Christmas in Rayon City

Starting 30 November and running through the first week of December 1944, the “Angels” from the 11th Airborne Division made their first combat jump– Operation King II, better known later as “Operation Table Top,” for reasons that will be obvious. 

Unlike the huge brigade, division, and even corps-sized jumps seen in Europe from the Allied airborne forces already in the war, Table Top– targeting a short airstrip near Manawarat on Leyte in the Philippines to cut off a Japanese withdrawal– was a more pin-point operation. Rather than squadrons of C-46s/47s, each dropping sticks of a dozen men at once, Table Top came down to one Paratrooper at a time from grasshopper single-engined liaison aircraft, L4/L5 Cubs/Stinsons. Anything larger would have left men hanging in coconut trees.

Those dropped amounted to 241 Paratroopers drawn from across the Division with the 11th Abn. Div. RECON platoon going in first followed by a platoon of “Sky Beaver” engineers of Co.C, 127th Airborne Engineer Battalion; followed by one platoon element each from Co.C., 187th Glider (Parachute) Infantry Regiment, 221st Airborne Medical Company, 457th Parachute Field Artillery Bn, and HQs Grp 511th Parachute Signal Company.

In his book “Love in an Altered State” about his father, SSG Bill Potoka, Platoon Sergeant of 3rd Platoon, Co C, 127th AEB, Mr. William Potoka describes Sky Beaver actions: 
 
“Named Operation Table Top, the drop zone was 600′ x 200′ and fringed with coconut trees. Manarawat was to become the hub of all operations of the Division in Leyte Mountains. 1st Platoon supported C Co, 511th PIR. The jump was made one paratrooper at a time from L4 and L5 Cub airplanes. The cub planes zoomed the drop zone and pushed out a paratrooper on each zoom.”
 
In his book “When Angels Fall” about his Grandfather, 1LT Andrew Carrico III, of the 511th PIR, 11th A/B, Jeremy Holm describes Sky Beaver actions: 
 
“Engineers from the 127th AEB soon jumped on Manawarat to clear a larger landing with explosives which increased the range of the Division’s L-4s (L-5s couldn’t handle landing there) for artillery spotting, unit locating and casualty evacuation. Medical staff from 221st Airborne Medical Company airdropped soon after along with equipment for a Portable Surgical Hospital that further enlarged “Rayon City”. 
 
Casualties carried to Manawarat were cared for by three surgeons, ten surgical technicians and other medical staff working out of a thatched and parachute-covered bamboo structure.  Once the wounded were stabilized, they either recuperated on Manawarat then went back to their units or were flown to San Pablo then on to larger hospitals at Dulag (or back to the states).

With such a shoestring op, as the paratroopers remained on the ground at Manawarat, they had to make do with what they had for the rest of the month and “Rayon City” was born. After all, what would you make from hundreds of yards of parachute shrouds and thousands of feet of paracord?

December 1944. Official caption: “Rayon City,” the camp at Manawarat on Leyte Island in the Philippines. Shown here are men of the 11th Airborne Division, preparing for evening chow. House in the background is a native hut, now used as a radio shack and Command Post.

(U.S. Air Force Number 58643AC) National Archives Identifier: 204950331

“A shortwave radio being used in the Manawarat mission against the Japs on Leyte Island in the Philippines. Here, T/4 Warren Scott of Portland, Oregon repairs the set. [Note, he is likely from HQs Grp 511th PSig Co.]”

(U.S. Air Force Number 58644AC). National Archives Identifier: 204950127

“The Manawarat strip on Leyte Island in the Philippines is named ‘Randolph Field’ because many of the pilots there were trained at Randolph Field, Texas. The perimeter of the strip is marked with discarded parachutes. When large para-packs full of supplies, dropped on Randolph Field on Leyte Island in the Philippines, they made large holes in the strip, so the Engineers stand by to fill in the holes as soon as the pack is carried away.”

(U.S. Air Force Number 58641AC) National Archives Identifier:204950327

“The 11th Airborne Division Spends Christmas At Manawarat On Leyte Island In The Philippines And To Properly Celebrate The Occasion, Turkey Was Flown In And Shown Here Is A Vultee L-5 Dropping Fresh Bread Packed In Barracks Bags.”

(U.S. Air Force Number A58653AC) National Archives Identifier:204951950

“The 11Th Airborne Division Spends Christmas At Manawarat On Leyte Island In The Philippines And To Properly Celebrate The Occasion, Turkey Was Flown In. Shown Here Are A Group Of Men Carrying The Cases Of The Tinned Bird To The Food Dump.”

(U.S. Air Force Number 58653AC) National Archives Identifier: 204951948

This included a drop of five gallons of ice cream especially for those “Angels” that had been hurt on landing or taken sick due to assorted jungle malaise and had been laid up in the strip “hospital” where apparently making grass skirts was a thing.

“The Recuperation Ward of the hospital at Manawarat on Leyte Island in the Philippines. Here the men with less serious wounds or sicknesses are hospitalized until they are well enough to return to duty. The man at left is making a ‘grass skirt’ from rayon shrouds of discarded parachutes. (U.S. Air Force Number 58648AC)

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