3rd Battalion, 186 Infantry: Classic Night Perimeter Defense on Biak
by Lieutenant. Joseph Poshka, with Dr. Hargis Westerfield, Division Historian

               Although 186 Infantry easily seized Mokmer Air Field on 7 June 1944, we did not really have it available for Air Force operations. From the ridges which we had come down from, Japs' heavy bombardment killed 14 and wounded 68 men of 186 Infantry. At Sboeria Village on the beach, we were cut off from resupplies of ammo and rations. And we could not evacuate by amphibian craft our most seriously wounded for long-term first class treatment. In two attempts to land that afternoon of 7 June, Engineers of 542 Engineer Boat & Shore Regiment finally landed only three tanks for some shoot-outs before dark. As twilight fell, we were sealed off from help by our Division. We feared massive night attacks.

            On that night of 7-8 June, 186 Infantry had tightened our perimeters in a rough half circle with Sboeria Village in the middle. Our 3rd Battalion held a line northeast from the beach to the road south of Mokmer Strip. I Company was dug in closest to the sea, with L Company on line north of it, and K Company farther north. Here we tied in with 1st Battalion facing the strip. (One "K" Platoon was positioned on the north side of the strip.)

            Our first encounter was at 2000 hours that night. K Company observed 12 Japs crossing the strip from the northeast towards our lines. Despite the early night darkness, we saw them silhouetted against the white coral runway. As they neared the south edge of the strip. "K" lobbed in 60 mm mortar shells and high angle anti-tank rifle grenades upon them. We could not be sure how much of our fire hit many Japs.

            Shortly after dark, probably other Japs moved from the west onto 3rd Battalion's left flank. From the north side of the road, they threw in knee mortar and heavier mortar shells into our positions. Then they shifted this mortar barrage into the south side of the road.

            For the first time we ever heard of this combat tactic, the Japs forwarded trained dogs to locate our holes in the dark. Several dogs moved into 100 yards of 3rd Battalion's lines. Two stopped and barked. Others trotted up to our quiet outer holes, then silently drew back to the west. Then the Japs built up their line on the ground where the two dogs had barked.

            At 2100 hours, the Japs crackled the brush to break through it towards us. In a few minutes a whistle blew. They struck with their usual battle cries - angry shouts in Japanese with a few American words - and screams of pain when our return fire impacted. Meanwhile, their covering mortar fire lifted over our heads to the east. Our .50 caliber heavy machine guns failed to silence their mortar fire. Each burst of our automatic fire drew heavier return fire. Finally, M Company's heavier .81 mm mortars did seem to silence the Japanese mortars.

            Shortly afterwards, we heard presumably that same group moving across K's front 50 yards away. At the same time, other knee mortars from near the strip began to land on K Company ground. Although the fire was severe, half of the mortar shells were duds.

            Despite our furious retaliation, the Japs did not cease fire. At 0100 hours, however, we heard the Japs move north back towards Mokmer Strip. "K" hurled 60s at them. Our Battalion Commanding Officer again called down M Company's 81 mm mortars to strike 150 yards north of K's left flank.

            At 0230 hours, a lone Jap sprang a bayonet charge at a hole in 1st Platoon. A Browning Automatic Rifle smashed him dead.

            At 0300 hours, a fairly large group of Japs began to yell and scream out there in the dark before us. K Company expected a massed charge, but it never came. After a shower of more knee mortar shells, the fire ceased suddenly. We heard the Japs move through brush north towards the strip. During all of these attacks, we received no rifle fire.

            K Company performed extra combat service to other companies that night. Our phones did important work. Besides connecting with 3rd Battalion' s Command Post, our wire connected also with I Company, L Company and M Company's 81 mm mortar battery-and even with a field artillery observer in K's own perimeter.

            Early in the attack, the line between Battalion Command Post and "I" went dead, apparently from cuts by knee mortar shells. From then on, all messages from 3rd Battalion Headquarters and field artillery observers had to go through I Company. This was especially frustrating when "I" and "L" needed field artillery fire out front. Corrections had to go to K's Command Post, then in turn be forwarded to the field artillery observer.

