H Company, 186 Infantry on Biak: Competence and Security for 186 Infantry
by Tech Sergeant Darrell Leabo and Captain John Otten with Dr. Hargis Westerfield, Division Historian

             Shortly after daylight, H Company 186 boarded DUKWs (landing ship trucks) to land on Biak in the fourth wave. This went wrong from the start. We landed two miles west of our designated place, in a mangrove swamp, had to hike east on a rough little road.

            Near Bosnek Village, we found a Jap dump of rice bags and feasted on the grain the cooks boiled. Near Bosnek, Amphibious Engineers and some 186 riflemen killed a few Japs.

            Some Jap planes dive-bombed and strafed our Navy- the first known Kamikaze of the war. But they only hit a little sub-chaser that would not sink. T/Sergeant Leabo with Buckles tried to hide behind a tree with a four-inch trunk, but the pilot paid no attention to them. They fired their rifles at the plane 300- 400 yards overhead. They thought they got several hits.

            Came then one of H 186's worst moments. When our own planes came over at tree level to drop emergency maps for us, the airman at the open door waved at us after he dropped the maps. Then an Anti Aircraft Battery panicked. Anti aircraft gunners shot at the plane. With smoke trailing, it shattered in Jap

territory.

            About two days later, after 162 Infantry was shot up for trying to seize Mokmer Drome by driving down the shore, 186 Infantry moved inland for another push. Here 186 dug in some Battalions the night of 2 June near where the Japs had surveyed for a new air- strip. The Japs had located H 186 before nightfall. A little before daybreak next morning, they lobbed in knee-mortar shells on H's perimeter from 15 to 45 minutes. But we had no casualties. We marched west through the scrub jungle of inland Biak.

            About 1200, our trucks with Black drivers caught up with rations, ammo, and water. Each of us got a ration of a canteen per day. About when the trucks arrived, Jap planes flew over and passed without strafing. It took some time to recall our drivers back into their trucks to turn around and flee. They were scared to death.

            About an hour or so later - as we remember - we had to halt for a heavy tropical rain. It did not last long. We tied ponchos to bushes and caught the water to pour into helmets or canteens. So much rain fell that we even shaved.

            Finally H 186 with our whole Regiment came to Mokmer Ridge overlooking Mokmer Strip, which was the main objective of the Biak Operation, on the morn of 7 June. After the preparatory fire from attached 121 Field Artillery - temporarily with the 41st Division, 186's two assault Battalions with 2nd Battalion 162 occupied Mokmer Strip. But we came under heavy shell fire from Japs' guns on the ridge which our patrols had failed to discover.

            Then H 186 got our main order to secure the Strip for a common front while we helped spot those murderous guns. While we observed, Jap anti-aircraft guns and machine guns slew Pfc. Ernest O. Cisneros, Pfc. Harry W. McLean, and T/5 Ralph DiDominica, and wounded 1st Platoon's Lieutenant Weinstein.

            While trying to make perimeter on safer ground, we watched an "H" man crawling to a shellhole. When a bullet struck his pack, he squirmed out of it and left it to recover later.

            H 186 now dug in on our first phase line to face Japs holding what we had not learned to be their final strongpoint of their West Caves Biak headquarters.  We were on a low ridge which we named Bald Hill.

            On 16 June 1944, "H" had orders to perform our most important tactical move of our whole Biak Operation. We were to help our 2nd Battalion close the ridge gap between 162's 2nd Battalion and 3rd Battalion which had fought hard there for days. We did not yet realize that they were guarding West Caves, their Headquarters.

            The night before this attack, 186' s Major Bradbury ordered H's Captain Otten and E's Captain Foltz to recon the terrain of the gap. They had to find the Japs' line by crawling up to their foxholes.

            Next morning, 16 June 1944, "H" took a PIatoon of .30 heavy machine guns on both flanks of ''E'' for their two attacking platoons. H's Captain Otten, G' s Captain Foltz with T/Sergeant Leabo went together. Meanwhile, another "H" .30 heavy machine gun bulwarked the flanks of attacking G Company.

            In the battle, gunner Pfc Frank S. Jankowski of Leabo's pIatoon died from a bullet in his groin.  Also in "H," Pearson, Parks, and Stolzenburg were lightly wounded. Other details on their wounds are unavailable. Otten estimated that every one of these machine guns fired two units of fire - 2,000 rounds that day. When the gap was closed by "E" and "G" had to pull back from their advanced position, "H's" mortars were crucial in making smoke to hide "G" from revenging Japanese fire. Now 162 Infantry occupied the ground which 186's shock troops had won.

            Looking down on what seems to have been a West Caves sump hole, Leabo had a view about 20 feet in diameter. He saw a clothes line with laundry on it. A Jap was walking along the bottom. Leabo shot but missed.

            Leabo hurried down a trail to order men back to outpost "H's" withdrawal. As he turned back a rifle bullet from somewhere clipped off a twig directly in line with his ear, another man told him.

            Back safe on Bald Hill, Leabo directed mortars and field artillery on the sump hole area. He had a good night's sleep. "H" stayed on Bald Hill until about 19 June, and Leabo caught up with his letters. We had our first hot meal of many days.

            Came soon the last great fight of H Company on Biak. We now held ground which the Japs had been pushed from, north of the newly discovered West Caves. Here lay the general line of "H's" perimeters. We were now positioned with our .30 caliber machine guns within a few yards of two heavier .50s from 2nd Battalion Headquarters Company. We dug our holes in staggering positions mainly concentrated on the ground close to the road. We hacked the brush 20-30 feet in front of us toward the West Caves.

            About midnight or after, the Japs' assaults struck us. H Company's .50s and our .30s opened up and halted all attacks with great Jap casualties. But fights went on and off the rest of the night. The surviving Japs lived a while longer cornered in West Caves.

            Next morn, H Company's job was to check out the Jap corpses and shoot those without bullet holes in them. Some played possum with grenades handy to explode and slay us if we came near to them.

            On the.50 heavy machine gun next to Leabo's .30, he saw Headquarter' s Howe and a Jap dead - with a grenade between them. Tallied were 109 Japanese corpses. Trucks carried them off  for the bull- dozer to dig them a common grave.

            H's reported wounded that night of 20-21 June were Gavrys, Pedigo, Sellers, Alevy, Di Donato, Drayer, and Reyner. All were marked as "lightly wounded." But the story of three men seems to disagree with this statement.

            About 0300-0400 hours that night, a forward outpost phoned for help. One field artillery short had been an overhead tree burst. Sergeant Fell and two men were wounded. It would be suicide to crawl to aid them in the dark. We had to listen to them moan until daybreak. There they lay on stretchers until evacuation to base hospital.

            H 186 had a few more casualties. Pvt Frank Rowicki died of wounds from the bombardment on 7 June when Mokmer Drome was seized. (He was the only man killed in "H" besides Jankowski on 16 June.) There were a few more casualties - details unknown. S/Sergeant Jackson was lightly wounded on 24 June, as were Stockfethon 11 July, and Reyes on 11 September.

            H Company, 186 Infantry was a reliable weapons outfit. We were excellent in making an attack with our machine guns on our riflemen 's flanks. When we closed the Great Gap on 16 June 1944, 186's losses were few indeed.

 

CREDIT: Darrell Leabo's 186 Infantry history - 8 page handwritten, 8-1/2 x 11 sheets. Captain John Otten then wrote a 4-page letter on closing the Great Gap for General Jens Doe, 16 June 1944, on Biak. I used also 186's casualty list and R.R. Smith's Approach to the Philippines.