186 and 163 Infantry: Three Important Biak Patrols


by Dr. Hargis Westerfield, Division Historian

 

 

                Patrol from Mandom. This was a daring and important three-man recon patrol in the first days of the Biak Beach-Head into the dim, unknown ridges north of Mandom, about five miles west of Bosnek. Orders were to locate trails across wilderness ridges for moves against Japs on the inland plateau and to report all indications of Japs anywhere. (Nobody expected to uncover information on the main Jap maneuver of the Battle of Biak.) Probably from 1st Battalion 186 Headquarters protecting General Fuller's Headquarters on Mandom Beach, this patrol must have begun 28 May while 162 Infantry had its first disastrous day in Parai Defile.

 

      At about 0800 hours north of Mandom near the coast, we three faced a dull-green wilderness rising into low, tangled ridges marked in some places by tall jungle giants. They were like white columns guarding entrances to ruined temples of dark, ancient tombs.

 

      In single file, we dived into the dark tangle of ridges close to the shore. We scouted up three 40-foot rises, and down into hollows or benches between them. After Ridge 3, we sweated up a sheer, 80-foot climb and a cliff, then down to a 30-foot ridge. After an interval of brush and rocks, we faced another 80-foot ridge. Then we scaled a long, steep cliff-ridge which was too long to try to get around in all of that brush.

 

      This patrol was always sweaty and silent. This cliff-ridge was 120 feet high, but now we faced a second line of cliffs, now 160 feet up. This time, we found a lower way and hiked through a wide space between the cliffs. And here was Jap danger!

 

      We had probed onto an east-west trail that Japs had been used recently. While two scouts guarded at each bend of the trail, No. 3 examined it closely. Footprints showed that Japs had walked the trail in both directions. We added this trail to the sketch that we were already making. Then we crossed this vacant trail and another 160-foot ridge - and hit the ground after 50 yards! About 100 yards before us, a column of Japs was marching west, but heavy brush retarded our accurate count. Based on amount of time taken in passing, and their noise, we reckoned that 35-40 Japs were hiking west. They were not on a trail, but pressed on through brush and over coral debris.

 

            After resting 45 minutes on the 160-foot ridge north of the trail we had just crossed, our patrol leader returned us to the well-traveled trail to check it westward. While only 25 yards from the trail, we hurriedly cowered in cover. More Japs came from the east - nine men in full field packs with rifles. Recrossing the trail, we moved to a slight rise for a better and safer view. From here, we counted four more armed Japs below us, moving west like all the others.

 

      Having patrolled inland over 1,000 yards - 11 ridges and two cliffs of jungle and sharp coral, our Pfc leader ordered us back to perimeter. This time, we took a different route towards the sea, west of the route where we climbed up from Battalion Headquarters. Although hoping to get around the long 160-foot high cliff, we had to pick our way down it anyhow. Only six ridges away from the sea, we discovered an unexpected north-south trail towards the beach. On a 40-foot ridge a short way from Battalion perimeters, we found a cave. Surely 10 Japs had lived in this cave a short while before.

 

      And after scouting south across two more 40-foot ridges, we sighted the outguards of our home perimeter. Our report was important for two reasons. First, we verified a belief that the Jap army was vacating eastern Biak to assemble farther west. (They were reinforcing Colonel Kuzume holding Parai Defile.) Second, after Kuzume had halted 162 for days at Parai Defile, we would guide 1st Battalion 186 Infantry through those almost unpassable ridges on 2 June. Then our 1st Battalion would rejoin our regiment in the overland march to seize Mokmer strip from the rear.

 

      Patrol Into Ibdi Pocket. This was a 10-man recon patrol surely from 163 Infantry. It probed into the western defenses of Ibdi Pocket sometime after 163's return to the siege on 10 July 1944. Our mission was to pinpoint Jap mortar positions on the west (rear) flank of Ibdi Pocket that even a Piper Cub could not see. Jap camouflage had been perfect.

 

      At 0800 one morning some days before the B-25s crushed Ibdi Pocket on 22 July, we entrucked down the inland supply road to a point about 1,500 yards northwest of the known east flank of the Pocket. One officer and nine men left the truck and moved south in squad column along a trail towards the dim gray ridges ahead. Light rain seeped into our worn, porous green fatigues, and into the mechanics' caps that we wore instead of helmets, to lessen the noise of brush that would rasp on steel.

 

      We carried two M1s, two tommies, and four carbines. Each of us had a K ration and two full canteens. On that inland Biak plateau of scrub cover, visibility was good. Our scouts worked 15-20 yards ahead; the rest of us watched our flanks at 5-10 yard intervals. Two men paced distances, while another man sketched our moves.

      Coming to the north-most curve of Ridge 1, we scouted southwest 400 yards. Warily, we climbed Ridge 1. No Japs fired as we mounted Ridge 1, which was rough coral under foot, with dense jungle brush and trees.

      For more safety, we changed into a wedge formation at close intervals. We still saw no Japs, but they had surely held this area lately. We saw vacant dugout bomb shelters, discarded equipment. Here was a first-aid station that a mortar hit of ours had destroyed. (These old Jap positions probably marked the western end of Ibdi Pocket where 163's 1st Battalion had fought until 4 July.)

      We dropped down below Ridge 1 and scouted through a gap between Ridge 2. By 1200, we had topped the crest of Ridge 3, the highest ridge of Ibdi Pocket. Our scouts saw a slightly used trail eastward. Back again in squad column down that trail, we hunted over rough ground among Jap equipment and refuse. But we saw no Japs.

      Then at 1430, our scouts halted us and reported suspicious noises ahead. Joining his scouts, the officer penetrated another quiet stretch of 75 yards to where the trail dropped into a small saddle.

