The Battle of Leyte Gulf: Operation Sho-Go I

The capture of the Philippines by the Americans would be the death knell for the Imperial Japanese Navy. The shipping lanes to Java and the Dutch East Indies, already under constant air and submarine attack, would be finally and definitively cut. All of Japan’s remaining naval strength would be committed to the coming battle. They was no choice: any ships remaining north of the Philippines would be without fuel, and because naval shells were only manufactured in Japan, any ships remaining south of the Philippines would be without ammunition.

Coordinating the far flung Japanese naval task forces necessitated a complex plan, named Sho Go I by the Imperial Japanese General Staff. (Operation Sho-Go I was a branch of Operation Sho-Go, the defense of the Home Islands.) Though complicated, if Sho-Go I was successful, the American 7th Fleet would be destroyed, the 3rd Fleet would be hamstrung, and MacArthur’s forces would be thrown back into the sea. America would suffer a huge strategic loss and (it was thought) be compelled to come to a negotiated cease fire. The importance of Sho-Go I was not lost on the Japanese Navy’s bitterest rival, the Japanese Army. In a rare moment of interservice cooperation, Sho-Go I was made even more complicated by including the Japanese Army on Leyte and Luzon. Tomoyuki Yamashita, the commander and governor of the Japanese occupied Philippines, reinforced Leyte with every aircraft he had left, and enough troops to drive the Americans back into the sea after they lost their supporting ships offshore.

The Americans were convinced that carriers were the key to naval warfare (they were) but in the narrow confines of the Philippine archipelago, the Japanese could use their remaining battleships to force this Kantai Kessen, or decisive battle to end the war. But the battleships had to get there first and America’s carriers were in the way. The key to Sho-Go I was Admiral Marc Mitscher’s powerful Task Force 38 which consisted of all of America’s big fleet carriers. It was this TF that smashed Japan’s remaining carrier airpower at the Battle of the Philippine Sea aka The Great Mariana’s Turkey Shoot. For the Japanese plan to have any success, TF 38 had to be neutralized.

Lacking any carrier air power at all, the Japanese chose to neutralize TF 38 through deception. The Japanese Northern Force consisted of their remaining four carriers, but almost no planes, and definitely no trained carrier pilots. But it would be a target the carrier-mad Americans could not resist. The Northern Force was the bait to lure TF 38 away from the Philippines. Once they were spotted, the Northern Force would race back north, away from the Philippines, with TF 38 in pursuit.
Once TF 38 was gone, the Southern Force, steaming north from Java would enter the Leyte Gulf via the Surigao Strait. At the same time, the powerful Center Force under Vice Admiral Takeo Kurita, consisting of eight battleships, including the super battleships Yamato and Musashi, was steaming east from Formosa, and it would enter the Leyte Gulf via the San Bernardino Strait off the island of Samar. Together they would smash MacArthur’s invasion fleet. Yamashita would then be free to destroy an outnumbered and cut off US Sixth Army on Leyte.
On 22 October 1944, all three Japanese task forces were converging on Leyte. They were under radio silence, and the plan could not be altered.

TF 38 had to take the bait for Sho-Go I to work. The fate of the entire Imperial Japanese Navy depended on it. Luckily for the Japanese, sailing with TF 38 was the key to any success they would have in the upcoming operation: American Admiral Bull Halsey. Bull Halsey was America’s greatest carrier admiral, but he was proud, and his lack of any big Jap fleet carrier kills was a sore point in the wardroom. He always seemed to just miss them: He and his carriers were too far away to intervene at Pearl Harbor. Though a Coral Sea was a victory, his carriers only sank one small escort carrier. Halsey missed Midway because he was in the hospital with a bad skin rash. The Japanese carriers were not an important target with all the important Japanese bases in the Solomon’s. And finally, he was away from TF 38 during the Great Mariana’s Turkey Shoot. The Northern Force was the last opportunity for Halsey to sink a carrier. The Japanese were convinced Halsey would not pass it up and based their entire plan on it.

