Headquarters Company, 2nd Battalion 186 Infantry: Thirst on Biak
By Capt. Luis (Lew) Turner with Dr. Hargis Westerfield, Division Historian

            Tense, heavily armed Headquarters Company of 2nd Battalion 186 Infantry peered from our charging landing crafts into black smoke slashed with sudden orange flashes of rocket fire. Smoke and orange flashes were all that we could see at dawn 27 May 1944 as we led 186 Infantry to strike on Biak.

            To our confusion as the smoke lifted, we faced a swamp of mangroves. An unexpected six-mile an hour cur­rent had carried smoke-blinded coxswains 3,000 yards west of Bosnek Beach into the only mangrove swamp on Biak's south shore.

            About 0743, our amphibian trucks pushed halfway into the swamp before the mangroves sprung us back. With all 2nd Battalion and Colonel Newman's command group, we slipped into waist-deep brine and pushed heavy weapons and rifles through snarled branches. Past 162 Infantry march­ing against Parai Defile, we slogged 3,000 yards to our Bosnek Beach objective. If Colonel Kuzume had used reports from his scouts, his 11,000 men could have driven the 41st into the sea.

            Digging in near Bosnek, 116 Engineers and we mopped up a token Jap resistance force 1st Battalion 222 Infantry. About 150 yards east of Command Post, we found a cave at the end of a sunken ramp with some Jap supplies. The cave held a die-hard Jap shooting at us. A Nisei US Jap pleaded with him to surrender; the Jap enemy kept on firing from behind heaped up packing cases.

            Our Sergeant Hand crawled into the cave mouth. To shoot the Jap, he had to move a crate out of his way. There was a loud "Crack!" Hand turned his back just as a booby trap exploded — staggered with a back bleeding from small fragments. We called for a bulldozer which sealed the Jap up alive.

            When Jap bombers dived on us, they did little damage. Many Jap planes died from a new computerized sighting control which was tied in with several trailers carrying twin .50 heavy machine guns.

            After 162 Infantry retreat from the Parai Defile trap, 163 Infantry's 1st Battalion and 3rd Battalion from Toem relieved us from Bosnek Beach. We were now to march overland behind Bosnek to bypass Parai Defile and sieze Mokmer Strip from the rear. Our 2nd Battalion was first to turn east alongshore to Opiaref and then turn inland up a rough, twisted road. After ending minor Jap resistance near Opiaref, we were to turn west to the flat behind Bosnek which was sur­veyed for a Jap air strip. There we were to join 3rd Battalion to march on Mokmer Strip.

            Hiking behind Opiaref, we had to round a 20-foot coast artillery gun barrel mounted on two wooden sleds. It weighed 7-8 tons. The Japs had dragged it to mount in a concrete revetment. Bore was about 14 inches in dia­meter. If set up in time, it could have played hell with us at Bosnek.


            Turning west on the upland road, we heard the end of a skirmish between Japs and K and AT Companies. By 1500, we were digging in on the flat east of the surveyed Jap strip.

            As night fell 2nd Battalion Headquarter's Commanding Officer Turner was without a sleeping hole. Nobody had replaced his saki-filled orderly now under arrest by the MPs. His men set up for Turner a parapet of abandoned white bags of Jap rice. Tiredly behind his parapet, Turner ate a K-ration, smoked a cigarette under poncho, and slept. He expected no fight that night.

            About 0330, Turner awoke to the thump of a Jap knee-mortar, two rifle-shots, and a Jap scream. Japs and Yanks shouted. M-1s, carbines, and Jap Arisaka rifles volleyed.

            Alone behind his raised and visible white bag shelter, Turner helmeted himself. A grenade exploded close; he put his helmet over his lower abdomen. Then fearfully, he replaced it on his head. Should he have his head blown off, or be emasculated? Turner finally left his head uncovered.

            After four hours, the firing ceased. From Cannon Company, a Yank shouted, "Help!" A blade was thudding into an­other man. A Jap officer had slashed Cannon's Gee deeply across his shoulder. Our mild Lieutenant Moore went berserk. With rusty machete, Moore hacked the officer to pieces, had to be pulled off him. Slight blond Moore with weak light blue eyes in thin gold glasses, was nickname "Grandma." After that duel, Moore lost that nickname.

            On that night of 1-2 June, our 3rd Battalion with help killed 86 Japs. We lost three killed and eight wounded — but no one in 2nd Battalion. And at 0900 2 June, all 186 Infantry marched west.

