The 36th Infantry Division (Japanese): A Jap Officer in Defeat On Biak
by Dr. Hargis Westerfield, Division Historian

            These are the last days of a Japanese officer who would not surrender after the defeat on Biak. He still commanded a little unit of nine men, probably a service unit. Probably 3-4 men had rifles, and all had bayonets. He must have still carried his saber and perhaps a pistol.

            The officer - whom I'll call Lieutenant Sato - still lived in hope of escape from Biak. Even on 29 July 1944, Lieutenant Sato had heard rumors that a Jap battle fleet would strike Biak. He hoped for relief from Biak by 3 August 1944.

            But on the day before, on 2 August, Yank planes strafed and bombed nearby at low levels. On 3 August, radiomen brought bad news. At Korim Bay, PT boats had blasted the foreshore, and we had landed on that little crescent of sand at the head of the bay. (Second Battalion, 163rd Infantry). We were shooting up the gardens which Sato's men were eating from.

            Sato's unit had to escape from the gardens at once, but the night was so black that they had to wait in terror for daylight. At 0500 4 August, they fled in full pack. Finally, they halted near Warsa Village some 13 miles up the coast, with other fragmented Jap commands. (For even after the annihilation of Ibdi Pocket, some 4,000 Japs roamed Biak and could put up a brave fight. They needed only adequate arms and ammo, and a coordinated command.)

            Sato's trek to Warsa (only 12 miles air-line) apparently took seven days because of American harassment. Accompanied by 2nd Lieutenant Sakurada, a medical officer of 22nd Infantry Headquarters, Sato’s nine men doggedly hiked towards Warsa. Of course, Jap rations were meager. if any at all. Sato ate his last can of meat on 5 August.  And of course, some of the nine men were ill from one fever or another.

            On the afternoon of 8 August, Yank automatic fire narrowly missed Sato. He saved himself by leaping into the jungle, and probably hid for a long time. About 0200 that night, Sergeant Kikuchi and he penetrated Yank-held territory on the trail west to Warsa. The track was strung with our telephone wire.

            They must have then turned inland with other units, up the little valley south of Korim Bay. As they forded Koridori River about 1200, naked natives with spears attacked them. Navy men fired three shots at them, and they returned the fire, but gave way before the Japs. After the skirmish, Sato' s men shot a cat and ate it. Then they headed for a native garden held by their Navy (or Naval Guard Marines.)

            But on finally arriving at the garden, they learned that Americans had already occupied it.

Discipline and Japanese order still prevailed, however. When they asked for rations, Rear Admiral Sadatoshi Senda himself - Naval Commanding Officer for all Biak - kindly assigned them to Captain Abe's Well Drilling Unit. Abe sent them to a nearby garden where they dug "potatoes," which had now become the staple food of the broken Nippo army. (Surely these potatoes were yams.)

            Evidently Lieutenant Sato's men and Captain Abe's Well Drillers lived in these gardens on 10-13 August.  On 13 August, shots rang out from the garden where Sato had detailed Sergeant Satomi and others to gather potatoes. Killed in action were 2nd Lieutenant Kano and 10 men of his Well Drillers. Sato mentioned no US casualties; there were almost none in our whole mop-up of northern Biak.

            Next day, 14 August, the Navy units left the gardens first, and the Army men were to follow. Headquarters had ordered all Army men to take a different route from the Navy. At least at present, they had plenty of potatoes.

            Depending on map and compass, they now fared northwest in search of gardens on the way. On 16 August, they forded upper waters of Wariadori River (which flows into Wari Bay). Sato thought that the coast must be close to where they bivouacked; they heard the throb of our PT boats. Their food that 16 August was mushrooms, snails, small crawfish and worms. Here they found many gardens and a number of natives gathering crops. The natives slew one of the Formosan allies of the Japs.

            (As these tired, homesick, beaten men rested in a little native garden on 17 August, they did not realize that today marked their last chance for re-groupment and battle on Biak. For 17 August was the day 186's 1st Battalion less B Company but with E Company attached, made their landing at Wardo Bay on Biak's southwest coast. Here Jap Headquarters had tried to concentrate the 4,000 remaining Japs for their final desperate battle, but 186's onrush dispersed them. From then on, all Jap formations would split into small parties just trying to live.)

            On 18 August, rain was so heavy that Sato was pinned down under it, probably in a native hut near the gardens. Superior Private Watiarai and he sang homesick songs together to relieve their feelings of loneliness away from Japan.

            In one of his few moments of self-pity, unsurrendered Sato wrote that he had lost weight terribly. His uniform was tattered, his whole body covered with a rash. He wrote, "We lead a beggar's life - just stragglers invading native gardens."

