F and G Companies 186 Infantry: The Landing and The Cave

by Dr. Hargis Westerfield, Division Historian, with Sergeant Charles Pearson of Yank and G Company 186’s Roy D.  Bennett


         
   DAWN LANDING ON BIAK. In the dark before daylight on 27 May 1944, men of F Company 186 Infantry crowded into buffalos lined up on the tank deck of an LST standing off Japanese Biak. In the dim glow of the night light, men five feet away were only silhouettes of helmets, packs, and rifles. Destroyers were shelling the foreshore; their explosions had a dull ring through the walls of the LST.

"The ramp's going down," said buffalo driver Fennell of Brooklyn. "When we get off, be in back of this job because we dive straight down. A lot of water’ll come in, but it'll go right out again."

At about 0630 with buffalo motors roaring, F Company headed for the ramp. When the first half of a buffalo cleared the ramp, it tipped sharply down, and splashed heavily as it plunged into the sea. Day was breaking now. Liberator motors sang overhead as the planes lungett in. Destroyer fire hit the ear-drums harder. An LCI blasted the beach with rockets and automatic fire.

The noise and dust of the preparatory bombardment hid the foreshore until we saw it come closing in on us from 400 yards away. Nervously, we checked over rifles and BARs with our hands, touched inside trigger-guards with our safeties still locked. With its heavy machine gun slanting skyward for aerial defense, our buffalo raced for the foreshore.

As the rockets quit' thumping, we saw no beach ahead - only black stumps and roots of a mangrove swamp. Our buffalo driver managed to nudge through mangroves and muddy shallows and slide into somewhat firm ground.

F Company jumped out and formed for battle, but no Japs' rifles cracked at us. The unexpected offshore current had pushed us far west of our beach. We were 3,000 yards west of Green Beach 4 where 2nd Battalion was supposed to land.

But by 0745, all 2nd Battalion with "F" was ashore and ready. Although 186's Colonel Newman had asked General Fuller's permission to change missions with 162 Infantry and move against Mokmer Drome, he got orders to march eastward to Bosnek Jetties to his assigned landing position. We were trained to swap missions on a scrambled beachhead like this one, but changing field artillery observer parties to 186 units would have been too complex a task under battlefield conditions.

So "F" pushed east on the little Nippo road to Bosnek. Burning dumps flamed against the background of a "cliff. Directly ahead, a column of smoke climbed hundreds of feet overhead.

I and K Companies had also landed in the wrong place 700 yards west of G Company. They marched east to the original assigned position 1,000 yards east of Bosnek's west jetty. We had to pass through I and K Companies, and then 186 Headquarters men now crossing our path to probe inland. Then at 0915 just as we cleared the eastern jetty, tank force reserves and field artillery units hampered our march. But luckily, the Japs at their old Bosnek base had not organized any attack on us.

Behind Bosnek Road, we saw a rise of heavy forest that covered a steep coral terrace. Like I and K Companies before us, "F”, men were to occupy this ridge-top as security for Bosnek supply dumps and 162's westward march.

"F" still had met no Jap resistance. Tech Sergeant William Sullivan said to Staff Sergeant George Grant, "This looks like another Hollandia. But that's too much to hope for."

Just then, Yank Magazine's Correspondent Pearson heard that two of our men were dead. On the eastern flank of our beach-head, two men from an unidentified formation had walked into a pillbox and died. A heavily armed DUKW then blasted out the pillbox so that we could extend our flank. Pearson also heard that some 10 Japs were killed there.

By now, 186's patrols had discovered that there were many caves in the coral terraces - and Japs in those caves. Tech Sergeant Dikeman crawled up to a cave mouth. Carefuly peering in, he saw three Japs - and opened fire before they could shoot at him.

And we developed a standard operation procedure to silence those annoying caves that could kill us. We would burn out an entrance with a flamethrower, and then explode a 12-pound chunk of TNT inside the cave. Thus F 186 with other outfits went about saving our own lives and neutralizing Jap caves in the Bosnek ridges. After the caves were safe, we garrisoned the ridge-tops and secured our new beach-head. F Company 186 Infantry's dawn landing had been successful.

