Battle of Breakneck Ridge

Battle of Breakneck Ridge (5-15 November 1944)

On 2 November the US X Corps captured the coastal town of Carigara at the head of the Leyte valley. Part of XXIV Corps had already penetrated to the west coast, south of Ormoc, so the Americans could now advance on the town from two directions, thereby cutting the enemy reinforcement route. X Corps advanced south of Highway 2, which climbed rapidly from the coast, zigzagging around a series of heavily wooded interlocking spars.

This was a naturally strong defensive position controlled by the Japanese 1st Division. With artillery hidden on the far slopes of the hills, hidden trenches and foxholes and concealed machine guns, the Japanese were ready to fight the bloodiest battle of the Leyte campaign. Endless downpours turned the grass that covered the already treacherous slopes onto a muddy slick that made climbing very dangerous, earning this feature the name of ‘Breakneck Ridge’.

Then on 8 November conditions were made even more impossible by a typhoon of astonishing ferocity. Soaked, begrimed and weary men fought without quarter for yards of unnamed and vertiginous slopes. The issue was only resolved when the ridge was outflanked to the east and west in battalion strength, cutting Highway 2 to the rear of the defenders. Breakneck was in American hands on 14 November, but two further days were spent driving the Japanese off the neighbouring heights. The battle cost the 21st Infantry regiment over 760 casualties.

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