G Company, 163 Infantry: The Deadly Patrols of 19 June 1944

by Dr. Hargis Westerfield, Division Historian


      These are sagas of G Company 163 Infantry's two heroic patrols of 19 June 1944 on Biak to probe the still unknown Jap defenses of Ibdi Pocket. Despite wounds and death, Lieutenants' Brandon and Kreiger's patrols each uncovered formidable Jap defenses.

I. Brandon's Patrol.
            About 0800 on 19 June, 1st Lieutenant Brandon's 28-man patrol from 2nd Platoon with two F Company guides probed north of Ibdi Pocket. We were to patrol inland from the coast over Old Man's trail to the east-west road which an earlier "G" patrol had reached unopposed. Then we were to turn south to fight Nips in the ridges who had repulsed a 15-man "F" patrol and wounded two "F" men to hospital the day before.

We optimists took five Headquarters explosives experts to blow up the pillboxes, if we saw any. We were unaware that the dark green Ibdi Pocket ridges concealed a major Nippo fortress - all of 1,000 men of 3rd Battalion 222 Infantry with field artillery.

On this dark rainy morning, we scouted slowly over Old Man's Trail, past rotting Nip corpses - over 800 yards and 10 ridges to the east-west road. Some 20-30 feet ahead, Sergeant Higgins scouted slowly and halted often while scout Pfc Kermit A Dulian and Staff Sergeant Otis B Belin covered him. Passing many empty Jap pillboxes before we reached the east-west road, we halted for Tech Sergeant Sahs to phone back to G's outpost. The rain stopped and sun came out as we scouted west down the quiet road.

After 400 yards, we found an old fire-lane through jungle down to our road. Then the phone went out. Higgins and Dulian were in the squad that found the wire clean-cut back where the trail crossed the road. The jungle around us was quiet, without a single bird-call. But we safety spliced the break.

Our reunited patrol scouted down-road to another trail- crossing. On this trail, F Company killed 10 Japs yesterday, but retreated with Pfcs Carlton E Campbell, David L Taapken, and Bernard E Schutt wounded. Here Corporal Wild took five men down the right fork of the trail 200 yards to where "F" had fought yesterday. He found no Japs.

But when Belin, Higgins, Dulian, Boyd, and Carr slipped up the road for 200 yards, we saw plenty of Jap signs.

Our phone died again. Tech Sergeant Sahs, with Staff Sergeants Belin, Jack Anderson wanted to cease the patrol. Brandon, however, ordered us to patrol the trail a short way into the ridges. Before moving out, we stopped to smoke. All was quiet, but the Japs must have been watching us. Belin, Higgins, and Dulian hated to start.

With Higgins at first scout, Dulian and Belin went into ridges over a winding trail, with thick jungle everywhere, and our patrol strung out behind. We moved towards a rugged ridge with perfect sniper hide-outs above us.

At a trail-bend, a 100-yard clearing sloped gradually up to high cliffs. Huge fallen trunks lay crossed and criss-crossed over the clearing, with coral outcrops everywhere. Just leftwards was a rough 10-foot ridge and a small gully about 10 feet wide.

At the clearing, Higgins started climbing over a huge stump, but Dulian stopped him. It seemed like too fine a place for ambush. Although unaware then, Dulian saved Higgins' life. They now saw many caves ahead.

            But Dulian still unwisely stood in the open below the clearing, and Belin came up to stand at Dulian' s left, looking over his shoulder. Realizing that F Company had lost men here, Belin started to turn back. The Dulian saw a shelter in a low spot at 50 yards, and pointed it out to Belin.

Belin said, "Come on, Higgins! We're going to get out of here - almost Belin's last words while he lived.

The low shelter ahead was a machine gun nest. Evidently a sniper thought that we had spotted them and that they could not kill any more men if they waited. With Belin at Dulian's shoulder, a sniper evidently planned to pick off both men at one shot. His bullet cut through Dulian's left elbow; Belin yelled as that same bullet slanted into his abdomen.

Dulian was 20 feet from cover. Thinking in desperate seconds, he decided to avoid the nearby gully, which might be bullet-swept. A coral outcrop seemed not to cover him fully when he flopped behind it. He moved back around Belin and hit the ground. He could now reach Belin's shoulder.

