ANZIO CAMPAIGN (January 22 - May 24, 1944)
100th Infantry Battalion, March 26 – May 1944
At the end of March 1944, the 34th Division, including the 100th Infantry Battalion with 200 Nisei replacements, landed in Anzio, Italy.
For the next two months, the Allies in the Fifth Army tried to keep this 10-mile square of beachfront, while the Germans tried to blast them back to the sea. The Germans hit them with aerial bombs, artillery, rockets and mortar barrages, including rounds from a massive railway artillery gun known as "Anzio Annie."1 During the day, German gunners hid in the hills above the beachhead and fired on any Allied soldier who moved on the plains below.
At night, the Allies sent out patrols to capture German prisoners. They even sent out a company, but all their efforts failed. By the middle of May, the Allies planned to break out to Rome. But with no prisoners to interrogate, the Fifth Army still didn't know where the enemy divisions were.
A first lieutenant in the 100th volunteered to capture a prisoner and secure information about the enemy units. First Lieutenant Young Oak Kim, a well-respected officer of Korean ancestry, carefully studied the German movements and planned the daring mission. At midnight, on May 16, Kim and four Nisei volunteers crept along a drainage ditch, past enemy outposts. At 2 am they heard some Germans digging. Knowing the Germans were extremely cautious at night, 1st Lt. Kim and his party decided to wait at the ditch until dawn.
Just when day broke, Kim posted three riflemen as cover. Then Kim and Private First Class Irving M. Akahoshi climbed through heavy briar. They continued crawling on their stomachs 250 yards through an open wheat field. As they wriggled through the 18-inch wheat stalks, they could hear talking and the metal clink of someone cleaning a gun. They saw a slit trench with two German guards.
Suddenly, the Germans were met with the barrel of a Thompson sub-machine gun. First Lt. Kim and Pfc. Akahoshi quickly disarmed the surprised Germans and ordered them to be silent. They then retraced their route, crawling away with their prisoners, listening to other Germans talking and laughing just a few yards away.2
The Allies got the information they needed. Lieutenant General Mark W. Clark, commander of the Fifth and Eighth Armies, was so pleased that he personally awarded Distinguished Service Crosses to Kim and Akahoshi.
At the end of May, the Allies burst out of Anzio and pushed toward Rome. But at Lanuvio, the Germans blocked their path with a complex web of machine gun positions.3 Two battalions from the 135th Regiment tried to crack the German defenses, but failed. On June 2, the Nisei battalion was ordered to do it. In only 36 hours, the 100th knocked out almost a dozen machine guns, cleared minefields and smashed the German defenses.
Unfortunately, the Allies underestimated the force of the 100th's maneuver, and shot artillery fire at the Nisei soldiers who were already at the German position. Several Nisei soldiers were wounded or killed before the 100th could signal the Allies to stop firing. The 100th had wiped out the last major enemy stronghold on the road to Rome. But in the aftermath, the unit saw 15 killed, 63 wounded, and one missing. This action alone earned the unit members six Distinguished Service Crosses, one Silver Star, and three Bronze Stars.4
Lieutenant Marshall Haines, a Caucasian officer, summed up the Anzio campaign in a letter he wrote to Vernon McCann of The Auburn Journal: "We had been sitting and living in foxholes at Anzio some 63 days. Then the big push out and the capture of Rome. The [100th Battalion] wiped out the last heavy German resistance we met some 12 miles south of Rome. And then it was practically a walk into the city." Haines praised the 100th, stating, "The liaison officers from my battalion say that this Japanese American infantry outfit is the best damn infantry they have ever worked with."5
For nine months, the Nisei had fought up the boot of Italy, spearheading many of the attacks. The 100th, which entered Italy with 1,300 men, had suffered 900 casualties. It was less than half its original strength. Though saddened by the loss of their buddies, the men looked forward to entering Rome. They wanted to hear the cheers of the grateful citizens. They wanted to be recognized as a key part of the liberating Fifth Army. But that didn't happen.
Instead, on June 4, just 10 kilometers from Rome, the 100th was ordered to wait at the roadside and allow the other units to pass. They watched hundreds of troops and military vehicles rush past them for the triumphant entrance into the city.
The next night, the men boarded trucks and rode 40 miles northwest of Rome to the seacoast town of Civitavecchia. There they joined with the Nisei soldiers of the 442nd Regimental Combat Team, who had just arrived from the US.
The battle-hardened Nisei soldiers became part of the new 442nd, essentially becoming its 1st Battalion. However, they were allowed to keep the "100th Battalion" name in recognition of their unparalleled combat record.
1Clayton D. Laurie, "Anzio: The US Army Campaigns of World War II," US Army Center of Military History, last updated October 3, 2003, accessed on January 9, 2015, http://www.history.army.mil/brochures/anzio/72-19.htm.
2"Young Oak Kim," Military Times Hall of Valor, accessed on January 9, 2015, http://projects.militarytimes.com/citations-medals-awards/recipient.php?recipientid=23053, and "Irving M. Akahoshi," Military Times Hall of Valor, accessed on January 9, 2015, http://projects.militarytimes.com/citations-medals-awards/recipient.php?recipientid=21834.
3Lyn Crost, Honor by Fire: Japanese Americans at War in Europe and the Pacific (Novato, CA: Presidio, 1994), p. 143.
5"From 'Somewhere in Italy' Extract from a letter written by Lieut. Marshall Haines to Vernon McCann of the Auburn (Calif.) Journal, published in The Pacific Citizen, Sept. 9, 1944," Online Archive of California, accessed on January 9, 2015, http://www.oac.cdlib.org/view?docId=hb3489p1z1;NAAN=13030&doc.view=frames&chunk.id=div00013&toc.depth=1&toc.id=&brand=oac4.
