167 Field Artillery on Biak: Firing For 186 Infantry and 24 Division
by Dr. Hargis Westerfield, Division Historian and 1st Lieutenant William B. Morse, 167 Field Artillery

             On 18 June 1944, 167 Field Artillery Battalion landed our 105 mm guns on Biak. From 17 May through 15 June, we had fired for 163 Infantry and other units afterwards in the Toem-Wakde-Maffin Bay Operation. On LST 181 which took us to Biak, we had manned the craft's .50 caliber heavy machine guns against Jap air attacks — which never came. As was his way for all landings, Colonel Beach had wisely waterproofed all gear, although told that he would not need to waterproof for Biak. (He was fooled on other occasions.)

            He was short of tractors; he needed 18, but had just 13. Yet by 1435, our guns were emplaced near Mokmer Drome. Before dark, Batteries B and C registered on a base point and fired all night. Only named casualties of 167's Biak Operation were four on that 18 June. About 1st Lieutenant O'Laughhn and T/5 Lieblong, we know only that they were wounded. T/5 Siegfried had a hand wound about which we know nothing more.

            1st Lieutenant Kobliska had an unusual "wound." Assigned to sweep about half a mile of the second ridge ahead with light fire, he tried to climb a tree on the first ridge to observe. For his first time, he used lineman's irons. He moved his knees too close to the trunk, fell 20 feet, and sprained an ankle. Kobliska tried to refuse a purple heart, but could not avoid the medal.

            That evening, a sniper zeroed in on the forward observer team of 1st Lieutenant Morse. Four Jap rounds whistled too close to Morse's ear. The team dug in prone. Then the sniper moved his fire 100 yards to Battalion aide station and made some stomach hits on men not named. (A Journal page is missing.) When we spotted him on a high coral ridge, several thousand rounds of machine gun fire silenced him.

            Next morning, we had orders for direct support of 186 Infantry, that strategic day of 19 June. This was when 186 Infantry was to cut off the Jap's West Caves from the rear. Our 186 Infantry was to seize the first long, narrow, steep rise of the 100-foot ridge northwest of West Caves. Holding that ridge, 186 Infantry would cut off the Jap's main supply route and reinforcements from north Biak.

            The newly arrived 34 Infantry (24 Div) would secure 186 Infantry's left flank for the attack. Probably the night before 186 attacked, 34 Infantry's Commanding Officer called on 1st Lieutenant Morse. This CO had learned that 167 Field Artillery had excellent overlapping air photos of the terrain. This CO began questioning Morse — not his own 34 Infantry officers. And Morse found that he was actually himself planning next day's Regimental attack.

            Morse was scared that something would go wrong and the 41st Division Artillery would fault him. But the plan worked. With observers attached to 186's E and F Cos, 167 Field Artillery fired 10 minutes' preparation up to 1030. Then we shot seven concentrations. With just a few casualties, 186 Infantry had taken the ridge and cut off West Caves, the Jap's last Biak strongpoint.

            Now 34 Infantry had orders to capture Boroko and Sorido Strips. These two Strips lay about 2.5 miles west of already captured Mokmer Strip. The Japs had used Boroko Strip only slightly. Probably main Jap opposi­tion would come from 500 men of 219 Infantry, 35 Division called "Nishihara Force," these men had recently landed during the Jap Navy's abortive plans to reinforce Biak.

            About 0830 on 20 June, 167 Field Artillery observers with 34 Infantry pushed from the beach to a low coral ridge about 2,000 yards inland. Resistance was only a little sniper fire. By 1600, 167 Field Artillery had forwarded our guns to new positions. We set up a Fire Directions Center, and Battery C adjusted fire on Korim Track to the north. We shelled 500 yard intervals down 3rd Battalion 34 Infantry's front.

            Beginning that night at 1900, A and C Batteries fired harassing shells on Korim Track all night. After battling Jap raiders back at Toem, 167 Field Artillery took no chances! Besides keeping normal field artillery perimeter de­fense with machine-gunners and riflemen, we kept an observation line 150 yards into the jungle on front and flanks.

