Captain Martin Ness

This first account of Captain Ness appears to have been an official report published about 9-10 years after the Mars Task Force successfully completed their mission.

Ex-CBI Roundup
October 1954 Issue

By Capt. M. K. Ness

Combat History of the 612th Field Artillery BN (Pack)

North and Central Burma Campaigns
November 18, 1944 to April 18, 1945

On the morning of 17 November, 1944, under the command of Lt. Colonel Severn T. Wallis the 612th Field Artillery Battalion marched from Camp Landis near Myitkyina, Burma, on its first combat mission. Attached to the 475th Infantry Regiment, it constituted the artillery element of one of two Combat Teams which together formed the 5332 Brigade, known as the Mars Task Force.

From 17 to 26 November, the march led generally southward to Tali, a distance of 95 miles. At Tali, A Battery was detached from the Battalion and with the 1st Battalion of the 475th Infantry struck out for Swegu to the southwest on a separate combat mission. Following three day's rest during which supplies were received by "air drop" the Battalion again proceeded southward, a distance of 98 miles, arriving December 9th in the vicinity of Tonkwa and the Nansin airstrip. This march was conducted primarily during hours of darkness, the column at one time passing within a few miles of Japanese forces which had escaped during the last days of the siege of Bhamo. No contact was made, however.

At Tonkwa on 10 December, contact was made in force between the 2nd Battalion of the 475th Infantry and a Regiment of the once-famed 18th Japanese Division. The 2nd Battalion deployed into a perimeter extending both north and south of the Tonkwa River. B Battery moved within this perimeter, went into position on the north bank of the river and furnished approximately 40 of its men to man a sector of 300 yards between F and G Companies. The next day its guns were the first of an organic American Artillery Battery to bring its fire upon the enemy in Burma. Meanwhile C Battery, with the 3d Battalion, established a perimeter approximately 1200 yards to the north near Ma-Hlang. Its fire was used in direct support of the 2nd Battalion perimeter.

Between 12 and 24 December, B and C Batteries gave direct support to patrol-ing actions undertaken by the 2nd and 3d Battalions, fired on targets of opportunity, undertook harassing and interdiction missions and conducted counter-battery. In all, approximately 2500 rounds were fired by the two Batteries. Observation by the two Battalion Liaison planes and by the foreward observers was very successful and considerable casualties, verified by later advances, were inflicted upon the enemy. The Japanese employed four 75mm guns, using numerous single positions, and although they succeeded in placing numerous rounds within the Battalion's gun positions and mule parks, casualties were extremely light. One man died of wounds received and two were less seriously injured.

On 24 December, the 3d Battalion moved foreward and occupied new positions in readiness for attack. C Battery likewise displaced foreward. However, contact with the enemy was lost, their forces apparently retreating southward, and the day after Christmas the American forces deployed around Tonkwa were relieved by units of the 50th Chinese Division.

The action at Tonkwa enabled the 22nd Chinese Division to be safely flown from the airstrip at Nansin without fear of harassment by the considerable enemy forces deployed in that vicinity.

On 28th December, A Battery together with the 1st Battalion rejoined the 475th Combat Team, and on 1 January, 1945, the 612th Battalion moved out to embark with the other elements of Mars upon its second combat mission - to cut the Burma road north of Lashio and so isolate the Japanese forces falling back before the 30th and 38th Divisions of the Chinese First Army in the valley near Namkham.

MEN OF THE 612th load pack mules with 75mm shells while the 'chutes continue to fall with more ammunition and supplies.
U.S. Army photo near Myitkyina, January 23, 1945.

The first leg of the arduous march from Tonkwa to the Burma Road led eastward to Mong-Wi, a distance of approximately 53 miles over rugged mountainous terrain cut by swift-flowing mountain streams. The trail was narrow and generally difficult. On the 3d and 4th, the Shweli River was successfully crossed, and on 8 January the Battalion reached Mong-Wi. Supply on this march was entirely by "air drop," the only communication with Rear Echelon being by radio. At Mong-Wi, the Battalion rested in bivouac and received by air some replacement of clothing and equipment. The march was continued on 14 January, B Battery being detached and marching in seriel with the 2nd Battalion. Proceeding eastward, the terrain became increasingly difficult, the narrow tortuous trails ascending and falling thousands of feet within a distance of a few miles. At several points a height of 6,700 feet was reached. Rain fell intermittently rendering the trail almost impassable. Even though steps were cut in the mud, and alternate routes hacked from the jungle, many mules fell with their loads into the deep ravines. In order to arrive at the Line of Departure on D Day, 17 January, the Battalion on 16 and 17 January marched 36 hours with only one two-hour halt. Much of this march was undertaken along the beds of rock-bottomed streams, the men and mules often chest deep in water for several hours.

MULE TRAIN of the 612th crosses the Mogaung River on a pontoon bridge. The old railroad bridge on left is partially destroyed. U.S. Army photo.

The immediate objectives of the 475th Infantry Combat Team included three hills grouped around the Hosi Valley and overlooking the Burma Road at approximately the 76 mile marker (mid-way between Namkham and Lashio). On 17 January, A Battery went into position on Nawhkam Ridge approximately 5,500 yards from the Burma Road and was the first Battery to open fire on Japanese motor traffic on the road. C Battery occupied position near-by and also opened fire on the 17th. Both Batteries together with Battalion Headquarters were within the perimeter of the 1st Battalion which had taken its objective, Nawhkam Ridge, during the afternoon, meeting light opposition and sustaining slight casualties.

