Through Parai Defile, Over Mokmer Ridge

by Dr. Hargis Westerfield, Division Historian with T/5 Charles Brockman

 

On 29 May 1944 K Company 162 Infantry's cook Brockman awoke from the two-man hole which he and the other man had hurriedly dug at dusk last night. K Company had fearfully retreated from 3rd Battalion's near disaster before Mokmer Village to probably Parai Jetty. (Yesterday, "K" had lost 11 dead, 16 seriously wounded, and 16 lightly wounded.)

Brockman and the new man in "K" in the hole with him awoke parched with thirst, for they had no water when they fell asleep last night. Going down the short distance to the beach for water, they watched 12 Jap planes diving from west of Owi Island onto our Navy force. Water splashed from two near bomb misses close to fantails of the largest ships. They lost no time to hit their holes again.

Heavy fire broke out to the west where 2nd Battalion held off the Japs. Tremendous fire came from 603 Tank Company's 75s with 2nd Battalion. When fire ended, they wondered who had won - Yanks or Japs.

After eating, Brockman left this still unknown new man in the hole, and went to talk with the other men in other holes. Returning, he found the new man fast asleep. Unable to wake him, Brockman called Dr.Drexler who could not arouse him either.

Litter bearers carried him away; Brockman never saw him again. (The name "Vanderburg" was then reported on 162's casualty list as "lightly wounded," but the final overall roster of 162's dead reports Pfc Glenn O Vanderburg as "died of wounds." This may be the name of this unknown man who perhaps died of shock.)

Then Brockman teamed with Newman to dig a deeper hole covered to secure even a direct hit from a Jap 90 mm mortar. (Newman was scheduled already for rotation home; so he ought not to have been in danger that day.) After they finished their mortar-proof hole, Brockman decided to clean his rifle. Newman went to talk with other men.

Laying his M-1 parts on a log without bark, Brockman glanced toward Owi Island and a nearby destroyer. He thought that he saw its guns smoking, then went to work cleaning his rifle. He heard a big explosion about 40 yards down shore - and thought nothing about it.

Right behind that shell came another great explosion. His next memory was of coming to on the sand behind the log. He never found his M-1 parts again. The blast seriously wounded T/5 David I Newman - hauled off to die later. Brockman believes that the destroyer fired just three shells into 162 Infantry. To replace his useless rifle, Brockman took over Newman's and one of his canteens.

Late that 29 May, orders came for "K" to retreat by land all the way to Mandom up the coast. Brockman was now attached to Jensen's 60 mm mortar squad. He carried the mortar with Fouchey. Ammo had all been fired away.

On that 29 May, six "K" men were reported lightly wounded: Sgt Phillip L Mason, Pfcs Hurstle Jones and  Donald Gunn, Pvt Maxie B Robison, Newman, and Glenn O. Vanderburg. But these last two actually died of wounds - Newman on 4 June, but the already mentioned Vanderburg not until 10 June.

On 30 May through 6 June, "K" with other 3rd Battalion Companies probed futilely to force Parai Defile. Probably during the first two days, Brockman and a few other "K" men were sent up the cliffs as outposts and lookouts. As shell bearer for Jensen's mortars quad, Brockman found it hard climbing, and then trying to fight the rains. Even covering his face with his poncho made him feel better.

After two days, “K” tried to force Parai Defile again. Only casualty was on 3 June with Pfc Joe M Henson lightly wounded – other facts unknown. This was the day when a Jap put a tank out of action by exploding a grenade in the driver's hatch.

On 5 June, K Company again probed Parai Defile. We had help from a destroyer, a rocket LCI, and flak boats. "K" tried to climb Parai Ridge north of the Defile, Japs threw grenades down on us. After mortar preparation, we pressed up to our right and left. Jap fire continued, probably from a whole platoon. We slew three Japs, yet had to get a containing force to help us withdraw. Pfc Willis M Strickland was lightly wounded; but Medic Robert E Coers was killed. On 6 June, we killed two Japs on that ridge, still failed to top it.

We had to bypass Parai Defile by sea. At 1305 on 7 June, we began rocket craft fire to help us land near Parai Jetty. In 12 minutes, three assault buffaloes (landing vessels, tracked, armored) with 18 personnel buffaloes started to lead "K" and "I" men towards Parai Jerry.

