Democracy with a Tommygun by Wilfred Burchett
After a flight across the Pacific, visiting newly developed and won bases in New Caledonia and Guadalcanal, and after a few weeks inspecting installations at Pearl Harbour, it became obvious that the main difference between fighting the Japs in the Pacific, as distinct from the Indo-China-Burma theatre, was that in the Pacific we were making the Japs fight the war our way. On the other side we had been forced to fight the way the Japs wanted. Fighting in the trackless, malaria-infested jungles that stretch from the Indo-Burma border, with only a few breaks, right across to Indo-China and Thailand, we were stripped of the natural advantages we have in the way of superior resources and technique. We couldn't bring our preponderance of ships, planes, tanks and heavy artillery to bear when we were restricted to fighting in tunneled undergrowth, hundreds of miles from the sea. We had to fight the Japs on their own ground, where they could force us to adopt their own sparse living standards and light equipment; force us to abandon those weapons in which we excelled, and fight it out with rifle and bayonet, rice and atebrin.
The Central Pacific presented a different picture. There, by exploiting aero-naval superiority, the Americans had jumped forward five or six hundred miles at a time, completely obliterating Jap control at any points selected for occupation. The Japs were forced to fight the war our way or give up.
Against the products of America's immense technical and productive superiority the Japs could only oppose the same puny weapons they had used to good effect in the jungles of South East Asia. Once they were no longer willing to risk their navy and air force in defence of the outlying areas, they had to depend on the individual soldier with his rifle and grenades.
In the Central Pacific, too, Japan was stripped of one of the weapons she had used most successfully in South East Asia. There were no politically sophisticated native populations to be attracted by Japan's honeyed promises of liberation from the white man's rule. The rewards of independence dangled before the noses of Malayans, Javanese, Burmans and Indians, in return for assistance to the Jap "liberators," had stood them in good stead in the East, but in the Pacific — at least until the Philippines were reached — it was what Admiral Nimitz characterised as a "knock-down and drag-out fight" — a purely military campaign without political complications.
Another great difference between SEAC and CINCPAC theatres was the question of supply, or, in military language, the problem of logistics. I had watched supplies trickling into China for a couple of years from the Burma Road days till the time when transport planes flying the "hump" — the 16,000 feet high Himalayan foothills — stepped up their loads and equalled the monthly haulage along the Old Burma Road. The most that either route carried was the equivalent of a couple of ship-loads of war material per month. Travelling a thousand miles by rail before it reached the air transport bases in Assam, the shiploads from there passed through a series of bottlenecks of diminishing size until a tiny trickle of supplies, carried on the backs of men or mules, was eventually passed up to the front to be used against the enemy.
At the Marshall Islands invasion, American transports dumped more supplies straight from the munition shops in a few days, than reached the fighting fronts in China or Burma in half a year. Guns from scores of warships poured more steel ashore at Kwajalein and Eniwetok in pre-invasion bombardments than the Chinese, or British artillery along the Indo-Burma border would fire in a year's fighting. Great fleets of warships and transports dumped shells, personnel and supplies ashore within a few hundred yards of where they could be brought to bear against the enemy, instead of having to travel half way round the world by ship, train, plane and mule.
Each amphibian leap across the Pacific pushed storehouses and bases forward until thousands of tons of equipment could be dumped daily right at Japan's front doorstep.
The problems of the Central Pacific have been roughly the same from the beginning of the war, the question of pushing men and material west from Pearl Harbour to Japan or to the China front. To do this they have had to seize strategic island bases on the way capable of being developed as jumping off points for the next move. The first two of these leap-frogging operations had already been accomplished by the time I reached Pearl Harbour. Anchorages and air bases in the Gilbert and Marshall Islands had already been secured, and plans were being laid for the next move.
Each new landing presented the planners with an intensification of the same problems that existed in the previous one. The question of destroying Jap air power within range of the target for occupation, of preventing interference by the Jap fleet, of scratching together sufficient transports to land enough troops to deal with Jap garrisons, of getting the men ashore over the treacherous reefs that guard most of these island bases, with the minimum of casualties.
