The Nisei ended the war as one of the most decorated units in the US Army. With rules for their use in Bolt Action presented in the new Campaign Italy: Tough Gut supplement, we revisit this article from Robert Morrison, who provides a brief history of the unit’s feats during the Italian Campaign.

The Nisei arrived in Oran, North Africa on September 2nd 1943 without incident and sent to camp near the city. Local Army HQ suggested that the 100th be deployed guarding the railway in the desert from bandits, which Lt. Colonel Farrant Turner (the Caucasian commander of the regiment), was not keen on; his boys were ready for a fight. Upon hearing about their fighting spirit, General Ryder of the 34th Division Turner offered combat duty. He’d been impressed by the rumours that these Japanese-Americans wanted onto the frontlines, even though they’d live longer guarding trains.

The men were excited to be part of the 34th, as it was regarded as a real fighting unit, reputed to be the first sent overseas by the US Army. Over the next two weeks, the veterans of the Division drilled the 100th in German tricks and tactics, passing on their hard-earned knowledge. The drills came to an end on September 19th when the division, 100th Battalion included, embarked on a convoy to join the Italian Campaign.

Arriving in Italy on September 22nd, the 34th Division joined the Allied Fifth Army and began the advance on Rome. The 100th Battalion was temporarily attached to the 133rd Regimental Combat Team, replacing 2nd Battalion, who were on special duty. The RCT advanced southeast to Eboli, then on to Contursi and finally turned north to Montemarano.

On September 28, the 100th had their first casualty. Sergeant Tsukayama was hit by shrapnel from an anti-tank mine detonated by a passing Jeep. He also set a precedent, becoming the 100th’s first ‘reverse AWOL’, escaping from the field hospital to return to his unit. Many more Nisei men would follow his lead, using the excuse of “Da boys need me.” That same day they also got their first taste of combat and suffered their first losses. Departing from Montemarano on the Avelino Road, Company B was serving as regimental advance guard. Around 10am, 3rd platoon rounded a curve in the road and came under heavy fire from machine guns, mortars, and cannons that had zeroed in on the road. Sergeant Joe Takata turned to his men and announced, “It’s the first time, so I’m going first,” before advancing toward one of the machine gun nests firing his Browning Automatic Rifle (BAR). A German shell exploded near him, and shrapnel struck him in the head, dropping him to the road. Despite his grave wounds, Sgt. Takata held on until his men crawled near enough that he could pass on the German’s positions. Intense fighting followed, and by the end of the skirmish another Nisei lay dead and seven were wounded. For his bravery under fire, Takata posthumously received the Battalion’s first medal, a Distinguished Service Cross (DSC).

Less than a month later, the battalion was embroiled in its first full-scale conflict. On October 20th they were ordered to assault the 29th Panzer Grenadiers at Sant Angelo D’Alife. The German positions were well fortified and boasted excellent observation posts for artillery. Company A led off the attack at 1900 and made first contact with the enemy around 2230. The leading elements came upon a farmhouse, saw a brief flash of light as the door opened, and seconds later machine gun fire filled the valley. In the opening minutes 10 men were killed and 20 more wounded. Seeing that there was no cover from the German positions, Turner ordered his men to fall back to safety and called for mortar fire on the machine gun nests. During the retreat, PFC Thomas Yamanaga covered his squad’s retreat with his BAR, silencing one of the German machine guns before finally being cut down. He was posthumously awarded a DSC. Nearby, Private Satoshi Kadota, a medic, belly crawled through the fight to treat twelve wounded soldiers. Private Donald Hayashi stepped up and took command of his squad when the sergeant was wounded, and single-handedly covered their retreat for two hours. Lieutenant James Vaughn crawled through the fight to encourage his platoon, while wounded, and covered their retreat with his carbine. These actions, and many others at Sant Angelo, earned Silver Stars. Turner was finally ordered to pull his men out and let 1st Battalion of the 133rd RCT take up the attack. Eventually the 1st was also beaten back, and the entire next day was spent reorganizing and preparing for a renewed assault.

The 100th was redeployed to capture Hill 529, near Sant Angelo, and Companies A and C pressed the attack on October 24th. Atop the hill were the ruins of an old castle which the Germans used to great effect. When darkness fell, Companies E and F moved up to relieve A and C, keeping pressure on the stubborn German lines. Come morning, the men of the 100th manoeuvred around the hill to attack from the northwest, behind the castle. The Germans made one last sally forth from the castle midmorning, but were repelled by the 100th and 1st battalions, supported by over 200 shells from the 100th’s 81mm mortars. Fearing complete encirclement, the German forces began a full retreat at noon which allowed the Americans to secure Sant Angelo. After five days of fighting, the Americans had advanced seven miles. This small victory had cost the 100th dearly; 21 killed and 67 wounded.

