116 Engineers' New Guinea Campaign: Road-building, Firefighting, Combat
by Dr. Hargis Westerfield, Division Historian

 Note:  This portion of article extracted from larger story that included Hollandia.

             On Biak, our 41st's bloodiest battle, 116 Engineers fought bravely. Our bulldozer driver Les Winkler fought at the front for 162 Infantry pushing for Mokmer Drome. Lacking an armored cab, he drove a D-7 through a Jap barrage of mortar, machine gun, and rifle fire - like a tank. He gave mobile cover for six of 162's riflemen. Once he left his vehicle and directed fire for one of our tanks. And on 3 June, his D-7 forded a stream to aid two tanks against a probable roadblock. Jap fire wounded tank crew men and trapped a tank with a pile of logs and stones. Behind it, he pushed away the pile and helped the tank to escape.

            Later on Biak, Colonel Herbert Lauterbach made a dangerous recon by a small craft to land on the beach area below Mokmer Drome. Despite Jap fire, he got information to enable our Engineers to land to repair the airstrip.

            But as at Finschafen and Hollandia 116 Engineers' most important action was building an inland road eight rugged miles through Jap country for 186 Infantry.

            Each morning, 186's Colonel Newman showed on an inaccurate map our assigned direction and distance for the day. This left Captain Armstrong to layout an irregular route by azimuth. We lost almost all contact with 186 Infantry fighting Japs ahead of us. The Japs could even get between us and 186 Infantry.

            We Engineers organized our own combat patrols. Each patrol had a point plus a recon group, flanking party, and a rear guard effective most of the time.

            Greatest combat test came on 6 June. Screaming and laughing like fiends from hell, they struck a working party - wounded three, killed one man. Melbourne Brooks and others hid under a small truck to save their lives. We held off the attack until a Jap grenade exploded under the truck - seriously wounded one man. Brooks carried the wounded man 50 yards to safety under heavy fire - also had a deep wound from a fragment. An infantry patrol helped us defeat the Japs.

            A truck driver with a load of tools and men was ambushed from the brush. A charge of powder struck his windshield. He speeded up: the charge bounced harmlessly from the windshield and exploded 20 feet behind him - hurt no one.

            A bulldozer driver was targeted by mortar shells. He left it with some infantry and rejoined the Engineer advance. Twice mortar blasts knocked him down. He rejoined his Engineers - cool and calm and ready to drive again.

            We suffered from thirst. Limited to a canteen of water daily, we worked nine hours with no noonday halt. Luckily, a heavy rain fell late on 6 June, and we spread ponchos to funnel water into canteens.

            Darkness caught us 800 yards short of 186 Infantry by at least a mile. 186 Infantry badly needed our water and supplies. The terrain was difficult with many coral outcroppings. We were unsure of directions and open to attack.

            We radioed to 186 men to shoot a flare. Our scouts would then follow an azimuth as far as they could see, then flick a cigarette lighter to guide our dozer. We found 186's perimeter at 2200 hours that night. So 186 Infantry could advance towards Mokmer Ridge at daylight.

            And this is a small part of the saga of the 116 Engineer Battalion in the New Guinea campaign. We build roads in jungle and on Biak desert. We fought fires on Hollandia and Japs on Biak.

 

CREDIT: Box 10593 at Washington National Records Center contains many Engineers' medal stories. Captain Argyl Armstrong sent me a fine 3-page report of the inland road on Biak his Company built to Mokmer Strip to bypass Parai Defile.