B Company, 162nd Regiment: In the Slot on Biak
By Dr. Hargis Westerfield, Division Historian With Major James Gray

             On Biak, B Company,162nd Regiment, battled Japs on D-Day. We made initial assault on Ibdi Pocket. Infighting Jap tank-infantry teams 14-15 June, we almost got wiped out, but we battled [Japan's Colonel] Kuzume to the portals of West Caves.

            On D-Day, while [the] 162nd Regiment lead companies probed Parai Defile, we got orders to cross  the dirty-green coral ridge north of Ibdi to flank the Japs. Jap fire halted us before Ridge One; Mihelic, Palmiotti took serious arm wounds.

            On 28-29 May, B Company secured 162nd Regimental Headquarters while Japs drove two battalions back from Mokmer. On 29 May, Japs hit us with mortars, machine guns, [and] rifles. About noon, they cut the road east of Parai Jetty, With Commanding Officer Townsend's Cannon Company riflemen, we dislodged the Japs behind close mortar support. D Company’s weapons platoon killed eight; Cannon Company took all losses. By 1500 [hours], B Company formed rear-guard while the 162nd Regiment's battered battalions escaped from Parai with thirty-two dead, and a hundred eighty-three wounded.

            Back at Ibdi 30 May, B Company dispatched combat patrols to find 1st Battalion a flanking route through the ridges. Mortars and rifles repulsed 1st Platoon; Sergeant Grove hurt an ankle in the cliffs. Then 2nd Platoon struck up the same trail - a one-man trail, slippery with falling rain, up a twenty-five foot cliff. Mortars scattered us, wounded Godwin. After our own mortar barrage, we failed again. Tech Sergeant Biedebach took foot and elbow wounds.

            On 31 May, a Yank B-25 strafed and bombed 1st Battalion. But 3rd Platoon had to clear that ridge. Jap fire stopped us. Without orders, Ransom climbed twenty feet up a cliff. A grenade slashed his face, but he shot into Jap positions. After covering Cox, also wounded with a grenade, Ransom pointed out locations to a flame-thrower team. Although flame cleared our way to the crest, Jap fire hit Martin, repelled us.

            After three days security perimeter for 205 Field Artillery, B Company headed up Young Man's Trail into Ibdi Pocket, with Battalion Headquarters and two 30-caliber heavy machine guns. It was again horror for B Company - jagged up-and-down coral trails, dark-green fear, harassing fire from nowhere. We evacuated a "psycho." On 4 June, a B Company squad with mortar cover helped A Company push to Ridge Seven. Through 7th of June, Sergeant Alex Schmidt, Nicholls patrolled, slew stray Japs. Schmidt's squad found East Caves.

            But B Company was recalled to help clear Parai Defile. Landed at Parai from buffaloes, we followed 3rd Battalion and tanks pushing northwest to Mokmer Village. In extending 3rd Battalion’s right flank, B Company's 2nd Platoon moved into a Jap mortar barrage that halted the push. Shells from East Caves wounded Galvin, Dunn, Wells, Sergeant Hicks. B Company withdrew, dug in, mortared the Japs .

            On 9 June, we tried to dig in on high ground above dead Jap tanks. Jap mortars struck Medic Herbert Helland in the head; he died in Sheffey's arms. To save itself B Company dodged back, to drop down a ten-foot cliff to the beach.

            Back in yesterday's safe perimeter on 10 June, we sent a security guard with Sherman tanks to Mokmer - six men atop each tank. No one was hit. About dark, Lieutenant Cate called for 60millimeter mortar fire on two Japs observing from the ridge. Our own shell wounded observer Pierce. The blast knocked Medic Jacobs flat in his hole. While bandaging Sergeant Pierce, Jacobs found that the shell had wounded him also. Souder was also wounded that day.

            Disaster struck on 11 June. Following 162 Battalion's first great assault on Mokmer Ridge, we secured 162nd Regimental Headquarters in the dispersal area at 1900 hours. With no time to dig in we clutched the heaving ground under Jap bombers at 2300. Pvt. Victor Nosek, Pvt. Ralph Gohlke, and Staff Sergeant George Hornbussel died. Seriously wounded were ten - Leroy Davis, Shea, Duck, Oropesa, Goletz, Sibert, Bonner, Malezynski, Pritchard, Staff Sergeant Nichols. Also hit were Paul DeWitt, Biggs, Paul Northcutt, John Moran, Second Lieutenant Cate, Staff Sergeant Jim Cook.