On the night of the 18th, B Battery made a rapid occupation of position in darkness and under fire in the valley, the 2nd Battalion having met heavy opposition and having failed to take its objective, Loi Kang Ridge in the afternoon. The next morning, B Battery likewise opened fire. Its position was adjacent to the "drop" and liaison fields which were receiving intensive artillery and mortar fire from the enemy. In spite of harassment from this fire and from "free-dropped" grain bags, its guns were able to fire missions successfully.

It may now be revealed that had the 475th Combat Team failed to secure Hosi-Valley on D-Day for use in receiving supplies by air it could not long have sustained itself. Rations were exhausted on the evening of the 17th and ammunition supplies were very limited, there being no ground supply route to the rear.

To the north, the 124 Cavalry Regiment with the 613th Field Artillery Battalion jumped off against similar objectives near the Burma Road and by 20 January all units of the Mars Task Force had been committed; none were held in reserve.

By D plus 3, the 2nd Battalion had secured the northern tip of Loi-Kang ridge, the remainder and highest slopes of the ridge and its three villages still being occupied by strongly entrenched Japanese forces. Nevertheless, in order to fire directly upon the Burma Road, B Battery was moved from the valley to the ridge and within the 2nd Battalion's perimeter, it being assigned a sector between E and Headquarters Companies. From this position, the road was at one point merely 1,700 yards away and direct fire was possible. The gun position was, however, in plain view of the enemy from the road and from the hills to the west as well as being within 300 yards of their perimeter on the ridge. On the 24th, A Battery moved its position on Nawhkam ridge and B Battery retired from Loi-Kang ridge to occupy the position thus vacated. The Battalion was now concentrated within an area of less than 1,000 yards and for the first time was brought under centralized control.

From 24 January through 5 February, all three firing Batteries and Headquarters received intensive and very accurate fire from well camouflaged and defiladed Japanese artillery in position along the Burma Road to the north. In spite of frequent changes in position, the firing Batteries received again and again direct hits in their gun positions. According to Brigade Intelligence reports, it is believed that three 150mm Howitzers, four 105mm Howitzers, eight 75mm guns and numerous 70mm Field Pieces were employed by the enemy in an effort to neutralize our fire. By 5 February, the 612th and 613th Battalions assisted by Tenth Air Force P-47s had forced a cessation of all enemy artillery action. During this period, however, the Battalion took rather heavy casualties; four men were killed and 46 wounded. In all, nine of the Battalions twelve Howitzers were rendered unfit to fire by direct hits or near misses. These were quickly replaced by "air drop" and consequently at no time did the Battalion have fewer than seven guns in action. A and B Batteries received direct hits in their ammuniton pits and only through the gallant action of their gun crews in extinguishing the resulting fires were very serious casualties averted. During this period of almost three weeks the Battalion through air, foreward and OP observation fired approximately 9,500 rounds. The missions undertaken by the Battalion as a whole and by its Batteries separately included close support of combat patrols deployed from the Battalions of the 475th and accompanied by artillery foreward observers, interdiction and harassing fire on the Burma Road (numerous enemy trucks and several tanks were destroyed by direct hits), and direct support of the infantry in attack. During the final attack on Loi-Kang 3 February by the 1st and 2nd Battalions, the Battalion fired in preparation more than 2,000 rounds, laying down a barrage within 75 yards of the advancing infantry. The last enemy fire was received on 5 February and on the 6th the Battle of Hosi Valley was successfully concluded. On that day, elements of the Chinese First Army including medium and light tanks have in sight on the Burma Road and the Mars Task Force was considered to have been relieved.

SECTION OF the 612th crossing a stream on their field march with the 75mm pack howitzer. U.S. Army photo, November 8, 1944.

BATTERY "B" crossing pontoon bridge over the Shweli River in Burma on way to engagement. U.S. Army photo.

Throughout the battle, the Air Corps lent direct support with strafing and dive bombing while the 5th and 115th Liaison Squadrons evacuated from the valley more than 700 casualties, their planes being subjected to enemy fire both on the "strip" and in the air. Nine of their planes were destroyed by artillery and mortar fire.

AIR VIEW shows column of men and mules carrying field pieces of the 612th. Photo taken south of Myitkyina, November 19, 1944. U.S. Army Photo.

A "rest bivouac" was established in the valley on 8 February, the Battalion using parachutes from the "drop field" in the construction of tents. On the llth, Lt. General Dan I. Sultan arrived by air, commended the 612th F. A. Battalion for its part in the battle and presented decorations. Two days later, Admiral Lord Louis Mountbatten likewise arrived by plane and spoke informally to the troops, praising highly their part in the reopening of the Ledo-Burma Road to China.

On 5 March, the 612th together with other elements of Mars began the long march southward along the Burma Road to Lashio. The intense heat and humidity of early spring and the hard surface of the road rendered this march grueling and exhausting even though it was conducted for the most part during hours of darkness. Hsai-Hkao was reached on 6 March, camp being made there until the 23d when the march was resumed a semi-permanent bivouac was finally established at Ina-Lang, near Lashio, on 25 March, the fall of this city bringing to a close the employment of American troops in Burma. On 3 April, B Battery was flown to Kunming, China, and on the 18th the remainder of the Battalion followed.

Combat Statistics

Days engaged in combat mission 152

Days in actual contact with enemy and under fire 36

Rounds of ammunition fired against the enemy 12,000

Distance covered on combat missions 412

Killed in action 5

Wounded in action 48

Evacuated for illness and disease 46

Decorations:   Purple Heart 48

                       Air Medal 3

                       Bronze Star 4

                       Soldier's Medal 1

The information and statistics included in this history are based on the Unit History, the Unit Journal and various personal diaries and journals kept by the officers of the battalion.

© George P. Haupin 2012