THE ADVANCE TO Walawbum gave General Stilwell control of the Hukawng Valley (Map. No. 27, inside back cover). The next phase of the offensive would center on the corridor formed by the Mogaung Valley. The entrance to this corridor lies over the low hills near Jambu Bum that serve as a watershed between the tributaries of the Hukawng and Mogaung. Spearheading the main advance, the Chinese 22d Division was crowding the Japanese southward along the Kamaing Road toward Jambu Bum. Twenty-five miles to the west, the Chinese 65th Regiment was still covering the right flank in a push toward Tasu Bum. Once again General Stilwell planned to use the Marauders on an encircling mission east of the Kamaing Road. Penetrating 15 and 20 miles to the rear of the main Japanese forces, two Marauder columns were to cut enemy supply lines and communications and harass rear areas.
On 11 March, the day after he had received General Stilwell's plan for this operation, General Merrill held a staff meeting to brief his officers on the mission (Map No. 10, page 46). Marauder columns were to strike simultaneously at two points along the Kamaing Road and establish road blocks, to pinch out hostile elements between these blocks, and then to attack north or south along the road or in both directions, as the situation warranted. To insure maximum freedom of action for the Marauders, two regiments of the Chinese 38th Division were to take part in the operation. Following the Marauder units, these Chinese troops were to take over the blocks as soon as they
MAP NO. 11
had been established, enabling the Marauders to exploit the situation as it developed.
The 1st Battalion, followed by a Chinese regiment, was to proceed from Sana Ga in a flanking movement to cut the Kamaing Road near Shaduzup. On the 50-mile hike to Shaduzup the battalion was to follow a trail running through the southeastern end of the Hukawng Valley and along the southwestern slopes of the Kumon Range to the Mogaung Valley. The 2d and 3d Battalions, also followed by a Chinese regiment, were to make a wider sweep of about 80 miles to block the Kamaing Road at Inkangahtawng, south of the Shaduzup block. Their trail followed the Tanai River in a constricted valley between two main chains of the Kumon Mountains; beyond Janpan, the trail wound up the side of the valley and led over a series of razor-backed ridges, with differences of elevation amounting to as much as 1,600 feet in 4 miles. Beyond Auche, the column would reach the Mogaung watershed and strike west to the road. The Marauder parties were to take about 2 weeks getting to their positions on the road.
On the Move to Shaduzup
At 0700 on 12 March the 1st Battalion started for Shaduzup; the Chinese 113th Regiment and 6th Pack Artillery Battery followed (Map No. 11, page 48). In the next 2 days the 1st Battalion covered about 20 miles to Makuy Bum, always watching for enemy patrols along the trails. From this point on, the Marauders were in rough hills as high as 2,000 feet, and the difficulties of progress were increased by the tendency of trails to avoid the stream beds and to take the hills as they came.
On the 14th the I and R Platoon of White Combat Team, feeling out the trail south of Makuy Bum several miles in advance of the main column, made the first encounter with enemy forces. Warned by finding footprints, the men of the platoon, commanded by Lt. Samuel V. Wilson, redoubled their caution and slipped up unobserved on a group of Japanese sitting around camp fires just off the narrow jungle path. The Marauders' surprise fire killed four Japanese and one Burman but stirred up a veritable hornet's nest. The enemy proved to be 150 strong, and the platoon quickly dispersed into the jungle. Withdrawing up the trail, one of the Marauders encountered Lt. William C. Evans, commander of Red Combat Team's I and R
Platoon. Upon hearing the plight of Lieutenant Wilson's men, Lieutenant Evans sent a report of the situation back to the main column and hastened with his unit to assist in clearing the trail.
A rifle platoon from the main column under Lt. John P. McElmurry also rushed forward to help Lieutenant Wilson, and the three platoons drove the Japanese across the nearby Numpyek River. Following them closely, Lieutenant McElmurry's riflemen seized commanding ground on the far side of the river, held this bridgehead against ail enemy attack, and covered the crossing of the main Marauder force.
This engagement had disclosed the forward movement of the Marauders. On the following day, 15 March, they had to fight eight separate skirmishes with small parties during the first 1½ miles' advance. Lieutenant Evans' platoon, leading the battalion column, bore the brunt of the enemy assaults. In the next half mile the Marauders met a larger group of Japanese, apparently the same one that Lieutenant Wilson had encountered the night before. This group was armed with both light and heavy machine guns; for the first time the Marauders encountered use of the enemy's S-shaped machine-gun formation to block a trail (Sketch No. 1, page 51). The Japanese pinned down the lead squad with machine-gun fire and then threw mortar shells behind the squad so fast that it could not be easily supported by the rest of the platoon. Every time the Marauders got mortars into action against the Japanese machine guns and made all enveloping movement through the thick growth beside the trail, did enemy displaced 100 to 150 yards down the trail and repeated his delaying tactics. Maneuver in this section of the jungle was hampered by growth so dense that, once off the trail, men could easily get lost within 10 feet of each other.
Though the Marauders were unaware of the fact, they were receiving considerable assistance in their battle. A group of irregular Kachin guerrillas, led by Lt. James L. Tilly (Detachment 101, Office of Strategic Services)14 was ambushing and harassing the rear of the Japanese forces. The Kachin operations kept the enemy group "bouncing" from east to west to meet attacks and increased the enemy casualties. Unfortunately, Colonel Osborne had no information about the Kachin activities. In view of the determined resistance the
SKETCH NO. 1 Japanese S-Shaped Machine-Gun Formation
Marauder column was meeting, he could only foresee delays which would prevent his reaching the Kamaing Road on schedule and prevent coordination of his efforts with those of the other Marauder group. Therefore, he decided to cut a trail around the Japanese force.
Leaving Red Combat Team to keep the Japanese occupied, Colonel Osborne pulled White Combat Team back a short distance. It was late evening and little could be accomplished in the darkness. But at dawn on 16 March White Combat Team started chopping a path through the jungle toward Kumshan Ga. Red Combat Team kept in contact with the enemy until late that afternoon, then pulled back
and together with the Chinese 113th Regiment which had caught up with the team during the day followed the trail cut by White Combat Team. Every member of White Combat Team, including officers, took turns at the arduous task of hewing and chopping through the jungle. But it took 2 days of back-breaking labor with kukris and machetes to reach Kumshan Ga, a distance of only 4 miles. Clumps of bamboo were sometimes too large to be detoured, and growth was so densely interwoven that the stems could not fall when lopped off at ground level. They had to be cut again some 6 feet above the ground, turning the trail into a sort of tunnel.
When the 1st Battalion reached Kumshan Ga on the afternoon of 17 March supplies were needed. While the request for an air drop was going back to the Dinjan base, the Marauders picked the best available spot in the mountainous area and cleared it for a dropping field. However, in locating this field the transports had consumed so much time that their gasoline supply was dangerously low. The pilots, therefore, advised the Marauders that they would make the drop next morning and returned to base. The Marauders improved the field, and when the planes returned the following day the drop was made. Because of hills encircling the drop ground, the transports had to unload from a high altitude and much of the free-dropped grain was lost. Some of the parachutes floated over a nearby hill, but all were searched out and their loads secured.
As soon as the supplies were packed, the 1st Battalion pushed forward vigorously over the trail leading south and by nightfall of 18 March had reached a point 2 miles northwest of Jaiwa Ga. Here it made contact with the 50 Kachins under Lieutenant Tilly, who provided guides for the rest of the march to Shaduzup.
The next point of enemy resistance was reached on 20 March, when the battalion entered Nprawa. As the lead scouts were plodding along the trail their Kachin guides suddenly became talkative. Having no interpreter handy, the Marauders nonchalantly ascribed the natives' "jabbering" to a desire for food or cigarettes and provided the Kachins with both. Actually, the 'Kachins had announced that a Nambu (Japanese machine gun) position lay directly ahead, and they assumed that the food and cigarettes were rewards for this information. The machine gun soon disclosed itself, killing one Marauder and wounding two. Luckily, the Japanese were impetuous in opening fire on the
scouts; had they waited, more men would have been caught in their field of fire. In an hour the 1st Battalion's mortar fire forced the enemy to withdraw. This incident taught the Marauders a lesson; thereafter, native remarks were always interpreted.
