522nd Field Artillery, 442nd RCT
522nd Field Artillery Battalion
While in Europe there are few killed in action in the 522nd Field Artillery Battalion. Katsugo credits the infantry for guarding them well and preventing enemy infiltration.
At Hill 140 in Italy, three batteries fire 4,500 rounds in a single 24-hour period. In this battle, the 522nd establishes its reputation as experts in time firing.
For the 522nd Field Artillery Battalion, rest periods are infrequent; occasions to mingle with civilians are few.
First Experience of War
Belvedere [in late June, 1944]. That was the first day of combat. Belvedere was the first day of combat for the new combat team which included the 442nd Regimental Combat Team, [with] the 100th merged with us.
The normal procedure was, when the initial placement was made, our battalion commander would ask the regular divisional artillery to stand by and support our infantry because our guns would be moving into place. Three gun-crew batteries would be moving into position.
During that time, the divisional artillery is supposed to support our infantry. So when the 2nd Battalion was ready to attack and enter into combat with the Germans, suddenly, there was no contact with the division artillery. There was a letdown in communications. The three gun batteries were on the road. We were moving into place.
So when 2nd Battalion wanted to enter into contact with the Germans, there was no artillery support. Usually the artillery paves the way for the infantry to contact the enemy. They didn’t have the firepower. So they got caught behind the lines, so to speak, by the Germans who entrapped them.
Because we were on the road, the 100th Infantry was on a standby basis. [Captain] Sakae Takahashi, who was Company [B] Commander, he saw what was happening. He took it upon himself to flank the Germans from the flank and attack the rear of the Germans, and that’s how the day was saved.
But, I remember distinctly, that the reason why all this happened was because our three gun batteries was on the move, and on the road, and we were stuck. There was some kind of a roadblock that we couldn’t move any further from where we were. But the 100th saved the day. For that action, the 100th Infantry got their first unit citation. And that was Sakae Takahashi.
Oh, it could have been disastrous.
The lesson learned [at Belvedere] by our Colonel [Baya M.] Harrison is that there on, thereafter, at no time did the artillery battalion move all three gun batteries at the same time. One gun battery was always left in position to support the infantry and until the other two batteries got their placements. Thereafter, we did not depend on the division artillery at all. Of course, for supplemental fire, there have been occasions when the division artillery came in to support the 442nd.
But we worked as a combat team, fully as a combat team thereon.
[At Belvedere] we had mixed feelings because when we got to this hillside, we had our first sight of a casualty of the 442nd. Right on the roadside where we were stopped was a destroyed German tank. Two blanket-covered casualties was on the roadside. It was pointed out that, “Hey, that’s Buddhaheads.” It was a very, very eerie feeling of being exposed to your first casualty.
Later on, I found out that one of the two lived in Atherton House. He was a member of the VVV [Varsity Victory Volunteers]. And really shook me, when I found out about it. We get all these wireless communications. How we get it, where, I don’t know, but I found out it was my friend.
Not only that, the talk was that prior to volunteering for 442nd, as a VVV member, he was well known, he was a little bit older than the rest of the boys and he had a girlfriend who we thought they would get married. Among the VVV boys, I think it was a well-known pair. I found out later was that prior to his getting killed, he had received a Dear John letter from his girlfriend. That really shook me. Here this guy receives a Dear John letter and I don’t know how soon thereafter he got killed.
But there was some indication that he and his partner [the other casualty] was too near the German tank. They got killed by the concussion of the exploding German tank, which meant they were too near the tank. They were exposed. But these are things that you hear about later. Somehow, we gather all kinds of information.
I don’t know how it worked out, how these information trickled down. But invariably, after each battle, each engagement, one of the first things we would inquire into is who got killed. Not who got wounded because wounded people would come back again or go home, but who got killed in action is something which we — you know, sometimes, even how they got killed, we would learn.
Land Mine Demonstration
Of course, one of the most sad ones was that — have you heard about that ammunition exhibit that was done after our first big battle? I think it was after the first month of combat, we had a demonstration of land mines.
Well, there was a demonstration of land mines by an engineer company [109th Engineering Unit of the 34th Division]. In front of our whole battalion — not one battalion, maybe one or two companies — they had this demonstration of land mines and how to disarm them, and all that. What happened was that these exhibit mines were being put back onto the truck from the ground where they were placed to show what type of mines they were and how to disarm them. While they were putting it on, the whole truck blew up.
And the demonstrators, there were four or five of them, got killed. [As many as nine from the 109th were killed.] And a couple of 442nd boys [Daniel Betsui and Masao Iha, both with the 232nd Engineers Co.] got killed. One of them was also University of Hawaii boy from Kauai, Daniel Betsui. He was somebody I knew at the university. But these things, you can learn. As soon as this happen, it comes down the grapevine. But that was a sad incident. Fortunately, not more people got hurt. But the truckload of mines just completely blew up. Somebody did not disarm one of the mines.