As this book is not intended to be a personal narrative, or war history, I will try and describe typical Central Pacific actions as experienced by the ground troops, by the fleet and by the Super-Fortress crews who came into the Pacific picture after the development of the Marianas as B-29 bases, rather than give a chronological account of the Pacific War.
Guam was our objective, and for weeks past the troops on our transport had been studying rubber relief maps, photographs, and a large plasticine model of the island set up on deck, until they felt they knew not only every hill but every rock and tree in the sectors in which they would operate. They were hard physically and in spirit — these marines. A crack unit from an elite organisation. Most of them were from the famed raider battalion of Lt.-Colonel Evans Carlson and now part of the new-formed 1st Provisional Marine Brigade, which later became the Sixth Marine Division. They had been reserve troops for the Saipan operation and had been on the water for five weeks after Saipan was invaded. Morale was not the best during those weeks of inactivity, steaming west by day and east by night, awaiting orders to land. But it picked up as word was passed round that we were to invade Guam on 21st July. Days were spent in endless cleaning and oiling of rifles and machine-guns, sharpening of slim marine knives, rough and tumble wrestles on the sun-warmed decks. Nights were passed in uneasy, sweaty sleeping in the airless troop compartments. On 20th July we had the "condemned man's" banquet — steak which had been carefully hoarded by the ship's caterer for an eve of battle dinner. Last church services were held, last letters written, card debts were paid, and those who felt they could sleep turned in early. Many, including myself and two colleagues, John Beaufort of "The Christian Science Monitor," and Bill McGaffin of the "Chicago Daily News," slept on deck so as not to miss anything.
We woke early in the morning with the fresh sweet smell of land in our nostrils. Tiny red pin-points of light drifted in lazy parabolas through the blackness dead ahead, to disappear momentarily as a white flash fanned out and monopolised one's vision. Drifting lights and white flashes seemed strangely unrelated to the swish-swish of the ocean as our transport pushed through the dead-calm sea to the assignment for invasion. As we advanced the red pinpoints enlarged until they looked like ping-pong balls tossed from side to side in a tournament of titans.
Dull mauve silhouettes of mountains were etched out of the darkness and soon the tossing red balls were associated with the dull booming of battleship guns, the fan shaped flashes with hits on petrol stores and ammunition dumps. Boomings developed into deafening cracks, faint glows into scarlet fires, low-hanging clouds into smoke-palls as we dropped anchor in the transport area five miles offshore. Battleships, cruisers and destroyers were leisurely steaming up and down, firing single salvoes which burst amongst drooping palms on the shoreline.
We had dropped anchor in a sort of cove sheltered on the left by the high plateau of Orote Peninsula, site of Guam's best airfield and main objective of the 1st Marine Brigade. Between our transport and the peninsula a battleship was firing across at the airfield and on our right more heavy warships were spouting tawny flames and mustard coloured smoke as one by one transports and LST's took up their positions for disembarking the troops. Orote Peninsula at a right angle from our landing area ahead divided up from the northern beachhead where the 3rd Marine Division was due to land, but by the pillars of smoke which reached up to merge with the clouds it was obvious that the north beachhead was receiving similar treatment to our own.
No sooner had our screws stopped turning than a boat was lowered and we three correspondents, together with the landing control officer for the southern beachhead sped away to the destroyer "Ringgold," which was to act as the parent control ship directing the assault waves and movement of supplies to the beachheads. The first waves were due to hit the beach at 0830 and by 0630 we were aboard the "Ringgold" moving in to within 2,000 yards of the beach.
By the time we had clambered up the destroyer's conning tower, spectacular things had begun to happen, First came wave after wave of "Helldiver" dive bombers, circling high in the air, then winging over one by one and plummeting down in breath-taking plunges, releasing bombs to continue in the angle of their dive, while they zoomed low over palmtops before lifting up to re-form again.
Blossoming pillars of dark smoke and earth rippled along the beachheads a few seconds before the thunderous succession of explosions that followed each wave of "Hell-divers." Then the "Hellcats" came in on their strafing runs with guttural coughing bursts which seemed more portentous of death than even the bomb explosions.
Over Orote Peninsula expanding jet black puffs in the sky showed that the Japs were reacting at last, and one of the black puffs glowed crimson as a "Helldiver" was hit and dropped like a fireball on to the airfield.