From ground 300 yards west of Parai Jetty, more of our rockets got no return fire. For some anxious moments, two buffaloes struck on a reef to hold up our beaching. But still there was no Jap fire. Most fire came from our .50 heavy machine gun with a defective safety lock. Gunner had to point it skyward until the belt ran out.

But our two companies were too weak to hold this ground without reinforcements. Jap heavy machinegun fire killed Pfc Theron B Sweat. We endured a few 90 mm mortar shells. Nip riflemen tried to pick us off. Sergeant Levie P Henson was seriously wounded. Cannon Company and six tanks had to land to help us.

That night, we were lucky that an Ack Ack gun had positioned down shore to our left. When a raid came, we watched two Nippo planes burst out in smoke but could not see them crash. Another Jap plane dropped three flares that lit up the beach as bright as day - one in a tree over Brockman's head. Our anti-aircraft gunners went all out to kill that plane and put out its flares.

On 8 June, "K" marched west towards Mokmer Strip, with "I" to our left, and "C" to our left rear with two of 603 Tank Company's General Sherman’s to help. C Company was on the narrow beach, and "I" and "K" on the terrace above the 20-foot cliff above the beach. Main objective was to contact 2nd Battalion 162 Infantry and open up a badly needed supply route by land from to 186 Infantry's new base by Mokmer Village. (2nd Battalion 162 Infantry had marched with 186 Infantry Regiment for the great overland march to capture Mokmer Strip from the rear.)

By 1200 at our lunch break, we were 500 yards from Mokmer Village in the coconut grove where the Japs had launched their great attack on 162 Infantry in Parai Defile. About 1300, Jap heavy mortars' fire halted us, despite help from B Company and tanks.

With Brockman as shell carrier, Sergeant Jensen's 60 mm mortar men set up in a little clump of bushes with open ground behind them. Dropping his ammo, Brockman found Jensen's position too crowded. He was hard put to find cover from the unbelievable barrage of Jap 90 mm mortar shells - many rounds in the air at the same time.

Before Jensen's crew had time to retreat, Staff Sergeant Raymond M Simmons the radioman took a direct hit from a dud shell. It thrust through the radio on his back, then through his body and out from his stomach. He died instantly. Then another 90 mm hit between Brockman and Tomlinson. As the litter bore away Pfc Dee Tomlinson, he calmly said, "I'm a-dying." Jensen's squad with Brockman retired to the cliff-edge which they had earlier started from.

Besides Simmons and Tomlinson killed on that 8 June, "K" had seven more casualties. Wounded was Captain Frederick R Gehring, lightly, with Pfcs Narvless K Turner, John W Hayman, William F Davis, Pvt Robert A Giordana and Sergeant Phillip L Mason. Pvt Victor R T Torre was lightly injured. (Probably Gehring did not fight again on Biak.)

On 9 June, "K" was back to where the Japs had driven us out on the second day on Biak. Probing west again got us nowhere. Mortars still pounded us from the ridge. Two Shermans flailed with their 75s but could not silence those mortars.

About sundown, Brockman dived into a hole as a 90 mm shell landed four feet from his heels. He was still not wounded.

On 11 June, "K" and ''L'' tried to push west early. Cowering from mortar fire in a crevice by the sea, Brockman saw Monroe with a hip wound from another shell.

Now the orders were to file west through the shallow water. Shells still raised jets, but the low coral cliff forced the trajectory too high for much harm. As water soaked into Brockman's sack of 60 mm shells, he had too much extra weight. As he left the water, new orders were to dash across open ground and not stop until we flattened on our faces under cover.

Most of “K" made a safe run. On that 11 June besides Monroe, Brockman remembers three more casualties. On that 11 June besides Monroe, "Harry" took a bad leg wound. A sickly man was killed, and a skinny, pale man was wounded. (Brockman never knew their names, and 162's casualty list for 11 June is missing from Federal Archives.)

Despite those few casualties on 11 June, "K" successfully infiltrated between the sea and the bombarding ridges. Now with other 3rd Battalion Companies, we had to storm "Mokmer Ridge." This 60-foot low ridge was covered with dense rain forest and thick jungle scrub. It guarded Jap Headquarters at West Caves and kept our bombers from flying off Mokmer Strip.

