K and F Companies 162 Infantry at Hollandia: Our Landings and Polimac's Ambush

by Dr. Hargis Westerfield, Division Historian, with K Company's Charles Brockman and F Company's Chester Young

K Company, 162 Infantry at Hollandia

            Awaking topside before daylight on 22 April 1944, BARman Brockman of K Company 162 Infantry and other men dived into the crowded Navy transport to prepare for battle at Hollandia. It was still dark after breakfast when we took our gear to wait beside the landing nets already thrown over side. Off to starboard in the night, we saw exhaust flames stabbing from planes striking for the Japanese beaches. Fires blazed already on the foreshore ahead.

            Swarming down nets into a bouncing LCPR (landing-craft-personnel-ramp), Brockman saw in broad daylight the one gold bar of the Naval Ensign in charge of the entire first wave. Meanwhile, light cruisers and destroyers blasted the beach. Our planes worked it over; then two rocket-armed LCVPs of 532 Amphibious Engineers smashed the beach again.

            When all our LCVPs came up abreast, our Ensign ordered us to drive for land. As we closed in, the .30 caliber heavy machine guns on our barges were raking the trees above the beach. Our craft slowed down for the sands too soon and dropped the ramp. Water poured in. But our alert Navy coxswain reversed the propeller. The water flowed out; our ramp lifted back up.

            As we finally beached, Brockman saw Sergeant Higgenbotham walk into surf nearly over his head. Brockman's own heavy-burdened momentum carried him deep into that same surf. As we beached, the Ensign behind us called, "God bless you men," as the landing barges backed into deep water.

            While L Company climbed to take Pancake Hill, we also moved up abreast of "L" as much as the heavy wet hill jungle would permit. By 1720, L Company had overrun undefended Pancake Hill. With no help from our tanks mired already in mud below the hill, 3rd Battalion turned westward on the ridge towards Hollandia Town, three miles away. Because of a swamp in the middle of that ridge, I Company hiked alone on the inland side. K Company followed "L" on the seaward side of the ridge.

            Starting before noon, a slow, penetrating rain hampered our heavy-footed march even more. To Brockman, it was all up-grade hiking. And from our mental mist of soaked fatigue, K Company heard our first firing break-out, about 1410.

            Brockman saw his first combat casualty borne back from L Company's front - probably Sergeant Payne. He was seriously wounded - L Company's only casualty of 22 April. The bandage on Payne's leg was rain-soaked and the blood through it was diluted into pink. Later we moved on past several Jap dead in the cave where a bazooka had blasted them. Farther on ahead of us, L Company destroyed more Jap resistance. Our K Company found two unmanned Jap heavy machine guns with plenty of ammo. We carried them along to keep them from falling into Japs' hands again.

            By 1430, 3rd Battalion 162 Infantry had cleared 1,000-foot Jarremoh Hill and the adjoining ridge overlooking Hollandia Town. Our Battalion Commanding Officer wanted to seize Hollandia before dark, but General Fuller preferred to soften it with Naval guns and 146 Field Artillery's 105s. Reports had said that it was strongly held.

            Before "K" dug in, Brockman and other men of his squad patrolled the ground before us and found no Japs. But about the time when our holes were half-dug, a sniper fired from

where our patrol had searched in the brush.

            After the Jap's second shot, Brockman thought that he was the target. He even felt the muzzle-blasts about his ears. He pointed his Browning Automatic Rifle on the trees leftward, but it failed to fire. He grabbed Portel's tommie gun, but failed to fire it because he did not know how. A nearby rifleman was rolling on the ground and firing a shot or two after each roll. Other M-1s fired also. Somebody yelled, "They got him!"

            But bazooka man Pvt Joseph Kondili lay dead with a bullet through the main artery in his neck or shoulder. While still under fire, Sergeant Hurliman climbed over dead logs to try to save Kondili with the help of Staff Sergeant Leon. Aided by Staff Sergeant Wildfong, they dragged him onto a litter. A second Jap shot hit the head of a bazooka shell in Kondili' s pack, but the shell did not explode.

            After cleaning his BAR, Brockman holed up with Portel and Copp. From our holes, we "K" men watched an M Company heavy machine gun chase a Jap almost half a mile away. They expended most of a belt of ammo, but he sprinted a quarter-mile to hide in a hut until morning.

            From their hole that night, Copp whispered to Brockman several times, "Here they come!" and threw maybe five Aussie Mills grenades at suspicious noises. The Aussie grenades left no spark-trail to give away our position, but we do not know that they hit anyone. Brockman's squad lost no man, but three other "K" men were wounded.

