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".
The 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.
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.
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)