A hell of Jap fire plunged on Dulian. Three heavy machine guns, maybe six light machine guns and an entire rifle Company (Dulian thought) hissed slugs around his ears. The Japs had him spotted, all right; machine guns mowed brush all around him. Cracking bullets made his head ring. Knee mortars detonated but overshot. A few Jap grenades fell short.

            This fire-blast endured five minutes while Belin was dying. Dulian could not have saved him anyhow; the Jap bullet had torn him horribly. That same bullet had torn the flesh of Dulian's left arm apart and had bared his crazy bone. He lost maybe a pint of blood before he bandaged it.

Dulian kept peering around the outcrop to see that no Japs crept up on him and Higgins. Every time he looked out, bullets of two snipers were near misses.

Prone Higgins tried for a safer place. Crawling under a bullet-nicked log close to sharp coral that cut him, Higgins had to leave rifle and helmet. He found a safer place behind the great roots of a fallen tree to Dulian's left and a few feet behind him.

As Dulian again peered over the outcrop, a bullet hit a coral space before his eyes. Tired of taking Jap fire, Dulian passed Belin's rifle back to Higgins to help him. Dulian arced his rifle grenades at a Jap machine gun. It ceased fire, and he hoped that his grenades had silenced it.

            To save the lives of Dulian and Higgins, Brandon ordered Tech Sergeant Sahs to charge at rapid fire from the left with six riflemen, BARman Waliczek, and tommy-gunner Mesey.

Before their attack, Staff Sergeant Jack M Anderson and the rest of our patrol positioned on the low ridge behind the prone men. Admiring Dulian's control under fire, Montanan Anderson coolly reassured Dulian that we would save him and Higgins.

         Sahs' and Anderson's men opened up on the surprised Japs. Higgins with two rifles ran at a crouch towards the gully below Anderson. Dulian dragged 170-lb Belin after him, although Dulian weighed only 130 pounds. Almost at the gully, they heard Jap bullets behind them. One hit Belin in the thigh. After a pin-down of an hour and 35 minutes, both men escaped unhurt.

As we retreated, Dulian, despite his arm-wound, put five clips into the brush where the two snipers had shot at him. At a place where the wire had been cut, we phoned the news of Belin's death. Captain Braman had feared that our whole patrol was dead. For over the ridges, he had heard the heaviest Jap fire "G" would ever hear except at Wakde Beach.

Most important result of Brandon' s patrol was that it had revealed the need of massive action against the Ibdi Pocket Japs. Dulian's left arm was not shattered; he would fight again for G Company. But heroic Belin was lost forever - perhaps the best NCO G Company ever had. We still mourn for tall Texan Belin - laughing brown-eyed Belin with the Bohemian name.

 
II. Kreiger's Patrol.
            At 0830 19 June also, 2nd Lieutenant Allan H Kreiger's two squads of 3rd Platoon left G Company's main position on Ibdi flats to probe Jap defenses on the low, dark ridge a few hundred yards off. We were to pass through G's 1st Platoon already holding part of that ridge, and fight Japs on that same ridge westward.

            Hiking boredly in 2nd squad, I expected no fight - just another long, sweaty patrol. I might hear a few shots at the head of the column where the scouts would kill a few stragglers. Neither at Aitape nor Toem had I fired, or thrown a grenade. Next after me marched blond, mustached happy old-timer Arnold Johnson. This morning, he found that he was selected for rotation, but he was attached to 2nd squad for this patrol.

            Passing pitiful little coral pigpens where probably AT 162 had perimetered in early June, we climbed up a cliff to 1st Platoon's outpost. It lay damp under trees over ponchos on smooth bare rock. We turned west on the ridge across a stone wall guarded by an light machine gun.

            The ridge crooked north, climbed to a summit of boulders and tall trees. Path became a narrow shelf on the cliffside. Under a blue Aussie blanket lay AT 162's dead champion rifleman Jimmie Shields, brother of G Company's cook Jerry Shields. A little Jap still trim in his tight puttees hung head- down in vines over the cliff.

Wary scouts now moved our line of rifles only in short jerks. Our cliffside path died before a big black tree. Only on signal could we climb around it, a few at a time.

From above the tree, our squad's BARman Corporal Jim Wilson raised two fingers for two more men. Happily, I raised my finger for Pfc Arnold G Johnson. He followed me unsmiling.