From Sant Angelo D’Alife, the 100th fought in several engagements including Ciorlano, La Croce Hill near Cerasuolo, and Mont Majo, which formed part of the Winter Line. While many heroics were to be had in these battles, none compared to Cassino. On January 24th, the 100th Battalion was ordered to advance on one of the most heavily fortified positions in all of Italy. Here, over just a couple weeks of fighting, the unit earned its nickname: “The Purple Heart Battalion”.

Cassino, Anzio, and Rome

Cassino formed the lynchpin in the Germans’ Gustav Line. The Todt Organization, Germany’s military engineering contractor, had spent months (starting in October 1943) fortifying the mountains and valleys of the Gustav Line. Reinforced concrete pillboxes were installed, bunkers were chiselled out of solid rock, and heavy artillery and machine guns were placed in the mountains to sweep away any Allied assault. At Cassino, they destroyed any houses that were of no use and fortified the rest with stone and logs. Roads and other alleys of advance were heavily mined, barbwire laced with explosives guarded every German position and even Italy’s Rapido River was mobilized for the fight. The Todt engineers dammed the river, flooding miles of farmland under water up to two feet deep. To keep the water from draining they built a dike 7 to 12 feet tall paralleling the river bank. The dike was then topped with barbwire to discourage scaling. The river embankments themselves were 14 feet high and covered with aprons of mined barbwire to hamper attempts to climb down to the river bed, which had also been lined with barbwire and mines. All trees and brush had been removed to keep open firing lines but stumps up to three feet tall remained to hinder tanks. To top it all off, under the mud and water of the fields the Germans had placed mines every five feet with tripwires running off in all directions. To hamper the Allies even further, on top of Monte Cassino was an ancient Benedictine monastery. Allied command, to preserve the monastery and its relics, ordered that no bombardment of Monte Cassino was to take place.

On January 24th, the 133rd RCT, including the 100th Infantry, was ordered to assault the Gustav Line at Cassino and capture, among other targets, the Italian barracks, situated in an old castle, at Monte Villa. To reach their objective, the men of the 100th would have to advance across the flooded farmland, scale the German dike, climb into the dry river bed, advance the 75 feet to the opposite embankment, scale it, cross the fortified road at the top and charge at German positions in the village. Kicking off the attack was an artillery barrage at 2330, with the troops advancing at midnight. Men of the Ammunition and Pioneer platoon advanced ahead of Companies A and C, clearing and marking a safe path through the minefield. One such soldier, Sergeant Calvin Shimogaki, had his mine detection equipment disabled by German bullets, and so crawled through the mud feeling for tripwires with his bare hands, successfully clearing a path five feet wide and fifty yards long, earning a Silver Star for his bravery. As the 100th advanced, the 1st and 3rd Battalions of the 133rd were stopped dead by a combination of the minefield and heavy German fire, prompting Company B of the 100th to be ordered into the fight at daybreak. Major Clough, the 100th’s CO after Turner had been hospitalized, refused the order and was relieved of command. Smoke was laid to cover the advance, but the wind direction changed and quickly revealed Company B to German gunners. Eleven men fought through to their position at the Rapido River dike, while many more took cover until nightfall. Under cover of darkness, the survivors of Company B regrouped, with some retreating to safety and others reaching the dike. As Allied plans to capture Rome hung in the balance, Companies A and C were ordered to cross the river bed but were unable to advance past the west bank.

Over the next three days, the 100th was pulled back and put in reserve while men from the 1st and 3rd Battalion renewed the assault, with little luck. By February 8th little ground had been gained, so a new plan was drafted. Working in concert with the 168th RCT, the 133rd was to pivot southwest and flank the German defenders. The 100th would be at the outer edge of the arc, and thus have the farthest to travel. Under the cover of smoke, men began manoeuvring around the German lines, but once again the wind shifted and exposed the Nisei soldiers to enemy fire. Major Lovell, the unit XO, was wounded and left writhing on the ground near Sergeant Gary Hisaoka. Sgt. Hisaoka, determined to rescue his XO, began digging a shallow trench toward the wounded Lovell. After getting 8 yards, Hisaoka got impatient, tossed down his shovel and dashed the remaining 8 to 10 yards to Lovell. There he grabbed the XO’s arms and dragged him back to safety.

