History Friday: 81st ID’s Peleliu Lessons for MacArthur’s Invasion of Japan

I have written in my columns on the end of WW2 in the Pacific about institutional or personally motivated false narratives, hagiography narratives, forgotten via classification narratives and forgotten via extinct organization narratives. Today’s column is on how generational changes in every day technology make it almost impossible to understand what the WW2 generation is telling us about it’s times without a lot of research.

Consider the difference between using a rotary phone land line communications and wireless smart phone internet device simply in terms of daily conversation and ability to know things. It is hard for the “100 texts a day smart phone generation” to get in the head of someone who has such a radically different, available daily, tool set.

Now take for a second example how we deal with computers in the 21st century versus how they dealt with them in 1940’s. World War 2 (WW2) computers were mechanical analog devices that predicted ballistic trajectories. How friction worked was very important to their use. Friction is the amount of force needed to start and keep something moving when in contact with something else. If you look further into the world of friction, you will see it categorized as either “static friction” or “dynamic friction.” It takes more force to overcome a “static friction” than a “dynamic friction.” In other words, a slight vibration made WW2 computers work better. The name for doing this is “Dither.” When you check out the word “Dither” in Wikipedia, you will see a reference to mechanical analog computers in aircraft. The vibrations of planes while airborne reduced the friction between all the gears in the mechanical analog computer making it run smother. This was taken advantage of with the Norden bomb site. Which was a 1940’s high tech mechanical analog computer.

“Dither” also showed up in the case of WW2 anti-aircraft (AA) guns. There was a small electric device with an off center weight on it that kept the gun platform jiggling to reduce the friction, so when gunners were aiming the gun, it could respond faster. A similar device was added to the mechanical analog fire control computers — also called “directors” — that aimed the guns. All that induced vibration was “dither.” Having the gun platform and associated directors jiggling just a little with a “dither” was important to improving AA gun system performance.

In the age of electronic digital computers, the term “dither” and it’s meaning in context with its associated technology has been largely forgotten. (See the once common phrase “Quit dithering!”) That “dither” and analog mechanical computer example is one of the things I am running into in my WW2 writing project.

81st Infantry Division's Aerial Tramway Moving Supplies on Peleliu, Sept - Nov 1944
81st Infantry Division’s Aerial Tramway Moving Supplies on Peleliu, Sept – Nov 1944

The fact is that many of the technologies used in late WW2, like the “Aerial Tramway” device in the photo above were taken for granted in the reports of the time, but have huge differences in understanding today when “the smart phone generation” looks at what the “slide rule generation” is talking about.

Recently, my understanding of both the logistics and how fighting would have unfolded in General Douglas MacArthur’s proposed Kyushu land campaign, had the A-bomb failed to get Japanese surrender in August 1945, just changed radically away from the established narrative — “It would have been a mutual blood bath the Japanese had a chance to win.”

When I got the 81st Infantry Division’s 1944 Peleliu and 1945 post-Peleliu Operation reports and then looked up the military history of WW2 Tramway and Cableway technology. That research changed my understanding of what the “Slide-rule generation” was saying. A completely different narrative of possible events emerged, simply from understanding what that technological tool kit meant in context.

Major General William Rupertus, who commanded the 1st Marine Division, predicted that the fight for Peleliu would be quick and fierce. He got the 2nd half of that statement right. Fierce Peleliu was, but it was anything but short. American Marines and Army casualties combined numbered 9615. Of that total, 1656 were killed in action. The Japanese garrison forces were exterminated. Only 302 prisoners of the over 11,000 on the island were taken, and most of these were Korean laborers.

When the Battle of Peleliu is discussed at all, it is usually in context of the 1st Marine Division’s impalement upon Japanese cave defenses in the hills of Peleliu. Books like E. B. Sledge’s With the Old Breed: At Peleliu and Okinawa and the Recent HBO/Tom Hanks Series The Pacific detail this part of the battle. What is almost unknown is the role the “Wildcats” of the US Army’s 81st Division played after the 1st Marine Division was withdrawn in exterminating the Japanese garrison at a far lower cost in casualties.

There were a lot of doctrinal reasons for this. The USMC in WW2 was assault infantry. Their job was to secure a fleet base as quickly as possible after a landing to help protect the US fleet from enemy fleet reaction. It’s rifle battalions had more automatic weapons, three browning automatic rifles per squad versus the US Army’s one, and three times as many machine guns per infantry battalion. However, it lacked heavy and hard to move field artillery. While it tried to make up for it with naval gunfire support and aircraft close air support, in protracted combat those were no substitute for organic field artillery.

The US Army on the other hand was a slower, more methodical, win through superior artillery fire power organization whose infantry was supposed get close to the enemy to call down death from above. It substituted high explosive shells and time for blood whenever it had the opportunity. The US Army also had a very strong civil engineering tradition with West Point being founded as an engineering school with the US Army’s Corps of Engineers having tamed the Mississippi river basin.

Earlier in WW2 the US Marines doctrinal differences from the Army protected the US Navy vice the performance of the NY National Guard’s 27th Infantry Division on the Makin Atoll, where escort carrier USS Liscome Bay was sunk, losing 644 killed versus 65 killed in the 27th ID. In the Marianas, this slower Army fighting style lead to Marine General Holland Smith to relieve 27th Division commander US Army Major General Ralph C. Smith.

When Japanese tactics changed to elaborate reverse slope, multi-level, and interlocking cave defenses. This doctrinal difference is what lead to the Marine blood bath on Peleliu. Cave warfare was “low operational tempo” combat, a form of siege warfare with extensive field fortifications. Elaborate fortifications required elaborate scouting and elaborate, large scale, limited objective assaults with no real time constraints to yield gains at acceptable losses. It would take Peleliu, Iwo Jima and weeks of further combat on Okinawa, with the 6th Marine Division’s impalement on Sugarloaf, before the USMC’s Assault infantry doctrine yielded to it’s limited objective, methodical mass assault “Processing” tactics on Southern Okinawa in June 1945.

The methodical, artillery-centered, engineer informed, fighting culture of the US Army infantry division was well suited to dealing with Cave Warfare, when there were not senior naval commanders breathing down Army commander’s necks for early Central Pacific Drive Marine-like rapid advances, which happened to General Buckner’s 10th Army on Okinawa.

Only at Peleliu, with the island being declared “secure” and the 81st ID in the “Mop-up phase”, did we get to see a single Pacific Army Division’s organizational culture evolve in isolation to deal with Japanese “Cave Warfare” tactics. Effectively, what the 81st Infantry Division did was develop a “Sandbag Warfare Doctrine” to counter the “Cave Warfare Doctrine” by the Japanese. Each fighting position that the 81st ID occupied on Peleliu had filled sand bags. Sand bags sent up to them by these labor saving improvised aerial tramway’s. It wasn’t a planned from the beginning doctrine, it just happened that there was a positive feedback of the more sandbags that were sent up by the 81st ID, the fewer casualties that came back down.

A Sand Bagged Hill Top Strong Point on Peleliu with 75mm Pack Howitzer. Both Sand Bags and 75mm Were Delivered by Tramway.
A Sand Bagged Hill Top Strong Point on Peleliu with 75mm Pack Howitzer. Both Sand Bags and 75mm Were Delivered by Tramway

There were some good reasons the 81st ID thought of the Aerial Tramway at Peleliu. The US Army Corps of Engineers had used cableways and tramways as labor saving devices to build bridges, damns and water projects through out the American West for decades before WW2. It was, in the 1940’s, just one of the every day tools US Army Engineers thought of in the same way that today’s smart phone users today view the Internet. After WW2, particularly after the Korean War, helicopters replaced most applications of cableway and tramway technology inside the US Army. This is so long ago for the current US Army that in places like Afghanistan, where that technology would have been highly useful to relieve helicopter resupply of positions on high mountains, it just isn’t remembered.

The effect of these aerial tramway delivered sandbags was several fold. First, it took away much of the effectiveness of Japanese snipers and mortars, particularly their 50mm grenade dischargers, in producing a lot of American casualties.

Second, they gave American infantry a protected position to fight from with crew served heavy weapons (machine guns, mortars, light artillery) and artillery forward observers for Japanese counter attacks and infiltrations.

Third, it left American infantry _covered_ positions *closer* to Japanese positions to launch their “Blowtorch and corkscrew” flame/explosive attacks from. The 81st ID — unlike the 6th Marine Division at Sugar Loaf on Okinawa — didn’t have to cross the same ground over and over to get close enough to inflict attrition losses on underground Japanese positions. This was a very important development. At Biak, Leyte, Luzon, Tarawa, Saipan, Guam, Iwo Jima and Okinawa, flame thrower operators were dead men walking. This resulted in the U.S. Army’s Chemical Warfare Service having to train up a new generation of flamethrower operators for the next operation. This didn’t happen for the US Army after Peleliu. The 81st Infantry Division’s portable flamethrower operators actually survived the campaign. That was unheard of in Pacific Theater combat!

