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PostWar Memoirs of J William Winter, Saipan (Brian Blodgett, USA, 01/07/18 12:40 pm)
When I was working on an website for the Battle of Saipan, William Winter, who I had never met, contacted me--I am not sure how he found the site as this was in the 1990s and not the internet that we have today. He sent me a copy of the diary text, some sketches he made, an interrogation of Major Kiyoshi Yoshida, the Intelligence Officer of the 43rd Division, and when I asked him for his memories of Saipan, he provided me with the following:
Remembrances of J. William Winter, ASN 13054928 of the Battle of Saipan along with his experiences after the battle.
What you propose is very interesting to me, since it represented a very important part of my life. And while it certainly presented a lot of concern, I've never regretted having enlisted, as opposed to being drafted. In the early months of 1942, friends and classmates kept disappearing, and I wasn't getting called. So, one day at lunch time, I walked from my office to the Custom House in Philadelphia, and enlisted in the Army. A week later I was on a train for Camp Lee where I spent what, at the time, became the worst three days of my military career: processing, the paper work, the tests, clothes that didn't fit, the shots followed by fire duty beside a monstrous coal-fired boiler, etc. I felt being shot at would be preferable. Eventually, that attitude changed.
The war was definitely on the defensive at that time. Those who tested as the best or brightest were sent to either the Air Force or the Coast Artillery. I wound up at Fort Monroe, home of the Coast Artillery. I spent 15 months at Monroe, during which time I trained to be a plotting sergeant in the fire direction center of a battery of 12" disappearing guns, as a jawbone corporal helped train the first 1-B recruits, applied to Master Gunner School where I finished at the top of the class, and then accepted a transfer to a CA regiment scheduled for overseas, where I could get promoted from Sgt to T/Sgt as a Master Gunner. Our weapons were 155mm guns affectionately known as "Long Toms."
The outfit never went overseas as a regiment. We were broken up into three separate battalions, our battalion being shipped to Kaneohe Bay on Oahu for Coast Defense. However, the first time we fired our guns for record, they had so much trouble keeping targets out there, the powers decided we were too good for Coast Defense, and we were moved up near Schofield Barracks for a 6-weeks crash course conversion to Field Artillery so we could be used in combat. Since FA battalions are made up of three batteries (CA only has 2 batteries), a third CA battery was brought up from Christmas Island to bring us up to strength.
In Field Artillery, the position of Master Gunner has never existed for several reasons. However, my Colonel was loath to lose someone with my training, and he happened to be looking for a new Sgt Major. So, I was promoted to Sgt Major with the rank of M/Sgt. The Colonel and I had a nice working agreement. During combat I'd function primarily as a Master Gunner, and between combats I'd perform primarily as a Sgt Major. The Colonel was happy, and so was I.
Which brings us to the end of May l944, when we boarded two LSTs as a part of the invasion force headed for Saipan. On Jun 17 (D plus 2), I was part of a recon party from the now 532d FA Bn (under the umbrella of XXIV Corps Artillery) that went ashore to see about setting up our guns. On the beach, I saw a battery of Marines firing 75mm artillery pieces. I walked up to a gun commander and asked him why they were firing from the beach, to which he rather profanely replied that the front line was less than 100 yards from the beach. I observed that it would be stupid, if not impossible to bring our weapons in now: they weighed around 15 tons and needed more room than the beach provided.
It soon became academic because within a day or two the Navy put out to sea to do battle with an approaching Jap fleet; and every supply vessel offshore disappeared. For two or three days our small group of six or seven men, with no weapons to support the offensive, stuck together and lived off dead men's canteens and K-rations, and waited for our ships to reappear.
By the time the fleet did return, our S-2, who'd been in oilfield construction in better times, had found out where we were to set up our guns, stole a Marine bulldozer and took off to prepare gun emplacements. I guess it was about then that the enormity of what was going began to sink in because, with very little else to do, all we could do was watch. In one afternoon, I saw the dead and the wounded, the civilians and natives not knowing which way to turn, was sniped at, saw their sniper get shot out of a tree, saw one of our own dazed soldiers get run over on the beach by one of our tanks. The first person killed in our outfit was lying in his foxhole when a dud Jap artillery shell went right through his chest.