Accidental Casualties, Battery B
The 522nd Field Artillery, in all of the three years that we were in, we had two casualties in the front. One casualty was this fellow who was on duty at night, sitting in front of a little cottage or whatever. It was our field artillery headquarters battery and he was outside the house, sitting on a chair. One of the non-coms was inside and cleaning his pistol. Pistol went off, shot the man who happened to be sitting right in front of the office. That was our number one casualty.
The other casualty was from my battery [Battery B], from Lanai boy. He was a forward observer group. But he was one of those real meticulous forward observers. You know, forward observer, you have the lieutenant, then you have a radio man who carried the radio, and then another man help to carry the radio. So they were a group of four, basically. Well, [Nobuaki] Tomita was one of the forward observer troops. And he had built a foxhole, and they had some time, so he had built a very sturdy, complete foxhole.
You know, the danger at that time in France was the tree bursts. The trees were so thick that when a round, instead of going through the trees and landing on the enemy, could hit the trees and hit our own troops before it get to the enemy. So he built one with a good cover on the top with only one entrance in the rear. From the backside is the only entrance where you can get into the foxhole. Now, he got wounded and basically bled to death. He got killed from what, the best we could gather, from [an outfit] who were further in back of us [firing long range]. Because the only way he could have gotten wounded was from tree bursts from behind, not from the front. The front would have been us. But evidently, it wasn’t enemy fire.
Artillery was very lucky because we have the infantry in front who took good care, guarded us so carefully that none of the enemy infiltrated through, nor were we discovered by the Germans. Our worst fear would be counter battery from the German artillery firing at us, if they located our location. But we never got counter battery by the Germans. Nor did the German infantry infiltrate through the infantry to come at us. They would have loved to find the artillery because we gave them such close support.
The infantry protected us as much as they could because they knew how valuable our firepower was.
Shortly after Belvedere, I think July 5, the battle of Hill 140 was fought. This was an extremely critical battle for the 442nd because the Germans had been fully entrenched on this hilltop. You know, the battles in Italy, the American forces were always at a disadvantage, with the Germans always on the mountaintop and the Americans trying to dislodge them from the mountaintop. When you got through with one mountain, they were on the other side of the other mountain, and it was a battle of yard by yard.
As contrasted to in France, it was all of these pine trees, so we were in forest battle. But in Italy, it was always trying to dislodge the Germans from the hilltop defensive positions. As compared to Germany, it was a completely different style of war, so the artillery we experienced three completely different types of fighting. But in Italy, it was really rough because the Germans were always in position with higher ground, and we struggled to dislodge them, yard by yard.
Hill 140 was, as we later learned, it was one of the most fierce battles of our entire campaign.
We never did [experience] that type of intensive firing, the rest of my experience. As an example, in one twenty-four-hour period, July 5 and 6 according to our record, which was at the height of the Hill 140 battle, the three batteries fired 4,500 rounds of cannon fire in support of the infantry.
It was at this Hill 140 that the 522nd established its reputation as a time-fire expert. This is when our time firing was so fierce that the infantrymen would tell you that they felt so pitiful for the Germans because they were near enough to hear the Germans crying out because they had no way of hiding from the fierceness of the time fire. And we established our reputation in the field as experts in time fire.
In the ordinary projectile, you would fire, and it hit the ground, impacting on the ground, and bursting. So you almost have to have a direct hit on the person. People can get hurt with shrapnels and all that, but by that time, the Germans are all in foxholes. So as long as they’re in the foxhole, unless you have a direct hit above, in the foxhole, there’s no casualty by the Germans.
But the time fire is a projectile that had a timing fuse on the projectile itself that after the projectile leaves the gun, within so many seconds, it would burst in the air. And in the air, bursting, all the shrapnel would go down to the ground so there’s no protection for the Germans in the foxholes. I don’t think the Germans knew about our proficiency in the time fire up until that point. But it required consistency in setting the fuse on the projectile.
The projectile had a timing fuse which was like the inner working parts of an Elgin watch. We set the fuse by the number of seconds it would burst in the air after it left the gun. I remember it was something like, close to twenty seconds, the average timing was. We would have to set it with a gauge, wrench, that would set it according to the seconds that are on the projectile. Unless we are consistent, that people adjusting the fire could not make it ideally twenty yards above the ground to fire. So between the fire direction center and the gun crew, both of us had to be consistent in order to adjust the fire. Without that consistency, you would not be effective because at some maybe fifty yards up in the air, that would be just about useless.
