Lieutenant Edward L Seagraves


Remembrances:  An Artilleryman With the Marauders 

By Edward L. Seagraves

            In the summer of 1944, as our group arrived in Calcutta, three of us requested assignment to the 5307 Composite Unit (Provisional).  We  had previously served at Camp Carson in the pack artillery, and all three were Second Lieutenants recently out of Fort Sill OCS.  The three were myself, Ed Seagraves, plus John Griffin and Marshall Dickinson.

            We were sent to Ledo, then by L5 flown to an advanced replacement depot, and finally by C47 to Myitkyina.  We got a person welcome there from Col. Chuck Hunter; I remember one remark he made:  “We finally have some artillerymen; maybe we can get something done.”  That was a nice compliment but not exactly correct.  The story has been often told of how the Marauders first came to have artillery, in the form of the pack 75 mm howitzer.  For those who have not heard that story, my understanding, briefly is:

            Back around Easter, at a place with the unlikely name of Nhpum-Ga, the 2nd Battalion had been cut off and surrounded, and put under heavy pressure, by units of the famous Japanese 18th Division.  The 1st and 3rd Battalions, trying to come the relief of the 2nd, found slow going.  It happened that the 3rd Battalion was composed of volunteers from the South Pacific; and its complement of experienced mulepackers had come from the 98th FA Battalion (Pack), then on New Guinea.  Edward A Wade, 112 Reece Ave., Nyssa, OR 97913, has given in detail his recollections of arrival of General Walter Krueger at the 98th, announcing he wanted 119 volunteers – 11- privates, 6 corporals, and 3 sergeants – for that “dangerous and hazardous mission” that all the old Marauders remember so well.  At Nhpum-Ga it was one of these ex-artillerymen, likely S/Sgt John A. (Red) Acker, who suggested that a couple of pack howitzers could be manned by him and his comrades, and used to good tactical advantage.  The component parts were air-dropped, assembled, and commenced firing, as a 2-tube batter, by make-shift guns crews and fire-direction personnel organized by Acker.  Wade served as gunner on one of the howitzers.  At the time, no artillery officers were available – yet the understrength “battery” performed, and fired many missions, with great effectiveness.  The 2nd Battalion was relieved, the enemy force routed – and, Marauder Headquarters sent out urgent requisition for two more howitzers, and trained artillery officers.  This achievement, under these circumstances, by enlisted artillerymen, is one of the great sagas of World War II, though largely unknown outside the Marauders.

            All three of us joined the “Artillery Battery”, as the troops called it.  I do not know how it was shown in the Marauders’ organizational chart.  We had the normal four howitzers and crews.  There was no Headquarters Battery; its functions had to be performed on an ad hoc basis.  Battery Commander was Captain West.

            My introduction to combat came the next day.  I went to Battalion Headquarters to ask what they needed in the way of fire support.  Seeing me come up, the infantry colonel said “Now we have enough for the funeral.  So proceed.”  My first official act was to witness a combat burial.  The battle to secure Myitkyina continued.  Acker, Wade, and all those who had initiated the Marauder Artillery had long since been evacuated, one at a time.

            There were no assigned Artillery air observers, but he command assigned to each of the three of us a flying sergeant, with liaison plane.   I drew Sergeant Summy, an exceptional pilot; one of the best (and only a little crazy).  Usually we alternated:  One day with the firing battery, serving as Battery Exec; the next day on the ground as Forward Observer (FO); and next day in the air. There were no detailed maps or aerial photos available so we made our own.  On one occasion when I had been called on to make pictures I saw on the ground a big bull elephant.  I asked the pilot to fly over him again, low.  When we did the elephant reared up, as if to catch the plane with his forelegs.  It was the best picture I ever made.  I had no training as an air observer.  I assumed I was supposed to fly where I could best observe.  In the jungle, that means directly over the target, instead of over the gun position.  Sergeant Summy and I hit it off and became good friends.  He even taught me to fly the L5 – he said he wanted to be sure that whoever was with him could get the plane back to the airfield.  I made some rough landings but we were able to walk away from them.  At that time I had a Thompson submachine gun that we always carried with us.  Some times we used it to strafe the enemy.  Once in early morning we spotted one of those bashas on stilts, in which some Japs were eating breakfast.  We flew below the roof line and used my Thompson.  Last I saw, the Japanese were diving off the basha floor, and jumping into foxholes.