            Once during an attack, 2nd Battalion far east across the battalion perimeter shot a mortar barrage which impacted only 10 yards before K Company. It was hair-raising to "K" men but ineffective against Japs who were still not close enough to be hit.

            (Next morning, patrols would find 10 dead Nips on the south end of Mokmer Strip, and seven in front of K's left flank. "K" evidently deserves credit for all 17 of those killed.)

            At the same time while "K" fought, Japs advanced along the road towards their command post. The 2nd Platoon leader expected that the Japs would cut his wire to the command post. At once, he phoned the mortar sergeant and requested fire on a previously registered spot at crack of dawn. Shortly afterwards, the line went dead. When a few other Japs approached 3rd Battalion' s Command Post, the platoon leader threw grenades at them. But the probably unhurt Japs replied with grenades also. Our US grenades were unlike the Aussies': they sparkled and gave away our positions.

            At 0530, the Japs quit harassing 2nd Platoon's holes, but we heard Japs' screams and grenade explosions from the direction of the command post. To help defend the command post, he moved his first squad close to the road. But the attack never came off.

            At 0615, when fighting stopped everywhere around "K," our commanding officer sent a runner to 2nd Platoon's leader with a message to forward to battalion commanding officer. 2nd Platoon's leader also was ordered to send a patrol probably to where our mortars were to have impacted at the crack of dawn. The patrol found eight dead Japs. Two were armed with long wooden rifles with bayonets lashed on the ends.

            Meanwhile, a small patrol had left in the early light with a message to battalion commanding officer. After prowling 25 yards on the road east, they saw a Jap standing on the road. He motioned to us to come towards him. We fired: the Jap leaped into the brush. Just then, we saw a jeep with 3rd Battalion's Commanding Officer and S-2 (Intelligence Officer) nearing where the Jap had hidden in the brush.

            The men in the jeep opened fire on those Japs. K'spatrol joined in the fire-fight. Six Japs were slain.

            During the night, K's 2nd pln killed 16 Japs - but had no casualties.

            At 0300 hours, K' s 3rd Platoon heard a booby trap explode near 2nd Platoon. Half an hour later, an under estimated number of Japs began jabbering in the dark, then tried to infiltrate our platoon's position. They arced five grenades at the command post. Two Japs rushed into a few yards of the platoon leader's hold. His carbine killed both men. Another Jap rushed into second squad's ground. Grenades killed him. This was all of 3rd Platoon's fighting that night.

2nd Platoon's leader admits that he erred in setting up his position in defilade where it was hard to keep contact with his men. Yet 3rd Platoon slew six Japs - had no losses.

            In reporting L Company's night fight, we must return to the early hours after darkness fell. When Japs' attacks began, "L" was positioned south of "K" close to the beach. At 2130, L's 3rd Platoon spotted an enemy group coming down the road from Mokmer Strip. About the middle of 3rd Platoon' s line of holes, they split into two groups. One group moved towards I Company. The second made a sharp turn towards L's own 3rd Platoon.

            This second group started harassing L's 3rd Platoon with knee mortars, grenades and small arms. Three Japs soon crouched in a little dip in the earth 15 feet from our holes. Because they were in the dark and on lower ground, they could silhouette our helmets plainly. A rising full moon endangered us even more.

            Suddenly - bayonets fixed - the three Japs leaped from the dip and rushed our holes. From behind them, more Japs cracked rifle fire to keep our heads down. We dropped two of the three at once, but the third got in with his long bayoneted rifle. One Yank died instantly; the second was pierced in his throat to die an hour later. The third man in the hold stabbed the bayonetting Jap to death with his trench knife. A third Yank in another hole died from rifle fire.

            Terrific machine gun fire from our final protective line expelled all surviving Japs beyond hurl of our grenades. But from a distance, they fought back with knee mortar and machine gun fire. With mortars and rifle grenades, we searched out their ground and silenced their machine gun. But we had to keep close to earth under knee mortar blasts until 0500 next morning.