They were right.

Sheridan’s Ride

In the summer of 1864, the Union was winning the battles but losing the war. In the presidential race of 1864, war weariness was working against Republican incumbent Abraham Lincoln, and his Democratic challenger George B McClellan was significantly ahead because he promised to make peace with the South and end the war. That changed in September when Sherman seized Atlanta, which greatly increased Lincoln’s popularity. But by October, Lincoln was still only tied in the polls with McClellan because Ulysses S Grant was stuck in a bloody stalemate besieging Robert E. Lee around Richmond, and the morale crushing casualties were high.

In order to break the stalemate around Richmond, Grant needed troops. The only troops available were those defending Washington DC from attack. Washington DC was constantly threatened over the years because of its proximity to Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley, the gateway to the North and Breadbasket of the South. Because the Valley runs southwest to northeast, i.e. away from Richmond, it previously didn’t made sense for Grant to clear it.

In September 1864, Grant needed those troops and dispatched Major General Phil Sheridan with 20,000 men to clear the valley of Rebels, thereby removing the threat to Washington. Sheridan pinned down Confederate Major General Jubal Early, but could not destroy him. So in a prelude to Sherman’s March to the Sea, Sheridan began a scorched earth policy in the Shenandoah Valley to deny supplies to the Confederates. Thinking everything was going well, and that Early would be forced to leave the valley or starve, Sheridan left his army to attend a conference in Washington DC in mid-October.

On 18 October, Sheridan was on his way back from the conference and stayed the night in Winchester, Va, twenty miles from his army. Also that day Jubal Early decided not to retreat but to attack. He marched his army all night and surprised the Union troops encamped on Cedar Creek, just as Sheridan woke to the distant sound of guns. Like all good commanders, Sheridan mounted up and rode toward the sound of battle. To his astonishment, he encountered the shattered and routed remnants of his army retreating from Cedar Creek to Winchester.

Sheridan spurred his horse on and raced down the road towards the sounds of fighting, inspiring his troops and admonishing his officers, but never slowed below a gallop. Sheridan arrived at the still raging Battle of Cedar Creek within minutes of it being lost. His presence on the battlefield electrified the remaining defenders, and more importantly, behind him a came a steady stream of recently rallied reinforcements. That evening, Sheridan counterattacked and swept Early’s exhausted troops from the field.

The news of Sheridan’s Ride was exactly what Lincoln needed. Sheridan was an immediate national hero and Lincoln’s popularity soared. McClellan’s antiwar campaign collapsed and Lincoln would handily defeat him in November. There would be no peace treaty with an independent Confederate States of America.

The First Battle of Ypres

With the German failure at the First Battle of the Marne, both the Allies and the Germans began “The Race to the Sea” with each army moving north from Paris in an attempt to outflank each other, all the while leaving a line of trenches to their rear. The race came to an end at the Flemish city of Ypres (pronounced “ee-priss”), near the channel coast.

The French Army was overextended occupying the trenches all the way to the Swiss border so the inevitable battle was fought by the Belgian Army which had just recently escaped the capture of Antwerp, a single French army, and “The Old Contemptibles” of Sir John French’s British Expeditionary Force (Kaiser Wilhelm made an offhand comment that he would “destroy French’s contemptible little army”, the name stuck.) The highly trained and experienced British Expeditionary Force was comprised of all volunteers, seasoned veterans from colonial campaigns, and reinforced by tough Indian troops.

In mid-October 1914, French Marshal Ferdinand Foch, Sir John French, and German Field Marshal Erick Von Falkenhayn all came to the same conclusion: this was the last chance to maneuver before winter set in and the trenches solidified. Both sides attacked.

