F Company 163 Infantry on Biak, I: Probing Ibdi Pocket b
by Staff Sergeant Ralph Marlow, with Dr. Hargis Westerfield, Division Historian

After F Company 163 Infantry helped storm Wakde Island and hold the Toem Foreshore for three weeks, we boarded an LST on 9 June 1944 to reinforce our 41st Division on Biak. So heavily loaded was our LST that we waited for high tide to lift us off the sand. While we were still in sight of Wakde across the darkening sea, an air raid alert sounded. We blacked out the ship, but "All Clear!" soon let us light up again.

All day on 10-11 June, "F" sailed west towards Biak with our other 2nd Battalion 163 Companies and attached outfits. Convoy consisted of 10 LSTs slowly pushing the waves at 8 knots per hour. On our crowded LST, men slept under trucks. The chow-line circled the entire deck. Our food was tasteless, concentrated, dehydrated.

Staff Sergeant Marlow, F's Communications Sergeant, never forgot the wondrous tray of food that a sailor brought to him. The sailor refused any pay and apologized for the leftovers, but Marlow rejoiced in fresh bread, fresh mashed potatoes and vegetables, spiced ham, and fruit salad. It tasted marvelous!

Towards dusk 11 June, F Company sighted Biak, but our ship's officers would not land. Because of Jap air threats, they never docked over eight hours at a time. All night we cruised in circles and waited for daylight.

When F Company landed on 12 June, 1st Lieutenant Overby and Commanding Sergeant Marlow were the advance party to find our assembly ground. Biak was a rocky shore of brush and coral chunks rising to a high stony ridge heavily jungle with here and there columns of tall white trees. Just to our left on the shore, long anti-aircraft guns pointed at that ridge, with Nippo flags stenciled in red on them for the planes that they had shot down. Marlow heard the blasts of heavy guns where a destroyer shelled the high ridge close inshore to the west.

Soon after "F" grouped and dropped packs, the air alert sounded. Running for cover, we saw destroyers shoot red anti-aircraft tracers far out at sea where three Jap bombers were diving on ships. Twice we heard loud explosions. Geysers rose from the water from near misses on our destroyers. A Jap bomber fell from the sky in a ball of flame. As we cheered, a second bomber burned in the sky. But huge columns of smoke lifted from a hit on Destroyer Kalk. Then a third Nippo plane flamed, bounced over the waves, and sank. But that one bomb on Destroyer Kalk had exploded torpedoes on the deck, which exploded torpedoes in turn damaged forward engines and boilers. Fires were put out, but 30 sailors were killed, 40 wounded. Crippled Kalk had to be towed to Hollandia for repairs.

About 0900, trucks carried F Company about five miles west and unloaded us by several field artillery batteries. The gunners were delighted, for they had no infantry protection. At noon, field artillery cooks gladly fed us.

In a little coconut grove, "F" spent hours digging in and putting up shelters against rain, but we had to move again. After trucking about four miles west, we had to get out and hike because the rocks would wreck the trucks.

At the base of a 300-foot cliff covered with dense brush, we came to a cool clear stream flowing from the solid rock of the cliff. Here were the ruins of a bridge that the Japs had destroyed - but no Japs. We were now in that Parai Defile that had long held up 162 Infantry. But that very 12 June, 162's AT Company and C Company had pinched out the remaining Japs, The last 162 men had already marched through to join their regiment, which was already fighting to secure Mokmer Strip.

F's 1st Lieutenant Rottman (our Commanding Officer) outposted 2nd Lieutenant Houser's 2nd Platoon 400 yards west across the stream from the cliff, and placed our main perimeter 100 yards east of the stream. Crossing to lay wire to Houser's Platoon, Staff Sergeant Marlow and Corporal Mueller saw men of 116 Engineers building a temporary bridge. Marlow and Mueller saw three American corpses of men who had died probably when Parai Defile was opened that day.

By 14 June, the Parai Bridge was fully repaired. Bulldozers were widening the road from Bosnek Jetties to Mokmer Strip, and a steady stream of traffic was passing in both directions. Our offensive to secure the Strip was well supplied.

