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Operation Te
Japanese Paratroopers Attack Leyte Airfields

Background
After the U. S. Army landings on eastern Leyte in the Philippines the Japanese planned to push them U. S. forces off the island. On October 25, 1944 Imperial Japanese Army Headquarters under General Yamashita ordered a counterattack. The Japanese planned an airbone assault code named "Operation Te" by the paratroopers with an objective of capturing three airfields: Buri Airfield, Bayug Airfield and San Pablo Airfield. Meanwhile, a ground offensive code named "Operation WA" by the the Japanese Army 35th Army under the command of Lt. General Sosaku Susuki inclduing elements of the 26th Infantry Division and 16th Infantry Division would attack from the hills to the west.

The paratrooper assault would be conducted by the Japanese Army's 2nd Raiding Brigade including the 3rd Raiding Regiment (3rd Parachute Regiment) under the command of Major Tsuneharu Shirai plus the 4th Raiding Regiment (4th Parachute Regiment) under the command of Major Chisaku Saida. On October 30, 1944 the 3rd Raiding Regiment at Sasebo embarked aboard Junyo and proceeded to Manila Bay arriving November 11, 1944. The same day, the Headquarters, 2nd Raiding Brigade was flown to Luzon that same day. Meanwhile, on November 3, 1944 the 4th Raiding Regiment under the command of Major Chisaku Saida embarked aboard Akagisan Maru and arrived at San Fernando at the end of the month. By early December 1944 the 2nd Raiding Brigade was assembled at Clark Field on Luzon while their aircraft remained on Formosa (Taiwan) to avoid U. S. air raids or observation until the start of the operation.

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Paratrooper Jump
On December 6, 1944 in the late afternoon a total of 409 paratroopers led by Major Tsuneharu Shirai boarded Ki-49 Helen and Ki-57 Topsy transport aircraft at Angeles South Airfield and Del Carman Airfield on Luzon. A cameraman documented the mission planning, preparations and departure of the transports that later appeared in the newsreel Nippon News "Leyte Paratrooper Attack".

MapThe transports flew to the southeast over Bacolod Airfield on Negros Island where they rendezvoused with light bombers and fighters from Bacolod Airfield then turned eastward for Leyte. At roughly 6:00pm the Japanese transports approached from the west over eastern Leyte. The weather was clear as the light bombers circled and dropped bombs as a diversion while escorting fighters remained above as high cover escorts.

The weather was clear as the two flights of transports in a “V” of V's” formation arrived over San Pablo Airfield and Buri Airfield flying slow at an altitude of only 700' as the paratroopers jumped over their designated drop zones. The first plane load of paratroopers began leaving their aircraft direct over the Divisional Headquarters roughly 600' short of their objective. Others were strung out well beyond the runway among tall trees and many became entangled. One plane load jumped to their deaths when the anchor line failed and did not pull their rip chords causing each paratrooper to fall to their death.

George Mendenhall adds:
"I was with a Marine observation unit stationed at Buri, was there when the troopers were dropped and shot them on their way down with my .50 caliber. Our unit (18 of us) held the [Buri] airfield until an Army unit relieved us. Been trying to find other members of our outfit without luck."

Henry J. Muller, Jr. recalls:
"At first it sounded like a swarm of bees in the distance. Then it became clear. No one could mistake the drone of a formation of troop carrier aircraft. Some one outside shouted "Transports!" "Japs!" "Paratroopers!" The division staff dashed out of the mess tent looking skyward. By now a dozen parachutes had opened above us and everyone began firing at them I even emptied two clips from my .45 at the nearest parachutists."

John Tilley of the 431st Fighter Squadron (431st FS) recalls:
"Pilots spent two nights in a row [on the ground] until the Army cleaned out the Japanese paratroopers. We did not get any sleep for two days in a slit trench with a M1 Carbine. The pilot's were so nervous that if a rabbit had moved it would have been blown to hell."

Frank Widay recalls:
"Ashore at Leyte the 892th Chemical Company was subjected to a Japanese paratrooper attack on December 6-7, 1944. This was the only time I fired my personal weapon at descending paratroopers. After a frightening night, the attack was neutralized."