When the dive-bombers and strafers had finished, the warships opened up again, this time firing broadsides instead of salvoes. The entire beachhead disappeared as hundreds of tons of steel poured into the narrow strip of palms that fringed the shoreline. It was impossible to think that humans still existed under that deluge of bombs, bullets and shells, but within the next hour the assault waves would find out how successful that bombardment had been. Behind the flaming guns of the warships, landing craft and amphibian tanks or "alligators," were buzzing about in the water, forming up into their lines of departure, crammed with sombre-faced troops in jungle greens with life-belts strapped round their waists.
The barrage from the warships increased in intensity as the first waves formed up behind the rocketfiring LCI gunboats. From our control boat the signal was hoisted "EXECUTE ONE" — and the first waves moved off with their LCI escorts.
Lessons of the Tarawa landing, where troops were forced to disembark when the landing craft reached the island's protecting reef, and were mown down as they waded through the coral-studded water, had been well learned, and the first assault waves at Guam were carried across the reef in amphibious weapon-carriers and tanks which were equally at home in the water, on reefs, or on land. Working within rifle shot of the shore the previous day under-water demolition teams had blasted breaches through blocks of concrete and coral, iron spikes and bound coconut logs which the Japs had thickly sown on the approaches to the beaches to rip the bottoms out of the landing craft.
The LCI's could not continue past the reef line, but spat out their flights of rockets with a tearing, rasping sound, smothering cliff faces and water's edge fortifications with a blasting barrage that continued until the "alligators" were well on their way towards shore, heading for marked passes in the Jap under-water fortifications.
When the first wave was still 500 yards offshore, a crimson flare dropped like a bloodstain down the grey pall of smoke over the beachhead as a signal for the warships to lift their fire from the shoreline and lay a box barrage half-way up the hills, which rose up steeply from a thousand yards inland, to prevent Jap artillery emplaced in the slopes from firing at the advancing-"alligators."
Spouts of water when the craft were a few hundred yards offshore showed that the Japs were still on the job, determined to prevent the landing if possible. Two craft were soon dead in the water, three more were burning, but by 0830 exactly the first line of "alligators" trundled out of the water and lurched across the sand strip to disappear into the line of shattered palms.
Red winkings from Jap machine-gunners on a little rocky outcrop to the left of the beachhead soon ceased when a destroyer moved in and chipped off great chunks of rock with five inch and forty millimetre guns. The barrage from battleships and cruisers had eased off, and guns were firing at individual targets selected by Kingfisher escorting planes. Larger craft — LCM's and LCT's — were at the reef line now, unloading supplies into the first "alligators" to return from the beach and which had started to run a ferry service from reef line to shore, hauling ammunition, light artillery and other supplies.
A battery of enemy 75's cunningly concealed in a little knoll right on the shoreline had knocked out several of the landing craft, scoring a direct hit, and killing all the occupants, including a regimental padre. It was quickly silenced by the first marines to disembark, but had caused more than 30 casualties.
By 11 a.m. we three correspondents were ashore, inspecting the remains of Jap frontline trenches and foxholes from which they had been forced to withdraw by the pre-invasion bombardment. Some of the amphibian tanks had penetrated nearly half a mile before disembarking their troops. The few Japs who remained near the shoreline had been quickly dealt with, and by midday marines were feeling their way up woody gullies, trying to secure the high ground behind the landing beaches by nightfall. Demolition squads were already on the job blasting passages through the reef so that supplies, artillery and tanks could be hauled ashore as quickly as possible.
The first impression on the Guam beachhead, as on every other I have been on, is the seeming casualness of everyone. With the ear-splitting noise of battleship bombardment, heavy and light machine-gun fire, rifles cracking, grenades bursting, there are people still standing about, moving unhurriedly, giving orders, pulling, pushing, carrying, walking, flopping to the ground for an instant if a shell lobs too close, or bullets are actually zinging past, but for the most part carrying on as if they were on manoeuvre, instead of in the middle of sudden death. The beaches were littered with life-belts, which are the first discards on any invasion, and a few torn and huddled clumps representing the last-ditcher force left behind when the main body of Japs withdrew.
