3 Battalion 163 Infantry: MacKenzie's Reconnaissance's at Kamti (Aitape)
by Walter L. MacKenzie with Dr. Hargis Westerfield, Division Historian

            On the night of 23 April 1944, 3rd Battalion 163 Infantry's Intelligence Officer, 1st Lieutenant MacKenzie, got official approval for an important recon patrol the day after Aitape Beachhead landing. Nobody had yet found the Japs' Aitape garrison who still might menace us from the jungle ridges.

            For security, this had to be a reconnaissance in force. McKenzie took with him 2nd Lieutenant Candella's 2nd Platoon of L Company. McKenzie - a veteran of B Company at Sanananda - had learned the strength of a .30 heavy machine gun against heavy attacks. He stiffened his patrol with a heavy machine gun from M Company. For assistance in recon, he had with him an Aussie Captain and Sergeant who had been in New Guinea forestry service for five years. (Probable name of Captain was O'Donnell, with Sergeant Coutts. Both were from ANGAU-Australia New Guinea Administrative Unit.) Jungle-wise, they could talk to the natives.

            McKenzie was surprised that 3rd Battalion's Commanding Officer Max Wallis, had also volunteered for this patrol. McKenzie had not often seen men of Wallis' rank so close to the front.

            On the morn of 25 April, this little recon army of 55 men filed away for the blue Kapoam hills back in the jungle. Aussie O'Donnell was evidently in that country before; he found a fairly easy inland trail. Heavy machine gun gear and ammo, however, slowed us down.

            About 1200, our scouts saw a Jap lying beside the trail. Like other Jap soldiers we had encountered, he would not get up to come along. We had to bayonet him, for report of a firearm might alert possibly nearby Japs. (Later, we discovered plenty of Japs.)

            After the kill, our patrol began climbing. Laboring uphill with our heavy machine gun, we were often stuck in the mud. By day's end, we came out on a large flat space - Matomute Plateau - where we could halt for the night near a group of native huts called Matomute also.

            Aussie Captain O'Donnell told McKenzie that our trail from the coast would connect ahead at right angles with the main Wewak-Hollandia Trail. Because it was high above the coastal swamp, this main trail would be easier marching for the Japs. Remote from our Naval gunfire, it was a fine regrouping place for Japs trying to recapture Aitape.

            McKenzie and O'Donnell planned to set up perimeter at that trail crossing, which was on the plateau ahead of us. Major Wallis agreed to the plan, but he ordered McKenzie to return to the shore to get permission from 163's Commanding Officer Colonel Mason to hold this trail-block. We wanted an ambush for gaining Intelligence data.

            Then we pushed on up the rugged trail 1,000 yards more to the next plateau near a group of native huts called Kamti. In late afternoon the Aussies led an ambush and made an important kill - the importance of which we did not discover for a number of days. Ambush killed a Jap Sergeant-Major with a leather carry in case full of documents in Japanese. We had to get it down to Task Force Headquarters for translation. (Immediate knowledge of the content of those documents' might have made a great difference in the actions of our recon patrol for the next 10 days.)

           Luckily McKenzie with a six-man detachment did not have to hike all the way to the beach from where Wallis's men now dug in.  Down the trail to the beach, they contacted a wire party who were laying a line all the way up to Matomute on the plateau below Kamti. Over the wire, MacKenzie readily got Mason's official permission to dig in at Kamti. McKenzie then guarded the two-man wire party back up to Matumote Plateau. They arrived about 2300 that night. So hard was that climb that they collapsed into a deep sleep.

            Next morn, they heard heavy fire break out across the jungle to where Wallis's men were dug in near Kamti Village. After firing over 20 minutes, there was silence. Then the blast of fire broke out again - and then came another silence that made us afraid for men we might never see again.

            MacKenzie phoned Regimental Battalion to ask what they wanted him to do. The officer at the other end of the phone in turn asked MacKenzie his opinion. Thus MacKenzie got permission to take his six men and the two-man wire party up to scout the area where the 48-man Wallis force had fought.

            In that blind jungle of tilted ridges MacKenzie's eight men took about an hour to scout the 1,000 yards up to Kamti. Once they heard movement in the brush to the right. Soon a Jap stepped out into an opening. Behind MacKenzie, the Sergeant fired his M-1 and slew the Jap with one bullet. Then the nine men scouted down into a draw, and up a steep slope about 50 yards more onto the Kamti plateau, where the ground was dug up.