We had to be consistent so that the fire direction center would work on the consistency of the gun crew. Instead of one setting at nineteen seconds, one setting at eighteen seconds, they have to depend on the nineteen seconds being accurately placed on the projectile itself. This is where our boys took extra care to make sure that we were being correct, doing things according to what it’s supposed to be.
At [the Battle of Bastogne, December 1944], a new fuse came into being and this is what’s supposed to have saved Americans. The projectile would leave the gun and automatically at a given height, it would burst. Supposedly, the projectile had a radar hidden in the ground. At a given distance, it would burst. This is what saved the Americans in Bastogne because to fire, you had to register first. You know, gun has to register the distance and by the time you fired — usually, it takes three rounds to register the proper reading on the guns, and the distance, the timing, the height, and whatnot. By the three rounds, the Germans would be given notice that artillery is coming and they would scatter or get into safety.
But in Bastogne, with this new [radar proximity fuse, the POZIT] fuse, the Germans were completely taken by surprise. They were out in the open and the burst shells came, and it was time fired in the air without any adjusting, which would warn the Germans that the artillery would be coming. But supposedly, what we heard at that Bastogne battle, all the fuses went to Bastogne and we were supposed to have some for ourselves, but we got it much later.
The 105 Howitzer was pretty safe in terms of mechanical maladjustments. But the 155 gun, which was a bigger gun, it fired bigger projectiles. But that gun was well known to have what they called muzzle bursts. Muzzle burst is when the projectile would burst as it leaves the gun. So when this happens, you would always have some casualties of the gun crew. The 155 gun was supposed to be very unreliable in that regard. But they always were following further back than we were. They had a greater capacity of firing the projectile and so they were the long-range gun. But it had a bad reputation.
The Hill 140 is a good example [of prolonged shooting causing gun barrels to overheat]. The barrels of our guns became so hot that we had to stop firing. We had to stop firing on A gun to let it cool off a little bit, and the other guns would fire. But it was so hot you couldn’t touch the barrel, you would get burned. Well, we were thinking, how can you [cool the guns]? So we tried a couple of times. What we did was we would lower the gun barrel a little bit and we poured water in the barrel to see if it would help cooling off the gun. But it never did help at all. Basically, the gun was too hot. So we just had to let it idle and cool off by itself. But that’s how bad it was during that 140.
The 105 Howitzer had two legs, which would brace the gun from the recoil. You know, the old World War I guns, it had no recoil, the gun would jump back, and that was the recoil. Remember the pirate ships, you would see the gun, and the gun would be rolling back, ten feet back, and then they roll it back forward. Well the 105 had a recoil system where the gun barrel would recoil. The cannon, which the Cannon Company used, had no recoil. But there was that much of a difference. But that was the short-distance gun.
The 105 had a recoil mechanism, which was a big help.
But as I said, in 140, we were firing so many rounds that the guns had to be always readjusted. We had to brace up the two shovels that we have on the back of the gun and reengage the gun, reregister the gun, because of the fierce firing that we constantly [did], without rest.
As I said, in that twenty-four-hour period, we fired close to five thousand rounds, and you figure, twenty-four hours and five thousand rounds.
It was the job of the service battery to keep us supplied with ammunition. It was their job to make sure that we were fully supplied. We had five batteries: headquarters battery, three gun batteries, and one service battery.
The only time we [had a] shortage of fire was sometime in France. I remember there was a shortage of ammunition and it was rationed out. But the rationed out didn’t affect us, the 522nd. Because the 522nd was the outfit to which whatever available shell was given first. We received the ammunition first. And because the 442nd was always in the forefront of any battle.
You know, when the 100th was first put into battle, it was always the frontal battalion leading the Americans. But the 100th could only move as far as both flanks keep up with them. They’re the lead attacking battalion, and you can go just so far because if you go too far up, and without your both flanks defended, they would be encircled. In the Battle of Cassino [January-February, 1944], the 100th [attached to the 34th Division] had reached their objective, but their both sides were unable to do so, so they had to come back and withdraw.
But in the case of the 442nd, you had three battalions and we were able to protect our both flanks with our own group, which in the battle like in France, with all of being in the forest, it was not a big battle area, it was in confined battlefields, unlike wide open fields like in Italy.
From maneuvers and from the training, we got exposed to all these cannon fire. We did not realize until after we got discharged and all that, there was anything wrong with our hearing.
But we learned, like in my case, I’m the closest to the gun barrel, the breech, and every time the gun is fired, I would open my mouth to offset the concussion.
It didn’t seem to bother me until years after discharge and talk among the veterans: you should get your hearing checked and all that. But the Veterans Administration, very early, did not recognize the fact that the ringing in the ears of the veterans was caused by all the gunfire.
Years later, the Veterans [Administration] changed their policy, and became very liberal in recognizing the fact that the ringing of the ear and the gradual early loss of hearing was due to all the gunfire. But it took them a long time to recognize this fact.
