H Company 162 Infantry: Parai Defile and Mokmer Ridges

By Lieutenant Charlie Jachim and Dr. Hargis Westerfield, Division Historian

 

On the second day of Biak Battle, 28 May 1944, H Company 162 Infantry heard that 162's 3rd Battalion was in trouble and needed us. In pushing down the south Biak shore to take Mokmer Strip, 162's forward Companies were being repulsed.

Suddenly H Company began a forced march to hold a defense line in Parai Defile. We marched a long, hot distance at a fast pace with breaks that were few. 2nd Lieutenant Charles Jachim of our heavy machine guns estimated that we slogged 12-15 miles per hour at 3.5 miles in 3-4 hours. (Jachim was Platoon leader of H's 1st Platoon of four heavy machine guns.)

Jap mortar rounds menaced us as we neared our assigned positions to cover the Parai Defile withdrawal. The mortar blasts increased when Jachim and some gunners crouched in a beach depression. A Jap mortar fragment somehow missed others of us but hit Jachim's runner Pfc Albert R. Caro in his wrist. Although the wound was judged light, it caused such damage to Caro's nervous system that he was evacuated Stateside.

Jachim's heavy machine gun platoon got orders to entrench across the road from Mokmer Strip. Platoon Sergeant White took our second section a little way inland and anchored G Company's right flank on the first rise up from the sea. This second section straddled the road, with a gun on the inland side and a gun on the seaward side. Corporal Carter had one squad, and Corporal Hermanson the other squad.

Jachim and his new runner Shoemaker dug a hole behind the second heavy machine gun inland from the sea across the road. The sand here made easy digging - unlike the coral over most of Biak. Visibility was fair in that neglected coconut grove, but undergrowth limited the forward view.

Units of 3rd Battalion started to retreat through H's position until late afternoon. Jap mortar fire seemed heavier as the day grew later.

During one Jap mortar concentration, riflemen protecting a withdrawing tank suffered several casualties. Going bravely into the mortar impact area, Medic T/5 Donald R. McNiel gave first aid and directed evacuations. Under intense fire, McNiel administered first aid and morphine to a seriously wounded man and helped carry him to a safer place. For performing similar duties days later, McNiel was seriously wounded, on an unknown date.

A company retreating through shallow water along the beach took withering mortar fire and was disorganized. Tech Sergeant Lynch took command and directed most of them into a safe retreat. When they told him that they had to leave one man under fire, Lynch rescued him.

Besides Caro first reported lightly wounded, "H" lost four men seriously wounded that 28 May: Pfcs William R. Hatton, Stanley P. Nasierowski, Pvt Lilton S. Stringer, and Leo P. Porenski - who had just a finger wound.

Later that afternoon, Jap mortar fire slowed down. "H" readjusted or consolidated positions. Lieutenant Uppinghouse of the flanking G Company Platoon agreed with Jachim that H's heavy machine guns should be pulled back 50 yards to a new position for better fields of fire and cover for the beach on our left.

H's mortar Company, 1st Lieutenant Ivey, came up to register in our 81s to guard Jachim's new heavy machine gun position. Outstanding mortarman Ivey pulled his 81s in close before our heavy machine guns - within 50 yards or less. Next day in combat, Jachim wished that the big tubes were closer still.

By dawn of our third Biak day, 29 May 1944, Jap tanks and Infantry massed to wipe out 162's men still holding Parai Defile.

In gray dawn, Lieutenant Jachim awoke from his hole to volleys of his heavy machine guns. About 0700, a Jap column rout - marched down the road towards "H." Seeming a company-sized unit, they marched in disciplined order - upright and on their feet even in a battle area - they rounded a downhill road curve and headed towards us on a long straight road section.

It was a machine-gunner's dream come true. They were unaware that we were sighting them, low in holes over our guns.

An officer led. They still hiked in route-march formation, rifles slung on their shoulders, in columns of twos. By now, the officer seemed almost on top of our holes.Suddenly the officer seemed to spot our holes. He halted to give an order. Our two closest machine guns opened fire.

The officer fell about 50 feet from our guns. We mowed down his column of riflemen following him. Japs piled up already dead or writhing and screaming on the road.

