41 Reconnaissance Troop: 0n The Biak Frontier

By Lieutenant Colonel George S. Andrew, Jr., with Dr. Hargis Westerfield Division Historian

 

Originally Wyoming National Guards, 41 Recon Troop hit Bosnek Beach after 186’s assault companies - D-Day, 27 May 1944. Specially trained in Marine Scouts’ & Raiders’ Course at 7 Fleet Headquarters, we used our skills to help take Ibdi Pocket by fighting on 163’s north frontier against Nips that might hit the Montana Regiment in the flank. Then we became a private army to knock out Jap warriors in forgotten combats of southeast and northeast Biak.

While Biak was still quiet after the landing, 41 Recon met death. A misguided staff officer sent 1st Lieutenant James R Cain to check a cave near Bosnek. A Jap rifle killed him. We blasted that cave - slew a Nip officer, two men-claimed first blood on Biak-Yank and Jap.

But early Biak days were inactive; we guarded General Fuller’s Headquarters while Jap raids became nuisances. On 28 May, Pvt Cedric C Fields got a serious chest wound. We had several strafings. On 7 June, 2 light anti-personnel bombs hit kitchen areas, wounded Pfc Ralph J Gaston, 2nd Lieutenant Jack O Casey. Earlier, T/4William J. Jones had a knee-wound from a grenade accident.  Thus we lost four wounded.

Meanwhile, G-2 wanted Recon volunteers to land at night by Korim Bay to check on Jap reinforcements in barges. We were to land in rubber boat from a PT craft - be picked up by that PT within three nights - or be given up as lost. Or we could trek back across Biak through the Jap Army. G-2 plainly said we had 50 of 100chances to come back.

1st Lieutenant George S Andrew swore privately he’d take no chances, but Staff Sergeant Donald Miller and six more volunteered. The night before, however, they were scared - begged Andrew to come. And he went!

On 13 June, we eight landed in pitch dark - 1.5 miles away from tranquil Korim Bay. Surf on the reef almost drowned us. One Yank kicked an empty drifting gasoline drum; it rang like a gong. We thought we had surf-ridden into the Jap barge refueling station.

Shakily, we flattened in a little arc on the blacked out beach. We heard at least a Jap battalion creeping through bush at us—the land-crabs, of course. Just as nerves got taut, Andrew heard Miller’s stage whisper from the other flank of the smallest beachhead the 41st ever held. “Jeez! I wish my poor old grandmother was here an’ I was there. The old lady never gets to go interestin’ places an’ do interestin’ things.” Everybody chuckled, relaxed; Andrew even slept an hour before moonrise let us see to patrol for Nips.

Near Akraak Village, we contacted natives, and got details of Jap barges into Korim Bay. Three nights later, a PT boat took us back to Bosnek. (Later we tried a similar patrol to Wardo on southwest Biak, but cliffs stopped us.)

On 19 June, 41 Recon finally entered into the Battle of Biak. Division Headquarters was now safe; our Regiments were infighting for West Caves and probing Ibdi Pocket. But 163 needed us for securing their right flank. So we went to battle in our strength and pride—dismounted cavalry who added an elite touch to a great infantry division.

We were indeed an elite outfit. Half of us were vets of the Papuan Campaign - Wyoming men of a recon regiment, many former cowpunchers. Since we were an intelligence gathering section, G-2 gave us the pick of replacements before the new campaign. Commanding Officer Captain Lyle Hammond and 1st Lieutenant Andrew handpicked our new troopers - all under 21 - high school grads, with high Army Test scores. Wyoming vets and bright young statesiders blended into a perfect recon team. Basic unit was the four-man scout team - three teams a section, then three sections a platoon. Each man selected his own weapon - M-1, carbine, Thompson Submachine Gun, BAR. We knew all about staying alive in the jungle.

Our mission beginning 19 June was to protect 163 on the unmapped north frontier past Ibdi Pocket. Based on 163’s water-point where we kept guard, we must stop Japs from hitting our line men. We also sought for the reported Nippo supply trail, made maps as we patrolled.