With I Company's left flank on the beach and our right flanking L Company, I Company at first flattened against a rain of knee mortars. At 2230, we heard much jabbering from Japs near the beach. They moved from the beach against our 3rd Platoon. We countered with hand and rifle grenades. Then from somewhere beach-side, a Jap light machine gun opened fire, As in other night fights, the Jap light machine gun fire was wild and safely over our heads. I's 3rd Platoon leader now requested for 60 mm mortar fire to be placed on the Jap light machine gun. We also had a Japanese light machine gun captured earlier. Along with aid from the mortars, he ordered his men to open fire with the heavy machine gun and rake the area to the front.

            Our Jap machine gun shot an estimated 250 rounds. The 60 mm mortar lobbed 30 shells into the Japs' beach positions. Then the line from his platoon to the mortars went dead. He could not contact the mortar crews even roundabout through L Company. Jap fire intensified. From the loud talk, evidently a mass attack was coming. The 3rd Platoon Commanding Officer phoned an I Company Platoon leader and told him to relay an order to the .50 to open fire.

       But because of continuous breakage in 3rd Battalion's communications, the .50 could not be contacted. Instead, the platoon leader learned that .80 mm fire would be laid on the Jap positions. He would have to make corrections himself and relay them through I Company Command Post to the mortarmen

            First .81 mm registered all of 300 yards before 3rd Battalion. Our platoon leader corrected the .81 mortar for reduction in range down to 225 yards. It was still past the Japs' lines. Finally, he cut his adjustment down to only 100 yards before us, and ordered, "Fire for effect."

            Combined mortar, machine gun and rifle grenade fire forced the Japs to draw back, but they did not quit fighting. Soon they moved on L Company's 3rd Platoon which flanked I Company's 3rd Platoon. This "I" Platoon assisted the "L" Platoon and with heavy rifle fire, and helped repel the Japs.

            But they still didn't quit. They struck the "L" PIatoon again. I Company's right flank men had to throw in tremendous rifle fire until they drove off the Japs. "I" had four wounded, but these men stayed in action. I Company had 15 dead Japs, mostly dead from a Jap machine gun that our men operated.

            During the height of one attack when our final protective line opened up, orders came from Battalion Command Post to men of 603 Tank Company to help knock out a Jap machine gun nest that was harassing the whole 3rd Battalion area. One tank was sent into combat.

After clanking out a short distance while he heard bullets bounce off his armor, the driver turned tail to the protection of our riflemen at the command post. His only explanation was that the beach was full of holes. These jeopardized his crew and his tank.

            While this wild night fight went on, 3rd Battalion's Ammo and Pioneer Platoon worked through the long hours of moonlight and shadow to unload supplies from the buffalo craft that had slipped in from Bosnek base. Then we had to reload them with wounded.

            At 0100 hours, we were alerted that several Japs had infiltrated close to the beach and were inside 3rd Battalion's perimeter. We did hear occasional crackling shots from their .25 caliber rifles. But we saw no Japs. We killed a dog running along the beach from the west. Numerous knee mortar shells hit no one. These Japs seem to have come out of hiding in their beachside caves - where 186 men had found plenty of them back on 7 June when 186 Infantry overran Mokmer Strip. Later, a search party did comb out every cave along the beach and slew a few more.

            About 0500 hours 3rd Battalion's night fight of 8-9 June was over. Victory was due to our tight perimeter manned by courageous and disciplined officers and men. Casualties were only eight men killed, 20 wounded. In return for these comparatively few losses, we could count 41 Nippo corpses. (Usually the Japs also carried off some men dead or about to die.) Our 3rd Battalion 186 Infantry had fought a classic night action. We had firmly established a position from which to storm the main Japanese center of resistance on Biak.

 

CREDIT: Basis of this history is 6.5 pages of Joe Poshka's typescript, single-spaced. Back- ground is from R. R. Smith's Approach to the Philippines. This is Joe's after-action report as ordered by 3rd Battalion's CO, Harold "Fod" Maison. Joe regrets that he could not use names of officers and men whose work was outstanding. But some details of this night fight may be found in Biak histories of Cos I, K and L in my other publications.  Joe Poshka best remembers his Platoon/Sergeant, T/Sergeant Eddie Goschie, who got his death-wound that night, and Arthur Spaulding, Goschie's successor.)