One had only to look at the trees to understand why the Japs had pulled out of their prepared positions. Every palm tree had been hit in several places, many of them shattered completely, and of those left standing most were as scarred as a victim of smallpox. It would have been virtually impossible for anything above ground or in open trenches to have survived the pulverising bombardment.
The resistance so far was not fierce and the main work on our beachhead consisted of cleaning up odd snipers and pushing the front line ahead far enough to ensure a comfortable night. We found the regimental commander, Lt.-Col. Alan Shapley, head-quartered in a palm surrounded, broken piece of ground about a hundred yards inland from the beach, and he told us the going was not too bad and casualties had been light so far.
We returned to the control ship after an hour or two ashore to get our first day's story written and despatched, and went ashore about nightfall to camp with some Seabees and see what sort of reaction the Japs would provide for that first night of the invasion.
We prepared a communal foxhole close to the beach by enlarging a dried-up drain, stretching our waterproof tent-halves over a couple of breadfruit trees which had fallen across the top. We didn't have too long to wait before the fireworks started. By ten o'clock we had dropped off to sleep but were almost immediately awakened by a muffled put-puttering sound. Peeping through the edges of our shelter we could see showers like golden rain cascading towards us from the hills. There were confused cries, shouting of orders, and the soft exploding of forty millimetre shells with which the Japs were plastering the beaches.
Star shells from our destroyers brilliantly lit up the hills at the back of us, and as they slowly dropped, shadows rippled up the palm and tree trunks. As far as eyes could see there appeared to be stealthy movement. One imagined dark forms slipping from tree to tree, clambering among the branches, even sliding into our foxholes. Brisk exchanges of small arms and machine-gun fire flared up, to die down as quickly as they started. First from one side, then the other, then in the centre of our perimeter, came the sound of heavy firing, shower of tracers, flashes of bursting hand grenades, and above all the other noise we thought we heard the rattling of tanks. There was nothing for us to do but hug the bottom of our foxholes. To have moved over the edge, even to perform one's natural functions, would have been to invite a score of bullets from our own light-fingered marines. The only way to distinguish between friend and foe was that the Japs were the ones likely to be on the move. The marines were content to hold their positions till next morning.
We lost count of time watching the positions of the firing, trying to judge where the Japs were attacking and if they had broken through our lines. As long as the cascading tracers were not headed our way, we would sit up and peer through the dying branches of our breadfruit trees, trying to detect human substance in the flickering shadows which glided and clambered all round us as the destroyers maintained their star shells in the sky. A fresh one flared up as soon as its predecessor dropped down, continuously flood-lighting the ground outside our perimeter so our forward troops could spot marauding Japs.
There was no more sleep for us that night. At about 2 a.m. a particularly heavy fire-fight flared up about four hundred yards to our right, as near as we could tell, along the beach. For nearly two hours there was no let up in the firing, light artillery and mortars nearly drowning the soprano chatter of the machine-guns and the roast chestnut poppings of carbines. By dawn everything had quietened down again, and after a drink of water from our canteens and a few biscuits from our K-ration packets we set out to find regimental headquarters. We found a tired Alan Shapley where we had left him the previous afternoon, sitting, as he had been all through the night, with a poncho wrapped round his shoulders, receiving reports from his forward companies. He mustered up a weary grin and asked us how we had slept. We asked him how he had fared.
"Phew! I'm not quite certain yet. That's the worst deal I've ever had — last night. They broke right through to within twenty yards of here. I don't know yet how our boys held them. We knocked out four of their tanks less than two hundred yards from here."
At that time Alan didn't know that he had saved the beachhead. It had been a mess of confused fighting with the marines just shooting at everything that moved and refusing to budge even if some Japs got past their foxholes. They left them to be dealt with by the boys behind.
