988th SIGNAL COMPANY



(submitted by Mr. Joseph Visvader, son of T/5 Joseph J. Visvader, 988th Sig. Co. veteran)



Enclosed Company History, for your information, submitted to Headquarter, Northern Combat Area Command, FWD ECH., A.P.O. 689 per letter, Their Headquarters, Dated 9 September 1944, Subject: "Unit History".

Signed:
Allen B. Sorensen,
Captain, Sig. C.,
Commanding

This Report of the 988th Signal Operations Company (special) in the North Burma Campaign is divided into six parts as follows:

1. Background of Company
2. Operations to 1 May 1944
3. Myitkyina - Prior to May, 1944
4. Myitkyina - 17 May, 1944 to 3 August, 1944
5. Special Mission to China
6. Conclusion

1. BACKGROUND OF COMPANY:

This organization was activated on 24 July, 1943 at Ramgarh, India, with a nucleus drawn from the Air Corps, engineers, quartermaster, and other branches of the service. It continued training in signal work at Ramgarh until November, 1943, when the company headquarters was moved to Ledo. However, a signal detachment of about 69 men had been formed at Ledo in February, 1943, and this detachment sent small radio teams out into the Naga Hills beginning in March, 1943. After the activation of the company, this detachment was absorbed in the 988th Signal Operations Company (special) thereby giving that organization a group of trained and experienced men.

By May, 1943, there were radio liaison teams on duty at Punyang, Hpachet Hi, Hkalak Ga, Tagap Ga, Namlip, and other outposts. The purpose of these radio teams was to provide radio communication back to Ledo from American liaison officers on duty with Chinese and British "V" force units. In addition to these radio teams, there was also a wire team of about twelve men which, in April 1943, was already installing wire communications along the beginnings of the Ledo Road.

Prior to November 1943, action in the forward area had been principally rather small clashes between the Japanese and the Chinese 38th Division, and British "V" force patrols. These took place as far forward as Ningam Sakan in the Kukawng Valley, and Taro on the Tanai Hka, on the right flank. By December 1943, however, the campaign had begun in earnest. The 988th Signal Operations Company (special), by that time had about forty men with the "V" Force; it had radio teams with every regiment and battalion of the 38th division, and it had set up a fairly powerful radio at forward echelon of combat headquarters. This radio was originally locted at Chinglow Sakan, but was later moved to Shingbwiyang at the head of the Hukawng Valley.

2. OPERATIONS TO 1 MAY, 1944

It has been noted, that the men of this organization were for the most part, not trained in signal work prior to their arrival in India. At Ramgarh, many were inadequately trained as radio operators.

Regimental and battalion teams of 4 or 5 men each, were equiped with radio "SCR 284" or "V-100". Generally, the former of the two was used.

This radio may operate well in other theatres, where jungle growth does not so seriously impede radio wave propagation. It is also quite satisfactory for operation in a jeep, in which case, it obtains power from the vehicles battery. However, it is not designed for operation in the jungles and mountains of Northern Burma. Its greatest technical disability is the fact that it is not designed to employ radio frequencies most suitable for jungled terrain. Operationally, it is "just too darn heavy" for men to carry for long distances, except under conditions other than those of the Hukawng Valley.

During the months to 20 April, 1944, the 988th Signal Operations Company (special), provided all signal communications for combat elements in the forward area. Nearly all the company's strength of 307 enlisted men and 10 officers, was divided into teams of different sizes. These teams provided liaison communication within and between the following units:

38th Division
22nd Division
Tank Group
"V" Force
Kachin Levies and Ghurka Troops of the Fort Hertz area command
Forward and rear echelon of combat headquarters
Corps Artillery

The campaign proceeded through the Hukawng Valley and down into the Moguaung Valley, where it apparently stalled below the Warazup area for some weeks. Prior to this time, 988th teams had gone everywhere the Chinese units had fought. They had hiked over jungle trails gone without food, suffered from Malaria, and other difficulties. In many cases, the men had "caught hell", in general. Only one man had been a casualty. Pvt. Douglas Congleton, was killed by artillery fire at Taipha Ga. This man was a code clerk, and was caught above the ground while taking a message from one dugout to the next. Other men have fortunately suffered only minor injuries.