Elsewhere on the line, a German assault gun rolled in to attack the hapless Americans. Private Masao “Tankbuster” Awakuni came to the rescue. Rushing forward, Awakuni dodged enemy fire to reach a position 30 yards from the German tank. Here he fired his bazooka, but only struck the vehicle’s track. Gritting his teeth, he reloaded and exposed himself to enemy fire to try again. The shell struck the tank’s hull solidly, but nothing happened. A dud. Reloading once more, Tankbuster Awakuni braved the German guns and fired; his round flew true and destroyed the tank. German machine gunners concentrated fire on his position, wounding his arm and forcing him to hide behind a boulder until nightfall. For his valiant assault, Awakuni was awarded a DSC.

Over the following days, the American forces dug in, unable to gain ground, and eventually most of the 100th was put in reserve. Company B was sent forward to support 3rd Battalion, who were fighting in the town. Here, the AJA soldiers held an ancient church against German assaults and shelling for four days and nights. Much of the urban combat involved grenades, and as such a curious news correspondent who had braved the front asked the weary soldiers about their throwing technique. The reply was simple: “Mister, all you gotta do is throw straight and throw first. That’s the number one thing, throw first.”

On March 10, the remains of the 100th Infantry were sent to Sant Giorgio to rest and reorganize. Here they received 161 rookie soldiers from the 442nd’s 1st Battalion to replace combat losses. On entering Italy, the 100th had 1,300 men. After Monte Majo on the Winter Line, they were left with 832. After Cassino that number shrank to 521, less than half their original strength. The fighting at Cassino left 48 killed, 144 wounded, and a further 75 succumbed to various illnesses.

During this rest period, the 133rd’s 2nd Battalion returned to the fight, but General Ryder kept the 100th as a Separate Battalion within his Division. After two short weeks of rest and training the rookies, the 34th Division boarded LSTs bound for the Allied beachhead at Anzio. It appeared that the brave Japanese-Americans were to face yet another stubbornly unbreakable German line. Command of the unit changed once again on April 2nd, with Colonel Gordon Singles being made CO, and a few days later another 280 reinforcements arrived from the 442nd. The next two months passed uneventfully, with neither the Allies nor the Germans making any significant headway.

The only notable event in that period was Captain Young Kim’s daring recon patrol of May 16. Capt. Kim and PFC. Irving Akahoshi volunteered to capture a couple of German soldiers to get current intelligence for Allied command. They took three volunteers with them and departed HQ just before midnight. Creeping through waist-high drainage ditches, the men slipped past the German front lines until about 2 AM when they heard the sounds of digging. Capt. Kim opted to wait for daybreak, then advanced on his belly with Akahoshi through a field of grain. Two hours and 250 yards later they heard German conversation and the sound of weapons being cleaned. Inching forward, Kim found two Germans resting in a slit trench. He ordered their surrender at the point of his Thompson, and with his cohort led the two Germans back to Allied lines, narrowly avoiding detection. They safely returned to their HQ around 4 PM and were awarded DSCs for their daring raid.

June 2nd marked the start of the last major action that the 100th took part in as a Separate Battalion. During the breakout from Anzio, the 100th was attached to the 135th RCT in place of their 1st Battalion. Here, they advanced under heavy mortar fire on the hamlet of Pian Marano, just west of Lanuvio. They contacted the enemy around 0900 and fought continuously until the next morning when the hamlet was captured. During the fighting, PFC Hiroshi Yasotake of Company C distinguished himself. Capturing an abandoned German gun emplacement, he fired down on flanking German soldiers, defeating their advance, and then engaged in a 10-minute duel with a machine gun nest over 700 feet away, eventually silencing the German gunners with his BAR. His gallantry earned him a DSC.

After Pian Marano was captured, Colonel Singles was given command of a task force that augmented the 100th Infantry with the 125th and 151st Field Artillery Battalions, Company C of the 191st Tank Destroyer Battalion, Company A of the 804th Tank Destroyer Battalion, and Company C of the 84th Chemical Mortar Battalion. Using these forces, the 100th was to mop up the heavily entrenched 29th Panzer Group on Hill 435, at Lanuvio. Battle commenced at 2030 with Company A climbing the hill under cover of fire from the 125th Field Artillery. However, they soon became pinned down by machine gun and mortar fire, prompting Company B to flank left and C to flank right. The ‘Task Force Singles’ tank destroyers saturated the crest of the hill with remarkably accurate fire, wiping out enemy gun emplacements, while the 84th Chemical Mortars provided smoke cover. By midnight the hill was captured and the 29th Panzer Group routed, Company C having captured over 50 prisoners. Other Allied elements were shocked at how quickly the task force had beaten the Germans and mistook the 100th for German soldiers as they broke through the German salient. Allied artillery, reacting to the perceived threat, fired on the 100th, wounding and killing some before a ceasefire was ordered. The action at Lanuvio earned the 100th more casualties, but also more heroes with 6 DSCs awarded, 1 Silver Star, and 3 Bronze Stars.

