The Rescue of WWII’s Lost Battalion

Read about the facts surrounding how a Japanese American Regiment rescued a lost battalion from World War II.

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The Lost Battalion Troops | Source: Discover Nikkei

In October 1944, during the efforts of the allied forces to liberate France from the Nazi regime, a regiment of the 36th Texas Division led under the command of General John Dahlquist got cut off and trapped under the siege of 6000 Nazi troops. Devoid of any reinforcements and with a lack of even basic amenities, the 442nd regiment’s rescue of the 275 men, also known as the “Battle of the Lost Battalion,” is looked back as one of the fiercest, most legendary battles in American History.

The 36th Texas Division included the 141st regiment, the 100th infantry battalion, the 2nd and 3rd Battalions, the 522nd field artillery battalion, the 232nd Engineer Company, and the 442nd Regiment. However, what distinguished the 442nd regiment from the latter was the fact that it mostly comprised of the Nisei, a term used to describe Japanese Americans. The Nisei had faced a long history of racism and discrimination in the country as well as the forces, particularly after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. However, its successful attempt at recovering the lost battalion despite all odds has made it one of the most decorated regiments in US military history.

Enduring the harsh rains of the mountains and the daunting Nazi troops, the 442nd regiment’s mission had begun many days before it was ordered to extract the missing regiment. On October 15th, in the dense vegetation and fog, coupled with the Nazi troops’ attempts to sabotage its paths, the regiment fought multiple battles to expel the Nazis from several towns. The first of these was the town of Bruyeres, to liberate which it had to engage in three days of battle, including door to door combat.

According to 442 veteran James Matsumoto, recovering the town of Bruyeres had led to the loss of so many lives that a bulldozer had to be brought in to remove the dead bodies from the roads. In spite of the fact that some of the towns did not hold any significant tactical value, the regiment continued to fight under its commander’s orders, the campaign to liberate the small town of Biffontaine lasting eight difficult days, and once again, leading to the loss of some of the most experienced officers and soldiers in the regiment.

Trapped Soldiers | Source: Library of Congress

It was not until October 24th that the 442nd regiment found relief, the Nisei, who had only been issued summer uniforms even in the cold weather, finally finding clean, dry clothes and a much-needed break. However, it was soon realized that this break was short-lived: 275 White American Soldiers were trapped, surrounded by an enemy whose power their resources could never match up to. Despite ten days of intense battle, the Nisei had no time to rest.

The 141st regiment had fallen into the Nazi troops’ traps during attempts to drive them out of France as well. As they attempted to occupy two hills outside Biffontaine, they were followed by the Nazis, who attacked them from the rear and sealed off all outlets to retreat or resupply using machine gun nests and landmines. Upon trying to find a way to escape, the regiment realized that its situation was desperate when only 5 out of the 36 men that were sent out returned. Soon after, the Nisei battalion was ordered to make a frontal attack on that very hill, but the officers decided not to do so in order to avoid losses.

In the circumstances they were, though, losses were unavoidable. The hurdles of the dense forest and German landmines continued to slow their paths, casualties growing and bodies piling up as they advanced towards the 141st regiment. On October 29th, a radio message informed the battalion that the urgency of the situation had grown; reinforcements of tanks with 75mm cannons arrived in hopes to speed up the rescue mission, but to no avail. Swarmed with Nazi troops and their traps, the hill was later named “suicide hill” due to the number of losses and casualties the Nisei battalion was destined to suffer here.

Heros From This Mission | Source: The National WWII Museum

However, the eventual recovery of the lost battalion can be owed to this unfortunate event, for if it were not for it, the “I” and “K” companies would not have risen and led the German troops to flee. The battalion advanced and began to fire at a point where according to Pfc. Ichigo Kashiwagi of K Company, “shot the head off everything that moved”. Eventual strategic movements by the “E,” “F,” and “G” companies also caught the enemy by surprise, their prompt and uniform action eventually eradicating all signs of Germans from the vicinity. Finally, on October 30th, the first contact with the 141st was made, and the lost battalion was recovered.

About two weeks after the recovery, General Dahlquist carried out a review of the 442nd regiment. The acting regiment commander was reprimanded for why so many were missing information, only for Dahlquist to find out that of the entire regiment, only a fraction had survived. The regiment had lost 800 lives in the events of the liberation of the French towns of Bruyeres and Biffontaine, and the rescue of the lost battalion, which the regiment itself had predicted would lead to such an outcome. As for the 141st regiment, 211 of the 275 had safely sustained the siege.

Thus, the 442nd regiment and the Nisei battalion that had once been subjected to discrimination, so much so that some of them had to travel in railroad boxcars even during the battle, were finally acknowledged for their valor. They earned recognition from the chief of army staff, and several honors and accolades from President Truman. For their action in the harsh Vosges mountains during the recovery mission, five Nisei soldiers were also awarded medals of honor, and in 1962, the entire regiment was given the status of honorary Texans for its services. Though the bloodshed and lives lost could not be brought back, the 142nd regiment had lived up to its motto: “Go For Broke”, and on November 13th, it was deployed once again. Today, its size and length of service are why it is looked back as one of the best regiments in US military history.

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