And F's assignment in Parai Defile was completed, except for Lieutenant Houser's outpost west of the stream a few days more. We moved 300 yards eastward on the inland side of the road and positioned against the dark ridges concealing Ibdi Pocket, about whose Japs and their locations we knew almost nothing.

We knew only the positions of our 2nd Battalion's rifle companies. The day that 2nd Battalion landed, E Company pushed west through Parai Defile to guard the road from the Japs' East Caves garrison. East of us at Ibdi, G Company had found Old Man's trail to penetrate the ridges and turn west to find the Jap lines. And our F Company lay between "E" and "G" at the cliff base to fight the Japs who might slip down defiles from the ridges to block the road.

On 14 June, F Company began to reconnoiter the coral cliffs above us. Sergeant Reeves' recon patrol climbed a short way overhead, but soon Marlow back at Headquarters heard the Sergeant's low voice on the phone. They had found two Japs guarding the cliff path. Reeves' patrol was ordered to withdraw.

At dusk came the vicious blasts of two Jap .75s down from the ridges - although other reports said three guns fired. They shelled E Company and 2nd Battalion Headquarters but did not strike at us. 

Next morning, Sergeant Reeves led an eight-man patrol into the ridges behind 2nd Battalion Headquarters to find the Nippo guns. Penetrating a no-man's-land high in the sky below dark shadows from tall trees or steep ridges, they were suddenly cut off from the phone. Dreading an ambush, they slipped back to safety. When flown over the dark ridges later, Reeves could not even see his route through that dense jungle. We never found the guns. On 18 June, two "F" patrols went out. Tech Sergeant Brent took the same route which Reeves had used yesterday to find the Jap gun. And Reeves had his third patrol in three days.

Reeves sought for another route up the cliffs behind our perimeter. A few minutes later, he phoned down that they had found a possible upward route, about 200 yards east of "F."

After an hour and a half of silence from the phone, rapid rifle fire and grenade blasts sounded above us from the ridges. Reeves phoned, "We shot two Japs and will continue on." Just a few minutes later, came more rapid rifle fire and more roars of grenades.

On the first ridge, Reeves' men had discovered a good east-west trail. Two Jap came down from the east. Although both were unarmed, we had to kill them - then a third coming from the west. We feared that they would run and bring down the other Jap on us. Then four more armed Japs carne from the north, and we killed them. We were so close to the Nips that we smelled their food cooking.

A few minutes later, Japs attacked us up a cliff from the north. We could even hear their superiors giving orders. They threw in plenty of grenades and shells from mortars. Reeves' patrol had to withdraw.

Meanwhile, 1st Lieutenant Rottman ordered Marlow to take a message and follow the wire to Reeves. With Hernandez, Marlow went as far as the cliff base and started to connect his phone to the wire. Marlow knew better than to climb into an attack of grenade-slinging Japs.

Seconds later, loose rocks crashed down near Marlow and Hernandez. Bleeding, grim-faced men of Reeves' patrol warned Marlow and Hernandez to get out. Reeves' men said that Japs on the sides of the ravine had tossed grenades down on them; they could only retreat without even firing.

Marlow saw Ellwood's BAR open up while the riflemen crawled off under Jap fire. Then they rose up with M-1s to cover Ellwood's retreat. Ellwood's helmet toppled off. When he picked it up, Nippo bullets shot it from his hands.

F lost three wounded to hospital in this skirmish. Fragments seriously wounded Pfcs David L. Taapken in left hand, Bernard E. Schutt in right hand and knee, and Carlton E. Campbell in left leg. Reeves' men claimed 14-15 dead Jap, and six probables.

In the ridge-jungle behind 2nd Battalion Headquarters, Tech Sergeant Brant's patrol had followed the wire past where Reeves had halted yesterday - and deeper still into the brush. Heavy machine gun and rifle fire stopped them, but with no casualties. They claimed eight dead Jap, and two probable - but could never find that Jap .75 cannon.

Only a week after our Biak landing, "F" was down to 110 men. When 2nd Battalion Commanding Officer Major Irving phoned to ask why 19 of us were on sick-call that morning, Lieutenant Rottman replied that we had dysentery and strained backs and legs. When Irving ordered Rottman to inspect each of our 19 men personally, Rottman tactfully replied that he was no member of the medical profession.

