36th "Tiger Division" (Japanese)  Japanese Biak History (with U.S. Corrections)

by Dr. Hargis Westerfield, Division Historian

 

            The Japanese battles for Biak were fought with the usual courage and endurance to be expected of that great nation. But American history of those battle and Japanese history of them are remarkably different. Overall Japanese history is that they won many victories. They inflicted terrific casualties, and lost only to continuous landings of more U.S. forces.

            Japanese story of the American landing at once exhibits those remarkable differences. At 0500 on 27 May 1944, so it goes, an estimated U.S. fleet of 3 battleships, 2 cruisers, and 10 destroyers began a furious bombardment of shore defenses on south Biak which lasted two hours. (There were actually no ships as formidable at battleships in this fleet. We had just 2 cruisers and 9 destroyers - for 45 minutes.)

            The Japs thought that we made three widespread beachheads - at Bosnek, Mandom, and Parai. (We did not land at Parai, but on D-Day marched so swiftly down the coast that the Japs wrongly decided that we had landed at Parai.)

            At once also, Jap army air attacks won two incredible victories. Five kilometers south of Biak, they flamed two ships one mine-sweeper, and one "sea truck" - a craft about which we know nothing. And Squadron Commanding Officer Major Takada vectored four planes against our Navy protecting our beachhead. In continued air attacks, he sank one cruiser, one destroyer, flamed another destroyer, and shot down two P-47s. (In these two fights, only known Jap success came when a blazing plane side-swiped a 110-foot sub-chaser. Its fires were quickly killed - the first attempted kamikaze in the whole war.)

            Jap ground action was also gallant and victorious. Although they could not hold the Bosnek shore after our furious bombardment, one Jap pIatoon and their Commanding Officer were wiped out after heavy combat. (Actually, most of the 2nd Company of an unknown Regiment on the ridges above Bosnek did commit suicide, were slain, or fled inland.)

            In the night after the 41st landed on 27 May, Colonel Naoyuki Kuzume ordered 222 lnf's lst Battalion and 3rd Battalion to attack against Bosnek and Mandom and on into daylight hours of 28 May. But results were called "unclear." (Actually, U.S. Federal Archives today contain elaborate plans for a great Jap night attack, but we find the story of only a minor skirmish where bayonet-men struck Battery C of 146 Field Artillery - killed 4 men, wounded 8.)

            On 28 May, second day after the 41st landed, 162 Infantry was severely defeated under the cliffs of East Caves, and next day forced to retreat through Parai Defile. With 10 "amphibious tanks," 162 Infantry did make a strong try to seize Mokmer Strip. On 29 May, 9 Jap tanks massed with infantry to battle us. With thick armor and heavier cannon, our 4 General Sherman tanks easily smashed 7 of their 9 tanks. And 162 Infantry had to fall back from Parai Defile.

            We never had "amphibious tanks," nor ever heard of any such amphibs. Of course, there were amphibious trucks, but not intended for battle. And the Japs wrongly credited their destroyed tanks for forcing 162 Infantry out of the Defile. Actually, the gallant, persistent Jap Infantry won that Parai Defile victory.)

            The Jap Journal implies that the 41st suffered a gigantic slaughter in Parai Defile. By the end of our first three Biak days, it asserts that we had 2,000 killed or wounded. (For the 41st, 2,000 casualties would indeed have been a disastrous slaughter. The 162 Infantry would have lost its offensive ability. An emergency drop of a parachute Regiment would have been needed to halt a victorious Japanese onslaught. Biak would have become a large hospital with all available 6th Army Medics flown in to deal with excess number of wounded.

            (But Jap figures are faulty for those first three days. On D-Day, 29 May 146 Field Artillery and 162 Infantry together lost 6 killed, 14 wounded, while 186 Infantry lost a few men against Japs feebly holding out in caves above Bosnek. On 30 May, 162 Infantry had 16 killed, 87 wounded. On 31 May, 16 were killed, 96 wounded, and 3 injured. We have a total of 119 casualties versus the 2,000 on the Jap report.)

            But the Japanese Journal continues reporting their successes - successes hard to verify. On 1 June, it asserts that we were pushed into the sea by night attacks between Bosnek and Mandom. (We had to be ferried by small boats over to Owi Island. We  have no record of any night attacks.)