On 19 October 1914, the Allies struck first and ran directly into German troops staging in their assault positions. The two sides hammered at each other for a month. The First Battle of Ypres was characterized by failures of command and control, leadership, logistics, fratricide, and tactics. It was confusement of the highest order. The First Battle of Ypres was the wake up call that 19th century systems could not keep up with 20th century warfare. Veterans on both sides referred to it as “The Battle” for the rest of their lives, including a young Austrian corporal in the German Army, Adolf Hitler, who received the Iron Cross 2nd Class during the battle for rescuing a comrade under fire.

The British, Germans, Belgians and French were spent by the middle of November. Von Falkynhahn had done the Kaiser’s bidding and destroyed the Old Contemptibles, but he had not broken through. British veterans of “The Battle” were disbanded and they formed the cadres for a larger British Expeditionary Force with Lord Kitchener’s “New Armies”. The battle cost the four armies nearly 300,000 casualties, or almost 9,000 a day. The British, Belgian, Canadian, German, Indian, and French soldiers spent the rest of the cold and wet maritime winter in the brown, barren, and bleak moonscape around Ypres digging the trenches that became a symbol of what they would call “The Great War”.

The next spring the soldiers were greeted with what would become another of the First World War’s symbols: the poppy flower. In those Flanders’ fields, the first flower to bloom every year is the poppy. In May 1915, the shattered fields around Ypres were a sea of blood red poppy flowers. Canadian Lt Col John McCrae was inspired by the sight to write the hauntingly beautiful poem “In Flanders Fields” that would come to define the war. It begins:

“In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row…”

MacArthur’s Return

Just after Pearl Harbor, the Japanese invaded the Philippines and overran the islands by April, 1942. In March 1942, FDR ordered the Commander of the Philippine Department and Field Marshal of the Army of the Philippines Gen. Douglas MacArthur to Australia in order to prevent his capture by the Japanese. Upon arriving in Australia he said, “I came through and I shall return”.

Over two years later on 20 October 1944, Gen Krueger’s US Sixth Army splashed ashore on the Philippine Island of Leyte and linked up with Col Ruberto Kangleon’s various American and Filipino guerilla organizations. Later that afternoon, MacArthur staged a dramatic and meticulously scripted personal landing on Leyte, where he announced, “People of the Philippines, I have returned! By the grace of Almighty God, our forces stand again on Philippine soil.”

Taking advantage of the bad October weather, Gen Tomoyuki Yamashita, the commander of all Japanese forces in the Philippines, heavily reinforced Leyte, and planned on making a fight of the island in order to force MacArthur’s invasion fleet, and the US Fifth and Seventh Fleets to concentrate. In the coming days, the still powerful and numerous battleships of the Imperial Japanese Navy used the cover of the monsoon to try and close with and destroy the US ships in the close waters of the Leyte Gulf. Operation Sho I was the Imperial Japanese General Staff’s last chance at Kantai Kessen, or the final decisive battle to end the war on terms favorable to the Japanese.

Tanks for Fury

When America is serious, she sends tanks.

So let’s talk about tanks, on this most auspicious of weeks. Unlike our little brother the infantry, who usually gets into trouble and has to be rescued; or our big brother the artillery, who is overly dramatic and throws tantrums; armor is the middle brother, you know the competent one who actually gets things done. And armor does it the way it is supposed to be done: with fire, maneuver, and shock effect.

“Wonk, wonk, wonk”, like Charlie Brown’s frickin teacher, but history backs me up:

Whose advances were measured in kilometers in a war where for years the advances were measured in meters? Tanks.

What so terrified Wehrmacht soldiers that they called upon their Luftwaffe brothers to make horizontal their feared 88mm anti-aircraft guns? Tanks.

What broke the Marines off of the beach at Tarawa? Tanks.

What were both the measures of performance and measures of effectiveness for the Germans and Soviets as they tore across Eastern Europe for three years? Tanks.

What did US Army infantry divisions routinely have more of than German panzer divisions in 1944 and 1945? Tanks.

What nearly drove the US out of Korea? Tanks.

What did the most effective units in Vietnam use? Tanks.

What held the line outnumbered in the Golan and Sinai in 67 and 73? Tanks.