Last, when sand bag positions were placed around engineer roads for tanks and trucks, the 81st ID’s covered positions gave infantry close support to both the engineers and vehicles. Preventing the mining of those roads at night and allowing movement during the day. Thus allowing the application of huge “super-flame throwers” cobbled together from flame thrower guns, fire hoses, pump units and gasoline fuel trucks to flood out the largest multi-story “Cave Warfare” positions with thousands of gallons of fuel. What the 81st ID took on Peleliu was taken ONCE…and it stayed taken. That was the heart of what I call “Sandbag Constrictor” tactics.

It was absolutely certain that the 81st ID’s tramway and the sandbag “constrictor” tactics would have been used on Kyushu. (See the map below) And at some point that the Sixth Army would have copied them large scale. The only question in my further research was when and would that make a real difference to the proposed Kyushu campaign.

The Landing Map of the 81st Infantry Division in Operation Olympic
The Landing Map of the 81st Infantry Division in Operation Olympic

The same report that provided me the map also showed me that the 81st ID was communicating it’s experience to Sixth Army and IX Corps. (See picture from Scribd digitization service below, which by clicking on will provide a larger copy.)

Page 34, 81st ID Operations Report, Palau Islands to New Caledonia to Leyte P.I. to Japan  5 Jan 1945 to 10 Jan 1946
Page 34, 81st ID Operations Report, Palau Islands to New Caledonia to Leyte P.I. to Japan 5 Jan 1945 to 10 Jan 1946

Research from this point on was trying to run down the procurement history of cableways and tramways in WW2 to see what would be available to the Nov. 1, 1945 invasion of Kyushu to go with the Sixth Army’s report from the 81st ID. In doing so, I first encountered the 1946 “Stillwell Board” report that laid out the post-war equipment needs of the US Army and then used search terms from it to find US Army Engineer Board report titled “HISTORY OF THE DEVELOPMENT OF BRIDGING EQUIPMENT X. CABLEWAYS AMD TRAMWAYS” dated 1946. It has the following procurement posture for V-J Day, Aug. 14, 1945:

Cableway and Tramway Procurement Status
1. Pioneer Tramway — 20 to the Pacific, eight to Europe (pg 103)
2. M2 Light Aerial Tramway — 24 sets to ports of embarkation (page 103)
3. Medium Tramway — Under construction at War’s end.(103) “The medium cableway, which is capable of carrying loads not exceeding 3,000 pounds over spans up to 1,000 feet”
4. Special-purpose Tramway (oil pipeline) — 15 manufactured, three sent to Europe, 10 to the Pacific, 2,000 feet long with 4 towers and took one engineer company to errect. (page 104)
5. Casualty Evacuation Monocable — 20 to the Pacific, two to Alaska (page 106)

MacArthur’s Kyushu landing forces were going to be heavily equipped with these cableway and tramway devices, and given that MacArthur’s forces, apart from the 81st ID, had also used an improvised tramway devices on Mindanao in June 1945. They would be well oriented to use them in the mountain filled island of Kyushu.

This Sixth Army mass deployment of cableway and tramway devices would amount to a large technological surprise to the Imperial Japanese Army as American logistical units would be able to both move large amounts of men and material up and down mountain sides and across valley’s without roads. And more importantly, there would also be improved weapons in the form of another “forgotten” weapon from the “slide rule generation” — the recoilless rifles — to apply to the 81st ID’s existing combat-proven “Tramway & Sandbag Constrictor” doctrine. (See below)

57mm & 75mm Recoilless Rifles in 1945 Army Ordnance Document
57mm & 75mm Recoilless Rifles in 1945 Army Ordnance Document

The US Army’s 10th Army Ordnance section report on the Okinawa combat test of the recoilless rifles saw two 57mm silence 24 cave positions in one day of combat, before they ran out of ammo with the following results:

1) 10 of the 24 cave openings were buried,
2) Three more positions were opened so other weapons could kill people inside,
3) One engagement saw a heavy machine gun confirmed destroyed, and
4) The remaining 10 positions had 57mm shells burst inside the aperture opening.

The average engagement was five shells per position engaged with hits starting on the third shell fired with 3.1 hits per position. The important thing was that the ranges these positions were engaged at were between 750 to 1050 yards (686m to 960m)! Outside the range of Japanese automatic weapons. And each US Army Infantry regiment (Per photo below) would replace at a minimum nine of it’s multi-ton 57mm towed anti-tank guns with 75mm recoilless rifles that were higher performance than the 57mm recoilless rifles tested on Okinawa.

XXIV Corps Okinawa Operation Report, 1st Endorsement, with Order From MacArthur (CinCAFPAC) to Deploy 75mm Recoilless Rifles for the Invasion of Japan
XXIV Corps Okinawa Operation Report, 1st Endorsement, with Order From MacArthur (CinCAFPAC) to Deploy 75mm Recoilless Rifles for the Invasion of Japan

The Invasion of Japan was going to be costly, but the primary bill payers would have been the Japanese soldiers and civilians. American ground forces had changed significantly between Iwo Jima and Okinawa and Operation Olympic’s X-Day. They were going to deploy a new series of weapons and transportation devices with far more infantry direct high explosive firepower, defensive protection and logistical mobility than the Imperial Japanese ever expected.

Thus a new historical narrative has emerged simply by understanding the “slide rule generation’s” technology in context…which took the “smart phone generation’s” tool set to tie together.

Notes and Sources:

1) Brigadier General Gordon D. Gayle USMC (Ret) “BLOODY BEACHES: The Marines at Peleliu,” Marines in World War II Commemorative Series
Pages 41 & 42

Post-assault Operations in the Palaus
When on 20 October Major General Mueller became responsible for mopping up on Peleliu, he addressed the tactical problem as a siege situation, and directed his troops to proceed accordingly. Over a period of nearly six weeks, his two regiments, the 322d and 323d Infantry, plus 2/321, did just that. They used sandbags as an assault device, carrying sand up from the beaches and inching the filled sandbags forward to press ever nearer to positions from which to attack by fire the Japanese caves and dug in strong points. They made liberal use of tanks and flamethrowers, even improving upon the vehicle-mounted flamethrower. They thrust a gasoline pipeline forward from a road-bound gasoline truck, thereby enabling them, with booster pumps, to throw napalm hundreds of feet ahead into Japanese defensive areas. Noting the effectiveness of the 75mm pack howitzer which the Marines had wrestled up to Hill 140, they sought and found other sites to which they moved pack howitzers, and from which they fired point-blank into defending caves. To support their growing need for sand bags on ridge-top “foxholes,” their engineers strung highlines to transport sand (and ammo and rations) up to such peaks and ridgetops

2) Chemical Corps Historical Studies #4 – “Portable Flame Thrower Operations in World War II” By LT COL LEONARD L. MoKIHNEY, CML C-RES, Historical Office, Office of the Chief, Chemical Corps, 1 December 1949, page 176

B. Training and Preparation.

All of these divisions were veterans, with the exception of the 98th which had been stationed in Hawaii since April 1944. Inspection of the 98th revealed that the training of flame thrower operators and assault parties was excellent. With the exception of the’ 81st, the flame thrower personnel in the remaining divisions had been depleted by casualties, rotation and promotion, and an extensive replacement training program was initiated in July. The Chemical Warfare Training Center at Manila established a five-day course for flame thrower technicians.

3) Battle of Makin

In the early hours of 24 November, the Liscome Bay was sunk by the Japanese submarine I-175, which had arrived at Makin just a few hours before. I-175 fired a single torpedo, which detonated the Liscome Bays aircraft bomb stockpile, causing an explosion which engulfed the entire ship, causing it to sink quickly. The attack on the Liscome” accounted for the majority of American casualties in the battle for Makin.

4) 81st Infantry Division Operation Report Peleliu Islands 23 Sept – 27 Nov 1944, page 19

24 Sept 1944
“The eastward movement of troops made the problem of supply and evacuation a difficult one The swampy terrain over which the 321 Inf Trail, ran had to be improved to withstand the necessary flow of traffic. The West Road, which was the only access to the area from the south, was narrow and in exceedingly poor condition. Orders were issued to Co A, 306 Engr (C) Bn to begin immediate improvement of these two arteries° Armored bulldozers had to be used because of the enemy sniper fire that continued to come from the enemy positions on the ridge. Supply and evacuation for elements of the 3d Bn oh the ridge was made extremely difficult because of the complex nature of the terrain. Paths up the steep cliff were non existent Supply and evacuation had to be effected by climbing from rock to rock and by use of ladders. As the enemy was driven farther eastward, a makeshift aerial tramway was constructed which did much to solve the problem.”