At this point, since by now you probably realize I was on Saipan for the whole operation, I must express my opinion on the Marine Corps. Please notice that I say Marine Corps--not Marines. The Corps recruits kids, young, dumb and enthusiastic. The Esprit is all! We'll make supermen out of you! And the kids believe all that crap. I talked to a lot of young Marines who, by the time combat was over for them, knew they'd been had. The glory is all for the Corps. For the generals. They don't give a damn how many bodies pile up, as long as they're on schedule. I've taken the position for many years that the Army could do anything the Marine Corps could do, with a lot less loss of life, and just a little more time. I will give the Marine Corps one thing: They have the most powerful and smoothest running propaganda machine of any branch of the service.
As you know, Saipan was a Navy operation. And that included the Marines; on land, they were in charge. The Marines tried three times to take Aslito Airfield, and were driven back. So, they called in the Army 27th Division, which went on to take the airfield. This probably stuck in "Howlin' Mad's" craw. So, on the move north, he put his two Marine divisions on the flanks, which essentially means the relatively flat terrain on the East and West coasts. And he assigned the Army's 27th Div to the center third of the island, which was the mountainous spine of the island. I was there after the battle, and there was no way anyone could move as swiftly in that area as the men down near the coast. And "Howlin' Mad" knew it. He was just a contemptible bastard, anxious to get one more battle star, and one more chance to make the Army look bad compared to his beloved Corps.
Our XXIV Corps Artillery Long Toms could reach farther than any Marine artillery on the island. So, we were frequently called on for front line support, especially if they ran into a machine gun nest or an artillery piece in a cave. And we were, of course, glad to help. Then, suddenly, we started getting accused of our rounds falling short, even when we knew we weren't firing in the area. So, one morning we were asked for some supporting fire. Our gun bores were getting pretty worn and, at long range, that can give you dispersion you don't really want. So, our Colonel decided we weren't going to fire. Sure enough, an hour or two later, a jeep showed up with a couple of Marine brass in it. They approached our Colonel and started to berate him for firing short into the front lines. The Colonel took it for a couple minutes, and then said very quietly, "Gentlemen, I suggest you look at our records here--we didn't fire this morning. It must have been some other artillery outfit." Which told the Marine brass it had to be their own artillery. And we didn't get accused of any short rounds after that. It appeared to be just one more Marine effort to discredit the Army.
Another thing: when the Marines say the island is "secure," you better keep your head down and not wander far from your outfit. We lost considerably more men after the Marines declared the island "secure" than we did during the operation. And while on that subject, I accepted that our artillery was killing hundreds of the enemy; that was our job. And it was kind of an abstract thing; it was all out there somewhere. The only enemy death that really bothered me was when I killed a Japanese soldier after the island was secure. One night, just after darkness had fallen, I was walking alone toward the mess tent, and in the dim light I realized that someone was walking quietly toward the mess tent about 30-50 feet ahead of me. There was enough light for me to recognize the Japanese uniform. I pulled out my pistol, but realizing that if I fired standing up I might hit someone in the mess tent, I went down on one knee so I was firing up at the target. I put one bullet right through his head, and he died in a short time. I got no sleep that night, and it comes back to bother me now and again: he had pictures in his pocket of a small boy.
Saipan was only about 14 miles long, as I remember. With our guns emplaced several hundred yards from the Southern end of the island, we were able to reach almost the whole island without moving the guns. Which meant that, in the operation for Tinian, we had only to turn our guns around to support the invasion of Tinian. That was the big prize: Tinian was much flatter, and ideal for the airstrip to be built for the B-29s, which delivered the A-bomb that ultimately ended the war.
The 532d Field Artillery Battalion went on to Leyte where we helped to wipe out the enemy cornered in the Ormoc pocket, as it was referred to. Leyte was an interesting experience compared to Saipan because the natives were friendly and glad to see us, and determined to show off the fact they'd been taught English in school.