Around the long circle of the perimeter the Japs had staged three attacks, using from 200 to 1,000 troops each time. The first came on the extreme left flank about 10 p.m. and the battalion commander defending the area requested Alan to send him the reserve headquarters company for reinforcements. By the description of the attack Shapley decided it was not the main one of the evening, and told the battalion commander to do his best and keep him informed. The fighting soon died down there but flared up in much fiercer fashion in the central sector, where the Japs, spearheaded by half a dozen tankettes, swept down from the slopes, breaking through the lines in several places, spearing marines in foxholes with bayonets bound to poles. The battalion commander sent an urgent request for reinforcements and Shapley actually ordered his sole reserve company to the area, but cancelled the order almost immediately on some last minute hunch that perhaps the worst was still to come. With bazookas and grenades the marines put four tanks out of action in the central sector and smothered the attack, shooting from their foxholes at the leaping, screaming Japs, who seemed to go berserk when their tanks were set afire.
At 2 a.m. came the big attack along the beach on the extreme right flank, and here Shapley threw in his reserve company. The Japs intended to sweep right along the beach, isolate the forward troops from the beachhead and at worst destroy all supplies which had been landed, at best annihilate the entire landing force at the southern beachhead. In bamboo thickets and palm groves, on the glistening coral sand, the marines battled the Japs back, fighting from the ground as much as possible, but emerging to do battle with them on the beach in the light of a sinking moon and still-flaring starshells. The Japs pushed far beyond the outer perimeter, leaving twenty of their own dead for every marine killed in their reckless rush against well-placed machine-guns. The final skirmish took place just outside Alan Shapley's headquarters at about 4 a.m., and after defeat there the Jap remnants withdrew.
A count later on in the day showed just under six hundred Japs killed in that one attack and about 950 for the whole night. Marine losses were less than sixty killed.
By the end of the second day the 1st Brigade had occupied the dominating Mount Alifan feature behind the landing area, had handed over the ridge to a regiment of the 77th army division and were taking up position for a drive along Orote Peninsula to secure the airfield.
There are no safe spots on a beachhead, especially on an island beachhead where there can be no element of surprise in the landing and where there is no room for the enemy to manoeuvre and withdraw except within a space of a few square miles, no alternative but for him to fight it out where he is. That was the case at Tarawa, Kwajalein, Saipan, Guam and at Iwo Jima, and to a lesser extent, at Okinawa. One can deny the Jap air and fleet support, one can blast out his heavy artillery and usually his tanks, but there's still the little fellow in hole and cave with rifle, machine-gun, mortar, grenade and bayonet, who will lie doggo all day for days on end, and then suddenly come to life and shoot up a dozen or so people before he is exterminated.
For the first five nights on Guam, McGaffin, Beaufort and myself had no sleep at all, and we were in the safest position we could find. We camped more or less under the noses of our artillery — by the second day 105 mm.'s and 155 mm. "Long Toms" were ashore. Each night we were kept awake either by our own artillery or by Jap counter mortar and forty millimetre fire. The troops had less chance to sleep than we did, because they were constantly attacked in the forward area by Jap infiltration parties, and shelled if they were "resting" in rear areas.
Memories of those early nights on Guam beachhead are still very vivid. A confused jumble of the chinking sound of shells being carried to the guns; the flash and almost simultaneous roar of "Long Toms"; sharp crackle of rifles; padded bursting of Jap forty millimetre shell set to explode a few feet above the ground; sudden, lone cry of someone wounded or killed by a Jap infiltrator; the constant play of shadows in the trees; the heartwarming normal sound of trucks starting up their engines again and rumbling along the road after an enemy mortar barrage had ceased; ceaseless, nattering annoyance of mosquitoes; and the long cold hour waiting for dawn and the cup of coffee we scrounged from some friendly souls — usually the Seabees — before setting out for a look at the front lines.
No one is safe in a rear area even in daytime until the Seabees have been through with their bulldozers and levelled every bush and tree, scooping out all possible hiding places for snipers.
At the beginning of the battle for Orote Peninsula we were moving up the road leading to the airfield with Major Messer of the 2nd Battalion of Alan Shapley's 4th Regiment. With a headquarters platoon and a collection of signallers and other oddments we had reached a point half a mile behind where the front was supposed to be, on the edge of a quarry. While the signallers were looking for a suitable place to establish their radio sets there was a terrific splatter of small arms and machine-gun fire, three men fell, and the rest of us leapt for cover. Beaufort jumped so far back that he tumbled over into the quarry. McGaffin, Major Messer and myself, and a few more headquarters men, dropped behind a clump of three breadfruit trees; several more behind two crated Jap aircraft engines about ten paces from our protective trees.