This paragraph from page 105 of the 81st Infantry Division’s Peleliu AAR was the single most important paragraph for the infantry fighting on Kyushu —

“The complex nature of the terrain on Peleliu made it most difficult to supply forward combat units. At first, supplies had to be hand carried up steep, rugged hillsides. Where terrain was particularly difficult human chains were formed to pass supplies forward. As soon as the tactical situation permitted, improvised aerial tramways were constructed for the supply of forward elements. A system of pulleys and cables was used to support a movable gondola and the whole activated by a 1/4-T truck or M29C. The method was most efficient and did more than anything else to keep troops on forward positions properly supplied. Its use was extensive even upto the last days of combat, due to the impossibility of constructing access roads to advanced positions.”

Page 106 – 107

D – Infantry Tactics
“The development, which enabled our troops to Close in on the enemy and hold the ground gained was the sand bag fortification.

Without it our troops inevitably suffered high casualties from ene-my rifle and machine gun fire and more often than not found their positions untenable. The construction of mutually supporting sand-bag fortifications on newly occupied ground enabled our troops to withstand counterattack and sniper fire. As the area became more completely organized with similar fortifications the enemy was gradually driven to his inner defenses. The process was repeated until the enemy force as reduced to a small group and could with-draw no farther when the remnants were finally destroyed.”

page 108

“Engineer troops offered valuable assistance to the infantry in the reduction of Japanese cave fortifications and in the construction of combat roads. In some cases armored bulldozers operated by engineers had to operate in front of forward elements to prepare routes of approach for tanks and LVT flamethrowers which found it impossible to negotiate the broken terrain found in many parts of the central combat zone. The construction of the ramp from Wildcat Bowl to the top of the east China Wall did much to hasten the final collapse of the enemy. The development by the engineers of the 300 foot pressurized fuel line served to facilitate the reduction of strong points against which ordinary weapons had no effect.”

5)81st ID Operations Report, Palau Islands to New Caledonia to Leyte P.I. to Japan 5 Jan 1945 to 10 Jan 1946

2 Dec 1946 DTIC accession number ADB959570

page 103

“In July 1944 information on the pioneer tramway and cableway set and the M2 lght aerial tramway was distributed the theaters of operations. Twenty sets of pioneer equipment were sent to Pacific areas and eight sets to Europe. No breakdown of shipments of the M2 light Tramway is available; however 24 sets were sent to port of embarkation before the end of the war.”

103 – 104

10th Mountain Division used a “Pioneer Tramway” at Mount Berrasiccia – Pisso Compiano Ridge from 19 Feb to 23 Feb 1945. It was erected in 8 hours on a slope of a distance of 1,700 feet and a vertical distance of 800 feet. It operated 18-to-20 hours a day delivering 5,000 lbs of supplies, which was not it’s maximum capacity. Since both the lower and upper ends of the tramway were trail heads for mule trains, the tramway was limited to the capacity of the upper end mule train and replaced 40% of the original mule haul.

Cableway and Tramway Procurement Status in August 1945:

Pioneer Tramway — 20 to the Pacific, eight to Europe (pg 103)

M2 Light Aerial Tramway — 24 sets to ports of embarkation (page 103)

Medium Tramway — Under construction at War’s end. (page 103)”The medium cableway, which is capable of carrying loads not exceeding 3,000 pounds over spans up to 1,000 feet”

Special-purpose Tramway (oil pipeline) — 15 manufactured, three sent to Europe, 10 to the Pacific, 2,000 feet long with 4 towers and took one engineer company to errect. (page 104)

Casualty Evacuation Monocable — 20 to the Pacific, two to Alaska (page 106)


page 40 & 41
As the Japanese retreated, they delayed the 31st Division by destroying many bridges. Since the SAYRE HIGHWAY crossed numerous streams and rocky gorges, this was the most effective delaying action of which the enemy was capable, placing an almost insuperable burden on the engineers. Fifteen miles north of KABAKAN all traffic was stopped at a gorge 300 foot wide end 75 foot deep until the 149th Field Artillery Battalion built a ferry, utilizing its tractor winch cables, over which they swung the quarter-ton trucks of the division. These were the only vehicles that could follow the infantry advance as no artillery or other heavy transportation was able to reach KABAKAN before 10 May.

8) XXIV Corps Action Report, June 1945, After Action Report 1 April 45 – 30 June 45, Hodge, John R. , LTG, USA, Page 84

{3} Recoilless Weapons.
During May a. demonstration crew from Army Ground Forces Headquarters demonstrated the 75mm Recoilless Rifle T-21 and. the 57mm Recoilless Rifle T-15. These weapons were subsequently used in the 7th and 96th Divisions in combat with considerable success but with extremely limited ammunition. They could have been tested more extensively if additional ammunition had been available.

9) 27th Inf Division at Makin Atoll

10) WAR DEPARTMENT EQUIPMENT BOARD REPORT (AKA The “Stillwell Board” for it’s presiding chairman)
29 MAY 1946
SUBJECT: Report of the War Department Equipment Board

page 30

c. Cableways. Cableways of the following types for mountain warfare and river-crossing operations:
(1) A supply cableway transportable by pack animals and capable of transporting concentrated loads of supplies and equipment of types required by mountain divisions in forward mountain areas in sufficient volume to supply a combat team over spans up to 1,200 feet.
(2) A lighter man-packed cableway capable of transporting an individual with full field equipment over spans up to 1,500 feet.
(3) A cableway providing all necessary rigging for operation of trail ferries, including DUKWs, LVTs and other amphibious vehicles, for spans up to 1,200 feet in rapid river currents.

54 thoughts on “History Friday: 81st ID’s Peleliu Lessons for MacArthur’s Invasion of Japan”

  1. Trent, the up-arming of the infantry with 57mm and 75mm recoilless rifles was part of the process that began in WWI, where all rifle infantry companies were broken down and up-gunned to squads and platoons with Lewis guns, trench mortars, hand grenades and rifle grenades.

    I am 50 and have been reading about WWII all my life and this is the first I have heard of tramways.

  2. Lex,

    Tramways and cableways were just not important to the institutional writers of the US Army. You see at most a paragraph here and a paragraph there about them in very large (hundreds of pages) after action reports (AAR). This is why I mentioned the smart phone generation’s tools — pattern search software for Digitized WW2 AAR’s — were needed to tie the story together.

    There wasn’t anything in the way of post-war budget attached to tramways and cableways outside the Corps of Engineers, and with the Mississippi Basin projects being mostly completed, very little within it. So when improved helicopters showed up in the late 1950’s and 1960’s, they just didn’t have an institutional champion to tell their tale to the US Army field forces and the senior grade officers who came from it.

    MacArthur’s people tried to put together tramways & cableways to support the Buna campaign, but they could not get the equipment from Australia and the Aussies provided native porters to do the job. When MacArthur hit the Philippines at Leyte and Luzon, there were enough Filipinos to repeat the local porter experience. Only in the mountains of Mindanao did the lack of local porters both generate the need and meet available equipment such that they were improvised into existance.

    In the China-Burma-India theater improvised tramways and cableways were used to build the Ledo Road and place a pipeline next to it.

    In Patton’s crossing of the Rhine, a cableway-ferry was used to move unpowered barges filled with troops and supplies back and forth across it.

    The reasons I put this column together as I did was to point out that the US Army of Luzon and Okinawa was not going to be the one of X-Day Nov 1, 1945.

    Any more than the USMC of Tarawa would be the USMC of Saipan.

    War is the ultimate high speed human Darwinian selection process in forcing adaptation & change. The US Army in the Pacific was a good learner, it’s learnng story has just been overshadowed by the USMC public relations machine and the institutional US Army’s emphasis on european big wars for three generations.

  3. And of course, tramways were used by the 10th Mountain Division in Italy:

    10th Mountain Division used a “Pioneer Tramway” at Mount Berrasiccia – Pisso Compiano Ridge from 19 Feb to 23 Feb 1945. It was erected in 8 hours on a slope of a distance of 1,700 feet and a vertical distance of 800 feet. It operated 18-to-20 hours a day delivering 5,000 lbs of supplies, which was not it’s maximum capacity. Since both the lower and upper ends of the tramway were trail heads for mule trains, the tramway was limited to the capacity of the upper end mule train and replaced 40% of the original mule haul.