            Here was the quiet of death, among silent, vacant holes. We saw two motionless Yank corpses and many dead Japs. MacKenzie remembered an interesting conversation that he had with one of the dead Yanks just a few nights ago.

            Some of our nine men were already searching Jap corpses for souvenirs. They seemed thoughtless of the menace of another overwhelming attack that could catch them off guard and wipe out all nine instantly. But MacKenzie had his Sergeant make a tighter perimeter inside Wallis's former perimeter so that they might halt a Jap charge - the first at least - and escape.

            Then the Sergeant and MacKenzie tried to piece out the puzzle of what had happened here. Wallis and Candella had well chosen the location of the perimeter which 40- odd riflemen must defend. About 30 yards deep, it was roughly oval with four curving "sides." Three of the curves were at the crest of a slope. The slope was mostly bare, with thick jungle beyond. The longest inland curve was on the level with the rest of the Kamti plateau, and it faced about 30 yards of kunai grass before the Hollandia- Wewak Trail. The tall grass hid this trail from being seen from the perimeter.

            That longest side on the level was the only one which presented a real danger from swift attacks. From the right of that side had come the two "Banzai" attacks. Not taking time for an accurate body count of the many dead Japs, Mackenzie still never forgot the sight of 11 of them.

These 11 were the largest Japs that he had ever seen in his life. They lay on their weapons face down in a row as if the heavy machine gun had mowed them down. (They were surely men of the 90th Naval Guards -"Jap Marines"- the only combat unit whom Japanese records report to have been stationed at Aitape.) On the right side of the perimeter, the ground was trampled as if a herd of cattle had stampeded over. Surely Wallis had retreated his men in this direction.

            Posting one man on the downward trail behind us as a security man or "get-away man," MacKenzie with his eight waited for what seemed a long time in that place of death. We were ready to leave for the Coast, for we knew that we could not live long after the reorganized Japs might find us.

            Suddenly after two hours, Major Wallis' men came back panting through the hill jungle behind us. They had planned to retreat from the perimeter into the jungle and then come out farther down the trail. They had planned to intercept MacKenzie's men whom they had expected to be climbing up toward them. But in that slanted jungle, they had only circled and returned 50 yards down-trail from their Kamti Perimeter. So thick was this jungle that Aussie Captain O'Donnell and Sergeant Coutts after five years in New Guinea, had lost themselves and traveled in a circle - like green tender-feet.

            Carrying two wounded, Wallis' entire patrol returned to Kamti Perimeter. We buried Pfc. Billy S. Poole and Staff Sergeant Frank Bren - both dead from head wounds. Suddenly we heard a shot from where we were burying 40-odd Nippo corpses. The shot killed Pfc Marion W. Jones. Maggiore had seen a Jap corpse move; maybe the dying Jap slew Jones. Nobody will ever know.

            Reported wounded that 26 April were three men - surely all "L" men at Kamti. Shot in right chest was Reissler, Sergeant Ubert in right leg, and Beauchamp in left leg. Actual morning attack lasted just 20 minutes - two charges with a lull between them. Both times, the Japs shouted "Banzai" and charged bayonets. Both charges died from L's 2nd Platoon's BARs and rifles and M's heavy machine gun. (Wallis's recon patrol lacked mortars, even grenades, and the Japs likewise.) Final Jap body count totaled 46.

            MacKenzie supposed that this was the only time in combat when both Yanks and Japs retreated without knowing what happened to the other side. Both sides fled ignorant of who had won. Wallis ignored the clear exit down-trail to the coast; this shows how desperate the attacks had made him.

            A Piper Cub dropped food and ammo, but most packages fell into the deep ravine in heavy jungle to our left. We feared to search for it where the Japs knew the terrain. We had too few men to risk any of them. There were no more drops.