After Leyte, we went to Okinawa. D-day was April lst, 1945. However, the 532d was shelled the night of March 31st, because we had emplaced that Saturday on a tiny, barren island of sand called Keise Shima, just off the landing beaches. Our mission: to support the invading troops the following morning. Fortunately, in spite of the fact we learned later that Keise Shima was a firing range for Jap artillery, they put on a pretty lousy show that night, most of their shells going over the island and exploding on the reef just beyond. Our biggest enemy problem was that every Saturday night they tried to put a landing party on our island. However, our machine gunners and the Navy gunboats took care of them for the most part. But every Sunday morning Tokyo Rose reported that we'd been wiped out. After 3 or 4 weeks on Keise Shima, we moved onto Okinawa to better support our slowly advancing troops.
It was a great day on Okinawa when the bomb was dropped and Japan finally capitulated. For all those bleeding-heart idiots who think we should not have dropped the bomb, it was a small price to pay for millions of lives saved. I speak as one who knew our outfit was scheduled to go into Tokyo Bay. Based on previous experiences in the Pacific War, it was estimated that the US would suffer one-and-a-half million casualties, and Japan would probably suffer three million or more. So the 75,000 or so casualties incurred at Hiroshima was worth it to end the war. And all the casualties at Nagasaki can be blamed on Imperial Japan for delaying the obvious. I for one will never apologize for the bomb--I figure my luck would have run out at Tokyo Bay.
Having written down my observations and thoughts on the battle for Saipan, I would appear to be somewhat harsh on the Marine Corps. But while Marj (J. William Winter's wife) keeps saying, "You must separate facts from opinions," I remind her that my opinions were formed by the facts. As Sgt Major of the 532d FA Bn, I was privy and witness to a lot more interplay than the soldiers down the line. So, I don't apologize for my opinions.
I believed that the gauntlet was thrown down at Pearl Harbor, that ours was a just cause. I certainly saw it as a patriotic duty to enlist, to not even wait for the draft. I lost many friends from a relatively small high school class, all of whom had enlisted. My family has been here for over 300 years, and, when I salute The Flag, there's a lump in my throat. I don't need a Marine Corps TV commercial to remind me what this country means to me.
JE comments: Brian, you said Sgt Winter died some years ago. He must have been a fascinating man to raise a glass with. (I shudder to think of the reaction of WAISworld's several Marine veterans, but please accept this document as a valuable historical artifact.)
I learned from our much-missed colleague Col. Bob Gibbs that the Army's best and brightest are sent to artillery school. Sgt Winter is one example. Of course, Bob was an artilleryman, too!
Obituary of J William Winter, Saipan Memoirist
(Edward Jajko, USA
01/09/18 4:05 AM)
See below for the obituary of J. William Winter, author of the account of the Battle of Saipan (see Brian Blodgett, 7 January):
JE comments: Excellent archival work, Ed! Winter passed away in 2010, at the age of 91. He spent a career in advertising, which explains his talent for writing. Too bad we never had the chance to invite him to WAIS!
Winter was a Pennsylvanian, but at the time of his death he lived in New Bern, North Carolina. This is Marines country. (New Bern is near the USMC Air Station, Cherry Point. Our colleague Michael Sullivan lives in adjacent Havelock.) I wonder if Winter, an Army man, ever got into trouble with his criticism of the Corps.
- My Father in the Burma Campaign (John Heelan, UK 01/11/18 1:27 PM)
My father, who took part in the Burma campaign, used to tell me that after the Imphal-Kohima battle, many (he claimed 2000) of the Japanese Army committed seppuku because of their defeat. "The Japanese defeat at Imphal and Kohima represented the largest defeat in Japanese military history. Of the 65,000 front-line troops, 30,000 were killed, 23,000 were wounded, and 600 were captured; among the 50,000 support troops, there were 15,000 casualties. The Allies only suffered 17,500 casualties in comparison."
A good account of the battle can be read at https://ww2db.com/battle_spec.php?battle_id=188
JE comments: That the victors could speak of "only" 17,500 casualties gives an idea of the horrors. Two thousand suicides must be a grim record. Jonestown was "only" in the 900s.
What specific stories from the Burma campaign do you remember from your father, John?
My Father's Stories of the Burma Campaign
(John Heelan, UK
01/13/18 5:01 AM)
John E asked on January 12th about my father's stories from the Burma campaign in WWII.