Surviving Japs fanned out towards our inland right flank and fought G Company's riflemen in their holes. They stood up and attacked frontally against G Company and were shot down from foxholes. H's 1st Lieutenant Ivey's mortars also blasted H and G Companie's front. While they died, "H" did not lose a man killed or wounded.

Our front somewhat quieted down but for sporadic Jap mortar shells. We busied ourselves to bring up more ammo and to reorganize. For we had shot about 1300 rounds already.

Now we heard engine mortars humming from the Jap rear, out of sight up the hill and around the curve. Remembering his intelligence briefing, Jachim was certain he heard tanks. He still believes that if they had charged when he first heard them, they would have panicked and overrun our lines. He still does not understand why they did not strike at once.

Jachim headed back for nearby 2nd Battalion 162 Headquarters to call for our tanks. Shortly a mortar shell exploded about 15 feet to his left. Concussion grounded him; he was not even scratched. But about 75 feet ahead of Jachim, two "H" men running for ammo were hit - Pfcs Avery Hill and Charles J.Terry both lightly wounded for hospital.

Jachim safely arrived at 2nd Battalion command post and asked for tank assistance. Back at his front-line heavy machine guns, he still heard Jap motors, but the tanks had not moved. After what seemed forever, we heard our own tanks rumbling forward to defend us. Now the Jap tanks were moving out of sight also.

We saw a beautiful sight behind us – two General Sherman tanks, each with a 75 mm cannon mounted on it. Tensely, we watched them halt near us. We looked for the Jap tanks up the road.

The first little Jap tank tottered into sight around the downhill road curve and fired. Our tanks knocked it out. Another Jap tank rounded the flank of the first tank and was also knocked out. Our shells pierced their armor, but being only light tanks with 37 mm cannon, they could not penetrate our heavier tank armor. Our 75s with AP shells easily struck dead four tank crews.

After the first wave of four tanks, a second wave of three tanks made a charge. One Jap 37mm shell actually hit the armor near a 75mm gun barrel and locked the gun so that it could not be accurately sighted. But the tank commanding officer backed partly into a shell hole to elevate his cannon and managed to destroy one tank. After all three tanks of the second wave were dead, their accompanying Jap tank-infantry retreated.

Jachim's "H" men took no fire at all from the Jap tanks. In gratitude, Jachim and his gunners presented the tank-men the Jap officer's saber. Jachim himself gave them the big silver chain and pocket watch from the officer's corpse. He sent back the maps and papers to Battalion Headquarters. We felt truly safe with those big Sherman "iron horses" near us.

But 162 Infantry could not knock out the Jap mortars and machine guns on Parai cliffs. Our position was untenable. Our whole attack force had to escape from the Defile. While all 2nd Battalion but G Company and some "H" men and 3rd Battalion riflemen left by water, most of 3rd Battalion retreated up the shore.

Platoon Sergeant White volunteered to command some men of "H" who withdrew on land. Lieutenant Jachim left by water. Too well, Jachim remembers the fears he had water-borne with Parai cliffs overlooking us, and knowing that the Japs were behind those cliffs. Jammed tight with others in the little DUKW, he moved by its one slow speed from under threat of those cliffs from which Japs might throw down shells at any minute.

H Company's detachment's land retreat was fairly safe, but we still lost a man killed, exact name uncertain. The planes covering our retreat made strafing runs. One plane mistook us for Japs and slew that "H" man.

On that 29 May, H Company's casualties were two killed and four wounded. Of the two dead, either Pfc William B. Brooks or Corporal Victor Soroken died by fire from our own plane. Besides Hill and Terry already mentioned, whom a Jap mortar wounded when they ran back for heavy machine gun ammo, we had two more men listed as lightly wounded. They were Pvt Samuel Katz and Pfc Bernard F. Morell, details unknown. (Morell would be killed 10 days later.)

After 162 Infantry's retreat from Parai Defile, 186 Infantry began their dry overland march from behind Bosnek to capture Mokmer Strip from the rear. Our 2nd Battalion 162 was attached to 186 Infantry for this move. Although the three rifle companies of our 2nd Battalion joined 186 Infantry by climbing across the ridges west of Ibdi Pocket over Young Man's Trial, H Company with heavy weapons marched a longer way. We followed 186 Infantry on the inland road and rejoined our 2nd Battalion on or about 5 June.

