Award for:
- BINH DUONG PROVINCE
- THUA THIEN PROVINCE
- OPERATION ANACONDA (OEF 1)
- GHAZNI, PAKTYA, PAKTIKA, AND KHOWST PROVINCE (OEF 4)
- PAKTYA, PAKTIKA, AND KHOST PROVINCE (OEF 10/11)
- VIETNAM 1968
- SOUTHWEST ASIA
- OIF 1
- Army Superior Unit Award for 1995–1996
- Philippine Presidential Unit Citation for 17 October 1944 to 4 July 1945.
- Republic of Korea Presidential Unit Citation for:
- KOREA 1950–1952
- KOREA 1952–1953
- GEN William Westmoreland, commanded the Rakkasans in part of the Korean War and later commanded Military Assistance Command, Vietnam (MACV)
- GEN David Petraeus, former 3rd Battalion commander, 101st Airborne Commanding General, coalition commander in Iraq and Afghanistan
- GEN Melvin Zais, commanded the 101st Airborne Division in Vietnam
- GEN Norman Schwarzkopf Jr., commander of Operation Desert Storm
- LTG Robert L. Caslen Jr., Rakkasan combat vet from the First Gulf War later Superintendent of the United States Military Academy
- COL Michael D. Steele, Former 187th Commander, made famous by the book Blackhawk Down which follows the Ranger company he commanded during the Battle of Mogadishu.
- LTC Ronald Speirs, former company commander of E Co, 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment, served as a rifle company commander with the 187th Airborne Regimental Combat Team during Operation Tomahawk
- CPT Paul W. Bucha, Medal of Honor (Vietnam)
- SMA George W. Dunaway, second Sergeant Major of the Army, was sergeant major of the Rakkasans from 1954 to 1960
- CSM Basil L. Plumley, fought in World War II, the Korean War, and the Vietnam War. he is most noted for his actions during the Battle of Ia Drang in Vietnam. Plumley had 1 combat jump in Korea with the 187th.
- SGM Eric J Geressy (Iraq) Silver Star, three Bronze Stars, and the Army Commendation Medal for Valor
- MSG Albert Blithe, jumped into Normandy on D-day, and was portrayed in the TV-series Band of Brothers
- CPL Lester Hammond Jr., Medal of Honor (Korea)
- LTC Charles Lockie, Silver and Bronze Star (Korea)
- CPL Rodolfo P. Hernandez, Medal of Honor (Korea)
- SPC Ryan A. Conklin, reality TV star and author of An Angel From Hell which chronicled A Co. 3/187th Infantry during the Iraq deployment of 2005–2006.
- PFC Richard G. Wilson, Medal of Honor (Korea)
- PFC Stephen "the Rifleman" Flemmi, Silver Star (Korea), later became Winter Hill Gang member, FBI Top Echelon Program informant and convicted murderer
- MAJ V.P. Newton 15 years old (Korea) Purple Heart, Bronze Star with V device (Vietnam).
- PFC Chris B Turley, Army Commendation Medal w/ "V" device recipient. Killed 5 insurgents in Operation Enduring Freedom on 6 June 2010, while wounded.
The "Rakkasans" are portrayed in the 1987 movie Hamburger Hill.
- 3rd Battalion, 187th Infantry Regiment
- Special Troops Battalion, 3rd Brigade, 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault)
- Refer to Cannon, M. Hamlin (1993). Leyte: The Return to the Philippines (PDF). p. 295. Map 18 for airfield locations.
- The 11th Airborne Division was lightly equipped and scantily manned, about 8,200 officers and men with only seven small infantry battalions, a little more than half the size of a World War II division. But it was a division in title and so treated by higher headquarters echelons when it came to assigning missions.
- AF Form 5, Pilot Individual Flight Record, Sheet 19, for Second Lieutenant Elwood M. Shaulis, July–August 1950
- The most influential technological factor of the Sukchon–Sunchon operation involved the delivery means for deployment of paratroopers and their equipment. During World War II, paratroopers jumped from C–46 or C–47 cargo aircraft. Small equipment bundles, known as door bundles, which held such items as machine guns, radios, and additional ammunition, were released before or after the paratroopers jumped from the aircraft. Larger pieces of equipment such as jeeps and small artillery pieces were deployed in gliders. Following World War II, the Army and Air Force developed methods of parachuting these larger items into a DZ. The primary catalyst for the change from gliders to heavy airdrop was advances in aviation technology demonstrated in the design and fielding of the C–119, a cargo aircraft much larger than the C–46 and C–47. The C–119's removable clam shell rear doors made it ideal for quick on–loading and efficient heavy airdrop. See Pittman 1984, p. 6.