Paratroops Among The Americans
Roughly 300 paratroopers from the Katori Shimpei Force reached the ground and immediately began attacking in all directions. Although the paratroopers caught the Americans by surprise and landed among non-combat personnel, confusion was apparent among the attackers. Many were killed before they could take up fighting positions. Immediately, service personnel and aviation units responded with small arms fire to defend themselves. Initially, the only division troops present at this time were from the 127th Engineers, the Signal Company, and Headquarters Battery of Division Artillery. Some paratroopers managed to inflict damage at the airfields including destroying liaison planes, and set supply dumps on fire, attacked bivouac areas and destroyed camps.

Reinforcements Arrive
To counter the paratroopers, the U. S. Army 674th Parachute Field Artillery Battalion was ordered to leave its guns at Bito Beach and get to the airstrip to fight as infantry. On December 7, 1944 at dawn, just as an attack by headquarters people got started, Colonel Hosak arrived with his 674th Artillery Battalion men. The Japanese were holed up all around the strip but initially the strongest resistance was made in front of the engineers. The 674th pushed across the strip and into a coconut grove some seven hundred yards north of the airstrip. Here they halted and dug in for the night. On December 8, 1944, Colonel Hildebrand arrived with the 1st Battalion of the 187th to take over clearing the airfield. The Japanese paratrooper and infantry attack proved to be disorganized and an abortive effort. Operation WA ended in disaster as IJA paratroops were not able to hold their initial gains and were wiped out by overwhelming U. S. forces.

Japanese Infantry Offensive Fails
Meanwhile, the remnants of the Japanese 16th Division were attacking from the west as part of the Japanese coordinated attack. Lieutenant Hurster of the 187th set up a perimeter around the 44th Station Hospital with forty men, including cooks, supply personnel and drivers. Their line held with no Japanese penetrating it during the night. The next morning, patrols crossed the rice paddies and killed the remaining Japanese in the area.

On December 11, 1944 one regiment from the 16th Division managed to mount a halfhearted night attack but it was repulsed with heavy losses. About 1500 men, survivors of the 16th Division, assembled northwest of Buri Airfield and on December 6, 1955 launched an attack through a swamp. Inflicting heavy losses on American service troops stationed at Buri, they dug in and prepared to fight. Moving into Burauen Heights at this time, the 1st Battalion of the 187th met a portion of this force and destroyed them. Next, the 187th then turned back to dislodge the Japanese on the north edge of the Buri Airfield. While the First Battalion was clearing the Burauen Airfields the 2nd Battalion of the 187th relieved elements of the division north of Anonang where they had contained one of the two main Japanese concentrations. 

The other Japanese portion was west of Mahonag, where the long Japanese supply road was located. It was decided to cut this supply trail at Anas, a deserted village, to sever the Japanese in the mountains from their supply lines. On the night of the 26th, artillery, mortars and machine guns pounded the Japanese.

On the 27th, the Second Battalion stormed Purple Heart Hill and stayed atop it. The Japanese who were not killed were scattered to the north and west. Those moving north ran into the First Battalion of the 187th,which had attacked southward along the gorge. An after-battle search of the area disclosed 238 Japanese bodies in addition to many fragments of bodies, arms and legs, mangled by artillery. Also in the Purple Heart Hill area was found the end of the main Japanese supply trail, which wound over the hills and through gullies from Ormoc Bay to Anonang.

References
Nippon News "Leyte Paratroopers Attack" film footage of Operation Te preparations and departing aircraft
History of the U. S. Marine Corps Operations in World War II - Chapter 2 The Leyte Landings pages 322-323
The Army Air Forces in World War II: The Pacific Matterhorn to Nagasaki Chapter 12 Leyte page 380-381
J-Aircraft "Japanese Paratroop Operations in WW II"
11th Airborne Friends - 187th Glider Infantry in the Leyte Campaign
Japanese Paratroop Forces of World War II (2005) pages 40 (profile 8 2nd Raiding Bde; Leyte operation Dec 6, 1944) 45-48. 50 (photo), 52 (photo), 53 (photo), 55 (photo), 57 (photo), 63 (profile 8 caption), 64 (index)



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