162 Infantry's Intelligence and Reconnaissance Platoon: Mopping up on Biak
by Dr. Hargis Westerfield, Division Historian, with Platoon Sergeant John Willis and 2nd Lieutenant Fred Karinen

            Although 162 Infantry's main Battle of Biak ended by 2seven June 1944, 162's fine Intelligence & Reconnaissance Platoon still patrolled and fought for some months later. Because most Jap survivors would not surrender, we had to keep the last few thousands from regrouping to fight again. Colonel Haney, 162's Commanding Officer, had expanded "IR" to 52 enlisted men - a Headquarters Platoon with five radiomen, four drivers, a draftsman, a topographer, and four "line" squads.

            While other 162 men returned to training, IR patrolled almost daily. We tried to keep the Japs from food and water, to force their surrender.

            Sergeant Willis well remembers some of these patrols. And  2nd  Lieutenant Karinen left an official report of his own patrols of seven-11 August 1944.

            On one memorable patrol, Sergeant Willis took four IR men and a black driver with an amphib tractor to land on a remote side of Biak. He told the driver to anchor a quarter-mile off shore and await our return, but the driver refused to wait.

            He said, "I'll anchor and swim in and go with you. I won't stay out there alone. This Black was excellent on patrol and wanted to join IR.

            On our first day, we found four Japs heating water. We" called out "Surrender!" but they reached for weapons. We had to kill them.

            Next day, we returned to the beach area beside a cement-floored church. Nearby, an underground spring flowed from a hill. We captured a Jap Major with three men. There had been four men, but the Major had them draw lots to decide whom they were going to eat The loser's body hung in a native hut.

            To Willis, the Major asked, "Who are you to judge men? Have you ever starved? I went to college in England before the war. I am as intelligent as you are. You do not know when you are dying of starvation."

            We spared their lives and fed them. We also made them scrub the cement church-floor, which they had used for a toilet.

            On another patrol to an inland lake, we led G Company to block off this area. For IR, it was a four-hour walk, but for G 162, it was seven hours' march with heavier equipment.

            Halfway in, Willis and his three men killed three Japs before G Company caught up. Willis got 11 wristwatches off a Jap - one a Longenes which his father wore for 10 years.

            G Company's new Captain asked Willis to hold off killing the next Nips that we found. He wanted to bring up G Company to give the new men some field training.

            When our first scout saw some Japs heading down-trail, Willis called up "G" men to kill them. But when he saw the Japs, the "G" scout got buck fever. Zito shot the first Jap. Then all guns opened up, and G Company and IR slew them.

            On another patrol, we took seven IR men with three Army CIC men, who had asked to accompany us for the experience. A native group trailed us. We did not use them as scouts because their morale was low - unlike our natives at Salamaua - like Tapioli. After we cleared an area, they picked up any gear we did not want - especially canteens and cooking pots.

            On this patrol, Zito and Willis got seven sabers and many flags - killed seven Japs, captured seven men. Most of our prisoners were Korean laborers.

            An Air Force Colonel asked us to recover the corpse of an ace fighter pilot whose plane could not come out of a dive. We took 12 IR men - eight just stateside rookies and a carrier detail for the body.

            The seven-mile trip into rough country would take two days without water available on the way. Willis warned our eight rookies to conserve their water. We would have to hack a trail. The cocksure rookies replied that they could run 20miles: just keep out of their way! Well, they ran out of water the first day, and we had to share our canteens with them to get them back to camp.

We failed to find that plane in the heavy jungle until a Piper Cub helped us. The plane had impacted 15 feet into coral. The body was three feet deep; the parachute had failed to open. We had to kill four Japs who had made a shelter of that parachute.

            Even with formaldehyde, the corpse was too noisome to carry. We had to return for it a week later after the heat had done its work. But after that impact into coral, the bones were so brittle that we could salvage only a thigh-bone.

            IR's greatest triumph on Biak, however, was of a different kind. Division Quartermasters ran out of coffee. Having become acquainted with a PT Boat squadron's crews attached

to 162, Zito took a bundle of Jap rifles on one of their supply trips 200 miles away. He traded rifles for 200 pounds' coffee, and full Colonels came by at night for a cup of that delicious hot bitter black stuff. Colonel Roosevelt himself called for coffee one night, and brought us a box of his cigars.

            We traded Jap rifles to liberty ship crews for their sheets, then used the sheets to trick Marines on the Navy vessels. While Draftsman T/5 Porter drew the rising sun, our interpreter made Japanese script on the sheets. We sold these synthetic flags for $25 to Marines - until we got too greedy and did not give the flags time to dry.

            Such were Platoon/Sergeant Willis' memories of his IR on Biak after battle. And 2nd Lieutenant Karinen experienced other interesting patrols.

            On 7 August 1944, IR men joined F 162 on another scouting mission. Besides contacting 163's 2nd Battalion scouting south from Korim Bay landing on three August, "F" had orders to clear out Nips from native gardens near Korim Track.

            Thus at 0830 8 August, 10 lean, yellowed Yanks in faded green padded single-file up a brushy trail towards Native Gardens. Armed with carbines (five clips), and grenades, we scouted carefully, took precise azimuths at every turn in the trail. F Company's riflemen helped with our security. By 0945, carbines ready, we checked a hut 50 yards left of the trail, found native foods fresh from the garden. We had already seen three old dead Nips.

            About 2,000 yards deep inland from F Company's perimeter, we found where maybe eight Nips had bivouacked last night- cooking fires still warm, native produce strewed around - even some hard biscuits. Now we detached four Yanks to penetrate the gardens right of the trail.