On 21 March the 1st Battalion stopped to pick up a 5-day supply drop in a rice paddy near Htingnankawng, and Red Combat Team, in the lead, reached Hpauchye Ga. After clearing this village, only five miles east of the Kamaing Road, the battalion discovered that every trail was blocked or ambushed. The advance platoon of Red Combat Team, commanded by Lt. Harry B. Coburn, ran into an ambush and at first tried to push through or bypass the enemy-Positions. As the platoon was cutting a trail around a trail block, the scouts sighted a Japanese group lounging beside well-made fox holes. The Marauders crept forward cautiously and opened fire, killing seven Japanese. When Coburn's men took over the fox holes for a brief
rest, the enemy returned in greater force and attacked them. The fox holes were so well located that the Marauders were able to break up the attack quickly, inflicting additional casualties on the enemy. However, further reconnaissance revealed no trail open to the Kamaing Road. In order to preserve an element of surprise for the establishment of the block near Shaduzup, Colonel Osborne considered it highly important for the 1st Battalion to have as little contact with the enemy as possible. Therefore, he again decided to leave the well-guarded trails and to cut a path southward, cross country, from Hpauchye Ga toward the Chengun River.
During the next 2 days, 23 and 24 March, the going was strenuous and difficult. Time and again the men gained passage through the almost impenetrable growth only by slowly hacking out a path. Frequently they had to unload the animals and carry the supplies by hand up steep hillsides. Colonel Osborne was successful, however, in maintaining secrecy of movement, for during the hike of 5 miles cross country the Marauders met no Japanese.
From Lieutenant Tilly, Colonel Osborne had learned that the enemy held Shaduzup in some, strength (Map No. 11, page 48). Three hundred Japanese were estimated to be there and five to six hundred more in the vicinity of Jambu Bum to the north. In order to deceive the enemy and avoid being attacked by a combined enemy force, Colonel Osborne decided upon sending one platoon to make a feint toward Shaduzup from the northeast. The main battalion column was to proceed down the Chengun River to the Kamaing Road.
Following Colonel Osborne's decision, Lieutenant McElmurry led one rifle platoon along a trail running northwest to Hkahku Gahtawng. Just before entering this village the platoon surprised two enemy soldiers, evidently a reconnaissance party, carrying only maps and sketching equipment. Both of these men dropped as the Marauders fired, but a moment later one of them leaped to his feet and disappeared into the underbrush. McElmurry passed on through Hkahku Gahtawng. The village soon afterward became a mortar target for the Japanese, who continued to throw shells at it throughout the night. This feint to the north undoubtedly contributed to the
complete surprise achieved the next day by the 1st Battalion's arrival to the south of Shaduzup.
Colonel Osborne had decided to place his road block where the Mogaung River makes a U bend at its confluence with the Chengun River. At this location, approximately 4 miles south of Shaduzup, the river runs parallel to the road. On the night of 26 March the 1st Battalion bivouacked by the upper reaches of the Chengun River. Next day the Marauders, often wading downstream to avoid cutting trails, made their way south to within a mile of their objective.
The I and R Platoon of White Combat Team reported Japanese present, apparently in large numbers, some bathing in the Mogaung River and others grenading fish. There appeared to be an enemy camp between the Mogaung River and the Kamaing Road. Further scouting revealed that at least one Japanese company was installed in this camp and that there was another and larger camp a short distance to the south. The enemy had quantities of food and clothing stored in bashas or under canvas covers.
Colonel Osborne was still confident that the Japanese were unaware of the Marauders' presence, for even the advance platoon had not been discovered. He therefore planned a surprise night attack, to begin early on 28 March. He selected three points for crossing the Mogaung River and organized the battalion into six columns for the attack on the northern Japanese camp. Three columns were to converge upon the camp. Three others, closely following the first three, were to be sent either to add impetus to the shock, wherever resistance might be met, or to fill any gap that might develop in the lines. The second three columns could also, if necessary, be used for flanking operations or to meet any supporting enemy force that might be rushed up from the southern Japanese camp.
Major Johnson's White Combat Team formed the three columns making the first attack. At 0300 the team started out in complete silence and cautiously waded the Mogaung River. Red Combat Team took position on the east bank to cover the south flank of the attacking force. The Chinese 113th Regiment was in reserve.
The Japanese were caught completely by surprise. Not one sentry was encountered as White Combat Team's three columns crept into position. Dawn broke. Small fires began to crackle in the unsuspecting Japanese camp as early risers started to prepare breakfast.
Suddenly the attack order was given by radio. With fixed bayonets the Marauders swept through the camp. Naked or half-dressed, the panic-stricken Japanese scattered in all directions. Those with weapons fired wild, ineffectual shots. Many of them were killed or wounded by bayonets, grenades, and tommy guns.
The platoon led by Lt. Meredith Caldwell, Jr., was the first to reach the Kamaing Road, and his men immediately dug a protective perimeter which constituted the road block. When the perimeter was finished, the men changed into clean underwear which they had found in a captured enemy truck and devoured the rice and fish that had been left cooking over the enemy's breakfast fires.
The Marauders expected a counterattack; it was not long in coming. By 0700 Japanese snipers were very active, and further digging in, although not discontinued, became difficult. By 0900 Japanese artillery opened up on Red Combat Team on the east bank of the river.
Preliminary reconnaissance parties had not discovered that the enemy had artillery. White Combat Team's perimeter was so close to the rise in ground behind which the enemy gun positions were located that for the time being the Marauders were masked and not a vulnerable target. By 1000, however, the Japanese managed to get another battery from farther north ranged in, and soon 77- and 150-mm shells came pouring down on the perimeter.
The stab by the 1st Battalion at the rear of the Japanese seriously diverted their attention from the Chinese 22d Division advancing down the road from Walawbum. After several concerted attacks, the Chinese had reached Jambu Bum, at the threshold of the Mogaung Valley, a few days before the Marauders established their road block below Shaduzup, 10 miles to the south. Enemy troops were hurriedly pulled back along the road to help cope with this new threat to their rear, thus permitting the Chinese to make more rapid progress against slackening Japanese resistance.
Caught between these Allied forces, the Japanese made determined efforts to extricate themselves. By midday White Combat Team's perimeter had undergone an attack from the north which was turned back with heavy losses to the enemy. At 1300 another attack, supported by artillery, developed from the west, and reinforcements were arriving in trucks from the south. But by this time the Marauders had an excellent final protective line which the Japanese were unable to
penetrate. All that afternoon the enemy attacked in varying strength, nearly always from a different quarter, and each time the Marauders repulsed them after inflicting heavy casualties.
Lieutenant McElmurry and Lt. Charles R. Scott crouched together in a fox hole during one of the attacks. McElmurry called Scott's attention to a Japanese officer who appeared on the road. But Scott had also seen the officer and shot him while McElmurry was drawing a bead. In the next half hour 12 Japanese were killed as they attempted to retrieve their officer's body.
The assaults tapered off in late afternoon, but all that night enemy artillery pounded both the road block and Red Combat Team's position across the river. Since the Marauders had no artillery, they used their mortars and threw grenades whenever they heard a suspicious sound along their front.
The 1st Battalion is Relieved
The Marauders had established themselves firmly. Following the plan of operations, the Chinese 113th Regiment moved in just before dawn of 29 March and took over both the road-block perimeter and the supporting positions to the east of the river (Map No. 11, page 48). When the Chinese opened up with their pack artillery, the enemy guns quieted down. By 1000 the 1st Battalion had withdrawn about a mile up the Chengun River to a Seagrave15 hospital unit which had been set up during the last 2 days. The weary Marauders rested, listening to opposing Chinese and Japanese artillery fire from just over the hill. The action on the Kamaing Road had cost the 1st Battalion 8 men killed and 35 wounded.
