Rare (unique?) record of a storied American airborne regiment on Leyte Island

511 PARACHUTE INFANTRY REGIMENTAL HIST. LEYTE CAMPAIGN (20 OCT.-27 DEC.) 1944. NP, but Philippines, 1944/1945.
Mimeographed[?] typed report on onionskin, ca 80pp (rectos only), punched at top and clipped into a manila folder, with title handwritten on front cover. Illustrated with four printed maps, one ms map, and several dozen hand-drawn “overlays” on onionskin, all laid in. The report accompanied by two notices (dated June 17, 1941) to Robert Foss from the Springfield, Mass. Draft Board; and 19 ALS from his wife, Olive Foss, dated June 13-August 4, 1944. Some toning and dog-earing throughout. Overlays with chipping and tears. Folder soiled and creased. Accompanied by an as-new copy of Jeremy C. Holm’s When Angels Fall: From Toccoa to Tokyo, the 511th Parachute Infantry Regiment in World War II (2019).
$5,000

A rare and possibly unique record of a fabled parachute infantry regiment, recording in text and maps its exploits during the harrowing invasion of Leyte Island in late 1944. This campaign was the opening round of the American campaign, commanded by Douglas MacArthur, to reconquer the Philippines from the Japanese.

This typed, mimeographed report documents the 511th Parachute Infantry Regiment’s campaign on Leyte from its November 18, 1944 landing near Abuyog on the east coast. Over the next several weeks the regiment provided aggressive forward defense for the airbase at Burauen before advancing into the mountainous interior and ultimately linking up with American units at Ormoc, on the west cost of the island. The report includes among other things a detailed account of the operational plan, a narrative account of the operation itself, a “summary of lessons learned”, and a gathering of maps. The extensive appendices include casualty lists, journals of senior regimental officers, and a “consolidated transcript” integrating these journals into a single, coherent narrative of events.

The report is illustrated by a series of maps and overlays, including:

  • Four printed maps (22 ½”h x 20”w at sheet edge, scale 1:50,000) compiled by the 671st Engineer Company, together depicting the area of Leyte where the 511th operated;
  • Several-dozen diagrams (most 8”h x 13”w) showing positions of units of the 511th, hand drawn on translucent onionskin so they could be overlaid on the printed 1:50,000 maps; and
  • A hand-drawn map (23 ¾”h x 18”w) showing positions of units of the 511th between November 23 and December 22

The report makes for compelling reading and conveys the grueling nature of the campaign: the difficulty of the climate and the terrain, the determination of the Japanese defenders, the unrelenting stress, and above all the long, long lists of casualties.

The 511th Parachute Infantry Regiment and the invasion of Leyte
The 511th was formed in early 1943 as the parachute infantry element of the 11th Airborne Division, under command of Lt. Col. Orin “Hard Rock” Haugen. The regiment spent 16 months of tough training at Camp Toccoa (Georgia), Camp Mackall (North Carolina), Fort Benning (Georgia), and Camp Polk (Louisiana). It was then sent to Camp Stoneman, California and in May 1944 embarked for New Guinea. There the regiment received training in jungle warfare before being sent to the Philippines in November 1944 to join the ongoing battle of Leyte.

The American invasion of Leyte had begun on October 20, 1944, with four divisions of the Sixth Army under General Walter Krueger landing on the east coast of the island. Broadly speaking, the American plan was to push west, north and south to gain control of the northern half of the island. This would mean traversing a heavily-forested, north-south mountain range that bisected the island, terrain that was easily defended and brutally difficult to move men and materiel through.

The 511th landed on the east coast on November 18.

“Moving inland, the division relieved the 7th Infantry Division before heading up into Leyte’s mountains to destroy the island’s main Japanese supply line. Carrying their ammunition and 3 days rations, the Angels headed into “The Green Hell” and over the next thirty days they endured hunger, monsoon rains, mud, steep terrain, volcanic rock and banzai attacks out of the night’s darkness. Countless paratroopers became deathly sick with malaria and/or dysentery while they fought the Japanese further into the mountains, carrying their wounded with them. Coming down from the mountains on Christmas Day, the Angels marched into Ormoc [on Leyte’s west coast] after destroying 5,760 of the enemy and earning 96 Silver Stars, 6 Soldier’s Medals, 90 Air Medals and 423 Bronze Stars.” (https://www.511pir.com/)

After a month of recuperation, beginning in early February 1945 the 511th saw further heavy action in the Luzon campaign, including the liberation of more than 2000 civilians at the Los Baños prison camp and the capture of Manila. At war’s end it provided the honor guard for Macarthur after his arrival in Japan and participated in the occupation of that country until 1949. U.S. Sixth Army commander General Walter Krueger described the 511th as “the God-damned fightingest outfit I have ever seen!”

Robert Todd Foss (1918-1987)
This report belonged at some point to—and may have been compiled by–Captain Robert Todd Foss, S-1 (senior personnel officer) of the 511th. Foss was born and raised in Springfield, Massachusetts, graduated from Dartmouth in 1940, and stayed another year to obtain a business degree from the Tuck School (This training may explain why he was made S-1 of the 511th.) Two notices from the Springfield Draft Board, included here with the report, indicate that he was inducted into the Army on or around July 10, 1941, but I find no record of his service prior to joining the 511th Regiment, which as mentioned above was established in early 1943. On Feb. 27, 1943 he married Olive Echols Cruikshank (1919-1976) of Raleigh, North Carolina, no doubt having met her during his time training with the 511th at Camp Mackall. He died in Spartanburg, South Carolina in 1987.

“Bob came to Dartmouth from Classical High School in Springfield, Mass. As an undergraduate he was active in cross-country and was a member of SAE fraternity. He went on to Tuck School after graduation, receiving his M.C.S. [in Business] in 1941.

“Bob was in the U.S. Army during World War II, serving in the 87th Airborne, the 511th Parachute Infantry, and the 11th Airborne. He was a major at the end of the war.

 

“After the war he worked with Dan River Mills [in Danville, Virginia] until 1959, at which time he moved to the Milliken Company [in Spartanburg, South Carolina], where he was until his retirement.

 

“Active in civic affairs, he served on the Spartanburg, S.C., planning commission and was its chairman. He also worked with the United Way as chairman of the allocations committee and member of the board of directors and executive committee. He was a member of the Episcopal Church of the Advent, serving on the vestry and as senior warden and treasurer.

 

“He is survived by his wife, Joan, sons Halcott, Robert Jr., and Charles, a daughter, Olive, and two stepdaughters, Jan Scalisi and Jennifer Scalisi.” (Dartmouth Alumni Magazine, April 1988, pp. 79-80.)

The report is accompanied by 19 letters to Foss from his wife Olive, dated June 13-August 4, 1944. They are addressed to Foss in San Francisco, though during that time the 511th was training in New Guinea.

In all, a rare and important document from a storied unit of the U.S. Army, richly detailed and in its way evocative of the horrors of the Pacific campaign of the Second World War.

References
Not in OCLC. Much background from 511pir.com, a web site dedicated to the history of the 511th. Some background on Foss from Dartmouth Alumni Magazine, and additional background on the 511th and the Leyte campaign from Wilkipedia.