Staff Sergeant Sullivan with T/5 Suchy, Thodoropoulos, and Meyers slunk into the gardens, carbines ported, ready to kill. Past a weathered limestone outcrop, we found the garden area - overgrown brush, with papaya trees rooted in yellow sediment. We smelled smoke, then saw smoke from a little hut 100 yards off the trail.

            Crawling to eight yards from the hut, we found two Nips by a fire. While we covered Sullivan, he strode up, demanded surrender. The Nips put up their hands. In the hut, we got two bayonets, letters, and papers. We gave the Nips to "F' to take them to camp.

            We moved inland 400 yards more. Cornie - then on point - saw five Japs armed only with bayonets. They were apparently arguing which trail to take. Cornie trailed them until they disappeared into the brush.

            Leaving Ihme, Thodoropoulos as security guards, Lieutenant Karinen took Cornie, Sullivan, Myers, and Suchy after the 5 Japs. Instead of them, we found another smoking hut, four Japs cooking inside. Concluding that these four were another group other than the four we had followed, we cleared out, and sent Ihme and Thodoropoulos for an ''F' combat patrol to clean out the gardens. Meanwhile, Ihme and Thodoropoulos had also taken a prisoner - a Nip strolling up the trail with only a bag of food - roots. Meyers joined the two other IR men to take him back to F Company.

            We others stayed behind to observe the Japs and secure our men from a Jap counter-patrol. After 10 minutes, a Jap sauntered down the trail unconcernedly singing. The nearest man, Karinen, confronted him, called out "Surrender!" in Japanese. But the Jap raised his bayonet, howled, and ran. We picked him off, but found nothing of "intelligence value" on his body.

            Moving rearward, we three men with our prisoner saw a Jap chopping wood on Korim Track. We reported him to Captain McHenry of F Company. Under IR man LeBaron, McHenry sent a patrol to capture that Jap. We were never sure that we found that man, but we did find six Nips in a cave and wiped them out. Karinen, LeBaron, Cornie, and Thodoropoulos combed the cave area, but the shots had evidently scared other Nips away.

            On 9 August at 0900, IR led a combat patrol of 54 "F" men with Lieutenant Johnson and five natives back into those same gardens. At the hut where we had caught two prisoners by the fire yesterday, we found that others - whether Nips or natives- had slept in the same hut and had taken away some discarded clothing.

            Approaching the nearby trail junction, we put a native ahead as lead scout. He spied five Japs before him. We called up five riflemen, but the jungle hid all but two Nips from them. We called "Surrender!" but the Japs hid. M-1 s blasted, but we did not then check for results of our shots. After the firing, we heard three distinct clicks, and hit the ground in fear of grenades. Mysteriously, however, no grenades exploded. While "F' men guarded the front, we deployed 20 more Yanks ambushed by the trail. Meanwhile, IR with 25 other Yanks positioned on the ridge-crest between garden and trail.

            From this ridge, we could observe the hut and everything within 100 yards. We saw seven Japs in the garden and deployed to catch them. Now IR moved out. While LeBaron, Suchy, Sayka, Meyers, Ihme, and one "F" man worked to the flank of the hut, another party pushed frontally at the hut - Cornie, Thodoropoulos, Tracy, four riflemen.

            Suddenly a possible ambush threatened Karinen's group. Six Nips under packs entered the hut; others might be prone over rifles inside. But LeBaron, Suchy, Sayka, Meyers, Ihme, and the "F" man saw them.

            Quietly we passed word to the others - to fire after our first carbine shot. The roll of M-1s, IR carbines lasted 45 seconds. Then we called to them, "Surrender!" But in that 15 seconds, three Japs broke out. We killed two, wounded the third; he escaped into the brush and was never found.

            Rushing into the hut, we found nine dead inside, three dead outside. They were in better physical shape than those whom he had earlier contacted. Uniforms were in good condition; they had abundant food - carried socks of rice. Each body had a grenade fastened to the belt; and we

found two sabers, a pistol, several rifles, abundant ammo. We believe that we had struck those Nips just as they were about to find a position where they could kill more Yanks. (Later we learned that 163's 2nd Battalion and 162's F Company had succeeded in demoralizing and splitting up the main Nippo organization left after Ibdi Pocket just as they were about to try again to hold Biak.)

            For 162 and 163 men had thus split them as they moved south to consolidate and dig in at Wardo on the SW Biak shore. And so when 186 Infantry landed at Wardo on 17 August, the Nips could not hold that ground. But all that we men of IR knew, was that our important patrol was over. For F 162 contacted 163 Infantry on the Korim Track, and "F' could keep the Nips under control without us recon specialists.

            Coming back from the gardens late 9 August, IR came upon one more scare, however. On checking the spot where we had blasted the Nips earlier on 9 August, and had heard those three clicks that sounded like grenades arming, we found something worse than grenades. For here, besides two dead Nips and heaps of scattered ammo, we saw a Nip machine gun position. Those clicks had occurred from dismounting that machine gun to remove it. We had missed ambush and death by a few seconds.

            These are Platoon Sergeant Willis' memories and 2nd Lieutenant Karinen's report of IR's patrols and shoot-outs after the main Battle of Biak. Most of our labors were not in combat, however. Our labor was mostly hard, sweaty hiking and painstaking reconnaissance to save our lives and fight only when we had to. Thus we carried out necessary mop-ups to keep the Japs off- balance and unable to group for fighting. We are sorry that we could not take more of them as prisoners.

 

CREDIT: Sources are John Willis' three-page single-spaced typed letter of 14 June 1980, and 2nd Lieutenant Fred Karinen's report, "Intelligence and Reconnaissance Patrol" (from seven August to 11 August 1944), found in Federal Archives. Background is from R.R. Smith's Approach to the Philippines.