By 29 March the Japanese had lost more than 300 men south of Shaduzup, and during the day they withdrew toward Kamaing. One battalion of the Chinese 113th Regiment followed the retreating enemy as far as Laban, approximately a mile to the south. At 1500 patrols from this Chinese battalion met patrols from the Chinese 22d Division pushing down through the Hukawng-Mogaung corridor and the Kamaing Road was declared open to Laban.
General Merrill's instructions to Colonel Osborne had been to
rejoin the rest of the 5307th Composite Unit, which would probably be near Hsamshingyang, as soon as practicable after accomplishing his mission. This order was confirmed when the 1st Battalion received a message to proceed to Janpan by easy stages.
The shortest route for the 1st Battalion from Shaduzup to Janpan was directly across the western chain of hills in the Kumon Range to the Tanai Valley. Movement was started on 30 March. The trail became increasingly rugged as the men backtracked along the Chengun River and headed for the ridges rising east of the corridor to 2,000, 3,000, and almost 4,000 feet. In a day's march of 10 hours they sometimes covered little more than a mile.
From 1 to 3 April the 1st Battalion was out of contact with headquarters. A sack of grain, falling from a supply plane during an air drop, had crashed into the unit's only long-range radio, putting it out of operation. On the 3d, Colonel Osborne was unwilling to wait any longer to hear from General Merrill and returned to Shaduzup, where the Chinese headquarters had a radio net with the Marauder headquarters. While Colonel Osborne was gone, the battalion's radio operator succeeded in repairing his machine, and simultaneously the Chinese and battalion radios picked up an urgent message from the General directing that the 1st Battalion make all haste to Hsamshingyang.
On the Move to Inkangahtawng
While the 1st Battalion was operating with great success in the Shaduzup area, the 2d and 3d Battalions were carrying out their part of the two-column mission (Map No. 12, page 60). According to plan they were to block the Kamaing Road near Inkangahtawng in the Mogaung Valley. This would cut the enemy's supply artery almost halfway between the Japanese 18th Division's front lines north of the Hukawng-Mogaung corridor and the division's base at Kamaing. Timed to coincide with the strike at Shaduzup, 10 miles to the north, the Inkangahtawng block would increase the threat to the enemy's rear and add to the difficulties of his retirement.
At 0700 on 12 March, the 2d Battalion pulled out of Shikau Ga and Wesu Ga and hit the trail for Pabum. At 0800 the command group followed, and the 3d Battalion, bringing up the rear of the column, got under way at 1000. The Chinese regiment scheduled to accompany this column was not finally available to follow the Marauder battalions.
During the first 3 days, 12-14 March, the Marauders stopped their advance only long enough to pick up an air drop. At Pabum they headed south along the Tanai River, and on 15 March they reached Naubum where their route was approaching the hills. In this village the column was met by Capt. Vincent L. Curl, another member of Detachment 101, with a force of Kachin guerrillas. This group of approximately 300 natives, armed with everything from flintlocks to captured Japanese weapons, joined the Marauders.
On 16 March the 2d and 3d Battalions crossed about 15 miles of rough, muddy trail to Weilangyang. The Kachins warned the Americans that the Japanese were now near, so patrols were sent out along all routes in the vicinity, and blocks and ambushes were established to the northwest and south.
At Weilangyang General Merrill stopped the 2d and 3d Battalions to wait for definite instructions covering their movement toward Inkangahtawng and to receive a food drop. During their 2-day halt the men rested, washed their clothes, and fished and swam in the river.. They cleared a field where supply planes dropped the large quantity of food scheduled to arrive. Elephants, which Captain Curl
MAP NO. 12
had "borrowed" from the Japanese, who in turn had "borrowed" them from the Kachins, carried the packages to a distributing area. Capt. James W. Parker, the unit dental officer, came in by plane and started work on all those whose teeth urgently needed attention. With him he brought dispatches which gave General Merrill last-minute reports on enemy activity and an account of what was happening to the 1st Battalion, then north of Nprawa.
Just at dusk on 18 March a liaison plane dropped a message from General Stilwell, instructing the 2d and 3d Battalions to protect the flank of the Chinese advance by blocking approaches along the Tanai River from the south. General Merrill had expected this order and decided to move southward to Kaulun Ga and Mupaw Ga. At Kaulun Ga he would command the trails on both banks of the river, and at Mupaw Ga, on the highest hill in the area, he would have observation along the trail 2 miles west of the river.
At 1300 on 19 March the 2d Battalion, together with the command group, moved out to Janpan on the way to Kaulun Ga and Mupaw Ga, leaving the 3d Battalion to follow shortly. Captain Curl and his Kachin guerrillas went along with the 2d Battalion.
At 1030 on the following day, General Merrill received radio orders from General Stilwell directing the 2d and 3d Battalions to accomplish their original mission as well as to block any Japanese movement along the Tanai River. He estimated that an enemy force of about 2,000 was south and west of Kamaing.
General Merrill's orders dividing the Marauders' efforts included the following provisions for movement (Map No. 13, page 64):
"The 2d Battalion and the Khaki Combat Team of the 3d Battalion under command of Col. Charles N. Hunter will move south on the [trail to] Warong . . ., reconnoiter the trails south toward Kamaing, and move rapidly to seize and hold ... a block on the main road between Warazup and Malakawng in the general vicinity of Inkangahtawng.
"Orange Combat Team will remain in the vicinity of Janpan, prepared to move on short notice. Two reinforced platoons will be kept ready to polish off any Japs filtering into this area. Extensive patrolling of the trails to the north, south, and west will be maintained.
"Capt. Curl's guerrillas will also aid in the patrolling of this area and will furnish guides to go with Col. Hunter's force.
"Communications will be maintained by radio, runner, and liaison plane with command post which will be at Janpan temporarily."
The 3d Battalion Headquarters with Orange Combat Team was to support Colonel Hunter and to block the trail below Auche leading to Warong and the trails south of Manpin. They were to prevent a flanking Japanese move from the Kamaing area against the Chinese near Shaduzup or against the Marauders near Inkangahtawng.
In the afternoon of 21 March Colonel Hunter's force headed south from Janpan, arriving the next day at Auche (Map No. 13, page 64). The 3d Battalion Headquarters and Orange Combat Team followed the main column.
During the night of 22 March General Merrill, at his Janpan headquarters, received from General Stilwell a radio message which said: "Japs withdrawing down the road. Jambu Bum fell today. Come fast now." Because of the success of the Chinese 22d Division at Jambu Bum, General Merrill ordered the 2d Battalion and Khaki Combat Team to arrive at the Kamaing Road 36 hours earlier than he had originally planned.
On 23 March, Colonel Hunter's men pressed rapidly forward to
MAP NO. 13
maintain their new schedule. In order to avoid possible enemy patrols on main routes, they left the trail at Auche to follow the Nampama River as far as Manpin. From there they took up the trail leading through Sharaw into the flat Mogaung Valley.
Patrols from the 2d Battalion clashed with Japanese near Inkangahtawng, and scouts reported a company of enemy dug in near the village, apparently alerted and being reinforced. The 2d Battalion waded the Mogaung River, pushed forward as far as it could, and in the face of increasing opposition dug in about ¼ mile north of Inkangahtawng and 300 yards east of the Kamaing Road, between the road and the river. Khaki Combat Team moved to a position on the east bank of the river where it could protect the rear of the 2d Battalion, assist the battalion with mortar fire, and patrol eastward.
Colonel Hunter planned that the 2d Battalion would throw up a road block at Inkangahtawng, would send patrols north to contact troops from the Chinese 113th Regiment which should be working down from Shaduzup, and would cut the road again south of Inkangahtawng toward Kamaing. Khaki Combat Team would be held in reserve. He had expected this whole operation to tie in with the thrust which the 1st Battalion was making near Shaduzup. According to the original plans, the two simultaneous attacks on the Japanese-held road would support each other by dividing the enemy's attention. Word that the 1st Battalion was delayed and would be unable to carry out its mission on schedule came too late to modify the over-all plan.
