Battle in Parai Defile
By Dr. Hargis Westerfield, Division Historian with Capt. Robert M. Allen, 146th Field Artillery

            Following the 186th Infantry on Z-Day at Biak, 146th Field Artillery's batteries hit the surf, were rushed through three or four feet of water over the coral reef and onto Bosnek beach. Already a Jap machine gun fired at A Battery in its LCT but a destroyer knocked out the machine gun pointblank. Previously ashore with the 186th Infantry, Lieutenant Colonel Virgil Anderson set up a Fire Control Center to mass field artillery support in the 162nd Infantry's Mokmer drive. Sergeant Donald Stewart of Service Battery died when struck by a limb from a shell-torn tree.

            Our field artillery observer group caught up with the 162nd Infantry for its first night perimeter by Parai. Batteries C and B had raced forward to Ibdi to cover the 162nd Infantry's perimeter. Communications men endured Jap rifle fire. Sergeant Burnett of B Battery killed a Jap.

            But the 162nd Infantry needed no field artillery help that first night. Instead, B and C Battery men at Ibdi died from the most vicious bayonet kill in 146 Field Artillery history. Busy placing and registering 105mm rounds, we had time before dark only to bulldoze fire-lanes for our machine guns. We sited our three machine guns against thick scrub and coral cliffs inland; for with 162nd Infantry men still moving down the coast road until dusk, we felt safe rearwards. An anti-aircraft unit fifty yards back across the road also seemed to guard us. C Battery placed a sentry on the road. In the quiet night, C Battery's wiremen lay down close-packed thirty yards before No. 4 piece, with Maintenance Section nearby.

            At 1200, with a saber-slashing officer, six or seven Japs charged from thick brush across the road, routed the sentry, plunged cold steel into sleepers. Corporal Joe E. Lashapell, Pfc Raymond W. Howerton, and Pfc Walter L. Thurlow died at once. Sergeant Fred Dutton fought but died from the saber. Peeler killed the Jap who bayoneted him and, like Postlewait, escaped into the Command Post. Medics treated them while battle still raged. T/5 Hunt rolled under a vehicle; like T/5 Craig, he escaped.

            Howitzers masked our machine gun fire on the road. But Corporal Young moved his light machine gun to an exposed position and killed two Japs before the others moved to where he could not shoot for fear of hitting Yanks. His machine gun lit powder bags which exhibited our whole position.

            As darkness fell again, Japs attacked with grenades and light machine guns. Some ran blindly into fire lanes of a machine gun strongpoint. One placed a charge under C Battery's No. 4 piece but it failed to explode.

            Now B Battery' s outpost endured attack. A .50-caliber machine gun jammed. Japs set up a light machine gun but continued grenading. At the outpost Zeulner left his hole, fired four rounds at their light machine gun but his carbine jammed; he threw a grenade that did not explode. We found blood where Zeulner's fire took effect.

            Back at C Battery, a machine gun wounded Lish. At daybreak Antonovich and Murray scouted the outside perimeter. Lying by a dead Jap, a wounded Jap set off a demolition charge that seriously wounded them. All told, C Battery had four killed and ten wounded thus we angrily manned the 105's for revenge.

            On Z plus 2, 146th Field Artillery fought for Mokmer like the 162nd Infantry and, as did the 162nd Infantry, we had to retreat all forward parties and batteries. When K Company’s point was stopped a thousand yards from Mokmer Dromes, Jap tanks attacked. Lieutenant Schild of C Battery and Lieutenant  DuCommun dropped 105mm shells before the tanks, then called for destroyer fire through Lieutenant  Wolffer. Our field artillery, plus tanks, lulled Jap small-arms fire.

            The Japs retaliated with mortars and depressed anti-aircraft fire. Schild retreated seventy-five yards for better views of the right ridge (East Caves) where the fire came from. He dueled the Japs with 105mm guns and partly neutralized the fire. Our wiremen continually exposed themselves to keep the line open back to our radio at 3rd Battalion CP. They were Staff Sergeant Haug, Sergeants Donaldson, Marcel, and Bock; T/5s Olson, Perry, and Privates Gambecurte, Kokich and Jarvis.

            When 162nd Battalion's 2nd and 3rd Battalions were cut apart near Mokmer, Lieutenant Thompson's forward party was with battered 2nd Battalion's G Company. He scaled cliffs to observe; barrage and machine gun fire repelled him.

            Back at Ibdi, blasting for [our] 162nd Regiment, 146th Field Artillery batteries underwent mortar blasts, with no time to dig in after Lieutenant Silva spotted the first ranging explosions. A burst near the battalion radio vehicle gave Sergeant Turner Paulsen his death wound. Several men from the 146th Field Artillery, and the nearby 205th Field Artillery were hit. We crowded the battalion aid station near the command post. A shell killed Captain Seymour Katz, wounded several medics and observer post men: Corporals Kelley, Siefferman, and Private Houghton.

            Jap shells stalked up and down 146th Field Artillery batteries. Gunners, fire-control men, and medics stuck to their duties. A shell made a direct hit on a slit trench in A Battery. David J. Schortgen died while T/4 Owsianka was wounded. Fire-control fell back to B Battery. Captain Fletcher coolly kept 146th Field Artillery firing while evacuating wounded. Sergeants Paul Anderson, and Benites, were outstanding Medics.

