B Company 162 Infantry: Our “Soepiori Campaign”

by Dr. Hargis Westerfield, Division Historian, with Major James Gray, General Kenneth Sweeny

 

            This is B Company 162 Infantry's story of the "Soepiori Campaign" of September-October 1944. After the Battle of Biak ended when Ibdi Pocket fell, an estimated 1,500-4,000 Japs still were capable of final suicide attacks. (Division G-3 estimated that only 1,500 Japs were surviving; but from other reports, we judge that 4,000 was the more accurate number.) Although 186's landing at Wardo on 17 August broke up the final Jap attempt to regroup for a suicide attack, we still had to hunt down those refusing to surrender. We had to hunt them into their logical place of retreat from Wardo on Biak, into wilder and more mountainous Soepiori Island, northwest of Biak.

            Separated from Biak only by narrow Sorendidori tidal rift, rugged Soepiori was the natural retreat for Japs driven from Korim Bay and Wardo. Although' with less than 300 square miles, Soepiori was a third the area of Biak, it had cliffed wilderness hide-outs and food supplies from native gardens. Two mountain ranges run generally southeast to northwest across Soepiori. The central mountain rises to 3,300 feet. Southwards, the lower coast range is as high as 1,500 feet in places. Between the two ranges was the narrow garden area stretching northwest from Korido Bay. Population was then about 15,000. To reach this narrow garden area, the Japs would have to trek 16 miles along an exposed coastal corridor.

            On 7 September 1944 at 0900, Colonel Benson's 1st Battalion 162 Infantry's E Company landed unopposed at three different places on the south Soepiori coast. Farthest west, A Company reinforced, landed at Napido. Main Benson Force landed at Korido Anchorage centering the south coast - with most of B Company in it. A detached "B" PIatoon landed farthest east of all at Amirweri (also spelled Aminosweri) to set up a route block. This B PIatoon's position turned out to be the most interesting position of the whole "Soepiori Campaign."

            Back at Korido, 1st Lieutenant Gray's main body of B Company beached and passed through "C" already ashore at the hill-base north of the village. Up the trail about 50 yards, we found three skeletons, and a few cases of mortar and rifle ammo. And 100 yards north, we had to kill two Japs, one of whom died as he reached into a box after we challenged him. Both were in poor physical condition. Next day, a patrol hunted up a stream-bed until a 40-foot cliff with a waterfall blocked further hiking.

            Although A and C Companies had to kill a few Japs, and "A" at Napido took a prisoner, most action was with 2nd Lieutenant Grimm's PIatoon back at Amirweri. This village was located well around the nearly 90-degree bend in the shore which twisted northeast back up towards Biak and the saltwater creek between Soepiori and Biak.

            On 10 September at 0630, a native warned us that a number of Japs were coming down the beach from the northeast. About 400 yards from Amirweri, we saw 20-25 Japs, about half bearing rifles. Because they offered no resistance, we signaled them to surrender. But some dashed into mangroves, and we fired, killed two officers, two men. Others tried to hide in the brush or fled back up the coast.

Reinforced by a second squad, we pursued about 1,000 yards. At different points along the way, we captured 12 prisoners, singly or in pairs.

            Then on that 10 September, it happened just as on Biak: B Company found death again. After the 1,000-yard chase, 2nd Lieutenant John M Cate with two men [Pfcs Donald E. Ellis and Glenn R. Jones] turned inland a short distance to check out a small opening in the mangrove thicket. A hidden Jap machine gun threw down bullets and slew all three. The machine gun had withdrawn by the time the other "B" men could deploy.

            We sent a patrol around the mangrove thicket to strike the Japs from the inland side. To make that move, we had to climb hills that were close to the coast. When the lead scout crossed an exposed ledge, a Jap rifle shot rang out and killed him. We could not then recover his body.

            Since the main Jap force had escaped, we withdrew to night perimeter. Besides Lieutenant Cate, Ellis, Pearce, and DeLoof were dead. Exact place where the enlisted men died was not recorded. Two men's bodies were not recovered until much later - one not until 15 September, and the last not until 24 September.

            Back at 1st Battalion's Korido Base, the radio informed us of the fight. An LCM of "B" men left their patrol off Pimonsbari Point and brought Lieutenant Cate and one enlisted man back to Korido. At once, Colonel Benson ordered the other B Company men and a section of D Company's 81mm mortars to Amirweri to destroy the Jap fighters.

            Although a veteran of Salamaua and Biak, Lieutenant Gray felt his first real hatred of Japs. He was angry because Cate had survived the battle of Biak with two wounds, yet now was dead from Japs we had tried to save. He carefully planned his next action against them.