  4. Also, the use of sandbagged fortification, moving closer and closer to the enemy, is almost like the old Vauban style besieging techniques of the 1700s. Same basic idea. Cover for the besieging force, encroaching steadily to bring firepower to bear from closer and closer range.

    Also, notice that the UNglamorous stuff is critically important. A certain percentage of male children could, and maybe still can, draw accurate pictures of various types of ships, tanks and fighter planes. Far fewer draw flame throwers or recoilless rifles. None, ever, probably, drew tramways or crates of unfilled sandbags. But the latter were at least, if not more, important than the former.

  5. During the early part of my Army career (early 1970’s), the Infantry battalions were still equipped with the 90mm and 105mm recoilless rifles. These were ground mount or jeep mounted as I recall. I saw them fired and they were impressive both against armor and bunkers. They were intended as an anti-tank weapon and located in a AT platoon organic to the battalion headquarters company. Their High Explosive Anti-Tank projectiles worked well, if not optimally, against fortified positions. Against armor they were pretty much limited to defensive or ambush tactics.

    These were replaced by the Dragon and Tow AT missile systems. These were far more expensive and more difficult to resupply. They had longer range (TOW) and increased penetration. One major disadvantage was the operator had to remain exposed and stationary during the missile flight which might be up to 15 seconds. A secondary operational issue was the strands of very tough wire left on the ground between the launch site and impact point. While their theoretical accuracy was high (100%), my experience was that their cost resulted in such limited live firing opportunities that operators actually were not very proficient (in spite of a lot of simulator time) and the equipment was often faulty when actually fired. In the scout platoon in a tank battalion in the 1980’s the annual allocation of TOW’s for live firing was one per platoon with four weapons systems. We had a competition to pick the gunner who actually got to fire the missile each year while the others were observers. At that time the cost of a TOW was 20 times the cost of a tank round. As I recall, in 1983 and 84 both missiles in our battalion missed due to equipment or missile faults, pretty consistent with the results across other units. You could say that the results were not a contributor to crew or command confidence. I’m not current on the new generation of AT missile weapons, but I understand that fire and forget guidance and elimination of the guidance wires make them more effective. I sure hope they are better. At least I hope the gunners get to fire them often enough to maintain proficiency and equipment readiness. Munitions cost and resupply is probably still an big issue. I think the RR would be a more practical answer for urban and cave or hasty fortified position operations in difficult terrain. It would be more practical for light armor as well. Sometimes quantity trumps quality!


  6. WWII mechanical analog computers—and their predecessors, which go back to the WWI era—are very interesting. The systems for battleship main battery control and submarine torpedo direction could not only perform the ballistic calculations..compensating for time of flight, projectile drop, and even (in the case of gunnery) the earth’s rotation, they could also maintain a continuous track of target position, so that if the optical or radar sight of the target was briefly lost, the estimated position would still by continually available to the rest of the system.

  7. Lex said —

    >>Also, notice that the UNglamorous stuff is critically important

    Amateur’s talk tactics, professionals talk logistics.

    Logistics = UNglamorous stuff

    Death 6 said —

    >>I think the RR would be a more practical answer for urban and cave or hasty fortified position operations
    >>in difficult terrain. It would be more practical for light armor as well. Sometimes quantity trumps quality!

    Compared to the WW2 Imperial Japanese, the US Army proper had both quantity and _quality_.

    The US Army, however, had some real doctrinal problems with automatic weapons vice rifles. The automatic weapons the US Army had were better than the Japanese, it just didn’t have enough of them in the Infantry battalions compared to the Germans and Japanese.

    That is an “article stub” I will make into a column one of these days.

    >>WWII mechanical analog computers—and their predecessors, which go back to the WWI era—are very interesting.

    Yes they are.

    There is a lot of backstory there regards the European strategic bombing campaign versus the B-29 bombing bombing campaign over Japan that revolves around them. Which is yet another “article stub.”

  8. Re the European bombing campaign…the Norden bombsight seems to have been overrated in terms of the actual effect that was expected…no matter how good a job it did in calculating the leads and the wind effects, it couldn’t compensate for cloud cover making it impossible to see the target.

  9. In engineering school, I took the very last class offered in electronic analog computers – poor choice of electives! – back in 1977. The mechanical fire control computers were offered in the one NROTC class I took as a way to satisfy (avoid) my PE requirement under the Florida summer sun but the destroyer officer who was the instructor didn’t mention dither. Analog computers remained in service for many years as speed governors for electrical generators. Woodward made the best ones but even they no longer even service them.

    There is an analog to dither in digital electronics – its called jitter – and is the error in digital recording of music. The data points don’t align in time and error is created from the spill-over from one sample point to another.

  10. Fascinating post, but I think you might mean “jiggling”, not “giggling”.

    (Although “giggling” does bring up some interesting pictures in my mind.)

  11. Max Hastings has this perpetual grievance against the artillery-centric warfare of our Army. Hastings is not as big of a Hun-hugger as other writers on the Wehrmacht but he still suffers from Hun envy. He constantly bewails how American soldiers would make contact with the enemy, pause, and call for an artillery strike instead of doing Hun-like infantry heroics to eliminate an enemy position.

    Hastings is clearly off his rocker. Jim Dunnigan (of Strategy Page) noted in his 1991 How to Make War that Hun artillery fire accounted for ~50% of enemy casualties while our artillery accounted for ~70%. This has always struck me as one of the main reasons the WWII-era U.S. Army was better than the Wehrmacht. Yet you never hear about it. This is one reason why the cult of the Wehrmacht has been swallowed so thoroughly that we’re constantly remodeling ourselves along Hun lines instead of learning from what the winning army of WWII (us) did.

    Fallujah II was an excellent demonstration of the sort of infantry prowess Hastings envies. American combat forces attacked the Jihadi all-stars with a slight numerical disadvantage and went house to house in the best heroic fashion, even facing super-Jihadis with heavy Kevlar armor who’d had so many adrenaline injections that it took multiple rounds to kill them totally. Yet I can’t help but think the whole thing would have been much easier if we’d applied more shell power than man power and pounded parts of Fallujah until we were only making the pebbles bounce.

    In your research, have you found any particular sources that shed more light on the glories of WWII-era U.S. artillery dominance?

  12. Lex said:

    “Also, the use of sandbagged fortification, moving closer and closer to the enemy, is almost like the old Vauban style besieging techniques of the 1700s. Same basic idea. Cover for the besieging force, encroaching steadily to bring firepower to bear from closer and closer range.”

    A lot of what we did in 2006-2007 with some success in Iraq was closer to this than the warm and fuzzy COIN stuff. It was akin to Kitchener’s Grid (though Kitchener’s Constrictor is a more vivid phrasing):


    than it was to “armed social work”.

    My objection to the Macgregor-Gentile fantasy is that their Hun-inspired armor heavy force is a conspiracy to unlearn (again) the lessons of how to use such infantry-artillery combined weapons tactics to constrict and control populations and territory, especially if the territory is broken. Maneuver forces, based on a systemically bad interpretation of tactical developments since 1915, have never been as successful as advertised. Even Macgregor’s beloved left hook was more flash than substance. The Marine frontal fixing attack into Kuwait, intended as the bait for the left hook, instead advanced rapidly through the remains of an Iraqi force so decimated by American firepower that the left hook turned out to be a waste of gas.

    Fire destroys. Infantry occupies.

  13. L.C. Rees —

    Funny you said that about Wehrmacht vs Army artillery doctrines. Somewhere I saw some video of old German infantry soldiers being interviewed about fighting Americans during WWII. The subject of American artillery came up: it was terrifying and they hated it more than anybody’s. One of them grumpily commented that in the German army, the “infantry solved its own problems”, whereas American infantry would just find you and have you shelled to pieces. And I thought to myself “you were just jealous”!!

  14. The use of tram lines reminds me of a British tradition. The Royal Navy supplied the gun support for the British relief of Ladysmith during the Boer War. The efforts of the British naval crews in moving the field pieces cross country became the basis for the Naval Gun Run competition.


    Here is a video of the ‘Royal Naval field Gun Competition 1999 (NOT the “last”)’


    Note the rigging of the sheer legs and the tram line to move the guns and limbers over the “chasm”. Despite the narrator, that was not the last Naval Gun Run. And I have had the pleasure of watching Canadian Forces Bases Esquimalt and Halifax teams compete a few times.

    I am looking forward to the final results of your research.

    Subotai Bahadur

  15. What a superb post. A lack of attention to detail clouds the historical discussion in so many matters of why events occur, be they military or civilian matters. The information is there, but so often overlooked. That is why history keeps repeating itself.

