F Company 163 Infantry II: Fighting the Ibdi Pocket Cliffs
By Staff Sergeant Ralph Marlow and Dr. Hargis Westerfield, Division Historian

After F Company 163 Infantry had made two reconnaisances in force against the Japs' 3rd Battalion 222 Infantry entrenched in Ibdi Pocket, we regrouped south of the Pocket on Bosnek Road. We probed again for a ravine to climb to fight those 1,000 Japs in their low deadly dark-green jungle ridges.

At 0800 24 June, Sergeant Reeves' patrol nosed along the cliff base and began to climb the first ridge. After an hour's wait at headquarters below, rifles cracked and grenades blasted. Reeves phoned that they had slain two Nips. But grenades were showering the patrol. Later, we heard that they killed another Jap, while one escaped. Commanding Officer 1st Lieutenant Rottman at once ordered Reeves' return. BARman Ellwood covered retreat. We had no casualties.

After 11 days on Biak, "F" had only 100 men remaining. We had one killed, three wounded, but mainly dysentery had depleted us. Morale was low; we faced ridges like stone walls.

On Sunday 25 June, Major Irving ordered us to find another trail into the ridges. Sergeant Myslinski's patrol found a ravine seeming to lead to the top of the first ridge.

So on 26 June, "F" planned to push up the ravine in Platoon columns and storm Ibdi Pocket. On that 26 June, A and B Companies would attack from the west, with "C" supporting. G Company would strike on the east, and F Company would drive up from the south.

Early 26 June, F's 1st Platoon began climbing up' the jagged coral cliff. Progress was slow, sweaty. We had to hang on to trees to keep from backsliding. With ready guns, our scouts advanced warily a few yards at a time.

A beautiful white Biak cockatoo perched peacefully on a branch overhead. We wished that we too had wings and could fly away.

After two hours, Comm Sergeant Marlow in Headquarters Platoon could see the flats far below. He knew that our 1st Platoon had neared the top. When 1st Platoon topped the summit, all F Company would follow and turn left to strike where reports were that the Jap lines blocked the way.

About 1010, a single rifle shot, then several more cracked from near the ridge-top. Our 1st Platoon was down under Jap bullets that rang on the splintering coral sides of the ravine. Twenty yards above them, Rottman and Marlow in Headquarters glimpsed 1st Platoon’s riflemen prone in coral. Major Irving phoned to Rottman to reach that summit at all costs.

A Jap grenade thudded dully above. In the small seconds before the explosion, all men flattened against the ravine sides. From smoke and dust, Staff Sergeant Krull stumbled down bloody on back and arms. He had rolled away from the grenade, but multiple steel fragments had penetrated back, face, left arm, and right hand.

Although 1st Platoon could not move without drawing fire, Major Irving again phoned to advance F Company. Rottman ordered 2nd Lieutenant Houser's 2nd Platoon to advance east of the ravine, if at all possible.

At 1st Platoon's rear, Houser's men climbed a series of boulders like stairs. Inch by inch on smoother rock and flat on their stomachs, they disappeared from view into the silent brush on the summit.

After 30 minutes' silence, rapid Jap rifle fire crackled into Houser's Platoon. They sounded like caps detonating in July fireworks back home. Our M-1's return fire sounded duller.

Lieutenant Houser phoned down that Chyboski and Cowan were badly wounded. Unable to get to Chyboski, they asked for immediate aid to bring down Cowan.

Lieutenant Rottman phoned to Major Irving that "F" could not advance farther without great losses. Rottman said that Houser's 2nd Platoon was flat on the ground and could not even see where the Nips were firing from. Irving ordered Rottman to send in our last Platoon.

Although Rottman seemed calm and cool leaning against a tree by the phone, Marlow thought that he saw pain on Rottman's face. After a few minutes, Rottman ordered a runner to forward 3rd Platoon into combat.

When 3rd Platoon moved up, a Jap volley halted them. From near Rottman, Tech Sergeant Floyd Smith phoned down to our 60 mm mortars to range in on the Japs. But we could observe by sound only, and had to cease.

Dr. Holcombe arrived, and crawled up over a 15-foot ledge to try to save Pfc Norbert R. Chyboski and Pfc William B Cowan, while two litter squads waited below. An hour and a half later, Holcombe slid back down over the ledge, and told the bearers to carry out our two casualties. Chyboski was already dead, but plasma kept Cowan alive.