Shortly after daylight on 24 March, Colonel McGee sent two reinforced platoons of 'his 2d Battalion to envelope the village of Inkangahtawng. These platoons struck heavily fortified positions too strong for them to handle, and McGee ordered them to withdraw before they became inextricably involved.
At 0700 the 2d Battalion's left flank was attacked heavily from the road. Kunai grass, 6 to 8 feet high, offered the Japanese excellent cover within which to assemble small groups for a charge. For 15 minutes heavy mortar fire fell on the Marauder position, then, as the mortar fire slackened, the enemy charged from the kunai grass. At a range of 20 yards the whole Marauder perimeter opened fire. Only a few of the Japanese ever reached the defending line: one was killed by a Marauder in his fox hole after a brief wrestling match;
the head of a lieutenant, blown completely off, rolled into another fox hole. Met by this deadly fire, the attack wilted and collapsed.
During the next 3 hours the Japanese repeatedly attacked from the north. Sgt. Norman H. Willey's Pioneer and Demolition Platoon bore the brunt of these attacks and repulsed them all. In the after.. noon the Japanese, slipping in close to the river, assaulted the perimeter from the south, using mortar, machine-gun, and artillery preparation.
The men of the 2d Battalion were running low in ammunition and were in danger of being cut off from the rear. Movement of enemy trucks could be heard, bringing up reinforcements thought to be from Kamaing. The Japanese attacking from the north had artillery. A radio message was intercepted from the 1st Battalion to General Merrill, indicating that the 1st Battalion had not yet arrived at Shaduzup; the enemy was therefore free to concentrate against the Marauders at Inkangahtawng. McGee's orders had been to hold the block for 24 hours, but not to stay longer if this would endanger his force. In view of the situation, he decided at 1630 to withdraw toward Manpin. Khaki Combat Team held a bridgehead and kept its mortars hot until the 2d Battalion crossed to the east bank of the Mogaung River (Map No. 14, page 67). Then both units withdrew to Ngagahtawng, where they bivouacked. Four platoons, which McGee had sent in advance of the main force, had blocked all trails to the east and placed booby traps around the circumference of the bivouac. Colonel Hunter, engaged in keeping the line of communications open, was at Sharaw and did not know of the retirement.
Establishing and holding their perimeter for 24 hours to block the Kamaing Road had cost the Marauders 2 killed and 12 wounded. Known enemy dead numbered more than 200.
The Japanese Strike Toward the Tanai Valley
Even apart from the check at Inkangahtawng, the operations planned for Colonel Hunter's forces were disrupted by intelligence which had reached Unit headquarters (Map No. 14, page 67). From a captured Japanese map General Merrill had learned that a strong Japanese force, possibly two battalions, was expected to move from Kamaing to the Tanai Valley, advance north in that area, and then turn westward to attack the flank of the Chinese 22d Division near Shaduzup. General Stilwell ordered General Merrill to block this
MAP NO. 14
move and to prevent any Japanese advance beyond Nhpum Ga. During 25 March, this information reached the units scattered on the trails between Ngagahtawng and Warong. Because of difficulties in communications, the first messages came to battalion commanders, and Colonel Hunter was late in getting word of the changed situation.
On the morning of the 25th, the 2d Battalion and Khaki Combat Team resumed their withdrawal eastward from the Inkangahtawng area. Carrying their wounded on litters and hampered by rough country and torrential rains, they reached Sharaw that afternoon; there they were able to evacuate the wounded men by liaison planes. At noon Colonel McGee received a brief message from General Merrill, warning him that a Japanese movement from Kamaing, in more than battalion strength, was threatening his rear and flank.
Meanwhile Colonel Beach, unaware of the new developments, was moving west toward Manpin with Orange Combat Team. His mission had been to protect the rear of the units which were advancing on Inkangahtawng, and he had established a block on the Warong-Auche trail. Hearing on the 24th that the 2d Battalion had reached the Kamaing Road, Colonel Beach started west to join the main force at Inkangahtawng. The bulk of Orange Combat Team reached Manpin at 1030 on the 25th. Here it received word from General Merrill of the Japanese threat toward the Tanai Valley. Colonel Beach immediately took measures to cover the trails leading from Kamaing toward Nhpum Ga and thereby protect the Marauders' route of withdrawal. He sent Lieutenant Weston's I and R Platoon about 2 miles eastward to place a block on the Poakum trail and a rifle platoon under Lt. Warren R. Smith to watch the Warong-Tatbum trail south of Warong. Weston's men reached Poakum at 1300, sent back for a section of mortars and one of machine guns, and by evening were dug in and ready for action. Smith's platoon reached Poakum at dark, spent the night there, and went on toward Warong early next morning.
When an officer from Orange Combat Team reached him, Colonel Hunter learned for the first time of the warning from higher headquarters. Its meaning was not clear to him; from Kachin patrols toward Kamaing he knew that no movement toward the Tanai had started. On radioing General Merrill for permission to stay at Manpin, Colonel Hunter was directed to proceed to Nhpum Ga.
On 26 March, with the platoons of Weston and Smith covering the southern flank, the 2d and 3d Battalions started their march toward Auche.16 The 2d Battalion reached Manpin before noon, received a much needed drop of rations and ammunition, and went on nearly 5 miles. The 3d Battalion followed from Manpin next morning. The trail through Poakum and Warong would expose the flank of the withdrawal to the expected enemy attack, so the battalions again used the difficult route up the gorge of the Nampama River, which involved some 40 river crossings and was exhausting for the troops.
Before the 2d Battalion left Manpin, word was received that the enemy move was under way toward the Tanai Valley. Colonel Hunter learned at 1615 from scouts that the Japanese were starting north from Kamaing in motor trucks, which could use the wide trails for some distance. He called for an air attack by a fighter mission on patrol in the area, and their action helped to delay the enemy's move. However, forward elements of the Japanese force had already reached Poakum and were hotly engaged there with Lieutenant Weston's I and R Platoon.
Lieutenant Weston's fight began at 1040, when a weak advance party of Japanese approached Poakum on the Kamaing trail and was easily turned back. At 1130 an attack in company strength, made both on the trail and to the west - of the village, was finally broken up by mortar fire. At 1400 a still heavier assault was made from three sides. Though it was held off, Lieutenant Weston estimated that the enemy force was now so large that he might be outflanked and encircled. After putting a heavy concentration of mortar fire on enemy assembly areas, the platoon pulled out of Poakum at 1520 and withdrew successfully toward Warong. Arriving there at 1800, the I and R Platoon joined Lieutenant Smith's rifle platoon and organized for a further delaying action. The combined forces numbered about 90 men. They had no radio communications, the only radio having been knocked out by enemy mortar fire at Poakum.
No enemy approached Warong until next morning, 27 March. Between 1000 and 1100 the Marauders' defenses were tested not only on the trail from Poakum but on the Tatbum trail. Strong enemy forces were converging on Warong by both routes. It took several hours for the Japanese to feel out the Marauder positions, and the first attacks were repulsed. By 1500 it appeared that the enemy was
not only ready for an assault in strength but had shifted a force estimated at company strength west around Warong near the trail leading toward Auche. This threatened the escape route of the Marauder platoons, and a withdrawal was decided on. A messenger mounted on their only mule was sent back to notify General Merrill. The force was organized in two teams and about 1630 began to displace northward by successive bounds, one team holding while the other organized a stand further in the rear. These tactics held off the enemy and allowed the tired platoons to reach Auche by dark. Despite 2 days of fighting against an enemy much greater in numbers, the Marauder platoons had suffered no casualties.