            For five days after that "Banzai," we lay entrenched on Kamti Plateau. At least, we could dig deep enough into the earth there. On the jungle side towards the Hollandia Trail,  Japs surely crept in close to observe us. We saw no Japs, but every night they made noises to keep us on edge. They clicked bamboo segments together which marked our lines and masked the slither of crawling bodies. MacKenzie kept asking Wallis to let him scout the area with a small recon patrol, but Wallis refused. Total strength of Wallis's Force had built up from 56 to 87 men, but perhaps Wallis believed that he should not risk losing even one man.          ,

            Finally, on the fifth day Wallis permitted MacKenzie, a Sergeant, and a few men to seek the Japs. We scouted the Wewak-Hollandia Trail both ways, but found no enemy. But in the tall kunai grass on the leftward curve of the perimeter - opposite to where the "Banzai" had come from, we found a Nippo Scout

            Only about 15 yards from our holes in tall kunai, lay another large Jap, with a bandaged arm. He must have lain there to listen because he knew English. Our men talked freely.

            We tried to get his surrender, but we also feared a grenade under his armpit. We had to shoot him.

            Perhaps killing this Jap triggered the wild fight that night. About 0200, our 87 men faced a blaze of fire from low down in the jungle towards the Wewak Trail. They did not charge bayonets; they just crawled through brush and blasted away, In return, our heavy machine gun with BARs and rifles raked the earth and seemed to repel an attack they failed to drive home.

            But so hot and continuous was our return fire that we seemed intent on running out of ammo. MacKenzie shouted, "Cease fire!" He feared that they might believe that a Jap was shouting in English to confuse them, but our fire did cease but for a few stray shots, then died out. Jap fire halted also.

            Casualty reports that night were all of L men - one killed, two wounded. Staff Sergeant John V. Klobofski died of wounds after being everywhere checking lines of fire and supplies of ammo. Part of body where McAusland was wounded was unmentioned. Wiesepape's right leg had a compound fracture, how he got this break was unreported.

            For two hours next morn, MacKenzie probed from hole to hole for everybody's story of the fight. He found no dead Japs - although survivors may have dragged back the bodies.

            Exec 1st Lieutenant MacKenzie now called for a retreat from our exposed perimeter. He argued that last night's attack was only a recon in force. It could be preliminary to a human wave of bayonets. The Japs could readily knock out our anchor -- our one heavy machine gun. Not equipped with grenades, we had outlined our positions with BARs and rifles. We could be wiped out.

            We left Kamti Plateau and dropped down to Matomute Plateau, narrower and easier to defend. Wallis then dispatched MacKenzie to the beach. We wanted Regimental Intelligence's translation of the documents in the leather case of dead Nippo Sergeant-Major. And we wanted permission to withdraw Wallis' men.

            Now the truth came out at 163's Headquarters. The Sergeant-Major's documents said that his outfit was an oversize company of 325 veteran Japs from Manchuria. Documents even listed the weapons they were armed with. (They were probably men of 90th Naval Guards - "Jap Marines.")

            Aggrieved MacKenzie asked, " Why did you fail to phone us your data? You left our few men to fight at least 325 Japs." Then Captain replied that Major Wallis had reported so many Jap dead that odds against us were only two-to-one, or three-to-one.

            MacKenzie added that reports of a great kill of Japs had come through highly xaggerated. He himself had never signed any report at all with Wallis for Regimental Headquarters. He added that if the Japs were double our number, we were still in danger of being wiped out. Only our lone heavy machine gun and plenty of ammo had so far saved us. MacKenzie urged that Wallis Force be properly increased -- or that it be withdrawn.

            Early in May, Wallis's men were withdrawn, but we doubt that MacKenzie caused the withdrawal. Our 163 Infantry left Aitape to fight in western New Guinea. MacKenzie is still outraged that Regimental Headquarters left our men exposed to unknown numbers of Jap fighters.

 

CREDIT: Reason for this fine recon patrol story is some 30 pages of single-spaced typescript submitted to me by MacKenzie from November 1984 through February 1985. They differ in many respects from 163 Infantry's Aitape Journal, and in some respects from 163's Casualty List. It differs much more from the histories entitled "Defense of Kamti Village," "Machine-Gunners at Kamti Village," and "More on Kamti Village" all of which were in my Fighting Jungleers. "Defense of Kamti Village" first appeared in the Feb 1959 Jungleer, and "Machine Gunners at Kamti Village in the July 1978 Jungleer. No one but MacKenzie has ever written me to disagree with these accounts, but MacKenzie's information seems convincing to me.