  16. Mikee,

    Reality lives in the details.

    You have to know enough of the details to know what is vital and to be able to use good judgement as to which histories are worth while and which are regurgitated pap.

    No one has bothered to do that with MacArthur’s South West Pacific Area, especially as it relates to the proposed invasion of Japan.

  17. “American combat forces attacked the Jihadi all-stars with a slight numerical disadvantage and went house to house in the best heroic fashion, even facing super-Jihadis with heavy Kevlar armor who’d had so many adrenaline injections that it took multiple rounds to kill them totally.”

    House to House by David Bellevia

    Excellent book about epic bravery vs crazy creeps.
    When the book was recommended to me, the author was described as PJ O’Rourke with an M-4 which was apt.

  18. L. C. Rees Said:

    >>In your research, have you found any particular sources that shed more light on
    >>the glories of WWII-era U.S. artillery dominance?

    Three actually.

    1) The role of liaison planes in the SWPA artillery-infantry team,
    2) The artillery park for Operation Olympic was positively Cold War Soviet in size, and
    3) The role proximity fuzes were set to play in Olympic with bombardment rockets and mortars.

    Would you believe there was scheduled production for _400,000_ 81mm mortar radar proximity fuzes a month starting in August 1945?

  19. “The US Army, however, had some real doctrinal problems with automatic weapons vice rifles. The automatic weapons the US Army had were better than the Japanese, it just didn’t have enough of them in the Infantry battalions compared to the Germans and Japanese.”

    There is a good book that I have somewhere titled Misfire. It tells the sad tale of the Army’s refusal to equip its infantry with the best weapons. The Henry Repeating Rifle was most purchased with private funds in the Civil War. We had the Browning Automatic Rifle (BAR) for World War I but didn’t use it for fear the Germans would discover how effective it was and copy it ! The Army also turned down Maxim and his machine gun. The story is long and sad.

    The Army bought the AR 15 from Armalite and then changed the powder specs so it jammed repeatedly and no cleaning kit was issued at first.

  20. Would you believe there was scheduled production for _400,000_ 81mm mortar radar proximity fuzes a month starting in August 1945?

    Of course I believe it! After the war ended, the Navy cancelled orders for more tonnage than the Imperial Japanese Navy had had, in aggregate, throughout the course of the war. I expect this same bounty of production was replicated at all levels, all the way down to bullets and beans.

  21. >>Fascinating post, but I think you might mean “jiggling”, not “giggling”.

    Fixed. I _Think_ I wrote jiggle, but spell checked it to “giggle” in the final edit.

  22. >>Trent, have you written a post on your assessment of Marshall’s 90-division plan?

    The gist of my impression on Marshall’s “90-division gamble” was that it was a gamble that was failing miserably for the invasion of Japan.

    I am waiting for a couple of books from Dallas Public library Inter-Library loan before I bite into it more deeply.

    Shelby Stanton’s book on the WW2 US Army shows a couple of divisions worth of independent infantry regiments involved in the Alaska campaign were disbanded before the end of the war for no reason I could see. I am hoping the books I am awaiting will shed light on why.

    That action had the feel of a bureaucratic move to protect the 90-division plan, but that is pure supposition on my part.

  23. I once read, forget where, of the story of a captured German officer in WWII. He was being driven to captivity but was routed through an American supply dump in France. After passing mounds and mounds of artillery shells waiting for delivery to the front, he noted, “So this is how a rich country makes war.”

  24. “The gist of my impression on Marshall’s “90-division gamble” was that it was a gamble that was failing miserably for the invasion of Japan.”

    The Army was very short of infantry late in the European campaign. Eisenhower was scrounging replacements from the rear echelon during the Bulge. The US Army had a huge tail and small bite by December 1944. The country and the Congress was convinced the war was won by spring 1945 and Marshall would have had a terrible time getting more recruits for Japan. They were running out of replacements for Europe.

  25. If memory serves me correctly, the Armalite AR-15 was originaly supposed to be a new survival weapon for LeMay’s SAC bomber crews,replacing the existing survival gun kit which had an over-under barrel arrangrement: one barrel was fitted for a .410 shotgun shell, the other for a .22 Hornet round. The barrels and reciever fitted into a removable plastic case which also doubled as the weapon’s stock. My memory fails me as to what this was called. But way back when, I knew the retired Air Force Colonel–Tom Bass–who worked for Colt and was lobbying Congress on its behalf. The Army scooped it up for its infantry weapon and the rest is history.

  26. The Army bought the AR 15 from Armalite and then changed the powder specs so it jammed repeatedly and no cleaning kit was issued at first.

    I think Morgan is right on the history. On the AR-15 which became the M16, I can remember a cleaning kit in the stock of the weapon. And they were known for jamming so much that they put little plunger in to push the bolt should there be a jam.

    I had always heard the jams were due to dirt form the field but they could have been the powder.

  27. IIRC, a long time ago I read an article in … Atlantic, Harpers, maybe American Heritage – about why the Army changed the powder specs, to suit a manufacturing company which they already had a long-time contract with – and possibly large quantities in stock. Those Special Forces personnel in the field who had the original AR-15 loved it and it performed like a champ. Then the Army perpetuated their version on the troops in the field, and had to be embarrassed into providing the cleaning kit, etc., because all the guys were writing to their families begging them to send cleaning supplies – and writing letters of testament to manufacturers of same. The major provider of civilian cleaning kits naturally took advantage of this marketing opportunity.
    Wish I could recall where I read this – and the article about the early WWII torpedoes which had been developed at great cost and with considerable of the professional reputation of the Navy R&D board invested in it – which did not perform as well in the field. The munitions board insisted, over and over again that their marvelous torpedo creation was perfect and beyond criticism … and yet the sub commanders in the South Pacific kept having problems for the first year or so. Which the munitions board kept insisting was their fault for misusing their perfect creation. It was thought – again, IIRC – that some sub commanders were driven almost to suicide by this. Risking everything to bring their submarine within range of a nice fat Japanese target – and then have every one of the torpedoes inexplicably miss a clear target … and then having some pogue in R&D blame them. It was a very ugly story – likely some of you guys know of it.

  28. “Wish I could recall where I read this – and the article about the early WWII torpedoes which had been developed at great cost and with considerable of the professional reputation of the Navy R&D board invested in it ”

    A good source is “Iron Men and Tin Fish” which tells the story of the one Navy torpedo station. All torpedoes were affected, including the aircraft and the destroyer versions.

  29. A great book on the performance of the M16 in Vietnam was by David Hackworth – in About Face


    The book isn’t about the M16 per se but about Hackworth’s experience in turning a sad sack Army unit into killers –

    He talks of finding a dead Viet Cong in a bog – dead a year or so – taking his AK-47 – and firing it with no misfires.

    I think after awhile the Special Forces weapon of choice was the AK-47.

    Interesting about the powder – I had always head that it was just battlefield conditions that caused it to jam.

    I remember reading about the torpedo problems – imagine setting yourself up – exposing your sub and having dud torpedoes.

  30. The PT boats had the same problems with the early torpedoes.

    They did get better but the prime targets changed to shallow draft barges where a torpedo would have been ineffective in any case.

    Later boats removed the torpedo tubes and substituted heavier guns and/or rockets.

  31. The torpedo was THE scandal of WWII for the Navy. The Douglas Devastator was the other. We were just not prepared for war and should have been, given that we had three years warning.

    The next war will be even worse, especially if it starts with a nuke here.

  32. Morgan – you may be right regarding the AR15 (M16) being touted as a candidate for a survival weapon. However, my understanding is that AR15 was selected to replace WWII weapons such as the M1 Carbine for USAF airfield defence units. The criteria for selection included light weight, enhanced firepower and controllable full automatic capability if required. The eventual selection of the M16 by the US Army is a story in itself that from a technical standpoint illustrates how the different armed services need to put their concept of product enhancement where it isn’t necesary. A most intriguing tale leading to unintended consequences!

  33. Mikee,perhaps an expanlation could be found in a common practice within DOD–adding on requirements for projects under development. For example, let’s assume the AR-15 was originally brought forward as the new survival kit for SAC bomber crews, then someone in the Air Force said, “hey, this could also be developed for our base security people if we modified it a bit–say tweek it so it could fire fully automatic.” You get the drift. I’m not saying this was what happened but, giving how DOD operates, it is a good possibility. The base security guys could justify it by saying we can get a two-fer, etc.

    As to the replacement of the M-1 carbine, the USMC had dropped it and had replaced it with the Colt .45 when I was in the Corps–late 1950’s. It lacked stopping power for the Chinese assault waves of the Korean War–at least that’s what Gunny Sergeants kept telling us–and we peons didn’t dare question the Gunny!

