PRIVATE LESLIE A. HOLTZAPFEL was born in New Jersey in 1923. He lived in Mount Ephraim NJ before the war. The son of Mr. and Mrs. Albert Holtzapfel, he had left school prior to high school and had worked for the Radio Condenser Company before being inducted into the Army on February 15, 1943 at Camden NJ.
Private Holtzapfel was a member of of the 5307th Composite Unit, more commonly known as Merrill's Marauders, he was killed in action during the advance to Shaduzap, Burma on March 16, 1944. His body was not recovered at the time, and he was declared dead on March 16, 1946. He is memorialized on the Mount Ephraim NJ War Memorial, and on the Tablets of the Missing at Manila American Cemetery at Manila, Philippines. He was survived by his father.
Second Mission: Shaduzup and Inkangahtawng
THE ADVANCE TO Walawbum gave General Stilwell control of the Hukawng Valley (Map. No. 27, inside back cover). The next phase of the offensive would center on the corridor formed by the Mogaung Valley. The entrance to this corridor lies over the low hills near Jambu Bum that serve as a watershed between the tributaries of the Hukawng and Mogaung. Spearheading the main advance, the Chinese 22d Division was crowding the Japanese southward along the Kamaing Road toward Jambu Bum. Twenty-five miles to the west, the Chinese 65th Regiment was still covering the right flank in a push toward Tasu Bum. Once again General Stilwell planned to use the Marauders on an encircling mission east of the Kamaing Road. Penetrating 15 and 20 miles to the rear of the main Japanese forces, two Marauder columns were to cut enemy supply lines and communications and harass rear areas.
On 11 March, the day after he had received General Stilwell's plan for this operation, General Merrill held a staff meeting to brief his officers on the mission (Map No. 10, page 46). Marauder columns were to strike simultaneously at two points along the Kamaing Road and establish road blocks, to pinch out hostile elements between these blocks, and then to attack north or south along the road or in both directions, as the situation warranted. To insure maximum freedom of action for the Marauders, two regiments of the Chinese 38th Division were to take part in the operation. Following the Marauder units, these Chinese troops were to take over the blocks as soon as they had been established, enabling the Marauders to exploit the situation as it developed.
The 1st Battalion, followed by a Chinese regiment, was to proceed from Sana Ga in a flanking movement to cut the Kamaing Road near Shaduzup. On the 50-mile hike to Shaduzup the battalion was to follow a trail running through the southeastern end of the Hukawng Valley and along the southwestern slopes of the Kumon Range to the Mogaung Valley. The 2d and 3d Battalions, also followed by a Chinese regiment, were to make a wider sweep of about 80 miles to block the Kamaing Road at Inkangahtawng, south of the Shaduzup block. Their trail followed the Tanai River in a constricted valley between two main chains of the Kumon Mountains; beyond Janpan, the trail wound up the side of the valley and led over a series of razor-backed ridges, with differences of elevation amounting to as much as 1,600 feet in 4 miles. Beyond Auche, the column would reach the Mogaung watershed and strike west to the road. The Marauder parties were to take about 2 weeks getting to their positions on the road.
On the Move to Shaduzup
At 0700 on 12 March the 1st Battalion started for Shaduzup; the Chinese 113th Regiment and 6th Pack Artillery Battery followed (Map No. 11, page 48). In the next 2 days the 1st Battalion covered about 20 miles to Makuy Bum, always watching for enemy patrols along the trails. From this point on, the Marauders were in rough hills as high as 2,000 feet, and the difficulties of progress were increased by the tendency of trails to avoid the stream beds and to take the hills as they came.
On the 14th the I and R Platoon of White Combat Team, feeling out the trail south of Makuy Bum several miles in advance of the main column, made the first encounter with enemy forces. Warned by finding footprints, the men of the platoon, commanded by Lt. Samuel V. Wilson, redoubled their caution and slipped up unobserved on a group of Japanese sitting around camp fires just off the narrow jungle path. The Marauders' surprise fire killed four Japanese and one Burman but stirred up a veritable hornet's nest. The enemy proved to be 150 strong, and the platoon quickly dispersed into the jungle. Withdrawing up the trail, one of the Marauders encountered Lt. William C. Evans, commander of Red Combat Team's I and R Platoon. Upon hearing the plight of Lieutenant Wilson's men, Lieutenant Evans sent a report of the situation back to the main column and hastened with his unit to assist in clearing the trail.
A rifle platoon from the main column under Lt. John P. McElmurry also rushed forward to help Lieutenant Wilson, and the three platoons drove the Japanese across the nearby Numpyek River. Following them closely, Lieutenant McElmurry's riflemen seized commanding ground on the far side of the river, held this bridgehead against ail enemy attack, and covered the crossing of the main Marauder force.
This engagement had disclosed the forward movement of the Marauders. On the following day, 15 March, they had to fight eight separate skirmishes with small parties during the first 1½ miles' advance. Lieutenant Evans' platoon, leading the battalion column, bore the brunt of the enemy assaults. In the next half mile the Marauders met a larger group of Japanese, apparently the same one that Lieutenant Wilson had encountered the night before. This group was armed with both light and heavy machine guns; for the first time the Marauders encountered use of the enemy's S-shaped machine-gun formation to block a trail (Sketch No. 1, page 51). The Japanese pinned down the lead squad with machine-gun fire and then threw mortar shells behind the squad so fast that it could not be easily supported by the rest of the platoon. Every time the Marauders got mortars into action against the Japanese machine guns and made all enveloping movement through the thick growth beside the trail, did enemy displaced 100 to 150 yards down the trail and repeated his delaying tactics. Maneuver in this section of the jungle was hampered by growth so dense that, once off the trail, men could easily get lost within 10 feet of each other.
Though the Marauders were unaware of the fact, they were receiving considerable assistance in their battle. A group of irregular Kachin guerrillas, led by Lt. James L. Tilly (Detachment 101, Office of Strategic Services)14 was ambushing and harassing the rear of the Japanese forces. The Kachin operations kept the enemy group "bouncing" from east to west to meet attacks and increased the enemy casualties. Unfortunately, Colonel Osborne had no information about the Kachin activities. In view of the determined resistance the Marauder column was meeting, he could only foresee delays which would prevent his reaching the Kamaing Road on schedule and prevent coordination of his efforts with those of the other Marauder group. Therefore, he decided to cut a trail around the Japanese force.
Leaving Red Combat Team to keep the Japanese occupied, Colonel Osborne pulled White Combat Team back a short distance. It was late evening and little could be accomplished in the darkness. But at dawn on 16 March White Combat Team started chopping a path through the jungle toward Kumshan Ga. Red Combat Team kept in contact with the enemy until late that afternoon, then pulled back and together with the Chinese 113th Regiment which had caught up with the team during the day followed the trail cut by White Combat Team. Every member of White Combat Team, including officers, took turns at the arduous task of hewing and chopping through the jungle. But it took 2 days of back-breaking labor with kukris and machetes to reach Kumshan Ga, a distance of only 4 miles. Clumps of bamboo were sometimes too large to be detoured, and growth was so densely interwoven that the stems could not fall when lopped off at ground level. They had to be cut again some 6 feet above the ground, turning the trail into a sort of tunnel.
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