Medical Corps men appeared from nowhere and dragged the wounded behind the aircraft engines and started to give them plasma while the bullets whanged into the breadfruit trees and we grovelled in the dirt wondering how long it would be before machine-gun bullets would come right through the stout trunks.
At any moment we expected the Japs, who were not thirty feet distant, on the far edge of the road, would rush our slenderly established position. The ground slopes gradually away from the road's edge and the whole area opposite was thickly covered with the tangled undergrowth of a neglected coconut grove. Our signallers, all except one who was trying to contact regimental headquarters, were using their carbines, and the headquarters platoon were squirming on their bellies through the long grass trying to get their machine-guns set up to fire on the flanks of the Japs opposite our breadfruit trees.
The machine-gunners would wriggle along, dragging their guns behind them and suddenly flop forward pushing their gun ahead on to the trunk of a fallen coconut palm, firing immediately.
From somewhere ahead of us on either side of the Jap positions more firing had broken out when advancing marines, whom the Japs had let press forward unmolested, realised that there was a deep wedge of Japs inside their lines. Jap mortars had joined in the fray, and were lobbing shells just behind us in the coral quarry where there were some Jeeps standing by a newly established gasolene dump.
Fortunately for us, two tanks which had been on their way to re-fuel at the quarry gas dump, trundled right up to the edge of the road and began firing at a furious rate, forcing the Japs to keep their heads down. For seventy-five minutes the battle raged without a let-up, and more and more of our headquarters company were pulled back for plasma and bandaging behind the crated aircraft engines. When the firing had eased off a bit I crawled over behind the stout side of a tank to peer through the tread and see what was happening down the slope where the marines were now pushing ahead, throwing grenades into Jap bunkers. I was comfortably established in the safest possible position when the tank which had remained stationary for almost an hour, moved off, leaving me feeling very naked, just as another burst of firing started the whole thing off again. I squirmed over to a coconut log and joined another marine who had been there since the fight started.
"I'll be a sonavabitch if I ought to be here, goddamit," he lamented. "I'm only a water-carrier. Not supposed to be here while all this firing's going on at all."
I hastened to tell him I was even less of a combatant than he was.
And that's the way it is. The front is every place where there is a cover for Japs. They don't fight to a point and then withdraw to take up new positions. They fight and die where they are with little thought for tactics or making best use of their forces.
The fight for Orote Peninsula was the fiercest of the Guam campaign. The Japs were entrenched in bunkers which were part of the landscape, slight grass-covered mounds which fitted in perfectly with the contours of the area. But underneath those mounds were strong log-reinforced cells containing upwards of thirty men, well-provided with machine-guns and ammunition. In the end, bulldozer scoops were fitted to Sherman tanks and the pillbox mounds were scooped out of existence; the inmates were finished off by following infantrymen with grenades and engineers with demolition charges.
On the North West corner of the peninsula there was a mangrove swamp, seemingly impossible to defend, but when the marines tried to by-pass it, Jap machine-gunners from nests in the mangrove trees opened up, inflicting very heavy casualties on the 22nd regiment of the 1st Brigade. The whole advance was slowed down while men waded through the foul-smelling waist-deep mud, prodding Japs out of the trees.
Behind the front lines German Shepherd dogs and Doberman Pinschers were used to ferret out Jap snipers, and several Japs gave themselves up when they saw the dogs had picked up their trail. Usually the dogs would track the Japs to their lair, and while a machine-gunner poured a stream of lead through the cave or bunker opening an engineer would seal the whole thing up by tossing in a demolition charge.
Japs hiding out in caves on the cliff faces at Sumay, site of the former U.S. naval base on Orote Peninsula, proved a problem to dislodge, and we accompanied a mopping up party one day to see how they managed such obstinate customers. Usually, it was a question of sealing up the entrance with dynamite and leaving the inmates to suffocate, but in one place some snipers were particularly difficult to get at though in a good position to shoot up our supply convoys. The cave opened out on to a small ledge about half-way up the cliff face, with a clump of chestnut trees opposite the opening. It was impossible to lower a dynamiter on ropes because of an overhanging piece of rock which would have slung him out far enough for the Japs to get a shot at him. If he clambered down a ladder which the Japs had for access to the cliff-top, and threw in the charge from the shelter of the chestnut trees, he would stand a good chance of being blown up by his own charge. Every time the marines tried to work round the bottom and bring the opening under fire the Japs threw grenades and opened up with their machine-guns. Two marines were wounded in the first ten minutes.