6Crost, p. 146.
7C. Douglas Sterner, "Anzio: All Roads Lead to Rome," Homeofheroes.com, accessed on January 9, 2015, http://www.homeofheroes.com/moh/nisei/index5_anzio.html.
ORAL HISTORY CLIPS
047a Young Oak Kim
Starts on Tape Five, between 20 and 22 minute marks
TRANSCRIPT:YOUNG OAK KIM:
I said, "Irving Akahoshi and I will then cross that barrier. We'll take our chances with the German mines and we'll cut the lower strands of the wire as we go across." And so that's what we did. We got the "okay" and that's what we did. I know Sakae [Takahashi], the way he said goodbye, he was saying goodbye to me for the last time. So was everybody else in B Company, they also had come. But they also had gotten three volunteers of BAR men to stay there in an exposed position in case I was able to get back or if there was a firefight to cover up our retreat. And so, at midnight, Irving and I started across. And I think we were very, very lucky because we were able to cut those barbed wires on the German side without, you know, setting off a mine. The other thing is we were able to feel and avoid the German mines. What you have with German mines is if you run across like a piano wire, if you cut it, it'll explode, if you pull it, it'll explode, and of course if you press on the mine it'll explode. So you gotta be extra, extra careful. And I didn't have time to talk to Irving, and I didn't have time to put toilet paper on the ground where the Germans could see it or whatnot. But all I could do is motion and he had to be smart enough to be able to know what I am talking about. We got across, probably very close to one o'clock in the morning. And so now we're laying on that [22:00] little ledge between the barbed wire and the German ditch. The Germans could reach out and touch us if they so choose. I picked that time because I figure when they first come up they're gonna be very alert. But around midnight they're gonna be---nothing is happening and whatnot, they're gonna be least alert. And they're---and then in another hour or two, they're gonna be ready to leave, and so they're gonna be busy. And so Irving and I laid there until almost four o'clock in the morning. We had to lay motionless, make no sound and just pray to God and wish that a German doesn't look more carefully or even just doesn't look, period, you know.
You're fully exposed? I mean right there near the . . .
Yeah. We're right, you know, the---we're---actually, you're further away right now than we were to the Germans at that point. We're laying right here and they're sitting right there walking back and forth and talking and whatnot, and all they gotta do is look and they can see us. But, see, if you're not alert and you don't think that there's any real danger and you or---who would think there'd be someone dumb enough to come across that barbed wire and lay there in front of us, see? They didn't look. And of course about three o'clock or very close to 2:30 or 3:00, now they're getting busy ready to leave, you know, they're picking up their weapons and everything and they got their routine. And so very close to 4:00 or 4:30 or something like that, with the first trace of light come in, they get---they leave. So, Irving and I followed them, except we stay [24:00] about 10 yards behind 'em. And so, when they go into their bunkers we stop. Now it's clear daylight, see, and we have to wait until they clean their weapons, eat breakfast and whatnot, and, I guess, chew over whatever happened that night and what they're gonna do, and then around 9 o'clock they fall asleep. Then when they fall asleep, then Irving and I started to crawl. And we have close to 600 yards to go, 'cause even though the bunker is fairly close, maybe 200, 250 yards away, we gotta crawl way, way back there and come up from it from the rear, 'cause we don't want to be coming up from the front. And so we do that. And of course the danger is, the wheat has grown up to about that tall [indicates approximately 4 feet], so as we crawl we crushed the wheat, see, and so the path is very, very obvious. All the American side has been alerted. All the observers are---they can see us and we're so clear and we're right there and the Germans observers are right above us and they're waiting for something to happen and nothing happens. And of course after two hours, little by little, the wheat comes back up. But for better than two hours you could see the path, you can see us because the wheat is---there's a path right there, see. We come up on the bunker from the rear as we expected, and we come up, let's say, our front lines is that way, the bunker is here and we crawl up to the left of the bunker. And we figure our original assessment is about right. There are about six or seven Germans here, not [26:00] thirty or something like that. And not particularly armed and whatnot, but they could be armed. But we figure the headquarters are still awake and they're talking. And so our original plan was that I was to leave Irving there, crawl around on the other side, and then on a signal we'd both throw in two grenades apiece and then hope the Germans won't be too alerted or too awake or the sound won't carry that much, 'cause we weren't---we were throwing in fragmentary grenades which don't make as big a bang as a concussion grenade. So Irving even takes his grenades off and he's loosens the pins, and so I pat him and so I started around. I get up in the front and there's a slit trench. A slit trench is a thing about the width of a body and about six feet long and about two and a half, three feet deep; it's where you lay down on. And here are two Germans sound asleep, and they're sitting there with their knees bent, intertwined, and their head back on the edge of this small little slit trench, sound asleep snoring. So I motion to Irving to come up, you know, and whatnot. Of course, he's confused, 'cause he, you know, he's already got the pins half out of his grenades and all that, and so he's gotta put the pins back in and he didn't know because this isn't part of the plan and we hadn't rehearsed this, so he doesn't know what's happening. So he comes forward and then all of a sudden, he sees the Germans, too. So we have to, on the spot, make a plan, so we hand and arm signal. Since we're both carrying Thompson submachine guns and pistols, so we simultaneously [28:00] put the Thompson submachine gun down the mouth into the throat of both the Germans, they both wake up simultaneously. And we're both going like this [indicating a hand sign to be quiet], and of course they're scared to death, they don't know what to do, you know. But they agree. So, we disarmed them and we take both their pistols and we motioned to them, they agree, that they'll crawl in front of each of us. And so, unlike the route we took, we go straight back to that point at where we crossed the no man's wire.
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