            But next morning at 0830 before Gray could effect his plans, our beach outpost sighted maybe 15 Japs hiking southwest along the beach at 1,000 yards' range. Gray posted a rifle platoon and a light machine gun in ambush at the mouth of Amirweri Creek. At 30 yards, we challenged them, but they tried to run. We killed ten, and two probables at 1020. Fifteen minutes later, we polished off another Jap in a palm tree 30 yards northwest of our perimeter. We found two rusted Jap rifles. All the corpses were in poor condition.

            An angry Gray set up D's 81s for an immediate fire mission against the Japs who had killed Cate. This was one for old John Cate, God rest his soul - a good Irishman and a good soldier. Gray carefully checked targets with Lieutenant Grimm and others who had been on the deadly patrol of 10 September.

D Company's projectiles impacted the jungle where Cate had attacked the Japs. The blasts covered an area 100 yards long by 100 yards wide.

            The Japs were there all right. A captured diary said that they were sitting up in the trees and singing war songs when the first surprise rounds impacted. Tree bursts struck several Japs. Most of the others died on the ground. Thus ended the Jap resistance, after a great combat salute for Cate and our other dead. Not until 15 September, four days later, was the third man's body recovered from a point 1,000 yards northeast of Amirweri. We found his dog-tags and M-1.

            From 14 September through at least 15 October, B Company held Amirweri coastal block and ran patrols. We patrolled mainly on foot and occasionally by LCM on the 7.5 miles of Soepiori coast slanting southwest from Biak to delivered two skinny, bewildered Japs.

            A second dugout brought a Jap sitting a third of the way back from the bow and facing forward. A 10-year-old sat confronting him with a club like a policeman's night-stick. Behind the Jap, a man and a woman had paddles to use on him if necessary.

            Dugouts kept coming with 2-3 Japs in them. Usually, they lay in the bottom under rattan nets. Crowning the day was the arrival of a chief in a giant double-outrigger dugout manned by 7-8 men or boys paddling on both sides. Six more stood in the center. As they drew up, the chief wearing coat and pants distinctly counted up to "three" in his language. Then all saluted. From under the mat, they brought out five dazed Japs to surrender to us.

            All told, Sweeny's frigate caught 26 that day. After the sailors placed all 26 on the fore-deck together, the ship's doctor inspected and treated them where needed. We fed them and took them to the Biak stockade for interrogation.

            Back with "B" at Amirweri, eight starved Japs on 13 September gave up to the beach outpost. On 19 September occurred another memorable Jap execution. In gardens 2,000' yards east, we sighted 30 Japs at 1125. With bazookas and rifles, we deployed on the ridge above them - slew 25, with three probables. Our bazookas were notably effective. The Japs had six rifles and 60 cartridges, all in good condition. On 19 September also, excited natives ran into B's area. On daily trips into their gardens, they had normally taken a few young men as guards. But with us nearby, they had sent the women and children with only an old spearman. But this time, two Japs seized his spear and murdered him. Our patrol was too late to catch the Japs.

            These coastal natives had stopped headhunting long ago, but they reverted to the old days now. On 23 September, a war party brought back a Jap head on a spear, reported killing another Jap. That night, B Company was invited to the celebration of chanting and dancing around the head, down by the water's edge.

            This was a solemn affair, no doubt for the natives' feeling that justice was done and the old man's spirit appeased. On Commanding Officer Gray's suggestion, an American participated. Our Sergeant Kekipi stood up in the full light of the fire on the beach which shone on the Jap's head. Kekipi obliged with an old Hawaiian war-chant. To us "B" men with our rifles across our knees, it became a victory- chant for our Battle of Biak.

            After 15 October, B 162 left Soepiori Island for the comparative luxury of the new Biak Base. For our four dead, we had slain 85 Japs, with five probables, and one suicide near our perimeter. We had taken 16 prisoners. The natives had killed 25, brought in a prisoner. (We are of course unsure just how many of the 17 surrendering were actually Japs, or Koreans or Formosans unwilling to die for Nippon.) Our "Soepiori Campaign" had been a hard but necessary mop-up. Yet we do not forget that lonely desert jungle wasteland beyond Biak.

 

CREDIT. Sources are Major Gray's 4-page, single spaced type- script, "Soepiori Campaign," written about September 1962, "Unit Journal of Company B 162 Infantry Soepiori Campaign," Colonel (now Brigade General Retired) Sweeny's "Incident of Naval Support During the Biak Operation." Important facts also appeared in "Operation Report" of Headquarters 1st Battalion 162 Infantry (9 September 1944), 162's September 1944 "Morning Report," 41 Division's G-3 Addendum to "Hurricane Task Force Narrative of Biak Operation," Terrain Handbook 27/ New Guinea / Schouten Islands, and RR Smith's Approach to the Philippines. (Brief and less accurate version of this story appeared in B 162's Biak story of April 1972.)