            Our 1st Battalion and 3rd Battalion pushed abreast along the faint trail towards Mokmer Strip. With Turner's 2nd Battalion Headquarter Company, 2nd Battalion had to patrol north of the road or to hand-carry supplies and water. Six tanks were in support, beside 121 Field Artillery's 75s on call.

From 1st Battalion 222 Infantry, small Jap patrols fired rifles and machine guns at us from north of the road. Our tanks or field artillery 75s slew or scattered them. By dusk, 96 were dead, with six Yanks killed and 10 wounded. Recovered Japanese soldiers said that a Jap Headquarters was north of us. Our 121 Field Artillery 75s destroyed it.

            By next day, 3 June, water had become the most im­portant problem of our westward advance. For all 186 Infantry plus newcomer 2nd Battalion 162, we had only one 900-gallon water trailer with a few 50 gallon drums extra which had to truck up from the coast.

            And we patrolled and fought down under blazing sun between thick walls of 12-foot scrub that cut off even the slightest cool from a breeze. Mere marching and patrol­ling without fighting made us sweat. We lacked enough water to replace our lost moisture. When Jap patrols struck us, we had to run low and crouch and fire and run over and over. We had more sweat and more thirst.

            Our danger was in fainting from sunstroke, dehydra­tion, or waterless shock. Lucky were we not to have to face any large Jap attack; we would have lost many men.

            Although every man must have started out with two full canteens on 2 June, we had no issue of water at all next day. On 4 June, Colonel Newman retarded our start until water arrived from Bosnek. Then about one canteen full per man was issued. At 1000 just as we were moving out, General Fuller halted us. We had to wait for new orders be­cause the Jap Navy was about to hit Biak. Their Navy turned back. Our few patrols found no Japs.

            Water failed to come on 5 June, but despite advice of Battalion Commanding Officers and his Staff, Colonel Newman ordered an advance about 0800. By 1200, 186 was east of the rugged ridge-crest above Mokmer Strip — east of that ridge which curved north of the sea. Newman sent out two patrols from every Battalion to seek a route over that ridge.

            But our waterless men trekked too slowly. Newman thought that by mid-afternoon, thirst would stop us dead in our tracks.

            But a miracle happened! Before 1200, a gigantic dark cloud gathered overhead. About 1430 hours began a sprinkle. In 10 minutes, a heavy tropical rain slapped down hard.

            Without orders, we stopped dead. In groups of 4-6, we held up a poncho. As rain cascaded through the neck holes, we took turns to fill our helmets from them. We drank deep again and again and filled our two canteens. Some men swallowed an entire canteen! Lightning struck the earth around us while thunder crashed. Turner thought that God was relenting in his disapproval of our senseless war, by this rain.

            Colonel Newman had nagged his officers to speed up our march. But now he stood soaked like all of us with his helmet full of water. He laughed hard and shouted, "Game called on account of rain!"

            While the rain stopped, K Company's 1st Platoon found a jungle path to the top of the 300-foot ridge above Mokmer Strip, which crest all 3rd Battalion then occupied. Our 2nd Battalion now had to guard 3rd Battalion's rear and provide carrying parties. At that time, 2nd Battalion was at the end of the new supply road. Two trucks were parked nearby, some distance apart.

            Rifles, grenades, and knee-mortars from some 15 Nips blasted out of the scrub against 2nd Battalion's flank. One small Jap leaped onto the road before Headquarters Company with his long bayoneted rifle. Turner with his carbine drew a bead on him — shot him twice — but without pushing his safety. Other 2nd Battalion men fired — even with machine guns. The Jap hid in a truck; their bullets wrecked it. He escaped unhurt into the brush.

            Although creased twice already that day, G Company's 1st Lieutenant Minor had orders to smash that 15-man attack. Losing two dead Yanks, 17 wounded, Minor killed 13 Nips. A graz­ing shot rimmed his jawbone — looking as if a hot iron had burned it.

            On that 6 June, 3rd Battalion patrols from the ridge-crest searched for a passable route down to Mokmer Strip. Newman resupplied all units for an expected all-out assault on the Strip. After hand-carrying supplies up to 3rd Battalion all day. Turner's men and others dug in near the crest. Water finally came. Ration was just one canteen full plus a canteen cup. We did not know when we could get water again.

            In that heat, men would drink too much that night. Turner wisely issued only a canteen full — reserved the cupfuls in a lister bag for tomorrow.

            That day, patrol from probably K Company had found a fair route to descent to the Strip. But a heavy Jap attack badly wounded Julius Jones. They tourniqueted his leg and cut saplings for litter poles with a poncho between them. In darkness, they carried Jones back up the rough trail among jagged coral, brambles, and tripping rocks. They feared to smoke, they ran out of water.