Crawling flat, our Medics brought Chyboski down, dead from a bullet in the forehead. Marlow wired Chyboski to the stretcher to keep him from rolling out when they carried him down the steep ridge.

Cowan was still alive, after grenade fragments.in chest and stomach. It took eight men just to lift him down the ledge, for we could not wire him to the stretcher without pressing the steel deeper into his wounds. Cowan would die tomorrow.      

The Japs fired occasional bursts to keep our Platoons down. Staff Sergeant Oliphint crawled back and reported the death of Regular Army Staff Sergeant Edmund Williams - shot square through the heart when he exposed himself to locate a Jap sniper. Texan Compton crawled up and took Williams' watch but said that the body could not be moved without endangering others. (Compton would be killed later.)

Major Irving wanted "F" to set up defenses where we were, but Regimental Headquarters ordered immediate withdrawal. Marlow saw Rottman beam with relief.

While Tech Sergeant Mills' 1st Platoon covered the others with rifle fire, they slipped back down. Our 2nd Platoon was down under Nippo threats from higher ground, but they had only a few yards to slide down to safety.

While 3rd Platoon withdrew, we heard a nearby rifle-shot then a body rolling down the steep slope towards us then an exchange of more shots above. A small tree stopped the body; Marlow rushed out to find 3rd Platoon's Staley, still alive, with just a few cuts and bruises.

As Staley had risen to retreat, a Jap only a few feet away fired and struck Staley's canteen. The bullet spun Staley around to roll 40 feet. Sergeant Hutchison killed that Jap. But Staley's name never appeared on the casualty list.

With better cover, 1st Platoon now slowly left the ravine. Back in F's perimeter, the cooks had coffee and hot cereal, for we had not eaten since early morning.

Then "F" got bad news. On 28 June, we were to attack Ibdi Pocket again, in a different direction. Back on the inland side of the Pocket, we were to contact G Company already facing the death-ridges. With "G" on left flank, we were to try to flank and overrun pillboxes that had stopped "G" on 26 June. Bad news also was that Cowan had died of yesterday's wounds.

Yet F Company got one good laugh. That night of 26 June in semi-dark, a lone Jap ran down the road past our holes. First guard who saw him could not fire because a parked jeep blocked off the Jap. When Jap ran past other holes, it was too late to fire. It made us somehow happy that a Jap had escaped alive.

Leaving our mortars back at Ibdi with G's mortars, we entrucked to 2nd Battalion Headquarters on 27 June, then hiked over the ridges again. Now we were close to where Charles H Walter died on 21 June. About 200 yards from the Jap ridges, we perimetered atop the rocks behind little walls of coral. All night, field artillery shells splintered among rocks; fragments ripped tree-tops overhead. Trying to crawl up under our helmets for protection, we chilled in a heavy soaking rain before daylight.

At 0800 28 June, field artillery ceased fire. With Tech Sergeant Mills' 1st Platoon leading, "F" scouted slowly towards the Jap pill- boxes to the SE. On a knoll, Mills' scouts halted for 1st Platoon to come up.

As 1st Platoon topped the knoll, many Jap machine guns crackled like rattlesnakes. F Company flattened in brief confusion. Crawling up over a 5-foot ledge in the rear, 1st Lieutenant Rottman learned from Tech Sergeant Mills that 1st Platoon’s right flank was under cover, but that our left flank was unprotected. Rottman called for 2nd Lieutenant Houser to come up to discuss committing his 2nd Platoon.

A Jap grenade thudded too close. Jumping into a big hole, Sergeant Marlow heard the explosion. Houser jumped in beside Marlow and said that Rottman was hurt badly and asked for Executive 1st Lieutenant Overby to come up. With bloody face and shoulder, Rottman ran back, his jaw so impacted that he could only mumble.

Major Irving directed our new Commanding Officer Overby to have a 1st Platoon man up front to mark the Japs' positions with a smoke grenade. Our mortars registered on the smoke, and F got retreat orders.

Our smoke grenade gave away our position. Before, we took just a stray Jap shot or so, but now lead from countless Jap machine guns arced over our whole Company area.

Sergeant Reeves of advanced 1st Platoon ran unhurt past Compton, but a slug pierced Compton's left hip - to finally kill him. One bullet shattered Tucci's left arm; another bullet tore his thumb completely from his right hand.