Most difficult was the job of providing communication for regiments on the march on flanking movements. The men would walk all day and make every effort to establish communication after the halt at night, also again before the column departed the next morning. When the days march is done, the troops bunk down and rest for the next day, but not the signalmen. There job has only begun, when the bivouac is reached at night. Again in the morning, the other troops prepare to move on, as the radio team grinds out their messages with their hand generators. Those who sit back at comfortable headquarters, in the rear area, have no conception of the difficulty of making these radio contacts, while on a long march.

In April 1944, the 14th, 50th and 30th division entered into the campaign. With this large expansion, it was impossible for the 988th Signal Operations Company (Special), with its limited equipment and personnel, to provide all combat communications. At that time the 96th Signal Battalion was therefore assigned to combat, and took over the rear installations, the 988th Signal operations Company, concentrating on communications with forward elements.

For the good of the entire undertaking, it was fortunate that the 96th Signal Battalion was assigned to combat. The 988th had gone through the campaign, with never more than 30 wiremen, and these 30 men could by no means perform all the duties. With the arrival of the 96th Signal Battalion, two entire companies were made available for telephone construction work. To replace 30 overworked radio and code clerks at forward echelon, at least 75 men were used. The entire 988th therefore went forward to field teams.

In the months that followed, Kamaing, Mogaung and Myitkyina fell into allied hands. While certain troops held the main front below Warazup, other elements fanned out into the hills on all sides, to flank these three Japanese Bases. Mogaung and Kamaing, fell rather readily, whereas, the situation at Myitkyina is described below.

One 988th radio team had joined the 1st battalion of the 65th regiment, in the vicinity of Taro, in December 1943. This outfit, participated in the capture of that area in January 1944. In order to protect the right flank of the entire campaign, they marched from Taro to the vicinity of Mogaung, arriving there in August. Few Americans have been so long isolated, under comparable conditions.

3. Myitkyina - Prior 17 May, 1944

In April 1944, the various units that were to participate in the seizure of the Myitkina Air Strip were assembled in the vicinity of Tate Ga and Nhpum, near the headwaters of the Tanai Ka, radio teams made up of the following 988th signal men, were attached to the units shown:

3rd Battalion - 88th Regiment
T/4 Smith, Sidney S.
T/4 Labate, Jerry F.
T/4 Carpenter, James W.
T/4 Lawrence, Charles E.

150th Regiment
S/Sgt Piazza, Joseph P.
Sgt Ruby, Louis P.
T/4 Borges, Anthony
T/4 Simas, Frank O.
T/5 Atwood, Franklin M.

149th Regiment
T/4 Stockton, Murlin F.
T/4 Boyer, Donald R.

"K" Force - 3rd Battalion Gallahad and 88th Regiment
S/Sgt Sarro, Michael A.
T/4 Crump, Robert L.
T/4 Mullins, John E.
T/5 Bair, Robert M.

"H" Force - 1st Battalion Gallahad and 150th Regiment
T/4 Appelgate, Everett J.
T/5 Visvader, Joseph J.
T/5 Falco, Leonard J.
Pvt Maudlin, Robert C.

Fort Hertz - Kachin Levies
S/Sgt Fletcher, James S.
T/3 Nutter, Fayette A.
T/4 Grafton, Harry C.
T/5 Levine, Seymour
T/5 Shayne, Irving A.

All of these men listed above, walked into the Myitkyina Area. The radio teams with the "H" Force and the 150th Regiment participated in the seizure of the strip on 17 May, 1944. The Team with the "K" Forces arrived the following day. The other units arrived during the ensuing seige, as will be covered later.