- The provisional Combat Cargo Command had been discontinued and the 315th Air Division activated to replace it on 25 January 1951. General Henebry had replaced General Tunner on 8 February 1951.
This article incorporates public domain material from websites or documents of the United States Army. This article incorporates public domain material from the United States Army document: "The Knollwood Maneuver: The Ultimate Airborne Test". This article incorporates public domain material from the United States Army Center of Military History document: "187th Infantry Lineage and Honors". This article incorporates public domain material from websites or documents of the United States Army Center of Military History. This article incorporates public domain material from the Air Force Historical Research Agency website http://www.afhra.af.mil/. This article incorporates text from this source, which is in the public domain.
- "Special Designations". United States Army Center of Military History.
- Flanagan Jr., E. M. (1997). The Rakkasans: The Combat History of the 187th Airborne Infantry. Presidio Press. ISBN 0-89141-604-8.
- Piasecki, Eugene G. (2008). "The Knollwood Maneuver: The Ultimate Airborne Test". Veritas, The Journal of Army Special Operations History. Vol. 4 no. 1.
- Miller, Charles E. (1988). Airlift Doctrine (PDF). Air University Press. ISBN 1-58566-019-1.
- Smith, Robert Ross. "Manila: The Approach March".
- Smith, Robert Ross (1993). Triumph in the Philippines: The United States Army in World War II: The War in the Pacific (PDF). Washington, DC: US Army Center of Military History.
- Futrell, Robert Frank (1983) . The United States Air Force in Korea: 1950-1953 (PDF) (2nd ed.). Air Force History and Museums Program (published 2000). ISBN 0-16-048879-6.
- Schnabel, James F.; Watson, Robert J. (1998). History of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. The Joint Chiefs of Staff and National Policy. Volume III, 1950-1951. The Korean War, Part One (PDF). Office of Joint History, Office of the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
- Craig, Berry (1993) . The Chosin Few: North Korea, November-December 1950. Turner Publishing Company. ISBN 1-56311-055-5.
- Pittman, Major Phill; et al. (1984). Combat Studies Institute Battlebook 4-C: The Battle of Sukchon-Sunchon (PDF). US Army Command and General Staff College.
- History of the 511th Airborne Regiment Archived 15 October 2007 at the Wayback Machine, The Drop Zone
- Appleman, Roy E. (2000) . South to the Naktong, North to the Yalu: United States Army in the Korean War: June – November 1950 (PDF). Washington, DC: US Army Center of Military History.
- Leary, William M. (2000). Anything, Anywhere, Anytime: Combat Cargo in the Korean War (PDF). Air Force History and Museums Program. ISBN 978-1-4775-4969-8.
- Engineering Design Handbook: Design for Air Transport and Airdrop of Materiel (PDF). Headquarters, US Army Materiel Command. 1967. pp. 3–20.
- Valdor John Interview 2004
- Mossman, Billy C. (1990). Ebb and Flow: November 1950 – July 1951 (PDF). Washington, DC: US Army Center of Military History. This article incorporates text from this source, which is in the public domain.
- Gugeler, Russell A. (1987) . Combat Actions in Korea (PDF). Washington, DC: US Army Center of Military History.
- Weinert Jr., Richard P. (1991). Susan Canedy (ed.). A History of Army Aviation, 1950-1962 (PDF). Fort Monroe, Virginia: Office of the Command Historian, US Army Training and Doctrine Command.
- The Army Pictorial Center (Producer) (1967). Screaming Eagles in Vietnam (U.S. Army film documentary). The Office of the Chief of Information.
- Lockhart, Leejay. "Iron Rakkasans: 50 years later". Army.mil. US Army.
- Stanton, Shelby (1981). Vietnam Order of Battle. New York, New York: Galahad Books. pp. 396 w/Index. ISBN 0-88365-709-0.
- Flynn, Michael. "Major". Battle Focused Training for Peacekeeping Operations: A METL Adjustment for Infantry Battalions. School of Advanced Military Studies, United States Army Command and General Staff College. Retrieved 26 July 2017.
- "Operation Desert Focus". www.globalsecurity.org.
- "U.S. Department of Defense". U.S. Department of Defense.
- Hardy, Kerensa (14 August 2008). "17th IA MiTT helps Iraqi partners with transition". Fort Campbell Courier.