In 12-man sections or 28-man recon patrols, we hunted Japs. We shot up any group not too large to handle. If they were too many, we drew back and marked their perimeters for field artillery strikes. All told, we made 20 patrols, destroyed supplies - even recaptured Yank gear - and a 20 mm AA gun.

One patrol surprised some 50 Nips, drove them from perimeter by sudden attack, killed five before they reformed. We escaped from their gathering counter-attack. Another patrol found and entered a cave area - apparently Headquarters of 222 Infantry.  In the extensive office and living quarters of one cave, we discovered quantities of maps, code books, records. And we hit on and mapped the East-West Supply Trail. Pvt Clyde E. Breeding was seriously wounded, lost a toe, our only recorded casualty while we helped 163.

Then was our finest assignment on Biak. We became a small army on our own, under Division Headquarters’ direct orders. Released from 163 on 9 July, we based at Opiaref on the beach three miles east of Bosnek. We were to liquidate the Japs in southeast Biak from Cape Lomboe on the north shore to Cape Wararisbari.

Here their 1st Battalion 222 Infantry had resided before invasion among native gardens - in great native-type barracks - even with a brewery and “comfort girls.”

And 41 Recon’s little campaign was more important than plundering or shooting stragglers. For G-2 believed that 1st Battalion’s Nips had not been committed to defend Mokmer still intact and dangerous. Prisoners said 1st Battalion had pulled back north, stockpiled supplies in the Saoeri ridge 17 miles southeast of Korim. Our G-2 captured documents, gathered that Japs would watch us go into garrison, then rendezvous to drive us into Geelvink Bay. Actually, raids could play havoc with Mokmer bases - supply dumps, hospitals, shiny bombers, flammable mountains of gasoline drums. Keeping a tight perimeter was impossible, and the Division was tired, under strength. So G-3 planned this strategy: we would pinpoint Nip positions, then call for field artillery and planes to blast them.

On 10 July, a 3rd Platoon patrol probed high ground 3000 yardseast of Opiaref at Warwe - killed a Jap, but lost Pvt Richard "Dick" Whittaker wounded in right forearm. On 11 July, 36 3rd Platoon and 1st Platoon Yanks found a supply dump at Wadiboe, 1000 yards farther east. On 12 July, at Anggadoeber, we found another Jap dump. Another patrol probed 8000 yards north to Arfak-

Saba. Usually we operated like a small army - at least one platoon, plenty of automatic weapons - 40 Yanks for the core.  Also we took native scouts, cargadores, radio. Often 146 Field Artillery’s Piper Cub flew overhead to call down 105s on targets.

Wounded with our command was 146 Field Artillery’s radioman Pvt Larry N Collier.

Now came our two memorable patrols on Biak. Word came that Nips had a 20-man observation post with radio on the east tip of Biak - 20 miles off at Cape Wararisbari. On 14 July, 61 Yanks went to get that radio. On the second day, we left the beach, hacked most of our way through jungle. At dark, we found the observation post, but the Japs were gone. At dawn we trailed the slower Nips east towards Sawadori. We surprised them at 1200 -12 Nips of 19 Naval Guards - in 60 seconds slew 8, wounded 4, seized radio, observation post telescopes, documents.

These patrols of 10-16 July secured our forays to spot the great Nippo base at Saoeri. On 20 July, 2nd Lieutenant Leroy G Lewin took 46 Yanks, 3 natives, a dog, from Wadiboe north six miles across Biak. On the second day, we left the trail before Saoeri, cut a path to coral cliffs, then down the coastal side to find the Jap left flank.