            Our rockets struck the ridges, but Jap mortars continued while machine guns sprayed us. 1st Lieutenant Jess Wilkins, B Battery's Commanding Officer, organized his men to attack on foot but he was recalled. After two hours of Jap shelling, with three killed and twenty-two wounded, we had Division's order to withdraw at 1540. By 1730, we waited firing orders at our old position by Bosnek, in the 162nd Regiment's dire need. A volunteer party returned for ammo: Warrant Officer Dugan, Master Sergeant Fowler, and a Staff Sergeant commandeered trucks and rescued a thousand rounds by 1830.

            Ten minutes after we set up at Bosnek, 162nd Regiment's Colonel Haney ordered 3rd Battalion to pull back from its cut-off position near Mokmer Dromes. At once, the 146th Field Artillery forward party called for the planned barrage north and west of the 3rd Battalion. The massed fires of four field artillery battalions along four miles of beach exploded into action – the 146th, 205th and the attached 947th and the 121st Field Artilleries. Vengefully, we 146th cannoneers worked our guns as we remembered our dead and wounded.

            With 162nd Regiment's cut-off 3rd Battalion, 146th Field Artillery's forward party fell back with the shooting rear-guard and four tanks. But T/4 Roger Comstock, and Savila, were missing since the morning mortar barrage. Mortar shells blasted around us as we retreated in short rushes and Jap rifles cracked. Sergeant Plourd, under fire, destroyed an abandoned naval radio. We did not dare run the actual defile so we dropped off a low cliff and dashed singly across the beach to comparative safety. Behind us, 146th Field Artillery barrages struck the bench land and the high cliffs to repel any Jap observation.

            All night we fired. At 0500 unidentified shells hit our 3rd Battalion perimeter. DuGommun, Wolffer, Marcel walked through our dangerous, dark perimeter to shift artillery fire three-hundred yards off. By daylight, F Company, 162nd Infantry, took blasts and machine gun fire from the northwest ridge.

            From an F Company machine gun nest, Lieutenant Thompson, Corporal Mackey crawled on a coral terrace to observe the ridge north of Mokmer Village. They decided Jap observers were spotting fire on the 162nd from the Mokmer Ridge. They directed shells there and all fire ceased.

            Suddenly, our own Navy's shells impacted amid 3rd Battalion. Although wounded, T/4 Bock stuck by his radio and halted the destroyer's fire. Now 162nd Regiment's main body retreated through the dangerous Parai Defile to Mandon. Forward observers from 146th, and 947th Field Artillery, stuck with 2nd Battalion's rear guard, kept field artillery creeping fire behind us. After passing Parai, we curtained the 162nd Regiment off by a barrage, from jetty to cliffs. In three hours, the 162nd escaped without further casualties, aided by artillery protection. Back at Bosnek that night, A Battery guards killed a Jap.

            Now came two days regrouping for the Division while we fired only on targets of opportunity or to protect patrols. On the night of 31 May, a twin-motor Jap bomber thrust towards our positions. A searchlight fastened to it and anti-aircraft fire, and our 50's, drove it into the ridge a hundred yards north of A Battery.

            On 31 May, we left 162nd Infantry to support 163rd Infantry just up from Wakde. In guarding the 162nd Regiment in the Mokmer Push, we had paid hard; eight dead, thirty-two wounded with two missing. But Roger Comstock and Savila did not stay missing. Wounded by mortars and trapped in a cave by sniper fire, they hid until forced out by hunger and thirst to try for the American lines. They did not know the tangled ridges; they slipped out by night up the smooth beach hoping to dodge the Japs. They lurked in shadows, crept low over sand, even waded waist-deep over treacherous coral reefs dangerous from stingrays and salt-water snakes. Again on an open beach, they were almost hit by a Jap machine gun. A Yank shell burst close but missed them. Then a rifle bullet holed Savila's helmet, grazed him. Another bullet struck Comstock through both legs. They ran behind an overhanging cliff, waded deep in high tide.

Now Savila supported Comstock who was wet from loss of blood. From the sound of M1s, they judged that they were only a mile from Yank lines. Then their eyes caught the gleam of moon- light on Jap bayonets.

            They saw the patrol in time to take cover safely, but this escape route down the beach was closed to them. They sheltered in a cave under a native hut where Japs had slept. In this cave for 9 days, they lived on Jap rations and the hope that the 162nd would return and save them. Nearby, they heard mortars firing on 162nd men at Parai , Thirst drove Savila and Comstock out on the night of 11 June, and they made it safe to the 162nd perimeter - to water, sleep, food, medical attention, life.

            Now that our two missing men were returned, 146 Field Artillery could look back proudly over those first seventy-two hours on Biak. We had landed promptly; we had moved positions effectively; we were always where we were wanted when 162nd Infantry wanted us there. Although we had paid for our support and rescue of 162nd [men] at the Parai Defile, by our losses in night combat and under mortar barrage, we could call ourselves a front-line field artillery Battalion.·

Credits: Main source for this story is in 146th Field Artillery's Operation Report, Hurricane Task Force on Biak - with subtitles "Bosnek Beachhead," "Battle for Mokmer Drome," "Withdrawal," "Expansion of the Beachhead." For background, I used RR Smith's Approach To The Philippines.