            On 13 June, B Company went "into the slot" for our heaviest combat of the war. As part of 162nd Regiment's 1st Battalion, we teamed with 186th Regiment's 1st Battalion to stab the heart of Jap defenses of Mokmer Dromes. We would cross Mokmer Ridge safely east of the 162nd Regiment' s fighting 3rd Battalion  then turn west to capture what natives reported was the last water-hole  remaining in Kuzume's hands. (We did not know this was really West Caves.)

            But B Company met trouble on Mokmer Ridge. After digging in, we sent 2nd Platoon to scout behind the 162nd Regiment 's E Company Finding thirty well-armed Japs who hit the brush and ran, 2nd Platoon got back at 1730 hours, had to dig in fifty yards west of B Company's left flank. At 0600 14 June, 2nd Platoon awoke in darkness to battle a determined fifteen-man Jap attack with bayonets, light machine guns, a knee mortar. Diskin, Norman took rifle and grenade wounds, But B Company's light machine guns slew nine Japs in ten minutes. Until 1100, Japs held us with small arms, mortars, even AA shells.

            Still at 1100, B Company marched in fine-hundred yards from Mokmer Ridge, turned hard left, deployed all rifle platoons abreast as skirmishers. With Headquarters, Weapons, two heavy machine guns behind the center platoon, we advanced under a field artillery barrage. Our own field artillery shorts sporadically halted us; a short wounded Kolowitz, Stricklan. We slew some Japs.

            Late that day, we hit the track southwest to West Caves. Pushing two-hundred fifty yards more, we dug in on a slight rise. As Sergeant Schmidt returned with a small patrol, Japs attacked. A rifle wounded Schmidt. While Medics tried to save him, Jap fire wounded two of Schmidt's  outguards - Close and Benedict. Pfc. James G. Close and Staff Sergeant Alexander Schmidt died that night.

            B Company fought on. Leftwards, 1st Platoon prone in a half circle took heavy fire - front, flank, and rear. We set up 1 light machine gun that fired fine protection. But when Weapons Platoon men tried to position another light machine gun, Linnville, Roscano and Sergeant Kalmbach were hit. The gun could not fire effectively. On their right, 1st Platoon and 3rd Platoon had heavy fire, front and flank. At 1800, we brought up B Company’s 60 millimeter mortars, but intense fire kept them from positions where we badly needed them.

            It was a bad night for B Company. About 1900, Jap tanks with infantry blasted us - tanks with 37mm cannon, heavy machine guns. Jap infantry fired in a continuous sheet of flame. 1st Battalion lacked bazookas to fight tanks. Wounded were Weapons Platoon's Varto, Summers, Corporal Duncan; dead were 2nd Platoon's Pfc. Norman H. Gafner and Pvt. David A. Lockofsky.

            In ninety minutes came orders to retreat. We left with seven Yanks missing in action, lost much heavy equipment. But B Company fell back in good order, holed up in three-man teams behind 186th Regiment's B Company. Thus Colonel Kuzume's sally drove B Company from the field 14 June; but next day, we fought Kuzume again. At dawn, we pushed up to close the gap we had left between 162nd Regiment and 186th Regiment. Japs with a tank charged down on us - moving cannon, heavy machine guns, Jap infantry in a withering blast.

            We still lacked anti-tank weapons; but we coolly fought for our lives with all our fire-power, while 121st Field Artillery threw in shells. We blasted the tank-infantry into carnage, saw the frightened antique little turreted beast veer off into safety. Wounded were Wellbaum, Braun, Staff Sergeant Jim Cook. While taking them to Medics, Imbrone , Tech-Five Merritt Thomas, Staff Sergeant Buchanan also were hit. Noble was seriously wounded. Lightly wounded were Swain, Hugh Baker, Glaza, Varto.  But at 1100 from "missing in action" returned our seven Yanks lost in Jap attacks last night.

            On 16 June, we stayed in holes. For 186nd Regiment's 2nd Battalion attack on the left was causing Yank field artillery and mortar fire across our front. But B Company’s mortars shot all day; Jap fire hit us. A Jap sniper killed T/4 William Squires. On 17 June when 1st Battalion pushed again, we followed a 186th Regiment' s right rear. Jap mortars wounded Ellis, Sergeant Kiepke , Tech Sergeant Larkins. B Company’s forty-man detachment guarded 186th Regiment dumps; Crider, Sergeant Comiskey got mortar wounds there. But with Beecroft as observer, our mortar's served our 186th Regiment well. Despite losses we consolidated into just two rifle platoons - B Company became tank-infantry to fight West Caves themselves ..