T/4 Edward Freauff, our scout with a native, spotted a Jap bent over drawing water from a well. A Jap machine gun fired from a tree. Nips right over us in the trees dropped grenades. The first Jap stood up; Freauff shot him down the well. A grenade thudded at Corporal William G Rundle’s foot; he dived sideways but in midair caught multiple shapnel wounds in abdomen. A clever Yank in the rear latched on grenade-launcher, lobbed fragmentation bombs into tree-tops. One Jap squawked, fell dead from the trees. Japs wounded a native, gashed Lewin in the hand, Freauff in right cheek and ankle, and Pvt William R Moody and Pfc George M Kuestner in the legs. But Rundle was slashed deep enough to need a surgeon. We built a litter, fled for camp in black dark with two Yanks limping on wounded legs, even a mile through swamp mud. A native ran ahead, roused out Donald Miller and others to bring us in with flash-lights by 1200. Kuestner’s leg sent him to hospital; worst casualty was Rundle with shrapnel in his intestines - Rundle about to be made 1st Sergeant next morning.

Yet Lewin had marked the Nips’ left flank. And on 24 July, Andrew took 3rd Platoon - 36 Yanks, three BARs, machine gun, radio, two Medics. At seaside Wadiboe, we got native carriers, scouts; we got 16-year-old Diminoes, the chief’s son. He had killed one Nip with his long spear.

North three miles past Jap barracks, we saw where a Nip had spied us - his prints still filling with water in the swamp mud. At Arfak-Saba, our trail ran 100 yards in a ravine.

Observing from a bank, Pvt Bruce T “Bunny” Barber spotted three unwary Jap riflemen. Andrew or Putnam killed one. Then an ambush of eight more Nips fled from a depression behind a shack.

Next morn, at a break in a Jap barracks area, our rear guard saw three following us. But our Thompson opened too soon at 75 yards; we got one only.

Despite two fights in Nip territory, Andrew pushed on to Saoeri Ridge - great bulk of cliffed, knife-edged coral ridge smothered in jungle - a mass of roots, boulders, pinnacles, crevasses. With the date late, he took long chances. His radio was out; rations were low. Machine gun crew, radio men, natives, six riflemen made perimeter in the village. He sent two sections into the ridge to find the Nips, waited below with a half-section.

While Andrew waited, Nips passed on the trail. He was sure that the Nip commanding officer had discovered him, would wipe out his four little groups.  Sergeant Cluff L Tippetts brought his section down first, with nil contacts. But Sergeant Charles W Mahn’s section delayed. High on the ridge above him, Andrew heard a Thompson machine gun, three quick shots from an M-1; then in 15 minutes, Nip rapid-fire-at least 20 rounds.

Since night was falling, Andrew took his remaining men back into perimeter. He felt as if he had murdered his brother, envisioned Mahn’s section in the dark among the Nips.

But after a sleepless night in perimeter, Andrew found Mahn’s section back over the ridge, intact - except that Mahn had a bullet through his biceps, a crease across his chest.

They had stayed out too long, blundered into the middle of Nippo country. A Nip with a towel came down the trail to go swimming; they had to kill him. In falling back, they drew fire from behind the Jap flank. Yet Medic Rabinowitz patched up “Abner” Mann, and they spent the night tracing their wire down the ridge to safety. After the patrol’s return, we sent 12 fighter-bombers to smash Saoeri. Patrol No. 3 found only one Nip; a native killed him.

Thus fought 41 Recon on Biak - protected 163’s north flank, cleared southeast Biak. After brief rest at Opiaref, we forayed in wild northwest Biak until 15 September, killed over 45. We fought well on Biak. Intense training, careful personnel selection paid off. We had just one killed (Lieutenant Cain), 13 known wounded. We killed at least 82 - we frontiersmen of Biak.

 

CREDITS:  With this article, a salute to Lieutenant-Colonel George S. Andrew, Jr.  Andrew left his “Narrative History Biak Operation 41 Recon Troop” for Federal Archives Repository. When I contacted him in Nov., Col Andrew generously wrote a long letter 8 Nov 1963, put me on trail of his masterly “Patrol to Saoeri” (Sept-Oct 1946) Armored Cavalry Journal). I also used “146 FA Report Biak Operation,” “Addendum to Biak Operation!” “Provisional Map Schouten Islands First Revision,” RR Smith’s Approach to the Philippines. Colonel Andrew’s name is forever honored by us for his article, “The 41st Didn’t Take Prisoners!” in Saturday Evening Post (1946) - the best article ever published on the Division as a whole.