  34. >>However, my understanding is that AR15 was
    >>selected to replace WWII weapons such as the
    >>M1 Carbine for USAF airfield defence units.

    This is the story I know as well.

    However, the back story was a fight between the US Army’s
    Springfield Arsenal and Defense Secretary Robert McNamara.

    McNamara used the M-16 and the “improvements” placed in it by the Springfield Arsenal to break them and centralize procurement.

    This hasn’t noticeably changed the problems in US Army small arms procurement in the decades since then.

  35. What should have been done, and what was done by a few individuals and units, was to just adopt the AK 47. It was based on a German assault rifle from late in the war. The “Not Invented Here” syndrome has been strong in the US Army and in many American institutions. One reason Germany lost the eastern campaign against the USSR was he fact that the later German tanks were too complex to manufacture and broke down too easily. The T 34 was simple to manufacture and were turned out in huge numbers. We made the same mistake with the M 16. We are making the same mistake with the 9 mm pistol a a side arm.

  36. American artillery in WW II: In “Here Is Your War”, Ernie Pyle passes on this story:

    The Germans worked up a terrific respect for the uncanny accuracy of our artillery. It was so perfect that it had them agog. They told of one German officer, taken prisoner, who when brought into camp said, “I know you are going to kill him me, but before you do would you let me see that automatic artillery of yours?”

    We didn’t kill him, of course, and neither did we show him our automatic artillery, because we didn’t have. We were just crack shots, that’s all. (p 115 in my University of Nebraska edition)

    American torpedoes in WW II: Sgt. Mom, Morison has some discussions of the problems we had. There were two different problems with the triggers on them, one affecting the contact firing pins and the other affecting the magnetic triggers. He also notes that early in the war, we had too few torpedoes, partly because we lost some of our inventory at Cavite, and partly because labor unions had kept us from opening a second factory to produce more.

    (Sounds like the punch line to a mediocre joke, doesn’t it? Our torpedoes often didn’t work, and we didn’t have enough of them.)

    There’s more. The Japanese had a much better torpedo, the “Long Lance”, than we did — and it took us a long time to realize just how good it was.

    The Germans had similar problems with their torpedoes early in the war, but solved them more quickly, partly as I understand it, because they had captured a British submarine, and so had a chance to look at a working design.

  37. The British torpedo was the basis for our early versions but not for those used in the war. The Whitehead Torpedo was the first that actually worked. The US history is here.

    Another Not Invented Here example:

    In spite of the spectacular achievement of the Whitehead Torpedo, two offers to sell the rights to the U.S. Navy, in 1869 for $75,000, and again in 1873 for $40,000, were not accepted. An employee of the Woolrich Laboratory was also willing to turn over plans and specifications for the torpedo in return for employment at the USNTS in Newport. Although the record indicates that the Navy declined the sub-rosa offer, a set of plans was obtained and turned over to Commodore Jeffers, then Chief of BuOrd. The plans were not exploited, but were the subject of a lengthy exchange and quite probably legal proceedings between Commodore Jeffers and Robert Lines, Whitehead’s U.S. agent, as reported in the press in the spring of 1881.

    Alo note, this official history makes no mention of the problems with the Mark 14 in WWII.

    With Mk 14 development completed and production started prior to the start of the second World War, approximately 13,000 torpedoes of this type were manufactured during the war years. <b<The mainstay of the submarine force in the war until the advent of the wakeless, electric Torpedo Mk 18 about 1944, the Mk 14 is credited with sinking approximately 4,000,000 tons of Japanese shipping.

    Originally designed and produced for mechanical fire control setting, Torpedo Mk 14 was modified to be compatible with modern electrical-set fire control systems, and continues in service in today’s submarine forces..

    No mention !

  38. I had heard that we adopted the 9mm as part of a political payoff to the Italians who supported our deployment of Pershing missiles during the Cold War. The 9mm we adopted was the Italian Beretta, not that this constitutes proof. Bill Brandt may know more about this.

  39. I have to disagree with L. C. Rees characterization of some writers as “Hun-huggers”, aside from the ridiculousness of the term itself. The Germans knew full well the power of artillery, and used it to the maximum extent possible. That they lacked the industrial resources of the US to produce not only such huge numbers of artillery pieces, but the vast quantities of ammunition we were able to expend doesn’t mean that they didn’t want it. Pointing out that American artillery killed a higher percentage of Germans on the Western Front than German artillery killed Americans proves nothing other than that we were able to build and deploy a lot more artillery than the Germans were able to do, and not only that, but all of the trucks to move it with (most of the German infantry divisions’ artillery was still horse-drawn in 1944). Also, we had better communications nets in order to organize that artillery fire. We were organized better there, partly due top an abundance of radios. The Signal Corps is even less mentioned in general histories than the artillery.

    American artillery was good and extremely abundant, and we used the hell out of it. That’s not always the best way to fight, though. If you don’t care about flattening French villages and killing a lot of French civilians, that’s all fine and well. There’s no doubt the Germans would’ve if they’d only had the tubes and shells to do it with. :-/ But on the whole, their infantry was better trained (falling throughout the war due to mounting losses) and had better doctrine (especially with regard to replacements, in which regard the US Army sucked rocks all the way through Vietnam). US armor doctrine up through 1944 sucked rocks, too, and then it got a little better. But by that point, it didn’t matter as much. The end was inevitable.

  40. Michael Kennedy – Although there may be considerable truth to the issue regarding German tank complexity when newer models were introduced, many of the reliability problems were solved as production and combat feedback information was absorbed by industry. For example, the reliability of the later model Panther tanks had been solved by the final months of the war in Europe. Notwithstanding lack of raw materials and interuption to production facilities, the reliability of Panther tanks was such that the French Army and the British Army adopted Panther tanks into military service after the end of hostilities. The British adopted the Panther and had approximately 50 tanks secretly built in Hanover as a backup to the newly introduced Centurion tanks which suffered from a number of prolonged operational problems that affected their combat status for quite some time at the beginning of the Cold War. The Panther tanks were sterile and had no build serial numbers applied. Most were scrapped by the late 1940s and their use by British forces was kept very quiet. (One “sterile” Panther was found by chance in a British scrap yard in the late 1990s and is being restored). Regarding the M16, the problems with its complexity and reliability were no more than that of the AK 47 which had prolonged developmental problems during the 1950s culminating in its redesign and replacement by the AKM in 1959. While the problem with the M16 was primarily caused by the substitution of a different propellant composition producing too much calcium deposits during the combustion process, the AK 47 suffered from poor manufacturing stamping tolerances of the receiver. Soviet field experience with AK 47’s resulted in tens of thousands being withdrawn from service and replaced by AK’s with milled receivers. The substition of milled receivers for stamped ones caused considerable resource issues during the manufacturing process culminating in a complete redesign of the AK 47 culminating in the AKM which replaced the AK 47 from 1959 onwards. As reliable as the AKM has become, its gestation period to reliability spanned a decade of enhancements in the production process aided by field performance reports. Not all AK 47/AKM’s were born equal in reliability – as the Western MSM would have you believe!

  41. Larry,

    You really ought to go read the following:

    “Knock ’em All Down:” The Reduction of Aachen, October 1944
    Christopher R. Gabel, Ph.D.


    “”Knock ’em all down” started with artillery fire. Heavy artillery struck German lines of communication to isolate the battle area. Medium artillery and mortars fired across the front itself. Artillerymen used delayed fuses to ensure that rounds penetrated buildings before exploding. Division and corps artillery was arrayed south of the city, which allowed artillery to fire parallel to the front of troops fighting in the city. With the danger of short rounds falling on American troops thus minimized, artillerymen were able to adjust fires within yards of the infantry lines. However, since the encirclement battle still raged, the forces fighting in Aachen could not count upon artillery support all the time.[30]

    Tanks and tank destroyers assigned to the platoons were, on the other hand, an ever-present source of mobile firepower. The American troops, acutely aware of the dangers posed by German panzerfausts in close-quarters fighting, developed combined arms tactics in which infantry protected the armor from panzerfausts while the armor engaged strongpoints that impeded the infantry. Platoons generally kept their armor one street back from the street being cleared. The tank or tank destroyer would nose cautiously around the corner and pour fire into a specific building. Then, the infantry would assault the building, whereupon the armor would shift fire to the next in line. Once the block had been systematically cleared, all available weapons would fire into every possible panzerfaust firing position while the armor dashed forward into the street just cleared.[31]

    As for the infantry, the rifle platoons stayed out of the streets as much as possible. Heavy machine guns maintained steady fire up the streets along the axis of advance, thus impeding German lateral movements, while the American infantry moved from building to building by blowing holes through adjoining walls with bazookas and demolition charges. The preferred mode of clearing a building was to fight from the top down, with grenades being the weapon of choice.[32]

    The 2/26 eliminated every German position as it was encountered, intentionally bypassing none. Every sewer manhole was blocked off to prevent the reoccupation of positions behind American lines. In accordance with orders from higher headquarters, all civilians encountered were evacuated from the city”

    and also see the following section here:

    “Urban operations may well represent the coming face of battle in an increasingly urbanized world. Today, there is a tendency to regard urban operations as a distinct, rather esoteric form of warfare demanding specialized military capabilities. As the foregoing account should make clear, the reduction of Aachen posed challenges that invoked a certain degree of innovation and adaptation. Most notable were the creation of small, combined arms teams and the measures undertaken to cope with civilians. What should not be overlooked, however, is the degree to which the battle of Aachen resembled conventional combat, even though it was fought in urban terrain.