What did the North Vietnamese conquer South Vietnam with? Tanks

Why did the Soviets not invade West Germany in 1983? Tanks.

What led the charge across Kuwait in Desert Storm? Tanks.

What did the Rangers wish they had in Mogadishu? Tanks.

What crossed the Sava into Bosnia in 1996? Tanks.

What took Baghdad in 2003? Tanks.

Falluja in 2004? Tanks.

The Surge? Tanks.

What is heard out of every infantry leader’s mouth immediately after he says, “Follow Me!”?

That’s right, it’s “We need tanks.”

Armor is the Combat Arm of Decision.

“So why all the tank stuff, Ski”?

Because I like the smell of diesel exhaust, and I’m routinely late to work on Mondays because I take the long way to my cubicle just to get a whiff. Because I genuinely enjoy building an engagement area, and nothing warms the very deepest cockles of my little bitty black heart than the sight of a bulldozer to go along with it. Because nothing brings a group of individuals closer than living together in a steel box or aluminum beer can for weeks on end, and knowing that you are all going to die together from cancer caused by FRH or GMD. Because after that when I go to heaven, St. Peter’s going to tell me, “Come on in Ski, you actually shot all of your long range movers without cheating”. Because I once deceived my wing man’s driver into chalking white X’s all over his Bradley after his BC f#@ked with the wrong new platoon leader. Because I got to tear ass around the German countryside Reforger-style in the four greatest days of my life. Because the most beautiful moment in history is always stand-to. Because “Above The Law”, “Ghostrider” “Can Can”, and “Conan” are names near and dear to my heart, and I’ve been to the desert on a “Horse with No Name”. Because there is nothing more intimidating on the planet than the front slopes of four fire belching Iron Behemoths in a wedge rolling like the Juggernaut taking on all comers.

And however beautiful the above might be, they’re not the only reasons why I’ve been posting like I have been. It’s really because we armoured vehicle crewmembers might actually get our own movie this week.

Fury is coming out tonight and I’m damn excited.

Every other branch and service has their signature movies: The Infantry has The Big Red One, Platoon, and The Dirty Dozen. Rangers have Darby, Blackhawk Down and Saving Private Ryan. The Air Assault guys have We Were Soldiers and Apocalypse Now. Marines have Full Metal Jacket and Sands of Iwo Jima. The Airborne have Band of Brothers. EOD has The Hurt Locker. JAGs have A Few Good Men. Acquisition has The Pentagon Wars. Navy pilots have Top Gun. The Medics have MASH. The Special Forces have The Green Berets. Snipers have too many to mention. The Seals have Act of War, Lone Survivor, OOoo! Navy Seals! and a few others I’m forgetting. Intelligence has Battle of Algiers…

Hell even the Civil Affairs have The Monuments Men and AFN has Good Morning Vietnam.

What do we armoured vehicle crewmen have? Nothin, that’s what. Tank? Not a war movie. Battle of the Bulge, Patton? I can’t get past the tanks, and besides they were about campaigns and leaders, not the men. 1941? Hilarious, but it doesn’t focus very long on that most unique of on screen tank sightings, the M3 Grant. The Beast? Burn in Hell, commies. Kelly’s Heroes? Only a keen ear for the subtleties of dialogue would allow you to glean that Big Joe was the platoon sergeant of a mounted reconnaissance platoon. And Oddball was comic relief. Though great, Kelly’s Heroes is not a tanker’s movie. A tanker’s wet dream maybe, but not a tanker’s movie.

That just might change tonight when Fury is released. It’s a Brad Pitt vehicle about the crew of an Easy 8 Sherman named “Fury” in the final days of World War Two. Will it suck? Will it be cheesy? Probably, but I don’t care. I just want to see someone break track on the big screen. If I’m honest, I’m really only going to see it because of the comm’s check in the trailer. It gave me the goose pimples. I might stand behind a tank today and then not shower so everyone around me can get some Smell o’ Vision tonight.

