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Document Source: Academic Department, the Infantry School, Fort Benning, Georgia, Advanced Infantry Officers Course; Operation of the 3/511-PIR (11-A/B) in the advance through the Mahonag-Anas Pass to the west coast of Leyte, November 27, 1944, to December 25, 1944, during the Leyte Campaign, Personal Experience of a Mortar platoon Leader, 1/Lt Richard V. Barnum, Infantry.
The 11th Airborne Division, an inexperienced unit that had not yet received its combat indoctrination, underwent its first trial by fire in the rugged mountains of Central Leyte. This archive, covers the main effort of this indoctrination, setting forth a record of the operations of the 3rd Battalion, 511th Parachute Infantry, in the advance through the Mahonag-Anas Pass to the West Coast of Leyte, November 27 to December 25, 1944.
Before going into the actual events which took place during this period, it will be necessary to discuss briefly the events leading up to them. On August 7, 1942, the United States Marines (USMC) invaded the Guadalcanal Island, our first real offensive in the Pacific War. Since that time, in the Central Pacific, Adm Nimitz was advancing by a series of island hopping campaigns toward the Philippines. By September 1944, the great Japanese base at Truk had been isolated, and the Palaus Islands had been invaded. In the South Pacific, Gen MacArthur was advancing up the coast of New Guinea, bypassing the strongest enemy resistance and seizing airfields by which each successive jump could be surpassed. The landings on Morotai in September were closely coordinated with the landings in the Palaus by Adm Nimitz. The two forces converging on the Philippines were now approaching a juncture. The original planning for the invasion of the Philippines called for the invasion of Mindanao on November 15, and the invasion of Leyte on December 20, 1944. However, intelligence sources and other reports from our aircraft and guerrillas, showed that the bulk of the Japanese forces were in Mindanao and that the Island of Leyte was lightly held. It was decided by the high command to bypass Mindanao and advance the date for the invasion of Leyte from October 20 to October 20, 1944.
The Island of Leyte is the eighth largest in the Philippine Group. It is approximately 107 miles long and its width varies from 42 miles in the north at its widest point, to approximately 15.5 miles in the center at its narrowest sector. Along the coastline are found three valleys; the Ormoc Valley along the northwest, the Tacloban Valley along the northeast, and the Leyte Valley along the north and east. From the Carigara Bay in the north, to the Cabalian Bay and the Sagod Bay in the south, the central portion of Leyte is traversed by an extremely rugged chain of mountains. This chain of mountains formed a natural effective barrier between the eastern and western coastal areas to all but lightly equipped infantry. The mission of taking Leyte was assigned to the 6-A. On October 17/18, elements of the 6th Ranger Battalion made preliminary landings on the Homonhon Island, the Suluan Island, and the Dinagat Island at the entrance of the Leyte Gulf.
On October 20, the X Corps and the XXIV Corps landed on the east coast of Leyte on four beaches and quickly exploited their initial successes. By November 2, the US 6-A had control of all the Leyte Valley and its airfields and practically all organized resistance had ceased. The Japanese had withdrawn to the center of the island and were using the mountainous terrain to slow down the advance of the American troops. By November 7, the heavy enemy reinforcements and the extremely bad weather had stopped the advance of the 6-A at the foothill of the mountains.
It was apparent to the Japanese now that their situation in the Philippines had become critical. Gen Shigenori Kuroda had been relieved of his command and replaced by Gen Tomoyuki Yamashita, one of Japan’s best generals. Soon after taking command, Yamashita sent the following message to the commanding general of the 16th Japanese Division fighting a delaying action in the mountains; the Army has received the following message from His Majesty, the Emperor: Enemy ground forces will be destroyed. Japan had decided that the battle for the Philippines would be fought in the rugged terrain of the Leyte Mountains and during the month of November an all-out struggle developed. The lack of air facilities on Leyte and the almost continuous rain, plus the primary mission of gaining air superiority greatly restricted the air force in providing close support. Because of this air weakness and taking full advantage of the weather and darkness, the enemy succeeded in landing a large number of reinforcements at Ormoc.
During the month of November, it was discovered that one of Japan’s finest divisions, the 1st Japanese Division from the Kwantung Army, had landed on Leyte. The exaggerated reports of success from the commanding general of the 35th Japanese Army brought in from Cebu, made Gen Yamashita decide to crush the US forces opposing him. Initially, the enemy on Leyte had consisted of only the 16th Japanese Division, numbering approximately 16.000 troops; but during a period of two months, the Japanese had brought in an estimated 60.000 reinforcements.