On 7 June with 186 Infantry, our 2nd Battalion easily occupied Mokmer Strip but came under heavy bombardment from the bypassed Japs still on the ridges. Killed was Pfc Stanley Siscavage. Seriously wounded were Pvt Hames E. Hartoon and Pfcs David Rogers, and Berlin L. Weis lightly wounded.

On 8 June, the Jap bombardment continued. When our 2nd Battalion tried to move east over the flats to contact other 162 Companies which had arrived by sea, "H" had more casualties.

Sergeant Bishop's squad had a position with some tree cover and concealment. Probably a Jap shell fragmented on a nearby tree. Sergeant James W. Bishop died there, and Pvt John G. Rasmussen and Pfc Bernard F. Morrell - Morrell who had already been hospitalized for a light wound in Parai Defile 10 days before. Somewhere else in H Company, Pvt William H. Noel was killed, Pfc Joseph D. Evans seriously wounded, and Pfc Ray E. Davis and Pvt James E. McGowan lightly wounded.

At the close of that 8 June, H Company perimetered close to the sea, on the flats above the usual first beach above the water. Cover was sparse and ground hard; we could not dig. We had to shelter in natural depressions. Occasional Jap mortar shells fell above us.

Tech Sergeant Tom Lynch's heavy machine gun section was on the right flank of 2nd Battalion near the beach. There the Japs attacked that night. Lynch first saw a few shadows and himself fired the heavy machine gun at them. Then he saw more shadows slipping to his right to flank the gun and kill him. Lynch ordered Grizzle to replace him to fire the machine gun. Lynch moved over to cover Grizzle on the right flank with an M-l.

We repulsed the attack, but Pfc Ollie Grizzle died on the heavy machine gun. A grenade blasted Lynch's face and blinded him. He had to be led back to aid station, but he gratefully recovered his sight in the beautiful light next morning. Meanwhile Sergeant White had reorganized this machine gun position and held 2nd Battalion's flank. Next morning there, we slew two Japs going for water with their empty canteens.

During the days from 8 June to 19 June, H Company rejoined 162 Infantry coming west from Parai Defile and was in the final infighting for the Japs' West Caves. By about 13 June, "H" with our 2nd Battalion was fighting for the low Mokmer Ridge west of 162's 3rd Battalion. Pvt Henry M. Smith was lightly wounded on 11 June, and Corporal Fred A. Burgen killed on 17 June, 1944.

On 18 June, the Casualty List says that 2nd Lieutenant William P. Harris died of wounds. Pvt. Clyde E. Rocheville and Corporal Marion W. Lindley were seriously wounded, and Pvt Bertran V. McCormack lightly wounded.

We are unsure whether these casualties occurred during H's almost forgotten night fight of 18 - 19 June. About 0400 on 19 June, a heavy Jap attack with mortar preparation overran F 162's lightly held left flank with three holes widely separated. They threatened to roll up 2nd Battalion's line on Mokmer Ridge.

Here died 2nd Lieutenant Curtright, a lad of 19 beside an H Company heavy machine gun, no one knows precisely how. Curtright may have died while he stood up behind the machine gun to direct its fire. Or he may have been firing the heavy machine gun himself. Or he may have stood up to fire his own M-l. The attack was stopped, and F Company men counted 28 dead Japs.

Last reported "H" casualties were Pfc Kenneth J. Spence, lightly wounded on 19 June, and Pfc Frank M. Kazmierczak, lightly injured on 23 June.

All told on Biak, H Company lost 11 killed in action. Twenty more were wounded and hospitalized, of whom Morrell was later killed after return to duty. For a heavy weapons Company, our number of 11 dead was fairly high. On Biak, H Company had fought reliably, wherever we were needed.

 

CREDIT. Most credit for this history is due to H 162's Charlie Jachim's letters of 4 June, 25 June, 30 July, 17 September, 5 November (two letters), and 16 December - all in 1986. They would cover about 10 pages of single-spaced typescript, business letter size. For help in these letters, Charlie also contacted H Company's Tom Lynch and AI Cesliak. Charlie verified also two Award Stories - of Medic T 15 Don McNiel and Tech Sergeant Tom Lynch. Background data are from RR Smith's Approach to the Philippines.