            On 2 June, Jap troops had a satisfying minor victory. That night, their 3rd Battalion impacted us with three mortars near Mandom - wiped out two U.S. Platoons. And a major victory was to sink a Yank cruiser and a destroyer.

            We have no evidence of the truth of either of these statements. Another Jap entry, however, almost correctly said that new landings had brought the 41st up to the strength of a whole division. This force consisted 163 Infantry's 1st Battalion and 3rd Battalion brought up from Toem.)

            Then came another success which definitely proved how the morale of the 41st was dropping. On the night of 30 June,1944 about 200 Yanks infiltrated the Japs' 3rd Battalion's area near Mandom. Evidently we panicked, for we abandoned three automatic weapons and a "rocket gun." (It is true, however, that on the night of 2-3 June in the upland behind Bosnek, that 186' s 3rd Battalion endured attacks from the Japs' 1st Battalion 222 Infantry which slew 86 Japs with their Commanding Officer. ( Picayune loss of 186's 3rd Battalion plus AT 186 Company was 3 killed, 3 wounded.)

            The Japs' Lieutenant-General Takazo Numata now took personal command of the Biak force. He ordered a final all-out attack to clear 186 Infantry from Mokmer Strip. Attack came just before dawn 9 June, from west and northwest.

            According to the Japanese report, their 2nd Battalion 222 Infantry advanced about halfway down the Strip until halted by the firmly entrenched Yanks. But a Company of the 19th Naval Garrison - "Jap Marines" - attacked down the center and infiltrate across Mokmer Strip in the rear of 162's 3rd Battalion all the way to the sea. But the Marines had to withdraw because they were not strong enough for a hard fight.

            (This report also does not check with U.S. records. cannot be called an "advance;" they did not push L Company back "L" had already dug in all that they could in that hard coral and determinedly held it.)

            Here's is L's main story that night. About 2130 in the dark, Jap machine guns kept L Company's 60 mm mortars from defending L Company's 2nd Platoon. For the mortars were in shallow coral holes where  Jap machine guns would soon knock out their crew. L Company's Weapons PIatoons' light machine guns and M's heavy machine guns shattered the Japs' attacks before they reached our holes. One desperate little Jap attack broke into 3rd Platoon's lines - slew seven "L" men, wounded three more.  All other attacks failed. In return for seven killed and three wounded, "L" counted 41 dead Japs, with bloody evidence that other dead and wounded were carried off. Killed also was the new Lieutenant Commanding Officer of 2nd Battalion 222 Infantry; the previous Commanding Officer died the night of 2-3 June.)         

            On that same 8 June, however, a Jap report admitted heavy casualties. Although repeated night attacks since June had inflicted great losses on us, Jap fighting strength was reduced by half.

            On 10 June 1944 we have another unverifiable report. This time, a "naval air unit" had attacked. Last night, it had temporarily pressed our left flank back to the coastal defense line. (This "naval air unit" must have been the 33rd and 105th Aircraft Units which were part of the Naval force on Biak. But it did not press us back to the beach. The day before, B-186 had probed Mokmer Ridge north of the Strip and found Japs too many for one company to fight. "B" had sensibly withdrawn, but this action seems to have been the reason for the wrong statement that we were pushed back.)

            On 13 June, a Jap Journal entry said that last night and dawn today, "last ditch all-out attacks" were made against us holding Mokmer Strip. Despite some success in storming our positions, they were repulsed. (U.S. reports mention I offensives at all.)

            The day before this entry of 13 June, Jap casualties were recorded at 500 killed in action, including 27 officers. Wounded were 370, 20 of them officers. But our casualties the Journal reported as enormous. We had abandoned 1,000 dead Yanks - lost 15 medium tanks, 9 landing craft, 2 field artillery guns, and quantities of ammo.

            (This is startling news. For over a week later, at the close of the Biak Operation, we had only 435 dead - never lost any landing craft, or field artillery. We had lost no tanks - surely not 15, since we know of only six tanks attached to the 41st.)

            Their report of their East Caves defense is also surprising. At the west end of Parai Defile, this formidable strong point had halted 162 Infantry's first push to take Mokmer Strip. East Caves had also blasted 186 Infantry in their early days when they occupied Mokmer Strip. Even through 13 June, we had to bombard East Caves to protect supply trucks on the coast road to Mokmer Strip.