Mokmer Ridge's Japs were a battered holding force. Core was still infantry - 120 effectives of 1st Battalion 222 Infantry, and a Company or so of 2nd Battalion 222 Infantry. There were also hard survivors of various Engineer units, and some field artillery and anti-aircraft crews. Resistance pocket was a thumb-shaped area about 750 yards by 750 yards pointing south towards the sea.

On our first day's infighting against the ridge, 3rd Battalion had heavy going, despite aid of 947 Field Artillery's 155 mm cannon and our mortars. We tried at least to reach our line of departure and top the low ridge and fight the Jap pocket. We did advance 300 yards, but machine guns halted us. At dusk, with all of our 3rd Battalion, we were still 100 yards behind our line of departure.

On 12 June 3rd Battalion succeeded in breaking into the Japs' pocket. While I Company advanced along the low ridge, "L" advanced on the north side. South of "I" on flattened ground nearest the sea, "K" had to move just 200 yards, then block and hold. That day, "I" with "L" had 11 casualties; "K," none.

On return, the pillbox fire drove us to cover, Veach dodged pass the fire and returned with a Sherman Tank. At 50 yards range, the tank made rubble of the pillbox. Bockman chose what seemed a safer path, but we found the blind side of a larger pillbox. Just then, a direct field artillery hit killed that pillbox. Our rescue party had no losses.

On 13 June, “K" killed a few stragglers, and sent a platoon to help "I" which fought towards "L" north of the ridge to close the little gap between them. Later that day, all 3rd Battalion's Companies held the ridge top. Of all 3rd Battalion's casualties, “K" again had none.

On 14 June, K Company's Staff Sergeant Darrell Clements was lightly wounded in action our only casualty on that deadly ridge. After 16 June, 3rd Battalion with 2nd Battalion on the west were in possession of the entire Mokmer Ridge.

On 18 June, "K" had our final Biak shoot-out. We were 162's only company to share 186 Infantry's move to place 186 behind West Caves to cutoff Japs' supplies and reinforcements. “K" had to occupy an "egg-shaped feature," which was an oval ridge curved around a low brushy plateau.

At 0600 hours, long range machine gun fire lightly wounded a "K" man, name unknown, while we were still on Mokmer Ridge. By 1200 with a reinforcing heavy machine gun section, we trekked west through "F's" ridge position, then turned north. About 1630, we held the "egg-shape," and wisely set up two out- posts of two to three men each to cover two trail junctions 100-150 yards away.

Just before dusk, our outguards stole back. A 15-man Nippo patrol slipped towards us, with light mortars, machine guns, rifles. Heavy wool socks muffled their shoes.

Commanding Officer 1st Lieutenant Watson deployed rifle squads, ordered them to hold fire until close range. The twilight was silent. Over our rifles, we saw what seemed like many Nips. They seemed unable to find us. Several leaders grouped in consultation.

Our sudden rifle blast slammed down most of them; survivors dropped guns and scattered. At 1805, we had a man slightly wounded, maybe here. Only Pfcs Raymond G Straus and Roscoe P Meadows were recorded as slightly wounded on all of 18 June.

On 19 June, Pfc James P Sullivan was lightly wounded, other facts unknown. By 20 June, “K" was relieved for rest at the beach. Final action was on 17 July, probably mopping up at East Caves, with Staff Sergeant Woodrow W Martin and Pfc Anthony Svakursky lightly wounded.

"K" had fought efficiently on Biak. We had kept up our great tradition of die-hard combat on Roosevelt Ridge in 1943.

 

CREDIT: Core of this history is an eight-page single spaced typescript by Charles Brockman (undated) with a letter of 10 July 1981. Part of core also is report of K 162's Commanding Officer 1st Lieutenant Richard Watson found in "Lessons Learned 41st Infantry Division/162 Infantry Regiment, June- August 1944".  Also important are R.R. Smith's Return to the Philippines, with 162 Infantry's "Report of Operations 27 May - 19 Aug. 1944," and Casualty List. The first part of K 162's Biak history appeared in Jungleer for April 1983, entitled "First Two Days in Parai Defile."