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  Rats Ass --- Charge  
  By Capt. Stephen Cavanaugh, D-511th PIR   
  It was during Nov. - Dec. 1944, when the 511th Parachute Infantry Regiment was advancing from the eastern beaches of Leyte, across the unmapped jungle of the central mountains into the interior of the island. The mission was to  make contact with the 77th Infantry Division, which was to land on the western coast of the island near Ormoc, the major enemy base for landing their reinforcements and supplies. In concert, the 7th Infantry Division was advancing northward along the west coast, from the village of Baybay on Ormoc Bay.  
  The 511th clashed head-on into the fresh Japanese 29th Division in a "Dog-Eat-Dog, No Front, No Rear", battle. On December 8th the 511th had secured Rock Hill, a dominating terrain feature in their zone of advance. Rock Hill was a part of the long ridge running down to the western coast. The Japanese had built their main supply trail along this ridge. For two weeks the Regiment was engaged in destroying enemy strong points and securing dominating terrain. Then, on December 20th, the 11th Airborne Division Commander (Lt. Gen. Joseph Swing) ordered a continuation of the main attack along the Japanese supply trail. The goal was now to make contact with the 7th Infantry Division.  
  Throughout the next day, the 2nd Battalion of the 511th advanced slowly against fierce enemy resistance. But, after repeated unsuccessful attacks against a tenaciously defended enemy strong point, the battalion was forced to disengage and establish a perimeter for the night. Major "Hacksaw" Holcomb, the Battalion Commander, realized that further attacks against this position would be extremely costly and time consuming. The position dominated all the surrounding approaches and its northern and southern slopes were to precipitous to attack. At this point it was raining, the weather was extremely downcast and the enemy showed every sign of continuing his defense at all cost.  
  It was then decided by Col. Orin "Hard Rock" Haugen (Regimental Commander) on a night attack. At 1900 hours, on December 21st, he issued the attack order. D-511th Company was ordered to make a frontal attack at 0400 on the next day. They were to be followed in column by E-511th and F-511th Companies and the remainder of the regiment. Since the trail was narrow and to maneuver was all but impossible, the attack front of the regiment would consist of only a handful of men from the assault company.  
  No reconnaissance of the terrain had been made. Early darkness and dense jungle foliage had made observation or any extensive movement impossible. The D-511th Company C. O. , Capt. Stephen "Rusty" Cavanaugh, could only assume that the terrain ahead was similar to that which lay behind. Enthusiasm for the night operation was dampened even more by the continuous rain and by concept, that controlled troop movement in the jungle during hours of darkness was just about impossible. Capt. Cavanaugh drew up a simple plan of attack. The company was to cross the line of departure, which was the forward edge of the perimeter, in a column of platoons. Each platoon would move in a column of squads. This formation would allow the column to enter the enemy position on an extremely narrow front. Surprise was to be gained by stealth and the fact that the attack was being launched, in the rain at an unexpected hour. Control was to be by voice alone. The company C.O. decided to move with platoon leader, Lt. Andrew Carrico, behind the lead squad of the lead platoon, he felt, in that position he would be in the best position to control the attack.  
  The assault platoon crossed the line of departure at 0400 on December 22nd, and began groping its way along the jungle path which ran up the ridge toward the enemy position. Passing through Capt. Charles Morgan's F-511th Company, the lead squad reached a position directly in front of the enemy emplacements without being detected. About 200 yards along a ridge to the west, the 1st Squad and Lt. Carrico were on the left and the 2nd Squad on the right of the trail, they fixed bayonets. Pre-dawn and raining, there was an open field ahead. About fifteen yards away, was a Japanese Rifleman standing by a fox hole and looking in the opposite direction. As lead scout, Pvt. Gilberto C. "Slick" Sepovada, moved to bayonet him, the Japanese soldier turned and "Slick" shot him dead. Then, "Slick" was instantly killed by returning Japanese rifle fire. At this decisive point in the battle, the 1st squad leader, Sgt. George Taylor, located on the left side of the trail, used his own initiative. He gathered six of his men together, ordered a simultaneous toss of grenades, yelling "RATS ASS", the signal to  
  hit the ground. Along the way, one of our guys threw a grenade which hit a tree and bounced back into the squad. All hit the dirt and the exploding fragments miraculously hit no one. Advancing and throwing a phosphorus hand grenade, Pvt. Bittorie ran into a tree branch, smashing his nose and knocking off his steel helmet, which rolled down the hill. Pvt. August F. Wilder shot and killed a Japanese soldier just six feet away from Pvt. Bittorie. Continuing marching fire, the 1st squad, commanded by Lt. Carrico and Sgt. Taylor, on the left and the 2nd squad directed by Sgt. George Cushwa and Asst. Squad Leader, Pfc. William Duves, and others on the right, reached the crest of the hill.  
  Probably due to the strong attack made the day before by the F-511th company and unknown to the attacking D-511th company paratroopers, the Japanese were caught by surprise, withdrawing along and improved trail about 10 - 15 ft. wide. Confronted with 100 - 150 Japanese, in a long column, Pvt. Bittorie concluded this was "A machine gunners dream." But, he had only a strip of 20-25 rounds left in his LMG belt. So, he called for a full belt from the Asst. gunner, Pvt. Stuart D. Stevenson, who helped with the loading. Yelling "Banzai --- RATS ASS," Pvt. Bittorie, holding the barrel with an asbestos mitten, fired the full belt from his waist, into the surprised column. As D-511th charged forward, everyone delivered marching fire in deadly fashion, killing most of the scattering column in the "RATS ASS --- CHARGE."   
  Capt. Cavanaugh continued the westward advance forward. That afternoon D-511th dug in and could see all down hill terrain to Ormoc Bay. What a sight! In this attack, the only casualty was Pvt. Sepovada, KIA.  Subsequently the 2nd Battalion of the 187th Glider Infantry Regiment passed through the 511th PIR and made contact with the 7th Division near the village of Albuera on Ormoc Bay.  
  About the Author: Steve Cavanaugh (retired Col. U.S.Army) currently lives in San Diego, CA.  
  Pvt. John Bittorie retired after 29 1/2 years as a CSM, in the USA.  John passed away on Jan. 17, 1990 in Midland. GA  
  Courtesy of "WINDS ALOFT" Quarterly publication of the 511th Parachute Infantry