Support your local tanker. Go see Fury. Maybe if it makes enough money we’ll get John Milius to do Team Yankee.

Fire, Fire HEAT.

On the Way.

EDIT: We got our movie.”

The Germans Halt the Allies

In September and October 1944, Field Marshall Walter Model, commander of German Army Group B, caused General Eisenhower no shortage of headaches. After the 20 July failed plot to kill Hitler and the rout of the German Army in the West after the fall of Paris, Hitler ordered Model to prevent the Allies from advancing into Germany at all costs. And for almost four months, against overwhelming Allied air and material superiority and constant tactical interference from Hitler, Model, the monocle wearing son of a music teacher from Saxony, did exactly that.

In the north, Model rallied the defeated Wehrmacht in the west and every Allied misstep was exploited. He deftly extricated the 15th Army from certain doom at Antwerp and bludgeoned the Allies with it in the Netherlands for the rest of the year. With the 15th Army and his reconstituted reserve, the II SS Panzer Corps, Model defeated Montgomery in the battles for the Dutch bridges in September (Operation Market Garden) and removed the Allied capability to conduct airborne operations for the foreseeable future. The Allies did not cross the Rhine at Arnhem until January, 1945, nor conduct another airborne operation until Operation Varsity in March, 1945.

In the south, Model’s First Army stopped Patton cold in Lorraine. On 18 September, the day after Operation Market Garden began, Model’s Fifth Panzer Army, led by Gen Hasso Von Manteuffel, counterattacked MG John S Wood’s 4th Armored Division resulting in the Battle of Arracourt, the largest tank battle on the Western Front up to that time. Patton’s famous “dash across France” lasted exactly 49 days. Around Arracourt, American crew quality, mechanical reliability, agile leadership, and responsive fire support defeated German technical and material superiority after 11 days of constant fighting. The Battle of Arracourt, Patton’s Pyrrhic victory, is virtually unknown today because of Patton hagiography and the more famous concurrent battle further north in Holland.

Nonetheless, Patton’s advance was stopped, not by Eisenhower as the famous books and movies like to trumpet, but by the Germans. Popular history likes to blame Patton’s delay on Eisenhower’s decision to prioritize supplies to the British, but that decision didn’t come until the 23rd of September, a week after Market Garden began, not before. And it was only in response to unexpected German resistance in Holland. (Patton’s fuel was briefly curtailed in late August, simply because it was more efficient at the time to prioritize Montgomery and Hodges, who were both closer to Normandy than Patton and within striking distance of V2 sites. Patton’s fuel resumed his fair share shortly thereafter on 4 September, almost two weeks before Market Garden. Patton was slowed more by the “250 mile” tank maintenance rule than by fuel. ) Patton had enough fuel to continue the attack but defeating Manteuffel’s counteroffensive drank fuel at a prodigious rate. Eisenhower’s 23 Sep decision didn’t stop Patton, Manteuffel did that, but it did prevent Patton from regaining his momentum. Mantueffel bought just enough time for the newly formed but static Volksgrenadier Divisions to dig in. For the next two months, famed tanker and maneuver warfare expert George Patton was forced to slug it out in battles that resembled the First World War twenty five years prior, and those against second and third rate German troops. The gateway city and ancient fortress of Metz, and the surrounding fortifications, particularly Ft Driant, didn’t capitulate until early December.