            And in the first three days, recon patrols searched ground before our observation line. We found no Japs. On 21 June while 34 Infantry patrolled and consolidated, all 167's Batteries fired concentrations on Japs on Korim Track. Battery B fired 2 concentrations on a Jap strongpoint and a small warehouse.       Liaison parties now were at all Battalion Headquarters of 34 Infantry, and forward observer parties with A, F, G, and I Cos. On the morn of 22 June our Cub Pilot 1st Lieutenant Van Dyke with observer Captain Ramstead sighted a Jap Battery of undiscerned caliber. One long barrel pointed towards Mokmer Strip, and a second barrel towards Sorido Strip. Other two guns pointed south to the beach. Eight Japs were in the gun-pit to fire on Mokmer Strip.

            By 1220, Battery A began firing for effect on the Nippo Battery, then Batteries B and C — with another unnamed Field Artillery Battalion also concentrating. Van Dyke reported all our Batteries 75 per cent effective.

            At 1815, Battery A fired a precision adjustment against No. 3 piece. A's direct hit on the gun exploded nearby ammo. "A" dropped a shell into No. 1 pit and damaged the gun there. Then a direct smashed No. 2 gun. (But when Van Dyke landed, his plane cracked up against a phone wire accidently strung across the field. Van Dyke and Ramstead were unhurt, and the plane repairable.)

            After West Caves resistance ended, 186 Infantry with other 41sters still had to fight Japs holding ridges above West Caves. Our decimated 41st Division badly needed 167 Field Artillery with fresher 34 Infantry. First Battalion of 34 Infantry led 2nd Battalion eastward into the ridges, with 167 Field Artillery observers. Penetrating into the tangled coral ridge jungle, 1st Battalion 34 Infantry (less C Company) occupied old Jap positions on the "Finger — a long, narrow ridge running northwest from the "Teardrop." (The "Teardrop" was a box canyon from which 200 well-armed Japs had previously slipped off between 186 Infantry and 3rd Battalion 163.)

            Most 1st Battalion men easily occupied the Finger, but "C" had trouble. Ordered to take a different route north of the Finger, C hit a Jap ambush of unknown strength and was repelled south. "C" could not rejoin 1st Battalion until the next day.

            On 27 June, 167 Field Artillery fired for 1st Battalion scouting north and east into the ridges to feel out Jap lines. At 1100, a Jap position was spotted. Battery B covered it with bracket fire. At 1245, 2 Jap machine guns were observed about 3,000 yards from our Field Artillery basepoint east of Korim Track. A Battalion concentration of shells hit there, but they were well dug in. We had to shoot more concentrations that day, and harassing fire that night.

            Meanwhile, 1st Battalion's patrols north of the Teardrop area brought information that caused officers to fear that more Jap trouble was coming. From their coral cliff strongholds north of 1st Battalion, they might be preparing for a die-hard stand — or a suicidal counter-attack.

            So General Doe ordered 34 Infantry's two battalions to attack on both flanks of this cliff area and clear it. While 2nd Battalion pushed from southwest and west, 1st Battalion would push from the southeast.

            At 0700 28 June, F and G Companies patrolled east along a ridge to try to contact A and B Companies expected from the southeast. They found 11 dead Japs in a probable hospital area, then brushed aside a little Jap patrol and wounded some of them.

            At 0930, Japs attacked with mortars, A machine gun, and small arms. The Japs slew one Yank, wounded two more, and caused four to be temporarily missing in action. Fearing to strike our own Infantry, 167's gunners dared not shell. Although con­tinuing to advance, both F and G encountered repeated sniper fire. They finally dropped back to a ridge to dig in.

            During that day fight of 28 June, 2nd Battalion's E Company was useless. In those confusing twisted jungle ridges, they had been guided into the wrong positions — could not fight that day. On that 28 June also, 1st Battalion pushed — but had almost no resistance, except late in the day in A Company. Advancing between 1st Battalion and their 2nd Battalion, A Company saw no Japs during most of the day. About 1600, they unwisely chose to set up on a bare coral knoll about 50 by 85 feet in area.

            When A was trying to dig in, an unknown number of Japs lashed out at them. Knee mortars impacted on the bare knoll; machine guns rowelled it. Came then riflemen with long bayonets. Green A Company pulled out too fast; in fact, then turned and ran!