 

II. A CAVE ON BIAK. In the last blackness before daylight 27 June 1944, we men of G Company 186 Infantry already crowded topside of our LST to watch for the light. At 0630 with daybreak, our cruisers and destroyers broke the silence with the roar of 6-inch and 8-inch shells. Tech Sergeant Atchison ordered the platoon that Bennett belonged to, down into the tracked amphibian crafts.

The LST's doors opened. We waddled out into the sea, circled until all amphibs of our wave could form into line. While another wave formed behind us, we headed for the beach. The Navy still fired shells that ripped the air overhead; small craft (CLls) smashed the foreshore with rocket clusters.

Large splashes marked the sea on our port side. We decided that the splashes showed that our own Navy was firing short. But later, we learned that big Jap guns above Mokmer Dromes were aiming at us. They missed us completely.

A formation of 12-15 B-24s dumped a pattern of bombs across the nearing Biak foreshore - from right to left. Smoke and dust obliterated the beach. Bennett gripped the .50 heavy machine gun mounted on the cab of the Amphib and flamed in a few short bursts against the murk of the shore.

Suddenly the Amphib tracks dug into the sand. G Company swarmed overside and dashed across the narrow beach, then across a disused road to halt panting before a high cliff. By the time we had our squads checked on and together again, somebody had found a rough trail up the cliff. We slung our rifles and climbed hand over hand. Often we slid back on smooth G I soles and badly scratched our knees and hands on jagged coral. (The cuts would make fine open jungle ulcers for the long, hard days coming on Biak.)

With 1st Platoon at point, G Company turned left some two miles along the cliff top and other ridges almost impassable. For we sweated under heavy gear. Then we turned right with our backs to the coastline and started inland over rough country.

Down came a Jap plane to scout our landing. The ships' guns drove him back. When he passed over us, a few men fired rifles up at him, but without effect.

A Naval gun fragment glanced from a tree-top to strike Lieutenant Minor in the nose and cause his evacuation to Hollandia for a number of days.

Late that morning, G Company had probed inland for what we thought to be three miles. (Most of G Company did not know that we were searching for a trail supposed to cross the ridges into the plateau north of Bosnek Village. It was E Company that found the poorly marked track and silenced the pillbox that guarded it.) But nowhere did G Company find any organized body of Japs to put up a fight. Finally, Captain Boyd ordered G Company dig our night perimeter.

Although we had climbed with two full canteens, we had depleted our water with hours of sweaty climbing in full pack. From starting to dig a 3-man fox-hole, Bennett was chosen to clink off with a canteen party to find water. He took with him the canteens of Rog, Acting-Sergeant Cimbrek - and, of course, his rifle. Bennett joined others looking for water – Tech Sergeant Don Meyers, Duvall, and Counts.

Our little water-party came upon a little hollow in the coral ridges where we hoped to find a spring. It was a small U-shaped hollow with walls some 15 feet high curving around it. There was an easy walkway all around the "U."

When the whole detail was down on this level, we saw a cave in the wall to our left. Duvall turned left towards the cave to search for a spring. Bennett had the good luck to turn right along the wall.

Pvt. Willard Duvall probed into the cave-mouth. A Jap rifle cracked. Duvall was shot in the neck, to die in three minutes. A second shot rang out; Meyers was down - and crawling desperately to pull himself behind a large rock in the middle of the hollow.

A Jap sprang from the cave, fired more bullets into Tech Sergeant Donald D. Myers. Trying to take position to kill the Jap, Bennett himself was narrowly missed by a Jap bullet. Coral slivers showered Bennett. Bevernitz emptied his M-1 into the Jap, who thumped dead on the coral.

Now the cave was silent under cover from our M-1s. Other "G" men came to help - among them Medic McFarland who had heard the firing from our perimeter. McFarland did what 'he could to save Myers, but the four Jap bullets had made his death almost instant.