In the center, General Omar Bradley’s 12th Army Group closed in on the German frontier. Model reinforced the old Siegfried line defenses, and combined with Allied supply difficulties caused by his orders to destroy all French port facilities, forced Bradley to a standstill. Despite this, Eisenhower ordered the capture of Aachen, a German city on the border with Belgium. Aachen was of no special military or industrial value, but it was of immense propaganda value: It was the first German city threatened with capture by the Allies and it was the historic capital of Charlemagne’s “First Reich”. Model turned Aachen into a fortress and its defense made Eisenhower’s decision one of his few regrets as Supreme Allied Commander. Model’s defense of Aachen and the Huertgen Forest to the city’s immediate south delayed Bradley for three months. The Americans only captured Aachen in mid-November. Even worse, US troops only secured the town of Schmidt, the initial (September) objective in the Huertgen Forest operations, in January 1945. Model embroiled Bradley in vicious street fighting in Aachen and lured him into the near perfect defensive terrain in the Huertgen Forest for what were America’s worst defeats of the war. Although Model lost Aachen, he caused Bradley 45,000 casualties in the process and wrecked the American 12th Army Group. Model obliged Bradley to stop his offensives, reinforce his depleted divisions, and train the tens of thousands of new replacements that were required to advance into Germany any further.

In particular, the 28th Infantry Division of the Pennsylvania National Guard earned its nickname “The Bloody Bucket” in these battles, and the veteran US 1st Infantry Division, “The Big Red One” took 70% casualties at Aachen and Huertgen. In early December, these two divisions were so maimed that they were assigned a quiet sector of the front to rest and recuperate: the Ardennes Forest.

The Ardennes was directly in the path of Model’s December offensive to restore stability on the Western Front, Unternehmen Wacht am Rhine, “Operation Watch on the Rhine” more commonly known as the Battle of the Bulge.

The Warsaw Uprising

On the Eastern Front, Zhukov’s Operation Bagration was successful beyond his wildest ambitions. By the end of July 1944, Soviet tanks had reached the Vistula River and the eastern suburbs of Warsaw. On 1 August 1944, the Polish Underground Resistance, otherwise known as the Home Army, launched Operation Tempest to seize their capital from the Germans in order to assert their authority as the legitimate Polish government after the impending Soviet liberation. Stalin and Hitler never let that happen.

Starting on 1 August and for the next two months, 40,000 members of the Home Army fought the German 9th Army in desperate street battles in Warsaw. Despite assurances from FDR and Churchill, Stalin refused to support the uprising and ordered his troops not to cross the river. Most Soviet units could not have directly supported the Poles since they spent from the offensive, but no serious attempt to supply the Poles was even tried, despite their proximity and air superiority. The only support the Home Army received were supply drops from the RAF that landed in German hands as often as Polish. Destruction of postwar Polish leadership not under Stalin’s control was too convenient for the Soviet dictator.

Once Hitler was sure there would be no Soviet intervention, he ordered Warsaw destroyed. Heinrich Himmler, leader of the SS, declared “The city must completely disappear from the surface of the earth and serve only as a transport station for the Wehrmacht. No stone can remain standing. Every building must be razed to its foundation.” Hitler told his generals that Warsaw was to be “wiped from the face of the Earth, all the inhabitants were to be killed, there were to be no prisoners.”
In compliance, the SS sent in special extermination units with the task of murdering anyone of Polish descent: man, woman or child. They averaged about 10,000 a week. German tactics against the civilians were so brutal, 200,000 of the Warsaw’s 700,000 civilians soon stood with the Home Army to fight. Like the Jewish Warsaw Ghetto Uprising in 1943, the Germans realized that only the total obliteration of the city could root out the resistance. They began a systematic destruction of the city neighborhood by neighborhood, block by block, street by street, and house by house.

On 13 September, Stalin began a token supply effort to the uprising after several near mutinies by Polish troops in the Soviet Army, but by then the damage was done. The leadership of the Home Army was dead, and Warsaw was utterly destroyed. On 2 October 1944, the remaining Polish defenders surrendered. 15,000 of them were sent to the gas chambers in the nearby death camps, along with 60,000 civilian defenders. 200,000 Polish civilians died during the two months of brutal street fighting, and 350,000 were expelled from the city and sent to labor camps across Germany.

3½ months later, the Soviet controlled 1st Polish Army occupied the city on 17 January 1945 after the Soviet Vistula/Oder offensive. They immediately began consolidating the power of the Soviet sponsored Polish Worker’s Party: a communist organization made up of those Polish communists that survived Stalin’s purges of Poles in the Communist International in 1938 and 1939. The Soviet dominated Polish Worker’s Party ruled Poland for the next 45 years until it was defeated by Solidarity in 1989.