            Our 167 Field Artillery observer party had to leave also. Lieutenant Flory and his men hid a No. 610 radio in the brush at the foot of the knob. They held together and helped save A Company from the useless casualties that happen when men turn their backs and run. (Flory was not a regular 167 Field Artillery officer. He was one of several officers attached from probably 6 Division for combat experience. Like some other attached officers, he liked 167 Field Artillery enough to want to transfer into us, but this was not allowed.)

            With 167's Corporal Wieland, he helped save a wounded A man. With some stubborn A Company men, they organized a rear guard — carried off rifles and protected the wounded men. They rejoined A Company safe in last night's perimeter. Losses were four killed, three wounded, and two missing.

            After a night of our harassing shellfire and a heavier morning preparation, C Company on 29 June probed into the ground A had fled from. "C" had only a little resistance.

            Main fight of 29 June, however, was on the 2nd Battalion fronts. Today, our guns were prevented from firing until 1130. It was hard to adjust accurate shellfire into that vague, scrubby jungle of low ridges. We had to avoid hitting nearby infantry. But F and G did manage to advance 100 yards farther than yesterday.

            F Company kept probing for the end of the Jap's left flank until about 1500 hours, when a platoon worked itself around the end of that flank. A bloody fight began. The 34th Infantry's 2nd Battalion had nine killed, 15-20 wounded, and some four missing — although two of those missing evidently turned up that night. Since 2nd Battalion had to halt in a poor defensive position, they withdrew 150 yards — 50 behind yester­day's position, and dug in. Our 105s covered their withdrawal. (Not until 6 days later did 186 Infantry recover 28 June. It had lain hidden in the brush all the time.)

            On 30 June, 2nd Battalion's patrols found two of the "G" men missing in action since yesterday. For half the night, they had secreted themselves in caves inside the Jap area. They credited 167's night shellfire for keeping the Japs under cover until their escape back into our lines. The rest of 34 Infantry's last day of combat on Biak was limited to recon patrols, evacuation of wounded, and recovery of corpses. For 34 Infantry had orders to assemble on the beach on call to embark for the Noemfor Island Operation farther west off the head of New Guinea.

            While 34 Infantry withdrew to the beach, 167 Field Artillery fired concentrations to secure from Nippo pursuit. By 2330, all outfits had retreated without further casualties. Report of 2nd Battalion was that F Company had killed 100 Japs, G had killed 33. And 167 Field Artillery had credit for slaying 66 more that day.

            On the morn of 1 July, a Division Artillery concentration was hurled down on the Japs to keep them from realizing the departure of 34 Infantry. Later, 167 Field Artillery learned that we had slain 34 more Japs. And later, 167 Field Artillery was reassigned to directly support 186 Infantry again. We now fired to help mop up, but our real Battle of Biak was over.

            We have one nauseous memory of green 34 Infantry on Biak. Over a period of several days after they left, flies began buzzing over 167's positions. They became a serious health hazard — a frightful pest, (while you were eating from a mess gear with one hand and fighting them off with the other, did you ever have a New Guinea fly dive down your throat and into your stomach and STAY there?) Searching the vacated 34 Infantry area, our surgeon and Medics found open garbage pits and a dead pig covered with flies. It took a long time to get rid of those flies. We complained through channels, and an unverified rumor says that the 34 Infantry Commanding Officer was relieved.

            Actually, the 34 Infantry were good guys, but a typical green unblooded Infantry Regiment. After Biak, they fought well in the Philippines; we Field Artillery men surely helped train them. As for 167 Field Artillery, our harder battle down at Toem had already turned us into a Battalion of seasoned veterans.

 

CREDIT. First, I thank Bill Morse for his personal memories of 167 Field Artillery, in a 2.5 page single-spaced typescript of 18 Feb 1986. Most useful was and 8-page single-spaced typescript entitled "Unit History of 167 Field Artillery Battalion/Biak Island Campaign," with an "Introduction" about leaving Toem, and a list of four purple hearts. Useful also was Lt-Colonel Dwight Beach's "Appendix I/Lessons Learned in Combat" — a well-written 3-page typescript. RR Smith's Approach to the Philippines has a large map of 34 Infantry's Biak days, and a 2-page commentary of that Regt. I consulted also Journals of both 167 Field Artillery and 34 Infantry.