[We had] very little contact [with civilians] in Italy because we were always in a combat zone. Especially for the artillery, we would be in the front longer than the infantry. The infantry would have rest periods after being up there for one week. Somebody else would be replacing them. But the artillery would be there all the time in support, until the entire regiment got their relief. Then we would have a rest period, when the entire combat team would be in the rest area. And we would regroup, any training to be done, like I mentioned on ammunition. Things like that would be done during this [rest period].
One of the most cherished things that we did was [shower]. You know, up there, there was no bathing facilities. We would take a bath with our helmet and that’s how we took a bath. Or if there was a pool nearby, or swimming river, whatever, which wasn’t that often, we could. But rest periods, there would be bathing facilities, there would be portable baths that would come within the area. We would go to that area where there was makeshift tents and showers. You would get in line. You drop off your clothes at one end of the tent, get through the line, and they would give you five minutes to take a shower, clean yourself up, soap yourself up, and move on. Next five minutes to rinse yourself. Then you get out and you get new clothes that’s waiting at the end of the line. But this was a pleasurable experience. Usually about after a month being up at the front, and it was something that was a great relief.
Of course your PX [post exchange] supplies would come in there, too. Although, PX supplies would invariably come no matter where you are. In about every two weeks, I think it was that we would get PX supplies.
One of our favorite pastimes at that time was reading pocketbooks. My favorite was — and we all fight for the cowboy books right away. Out of maybe ten, fifteen books or so, for a battery, there’d be maybe about twenty different types of books, but everybody would be picking, looking for the cowboy books. I got to know quite a few of the cowboy book authors.
The infantry boys, when they were in the rest center, they had more leisure. Then, I think they had more opportunity to mingle with the civilian people. But the artillery, we didn’t have that many occasions. Once in a while, up in the farmlands, we would come across farmers. You know, wartime, especially in Italy, the farmers never left their homes. They would be there until a battle comes, then they would evacuate temporarily. When the battle’s over, they’re right back into their homes. So when the battles were over, we would have opportunity to meet the farmer’s family and some of us, small groups would have opportunity to bargain with them for chicken, eggs, and whatever. But in return for which, we would give chocolate and coffee grounds, and whatnot.
The eggs, everybody just either fried or boiled it. It was a luxury item, although you know we had all these powdered eggs and everything for breakfast. The artillery was fortunate, almost all of the time, we had warm food. The mess hall always caught up with us and we would have, at least one meal, we would have warm food brought up to us. Every battery had a mess hall and the food would be brought up to us. But in the infantry, they had more lines of K rations, which was ready-made. In the artillery, we were very fortunate to have warm meals at least once a day. Some of the boys always had a supply of shoyu [soy sauce] and things like that, surprisingly. Because we did receive care packages from home. Yeah, we would receive care packages. And so invariably, cooking supplies were part of the care packages that we would get.
I don’t recall any of our boys ever having any argument among ourselves. I don’t remember ever, within our battery. Of course, there were boys who were hard to get along with who very much, liked to be left alone. For everyone else, there were moments when you wanted to be alone. You didn’t want to be bothered. There were lots of times when people would let you be alone and be by yourself and reflective.
From the very beginning of our training in Camp Shelby, there was one of the boys who we thought was very unsettled, disturbed, very quiet, and never did associate with the rest of the boys too much. Always by himself. Before basic training was over, I think he was sent back home. But he, I understood, was discharged from the army very early in our training.
And then later on, we had a kibei [nisei who had spent part or all of his youth in Japan but returned to the U.S.] who was in the 442nd. He could barely speak English but he was in the army. So they put him into the mess hall. He was a cook. We noticed that he seemed to be very quiet. As I understand it, he never went overseas with us. This was primarily because he was worried. Evidently, he had parents in Tokyo. Those were the two in my battery that I know personally about.
Chaplain [Hiro] Higuchi was the chaplain for 2nd Battalion. Chaplain [Masao] Yamada was the chaplain for 3rd Battalion. Chaplain [Israel] Yost was for the 100th. The artillery had a Chaplain [Thomas Eugene] West. I don’t remember where he came from or what because we had very little ties with him. I don’t remember too many contacts with Chaplain West, other than when he notified me that my brother had been killed in an automobile accident. But he wasn’t close to the boys. There was a gap. I don’t remember attending any church services with him. Some of our boys, even I, maybe when we had the chance, we would attend something that Chaplain Higuchi or Chaplain Yamada had on the infantry side. But I have very vague recollections of interchange with Chaplain West, other than the one time that he came to inform me about my brother’s accident.
Katsugo Miho's interview courtesy of the Center for Oral History. Photographs courtesy of Katsugo Miho.