Japanese Airborne Attack on Elements of the 11th A/B   

By: Brig. Gen. Henry J. Muller, Jr.

Submitted by: Dr. James Lorio

                                                                                                            

 

"TRANSPORTS!!" — "JAPS!!" — "PARATROOPERS!!"

The time was 1800 hours, Dec. 7, 1944, and at first it sounded like a swarm of bees in the distance. Then it became clear. No paratrooper could mistake the drone of a formation of troop carrier aircraft. Some one outside shouted "AIRCRAFT!!!" — then many "JAP TRANSPORTS!!!" — "PARATROOPERS!!!"

The division staff dashed out of the mess tent looking skyward. By now a dozen parachutes had opened above us and everyone began firing at them I even emptied two clips from my .45 at the nearest parachutists. Most jumped well beyond our Hdqs. Landing in and about the San Pablo airstrip. Only a few who jumped to soon dropped over us and floated down just north of our perimeter.

I rushed back to my office to report the action to
Corps Hdqs. as well as inform all of our own units.
However, as the telephone lines to Corps had just
gone out again, I was reduced to writing a radio
message in the clear to save time. By the time we
had notified everyone it was already dark. There
was considerable rifle fire from the vicinity of the
airstrip and some also from the Hdgs. Area, the latter
from trigger-happy troops in their first combat situation.
Someone ordered that the generator be shut down as the
lights could attract sniper fire. Each section had been
required to dig fox holes and trenches around their tents.
Although rather shallow soil piled on the upper rim
provided cover from small arms fire if one kept low.

HEADQUARTERS TROOPS COUNTER ATTACK

During the night, the G-3 prepared a plan for a provisional
battalion of Ordinance and Quarter-master companies,
with odds and ends of service and admin. troops, to
counter-attack across the airstrip at first light.
The firing had subsided but we had no contact
with the small aerial resupply detachment at the strip.
Early in the morning Gen. Swing and I accompanied by
his aide and dismounted driver, Sgt. DeBacca, made our
way to the airstrip for a first hand appraisal of the situation.
Our counter attack had cleared the field with little resistance.
Other than for a few remaining snipers, the Japanese
paratroopers had withdrawn into a wooded area north
of the strip.  They had burned some of our light aircraft
along with small stores of aviation fuel and various supplies
which were a part of our resupply effort for units
in the mountains. Our resupply detachment, having
remained in their fox holes, had suffered no casualties.

Their airborne assault had been a debacle from
start to finish. The first plane load of paratroopers
began leaving their aircraft direct over Div. Hdqs.
some 600 feet short of their objectives. Others
were strung out well beyond the airstrip in an area
of tall trees – the bete noire of parachutists. One
entire planeload jumped to their deaths when the
anchor line which pulls the chutes open failed.
Those who did reach the field were ineffective.
Our resupply people reported later that the
enemy wandered about without direction 
and appeared to be drunk. They probably were.

It was Japanese Army practice to issue some
sort of strong intoxicant on such occasions to
screw up the courage of their men. Some were
shouting calls for surrender in awkward English
phrases, probably learned for the occasion.

After Gen. Swing had surveyed the situation, he gave
orders to get the critical resupply operations underway
with the remaining light aircraft. As we started back toward Hdqs., the aide and driver fell behind but I kept quite, believing that he might have some comment to make to me at this point. He did not and I feared that any comment I might make to him might have an "I told you so" ring to it.

As we completed our walk back to Hdqs. I began to feel
a great sense of relief. The jump had come exactly in accordance with my estimate which many had read
and yet there was no military disaster. My credibility was more than restored, yet I would not have unnecessary casualties on my conscience and there would be no court of inquiry. As to my unauthorized disclosure of the source of the  "crystal ball" message, it came to me that only Gen. Swing and I knew of my breach of discipline but that both of us would consider it to be in the best interests to keep it to ourselves.

In later years I visited Gen. Swing, on several occasions but neither of us ever mentioned what transpired between us on the night of Dec. 6, 1944. For my part, it was more than 40 years before I thought it would be permissible to relate the strange account of Gen. Willoughby’s message. I told the story to Dr. Tony Arthur who was gathering material for is excellent book about the
11th Airborne Division, "Deliverance at Los Banos."

THE AFTERMATH

The day before the jump had been a misery to me. I may have been a little paranoid but I sensed that members of my G-2 staff were subdued and without their usual banter. I noted too, that my friends were especially solicitous, and took care not to mention my estimate which they assumed would be acutely embarrassing
to me. Today was very different. The G-2 personnel were in good spirits again and carried out their duties with a special verve and vigor. My friends greeted me with the likes of "Hey, Hank how in the hell did you call the Jap jump?" "It was a logical capability. I should have thought of it earlier." "Well, maybe, but how did you get the day and even the hour."