      Directly forward and below was a heavily juggled natural pocket. We heard wood chopping and the whine of saws. We heard Jap voices. Perhaps 50 Japs were fortifying here. We will always wonder why there were no Jap outguards or even a small roving patrol into the brush down the trail we had used. While his patrol guarded, the officer and his map-maker plotted the Jap position and rechecked his sketch to that point.

      Then we got out of there. Moving back 200 yards, we dropped down from Ridge 3 and hiked north over the next two ridges and down to retread the scrub barrens of inland Biak. We were back on the road to our positions again, 10 of the most satisfied men alive. In that spooky fastness, we had not seen even one live Jap.

 

      Our information delighted 146 Field Artillery and our mortarmen, who shelled as soon as they could range their weapons and get orders. Our patrol was of great material aid to reduce the Japs' Ibdi Pocket. Never again did Jap mortars fire from the western flank of Ibdi Pocket.

 

      Neeno Schena's Patrol Near West Caves. Late on the morning of 15 June 1944, 1st Battalion 186 Infantry’s Commanding Officer, Lieutenant Colonel Field expected his second tank infantry attack of that day from Colonel Kuzume's West Caves. Yet Field still planned to advance 1st Battalion as soon as we had broken the Japs' attacks. But in that blind jungle of brush and low hills ahead, he had to send out a recon patrol for accurate location of Jap defenses.

 

      Field knew only that a strong Jap force held Hill No.3 on his left flank, which hill blocked his coming push on West Caves. And for the security of his own 1st Battalion, he had to know whether Japs were positioned directly to his front, and on his right flank. Their frontal and right-flank attacks could cut up our men fighting to take Hill No.3.

 

      From C 186 dug in on the left and most forward perimeter, Staff Sergeant Schena volunteered to lead Field's recon. A miner from Helper, Utah, in the Uintah Mountains, combative Schena was famous for volunteering at every chance. (On 7 June when 186 Infantry seized Mokmer Strip, Schena had risked his life under heavy bombardment to save his BARman. On 10 June, he had led his squad to secure an exposed light machine gun from a 30-man Nip assault.)

            Four men accompanied him. (Of these, Schena remembers Sergeant Brolin and Cedric Kennedy. Two of these three probably went with Schena also - Coffee, Level, or Craig. Most carried carbines. Everyone had a medical kit and a full canteen. Schena had the all-important message book and compass.

      About 1130, Schena's patrol left Battalion command post for the hazardous journey into Jap country. We faced a dark land of dense secondary growth with some large trees. Terrain was rolling, and broken abruptly by small, commanding hills. Although we knew of a heavy concentration of Japs on 1st Battalion's left flank, where they had attacked that morning, we had no information on the number of Japs lurking where Schena's men must prowl.

 

     Taking an azimuth of 305 degrees to avoid Hill No.3 ahead, we discovered an area which our field artillery had cleared. Jungle had hidden this clearing from observers in 1st Battalion perimeters. Schena naturally avoided this clearing. He changed directions northward and moved onto the lower slopes of large Hill No.4, northeast of our Battalion perimeter. Here we heard Jap voices.

      We halted and observed carefully. We located some Jap positions. During 15 minutes, we heard Japs chattering with total disregard for security. We saw no outguards. We pinpointed positions on the forward southeast slope of Hill No.4, manned by some 50 Japs.

      Sheering off from Hill No.4, we thought that we had escaped undetected. But shortly afterwards, Japs saw us and shot a light machine gun at us, from somewhere on Hill No.4. The light machine gun hit nobody as we threw ourselves into the brush.

      While still hidden, Schena observed a Jap patrol of perhaps a squad. It was moving northeast in the same direction as ourselves. Perhaps it was out to kill us.

      Instead of being pursued, we followed the Jap patrol for some distance. Then much heavy machine gun fire plunged down at us. We ran from there, again unhurt. Only later did we realize that we ran from fire of our own heavy machine guns.

      This was a confused flight. We lost our directions in this labyrinth of rough country and brush jungle. But Schena took us to high ground and reoriented us by compass. This time, we observed from a 120-foot elevation overlooking Hill 4 where we had found the Japs dug in. From our height, Schena was happy to see little Hill No.5, near location of 1st Battalion's command post.

      With our mission completed and Japs known to be on Hill 4, we carefully scouted our way back to our perimeter outguards and safety. We never saw that Jap patrol again. With our clean, unused carbines and our information, we reported to Colonel Field about 1515. We had endured about four dangerous hours within a few miles of West Caves.

      Meanwhile, a similar A-186 patrol had searched the surrounding brush on 1st Battalion's far right, but found no Japs. Colonel Field was now certain of the location of the main Jap barriers to our next attacks on West Caves.

      Hill No.4 with its Jap garrison that Schena had found, was probably the target on which 121 Field Artillery's 75s impacted that afternoon of 15 June at 1630. Colonel Field had destroyed another tank-infantry attack while Schena's men were on patrol. Hill No.4 no longer menaced Field's right flank. Field was now free to direct his main push westward against West Caves.

 

CREDIT: Our Division Training Note No.9 (140ct 1944) contains basic report and maps of these patrols. C-186's Neeno Schena himself and Ted Cotter have tentatively named all possible members of Schena's Patrol near West Caves. Training Note No.9 did not name any man in any of these patrols. "Patrol from Mandom" is probably mentioned in an entry of 186 Journal at 0805 Hours 28 May 1944. I could not specify date of even name company or regiment in "Patrol Into Ibdi Pocket." My guesses come from my knowledge of the Ibdi Pocket situation after 4 July 1944.