The march over the rugged, rain-swept mountains and down onto the Myitkyina Plain was as arduous as any ever undertaken by American Troops. The "H" and "K" Forces were 21 days on the trail, from Nhpum where General Merill's forward headquarters was located. The terrain was such that at times no more than one mile was covered in a day. The columns followed old Kachin trails over mountain tops as high as 6,000 feet, mountains that were forever enshrouded in clouds and incessant rains. The trails were slippery and steep, and at times, it was necessary to unload the mules and horses to enable them to get over the steepest grades. Even so, many animals fell off the trail and down the mountain sides and were lost along with their loads. During the entire march it was found that American mules were far more sturdy than any of the horses.

During the march there were minor encounters with the Jap patrols which caused some casualities. Sickness and injuries accounted for even more, and it was necessary to clear small strips in order that liaison planes could evacuate the wounded and sick. All food and ammunition was dropped to the columns from transports, and all communication in connection with such air drops, was handled by the radio teams.

The 3rd Battalion, 88th Regiment, with a 988th radio team of three men (technician fourth grade Smith, Sidney s., having been evacuated) was left by the regiment in the vicinity of Sana, and at Tingkqukawng, where there was some action. This Battalion failed on several occasions to receive scheduled drops of food and other necessities, and for days, the radio team increased its meagre food stock with birds and fish shot with Springfield Rifles. Mushrooms found along the trails were also eaten. This Battalion reached Charpate on 1 June, 1944, and soon joined Its Regiment in combat.

4. Myitkyina - 17 May, 1944 to 3 August, 1944

On 17 May, 1944, the leading combat elements captured the Myitkyina Air Strip in a surprise attack. On that date the four men with the "H" Force continued to work with that organization's own communication personnel. A command post was established in a revetement on the west side of the strip, and all radio equipment plus a makeshift cipher section, was placed in the next adjacent revetment, to the south. A radio (SCR-177) was set up to work the Galahad Headquarters, at Nhpum, and Shaduzup, and the Air Base at Dinjan. Over this radio a message was immediately sent telling of the seizure of the strip. And on receipt of this famous message, the higher Headquarters immediately started the transports and gliders for Myitkyina. In them came American Engineer Troops, with equipment; the Chinese 89th and 42nd Regiments; and the necessary supplies. Another "SCR-177" contacted those elements still on the trail, and a third radio established C.W. communications with the units (Chinese and American) attempting to storm the city of Myitkyina itself. Of great value, too, was the voice radio net from the command post, to the various combat elements. This was accomplished with "SCR-300" and very nearly saved the situation during the days immediately following. For hours at a time, the various tactical commanders used this voice radio net to direct the attack. The radio teams of the 88th and 150th Regiments advanced with those regiments. Around the perimeter and provided communication back to the strip.

Telephone lines were laid from the command post to certain of the units on the perimeter. However, no switchboards were available, and there was insufficient wire so that no real telephone system was installed until later. On 17, 18, 19, and 20 May, the lines from the units were each terminated in the command post on a separate telephone. As these phones were all located in one place, there could be nothing but confusion, when a bell rang. It might be any one of eight telephones, and the calling party might be either Chinese or American.

On 18 May, every effort was made to improve communications around the strip. Some signal equipment had been flown in by this time, but by no means was it sufficient. Of the equipment that was to have been packed in on animals, some had been discarded to reduce weight. And the signal equipment which did actually make the entire trip, was in deplorable condition. It had been wet for days and much of it had fallen from animals or been smashed when animals had fallen with their loads. Too much credit can not be given to the radio repairmen who somehow kept the equipment going. Nor was the equipment alone, in poor condition. All communications men, both Galahad and 988th, were on the verge of exhaustion. Nearly all were suffering with Malaria or dysentery or both; as well as having bruised and bleeding feet. Many of these men were evacuated in the next few days, leaving no one to carry on for them. At no time during the first two weeks in Myitkyina were there sufficient trained radio operators, maintenance men or code clerks, to accomplish good communication and those that were able to do so, just worked on indefinitely. Evacuations continued, however, and it was necessary to teach mule skinners and others how to perform relatively complicated cipher work. These men did their best, but garbled messages naturally had to be expected.