            At 2100 hours, Blueback and Sergeant Gidelski were hit. Blueback took fragments in the head and side. Gidelski was shot in his right leg. And at 0700 that morning, a bullet struck S/Sergeant Buckley in his right knee.

            At 0800 23 April, we buried Kondili beside the trail while Chaplain Sells officiated.  After Naval air strikes and field artillery fire, K Company became the lead outfit to seize Hollandia, with L Company in support.  About 1000, a field artillery shell burst in trees edging 3rd Battalion's perimeter.  It seriously wounded six and slightly wounded seven in Battalion Headquarters, Company and L and M Companies - but nobody in "K".  On marching into Hollandia from the west, we slew that Jap whom M Company had missed last night, and by 1115 held the town, with only three Nips killed. Hollandia was strongly fortified, with cement pillboxes and four field pieces. Our bombardment had expelled the garrison. M Company's mortars arrived too late to kill a Jap truck loading up in a hurry half a mile away.

            K Company's real war at Hollandia was ended. Finding no Japs remaining where we saw the truck, Brockman's 1st Platoon took turns bathing and washing our fatigues heavy with mud while men took turns guarding us. We found beer and sake, and some men drank too much. Our war at Hollandia had ended, and K Company had lost just one killed and four wounded. But bloody Biak was ahead for us.

 

F Company 162 Infantry at Hollandia

            Before daylight 22 April 1944, men of F Company 162 Infantry lined the deck of our LCI (landing-craft-infantry) to watch our Navy readying to shell Humboldt Bay beaches around the coast from Hollandia Town. A heavily loaded sea-plane left its inshore anchorage and flew right over our LCI. Our gunners tracked its flight but did not fire. To this day, F Company is unsure whether or not it was an escaping Jap plane.

            With daylight, our Navy hammered the beaches. Several great fires burst up from gas dumps.

            At 0700, 162 Infantry began landing in column of battalions, led by 1st Battalion with six medium tanks attached. Then F Company with 2nd Battalion beached from our LCI at 0735. We turned right up the beach and pushed inland across a treacherous swamp. Short BARman Wintermire went clear under the muck, and someone had to pull him out.

       We were following E Company, but our commanding officers found that this trek would be too slow. "E" would have to cut a trail the entire way. Leaving E Company to go ahead, we recrossed the swamp to the beach and climbed up Pancake Hill to get on the track from Pim Village three miles north to Hollandia. Some of our Navy planes wrongly strafed us, but we got out without losing any "F" men.

            Heavy rain began about 1500 as "F" miserably patrolled Pim Track north to Hollandia. That night, we dug perimeter on the ridge above Hollandia Town. A few shells hit nearby but hurt nobody. From inland, Jap anti-aircraft and .50 heavy machine guns shot at us out of range. They could not reach us but kept us worried and broke our sleep as we huddled with heads under our ponchos and tried to warm damp bodies with our breath. (On Hollandia D-Day, Jap opposition was so light that the whole 41st had lost just six killed, 16 wounded.)

            On 23 April after Naval and field artillery bombardment, 162 easily took Hollandia town without Jap resistance. Then 2nd Battalion occupied high ground to secure Hollandia on the west.

F Company pushed to where last night's anti-aircraft and heavy machine gun fire came from. When we spotted several pillboxes leftwards on a ridge, 1st Lieutenant Polimac ordered Young to scout them with two men. When these rookies objected, old Salamaua hand Young led the way. The pillboxes were deserted, with some abandoned guns.

          So tired were we after the climb to the pillboxes that we lay down to rest for a few minutes just when E Company men found us. Then came a lucky accident that probably saved Sergeant Young's life from Polimac's ambush.

            When an E Company man tried to hang his rifle on a "snag" of rotten rock or weathered branch, the piece fell on Young. The foresight gashed Young over the left eye. The bleeding was so hard to stop that we bandaged him around the head. It was impossible for him to wear his helmet.

            So when Polimac ordered a patrol for Nips up the valley of probably Nubai Creek, he refused to take Young with him, minus a helmet. Staff Sergeant Overbo replaced Young.

            And Polimac's patrol went into a death-valley. (Thirty years later, at a bar in Kearney, Nebraska, F' s Medic Winslow said that F Company had asked to have the valley shelled to help the patrol, but the request was refused.)

