Friday, June 1, 2018

From Kentucky to Bataan

Veteran's Park, Harrodsburg, KY
Google Street View
From Harrodsburg, Kentucky (population 4,673 in 1940) to Clark Air Base, near Angeles City in the Republic of the Philippines, is roughly 8,420 miles. In these modern times it takes less than a day (24 hours) to get from Harrodsburg to Clark. In 1941, it took substantially longer. Especially if we're talking about shipping a battalion of M3 Stuart tanks with all of its organic equipment and personnel.

Alert reader Bill spotted that Sherman in the opening photo whilst traveling from Virginia to Minnesota. As a Chant reader, I'm not surprised he did a "Wow! Is that a tank?" pullover and visit. I mean, I do that all the time. (Fortunately there aren't a lot of tanks on display here in Little Rhody, otherwise I would be a major hazard to navigation!) As a long term lurker in these parts, he knew instinctively that the Old AF Sarge would be keen to know the story. So, a couple of emails later, a bit of research and voilà, you get a post for what my buddy Dwight likes to call, "History Friday."

If you look closely in that first photo, over to the right, there's what looks like a plaque, and it is. Bill got a picture for us...


Harrodsburg is the county seat for Mercer County, it's a pretty old town, being one of three settlements in the Kentucky area back when the Revolution started. The Kentucky National Guard has quite a history and a pretty nice website describing that history here. If you dig a little deeper, you'll come across the page, The Harrodsburg Tankers.

These men were called to Federal service as the war clouds continued to gather in the Pacific (war was already raging in Europe) and went from being the 38th Tank Company of the Kentucky Army National Guard to being Company D of the 192nd Light Tank Battalion, being equipped with this little feller -

M3 Stuart Tank
(Source)
Incidentally the Harrodsburg Tankers site mentions the 38th being equipped at one point with the "M 2 T 2" tank, or "Mae West" as the troops called it. I do believe what they meant was the M2A2 tank, which had twin turrets, each mounting a .50 caliber machine gun. And in typical design fashion, each turret blocked the field of fire of the other in certain directions. So you could shoot in two different directions but couldn't bring both guns to bear out to either flank. Interesting, not exactly a flaw, but not exactly a feature either.

M2A2 Light Tank
(Source)
Now I had never heard of that beastie before, by December of 1941 the M2A2 and it's sisters (M2A1 and M2A3) were only used in training. The M3 Stuart equipped the 192nd when it was shipped out to the Philippines in September of 1941. Just in time for the attack by Japan less than three months later.

The 192nd was the first American armored unit to fight enemy armor in World War II, clashing with Japanese armor near Lingayen Gulf on the island of Luzon, Wikipedia has a pretty good account of the action -
On 21 December 1941, the 192nd Tank Battalion, under the command of Major Theodore F. Wickord, was ordered to move north. Major Wickord sent Company B, commanded by Captain Donald Hanes, ahead, most likely as an advanced guard. During B company's advance, they had planned to refuel their gasoline powered M3's at Gerona and then again at Bauang. However, upon reaching Gerona, no fuel was available, and word reached Captain Hanes that the enemy was fast approaching Bauang.

The US Army's last official US Horse Cavalry to see combat was the US 26th Cavalry (Horse) (Philippine Scouts) in 1942. The 26th Cavalry had just recently been under enemy aerial attack, and was operating in the area currently being traversed by B company tanks. General Wainwright, commander of US/allied forces in the Philippines during its final period, received reports that the town of Damortis was fast being approached by mechanized elements of the Japanese Army; and he ordered Captain Hanes to engage them.

Since Hanes had not been able to re-fuel at Gerona, his Stuarts were nearly out of gas, so he had to consolidate the fuel from the whole company in order to "top-off" just one platoon of five light tanks. Hanes ordered the tank platoon, led by LT Ben R. Morin, to move north from the town of Damortis, where here on 22 December 1941, the platoon of M3 Stuarts ran into Japanese Type 95 light tanks from the Imperial Japanese Army 4th Tank Regiment. In this, the first American tanks manned by US tank crewmen to engage enemy tanks during World War II, the M3's of the 192nd Tank Battalion went up against the equally armed Type 95 light tank, which were armed with the 37mm cannon, but were equipped with diesel engines. The Type 95 light tank had been at the forefront of tank technology when it was fielded in 1935.

In the tank to tank battle that ensued, the lead 192nd tank immediately left the road to maneuver, but was instantly hit and caught fire. The remaining four Stuarts also received hits, but withdrew from the field, only to be destroyed by enemy aircraft later on. Lieutenant Morin was wounded, and he along with his crew were captured.