On 19 May, the situation grew worse, not better. There just was not sufficient personnel or equipment to do a decent communications job. Late that afternoon there arrived a group of eight 988th radio and cipher men, along with one radio officer. This group had been sent with the intention that it provide radio teams for the 89th and 42nd Regiments. However, after discussion with Captain Pilcher, the Galahad signal officer, it was decided that these eight additional men would be included with the Galahad and 988th men, who were attempting to provide communication for the headquarters. This helped the situation somewhat, but still left the C.P. with inadequate personnel.

In retrospect, it may be well to state quite frankly that from 17 May to 6 June, there was not sufficient personnel or equipment to do the job. For reasons best known to others, adequate provisions for signal communication had not been made. It was not until 27 May, that additional signal men were sent and by that time the situation was still desperate because of continued evacuations. Not until the 6 June, was this situation remedied. On that date, 64 men and 3 officers of this organization were sent to Myitkyina. The discouraging part of the whole thing was that there seemed to be no understanding by the staffs either in Shadazup or Myitkyina, of the seriousness of our signal problems. Many times we were forced to refuse request for man and radios because they just were not available. During the first week for example, at least forty voice radios (SCR-300) were requested by unit commanders and staff officers. To fill this demand, there were no more than eight radios, and no operators.

On 20 May, there arrived a group of nine lineman and 3 switchboard operators, all from the 96th Signal Battalion. These men were attached to the 988th for this operation. They brought with them, switchboards, telephones and other equipment, plus 100 miles of field telephone wire. During the following days these men did an excellent job. A telephone central was established and many lines were run out to the various units. To lay lines outside the perimeter, Ghurka patrols went along without linemen and snipers were encountered every day. The lines were cut by the enemy at night and were also abused by friendly troops. Time and time again, our own troops cut sections as long as 100 feet, out of line, in order that the wire might be used for other purposes. Trucks and tractors and bullock carts ran over and destroyed the lines as fast as they could be repaired. In several emergencies our linemen went out to repair lines at night and almost invariably drew fire from our own troops. After 6 June, however, we secured sufficient help and proceeded to put all lines on bamboo poles where they were safe, not from the enemy, but at least from our own forces. Many staff officers and others wondered no doubt, how the telephone service could be so bad. The fact remains, however, that a very few men did a remarkably good job, when all factors are considered.

Shortages of personnel and equipment were our worse two problems during the first two weeks. Weather and enemy actions were also large factors. In short, we had some rain, the revetments (containing our radios, or signal supply dump, our codes and ciphers and even our personnel,) filled up with water and mud. We had no tarpaulins, or tents to cover the equipment, least of all, ourselves. Everything became wet. Radios stopped working and most of the message center floated on down into rice paddies. Grossly inadequate covers were made of blankets, shelter halves and parachutes and with small jungle flash lights, the radio operators tried sending messages and the code clerks tried enciphering messages. Drinking water ceased to be a problem, as gallons were caught in a few minutes.

Artillery fire was first felt on the evening of the 19th, and it continued for two weeks. During the day, snipers took shots from the weeds beyond the revetments and at night all hell would generally break loose. On several nights, particularly the night of the 23 May, intense small arms fire surrounded the strip, mortar shells were thrown in and machine guns, both enemy and friendly, made it imperative to get a in a hole and stay there. As soon as possible, all radios and switchboards, etc., were moved out of the revetment, across the rice paddy, and were dug in along the ridge parallel to the strip. Sand bags were extensively used and we are proud to state the men carried on, even in the worst of it. Artillery shells landed within ten feet of our radios and small arms fire grew intense at times. But only for very short periods, were operations ever discontinued and the telephone switchboard, was always manned. During the entire operation in Myitkyina, no men of the 988th were lost. Several suffered shrapnel wounds, but there were no serious casualties. This due in large part to the fact that our installations, both on the strip and forward, were well dug in, and in most cases, sandbagged. Almost all of our animals were killed by artillery fire and this made wire installation and maintenance all the more difficult , as they (the animals) were our only means of transportation.