            They topped our ridge and collapsed. Colonel Newman woke Captain Turner and demanded the water he had saved for his own Company. The patrol was down on hands and knees — one man on his back with a parched tongue pro­truding. Most of Turner's lister bag passed down their thirsty throats.

            Newman now wanted time to thoroughly search for Japs on the heights, but General Fuller ordered immediate seizure on Mokmer Strip. On 7 June after 121 Field Artillery's shellfire for 30 minutes, all 186 Infantry jumped off, with attached 2nd Battalion 162 Infantry. At 0730 from a line of departure below the 100-foot contour, 1st Battalion and 3rd Battalion abreast pushed on the Strip, with 2nd Battalion 162 securing their rear. Our 186's 2nd Battalion hand-carried supplies, helped by Cannon, Service, and Regimental Headquarters Companies.

            By 0945, 2nd Battalion entered the dispersal runway of Mokmer Strip. In column of twos, we scouted the sur­rounding trees for snipers. Jap rifle fire began — then mortar and field artillery shellfire. One burst blasted gear from 2nd Battalion's Major Bradbury and stunned him. For four hours, 186 was pinned down in old shell craters by field artillery, mortars, and machine guns. In 2nd Battalion Headquarters Company, T/4 Cline, Cpl. Hall, and T/5 Dunlap were wounded — Cline marked "seriously." (All 186 Infantry lost 14 killed, 68 wounded that day.)

            On 8 June still being shelled, 1st Battalion Headquarter Company had Blan­kenship, McClain reported lightly wounded. When Jap fire cut wire on the Strip to our recon patrols. Turner told 2nd Lieutenant Pouser to send a repair crew. Refusing to expose his men, Pouser sat cross-legged on the open Strip and spliced the wire. In cover, our riflemen duelled Japs trying to kill Pouser, but he was unhurt.

            By 10 June, all of 162 Infantry had joined 186 to fight for Mokmer Ridge. While 162 fought on the Ridge, 186 secured the coastal flat below. Sergeant Rockeman of 2nd Battalion Headquarters was lightly wounded. On 16 June, 2nd Battalion closed the Great Gap on Mokmer Ridge between two 162 Battalions. In 2nd Battalion. Headquarter's Phipps, 1st Lieutenant Blanton had light wounds.

            By 20 June, Mokmer Ridge was cleared. Siege of West Caves was begun — Japs' last important stronghold on Biak. Some 162 Companies fought to take the Caves, and 186 men blocked the Japs from escaping up the road to the north.

            About dark 20 June, 2nd Battalion Headquarter men found an explosive dump in a trench before our perimeter. About 1.5 tons of bright yellow picric acid cases lay in a trench pointed at us. A stray bullet could detonate them and destroy Headquarter Company. That night, we emptied the trench and scattered the cases before our holes. Trucks hauled it to a safe place next morning.

            In early dark 21 June, 20-30 men passed through our lines laughing and speaking English. We held fire — but later learned that they were Japs escaping from West Caves.

            That night of 21-22 June, West Caves Japs made three desperate attacks — the final at 0400. Irish of 2nd Battalion Headquarter was seriously wounded. Corporal Miller took a light bayonet wound. Gunner Pfc Theodore P. Howe died by his .50 heavy machine gun from a Jap suicide grenade.

            At dawn. Generals Eichelberger and Doe rode up in tanks to complain that our bullets had shot up their kitchen.

            On the road, a .50 heavy machine gun lay on its side with a dented breach and a Jap corpse hugging it. Past the gun was a scene of red devastation. Bloody mangled corpses stretched into the distance. Some Yanks stalked with rifles and grenades to make mercy killings.

            Thus ended 2nd Battalion 186's main actions on Biak. Luckily, Battalion Headquarter Company lost only 11 wounded, and 1 killed. In great danger, we had landed on the wrong place, marched in a waterless hell, closed the Great Gap, fought off the Big Banzai before West Caves. Our history was a marvel of endurance.

 

CREDIT: Most important part of this history is Captain Turner's pages 796 - 882 of his 220,000 word manuscript which he sent to me in Nov. 1985, shortly before he died, 3 Dec. 1985. High­ly useful also were 186 Infantry's 35 page single-spaced typescript "Narrative" of Biak, and RR Smith's Approach to the Philip­pines. ("Journal" of 186 Infantry on Biak was of little use.) Important also were casualty lists.