            In the valley bottom, Michel Polimac found an upstream trail beside probably Nubai Creek that flows past Hollandia Town. We saw two Japs that maybe saw us at the same time. As

they ran, Polimac shouted, "Let's catch them!" 

            And we chased them up the trail right into their ambush. Near the head of the draw, we saw a cave and began to deploy. Probably we waded Nubai Creek.

            Suddenly from all around us, Japs opened fire with mortars, machine guns, and small arms. F Company men groaned as they died or fell wounded. Seeing his men in confusion from the sudden fire, Polimac stood up to regain control of his men. But he was seriously wounded. He continued to direct his patrol until he died.

            Staff Sergeant Erwin W. Overbo exposed himself to heavy fire to rescue a wounded man. After saving him, Overbo returned to see Polimac shot down.  Overbo died trying to save Polimac.

            BARman Angelo Castelli obeyed orders to place fire on a Jap pillbox nearby. But to sight that BAR, he had to fire standing without cover. After 20 minutes' fire, he loyally stayed behind to cover our retreat and died firing. Only the men at the rear of the patrol could escape.

            A second patrol tried to bring out our wounded, but the Japs again trapped and shot down the forward half of the patrol.

            Probably at this time, three Medics used the fight of the second patrol to save a wounded man. Staff Sergeant Gehrman, T/3 Cooley, and Sheets waded Nubai Creek under threat of Jap fire and brought out a wounded man on a litter.

            F Company lost seven dead, and four wounded to hospital. Certainly killed were 1st Lieutenant Michael Polimac, Staff Sergeants Edwin Overbo and Nelson H. Stevenson, Sergeant  Glen J. Bowen, with Pfcs Angelo Castelli, Arthur C. Rodriguez, and Arthur H. Richter. Wounded were Arnold, Butts, Reinhardt, and Staff Sergeant WT Jones. (Young believes that Dennis Jones died, but he is not listed among 162's fomal roster of killed.)

            It was now too late on 23 April to fight the Japs again. We left our dead under their rifles and retreated to F's perimeter. We dug in deep because we expected an attack that night. But just about dark began the crashes of the explosions back on White Beach 1 where that lone Jap bomber's single bomb fired our supply dumps.

         Next morning, "F" penetrated the Japs' Nubai Creek area but found only signs that they had gone. Perhaps they fell back under cover of the noise from the blasts down on our beachhead. We have no idea as to just what Jap formation opposed 162 Infantry in our quick capture of Hollandia. In the whole Hollandia area, there was only one ground combat unit "Jap Marines" - 90 Naval Garrison Unit, with "Engineers" - 8 Naval Construction Unit. But if these units fought at all, they might have fought on two other fronts - against 186 Infantry along Lake Sentani, or against 24th Division on Tahnahmerah Bay. Resistance that 162 Infantry faced might just as well have come from die-hard Army and Air Service units, or from grounded airmen.

         

            These skirmishes of K and F Cos were almost all the combat that 162 Infantry carried on during the Hollandia Operation. We had only these killed: one in K Company, seven in F Company. K and F Cos each had just four wounded. (A bad field artillery shot from one of our own guns did wound 13 3rd Battalion men - of whom nine were from L Company and two from M Company.) But the rest of the 162's Hollandia war was mainly scouting and patrolling until time for the Battle of Biak.

 

 

CREDIT: K Company's prime source is Charles Brockman's undated 4-page typescript "Hollandia Landing K Company 162 Infantry,"which he quickly followed with his letter of 4 June 1981. I used also award stories of Staff Sergeant Charles Leon, Sergeant Frank Hurliman, and Staff Sergeant Edgar Wildfong, with "S-1 Journal Headquarters Third Battalion 162nd Infantry." F Company's prime source is Chester Young's undated 2-page typescript "Company F 162 Infantry, Hollandia Operation," mailed to me 17 Jan. 1971. I used also award stories of 1st Lieutenant Michael Polimac, Angelo Castelli, and Staff Sergeant Erwin Overbo, all of whom were killed. Medics' award stories were about Staff Sergeant Frank Gerhrman, Robert Sheets, and T/3 William Cooley. For both "K" and "F" I used 162's "Officers and Enlisted Men Losses During the Hollandia Operation," Hollandia, which is Terrain Handbook No. 25 of Allied Geographical Section in the SWP. "Extract -162nd Infantry Regiment," "Report of Operations 12 Mar - 10 May 1944," and R. R. Smith's Approach to the Philippines. Polimac's ambush is unmentioned in 162's reports.