            On 19-21 August, they had to battle for these gardens. For an entire morning, they chased away their Formosan allies. These second-class Japanese citizens had no food, and went away with mutters that they would surrender. On 20-21 August, Sato’s men used their rifles to drive out the native owners of the gardens.

            They settled down in the gardens for awhile. Although the potatoes were gone, they still had plenty of vegetables. Medical Superior Private Umehara killed a dog for them to eat. On 22 August, Sato had more dog with 2nd Lieutenant Murakami's squad of two machine gun companies, 219th Infantry. (Barges had slipped some 1200 men of219 Inf into Biak after the landing of our41stDiv.) On that day, a native shot one Jap potato digger in the leg.

            Capt Abe "dismissed" Sato's Sergeant Satomi and nine privates for gathering tapioca without permission. (Evidently being "dismissed" meant that the 10 men had to leave the Army and forage for themselves.)

            On 23 August, a man of Abe's Well Drillers killed himself in a native hut with his own rifle. In the afternoon, they heard another Naval bombardment in the north. They feared that they would be cut off from the easier hiking along the coast. By now, Sato's main desire was just to move westward on Biak without hindrance from us.

            Despite the long despair that came after their Biak disaster, the Japs still held together in that part of Biak - at least a small detachment of them. On 23 August, a recon party brought back good news. They had found a larger garden' two kilometers away. The natives had tried to hide it by throwing logs on the track to confuse the direction. MPs of Central Intelligence Corps informed Sato that this new place was named Workrar - a large garden with many vegetables. On 26 August, Sato was ill, with fever, a headache and diarrhea. His food had been locusts (grasshoppers), snails and leaves.

            By 27 August, Captain Abe had decided to settle down in Workrar Garden. His details even brought palm branches to build huts or maintain those already built. Sato's own men were too lazy to repair the roofs of their hut, despite terrible leaks. For food, they now had pumpkins and ripe bananas.

            On the moonlit night of 29 August, Sato heard bombs impact to the south. He hoped that Jap planes were finally bombing us. Now that in Tokyo, General Kuniaki Koiso had organized a new cabinet after the Saipan defeat, Sato hoped that they would put more emphasis on operations in New Guinea. But now, with the close of August, Sato decided that the long-expected Japanese offensive had gone somewhere else. He saw no change on Biak; the Japs lived only in the hope of a miracle.

            Death now seemed to be closing in on Sato. On 1 September, he had to send Superior Private Watarai with a detail down to the coast for salt water for their food. He prayed for the success of their mission under the menace of the Americans on the coast. As late as 5 September, he waited all day for his men who would never return. No longer could Watariai and he sing their homesick songs together.

            The day before, he wrote that the number of Japanese dead was mounting everyday. His turn might soon arrive. All that 4 September, planes bombed and strafed to the south. That day, a Yank plane reconnoitered in a flight just 50 meters above the garden. Sato knew that an attack would come, ultimately. Capt Abe now forbade daytime fires.

            On 6 September, Sato made the last entry in his diary. Another plane had reconnoitered Workrar that morning. He heard four-engined bombers passing over on a unknown mission.

And his final statement was, "Underwear of all the men is black with dirt, but none tries to wash it. I myself am one of them."

            I think sadly of T.S. Eliot's poem which says, "This is the way the world ends / Not with a bang but a whimper." Sato’s world was about to end, not with even a whimper, but with dirty underwear. Soon, large tracts of Biak and nearby Soepiori would be wastelands of rotting corpses and skeletons with discarded and rusty arms and ammo. Our hunter-killer squads would find Jap bodies trussed up and butchered for cannibalism: among the live Japs we still had to kill. We are glad to say that some of them did surrender - about 20 August, 462 Japs and 304 Formosans. In January 1945 when the 41st left Biak, only 1,500 of the 11,400-strong Biak garrison were still alive.

            On 10 September, a Yank soldier found Sato's diary on the body of a dead Jap soldier. We shall never know whether or not the soldier was actually the officer Sato. Naturally, we hope that Lieutenant Sato did survive after the war for repatriation to Japan.

 

 

 

CREDIT: Main source is an American translation entitled "Death of a Samurai. (36 "Tiger" Division, Japanese Imperial Army)." Original document was found on the body of a Jap soldier killed near Workrar on Biak 10 September 1944. This translation is not from the entire manuscript; it is a set of extracts. I brought it home with me from Kure in 1945, where I had found it in my research for the original Division history team. I used it with a map from Terrain Handbook No E. 22 on the Schouten Islands, supplied by D 186's Nick Wheeler - and R. R. Smith's Approach to the Philippines. No entry in either 162's or 163's Journals tie in with the entries in this diary. For convenience, I have named the diarist Sato; all other names are in his diary. I regret that translator failed to give name, rank and organization - of course either 219th Infantry, or 22nd Infantry.