1st Lt J.T. Holmes*
The Quartermaster Review
*This article is based on an interview with 1st Lt. James Cooper. who was in the Quartermaster Office, Base K Headquarters, during the Leyte invasion. Lt. Cooper handled several jobs following the landings. one of which was the operation of a Class I dump at White Beach.-Ed.
ON A plus 2, October 22, 1944, the men of the QM Office, Base K, had their eyes on the low blue coast of Leyte. MacArthur had returned to the Philippines, and they were there to supply his armies. Radio Tokyo was already writing off the operation as a “desperate American gamble for prestige,” and her navy was churning through the China Sea to challenge Kinkaid’s force. What was most apparent were the navy dive-bombers flying in neat patterns overhead, and the thunder of naval rifles. Minutes later the straining eyes could see the deadly peel-off of the airmen, followed by a geyser of flame and black smoke, billowing hundreds of feet in the air. A Jap Class III dump had been hit.
Six days before, the big LCI (Landing Craft Infantry) had pulled out of Hollandia harbor. The word then had been that the QMs would go in on A plus 4, but the LCI skipper had grinned and told them to change their plans. His schedule called for an A-plus-2 landing. Landings had not yet been made at Tacloban, and some naval gunfire and softening up was still under way on A plus 2 at White Beach.
Then the LCI came into the sandy shore, grating against the bottom. The ramps smacked down into the water, and men struggled up onto the higher beach. They spent that first night on the sands, surrounded by rations and dead Japs.
On A plus 3 the Base K Headquarters moved into Tacloban on the heels of mop-up squads. The Base QM Office didn’t fare quite so well, and ended up about two miles inland from Tacloban in the middle of a group of rice paddies with an overlay of mud and water.
The unit finally took over a Jap signal dump, which was on somewhat higher land than the paddies. The QMs had quite a bit of luck here, and picked up nine partially assembled Jap trucks with the necessary parts to put them in running order. Personnel slept that night in nipa huts which had housed Japs less than a week before.
The First Cavalry Division was all over the area, and they liked the nipa huts so well that they pulled their combat priority and took over. The QMs weren’t happy, but they moved on A plus 4 in their new Jap trucks. Next stop was a coconut grove which nestled against a high ridge that extended from the Tacloban area some distance inland. This turned out to be a hot spot, as Jap aircraft were continually sneaking over the ridge and zooming down the valley in search of juicy targets.
The traveling QMs had no sooner ditched their pyramidal tents than they discovered they were so far ahead of the 105-mm. howitzers that shells were being lobbed over their heads against Japs entrenched on the top of the ridge. As a matter of fact, the artillery was so far back that the blast of the guns didn’t interfere with sleep. But this wasn’t the end of the artillery support. The 105’s were displaced by the 155-mm’s, which it was generally agreed made a hell of a noise. Except for the artillery and a few snipers, the area remained quiet.
On A plus 6 the QMs moved again, this time toward the rear. Base Headquarters took new quarters and turned over their old establishment to the ration and clothing men. This area turned out to be even less of a plum than the coconut grove. Nine 90-inm. antiaircraft guns and a battery of searchlights proved to be Jap aircraft bait. The Nips, alerted by the heavy protection, figured that the target was worth bombing, and they came over night and day in an attempt to snarl up the landings and supply operations around the docks.
Part of the supply picture was a bagged goods warehouse, opened up by Lieutenant Cooper, about one block from the docks. Supplies included flour, sugar, and salt. One of the more unusual chores was the supplying of Filipino and American guerrillas, who had been fighting the Japs for almost three years.
As White Beach was being prepared as a jump-off for the Mindoro operation, Lieutenant Cooper moved out and took over the Class I dumps. The beach was within 200 feet of the rations, and the Japs threw all the air power under their control against the obvious preparations for another landing and the nearby air-strip. Bombs fell all around, but the rations and QM personnel escaped injury.
The site of the dump was in a former coconut grove. Logs from the trees were used to provide dunnage. Airfield surfacing strips, old lumber, and anything else handy was used to keep the rations off the ground. Sand was hauled in and used as topping, and the road around the outside of the dump was laid out, although it was nothing more pretentious than a track. Traffic was kept to a minimum within the dump area, and the surface held up enough to get the rations out to as many as 300,000 troops at the peak of the operation.
The roller conveyor system set up in the dump area was highly efficient. Mess sergeants of the units drawing checked in at 1, the control tent, where they turned over their strength reports. Breakdowns covering a 10-day period were turned over to them, and they picked up a checker at 2, who saw that they drew no more than authorized.
Points 3, 4, and 5 were built-up docks which connected with the feeder conveyor lines down the long axis of the dump. Six DUKWs could unload at one time, one on each side of each dock. Solid load vehicles would go around the outside of the dump directly to the stack of canned beef, or whatever the item happened to be.
When units checked in for their 10-day issue, they had to give an inventory of their supplies on hand. If a unit was authorized 10,000 pounds of canned beef and had 5,000 pounds on hand, they were allowed to draw only an additional 5,000 pounds. This was to prevent stockpiling by units.
Units that had their strength increased in the 10-days intervals between issues, used up all rations on hand before reporting their new strength. The day before their rations were exhausted they filed a new strength report, itemizing the number of men that had been fed, and drew on the basis of their new strength for a 10-day period.
This is only one facet in the many-sided picture of supplying a beachhead operation. It may serve to give some hint that QMs’ duties are not always in some quiet back area, but that they are up taking their share of the risks to do their job, whether it is alongside a battery of antiaircraft guns or ahead of the artillery.