Operation Wa (ii)

This was a Japanese counter-offensive on Leyte island in the Philippine islands group designed to eliminate the lodgement gained by Lieutenant General Walter C. Krueger’s US 6th Army in ‘King II’ (6/10 December 1944).

Planned by Lieutenant General Sosaku Suzuki’s 35th Army, the operation was posited on the capture of the three US-held airfields round Burauen by the airborne force of Major General Rikishi Tsukada’s 1st Raiding Group, a Japanese army force comprising the battalion-sized 3rd Raiding Regiment and 4th Raiding Regiment of the 2nd Raiding Brigade, newly arrived from Japan. The Japanese airhead was then to be relieved and expanded by the overland arrival of Lieutenant General Shiro Makino’s 16th Division and Lieutenant General Kurihanao Yamagata’s 26th Division, which would exploit this advantage to retake the airfields at Tacloban and Dulag, where US operations would have been disrupted by small airborne raiding parties.

The whole operation was a Japanese disaster, in part because its organisation was bungled and in part because the Americans had largely abandoned the target airfields as unsuitable for their tactical air operations over Leyte. Of the four aircraft carrying the 400 Japanese airborne soldiers to the Burauen complex, three became lost and crash-landed on the beach near Dulag, while the fourth reached Buri airfield only to be shot down by anti-aircraft fire as it tried to land. In this last aeroplane, the Americans recovered a complete plan for ‘Wa’ (ii), and Krueger warned all units to be on the alert for further airborne operations. Most of their American commanders thought the preceding events to have been a one-off suicide mission, and their units were therefore taken completely by surprise as the 16th Division attacked.

The division was acting on its own, however, for it had not received word of a delay to the operation’s start. Thus the division’s attack was not co-ordinated with that of the 26th Division and the assaults of the 1st Raiding Group which were meant to preface the whole operation. Now sure that the Japanese plan was proceeding, the Americans gave a very warm welcome to the main Japanese attacks that developed 12 hours later, effectively wiping out the airborne elements. The most serious fighting occurred at Burauen, where 350 men of ‘Katori Shimpei’ Task Force were dropped from 25 transports onto the airfields at Buri, San Pablo and Bayug to link with ground forces that had infiltrated through the American lines. The Japanese swept through the camps of the engineer and supply troops located on the airstrips, and then prepared to hold them with the aid of captured US weapons.

Farther to the west, Major General Joseph M. Swing’s 11th Airborne Division was heavily committed in the effort to halt the 16th Division, but reacted to the situation on the two airfields by detaching two battalions to deal with the situation, and after some hard fighting the last Japanese pockets had been eliminated by 10 December, their survivors falling back with the beaten 16th Division.