An “F" superior ordered Marlow to phone for two stretchers, but Major Irving reprimanded Marlow. Despite Marlow's description of the wounds, Irving said that only Medics could call for stretchers. These wounded men would have to walk. Volunteers carried Tucci in shock back to our perimeter, with Pfc Howard E. Compton complaining of stomach pains. Then Medics' litters bore them back to the aid station.

Returned to our stony perimeter, we remaining "F" men had wonderful food. We 42 men each had five doughnuts from an unknown unit south of the ridges.

"F" had shrunk to 42 men, mainly because of dysentery. We could not dig latrines in our rock, but had to use crevices in the coral. But on 30 June, a bulldozer made us a road and heaped off the rocks so that we could dig for field sanitation. Our kitchen crew trucked in to set up for hot meals. Morale also went up when we had a mail call.

Luckily, the Japs did not attack - shelled us just once, but totally missed our perimeter. Lieutenant Colonel Rankin told us that the diary of a dead Nippo Sergeant Major said that our field artillery was causing many casualties, and that the Japs were running out of ammo. Maybe our field artillery and their lack of ammo saved us from Jap raids.

Heavy shellfire still sliced the air overhead against Ibdi Pocket to keep us from sleeping. Our muscles twitched as we waited for shells to impact and feared that they would hit us. On 2 July, Medics brought G Company's dead Schmidt to wait near us for a truck to the graveyard.

On that same 2 July, Staff Sergeant Dunlap's patrol crept to within bazooka range of a Jap pillbox without being seen. Next morning, Sergeant Reeves took a bazooka team that hit the box four times. We saw no Japs in that shattered emplacement.

And that night of 3 July, F Company had orders to take 18 men to try to penetrate Ibdi Pocket near that demolished pillbox. While 1st Lieutenant Overby planned the patrol that night, the phone rang again. Orders were that F Company with all 2nd Battalion were to raise the siege of Ibdi Pocket. On ·4 July, we left forever that filthy little perimeter of stones.

Our Compton, however, was slowly dying in hospital. The bullet in his left hip had shattered the bone, but deflected upwards. Stomach was holed 18 times, and bladder twice. Although sent home, Compton died a few days later.

Unforgettable was F Company's night of 4 July when free of Ibdi Pocket. Instead of lying on guard in coral pigpens we 40-odd men slept above ground again as God meant us to. At 163 Headquarters, we blissfully sprawled in hammocks lent by AT Company men who were out on listening posts. Instead of being awakened to clutch a grenade in the blackness in a soaking rain, we looked out in the moonlight and talked in natural tones.

F Company never fought in Ibdi Pocket again, nor any other 1st Battalion and 2nd Battalion Companies. On 10 July, 3rd Battalion took up the Pocket siege and pressed the Japs until 22 July when B-24 500-lb bombs silenced the Pocket forever.

Later, "F" learned how incredibly lucky we were not to attack Ibdi Pocket again. Centering the Pocket at a high point of 180 feet were four large caves. One could have held several hundred men. Ringing the four large caves were 17 smaller connected caves.

Circling the 17 caves were 75 four-man pillboxes of logs and coral. Outside this central core of pillboxes were some 200 hastily constructed pillboxes.

Originally, 800 men of Japan’s 3rd Battalion 222 Infantry with 200 attached men had garrisoned this rectangle of 400 by 600 yards. Minimum heavy armament was three 75 guns, eight 90 mm mortars, two 37 mm guns, two 20 mm guns, three heavy machine guns, numerous light machine guns, and at least 100 rifles. Our field artillery and Air Force had shattered many more weapons, or our Engineers had sealed them into caves. And the 1,000-man garrison was gone, dead or in flight before the bombing.

Without the Air Force, 163 Infantry would have been shattered attacking Ibdi Pocket. As for F Company, we were lucky that we had to attack where the cliffs made it impossible to go farther. On easier terrain, A Company lost 12 killed, and G Company lost 10. "F" was lucky indeed to have just five too many men to lament for: Walter, Chyboski, Williams, Cowan, and Compton.

 

CREDIT: This is our second story of G 163 on Biak; the first story described F Company in Parai Defile security guard, and in probing the Ibdi Cliffs. Essential part of this history before you is another 11 pages of a total of 83 pages from SISergeant Ralph Marlow's detailed hand-written manuscript about Biak. Backing comes from 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. The Eichelberger report is in Ch VI, "The Ridge Pockets," from I Corps' History of the Biak Operation, 15-27 June 1944.