713th Flame Throwing Tank Battalion
The 713th Flame Throwing Tank Battalion was created from the 42nd Armored Regiment of the 11th Armored Division. The regiment was organized on August 15, 1942, at Camp Polk, Louisiana. Later it was broken into battalions. The 713th Battalion was the Third Battalion of the 42nd Regiment, commanded by Lieutenant Colonel Thomas L. McCrary of Arlington, Virginia.
While the rest of the 11th Armored Division fought in Europe in World War II, the 713th Battalion headed for the Pacific, where it was attached to the 7th Infantry Division. The battalion was organized, equipped and trained as the only armored flame throwing battalion in the army.
On November 10, 1944, the battalion moved to Oahu, Hawaii, where it was converted from standard tank battalion to a flamethrowing unit Ronson-type flamethrowers were inserted in the barrels of 75-millimeter Sherman tank guns. The flamethrower guns would be operated under high pressure with a 300- gallon fuel capacity. The effective range of each flamethrower tank was 80 to 100 yards. All 54 tanks in the battalion were made over as flamethrowers.
The flamethrowing battalion was organized like a regular armored battalion. The total number of men and their grades and ratings were to stay the same. The only major change was the deactivation of the light tank company and the mortar platoon so the size of the Service Company could be increased to handle the greatly increased supply problem.
On January 6, 1945, the battalion received word it had been approved for the conversion. But modification of the tanks for the battalion began on December 1, 1944. Standard Sherman tanks were drawn from ordnance and converted to flamethrowers at Schofield Barracks, Hawaii. The battalion received its first five flamethrowing tanks on December 25; the last tank arrived on January, 25, three days before the battalion was assigned to Operation Iceberg, the capture of Okinawa.
The battalion left for Okinawa aboard 10 LSMs and APA 201. The convoy left Pearl Harbor or March 4 and steamed westward across the Pacific Ocean. Aboard were 726 officers and enlisted men and the battalion's tanks and other vehicles.
After stopovers at Eniwetok and Saipan Islands, the 713th Battalion arrived at Kerama Retto Okinawa on April 2. On April 7, the battalion went ashore on the Hagushi beaches.
On April 1, Army and Marine divisions began the invasion of Okinawa. The Japanese did not defend the beaches but fell back to prepared cave and tunnel defenses on hills inland where they fought fiercely until late June.
The flame throwing companies were attached to other units on the island. Two companies were attached to the 1st and 6th Marine divisions. The flame throwing tanks proved very effective against the strong enemy defenses. The tanks worked closely with the infantry and regular tank units. Most times the flame throwing tanks were closest to the enemy positions because of the limited range of their firing.
Initially a platoon of Company C took up defensive positions at Kadena Airfield. The rest of the battalion was placed in group reserve where the tankers helped protect the XXIV Corps unloading and supply sector.
On April 19, elements of the battalion supported infantry and standard tanks in attacks on Japanese positions near Hill 178 and Kakazu. On April 23, battalion flamethrowing tanks went into action against ridges and woods. Four days later, 713 tanks turned their flamethrowers on caves and pillboxes near Onaga and Machinato Airfield.
The tankers continued forward with the infantry, working over caves and other enemy strong points. Japanese soldiers who fled the flames were shot down by infantry. Few surrendered.
Steadily, the 713th moved up with the infantry. On May 11, the flamethrowers operated with infantry and standard tanks near Zebra Hill. The operation was highly successful.
The next day, the flame throwing tanks moved through the standard tanks to burn the town of Gaja and nearby high ground. One tank was credited with killing 75 to 100 enemy soldiers. On May 15, the First Platoon of Company A helped standard tanks and infantry assault another Japanese strong point. The attacking armor blasted away with 75millimeter guns and flame-throwers. Three Japanese soldiers tried to reach the tanks with satchel charges but were killed. Tanks from Company B and C were busy supporting infantry and burning out caves.
Throughout May and June the battalion worked closely with Army and Marine infantry and armor. By May 20, the 713th had killed 1,288 enemy soldiers while losing 22 tanks to enemy action and 50 to accidents and other reasons. In burning Japanese troops out of caves and other strong points, the battalion used up more than 76,000 gallons of napalm.
By the time Okinawa was in American hands, the 713th battalion killed 4.788 Japanese soldiers and captured 49 among the few who surrendered to U.S. forces. Battalion losses were comparatively light: 8 killed. 111 wounded or injured in action and one listed as missing in action. Among the wounded was Colonel McCrary. Enemy anti-tank fire and mines claimed 16 of the battalion's flame-throwing Shermans. Another 25 were listed as operational losses.
Okinawa was the largest battle in the Pacific Theater, ultimately involving 584,000 American soldiers. sailors, airmen and Marines and 1,300 ships. In desperation, the Japanese launched suicide attacks against the Americans. It was to no avail. In mid-May, Naha, the island capital, fell to the Americans. On May 29, Shuri Castle, the linchpin of the Japanese defense line was taken by Marines. On June 18, Army and Marine forces launched their final offensive. Four days later, the Japanese Island commander killed himself. That same day military historian Robert M. Leckie wrote, "the Japanese soldiers began to surrender for the first time in the war." The American brass said the Okinawa campaign was over. Among the heroes of the long hard fight were the men of the 713th battalion, which earned a naval Presidential Unit Citation.
After the surrender of Japan, the 713th, now under the command of Colonel James L. Rogers of Harlingen Texas, was sent to Korea. In Korea, the tankers rounded up enemy prisoners and guarded a large prison, which housed high-ranking Japanese officers awaiting trials for war crimes. Afterwards, the men of the 713th were systematically returned to the United States for discharge or reassignment.Back to Our History