As we carried out the bodies of Duvall and Myers, Bennett saw a move before the cave-mouth. A large rock, four feet high, lay at the cave entrance. At the edge of the rock, Bennett saw a rifle and a Jap face as he started to aim. Bennett snapped a shot at him; dust flew where the face had been. Bennett wanted to check the cave-mouth for his kill, but orders came to return to G's perimeter. We were all happy to escape from that cave-hollow.

And so as dusk fell that first day of our beach-head on Biak, G Company had buried our first dead and dug in for the night, in heat and sadness. With canteens dry or nearly dry - depending on the type of man who carried one, we bedded down to endure thirst all night. (A man could press his cooler canteen or rifle-barrel to his face, or hold a pebble in his mouth Apache-fashion, for what help that could be.) We had cut our hands and legs in climbing the cliff from the coast. They smarted now despite the disinfectant, and would later become ugly ulcers.

            With first light, we were out of our holes as soon as we were safe, and licking dew from the leaves to dampen our dry lips.

Then Bennett with other men made up a 30-man carrying party to go to the beach and return with water in 5-galion cans. Gratefully drinking and refilling our own two canteens apiece at the beach, we returned with 15 cans - 75 gallons for all of waterless G Company on the heights. We took turns as carriers; while one man lugged the heavy can, the next man guarded our trail with his M -1.  

Back at G's perimeter about 1200, Bennett found that he was assigned to help a man from 186 Regimental Headquarters probably from S-2. This man of an unremembered name - a man from Philadelphia - insisted that Bennett go with him into the cave where Duvall and Meyers had been killed the night before. For 186 Headquarters wanted to ascertain whether or not this cave was an outpost of the Japs' main defense line above Bosnek.

            After they had placed a rifle-squad around the 15-foot cliff to cover them, Bennett and the S-2 men scouted to the cave- mouth. The Jap whom Bevernitz had slain still lay where the M -1 had dropped him.  

            Inside the cave-mouth another Jap sprawled on his back with his clothes open and a bloody bandage on his stomach. Bennett believed that the sprawled Jap was same man whom he had snap-shot yesterday.

As they started into the cave, the S-2 saw a toe of a Nipponese shoe behind the 4-foot rock before the entrance. The S-2 man motioned to Bennett to climb on top of the rock.

From above, Bennett saw that the shoe was full of a Jap crouched and ready to leap out on them as they went past. Bennett turned the M-1 point-blank about six inches from the Nip's head and pulled the trigger. It was quick death.

About that time, the dead Jap with the blood-stained bandage came to life and leaped to his feet with a rifle. The S-2 man turned and put two quick M-1 shots into the Jap. This time, he was dead for sure. The blood on his stomach bandage had been red ink.

While Bennett kept his rifle ready, the S-2 man checked the corpses. One was a Sergeant with a leather pouch on his shoulder-straps. The pouch contained some maps. The S-2 took these maps, and Bennett covered him until he left the cave.

Then Bennett tossed a live grenade inside the cave and heard it boom deep and loud as he ran to the cliff-top. No matter what was ahead for him and G 186 on Biak, Bennett was happy to leave that nightmarish cavern.

Thus did 186's F and G Companies land on Biak. Despite grounding on the wrong shore, we were luckily unopposed. F Company had no losses, but "G" had lost 1st Lieutenant Minor wounded and Duvall and Tech Sergeant Myers killed. Both Companies’ hard battle of Biak was still ahead.

 

CREDIT: Core of F 186's story is Sergeant Charles Pearson's "Buffalos on Biak," (Yank Down Under Magazine, June, 1944): Core of G 186's story is Roy D. Bennett's "A Cave on Biak Island," 1-1/2 pages of detailed, single-spaced typescript in small print. Background for both is 186 Infantry’s "Casualty Roster/Biak Campaign," and RR Smith's Approach to the Philippines.