    First, it should be noted that Aachen was a linear battle, most particularly in the sector of the 2/26. The battalion took great pains to assure that all Germans were either in front of its line or on their way to detention centers. It was remarkably successful in keeping the battle linear. Even in the zone of the 3/26, where the situation was more fluid, linearity prevailed.

    Secondly, the tactics employed within Aachen embodied the standard fire-and-maneuver concepts that were common to open-field battle of the day. The tactical intent, which the Americans routinely accomplished, was to pound the enemy into helplessness with firepower, so that when the infantry attacked, it encountered an enemy who was ready to surrender. Much the same could be said for Army combined arms doctrine in general, as practiced in World War II.

    Third, it should be noted that both the attackers and defenders in Aachen were conventional, “heavy” forces. The American forces were able to shift from conventional to urban operations in a matter of days. They possessed no equipment specially designed for urban operations, nor did they have much in the way of formal doctrine to guide their efforts. Although none of the American units involved had ever reduced a city before, they did possess experience in fighting among the close confines of the Normandy hedgerows. Not surprisingly, the task-organization and tactics employed in Aachen somewhat resemble those used with success in Normandy.

    The battle for Aachen challenges conventional wisdom in another respect. Urban operations are commonly regarded as bloody, time consuming operations in which the defender can exact many times his own number in enemy casualties. In Aachen, however, the defenders outnumbered the attackers, and yet managed to hold out for only nine days because of the American offensive methods and the incoherent nature of the German defense. The two battalions of the 26th Infantry (plus attachments) that bore the brunt of the fighting in Aachen lost 75 killed, 414 wounded, and 9 missing in securing a city defended by over 5,000 enemy troops.[58] For the U.S. Army, the true bloodbath of the 1944 campaign was not an urban operation, but rather the battle of the Huertgen Forest.

    The Germans, on the other hand, lost virtually all of the troops committed to Aachen. Over half of the total surrendered, despite Hitler’s admonition that they were to fight to the last man. A small number probably succeeded in exfiltrating, but the rest were killed and wounded. The German cause did not gain much from the sacrifice of these troops.

    In two respects, however, the battle for Aachen bears out conventional wisdom. First, although Aachen itself was unfortified, war made it a fortress. Stone walls erected for any purpose can be a significant combat multiplier for a defender. Moreover, when the Americans reduced the city to rubble with artillery and air bombardment, they rendered buildings unfit for civilian use but did not destroy them as fighting positions. Urban rubble is as much of a problem for an attacker as intact buildings would be.

    Secondly, Aachen showed that civilians add an inescapable dimension to urban operations. Despite two mandatory evacuations (one by the German government before the battle, and one by the Americans during it), an estimated 1,000 civilians were still in the city when Col. Wilck surrendered the German garrison. Although this number represents only a small fraction of the city’s prewar population, it was large enough to require the attention of the victors. Future planners can never assume away the presence of civilians during urban operations.

    In the context of the U.S. Army’s 1944 campaign in Europe, urban operations were not a major problem. Partly by chance and partly by planning, Americans avoided combat in truly large cities such as Paris or Berlin. When they did have to fight in built-up areas, U.S. troops adapted and pushed on. Given the intensity of the war, “knock ’em all down” served admirably as a technique. The reduction of Aachen, a sideshow for the U.S. First Army as it drove into Germany, was just another day’s work for an experienced, competent military force.”

    The WW2 US Army assaulting enemy fortified terrain specialized in high firepower “civil engineering” where they removed the military resistance to advance by _removing the terrain_ that the enemy was occupying.

    MacArthur’s forces did the same in Manila in Feb-Mar 1945.

    This very methodical, engineering and firepower based, warfighting style was in the works for the Imperial Japanese Army on Kyushu. Many of the lessons of the 81st ID would be in Kyushu, as would the lessons of Manila and of fighting in the valley’s of the Luzon.

    The only reason we did not see the same on Okinawa was due to Admiral Nimitz breathing down General Buckner’s neck.

  42. helicopters were touched on here. Something that always struct me
    as odd was that the first US use of them in a combat theater was
    Burma 1944. You would think that would be a nightmare to support,
    at the end of a long supply line. So why not in a different place?

    Also, I’ve come across some vague reference to the first mass
    medevac mission in Luzon, June 1945:


    From above:

    “The Air Medal was awarded to Lieutenants James H. Brown and John R. Noll
    for their role in the largest medevac operation undertaken during World War II.
    This occurred in Luzon in June 1945, when at least 70 wounded soldiers were
    airlifted from the front lines to rear-area hospitals by helicopters of the 5th
    and 6th Aircraft Repair Units. This marked the first time that U.S. helicopters
    came under concentrated enemy fire.”


    Does anyone know more of this op?

    Would helicopters have been used more extensively in a
    Japanese invasion, and in other roles beside rescue?

  43. The tactics resemble those used by Israelis in the West Bank going through walls to avoid booby trapped doors.

    The US used similar tactics in Fallujah. I have read “House to House.”

  44. Leather Helmet,

    Everything regards the use of the helicopter in WW2 was heavily edited afterwards due to the merger of the War and Navy Departments along with the creation of the independent USAF.

    The helicopter was a square peg for a non-existant round hole in the A-bomb delivering post-war USAF. It smacked too much of close air support and liason work under “Green Suit” US Army commanders.

    The reality at the end of WW2 was that the US Army L-5 liason planes and R-5 Helicopters would have been hugely important in the invasion of Japan in terms of artillery spotting, medevac and live TV intelligence gathering for 6th Army on Kyushu.

    A lot of this got buried in the innter-service food fight between the newly independent Air Force and the Army Ground Forces over the L-5 liason plane right through Korea and if Olympic had gone down as proposed the USAF would have been hosed regards small planes — “Key West Comes Early.”

    Ryan Crierie found several documents in the National Archives that showed two L-5 groups of ~128 planes supporting the US 6th Army’s three US Army Corps in Olympic. The first group included 32 L-5 liason planes fitted a’la Soviet “Night Witch” PO-2 night bombers and the 2nd group was to have 48 each R-5 helicopters.

    Seperately, I ran into the following regards armed US Army liaison planes in Operation Olympic.

    Short Form —

    1) Key West Agreement? We no know this “Key West Agreement.”

    2) Block 3 TV in the Army Air Force L-5’s as “Manned UAVs” in late 1945-early 1946. (See note 81)


    Study No. 35

    Kent Roberts Greenfield, Col. Inf. Res
    Historical Section – Army Ground Forces

    pages 111, 112

    Army Ground Forces, upon the rejection on 15 January 1945 by G-3, War Depertment of its recommendation that organic liaison aviation be extended to ground reconnaissance units, followed two lines of action. It proceeded, on the one hand, to build up a case for the extension of organic ground aviation based on evidence from sources in the theaters and on firm requests from theater commanders. On the other hand, it tested and developed further uses to which light planes had been put at the front, or to which they could be put.

    To test and explore further uses to which light planes could be put to provide close support, the Army Ground Forces, on (3 March 1945) initiated an extensive experimental project at Fort Sill.74 The AAF Liaison Officer at Headquarters, Army
    Ground Forces, Lt. Col. Hubbell F. Vincent, believing that the liaison type plane
    could be used as a bomber, to meet the need of ground units for close-in bombing at night, had made tests at Fort Sill in January 1945, and the conclusion was reached that the L-5 could bomb effectively with a bomb load of 500 pounds and more.75 General Stilwell personally brought this possibility to General Marshall’s attention on 5 March 1945 as “something which if pushed energetically, would be a material contribution to shortening the war.”6 The AGF headquarters observers visiting ETO in the fall of 1944 and emphasized the fact that close-in reconnaissance at night was one of the critical needs of ground units which the Army Air Forces was not meeting, in spite of the great improvement in air-ground cooperation. If a liaison plane could find bombing targets at night, it could also search the roads behind the enemy lines at night for evidence of traffic.

