Landing on the Cape

LST landing at Cape GloucesterA fully-loaded LST lands on Cape Gloucester

We went topside and had a pretty good breakfast.  The galley on an LST is on the aft end of the ship, you go in on one side much like a cafeteria and you come out the other side.  The big thing about the breakfast was that they had everything you could think of:  scrambled eggs and sausage, pancakes and above all a really good cup of coffee.  The Navy must have had some great coffee makers.  It was going to be our last hot meal for quite a few days. By this time the infantry had probably gone on in and made their way into the jungle.  It was probably 7 o’clock in the morning and undoubtedly they were ashore.  It didn’t seem like they were meeting with a great deal of resistance so we were happy about that.  About that time or maybe a little later we had orders to go down below into the hold where our guns were.  We all had our packs and our gear with us and were ready to go. The command came over the loud speakers to turn on all the engines, which happened almost immediately. The tractors revved up and there were clouds of smoke in that hold until the fans turned on.  These were huge fans and the noise inside was incredible.  The tension inside was building up and we were all expecting something; but didn’t know what.
We could feel the ship speeding onto the beach and I could picture those huge gates opening and meeting a whole flock of Japanese firing at us the way they show in the movies.  Well, it didn’t happen that way.  The next thing that happened was the thud of the ship as it hit the beach and sure enough those doors opened wide and the ramps slid down.  The tractors in front of us started to pull out and down that ramp.  There is a picture in one of the Life Magazines of this scene looking out onto the beach from the inside.
Our turn came and as we went down that ramp there was another three or four feet of water before firm land came up on us.  It was a space of about ten feet so the tractor went on down into the water.  They were all fitted with long exhaust tubes on the mufflers.  I don’t know how they water proofed those things; but we pulled down into the depth of the water an finally came up on the beach. The tractor took us up a little way.  We paused there a little while.  The LST was still there but everyone was pretty well out of it by then and we were right on a narrow strip of beach of black volcanic sand and the jungle grew almost to the edge of the water in spots, so it was a fairly narrow beach.  The amazing thing was that the terrain looked like there had been a huge forest fire because the area we were in was full of leafless trees,  a lot of which  had  fallen on top of one another.

As we paused we heard the drone of airplane engines.  We looked up and some B24’s were coming parallel to the coastline above the ships and I think that at least one of them started to strafe.  We all hit the deck and there were bullets whistling in the trees right around us.  As far as I know nobody got hit but we were a little miffed because they were Army Air Corp Mitchell bombers and I don’t know where they got the idea to strafe along that beach when the LST’s were piled up there.

At any rate, by this time it was lunchtime, Christmas Day and I remember sitting there for a while and breaking out my C Rations. I think I had a can of beans and franks and some crackers, there was a Chocolate bar in the other can and a little packet of 3 cigarettes and some Nestles powdered coffee and sugar and a little cream in powdered form. We ate and started to get our guns in position where they were supposed to be, with the officers directing us into a route deeper into the jungle.  We were going thru this burnt out area.
Our first casualty came to light.  The word was that it was Lebrock, the fellow whom I had talked to earlier on the ship who had some premonition of death.  What had happened was that Lebrock, had been felled by a falling tree and as we pulled up with our guns some stretcher-bearers came past us with his body on a stretcher with a blanket covering him.  It was the first casualty I had seen.
The naval gunfire had blasted this area pretty well, that’s why it looked the way it did.  We had not too much trouble coming thru this small area; but as it got green up ahead of us we had a bull dozer knocking down trees trying to make a route thru the jungle to get to where we wanted to set up our gun.  It was a six hundred yard trip and one of the most excruciating trips that you can imagine because we were crossing streams and manhandling the guns.   The tractors could not make it sometime in the water so we were pushing on our 105’s getting them across those streams. This happened four or five times over the course of that six hundred  yards. The ground was very soft, muddy and the tractor had a heck of a time managing and at times we were completely stalled. This happened about every twenty yards.  We would take the wench cable on the front of the tractor and wrap it around a sizeable tree and hook it up and then the tractor operator would put on full speed with the tractor track and use the wench at the same time.  Most of the time it worked.  At one point, I remember the cable broke and it spun around, fortunately not hitting anyone but it would have cut a person in half had they gotten in the way..  We continued at a very slow rate and it was hot and humid.  We were soaking wet but kept moving ahead a little at a time.
We later got the Naval Unit Commendation for this effort and that is written up in “The Old Breed” book that I have.   It is verbalized in very nice language but it does not tell the whole story.  We were pleased to get the citation in recognition of what we had done. 

Fire Control

105mm Howitzers fire in support of Marines.jpg

By late afternoon we finally got close to a clearing.   It was a clearing of kunai grass, which is really not a grass but more like bamboo.  The stalks were six feet high and when we got into that patch of grass we turned and there was jungle on the right side.  We proceeded along a path between the jungle and the kunai grass and then the tractors took over and backed us into position. The guns were set up under cover of the jungle.

I have to add that during the trip to the jungle we were fired on a few times by snipers.  Our counter sniper people would go after them and did get a few. The Japanese would tie themselves by their ankle to a tree, fairly high up and just stay there, they were able to stay there for as long as a week looking for targets to shoot at. They would exist on a bag of rice and their little water supply.

The fire control center was located and set up in the center point between the four gun sections and a little deeper into the jungle.  After it was set up, communications were set up with our people with radios in the front lines that was the way we got fire directions.  We then proceeded to put the guns in parallel with the aid of a transit.  This meant all four guns were exactly in line and could fire at the same target and do a pretty good job.  Each gun had a set of aiming stakes that were about an inch and a half in diameter and about seven feet tall and about fifty feet out.  The first aiming stake was put out and then the second one was put out in line with the outer one, all this  was directed by the gunner who was looking through the gun sight with cross hairs on it.  In addition each aiming stake was equipped with a little hooded flashlight which was directed toward the gun and that could be turned on at night.  One flashlight was set low on the first aiming station and higher on the other one.  With the hood it would be hard to see except by the gunner. After that we got a base number based on the transit number all set up by trigonometry.  We proceeded to register a few rounds and fired sort of by trial and error then they could see where we could fire and in what direction.

Things were going well, we were dug in ready to support the infantry if we needed to do so. Some of our officers were at the front line as forward observers and they had communications people with them with radios. Sometime it was radios, sometime they actually took coils of wire and took them from the fire control center out to the front lines and that was communication by telephone.

Since I was just a private I did all the menial jobs with some of the other privates in the gun section consisting of unloading and uncrating the ammunition.  The ammunition usually came two 105 mm shells in a wooden crate.  The crates came in handy later.  We would unload the shells and stack them up ready for use.  We knew how to set fuses and how to take out the powder bags, which governed the distance the projectile would travel.

That first night we had perimeter defense out on the machine gun posts.  We were told to put out more planks.  It turned out that I and another fellow were sent out a little way out into the jungle.  We were supposed to take turns staying up all night.  We flipped a coin and I got the first watch.  I stayed awake while the other guy slept.  We were both exhausted so when I got off watch I woke up my partner, whose name I cannot recall.  At the break of dawn I awaken and I looked over and there was my partner fast asleep.  Both of us could have been cut up or worse.