Both the 192nd and the 194th Tank Battalions continued to skirmish with the 4th Tank Regiment, as they retreated towards Bataan. But tank losses during the fighting required the re-organization of some of the units. Consequently, tank companies were re-organized into 10 tank companies with 3 tank platoons, and 1 tank for the company commander. During the remaining struggle for Bataan, the two Tank Battalions tried to defend the beaches, the airfield, and provided support for the infantry, until 8 April 1942, when the 192nd and 194th received orders to prepare to destroy their M3s, upon receiving the code word. The code word "Crash" was transmitted, and the US Army/allies on Bataan surrendered on 9 April 1942. (Source)
Type 95 Ha-Gō Japanese Tank
(Source)
You can read more about the exploits of the 192nd here. Seems those brave Kentuckians fought all the way to Bataan and the entire outfit, those who survived, went into Japanese captivity. They paid a heavy price for their service, according to this site, of the 596 members of the 192nd Light Tank Battalion, including Company D, The Harrodsburg Tankers, 325 paid the last full measure of devotion. The plaque above lists those from Company D who perished.



There's a little town in Kentucky which remembers the men they sent forth to do battle, and the ones who didn't return. They remember, so should we.


Thanks Bill for sharing this story and the photos.

Again, I learn from my readers...



Note: There's a name on the top left of that plaque which gave me pause. Caught my breath when I noticed it. Harry Riker LaFon, Jr. Then I noticed the difference in spelling, still, you have to wonder.

48 comments:

  1. Hi Guys:

    I'm here to claim the coveted first commenter award again. Now I'll go back and read the post.

    Thanks for the post.
    Paul L. Quandt

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    1. I'm guessing you were up early again?

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    2. Did you get that first certificate yet? Cause I ain't got that first check. Sarge said it was in the mail, whist simultaneously saying something the resembled "Pony Express".

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    3. Now I've dispatched couriers on three separate routes, but truth be told, none of 'em are all that reliable, given to strong drink and hanging out with people of questionable morals.

      Just sayin'...

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  2. Thanks for a great story. I have read some about our troops who were hung out to dry ( and die ) in the Philippines in WWII, but am always happy to read more.

    BTW: The tank in the first and last photos is, I believe, an M4E8.

    Paul

    P.S.: The award for my previous ' first commenter ' has not yet arrived; did the USPS lose it or what?

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    1. Hhmm, FedEx says it's in Cleveland...

      I think you're right about the tank. The 192nd didn't use those in WWII, of course, there aren't that many Stuarts left I would guess.

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    2. This list calls it a M4A3(76)HVSS. Which, yes - M4A3E8 "Easy Eight." (76mm gun w/turret, HVSS suspension upgrade.)

      As a side note, there is <a href="http://www.theshermantank.com/sherman/the-sherman-variants-the-design-matures/</a>far too much detail</a> involved in Shermans for a mortal like me to keep straight...

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    3. Aw, man, I busted a link. Real finicky typing that on my phone...

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    4. The Sherman had a lot of variants, had to keep up with the Germans or continue to lose crews. Just like the German PzKw IV, had to keep up with the Russians.

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    5. Is busting a link anything like throwing a track? ;)

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    6. Maybe, except nobody's going to put an 88 through my forehead while I'm trying to fix it... I hope?

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    7. [Hastily shoving wheeled long barreled gun looking thingy behind a nearby curtain...]

      No, no, why would anyone do that?

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    8. Ha ha, you've fallen for it. I don't keep my brain in there.

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  3. Bataan survivors....those were men who knew hell on earth. Kudos to Bill (good eye) and Sarge(more links)!

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  4. My last business trip to Mexico was Reynosa. I was following a napkin map to my destination, when I came upon a military base.... 2 armed guards (L1A1 type rifles) and a Stuart on a brick pedestal about 3 feet high in front of the gate. I wanted to stop and take pictures, but I had a strict set of rules, and stopping anywhere but the maquiladora or the border checkpoint in Reynosa Mexico was off the list.

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    Replies
    1. Probably a very smart move.

      Now I will try to find that Stuart on Google Earth!

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  5. Found it here, Sarge.
    26 01 31N 98 14 54W
    Via Google Maps Street View

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    Replies
    1. Most excellent! Well done Flugelman!!

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    2. The only blog I know of that your stories are BDA'd... I LOVE THIS PLACE!!!!!

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  6. I've lost it now in between moves, but the Chief medical officer of that KY Guard unit who survived wrote a TREMENDOUS history of that unit and all the horrible post death march death camps, transportation "death ships" and later incarceration in work gangs in Japan. Chilling. One of the little tricks he personally observed was for punishment, the Jap camp guards would put the pows in slit trenches, afix barbed wire on top, pour gasoline on the hapless pows, set it afire, then machine-gun those struggling to get out. Neat, right?? The "death ships" were the worst of all (with the highest losses) with people packed in the holds standing shoulder-to-shoulder with no room to move, foul air, no sanitation and overwhelming oppressive heat I don't even remember the title but I'm sure the Lib of Congress could dig it out..

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yes, I need to track that book down.