The Battle of Best

Operation Market Garden, the Allied airborne and ground invasion of the Netherlands in September 1944 conceived by Britain’s Gen Bernard Montgomery, didn’t need to capture just four bridges to succeed, as many of the narratives of the battle imply; the operation needed 32 bridges over 20 different rivers, canals, and streams along the 62 mile axis of advance to succeed. One such bridge was over the Wilhelmina Canal at the small town of Best outside of the Dutch city of Eindhoven. On the afternoon of 17 September, 1944, Company H, 502nd Parachute Infantry Regiment, 101st Airborne Division infiltrated the town to seize the bridge in order to allow the British armor to bypass Eindhoven on their way to Nijmegen. They didn’t know it, but they were outnumbered 6:1.

Two weeks before, Montgomery’s 1st Canadian Army seized the vital port of Antwerp and pushed the German 15th Army out of the city. A functioning port at Antwerp could alleviate the Allies massive supply problems, but the Canadians failed to also clear the Scheldt Estuary. Without the estuary cleared, Antwerp was “as useful as Timbuktu” in the words of Eisenhower’s chief of staff. Moreover, the failure to adequately clear the estuary allowed the battered German 15th Army to escape. Gen Walter Model ordered the 85,000 strong 15th Army to rest and refit just west of the Dutch town of Eindhoven.

Like Bittrich’s SS Panzer Corps at Arnhem, the German 15th Army was in a perfect position to counterattack the Allied landings and the single highway that XXX Corps was advancing northward on. The 15th Army sat astride the highway just west of the American 101st Airborne Division landings around Eindhoven.

When the planes of the airborne invasion were seen overhead on the morning of the 17 September 1944, German commanders in the 15th Army formed ad hoc “kampfgruppes” (battlegroups roughly 1000 strong) to operate against the landings. The German ability to “plug and play” units with a competent commander gave them an amazing flexibility on the battlefield. One such kampfgruppe was formed around an SS police battalion and sent to Best. As the lightly armed lone American airborne company with its attached engineers approached Best, they came under intense fire. Best became a microcosm of what happened to the British 1st Airborne at Arnhem. At Best, one platoon from Company H made it to the bridge and held the north end, while the rest of the company, and eventually the battalion was cut off nearby. That one platoon survived for two whole days before being overrun. The Germans who captured them thought an entire company had held the bridge, not just 22 men.

Over the next three days, the 15th Army counterattacked from around Best to try and cut “Hell’s Highway” at its base. Three German divisions: the 59th, 245th and 716th, and various Luftwaffe and rear area troops organized into battlegroups, including two battalions of fanatical and zealous SS policemen, launched themselves at the Americans. The fighting around the town of Best consumed the entire 502nd PIR, the 327th Glider Infantry Regiment, and the 101st’s reserve BN from the 401st Infantry; or over 2/3rds of the entire 101st Airborne Division. The battle only ended when the 101st was reinforced by a brigade of British hussars and grenadiers from XXX Corps, which crossed the canal at the rebuilt Son Bridge to the east.

That British brigade was desperately needed in the fighting around Nijmegen to the north, and the lack of an exploitation force prevented the British from immediately continuing on to Arnhem after the capture of the Nijmegen Bridge over the Waal on 20 September. And although the 15th Army did not succeed at Best, it did cut the all-important highway in two other places farther north over the next several days.

The Soviet Invasion of Poland

On 17 Sep 1939, Hitler’s de facto ally, the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics better known as the Soviet Union, invaded Poland from the east as the Poles were fighting the Germans coming from the west.