            But on 18 June, according to that Journal, East Caves was surrounded and running low on ammo, food, and water. On 19 June, the garrison repulsed attacks from three sides. On 21 June, they still held out. As late as 31 July, they had heavy fighting, and Lieutenant Colonel Minami their Commanding Officer was reported killed that day.

            (These brief statements in the Journal totally disagree with the true history of the East Caves defense. There was never a shortage of ammo, food, or clothing. It is true that Amphib Engineers of E Company 542 with I 163, and later, E 163, did patrol around the Caves to secure those Amphib Engineers working in a gravel pit for concrete materials to repair Parai Jetty. But it was merely security patrolling - not an assault. On 29 June, 4.2 mortars and tanks did shell the cave entrances and cliffs -tankers' 75 mm shells, and 800 rounds of 641 Tank Destroyer's rifled mortar shells over three days.

            But through 2 July, there were no attempts to occupy East Caves. To silence sporadic fire against trucks on Mokmer Road, 800 shells of Battery C 205 Field Artillery - with Naval destroyers and bombs dropped from B-25 - all fired on the Caves.

            On 3-5 July, Amphib Engineers and E 163 entered the Caves and slew 20 Japs. The other Japs had begun escaping as early as 20 June.

            Yet East Caves never endured a real attack from large storming parties. Bombarding it was enough to halt the shellfire against us. Commanding Officer Minami was not killed in heavy combat on 31 July. Our last patrols - not battle - ended by 5 July. Minami had already killed himself on 28 June 1944.

            As for the more important East Caves that headquartered the Biak force's Colonel Naoyuki Kuzume - the history here is as inaccurate and deficient as that of East Caves. Information is meager and erroneous.

            On 19 June, the Journal says that the Japanese attacked U.S. units pushing north against West Caves - but that results were "not decisive." (The truth is that on 19 June, 186 Infantry - not the Japs - decisively attacked. With few losses, 186 Infantry positioned in the rear of West Caves - cut off supplies and reinforcements from north Biak.)

            Journal says nothing about West Caves except "our defenses are still holding out" - on 22 June. Biak force Headquarters had moved to a grove four kilometers north of West Caves and was preparing to attack.

            (No attack was ever reported. Nothing more is said about West Caves. Yet on this morning of 22 June, the most aggressive of the West Caves garrison was lying dead before the Caves. Out of 150 who charged out, 125 were dead. The survivors still in the Caves were burned to death by 27 June.)

            Report on Colonel Kuzume is that he was killed in action north of Borokoe Strip either on 2 July or 20 July. (This statement seems wrong. Kuzume would hardly be the kind of Japanese officer who would desert his men in the final great strongpoint on Biak. But he might commit suicide. One U.S. report is that he ritually committed seppuku or hari-kari in the presence of his staff.

            It is probably true, therefore, that Kuzume committed seppuku. Best proof comes from statement of Mr. Kiichi Sasaki, a war correspondent who talked with Kuzume's "duty man," his orderly, who survived the Biak Operation. This orderly had attended the suicide of Colonel Kuzume. He had dug the hole for the burial of Kuzume.

            Why is there so great a difference between Japanese statements and what seems to be the truth about the Biak Operation? It is, of course, easy to say that the Japanese officers tried to "save face," to make themselves look like successful soldiers as much as they could. It is also possible that much was impossible to see clearly. But we still honor their courage.

 

CREDIT: There are 3 main sources of this history. At the Center of Military History, Washington, D. C., Dr. Edward Drea gave me his translation - a 13-page typescript, of the Japanese war on Biak. (I call it the "Journal.") Title is "Combat Operations of the Yuki Group (36 Div) on Biak Island and in the Sarmi region 3 Oct 1944." A fuller Jap story is in Report of Gen MacArthur/Japanese Operations in the SW Pacific Area, Vol II/Part I. It seems to come partly from the "Journal" just mentioned. A correction to these two documents is Robert Ross Smith's Approach to the Philippines, many times cited in my histories. In a letter of 4 Apr 1988, Japanese Marine Makoto Ikeda verifies the fact that Colonel Naoyuki Kuzume committed the heroic type of suicide that often happened to fine Jap officers.