With the last resistance between Anzio and Rome cleared, Task Force Singles sped down the road and by 1500 on June 5th reached a road sign proclaiming the capital to be only 10 kilometres away. Here, the task force was ordered to halt and await transportation. To the disgust of the Nisei soldiers, they were forced to watch from the side of the highway as other American units sped on to liberate Rome. Finally, after 2230 on June 5th, the men of the 100th Battalion began to filter into Rome, two years to the day after they had left Hawaii. The next day the unit moved to Civitavecchia, then to a valley seven miles north on the 10th. Elements of the 442nd RCT began to arrive in the valley on the 11th, and on June 17th the 100th Infantry Battalion was officially merged with the 442nd, replacing 1st Battalion. Here, the units drilled together, with the veterans passing on their knowledge much as the 34th Division men had done in Oran. Together, the 100th Battalion/442 Regimental Combat Team would continue fighting hard, determined to win at all costs and never turn back.


By the end of the war, around 18,000 Nisei served in the 100th Infantry Battalion or the 442nd Regimental Combat Team, and the units suffered an astounding 314% combat casualty rate, partly due to their tenacious fighting spirit and refusal to give up. The soldiers of the 100th Infantry Battalion fought like men possessed, working every step of the way to prove their loyalty to the United States above all. Despite this heroism and tenacity, they were all but forgotten by their contemporaries. Their crucial role in smashing the German lines at Lanuvio isn’t even mentioned in the US Army’s official history of the campaign.

The 100th Battalion and 442nd Regimental Combat Team were the most decorated unit in US Army History, for their size and length of service. These men were widely recognized for fighting with incredible bravery, motivated by loyalty to friends and family, and a deep commitment to their country. Many of them fought valiantly, even though their families back in the US lived behind barbwire in internment camps, far from their homes. Despite all this, only one Japanese soldier received the Medal of Honor for his sacrifice above and beyond: Sadao Munemori, A Company, 100th Infantry Battalion. Over fifty years later, the United States Congress ordered the Army to review the records of Japanese recipients of the DSC during World War II. As a result, on June 21, 2000, President Clinton presented 7 Medals of Honor to living veterans, and a further 13 posthumous awards. Six were original members of the 100th Infantry Battalion, three of whom were killed during the assault on La Croce Hill. Among the other individual awards granted to members of the 100th/442nd were 29 Distinguished Service Crosses, 560 Silver Stars, 28 Silver Stars with Oak Leaf Cluster, 4,000 Bronze Stars, 1,200 Bronze Stars with Oak Leaf Cluster and a staggering 9,486 Purple Hearts.

by Robert Morrison

The Nisei in Bolt Action

This supplement focuses on the battles ranging from the Gustav Line in 1944 all the way to those of the Gothic Line in 1945, with the breakouts at Anzio and Monte Cassino a particular focus. It gives you all you need to replicate the deeds of the Nisei, their US or British & Commonwealth allies, or the Axis defenders on a Bolt Action battlefield.

With the upcoming release of Campaign Italy: Tough Gut, we now have rules to represent the 100th Battalion in Bolt Action! In terms of equipment, they’ve got everything you’d expect from a later-war US squad, including the always-useful option to take a pair of BARs, and can put out the classic 14 shots a turn if taken as a full-strength squad with the aforementioned BARs. So far, so normal. Their real strength comes from their special rules, starting with Tough Fighters, which makes them a real danger in close combat. Backing this up is Going for Broke, which means they automatically pass any Order Test required to make an assault, allowing you to ensure that they’ll fix bayonets and charge home, no matter the circumstances. Finally, Most Decorated Outfit in This Man’s Army allows them to ignore one Pin marker when making Order or Morale Tests. 

All in all, this makes the Nisei a dangerous but above all reliable unit on the tabletop. They’ll almost always obey your Orders (unless your dice are truly cursed!), and pack a serious punch at all ranges. Really, they’re the ideal squad to give the really tough missions to – they won’t let you down!

  1. I own two boxes of Nisei. I use them as engineers but now I will proudly assign them to my Ranger Force.

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