Their action had been effective in covering the withdrawal of the main Marauder forces. On the 27th the 2d Battalion had reached Auche at 0930 and stayed there while the 3d Battalion went through and on toward the north. The troops at Auche set up defensive perimeters for the night and took precautions against possible infiltration from the direction of Warong.
28 March saw the last and hardest stage of the Marauders' withdrawal toward the Tanai Valley. At 0600 Khaki Combat Team started for Nhpum Ga, with Blue Combat Team a short distance behind. At 0630 the 2d Battalion headquarters and Green Combat Team were just pulling out of Auche when two enemy shells landed at the edge of the village. A moment later two more shells landed uncomfortably close to them.
The prospect facing the Marauders was extremely unsatisfactory. Between Auche and Nhpum Ga the trail was along the crest of a narrow ridge. Its precipitous sides, covered with rank growth, gave no room for dispersal, and it soon became evident that the enemy, from the vicinity of Warong, was using observed fire.
As the tail of the Marauders' column cleared Auche, a third pair of shells came whistling over. The Japanese had found the range; one man and several animals were hit. A steady stream of artillery fire then poured into the area and searched the trail. Nhpum Ga lay 4½ miles ahead, and most of the trail was uphill. Mud was ankle-deep. Frequently the animals fell. They had to be unloaded before they could regain their feet, and then repacked. Word to "move faster" ran up and down the column, which already was moving at an awkward run. Medics were ordered to the rear where
MAP NO. 15
they were kept busy. An hour and a half after leaving Auche, the 2d Battalion reached Nhpum Ga.
The exertion of the last few days had told heavily on the unit. The round trip from Nhpum Ga to Inkangahtawng was approximately 70 miles, and had included a hard fight at the Kamaing Road followed by forced marches. The last uphill dash from Auche through mud and bursting shells was particularly exhausting.
General Merrill ordered the 2d Battalion to establish and hold a defensive perimeter at Nhpum Ga to stop the Japanese from advanc-
ing beyond that point (Map No. 15, above). He directed that the 3d Battalion move to Hsamshingyang, about 5 miles to the north. There this battalion was to protect a field for supply drops and an air strip for evacuation planes, as well as to block the trails against any surprise attack from the north. Combat patrols would be sent east of the Tanai River to keep the Japanese from bypassing Nhpum Ga and continuing toward Shaduzup. The 3d Battalion was also to send two patrols daily to Nhpum Ga. The patrols were to keep the trail open and to carry any wounded men of the 2d Battalion back to Hsamshingyang.
Four or five native huts, occupied mainly during the monsoon period, make up the village of Nhpum Ga. It lies on the highest ground, 2,800 feet above sea level, of a knobby ridge between the Tanai and Hkuma watersheds. The north-south trail, following the narrow crest of the ridge, meets at Nhpum Ga a path running down to the Hkuma River, 1½ miles to the west. East of the village the ridge has abrupt slopes cut by ravines which lead to the Tanai River, 2 miles away and 1,400 feet below the village. In both side valleys were trails which might be used by the Japanese to bypass Nhpum Ga.
The 2d Battalion took hurried measures to organize their defense against expected pursuit from the south (Sketch No. 2, page 73). The Nhpum Ga huts lay on a small knoll just off the intersection of the trail leading west, with commanding ground close by on either side. East was a knob, 50 feet higher than the trail; westward, dominating both trails, was a narrow hill running north to south. Both features would be important in defending Nhpum Ga, but the 2d Battalion's first concern was with the approaches from the south. Here, the trail came up toward the village along a gently sloping nose of ground, with a steep-sided draw to the west, covered with heavy jungle. Blue Combat Team set up positions to include this nose and defend its eastern flank. A machine gun was placed 100 yards down the western trail, and outposts were put on the key high ground near the village, to watch the flanks and rear. For the start, the south was the threatened area.
Colonel McGee was not given long to set up defenses. Two platoons, one at Kauri and one further north, had been left to put up delaying fights along the trail. They were forced back earlier
than had been expected, and by 1400 were in the perimeter with the Japanese following close behind.
At 1605 Japanese artillery and mortar fire began searching out the southern tip of the 2d Battalion's perimeter. A few minutes later came an infantry assault. This attack, easily repulsed, was obviously a feeling-out operation, and the Marauders held their automatic fire in order not to disclose their strength. It was believed that a heavy shock attack was imminent, and the men of the 2d Battalion utilized every moment to strengthen and improve their positions.
During the night of 28/29 March, occasional mortar and artillery fire fell into the perimeter. Doubtless intended to harass the defenders and keep them awake, the fire failed to accomplish this result. The
SKETCH NO. 2: Nhpum Ga Perimeter
majority of the 2d Battalion men were so exhausted that nothing short of a direct hit could have aroused those not actually required to guard the two-man fox holes in the perimeter. In these one man slept while the other remained alert. An infiltrating night attack was greatly feared and would have been especially dangerous in view of the Marauders' condition, but the enemy failed to seize this opportunity.
On 29 March Colonel Hunter assumed command of the 5307th; General Merrill had become seriously ill and was awaiting evacuation from Hsamshingyang.
At daylight the Japanese again opened up with artillery and mortars (Map No. 16, below and Sketch No. 2, page 73). A
MAP NO. 16
machine-gun barrage preceded an attack at 0600 from the southeast. This thrust accomplished nothing for the enemy; neither did one from the southwest at 1000, nor a third at 1500 from almost due south. All three attacks followed the same pattern.
At 1515 and again at 1750 McGee, concerned about the trail to the north of the perimeter, radioed to unit headquarters at Hsamshingyang to see if the 3d Battalion could help at Nhpum Ga. No help was then available at Hsamshingyang. The 3d Battalion was needed at Hsamshingyang to defend the air strip and to stop any Japanese movement along the Tanai north of Nhpum Ga. Colonel Hunter told McGee that the 3d Battalion would continue to keep the trail open by sending a platoon combat patrol twice daily from the air strip to Nhpum Ga.
By nightfall it was evident that the Japanese were digging in for a siege. At 1750 light artillery fire commenced. Then the enemy's mortars and machine guns opened up, and his infantry struck at the perimeter's southwest corner. Again the attack failed.
The 2d Battalion expected more determined assaults and was beginning to worry about its flanks. Throughout the day the men in the perimeter had heard sounds indicating that the Japanese were moving west of Nhpum Ga near the side trail. During the evening Colonel McGee learned from Colonel Hunter that the enemy was moving down the Tanai Valley in large numbers and that probably at least a battalion was making the attack along the Nhpum Ga trail.17 Measures were taken to meet the flanking threats, and the perimeter was enlarged to include the high ground on both sides cf the village. In improving and extending the positions, the digging was done at night and cautiously, for the Japanese had a trick of worming their way close to the perimeter to hurl grenades at any spot where they heard voices or sounds of activity.
Back at Hsamshingyang the 3d Battalion spent the night patrolling all avenues of approach to the air strip. One group of Japanese that tried to circle northward to the rear of the field was hit hard and turned back. Kachin guerrillas, busy scouting around the strip, frequently ambushed small enemy parties. The Kachins were probably of more assistance than anyone realized, by creating in the minds
of the Japanese an exaggerated idea of the size of the area held by the Marauders and of their strength.
At Nhpum Ga Japanese artillery, machine-gun, and mortar fire opened with the dawn of 30 March. This time the eastern side of the perimeter was attacked in greater force than in any previous engagement, and the attack persisted despite the Marauders' heavy defensive fires. When this effort finally slackened, the Japanese closed in again a little later from farther north. Again they failed, and once more, after an attack had been repelled, the spirits of the defenders rose. During the day the Japanese located the position of the Marauders' mortars, and the enemy artillery began systematically to blast the rise which masked the mortars.