            We developed good rapport with the Air Corps.  Often, in the air, they would call on us to identify targets for them.  One, a Captain Allred, did this frequently.  We developed the system that he would drop a small smoke bomb and we would make necessary adjustments to get him directly on target.  We both thought it a very effective system.  Also the Air Corps had found and dismantled some small anti-personnel bombs.  I got hold of some, which would carry on my lap to drop on enemy positions.  One time we saw some river barges, that we attacked with these bombs; I got a direct hit and sunk one of them.

            Then there were the normal ground FO duties.  On one trip to the front my radio operator was a soldier named Edward Allowishus (sp?) Shadd.  We had fired on several targets and were resting, leaning back against an embankment.  There came a loud “Thump.”  An enemy round had hit between us – and was a dud.  We moved out smartly.  Another time I was with Colonel Osborne, who later became CO of the 124th Cavalry.  Suddenly we were pinned to the ground by several bursts of enemy fire.  That is about as scared as I ever was; but, when I looked over at the colonel, he was calmly cleaning his fingernails with a trench knife.  He as a very brave and competent officer.

            As the battle for Myitkyina was winding down, our advance once was held up by enemy in a reinforced concrete pillbox.  Col. Hunter asked us if we could knock it out.  We used his jeep to tow one of the 75s into position.  We placed it behind a rice paddy wall, and cut a gap for the tube.  I bore-sighted the gun on the opening in the pillbox and fired.  The round fell several yards short and to the right.  Calling back to mind a bit of schoolbook lore from Fort Sill, I bore-sighted on the spot where the round had hit; then again sighted on the pillbox, using the correction gained from the second bore-sighting.  This round went in the opening of the pillbox.  In our sector that just about wrapped up the battle for Myitkyina. 

            The infantry used a concept called the Final Protective Line (FPL), when in the defense, and our “Artillery Battery” also applied it.  This called for all weapons to lay down continuous fire, along designated lanes, so planned and co-ordinated as to create a near-impenetrable wall of fires, around our perimeter.   I crawled over to one of our Gurka guides and asked him what he thought it was; he answered “mans.”  I hollered “Fire the FPL!”  The firing roared for maybe five minutes, while we heard the sound of crashing around out in the brush, as if from some person or persons running.  Finally came the “Cease Fire.”  Next morning we went out to count the enemy dead, expecting to find a goodly number.  There were five – of the biggest water buffalos I ever saw.  The local Burmese people were already busy with the skinning knives.

            Once we were visited by General Stillwell.  He was accompanied by Col. Hunter and an Ordnance Officer.  Happened that was a day for me to be the Battery Exec, and I was in my usual uniform – a pair of FI shorts and two .45 pistols.  When I recognized the general I barely had time to pull on a pair of pants.  The Ordnance colonel, it turned out, was there to inspect our howitzers.   In the States the Ordnance inspection of heavy weapons is a big deal, before any range firing is permitted, and periodically during firing.  This includes inspection of the “Gun Book,” into which all round fired must be entered.  Bes I recall, we had no gun books; and there certainly had been no Ordnance personnel around to check our howitzers, as far back as anyone could remember.  The Ordnance colonel began his inspection and immediately condemned all four of our howitzers.  He said they had been fired so much that the lands were coming out by inches; the tubes were burned out.  It was highly dangerous to fire them, and a wonder someone had not been killed.  Just as that minute one of the FOs called in a Fire Mission.  I turned to Co. Hunter and asked him what I should do.  He said “Do what you normally would do.”  I hollered out the proper commands, “Battery Adjust.”  The gun crews turned to, as additional fire commands were repeated down the line.  At this the Ordnance colonel departed the area at a high rate of speed.  However, Col. Hunter and General Stillwell stayed and observed the fire mission.

            Soon after Myitkyina was secured, I and others were evacuated to Ledo for some needed Rest and Recuperation (R & R).  Shortly afterward, and before the next phase of the campaigning got under way, there arrived in Theater the 612th and 613th Field Artillery Battalions (Pack).  These brought a full complement of fresh mules, and 24 (count them, TWENTY-FOUR!) brand-new 75 mm pack howitzers.  Artillery had proved its worth, in the Burma jungles.  A force which had begun with no artillery had progressed through a two-gun platoon, then a four-gun improvised batter, to two full battalions: six firing batteries with full headquarters and service support, fire direction center, communications, liaison, instrument and survey, two aircraft per battalion, reconnaissance, logistics, and maintenance – all the comforts (and necessities) of home.  Oh, yes – and 24 gun books, all entries complete.

            Somone at HQ discovered that we three lieutenants were Field Artillery branch, so off we went, transferred to the 612th and 613th.  No longer were we Infantry, but none of us would ever forget our time with the 5307th CUP.

 

Edwards L Seagraves,

Powell, TN

            

© George P. Haupin 2012