It was during Nov. - Dec. 1944, when the 511th Parachute Infantry Regiment was
advancing from the eastern beaches of Leyte, across the unmapped jungle of the central
mountains into the interior of the island. The mission was to make contact with the
77th Infantry Division, which was to land on the western coast of the island near Ormoc,
the major enemy base for landing their reinforcements and supplies. In concert, the 7th
Infantry Division was advancing northward along the west coast, from the village of Baybay
on Ormoc Bay.
The 511th clashed head-on into the fresh Japanese 29th Division in a "Dog-Eat-Dog, No
Front, No Rear", battle. On December 8th the 511th had secured Rock Hill, a
dominating terrain feature in their zone of advance. Rock Hill was a part of the long
ridge running down to the western coast. The Japanese had built their main supply trail
along this ridge. For two weeks the Regiment was engaged in destroying enemy strong points
and securing dominating terrain. Then, on December 20th, the 11th Airborne Division
Commander (Lt. Gen. Joseph Swing) ordered a continuation of the main attack along the
Japanese supply trail. The goal was now to make contact with the 7th Infantry Division.
Throughout the next day, the 2nd Battalion of the 511th advanced slowly
against fierce enemy resistance. But, after repeated unsuccessful attacks
against a tenaciously defended enemy strong point, the battalion was forced
to disengage and establish a perimeter for the night. Major "Hacksaw"
Holcomb, the Battalion Commander, realized that further attacks against this
position would be extremely costly and time consuming. The position
dominated all the surrounding approaches and its northern and southern
slopes were to precipitous to attack. At this point it was raining, the
weather was extremely downcast and the enemy showed every sign of continuing
his defense at all cost.
It was then decided by Col. Orin "Hard Rock" Haugen (Regimental Commander)
on a night attack. At 1900 hours, on December 21st, he issued the attack
order. D-511th Company was ordered to make a frontal attack at 0400 on the
next day. They were to be followed in column by E-511th and F-511th
Companies and the remainder of the regiment. Since the trail was narrow and
to maneuver was all but impossible, the attack front of the regiment would
consist of only a handful of men from the assault company.
No reconnaissance of the terrain had been made. Early darkness and dense
jungle foliage had made observation or any extensive movement impossible.
The D-511th Company C. O. , Capt. Stephen "Rusty" Cavanaugh, could only
assume that the terrain ahead was similar to that which lay behind.
Enthusiasm for the night operation was dampened even more by the continuous
rain and by concept, that controlled troop movement in the jungle during
hours of darkness was just about impossible. Capt. Cavanaugh drew up a
simple plan of attack. The company was to cross the line of departure, which
was the forward edge of the perimeter, in a column of platoons. Each platoon
would move in a column of squads. This formation would allow the column to
enter the enemy position on an extremely narrow front. Surprise was to be
gained by stealth and the fact that the attack was being launched, in the
rain at an unexpected hour. Control was to be by voice alone. The company
C.O. decided to move with platoon leader, Lt. Andrew Carrico, behind the
lead squad of the lead platoon, he felt, in that position he would be in the
best position to control the attack.
The assault platoon crossed the line of departure at 0400 on December 22nd,
and began groping its way along the jungle path which ran up the ridge
toward the enemy position. Passing through Capt. Charles Morgan's F-511th
Company, the lead squad reached a position directly in front of the enemy
emplacements without being detected. About 200 yards along a ridge to the
west, the 1st Squad and Lt. Carrico were on the left and the 2nd Squad on
the right of the trail, they fixed bayonets. Pre-dawn and raining, there was
an open field ahead. About fifteen yards away, was a Japanese Rifleman standing
by a fox hole and looking in the opposite direction. As lead scout, Pvt.
Gilberto C. "Slick" Sepovada, moved to bayonet him, the Japanese soldier turned
"Slick" shot him dead. Then, "Slick" was instantly killed by returning
Japanese rifle fire. At this decisive point in the battle, the 1st squad
leader, Sgt. George Taylor, located on the left side of the trail, used his
own initiative. He gathered six of his men together, ordered a simultaneous
toss of grenades, yelling "RATS ASS", the signal to hit the ground.
Along the way, one of our guys threw a grenade which hit a tree and bounced back
into the squad. All hit the dirt and the exploding fragments miraculously
hit no one. Advancing and throwing a phosphorus hand grenade, Pvt. Bittorie
ran into a tree branch, smashing his nose and knocking off his steel helmet,
which rolled down the hill. Pvt. August F. Wilder shot and killed a Japanese soldier just
six feet away from Pvt. Bittorie. Continuing marching fire, the 1st squad,
commanded by Lt. Carrico and Sgt. Taylor, on the left and the 2nd squad
directed by Sgt. George Cushwa and Asst. Squad Leader, Pfc. William Duves,
and others on the right, reached the crest of the hill.
Probably due to the strong attack made the day before by the F-511th company
and unknown to the attacking D-511th company paratroopers, the Japanese were
caught by surprise, withdrawing along and improved trail about 10 - 15 ft.
wide. Confronted with 100 - 150 Japanese, in a long column, Pvt. Bittorie
concluded this was "A machine gunners dream." But, he had only a strip of
20-25 rounds left in his LMG belt. So, he called for a full belt from the
Asst. gunner, Pvt. Stuart D. Stevenson, who helped with the loading. Yelling
"Banzai --- RATS ASS," Pvt. Bittorie, holding the barrel with an asbestos
mitten, fired the full belt from his waist, into the surprised column.
As D-511th charged forward, everyone delivered marching fire in deadly
fashion, killing most of the scattering column in the "RATS ASS ---
Capt. Cavanaugh continued the westward advance forward. That afternoon
D-511th dug in and could see all down hill terrain to Ormoc Bay. What a
sight! In this attack, the only casualty was Pvt. Sepovada, KIA.
Subsequently the 2nd Battalion of the 187th Glider Infantry Regiment passed
through the 511th PIR and made contact with the 7th Division near the
village of Albuera on Ormoc Bay.
Typing and editing provided by Leo Kocher - 511
Courtesy of "WINDS ALOFT"
Quarterly publication of the 511th Parachute Infantry Association