F-186 Biak Beachhead and Cannon Company Night Fight on Biak

By Dr. Hargis Westerfield, Division Historian

I. F Company 186 Infantry Beachheads on Biak

In the dark before daylight, 27 May 1944, F Company 186 Infantry crowded into Buffalos lined up on the tank deck of an LST standing off Jap Biak. Sounds of destroyer shellfire rang dully through the LST.

At about 0630, Buffalo motors roared as F Company headed for the ramp. As a Buffalo cleared the ramp, there was a heavy splash as it plunged into the sea, daylight broke out. Liberator planes lunged in. An LCI rocketed the beach, shot automatic fire, 400 yards away. The Buffalo's heavy machine gun slanted skyward for air defense.

As rocketing stopped, the Buffalo driver nudged through mud and mangroves onto firmer ground. "F' landed 3,000 yards west of our assigned Green Beachhead.

We pushed on the little road to Bosnek. Jap dumps flamed against a cliff. A smoke column ahead was hundreds of feet skyward.

We had to pass through I and K 186 Companies and other outfits to our position 1,000 yards east of Bosnek's west jetty. Behind the road, a thick rain forest covered a steep coral terrace. "F" must hold that terrace to guard dumps and 162 Infantry marching west towards Mokmer Strip.

       Just then we heard that two Yanks had died before a pillbox. A DUKW blasted out the pillbox, killed some 10 Japs. Our Tech Sergeant Atchison carefully peered into a cave mouth, saw three Japs first, and killed them.

Now "F" found many caves in the coral terraces. Our Standard Operating Procedure was to burn out the cave mouths with a flamethrower, then explode a 12-pound chunk of TNT into the caves. And behind us, 162 Infantry marched west toward Mokmer Strip.

 

ll. Cannon 186 Night Fight on Biak

On the night of 2 June 1944, Captain Walter Moore of 186 Infantry's Cannon Company fought a memorable cold steel duel against a Jap officer. On the afternoon of 1 June, our 75-man detachment of Cannon 186 had marched 3.5 miles to relieve F Company 186 Infantry moving inland from Bosnek Village on the coast. Then we formed perimeter with a roadblock near the start of the rough road that was to lead 186 Infantry overland to capture Mokmer Strip from the rear.

For security, Cannon had cleared the brush within 20 yards from our perimeter. We had also sent out a 10-man recon patrol about 1100 yards west along the road. The road soon broke up into several trails. We heard chopping and digging in the brush, but saw no Japs.

Despite the bright moon that night, a saber-carrying Jap officer and three men pressed in to kill us. They slipped through the shadows on both sides of the road and came close to our holes without any guards seeing them. The guards were, of course, tired from marching and digging.

 At about 2103 hours, the Japs screamed and made a shouting charge with three bayoneted rifles and the officer's saber against our perimeter. All three rifles were loaded, but the safeties were locked. The officer had a loaded automatic in his holster but did not draw it. This four-man charge was a small example of what the Japs called kirikoni - a ferocious concerted rush that could have been demoralizing to troops with lax combat discipline.

Orderly Gee had by now alerted Captain Moore and 2nd Lieutenant Coe Crawford, along with Tech Sergeant Oak, a Platoon Sergeant who slept close to Gee. One Jap was killed before the command post foxhole. But Gee had alerted us too late to save us from being wounded. In the moonlight, the Japs converged on helmet-less, partly balding Gee. One bayonet pierced Gee, but it did not disable him.

Tech Sergeant Oaks grappled with the Jap who had bayoneted Gee. Oaks seized the net on the Jap's helmet and pulled the helmet over his eyes and blinded him.

The Jap tried to gouge out Oaks' eyes with his fingers, but Oaks held on to him. Drawing back a little way, Oaks fired his carbine close to the Jap as if it were a pistol, and slew the Jap. Oaks had taken painful slashes in his hands.

      A third Jap charged Lieutenant Crawford to bayonet him. Crawford emptied his M-1 into that Jap and killed him.

Meanwhile, the Jap officer still tried to kill wounded Gee. He slashed Gee deep across his shoulders - twice at least sabered him but failed to kill him.

To save Gee and himself, Captain Moore battled the Jap officer, who now struck at him. Moore's carbine misfired. Moore seized a rusty machete probably from the parapet and dueled the Jap officer - a man surely well trained to fight with the saber.

Probably the Jap hit first; his blade clanked on Moore's helmet but failed to cut him. Then Moore desperately swung his blunt heavy-bladed machete against the Jap's saber in the tricky moonlight. Maybe it was just beginner's luck against a trained duelist; Moore got his heavy blade into the Jap officer before the saber could slash him again.

In berserk fury, Moore kept on hewing, even if the Jap was dead. He hacked his enemy to pieces. Finally, other Yanks pulled bloodthirsty Moore from the corpse. Moore had weak, bright blue eyes behind gold-rimmed glasses. His men had nicknamed him "Grandma." After that butchery, his men dropped that nickname forever.

      The fourth man of the Jap kirikoni - that bayonet rush - had fled by now, but Lieutenant Crawford was sure that he had wounded him while he ran. We heard Japs growling and howling in the bushes at a distance, and stayed alert for a second charge. But there was no more kirikoni that night.     

      We gave first aid to Gee for his angry cuts in three places. After Medics gave plasma, a jeep drove him to hospital. Gee lived. Oak's hand-slashes did not kill, but they sent him to the hospital in shock.

      The attack was valiantly fought on both sides. But in return for a seriously wounded man and another slashed into shock, we had slain an officer and two enlisted men, and wounded another man. But it was a bloody little skirmish.

CREDIT: I. Yank Magazine's Sergeant Charles Pearson described F 186's Biak Beachhead. II. Cannon 186's Night Fight comes from 2nd Battalion 186's Headquarters' Lew Turner, 186's "Report of Operations on Biak," and "Training Note No. 50 41st Infantry Division." (12 September 1944).