During the last few days in May, radio contact was established with the Morris Force. In this connection, it might be well to point out that, American and British radio operators should never be called upon to work with each other. For the first time in the crucial operation, the differences in procedure and manner of operation are such, that delays and misunderstandings are inevitable. For nearly a week, American operators handled this work, after which higher British headquarter, saw fit to send adequate radio and cipher personnel to perform this communications.

After 6 June, communications became more or less static. Each Chinese division and regiment was provided sufficient signal personnel and equipment and additional group of 24 men was sent to Colonel Hunter's headquarters, for assisting these units under his command. Signal equipment in very reasonable quantities was made available for the entire task force. Small voice radios were used for front line work and good communication, both telephone and radio, were maintained to units.

During June, the 149th Regiment and the Fort Hertz area command, both with 988th radio teams, moved into the Myitkyina area and joined in the taking of Myitkyina. Radio contact with these units was by this time routine, and there is little to note in this connection. However, (the local S.O.S. refused to believe this). The only "landborne" jeep in the Myitkina area, prior to the 3rd of August, was driven by our Fort Hertz radio team. Down the Irrawaddy River and into Myitkyina. The local S.O.S. says, "you just can't do that, it must have come by air". But the fact remains; the jeep was rafted across rivers and was over six months on route, but is serving well today.

By 3 August, when Myitkyina fell, there were 128 men of the 988th in the area and 41 men attached from the 96th Signal Battalion. These were divided between the headquarters on the strip and forward teams. They carried on radio message center, cryptography, teletype, messenger service, signal repair, signal supply and recovery of enemy equipment, plus normal company functions, such as providing messing facilities.

On 18 August, the detachment moved its headquarters signal installation into the barracks area in Myitkyina. Much work was done in cleaning and rebuilding the area, and the net result is, we believe, the best signal installation that the company had ever made. Operations are being carried on for the forward C.P. of N.C.A.C. in Shadazup. The organization now awaits the movement of the Shadazup HQ to Myitkyina, at which time we will once again hit the trails in order to provide communications for forward elements.

5. SPECIAL MISSION TO CHINA

After the conclusion of the Myitkyina task force, a relatively small force was sent to the east to establish contact with the forward elements of the "Y" forces, who were proceeding westward from China. The following 988th men, went with this patrol to provide communications back to Myitkyina and Shadazup and forward to the unit approaching from the other direction.

S/Sgt. Howard, William L.
S/Sgt. Chiarappa, Vito S.
T/5 Jones, Luther B.
T/5 Kugelman, Robert W.
T/5 Heimrich, Frederick W.

These men did an outstanding job as far as communications were concerned. Never failing to make their scheduled contacts, morning and night. The men also showed considerably more stamina and endurance than the American Infantry units involved.

6. CONCLUSION

There have been communication failures during the last campaign. This Organization, however, takes great pride in its accomplishments. As noted in this report, we have been beset with difficulties from the very start. The equipment has often been "too little-too late". Radios have been poorly designed for jungle operations. There were never enough men to do the job we had on hand. Even today, we are being assigned radio operators who have had only the most rudimentary training in signal work. Transportation has been insufficient. Sickness has taken a heavy toll, often disabling a large percentage of men. It has been advocated that medical officers be attached to the company, to better care for the men and to keep case histories and the like. But this has not been done. In spite of certain proposals, none of the men have been rewarded with individual recognition, for acts deserving some form of citation. Adequate provisions have not been made to all of the men. Furloughs and rest have not been given with sufficient regularity. And last but not least, there has been a general failure on the part of many officers to fully appreciate the problems of those who attempt to provide communication.

In general, however, the officers and enlisted men of the company have enjoyed their contribution to this campaign. Each man has demonstrated a sincerity and an eagerness to accomplish his job as best he can. The morale of the men has been high, probably because the men feel that they are contributing an important factor to the entire campaign.

On 5 August, 1944, a commendation was received by each member of the organization.


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