I remember many. I was reared on such stories, as my father had been a long-term professional soldier serving in Silesia in WWI, Dunkirk, North African desert, Iraq, India in WWII and ending up in the Burma Campaign as part of General Bill Slim's 14th Army (aka the "Forgotten Army").
The last war left him with respect for most of his opponents but a deep hatred of the Japanese Army for the cruel ways they treated people (e.g. captured nurses, civilians and prisoners). As an example, at one reunion of 14th Army veterans, one of the attendees dressed as a Japanese soldier as a joke. He got beaten up by the other attendees.
JE comments: Prince Harry should have spoken with John Heelan before going to that costume party as a Nazi.
John, have you written your father's stories down? Please, please do. If you wish, WAIS can give them a permanent e-home. And what about his serving in Silesia? Was this after the Great War, as part of the Versailles arrangement? I had never heard of British combatants on the Eastern Front(s) of WWI.
Allied Occupation Troops in Post-WWI Silesia
(Eugenio Battaglia, Italy
01/14/18 5:38 AM)
On 11 February 1920 the Inter-Allied Commission decided to send French, British and Italian troops to North Silesia, which was contested between Germany (Freikorps) and Poland.
There were 3325 Italians in this force. They were attacked by rebellious nationalist Poles on 4 May 1921. The Italians suffered 25 casualties.
The contingent remained there until 9 July 1922. The local problem was solved with a plebiscite, but Germany was punished heavily and lost vast ethnic German areas all along the new borders.
The Western forces, including Italians, Americans, Czechoslovakians, and others, were sent to North Russia (Murmansk), at first to fight against the Germans and then the Bolsheviks from August 1918 through October 1919.
Troops were also sent to Vladivostok to fight the Bolsheviks: 28,000 Japanese (later reaching 75,000), 7500 Americans, 4000 Canadians, 2000 Italians, 1500 British and 1000 French.
Something completely unknown: In January 1916 a Russian contingent arrived in France via the Transiberian railroad and then from China by sea. In September 1917, however, the Russians did not want to fight anymore and were arrested. Only about 100 agreed to continue the fighting. They joined the French Foreign Legion and at the end of the war most of them remained in France.
In my last WAIS post about the members of the Trimarium, I wrote Serbia but should have said Slovenia. Sorry.
JE comments: I was aware of the Russian Legion that fought in France after 1916. See Jamie Cockfield's excellent book, With Snow on Their Boots (1997).
John Heelan's father must have been part of this occupation force in Silesia. John (next) clarifies.
Polar Bear Battalion in Arkhangelsk
(Patrick Mears, Germany
01/14/18 5:51 PM)
I just read Eugenio Battaglia's post (14 January) with interest.
A friend of mine, Gordon Olson, was for years the Grand Rapids (Michigan) official City Historian and also was a member of the Board of Trustees with me for The Historical Society for the United States District Court for the Western District of Michigan.
Godfrey Anderson was a resident of Grand Rapids and had been a member of the Polar Bear Battalion that was sent to fight the Bolsheviks near the city of Archangel in the aftermath of World War I. Anderson transcribed his recollections of that experience, which Gordon edited for publication. The book was published in 2010 while I was still living in Grand Rapids, and it was introduced in town with some fanfare. It is a very interesting read that still may be purchased online.
JE comments: Many of the Polar Bears were Michiganders. Uncle Sam must have assumed we thrive in the cold. There is a monument to the Battalion in the White Chapel Cemetery in Troy, next door to Royal Oak. See below--the monument has more gravitas in black and white.
I'm going to pick up a copy of Anderson's book.
- British Troops in Post-WWI Silesia (John Heelan, UK 01/14/18 6:00 AM)
John E (13 January) asked how it was possible for my father, a British soldier, to have served in Silesia during WWI.
This always puzzled me as well, as I knew nothing about Versailles and WWI at that time. So my later conclusion was the two were linked. "The Upper Silesia Plebiscite was an arrangement made as part of the Versailles Peace Treaty and implemented in March 1921. It was intended that the plebiscite would determine part of the border between Poland and Germany. An Inter-Allied force of British, French and Italian troops was sent to this hostile and turbulent area for peace keeping operations." (See http://www.longlongtrail.co.uk/army/other-aspects-of-order-of-battle/order-battle-british-silesia-force/ )
The photograph in this article of the Royal Munster Fusiliers--my father's first enlistment--makes me wonder is he was in it. A later family photograph, now lost, shows him and his companions with "snow on their boots."