- Hardy, Kerensa (7 August 2008). "Rakkasans: South Baghdad ready for transition". Fort Campbell Courier.
- "Army to Deploy 101st Airborne Soldiers to Afghanistan". military.com. 6 September 2016.
- Cox, Matthew (6 September 2016). "Army to Deploy 101st Airborne Soldiers to Afghanistan". Military.com.
- "187th Airborne". www.korean-war.com.
- "1st Battalion, 187th Infantry Regiment | Lineage and Honors | U.S. Army Center of Military History". history.army.mil.
- "187th Infantry". history.army.mil.
- "2d Battalion, 187th Infantry". history.army.mil.
- "3d Battalion, 187th Infantry Regiment | Lineage and Honors | U.S. Army Center of Military History". history.army.mil.
- "Superintendent's Biography | United States Military Academy West Point". www.westpoint.edu.
- "Eric Geressy - Recipient -". valor.militarytimes.com.
- "Charles Lockie Obituary - College Station, TX". Dignity Memorial.
- Appleman, Roy E. (2000) . South to the Naktong, North to the Yalu: United States Army in the Korean War: June – November 1950 (PDF). Washington, DC: US Army Center of Military History.
- Cannon, M. Hamlin (1993). Leyte: The Return to the Philippines (PDF). Washington, DC: US Army Center of Military History.
- Craig, Berry (1993) . The Chosin Few: North Korea, November-December 1950. Turner Publishing Company. ISBN 1-56311-055-5.
- Flanagan, E. M. (1997). The Rakkasans: The Combat History of the 187th Airborne Infantry. Novato, California: Presidio Press. ISBN 0-89141-604-8.
- Futrell, Robert Frank (1983) . The United States Air Force in Korea: 1950-1953 (PDF) (2nd ed.). Air Force History and Museums Program (published 2000). ISBN 0-16-048879-6.
- Gugeler, Russell A. (1987) . Combat Actions in Korea (PDF). Washington, DC: US Army Center of Military History.
- Leary, William M. (27 May 2012). Anything, Anywhere, Anytime: Combat Cargo in the Korean War (PDF). Air Force History and Museums Program (published 2000). ISBN 978-1-4775-4969-8.
- Miller, Charles E. (1988). Airlift Doctrine (PDF). Air University Press. ISBN 1-58566-019-1.
- Mossman, Billy C. (1990). Ebb and Flow: November 1950 – July 1951 (PDF). Washington, DC: US Army Center of Military History. This article incorporates text from this source, which is in the public domain.
- Pittman, Major Phill; et al. (1984). Combat Studies Institute Battlebook 4-C: The Battle of Sukchon-Sunchon (PDF). US Army Command and General Staff College. This article incorporates public domain material from websites or documents of the United States Army.
- Smith, Robert Ross (1993). Triumph in the Philippines: The United States Army in World War II: The War in the Pacific (PDF). Washington, DC: US Army Center of Military History.
- Schnabel, James F.; Watson, Robert J. (1998). History of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. The Joint Chiefs of Staff and National Policy. Volume III, 1950-1951. The Korean War, Part One (PDF). Office of Joint History, Office of the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
- Weinert Jr., Richard P. (1991). Susan Canedy (ed.). A History of Army Aviation, 1950-1962 (PDF). Fort Monroe, Virginia: Office of the Command Historian, US Army Training and Doctrine Command. This article incorporates public domain material from websites or documents of the United States Army.
- History of the North Korean Army (PDF). Headquarters, Far East Command, Military Intelligence Section, General Staff. 1952. This article incorporates public domain material from websites or documents of the United States Army.
- Engineering Design Handbook: Design for Air Transport and Airdrop of Materiel (PDF). Headquarters, US Army Materiel Command. 1967. This article incorporates public domain material from websites or documents of the United States Army.
- John, Valdor (6 May 2004). "Wisconsin Korean War Stories" (PDF) (Interview). Interviewed by Mik Derks. Oneida, Wisconsin: Wisconsin Public Television.
- Dyhouse, Janie (September 2018). "'Storm of Steel': Ap Trang Dau, September 1968". VFW Magazine. Vol. 106 no. 1. Kansas City, Mo.: Veterans of Foreign Wars of the United States. pp. 28–29. ISSN 0161-8598.
For 30 minutes in the early morning darkness of Sept. 6, 1968, the 187th Infantry's Alpha Company (96 men) fended off more than 600 communists, losing 28 percent of its men killed.
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