Later that 19 June, F Company had orders to find a better approach to getting at the Japs. We were to bypass them west of us and cross over the ten coral ridges north of the beach. Then we could patrol down from the northeast and try to find an easier entry into their positions.

On 20 June, we straggled under heavy equipment to the north side of the coral ridges. Trees were much smaller here, and the brush less dense. Soil was still so rocky that we could not dig in. We heaped up little pigpens of coral around the ponchos we slept on, with flotation bladders for pillows.

On 21 June, "F" hiked along a narrow footpath towards the high cliffs of the northeast corner of Jap country. After 600 yards, we turned left through high brush. Suddenly we came to a ghastly white area of solid rock darkened by branches of great trees growing from that rock. Over this rock were scattered large, jagged boulders, among craters 20-30 feet deep. Visibility was 75-100 yards. Cliffs stood up about 100 yards ahead.

Rottman advanced 3rd Platoon to climb the cliff before us. At wide intervals, 3rd Platoon began the laborious ascent until thick foliage hid them from the rest of "F" waiting below.

Suddenly volleys of Jap machine gun fire cracked down from the cliff-tops all around us. From that fire, 3rd Platoon's men rolled back down the cliff. Pursuing Jap riflemen fired down on us. A stampede of F Company almost began.

Lieutenant Rottman shouted to "F" to stand fast. Giant trees on the coral flat concealed us from aimed Jap rifles, but bullets whined into trees and coral around us. Pvt Charles H. Walter was missing in action up there, to be found dead later. Sergeant Orrin L. Grilley bled from a wound in back or right thigh, but refused to be carried.

Now withdrawn about 100 yards to where we could hold, F Company learned exactly what happened when 3rd Platoon topped the cliff. From the next cliff and high ground came the Nips' fire-blast. Walter fell forward dead, and 3rd Platoon jumped down the cliff to save themselves. Jap fire was corning from three sides.

Now Lieutenant Colonel Rankin phoned F Company to shoot a flare to orient his mortar batteries down on the Jap. But Rankins' mortars fell short; his first two mortar rounds bracketed us. When "F" fled our own mortars 200 yards east, Rankin requested another flare. This time, our own flare brought down the Jap mortars on us. One Jap shell struck a tree almost overhead, but hit the ground among us without exploding. In confusion, "F" raced east again. Returned to last night's perimeter, we heard our field artillery fire battering the Japs, It was the most intense field artillery we had ever heard, but it failed to dislodge the Japs from Ibdi Pocket. They were the entire 3rd Battalion 222 Infantry reinforced, about 1,000 men.

On 21 June, F Company failed to storm Ibdi Pocket, and we did not then realize that our recon in force was important in the final destruction of the Japs. While we fought, a heavy machine gun from D or H Company fired for us from high ground over our heads. Evidently the Jap thought that an all-out storm-force was attacking. They opened up all along their positions on the high ground to the south of us. From the volume of fire, 163's Executive officer decided that we were facing an entire battalion. It would take more than F Company to clean them out. The real Battle of Ibdi Pocket had begun.

Such were F 163's first nine days on Biak - 12-21 June 1944. Landing when three Jap bombers dived on Destroyer Kalk and seriously damaged her, we endured a war of nerves while we guarded Parai Defile. In two bitter skirmishes, we felt out the Jap with one of ours killed, four wounded to hospital - and some 23 dead Japs. Such was our start of the Battle of Biak.

 

CREDIT. Essential part of this history is Staff Sergeant Ralph Marlow's detailed handwritten manuscript of 10 pages from a total of 83 pages about F 163 on Biak, backed by 163 Infantry's Biak Casualty List and Journal. Other sources are Volume VIII, "New Guinea and the Marianas," in Samuel Eliot Morison's great History of US Naval Operations in World War II, and Lieutenant-General Robert Eichelberger's report of trouble-shooting on Biak. This report is in Chapter VI, "The Ridge Pockets," from Corps History of the Biak Operation, 15·27 June 1944. The second history of F 163 on Biak will appear later.