            I climbed by tree-roots up the cliff, upon a stony bench maybe 15 yards wide. Some 30 yards forward, a 20-foot coral cliff barred my view. Leftwards, a low brushy ridge extended to the cross-cliff. Rightwards, was a dark canny on and another ridge. My squad was prone by their rifles watching that ridge. Wilson told me to move up before him to lie on guard - luckily three yards away from Johnson.

            Forward over the cross-cliff, I thought that I heard the pop of Kreiger's carbine. But the cliff muffled the sounds; I did not know that a fire-fight was going on. Suddenly, like pistol shots, many Jap grenades armed by hitting that cross-cliff over us. Rifles clanked; 3rd Platoon flattened. "Knee mortars!" yelled somebody.

Faced into stone and more scared than ever before in my life, I heard what seemed like a long silence. Then a Jap grenade burst close; bells rang in my right ear. I knew that it would hit me. I did not dare look for it among those stones to throw it away - feared to take the steel into my eyes. I tried to get my hips up under my helmet!

Pointed heat bit my left shoulder blade, needled my left hip. Johnson cried out and fell; his rifle thudded on the stone. I believe that the Japs were throwing at the BAR team. I heard later that Johnson stood up to run and the grenade hit him on the head. No more grenades came over. Up with rifle ready, I saw only brush and vacant cliff. Our squads had scurried off. Fearing to turn and run, I retreated slowly with ported rifle.

At the end of the little longitudinal ridge on the main ridge, scouts Clark and Karkoski knelt on guard. Johnson was blindly crawling in the open. "Get him out!" Karkowski ordered. Leaving the ridge's safety, I crawled back into the open bench - in the line of fire of a hidden pillbox. Johnson had a raw gouge in his left temple. "Don't ever leave me!" he said as I pulled him out.

            Sheltered by the ridge-end, I grasped Karkowski's grenade with the pin already pulled. While Clark and I guarded them, Karkowski deftly bandaged Johnson and took him on shoulders directly over the almost impassable ridge-crest. Closer to the big tree on the cliff, Clark escaped around it first. Left alone in the silence, I lobbed Karkowski's grenade onto the bench. Before it exploded, I was already gripping the roots of the big tree and climbing around it with both hands, my M-1 slung on my shoulder. Two answering grenades were clean misses. Clark waited to see me safe.

After we survivors were back in 1st Platoon's position with Medics working on our wounded, I tried to find out what happened forward of the cross-cliff. Kreiger's scouts first saw a dummy pillbox and three stacked rifles. Jap fire repelled this point from concealed positions. Tech Sergeant William J Harrison was shot in the right thigh; our retreat began; the Japs followed us with grenades or mortars.

Perhaps on our side of the cross-cliff, 2nd squad's Staff Sergeant Joseph W Murphy got cruel multiple grenade slashes in the front of his body, head to foot. Besides my minor wounds, grenades lightly wounded Pfc Edward Karkoski, Cpls James R Wilson and Leonard G Rettig, and 2nd Lieutenant Allan H Kreiger.

Bleeding Tech Sergeant Harrison had dashed for help through Kreiger's men. On security guard at 3rd Platoon's rear, Lefty Miller was knocked down by falling Harrison. As Miller helped him up to run for 1st Platoon's position, a Jap sniper's bullet hit the rock shelf where Miller had sat. G Company never knocked out that position beyond the cross-cliffs. Although they fully recovered, Harrison and Murphy never fought again. But Johnson died in hospital on 6 July, 19 days later. Thank God that we did not leave him to die alone or the way that the Japs might have killed him.

As for me, I had always wanted a Purple Heart the easy way. And as a volunteer into combat infantry, I had discovered what I still call "the magic of combat." But I'm still sad to remember the happy, fun-making Arnold Johnson I knew, and that I had to be the man who wrote to his mother afterwards.

 

CREDIT: Prime source for Brandon's patrol is a detailed 7-page typescript by Kermit Dulian. To fill out this history, I wrote up my own experience on patrol of the same date. Useful also were 163's Biak Journal and Casualty List. (From where he lay, Dulian could not see Higgins' bravery. Higgins crawled just below Jap automatic fire to drag out the body of Belin. At one depression, he had to crawl under a log with Belin and cut his own back. Over Higgins' head, 1st Lieutenant Brandon dueled with his BAR against the Jap who fired on Higgins.)