Eventually the squad leader called for a flame-thrower, and from my vantage point behind a comfortingly solid block of concrete I watched the flame-thrower operator cautiously let himself down the ladder till he reached the base of the trees. There was a squirt of vapour and an angry voice shouted:
"The goddam thing won't light!"
A hand-grenade exploded in front of the trees as the first reaction to his complaint, but a few seconds later a bamboo pole with what looked like somebody's underpants burning on the end of it was gingerly pushed over the cliff-top and wriggled until the burning rag fell near the feet of the flamethrower operator. There was another spurt of vapour, then a long curl of black smoke and dusky flame, which was directed straight into the cave mouth. The blood-chilling yell which followed will always ring in my ear. After a second or two, the flame was cut off and two charred Japs were dragged out. The squad moved off to deal with the next problem, and a medical corpsman turned aside to be sick.
In ten days of the bitterest fighting in the Pacific up to that time the Orote Peninsula was cleared, and the 1st Brigade were pulled out for a few days' rest. They marched back like men walking in their sleep. Their jungle greens stained the colour of the soil in which they had lived, their faces covered with stubble, their reddened eyes glazed from lack of sleep, they stumbled back on the first quiet Sunday since we had landed, to a rest area almost free of enemy activity.
We transferred to the Third Marine Division, who were about to launch an attack on Agana, the island's capital. Arriving fairly late on the morning of the attack, we were looking for the forward battalion command post when we stumbled across the commander of a company which was to spearhead the attack on the town.
"Your luck's in!" he exclaimed enthusiastically, when we told him we were looking for a story on the capture of Agana.
"We're jumping off in seven minutes, and you can come right along with me. I'll be going with the forward platoon, so you won't miss a thing."
He was a very eager young man, and in the face of his enthusiasm none of us could refuse to go with him, although that was the last thing we wanted. Guy Harriott, from "Sydney Morning Herald," had joined Beaufort McGaffin and myself, and at the end of seven minutes we all jumped up and followed the energetic little company commander, who had pulled out his pistol, and was leading his men in best advance tradition. We started off from a point a few hundred yards south of Agana just past the town cemetery, which we all glanced at sideways but without comment.
We were to proceed straight along the main street with one squad ahead of us, another on each of the parallel streets, the rest following on behind. Tanks and artillery were on call, and positions had already been occupied on the high ground overlooking the city. The idea was to advance about twenty paces, then halt till those behind had caught up, then another twenty paces, leaving those behind to consolidate the ground we had won. We hugged every piece of rubble and stout tree we could find as we entered the main streets, fingers on triggers waiting for that first shot which would touch off the terrific firefight which was expected. There it was! A great spouting explosion ahead looked as if enemy artillery had our range, and all heads were down for a few moments. But it turned out that someone had set off a landmine, which we now found plentifully strewn along the road. A single crack of a rifle and one of the boys ahead lugged a Jap out of a culvert by the leg. And that was the only shot fired in the capture of Agana. We went from one end to the other of the town, but not a Jap to be found. They had abandoned the place the night before, most unexpectedly and inexplicably. The broken rubble and masonry made it an excellent place to defend, and the Japs would have inflicted heavy casualties on us had they decided to fight for its ruins, but apparently they felt more at home in their jungle holes and had retired to fight it out there.
The rest of the fighting for Guam was mainly a slow routine process of forming a line east-west across the island and squeezing the Japs through densely wooded rain forest country towards the northern tip of the island. The main part of the campaign was over with the occupation of Orote Peninsula and Agana, and although there were still lots of Japanese — and American boys, too — to be killed, as far as a news story was concerned, it was finished for us. It was time to hurry back to Pearl Harbour and prepare for the next operation — the invasion of Peleliu in the Carolines.