JE comments: Note the durable "snow on their boots" metaphor, which was also used to refer to the Russian troops sent to the Western Front in 1916. (See Eugenio Battaglia from earlier today.) I stress the metaphor part: snow doesn't stay very long on the boots once you warm up.
Too bad that photo was lost, John.
Memories of a Child in WWII Britain
(John Heelan, UK
01/18/18 4:38 AM)
I have written elsewhere in WAIS about my memories as a child during the Blitz.
In 1941, aged three or four, in common with some 800,000 other children, I was "evacuated" from London to a place of relative safety in the country, in my case a small mining village on the South Yorkshire Moors and lodged in the house of a miner with two daughters of my age.
I often wondered "why South Yorkshire Moors?" It is strange the hidden influences that affect on our lives. Later research suggested that the reason was that the surviving regiments from Dunkirk (my father belonged to one of them) were stationed in a camp on the Moors created to house them for recovery and retraining. Mining was a reserved occupation in those days that avoided conscription, and I clearly recall the man of the house being bathed by his wife in front of the fire--pithead showers were well in the future at that time.
I also recall the journey to South Yorkshire, a 4-5 hour journey in those times. My impression now is that the train was a troop train as it was crowded with men in Army uniform. blocking the corridors by lying down wherever they could find a space--Dunkirk survivors maybe? Somewhere in the Midlands, the train came to a halt for an hour or so and all the lights were turned off. "Air Raid on" was muttered, so the lights were turned off to avoid the train itself becoming a target, I suppose.
As to "hidden influences," I enjoyed my evacuation, acquiring a South Yorkshire local accent--which my Londoner cousins would imitate for a couple of years in jest, as well as a love of the countryside that eventually led me to choosing to live always in rural surroundings and even becoming a farmer.
As a teenager I later met my hosts and their daughters when they were visiting London. It was a strange feeling.
As to being a "place of safety," one day a lone German aircraft (I can recall seeing the Iron Cross on its side) shot at a group of us children who dived into bushes surrounding a pond from which we used to retrieve frog spawn. I can still hear the shells whistling through those bushes. Even nastier, we children were told never to pick up any toys or footballs found on the road. Apparently they were anti-personnel devices aimed at troops from the local camp.
JE comments: Fascinating, John. Did the government provide a stipend for your hosts? Feeding an extra mouth in wartime is a sacrifice. And if your father was stationed nearby, do you recall him visiting you during your "exile"?
Memories of a Child in WWII Britain: A Follow-Up
(John Heelan, UK
01/20/18 8:37 AM)
JE asked whether the host families of UK WWII-era child evacuees (I was one) received payment. Yes, the hosts received weekly money via the local Post Office.
John also asked whether my father, who was encamped nearby, ever visited me.
I have no direct memory of a visit, as his regiment was soon shipped to the next theatre of operations. In his case I think it was North Africa ("The Desert Rats") fighting Irwin Rommel's AfrikaCorp in the battles of El Alamein and Tobruk. Then he was sent to the Middle East (Palestine I think) and eventually India and Burma.
As kids we always marched alongside platoons of soldiers as they passed our house.
JE comments: What became of your South Yorkshire host family, John? You mentioned their visit to London when you were a teenager. Did you stay in touch afterwards?
- Memories of a Child in WWII Britain: A Follow-Up (John Heelan, UK 01/20/18 8:37 AM)
- British Troops in Post-WWI Silesia (John Heelan, UK 01/14/18 6:00 AM)
- Polar Bear Battalion in Arkhangelsk (Patrick Mears, Germany 01/14/18 5:51 PM)
- Allied Occupation Troops in Post-WWI Silesia (Eugenio Battaglia, Italy 01/14/18 5:38 AM)
- My Father in the Burma Campaign (John Heelan, UK 01/11/18 1:27 PM)