By 9 September 1939, Polish mobilization was complete the Poles and were holding their own along the Vistula and in the Carpathians against the German attack. They even launched a large counterattack at Bzura and repulsed the initial German attacks on Warsaw. Unfortunately on 9 Sep the German propaganda minister Josef Goebbels announced to the world that the Germans had reached Warsaw. The German people thought they had won and were jubilant. Goebbels ran with it. Poland had no way of contradicting Goebbel’s message. The British, French, and Soviets all soon believed Poland was lost. The mistaken belief absolved the Brits and French from any further assistance, and on the 11th, Stalin decided he’d better invade Poland before the Germans took it all.

On 17 September 1939, eight days after the Poles were supposedly defeated by the Germans, Soviet forces crossed the Polish frontier from the east, and made defense along the Vistula pointless. Initially Polish units on the eastern frontier thought that the Soviets were coming to Poland’s assistance, but that notion was quickly dispelled. On 25 Sep, the Polish government announced the evacuation of the country. The last Polish army unit only surrendered on 6 Oct – a month after the war had supposedly been lost.

In occupied Eastern Poland the NKVD, the forerunner of the KGB, immediately arrested and summarily executed tens of thousands of Polish army officers and NCOs, politicians, police officers, business owners, priests, school teachers, and university professors, anyone exhibiting leadership qualities. The Red Army sacked, tortured, raped, and killed its way through eastern Poland in a prelude of what would happen to Germany 5 1/2 years later. Hundreds of thousands Poles were sent to slave labor camps in Siberia. Sham elections were held by the NKVD to give an air of legitimacy to the brutal occupation. Anyone who ran against their preferred candidate was killed, and anyone who voted against them was sent to Siberia.

“The liberation of Poland (by National Socialist Germany and Communist Soviet Union) is an example of cooperation of socialist nations against Anglo-French imperialism.” – The Communist International, 7 Oct 1939

The Invasion of Angaur

On 17 September, 1944, the 3rd Amphibious Group, landed the 322nd and 321st Regimental Combat Teams of the US 81st Infantry “”Wildcat” Division on the island of Angaur to secure the phosphate plant and airfield, and prevent Japanese artillery from shelling Peleliu. By the 22nd, and after fierce fighting, the two RCTs forced the Japanese defenders into the northwest corner of the island, but then the battle began in earnest.

The northwest corner of Angaur was dominated by Romauldo Hill, but it couldn’t be approached effectively without going through the torturous terrain of a large stone quarry beneath it, dubbed by the Wildcats “The Bowl”. Furthermore, the Bowl had only one entrance, which they quickly named “The Bloody Gulch”. With the Japanese throwing shells at the Seabees constructing the airfield, all three had to be taken.

The 322nd RCT secured the Bloody Gulch after three furious and costly frontal assaults, all of which were to cover the construction of a road to bring up tanks and bulldozers. Once the entrance was secure, the battles for The Bowl and The Hill took on a different approach. The Japanese were dug in like they were on Peleliu, but the terrain meant only one RCT could fight at a time. The limited troops needed to be used differently.

The 322nd RCT decided to bury the Japanese.

Once a tunnel or bunker entrance was discovered, the Wildcats seized it. They then packed it with smoke pots and napalm from the airfield, and sealed it by bulldozer. It was then ignited and wherever the smoke and coughing Japanese appeared elsewhere on the Hill or in the Bowl, the process was repeated. After a few days, the Japanese fiercely counter attacked when they heard or felt the approach of a bulldozer. The last hole was filled a month and 1,614 casualties later, on the 23rd of October.

The 322nd had to secure Angaur by themselves was because the other RCTs were needed elsewhere. On 26 Sep, 1944, the 323rd RCT loaded up on the USS Storm King and was sent north to secure the Ulithi Atoll so MacArthur had a deep water lagoon close by for his invasion of the Philippine island of Leyte. The rest of the 321st were pulled off the line on Angaur on 23 Sep so they could be sent to help out the 1st Marine Division on Peleliu. By 27 September the 321st were in the thick of the fighting for Bloody Nose Ridge. That battle would eventually would consume all three RCTs of the 81st Wildcat Division.