      The barbarity of the Japanese in WWII was unbelievable. I almost said unprecedented, but our species has a knack for that sort of behavior, as history shows again and again.

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    2. I said it on a comment at another blog (gasp, shock,) but to us Westerners, the Japanese were aliens (still are in some respects.)

      Sure, they built cars and planes and ships that looked a lot like us, and they smiled, and laughed, and cried and showed other 'human' emotions, but the way they thought and what they believed was effectively alien. Our culture cherished life (said cherished because there's some things about our culture that show that we don't cherish life like we used to) and individuality and all those strong western traits that allowed our nation to explode in size and power. The old Japanese culture? Might have just as well been from Alpha Centauri. Totally alien in a lot of ways.

      They've gotten more western, but deep underneath, there's still a certain alien-ness that will forever make them 'different.'


      It's not just the Japanese. It's the whole Asian area. Easiest seen in the different attitude for life that most Asian cultures have (from East Asia to, well, West Asia as a Brit would say.)

      For those wanting to research extraterrestrial alien life and potential issues with it interacting with us, well, studying late Imperial (industrial) Japan would be a good start.

      Which also explains our problems with dealing with a certain western Asian religion. They aren't us. By a huge gap. May look like us, sound like us, but... Aliens. Other western Asian religions seem to fit pretty well with us as they have pretty similar shared values, the Sihks, for instance, or as one sci-fi writer calls them, the cool turban people, friendly aliens, so to speak.

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    3. I've lived there, things are different there. They are no less human than we Westerners are, perhaps we are the aliens.

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  7. The Bishop of Micronesia (Roman Catholic Church), at one time, was a survivor of the Death Camps. We children were weirdly fascinated by the scars on his back, as children are wont to do.

    To keep your faith, and to have it become deeper, under hellish conditions, was and is an amazing thing. Why some who survived basically died inside, but were walking hulks, while others internalized and became stronger mentally as their bodies weakened. Amazing.

    The Japanese are better as our friends than our enemies.

    Same goes for Korea.

    And Viet Nam, who we shafted most horribly in our treatment after we pulled out (having met lots of South Vietnamese, we hosed those poor people.)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Congress screwed the Vietnamese. Well, the media helped as well.

      I would hesitate to use the word "we" when referring to who screwed the pooch in Vietnam.

      Japan, in some ways, is vastly different than it was 70 years ago. In many ways, the Japan of the early 20th Century was vastly different from the Japan of the Shogunate.

      Cultures change, not always for the better. Witness our own country, I would argue that there are aspects of American culture these days which are deeply disgusting to most civilized people. Some things are better, some are worse.

      But yeah, I'd rather have them as friends than enemies.

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    2. I was referring to the royal or congressional "We" as in the powers that be that represent the country.

      And yeah, that's why I included the whole imperial (industrial) Japan thing. The death of the Shogunate, and the Samurai (as actual parts of the society, not as an 'ideal') radically changed portions of the Japanese society. Almost like they took a Shogunate mask off and put an Imperial Industrial Japan mask on, with some overwriting code, ala "West World." Same core societal programming, different interface programming, so to speak.

      Groking non-current cultures has always been a particular trait of mine. Oftentimes, when watching the teebee, and some narrator or idiot-goon-actor says something like, "The abo people are smiling at us in friendship," and I'll say to whomever is listening, "Just because they smile like us doesn't mean the smile means the same thing. Could be they're happy for more two-legged food."

      Cultures are weird. And past cultures are weirder, as the information about them gets overwritten, or hidden or destroyed by the current culture.

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    3. Good points, cultures can be very weird. I mean, just look at San Francisco!

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    4. Frisco is a culture like unto a petri dish.

      Paul L. Quandt

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    5. Um, yes. Most definitely yes.

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    6. Paul, ya beat me to it.

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    7. Paul is quick, like rabbit today he is!

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    8. OAFS:

      Are you saying that I have large upper front teeth and long ears?

      Paul

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    9. What's up, doc?

      PLQ

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  8. M2A2 "Mae West" - because, dang, lookit that pair 'o guns!

    Pretty sure that sense of humor would get you a dishonorable discharge these days...

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  9. On the plaque, the first four names of the dead and the first two of the survivors are indented. Is this to indicate that they were officers, perhaps?

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  10. Beans - big mushy BeansJune 1, 2018 at 5:56 PM

    Okay, somewhat off-topic, just watched "War Dogs" on HBO.

    F...ck. Man, I'm sitting here bawling, my wife is crying, my dog is looking at me like I'm crazy...

    Good movie. Hard to watch, but good.

    Highy recommend. At least a Kleenex box per person good.

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    Replies
    1. I have it on my list to watch. Not sure if I can handle it. I'm a big old softie.

      But I will watch it, eventually.

      Delete
    2. Wife is still sniffling after an hour.

      Which is weird. Usually it's me who keeps blubbering.

      Delete

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