Oh, that kind of followed when you think of it.
Pearl Harbor Day and the advantage of a jump before dark." Obviously I could not reveal the truth to anyone and felt like a wretched charlatan accepting credit I didn’t deserve. No doubt about it the credibility of the G-2 section had reached a high. But without an occasional "crystal ball" message in the future we might be hard pressed to live up to what was now expected of us. No other "crystal ball" messages were received
and fortunately we didn’t need any. Thanks to the fine collective effort within our division, the surprising wealth of intelligence information from prisoners and documents, and the continuous flow of useful information from our wonderful allies, the Filipino guerrillas, we were able to do a very creditable job. Within a week or two following our landing, I was able to tell a visitor just what Col. Masher had told me: "We know everything about the little bastards."

 

 

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Brig. Gen. Henry J Muller, Jr., USA (Ret.) Wartime G-2, 11th Airborne Division (Photo courtesy Gen. Muller)

We learned later that Gen. Willoughby’s report had
been absolutely correct. Gen. Yamashita had ordered the
entire First Airborne Brigade with two regiments to jump
on the airstrips as part of a coordinated attack with the 26th Div. Which was supposed to have crossed the mountains and assaulted the airstrips on Dec. 7th. They didn’t make it. Gen. Swing was also right in his assessment that the Japanese did not have enough carriers left in the Philippines to lift such a sizable force. Could it have been possible that the Supreme Commander in the Philippines didn’t know how many transports he had left? Senior commanders are often in a fool’s paradise believing that their subordinate units were in much better condition than was actually the case. For example, I was taken in by the air order of battle reports which indicated there were enough transports present or in supporting distance of Luzon for a brigade jump, and thus I took some comfort that Gen. Yamashita was similarly misled.

We learned later from Japanese sources that as D-Day
approached, the initial attacking force, due to the shortage of aircraft, had to be cut to one regiment. The second would follow in a subsequent lift. When the moment of truth arrived there were only enough to transport some 500 men, about 1/3 of the regiment. It was then decided that 25 aircraft would carry one regiment to Leyete in three lifts. The first lift arrived exactly as scheduled, but the second lift on the following day was forced to turn back by severe weather conditions, a sort of a reverse "Kame Kaze" (divine wind) from our point of view. No further attempts were made to support their almost useless operation.

Understandably, I gave a good deal of thought to what might have been the original source of the airborne assault report. My best guess was that a well placed intelligence
operative in senior Japanese Hdqs. on Luzon who passed
information to the guerrillas, who in turn, relayed it to us
with powerful transmitters we had sent into them by submarines. Another possibility was a radio intercept but I rather discounted this possibility. It was unlikely that the Japanese would send such critical information in the clear and "everyone knew" that it was impossible to decipher the sophisticated Japanese code.

THE SECRET REVEALED

But "everyone" was wrong. Shortly before the war, the
US Army and Navy developed a machine that was able to
break both the German and Japanese high codes.
This remarkable capability had been closely held in Washington to only a few of our highest officials and, in the field, to no lower  than Generals Eisenhower and MacArthur and Admiral Nimitz and their top intelligence staff.

It was this asset that enabled Gen. MacArthur to send
the naval forces in his command to exactly the right place at the right time to intercept and destroy the Japanese fleet in the Coral sea. It was also an intercepted and decoded message that made it possible for Admiral Nimitz to send fighter aircraft to intercept and shoot down the Japanese aircraft carrying Admiral Yamamoto, the Supreme Commander of the Japanese Imperial Navy, the officer responsible for Pearl Harbor. The asset was closely held and used sparingly so as not to alert the enemy that we had broken the codes.

I didn’t learn of this capability until a year
or so after the war when Senator Homer Ferguson of
Michigan was making headlines investigating the alleged
failure of US intelligence with respect to Pearl Harbor.
During the course of the investigation, Senator Ferguson
learned of our code breaking capabilities and of the intercepted "winds messages" and was determined to reveal this secret. Reportedly, both President Truman and General Marshall personally endeavored to dissuade the senator from divulging this most important national asset, but to no avail.

One day it was headlines in the press. It was only then
that I knew for certain the source of that fateful message
which brought me an undeserved and short lived-lived
reputation as a G-2 with an uncommon ability to forecast
the enemy’s next move right down to the very day and hour.

 

Source:

A condensation of an Article by:
Brig. Gen. Henry J. Muller,Jr., USA(Ret.)
Wartime G-2, 11th Airborne Division

Courtesy of the Lt. Vincent J. McDonald
Chapter Newsletter, January, 1998, 11th Airborne Division Association, Portland, OR, LaFayette Keaton, President.

Submitted by James W. Lorio, Major, Infantry,
511th Parachute Infantry Regiment, WWII. from Baton Rouge, LA.