Developed progressively to meet the extending enemy attacks, the pe-:meter had now assumed an elongated shape, about 400 yards long and broadening in the northern half to include the key high (,round on both sides of the trail. Green Combat Team held the western and northern side. The battalion's aid station had been placed just north of the village, on a slope partly protected from enemy shells by the small knoll. Fox holes were prepared large enough to accommodate litters and permit medical attention for the wounded. The trail to Hsamshingyang was still open; Sgt. John Keslik's patrol arrived from the 3d Battalion and stayed within the perimeter for the night. All litter cases had been carried to the airfield for evacuation. Within the perimeter living conditions were becoming extremely unpleasant. Since the first day enemy artillery had played havoc with the Marauders' animals, which could not be dug in. They had been put into the area between the knoll and the hill just west of the trail, and north of the knoll, but the ground gave no protection against the effects of tree bursts. Of 200 horses and mules, about 75 had been killed, and their carcasses after lying for 2 days on the ground had begun to putrefy. From beyond the perimeter the wind brought the smell of Japanese corpses which were already decomposing. The stench was almost insufferable.
Beginning of the Siege
31 March saw a full test of the Nhpum Ga defenses. The enemy barrage which started the day was not exceptionally heavy, but the attack that followed came from three points at once: south, east, and northwest of the perimeter (Map No. 17, page 77). On the west,
MAP NO. 17
an enemy attack overran the machine-gun outpost on the side trail; Green Combat Team strengthened its perimeter along the hill protecting the village on that flank. The strongest enemy effort came from the north. Here a wide draw, followed by a sluggish brook, led up toward the rear of the Marauders' position. Even using everybody available, including mule skinners and headquarters personnel, the battalion had not had enough men to extend the perimeter to the far side of the draw. Using this approach, the enemy thrust at the knob which formed the northeast buttress of the perimeter. The knob sloped very steeply down to the draw; in a little hollow, just under these slopes, lay the water hole supplying the
entire Marauder force. In an hour of hot fighting, the Japanese forced the Pioneer and Demolition Platoon back up the knob. A counterattack failed to dislodge the enemy from the ground controlling the hollow, and the water hole was lost.
As the direction of the Japanese attack indicated, communications with Hsamshingyang were also lost. At 0800 the usual morning patrol had been dispatched from Hsamshingyang by Orange Combat Team. This time the patrol, led by Lieutenant Smith, detected numerous signs that the enemy had used the trail through most of its length. When the party reached a point 400 yards from McGee's perimeter, it was fired upon from a strong enemy trail block which had been established during the night. The Marauders halted to organize for a break-through attempt and during the halt established communications by radio with the leader of Blue Combat Team's weapons platoon within the perimeter. Lieutenant Smith directed Blue Combat Team's mortar fire upon the trail block and attacked with his patrol. The attack failed.
Unable to contact Colonel Hunter by radio, Lieutenant Smith sent two messengers to Hsamshingyang requesting reinforcements for assaulting the block. These messengers were ambushed before they had gone 300 yards. The patrol had to return to Hsamshingyang through the jungle and along the bed of a stream running due west. The Japanese pursued on both sides of the stream-bed and had to be fought off in delaying actions.
About 1000, Colonel McGee learned that the enemy had cut the trail to Hsamshingyang and that his position was completely encircled. He was told that patrols from the 3d Battalion hoped to dislodge the block by noon; but he soon heard that this effort had failed to get through. Colonel McGee then decided to attempt breaking the Japanese block from his end of the trail. Carefully he thinned out his entire line and organized a task force approximating a reinforced platoon in strength. Supported by mortar and machine-gun fire, this force struck hard, but within 200 yards 6f the perimeter it ran into prepared enemy positions. After suffering several casualties it had to withdraw. At 1600 McGee radioed Colonel Hunter that his rear was blocked and that he would like "something" to relieve the enemy pressure isolating his force at Nhpum Ga.
An air drop furnished the 2d Battalion with plenty of food and
ammunition, but the water shortage quickly became serious. Cut off from the water hole, the Marauders could still get into the draw just north of the perimeter, where small swampy pools had been used for the animals. Dead mules lay in the draw, adding the taste of decomposed flesh to the water. Nevertheless, the Marauders dug a shallow pit to conserve the nauseous liquid.
During this same day, 31 March, a strong Japanese patrol pressed from the southeast toward the air strip at Hsamshingyang, vital for supply and evacuation of the two battalions. When this group ran into one of the patrols from Orange Combat Team, the sound of shots quickly brought reinforcements from the team and the enemy
MAP NO. 18
group was pushed back after a sharp fight in which several Marauders were killed and 12 wounded.
The Japanese omitted their customary artillery salute to dawn on 1 April (Map No. 18, below). The respite for the Marauders was short: when they laid a mortar concentration on the enemy near the water hole, enemy artillery answered at 0900, and this time from positions near Kauri, within a range of 1,000 yards. After a relatively light barrage enemy units attacked simultaneously from the east and northeast. Both attacks failed to gain any more ground.
The Japanese could not penetrate the perimeter from the northeast, but they still held the water hole very strongly. The 2d Battalion had no immediate hope of getting it back, and the shortage of water within the perimeter was so grave that the doctors had none for making plaster casts and were forced to give patients sulphadiazine dry. In desperation Colonel McGee requested an air drop of 500 gallons in plastic bags.
This day was marked for the beleaguered 2d Battalion by the receipt of a cheering message. The success of the Marauders at Shaduzup was now known, and the 2d Battalion was congratulated for contributing to this by its road block at Inkangahtawng. But the conclusion drawn from the Shaduzup action, in a message from Colonel Hunter, was: "Nips running like hell from Shaduzup. Too many dead to be counted. Expect your friends to pull out tonight or tomorrow morning. Mortar the hell out of them. Lew will pursue if feasible." Events of the next few days would make this forecast look like an "April Fool."
Whatever the enemy intentions might be, Colonel Hunter and the 3d Battalion were making an attempt to relieve Nhpum Ga. Though his entire force was none too adequate for defense of the Hsamshingyang area and the vital air strip, Colonel Hunter had decided to use Orange Combat Team to reopen the trail to the 2d Battalion. The attempt began on I April and at first showed good progress. Though the Japanese had now sifted up the trail dose to Hsamshingyang, they were not present in strength. Orange Combat Team fought past two blocks and made nearly 2 miles.
On 2 April the going became harder. Following along the ridge crest, the trail from Hsamshingyang rises nearly 1,000 feet before reaching Nhpum Ga. The height is gained unevenly, in a series
of sharp rises between which the ridge line runs level. Orange Combat Team, after making a good start against light resistance, came to one of the steep sections on the trail and found the Japanese dug in, ready to hold. In the initial encounter, two lead scouts were killed and Cpl. Frank L. Graham was wounded after he had killed some of the crew of an enemy machine gun. Platoon attacks by Orange knocked out several machine guns but found others in higher positions, well sited to cover all approaches near the trail. The ridge crest at this point was Only 75 yards wide, and the steep slopes on either side of the ridge were covered with heavy jungle, making it difficult to use flanking maneuvers. For the moment the Marauders were stopped, halfway to their goal. Reopening the trail would require a major effort.
In one respect the day saw a considerable improvement in the Marauders' situation. Subjected for several days to the harassing fire of the enemy guns, the 2d and 3d Battalions had keenly felt the need for artillery of their own. When General Merrill was evacuated to Ledo, he had ordered two 75-mm howitzers dispatched at once to the 3d Battalion at Hsamshingyang. The Marauders' rear echelon outdid itself in carrying out his instructions with all possible speed. At 0930 on 2 April the two field pieces, in bulky chunks dangling from double parachutes, dropped to the Hsamshingyang air strip.
The men of the hard-pressed 2d Battalion at Nhpum Ga could plainly see this air drop 4 miles away and were cheered by the sight.
Colonel Hunter, meanwhile, had assembled two gun crews, composed of men who had been with the 98th Pack Artillery in New Guinea. S/Sgt. John A. Acker acted as battery commander. He had formed the two crews and had put them through intensive refresher practice so that they were well-drilled when the howitzers cam e floating down to them. Two hours after the planes had dropped the artillery pieces, the first round sailed out over the 2d Battalion's perimeter. Soon both guns were registering on enemy positions.