11TH AIRBORNE SITUATION
From June to the first part of November 1944, the 11th Airborne Division had been undergoing intensive jungle training in the vicinity of the Oro Bay in New Guinea, over the same area where our forces had met and defeated the enemy in 1943. On November 8, the division was alerted for a water movement and on November 11, set sail for the Leyte Island. No mission as yet had been assigned to the division and no specific plans could be made. On November 18, the 11th Airborne Division landed non-tactically on a 6000-yard front between Abuyog and Tarragona. A campsite, just off the shoreline, was set up and all cargo was unloaded and sorted. The military situation at this time could be summed up by the following quotation from Time Magazine on November 20, 1944: The US drive on land slowed down to a walk after it had overrun about 50% of the northern half of Leyte. Ormoc, the key western port where the Japs landed and deployed in a 10-mile semicircle, could be approached only from the north or south unless the US troops attempted to come over the mountains between Dagami and Jaro, a long and difficult pass.
The Japanese in Ormoc were being attacked from three directions; in the north, the 24th and the 1st Cavalry Divisions were pushing south below Garigara Bay; to the east, the 96th Division was unsuccessfully attempting to move west across the mountains from Dagami; and to the south, the 7th Division attacking north along the west coast highway.
The first mission given to the division was to relieve the 7th Infantry Division along the line Burauen – Lapaz – Bugho, and to destroy all Japanese in that sector. By November 27, all elements of the 7th Infantry Division had been relieved and the 11th Airborne Division had started its drive to gain control of the trails and passes that led to the west coast through the central mountain range.
SITUATION OF THE 511-PIR
The tactical plan of the 511th Parachute Infantry Regiment was to send one battalion to Burauen to relieve the 17th Infantry Regiment (7-ID). This battalion was followed by the 3/511-PIR on November 23, and the 2/511-PIR on November 26. Moving by amphibious trucks to Dulag and then shuttling to Burauen by borrowed trucks, the entire regiment assembled in the mud flats, next to the Daguitan River by November 26. The 511-PIR was given the mission to attack through the mountains and secure the western exits from the mountains into, the west coastal corridor. This was to assist the attack of the 7th Infantry Division up the west coast, its secondary mission was to destroy all enemy forces encountered and maintain contact with the 96th Infantry Division on the right.
The organization of a parachute regiment at this time was somewhat different than a regular regiment. Each battalion had only three rifle companies and no heavy weapons company. The heavy weapons company was the battalion headquarters company, consisting of a communication section, a light machine gun platoon, and an 81-MM mortar platoon. The mission given to the regiment was ideally suited to such a streamlined light outfit for the terrain from Burauen to the West Coast of Leyte is rugged mountainous country, covered with dense tropical growth. Only steep and dangerous foot trails crossed these mountains; but by occupying these trails and blocking the passes, the 511-PIR could prevent the Japanese from attacking the important installations at Burauen, Dagami, and the surrounding flat country. No heavy equipment could be carried; weapons heavier than mortars were out of the question. Even mortars were to present a serious handicap on the steep, slippery trails, both to the weight and the ammunition supply problem.
THE MOVEMENT TO MAHONAG
On November 27, the 511-PIR pushed into the mountains west of Burauen, with the first objective being a small guerrilla camp called Lubi. Lubi stood astride the junction of two trails going into the mountains to the west. There were two trails going into Lubi from Burauen, a north trail and a south trail. It was decided that the 1/511, by companies, would move up the north trail and the 3/511, by companies, up the south trail. The 2/511 was to remain at Burauen with the mission of mobile defense of the San Pablo Airstrips, until ordered forward.
The first serious enemy resistance of the regiment was encountered by Charlie Co the following day. The forward command group of the regiment, with Charlie Company, was following the other elements of the 1/511 by about three hours. A native guide led this company along the wrong trail and instead of joining the rest of the 1/511, which had reached Manarawat without opposition, ran right into a large Jap ambush. The Japs closed in behind them and completely surrounded them in a short time. The dense jungle growth, plus the bad weather, made the location of the company extremely difficult. It was not until four days later that a liaison plane on search duty located them by a momentary flash of a mirror. Meanwhile, the executive officer of the 511-PIR had jumped from a liaison plane at Manarawat, to take command of the regiment. Meanwhile, the 3/511, leaving How company at Patog to investigate reported Japanese activity, had moved out to Mawala, just across the gorge from Manarawat, and set up a perimeter. Late in the afternoon, prior to arriving at Mawala, the 3/511 saw and killed their first Jap. Later, Capt Clinton A. Ashford, of Headquarters Company, surprised and killed three Japs with his M-1 rifle. After being searched one of the Japs was found, with a detailed terrain map of the area West of Burauen. This map was later flown out by liaison plane and dropped to the battalion three days later, translated into English.