Overlord'S Blog: Man agaisnt Machines.
With a title like that you're likely expecting a story of a soldier facing off against a large number of enemy tanks, and you'd be right. Now before you head off it's not a story of a single British soldier offing an entire German Armoured Division with the oversized BB gun that is the PIAT. No, this is the story of one American's fight against enemy tanks.
It's not a well known fact but there was more US Army personnel fighting in the Pacific than Marines, the US Army served in the Philippines, and Private First Class Dirk John Vlug was one of them. He served as part of the 126th Infantry Regiment. In December 1944 the 126th was fighting its way along the jungle covered mountainous hell that was Leyte. The Japanese were fanatically defending in depth, every corner of the road the the 126th was advancing along from Breakneck Ridge had Japanese foxholes dug into it. Equally the hills above were covered with spider holes hidden under logs or the roots of trees. The darkness given by the dense jungle canopy gave the Japanese plenty of cover. The closeness of the fighting meant that the US Army's fire support couldn't be employed. The 126th Infantry had been grinding through this defence since mid November.
By the 15th of December the 126th had bypassed a large force of Japanese, and surrounded and cut them off. One of the few roads leading to this force of Japanese had a roadblock set up on it to prevent reinforcements. The roadblock and defensive position was manned by the men of the 1st Battalion, PFC Vlug's unit.
During the battle that raged throughout the day two Medals of Honour were won, the first by Sergeant Leroy Johnson, who leapt onto two hand grenades saving the lives of three other soldiers, and PFC Vlug's medal.
In the afternoon five Type 95 Ha-Go tanks approached the roadblock. The lead tank was spewing out smoke in an attempt to conceal the other four. As they approached the roadblock they began to rake the US positions with their machine guns and the 37mm main guns. PFC Vlug grabbed his M9 Bazooka and charged the Japanese tanks.
Halting a short distance away from the lead tank he fired his first round. The missile streaked into the tank and soon it began to spew out black smoke as it burnt. PFC Vlug must not have been taking concealment as both the Japanese and his own side could see him clearly. The crew of the second tank began to dismount to deal with this anti-tank threat. PFC Vlug ripped out his pistol and opened fire, killing the tank commander. The fact he was engaging with his pistol gives you an idea how close he was to the enemy. The remaining two tank crew remounted their vehicle, but before they could move PFC Vlug fired his second rocket, killing the crew.
Before we go any further with PFC Vlug’s rampage, you must consider what exactly he's done. Bazooka crews were normally two men, because the bazooka is so awkward to load for one man. First you have to lower the weapon and drop it so you can load it, then take out the rocket, which is normally carried in a vest with three rounds on the front and three on the back. Once the rocket is in the weapon you have to attach the arming wire to the launch circuit, then you're ready to re-shoulder the weapon and take your next shot. Whilst doing this imagine that there's at least three Japanese tanks shooting at you, and then suddenly you have to pull out your pistol and defend yourself against Japanese soldiers. This is the position PFC Vlug was in. Another thing to consider here is that PFC Vlug’s medal citation states he took six rockets with him, which would be the standard load in a vest. It also states that he used his last round on the fifth tank. So somewhere in the course of this fire fight there is a round unaccounted for. Imagine if it had been a dud, he'd have had to unload the Bazooka while under fire then re-load.
The remaining three Japanese tanks turned to face PFC Vlug and began to fire everything they had, but PFC Vlug was off, he managed to flank one of the tanks and destroyed it with a rocket, then he also destroyed the fourth tank. Finally he came to the fifth tank which lurched to life and began to advance on him. With this eight ton vehicle bearing down on him PFC Vlug aimed but the tank swerved around the burning hulks of the previous two victims. The smoke was blowing across PFC Vlug’s sight picture as he concentrated on the lumbering tank and he finally fired. The M9 Bazooka wasn't the most accurate weapon, and in this case the rocket smashed into the tracks, the sudden loss of tracks on one side caused the tank to swerve off the road and down a very steep embankment.
PFC Vlug returned to his lines, unscathed and the Japanese attack was defeated. PFC Vlug survived the war and died in 1996.
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