The main effort on 3 April was made by the beleaguered 2d Battalion. Colonel Hunter instructed it to make a strong attack north from the Nhpum Ga hill in an attempt to contact Orange Combat Team. An artillery barrage and air support would aid the attack. McGee's men did their best, but the net result was no gain. After 7 days of battle and siege, the situation at Nhpum Ga was unchanged. Some of the wounded, who could not be evacuated, had died: six men were buried next morning within the perimeter. A large proportion of the men now had dysentery and stomach disorders. The 500 gallons of water, requested on 1 April, had come by air drop, and this relieved the most desperate aspect of the battalion's position. Rations and ammunition were dropped regularly by transports. Some of these supplies drifted over to the Japanese lines, but no large amount was lost.
The 3d Battalion Increases its Effort
At 1500 on 3 April Colonel Hunter called a staff meeting to go over the situation. The 2d Battalion had now been surrounded for 4 days. By infiltrating the enemy lines in small groups, most of the able-bodied men could probably have got through to Hsamshingyang; this had been demonstrated when Sergeant Keslik's patrol, after staying 2 days in the perimeter (page 76), had succeeded in rejoining Orange Combat Team. However, this procedure would have involved sacrificing the wounded men and losing all animals and heavy weapons. McGee's force was receiving supplies regularly and was judged to be in fair shape except for means of evacuating the wounded and protecting its animals.
Colonel Hunter had to consider not only the situation of the 2d Battalion but the execution of his mission, which was to prevent the
Japanese advance from striking west from the Tanai Valley toward Shaduzup. A considerable part of the enemy force was being held up at Nhpum Ga, but there were still reports of enemy movement east of the Tanai River. If strong Japanese forces used the Tanai Valley to get past Nhpum Ga, Colonel Hunter had to be ready to block them off at the points where they might swing west on trails toward Shaduzup. There were two such points: one near Hsamshingyang, and another further north at Weilangyang. Colonel Hunter faced the possibility of having to move the 3d Battalion to meet any serious enemy threat in either area.
Reinforcement for the two battalions was obviously needed but could not be expected for some time. An urgent message had been sent asking for support from the 1st Battalion, but the message had been delayed by communication troubles and did not reach the battalion until that very day, 3 April (page 59). The 1st Battalion could not reach Hsamshingyang before 7 April. Capt. John B. George of 3d Battalion Headquarters, accompanied by T/Sgt. Lawrence J. Hill and Sgt. Lum. K. Pun, a Chinese interpreter, had been sent to Weilangyang to ask assistance from a battalion of the Chinese 112th Regiment. However, this unit also could not be expected to arrive for several days.
After discussing all aspects of the situation, Col. Hunter made his decision in these words:
"Gentlemen, in the morning we start an attack that will drive through to the 2d Battalion. It may take two or three days, but we will get through. All troops except the sick and the mule skinners will be withdrawn from the air strip. [All] large patrols will be called in, and Kachins substituted wherever possible. Tomorrow, as soon as we can get ready, Orange Combat Team will attack due south along the trail. [The men of] Khaki Combat Team will leave their heavy equipment here, march due south behind Orange Combat Team until they are 400 yards from Jap position, then turn west down the mountain and attack the Japs on their west flank. The artillery will be moved up to where it can fire point blank into the Jap bunkers and pill boxes. Every man of the gun crews volunteered ... this afternoon. This attack will be tentatively set for 1200 tomorrow. Ruses, feints, and anything else you can do to fool the Japs are in order. A fake message will be dropped from a plane so as to fall in the Jap lines. This message will be to the 2d Battalion and will say that a battalion of parachutists will be dropped between
MAP NO. 19
Kauri and Auche at 1700 hours tomorrow (4 April). If possible we will have a dummy drop [of supplies] in that area to fool them."
The morning of 4 April was taken up with preparations for the new attack (Map No. 19, page 84). Because the air strip was to be left virtually undefended when the 3d Battalion started its drive toward Nhpum Ga, Colonel Hunter moved his command headquarters 2 miles further north to Mahkyetkawng. There the headquarters group met a platoon of Chinese, the advance element of the battalion which Captain George had contacted at Weilangyang. These Chinese were directed to dig in and to hold the trail junction at Mahkyetkawng.
Colonel Hunter himself joined Orange Combat Team for the new push against the trail block. Overhead, planes were dive-bombing and strafing wherever they could find a target. They were also directed by ground radios to targets that could not be seen from the air. At 1100 it became evident that, because of the difficulties Khaki Combat Team was having in cutting through the jungle, the attack could not jump off at noon as scheduled. Colonel Hunter postponed it to 1600. He was extremely anxious not to attack until he had organized all the strength under his command.
At 1530 the Pioneer and Demolition Platoon, carrying out Colonel Hunter's plans, began a fake fight west of the point where Orange Combat Team would make the main attack. The Japanese obligingly shifted their mortars to throw fire in that direction. American planes appeared at 1545, and at 1605 the Marauders' artillery and mortars opened up. Enemy resistance was overcome by these preparatory fires; when Orange Combat Team advanced on the narrow front across the ridge top, attack carried up the steep knob and several hundred yards on the level stretch beyond. No casualties were suffered until the advance was stopped toward dark by fire from a new enemy block. Here Major Lew, commanding Orange Combat Team, was severely wounded.
The gain was encouraging, but it soon became evident the enemy
was still prepared to fight on successive delaying positions. He held the Marauders to no gain on 5 April. Despite several attacks, Orange was unable to advance against fire from commanding positions on a small side hill, which flanked the trail to the left of the main ridge.
In the attack of 4 April, Khaki Combat Team had met with no success on its wide flanking maneuver. Major Briggs had equipped two platoons with all the light machine guns and mortars that could be spared. He led them along the trail toward Nhpum Ga, then veered west, cutting a path along the jungle-covered mountain slopes to a point west of the 2d Battalion's defenses. The men were badly slowed by being forced to cross a succession of rough spurs running west toward the Hkuma Valley. When the platoons tried to drive up toward the perimeter they were stopped by bands of fire from well dug-in enemy positions. Patrols were sent to feel out the enemy flanks, but strong resistance and the difficult terrain combined to foil the effort. The two platoons bivouacked where they were for the night. The next day they found themselves threatened in the rear, and to escape had to cut a new trail back to the air strip at Hsamshingyang.
Two days of strenuous effort by the 3d Battalion had not yet lifted the siege, but the effects were beginning to be felt at Nhpum Ga. On 4 April, while the relief attack was in progress, the Japanese made a heavy assault on the hill top from the west and penetrated the 2d Battalion's perimeter for a short distance. At one point a few of the enemy actually reached fox holes behind the defense line. Two Marauders quickly wiped out the Japanese inside the perimeter with hand grenades. The defenders were heartened by their success and took a new grip on themselves.
The following night at 0200 and again at 0430 enemy assaults were made on the western boundary of the perimeter. Both of these were anticipated by Colonel McGee. Probably in order to excite "attack spirit," the Japanese indulged in a great deal of preliminary yelling. Tec. 4 Matsumoto, the man who had tapped the enemy telephone wires at Walawbum, was on the northwest hill and could overhear the orders for the attack in time to inform battalion headquarters. The Marauders were ready for the enemy charges and stopped them with heavy losses.
The enemy made no further attacks on 5 April, although Japanese
shells fell intermittently within the perimeter. It appeared that the 3d Battalion's push had considerably relieved the pressure against Nhpum Ga. However, Colonel McGee was unable to spare any men from the 2d Battalion's defenses to assist the efforts of Orange and Khaki Combat Teams. Although the men encircled at Nhpum Ga had a welcome respite from the assaults on their position, they had no assurance that this respite would be long. The trail to Hsamshingyang had now been blocked for 6 days. In that time the 2d Battalion had accumulated casualties of 17 men dead, 97 wounded, and 4 missing. Enemy artillery fire had been particularly troublesome since 1 April, when their guns were moved near Kauri. The Japanese weapons, probably the T-41 75-mm mountain gun, had a flat trajectory and high muzzle velocity; at 1,000-yard range, the shells arrived almost simultaneously with the sound of the gun's fire, and the Marauders had no warning in time to seek cover.