    Furthermore, field artillery officers working with Navy smoke markers for use in
    amphibious exercises, had discovered the practicability of using the liaison plane as a moving platform from which to launch rockets.77 This indicated that
    it might also be used as a flying mount for the new recoilless guns. With all these possibilities in view, the Fort Sill project was given a broad scope, with special emphasis on the use of liaison planes at night. Headquarters, Army Ground Forces, pressed and supported these experiments vigorously. In March, on the strength of a report of successful use of liaison planes by the 95th Infantry Division in Europe and the 11th Airborne Division on Leyte to drop supplies and evacuate wounded men in the Philippines, the Army Air Forces was requested to provide modification kits for installing racks for supplies, and the Field Artillery School was directed to conduct further tests to improve the technique of dropping supplies from light planes.78 Meanwhile, Colonel Vincent went to ETO to work with the Ninth Air Force on tests of bombing from light planes at Chantilly, France.79 In April, the Navy conducted rocket-firing tests with L-5 ‘s at Quantico. 80 The AAF Board, in the same month, instituted its own tests of night bombing and night visual navigation with light planes and also of the employment of television sets in such planes as an aid to air observation.81 By June tests of rocket firing had been so successful that Army Ground Forces urged the War Department to develop without delay the equipment, tactics, and technique of rocket-firing, close-support aviation. 82 The Field Artillery School reported the results of its night navigation and night gunnery tests in June. Action was instituted to implement and coordinate the results of all these efforts,83 but too late for effect at the front before the termination of hostilities.

    74. AGF ltr (S) to CG, R&SC, 3 Mar 45, sub: Ft Sill Experimenal Project–Liaison
    Aviation and accompanying papers, fn which the course of the project can be followed. 353/134 (FA Air Obsn)(S).

    75. Par 1, AGF M/S, C-3 (15) to G-2, G-4, Rqts. C/S, 27 Feb 45. 353/134 (FA Air
    Obsn)(S). A report of his tests was attached to the document cited above.

    76. Memo (S) of General Stilwell for General Marshall, 5 Mar 45, sub: Close-in
    Night Bombing by Liaison Aircraft. 353/134 (FA Air Obsn)(S).

    77. Par 2, AGF M/S (S), G-3 (15) to C/S, 9 Apr 45, sub: Rocket Firing from Liaison
    Planes. 353/139 (FA Air Obsn)(S).

    78. AGF itr (S) to Comdt FAS through CG, R&SC, 9 Mar 45, sub: Emergency Air Supply
    by FA Airplanes, and discussion in AGF M/S, G-4 to C/S 19 Feb 45, sub as above.
    353/136 (FA Air Obsn)(S).

    79. Par 3, AGF M/S cited in n. 77, above.

    80. Memo (S) of Lt Col Roy C. Flannagan for the ACofS, G-3 AGF, 16 Apr 45, sub:
    Tests of Rocket Firing, Television, and Ground Flares at Quantico, Va, 16 Apr 45.
    353/139 (FA Air Oban)(S).

    81. (1) Par 4, AGF M/S, G-3 to Rgts 10 Jul 45, sub: Ft Sill Liaison Project ….
    (Rpt of Tests) (Complete ref fr file of Air-Spt Br, G-3) 353/134 (FA Air Obsn)(S).
    (2) AAF ltr (S) to CG AGF, 5 June 45, sub: Liaison Avtn Program 353/145 (FA Air Oban)(S).

    82. ACF memo (S) for CofS, USA, attn NDD, 7 Jun 45, sub: Development of Rocket-Firing Aviation for Close Suppt of Ground Combat Troops. 471.94/185 (S).

    83. AGF ltrs (S) to CG AAF, 12 Aug 45, and to CG ASF, 14 Aug 45, sub: FAS Rpts
    of Test on Night Navigation and Night Gunnery. 353/134 (FA Air Oban)(S).

    Most of the liason aircraft procurement and testing action mentioned above is not understandable without a deep grounding in the Operation Olympic plans that Ryan and I have put in.

    The Army Ground Forces under General Stillwell were turning the L-5 liason plan into an analog of today’s Scout and attack helicopters to provide US Army Division and Corp commanders with their own air power independent of “Blue suited” air commanders.

  45. The first couple of volumes of WEB Griffin’s “Brotherhood of War” series goes into this and has pretty good info as Butterworth (the author) was at Fort Rucker when this happened as an Army NCO.

  46. Leather Helmet,

    See —

    Medevac From Luzon
    A small band of helicopter pilots risked their lives to rescue wounded soldiers during World War II.
    By Roger Connor
    Air & Space Magazine | Subscribe
    July 2010


    Medevac From Luzon: Helicopter combat service in the Pacific theater


  47. My grandfather served with the 81st infantry during their time on Peleliu and was one of the few that lived through it to be able to returne home. It is an incredible feeling to have seen the pictures of the document, map, sandbag hill and this tram. I want to thank the author that posted this article, it gives me some insight into what he did.

  48. Leslie,

    The Ike Skelton Combined Arms Research Library (CARL) Digital Library has post-Peleliu after action report documents for the various US Army units that fought on the island or supported the campaign.

    See the following file links and hit either the download icon at the upper right or the the four digit number ‘dot’ PDF file link at the left. Some of the reports (#3 and particularly #4 below) are multi-part and require navigating the upper left icons:

    1. Operation report Stalemate II, Palau Islands.

    After action report for the 710th tank battalion, 81st infantry division 17 Sept – 26 Oct 44 and G-3 Journal, 6 Aug – 18 Nov 44. . Angaur Island

    Date created 2011-01-28


    2. Operation report, Stalemate II, Palau Islands: 726th Amphibious Tractor Battalion.

    Date created 2011-03-07


    3. Operation Report, 81st Infantry Division, Operation on Peleliu Island, 23 Sept. – 27 Nov. 1944.

    Operations of the 81st infantry “Wildcat” Division in the Stalemate II operations in the Western Carolines. Divided into three phases: the capture of Angaur Island, operations on Peleliu Island and the seizure of Ulithi and other Western Caroline Islands.

    Date created 2009-05-26


    4. Participation in the Western Carolines and Central Philippines operations.

    This report was compiled to supplement the operational reports, and to make record of the duties and responsibilities that were assigned in connection with the operations. It gives in detail the administrative, training, and logistic responsibilities, and the preparations incident to the plan of operation from September – November 1944. Information is included on how the troops were designated, what equipment they received, how they were trained, what precautions were taken to insure security, and the planning and accomplishment of logistical support. Report is presented according to base command assignment.

    Date created 2006-04-12


  49. Leslie,

    Information like the following is why those “Participation…” reports of General Richardson in Hawaii have been on my “Must Research” list for years —


    1. 81st Infantry Division. To provide, replacements for
    the Western Carolines operation, it was decided to assign
    personnel to the 81 st. Infantry Division as an overstrength.
    This unusual plan was followed because of the possibility
    that combat replacements might be required prior to the com­
    pletion of the operation. Acting on the basis of the original
    planning, the selection of replacements was initiated in ad­
    vance, and shipments were tentatively organized.

    a. The 6th Replacement Depot was directed to select
    and alert 60 officers and 940 enlisted replacements
    for movement to the 81st Infantry Division.

    b. The classification and assignment section of the
    6th Replacement Depot selected personnel in the proper propor­
    tion as to grade, MOS, and arm or service. Casualty statistics
    on the Marianas operation, as developed by the statistical sec­
    tion of RTC, were used as a basis in estimating proportions.

    c. Shipping was coordinated with, and arranged for,
    by the South Pacific Base Command, A troop commander was
    designated. Replacements were organized into ship companies
    for the purposes of shipboard training and control, while en-

    d. A liaison officer, designated by the rear echelon
    of the 81st Infantry Division, proceeded to New Caledonia for
    the purpose of accompanying the replacements to the Western

    and later


    1. 81st Infantry Division. Complete personnel replace­
    ments for the 81st Infantry Division have not been effected
    to date (31 December 1944). It was estimated that an addi­
    tional 600 replacements would be required to bring the divi­
    sion, and attached units, to full strength.

    The math works out to the 81st ID being 1000 soldiers over strength going into the operation and needing 600 soldiers to get back to full strength — AKA 1,600 casualties from all causes, combat and non-combat.

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