            On 19 June, we escorted two tanks which held down most Jap fire until we got into rifle and grenade range. When Jap fire barred our riflemen, a B Company light machine gun section moved to the left end of the Sump Holes and lanced at Jap strong points guarding them for two hours. For once, B Company counted no casualties!

            On 20 June, in the same tank-infantry assault, B Company found death again. Accurate Jap riflemen waited. First Lieutenant Gray, Commanding Officer, took B Company men to our left flank, cleaned out a dangerous Jap pocket. Gray was wounded there. On our right, a Jap tried to flame a tank with a Molotov cocktail. Sheltering behind a tank when possible, Tech-Four Ziebolz killed a Jap pillbox. He then crawled to the other side of the tank and knocked out three more positions. We rolled six drums of gasoline into the caves and lighted them. But Jap fire continued with almost no decrease in volume. At 1700, we fell back with T/4 Isidore Ziebolz, Corporal Vinton Williams, and Medic Jerome Grosshandler dead; Whitaker, Roudian, Quillman, Lieutenants Gray and Cate wounded.

            After this fight, B Company consolidated again. We were down to one full-strength rifle platoon plus weapons platoon and headquarters. From assigned strength of one hundred eighty-nine when Biak battle started, we were down to one hundred sixty-seven - but with only one hundred for duty. Luckily, we did not fight West Caves again; we relieved C Company on the high northern ridge for security guard - four days' comparative rest and recuperation. On 25 June, most of B Company relieved A Company to guard West Caves again. But the great infighting and the Jap Banzai (21-22 June) had ended. Remaining few Japs gave no trouble. On 28 June, a few Yanks finally penetrated deep enough into the caves. And B Companies participated in a great souveniring party. But B Company’s war on Biak did not end with capturing West Caves.

            Men back from hospital rebuilt our platoons; and two months later, we found death again in the forgotten "Soepoeri Campaign." On 7 September, Weapons and 1st Platoon landed under Soepoeri Island's blue jungle mountains - on the SE coast near Biak Mission was to interdict Japs wading from Biak to live off native gardens - and to destroy Commander Mayeda's Jap Marines trying to rendezvous with subs to take off Admiral Senda.

            On 10 September, First Lieutenant Grimm sent a small patrol against Japs in the mangrove swamps by Amirweri. The Japs' ambush was clever. Pfc Donald E. Ellis, Pfc. Wilburn W. Pearce, Pfc. Alfred DeLoof, and 2nd Lieutenant John M. Cate died. It was weeks before we got out their bodies.

            Commanding Officer Gray blazed with anger. He called B Company’s other platoons from Biak, got Battalion Commanding Officer Colonel Benson's loan of two D Company 81mm mortars. Gray swore this was one for Irish John Cate, great soldier, God rest his soul! Survivors of Cate's patrol showed how to zero in D Company's 81mm mortars, and B Company’s 60mm mortars.

            Eagerly we uncovered gleaming mortar shells, piled them ready. Gray gave orders. The shells arched down into dark-green mangrove jungle, caught the Japs in tree platforms. Some lay chanting war-songs - a Jap diary recorded this! Mortars mangled many; vengefully our rifles slew forty. We took twelve prisoners.

            One morning near Awak, two Japs killed an old native who guarded "marys" and children in the yam patches. For the first time in years, the natives became head-hunters. In four days, they slew the two, returned with the head of the actual slayer. That night, the village Kapala or Chief invited B Company to the victory celebration.

            Naked black spearmen enacted the killing - crept on the Jap again - leaped high in air with spear-thrusts. We Yanks crouched by our rifles, tried not to watch the fire-light flash on the dead Jap's head. The Kapala asked B Company to take part.

            Resourceful Commanding Officer Gray called on our Hawaiian Yank, Sergeant Kekipi , to speak for B Company. In the full light of the fire on the beach, Kekipi rendered an old Hawaiian war-chant. And we men of B Company thought of Kekipi's Hawaiian chant as our own victory song. We remembered Parai Defile, Ibdi Pocket, the night the bombers caught us above ground, the night and day we fought the tank-infantry team, the bloody days before West Caves. We remember wounded we'd never see again, our sixteen dead. And ours were proud memories of a great battle company.