The Relief Force Wins Through
On 6 April Orange Combat Team was only a mile from Nhpum Ga, but this last mile was to be the hardest (Map No. 19, page 84). The trail still led along the narrow ridge top, affording a front wide enough for only one or two platoons to operate. Enemy resistance showed no signs of cracking.
The attack opened well on 6 April, mainly as a result of heavy preparatory fires. Several thousand rounds of overhead fire from heavy machine guns and a rolling barrage from 60-mm and 81-mm mortars were used, as well as 200 rounds of artillery and several strafing and dive-bombing attacks. Lieutenant Woomer, leader of the weapons platoon, gave notable assistance in directing the mortar fire. He had worked his way to within 25 yards of two enemy machine guns which were holding up the attack. From this position he directed the mortars by an SCR 300 until the shells were landing just beyond the target. His next order was: "Deflection correct. Bring it in 25 yards, and if you don't hear from me, you'll know you came this way too far. Then shift it back just a little and you'll be right on it." The next rounds knocked out the enemy guns.
During the preparatory fires, the Japanese had left their positions and sought refuge in the jungle at the side of the ridge. When the fires lifted, there was a spectacular race between the Marauders and the Japanese for the vacated fox holes, and the Marauders won. The
success netted 500 yards; then came another check. Once again, the ridge line steepened sharply and the trail led up over a knob which gave the enemy excellent firing positions to the front and the west flank. East of the trail there was a cliff.
Facing the last main rise in their path, the Marauders switched combat teams for the next effort. The I and R Platoon of Orange had been spearheading the advance since 3 April and was left in line for one more day; except for that unit, Khaki Combat Team replaced Orange for the trail fight on 7 April. The efforts of that day, Good Friday, were unsuccessful. Close-in fighting on the knob cost three killed and eight wounded, and the few yards gained had to be given up when positions were consolidated for the night. At Nhpum Ga,
MAP NO. 20
McGee's men sustained two enemy attacks in the early morning hours, but the assaults lacked the ferocity and vigor of the earlier enemy efforts. Colonel McGee decided to risk a counterattack north toward the relieving force and scraped together two combat patrols for the attempt. The men were quickly pinned down by fire from the enemy emplacements.
The main event of the 7th was the arrival of the 1st Battalion. Colonel Osborne had received orders on 3 April to press his march to Hsamshingyang, and the 1st Battalion had done its best (Map No. 11, page 48). They made 7 miles on 4 April and did as well on the 5th, when they reached Sintawngkawng. On 6 April, while waiting for an air drop in the late afternoon the battalion picked up another message: the 2d Battalion was engaged in heavy fighting at Nhpum Ga; the 3d Battalion was attempting to reach the 2d Battalion in order to extricate it; and both were in desperate need of support. Spurred by the urgency, the 1st Battalion pushed on again at 1845, covering 5½ miles over the highest hills yet encountered.
At 1700 on 7 April, the 1st Battalion reached Hsamshingyang after a forced march of nearly 4 days. The men were weary and 30 percent were temporarily knocked out by dysentery. Nevertheless, their arrival greatly heartened the exhausted Marauders trying to break the Japanese grip on Nhpum Ga. Capt. Tom P. Senff, now commanding Red Combat Team, was ordered to select those men of the 1st Battalion capable of continued exertion and prepare them for joining the attack on 8 April. He was able to get together 250 men.
Colonel Hunter planned to use his whole force on 8 April (Map No. 20, page 88). Khaki Combat Team would attack the enemy along the trail; Orange Combat Team was to make a flanking effort cast of Nhpum Ga along the mountain slopes; Captain Senff's force from the 1st Battalion had the mission of circling Nhpum Ga on the west and creating a diversion at the enemy's rear, south of the perimeter.
Khaki Combat Team had a heartbreaking day of fighting at the knob, with the main burden falling on its I and R Platoon and the 2d Platoon of Company I. The terrain forced the units to make frontal attacks up very steep slopes through thick-growing bamboo, against enemy machine-gun fire and grenades. Five times the platoons tried it, after laying down heavy mortar fire. Four hundred
rounds of motor shells and something under one hundred of artillery were used during the day. None of the attacks carried more than a few yards. The Marauders suffered about 25 casualties, the I and R Platoon losing 9 men, wounded, out of 22. East of the trail, Orange Combat Team had heavy going in the jungle and was unable to reach the enemy positions.
Captain Senff's force made its wide flanking move as scheduled, passing west of Nhpum Ga and meeting only occasional fire from enemy patrols. At 1800 they were ½ mile south of the perimeter and they bivouacked near the trail connecting Kauri and Nhpum Ga. On their way, the force put blocks along the paths used to supply
the Japanese troops west of the perimeter. Two enemy patrols or supply parties stumbled on the bivouac during the night, and early next morning Senff's men located and mortared heavily an enemy bivouac area near Kauri.
Easter Sunday will be memorable in the life of every surviving member of the 2d Battalion. Just after dawn, combat patrols from Khaki Combat Team advanced down the trail without meeting opposition and walked into McGee's perimeter. The enemy had pulled out, apparently discouraged by the tough resistance at Nhpum Ga, the equally determined efforts of the relieving force, and the arrival of reinforcements. The appearance of Senff's force on his flank and rear, disorganizing his communications, may have been a decisive factor. Abandoned equipment and rice still cooking on small fires attested the suddenness of the Japanese departure. No pursuit was undertaken; Captain Seriff's force was in position to threaten the Kauri trail, and the I and R Platoon of Orange Combat Team reached it from the east, but General Stilwell had ordered that no advance be made south of Nhpum Ga. The exhausted Marauders limited their efforts to patrolling and cleaning up the scene of the siege. Dead animals and Japanese corpses were buried as quickly as possible; hundreds of pounds of chloride of lime were needed in disinfecting the area. Flamethrowers, used on the bodies of animals, did much to rid the area of the swarms of flies.
The 2d Battalion moved about 20 miles north of Nhpum Ga and set up Battalion Headquarters at Samlulgahtawng. They were ready to lend a hand to the Chinese left guarding the trail near Hsamshingyang in the event that the Japanese grew troublesome. Another battalion of the Chinese 112th Regiment arrived at Hsamshingyang on 22 April.
The total number of Marauder casualties in the Nhpum Ga action was 57 killed and 302 wounded. All those earlier reported missing were found, either killed or wounded. The number evacuated to hospitals by air because of wounds or illness caused by amoebic dysentery and malaria reached a total of 379. The figure of known enemy dead exceeded 400, excluding any estimate of the number of Japanese buried during the 10 days the enemy controlled the area surrounding the 2d Battalion's perimeter.
MAP NO. 21
14. Detachment 101, Office of Strategic Services, was operating
in Burma to recruit, equip, train, and lead Kachin guerrillas. General Stilwell
reinforced General Merrill's command with these OSS-led native groups. They
gathered military intelligence, furnished information about roads and trails,
and worked ahead of and with the Marauders during much of their campaign.
15. Col. Gordon S. Seagrave, an American medical missionary in Burma for 20 years, had furnished mobile hospital units to General Stilwell's Chinese armies in 1942. He had continued to serve them at the Ramgarh Training Center after their withdrawal from Burma and had followed the Chinese 22d and 38th Divisions back into Burma during the 1943-1944 offensive.
16. Colonel Hunter's force was now dissolved; Khaki Combat Team rejoined the 3d Battalion.
17. This force was later identified by papers taken from Japanese bodies as a reinforced battalion of the 114th Regiment and elements of the 55th Regiment.
page created 29 June 2001
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