C Company 186 Infantry: Borgonjie River, Hill 1000

By Dr. Hargis Westerfield, Division Historian with Ted Cotter, other C-186 men

This is the story of C Company 186 Infantry's first combat experience - the Hollandia Invasion. On 22 April 1944, before 0645, we were ready to hit the beach. As our LCIs waited for orders, destroyers and LCI rocket craft pulverized the coast in smoke and debris. From Vice Admiral Mitscher's Task Force 58 carriers, hundreds of planes dive-bombed the shore.

With other 1st Battalion 186 men, C Company followed all 162 Infantry (less A 162) into White Beach 1 and the jungle-swamp. Our first mission was to cut the motor road from Pim north to Hollandia, While 162 fought north to Hollandia, we were to penetrate 1500 yards inland, then turn south to capture Pim Village. At Pim, we would be on the road to Lake Sentani and the three airstrips north of the lake.

Under cloudy morning tropical skies, C rushed off landing ramps at 0750. A newsreel man photographed us piling off the ramps. Unexploded shells and bombs were scattered all over the beach. For what seemed an hour, we waited for orders to push inland. Some 150-200 yards ahead, Navy Hellcats strafed pillboxes, but Levick saw no Japs in them.

Turning north to miss the impassable jungle, we began a mad dash inland. Skirting rising ground, we saw flaming drums of gasoline hissing and surging down toward us.

We crossed a swamp among scattered mangrove trees. Their roots projected above water and tried to trip us. Water was often knee-deep, or even belt-deep. Men like Levick - five feet, five inches tall -were in chest-deep. It was hard to wade and watch for Japs too. Our planes worried us, diving law for Jap targets.

One bazooka ammo man fell into a shell hole with water over his head. Another Yank saved him by pulling on his jungle pack.

Dripping from the hot, wet swamp, then from higher jungle and more heat, C craved water. Dipping his canteen into a small stream, Levick looked up at a dead Jap in the current, 30 feet above him. Levick went without the water.

C now turned south, away from 163 Infantry paralleling our inland march. While 162 Infantry advanced on Hollandia Town, we hiked south towards an even more important objective.

Our objective was the Leimok Hill-Pim Village area. Japs on 730-foot Leimok Hill could have mangled 186 men on White Beach 4, where most of our regiment was to land. Here we found loaded machine guns - some of them 20 mm machine cannon - but no Japs to man them. C dug in on Leimok while 3rd Battalion landed below us at Pim Village. Support fire from Amphibious Engineers' craft had wiped out a small Jap force and fired Pim Village.

Pim Village headed a road leading west some 3000 yards to freshwater Lake Sentani. North of the lake below Cyclops Mountains were the three Hollandia strips we had to take.

In C's first day of action, we had executed five Nips, of whom two had rushed an unnamed lieutenant. They were armed only with bayonets. We do not remember how the other three died.

At 0800 23 April, C left Leimok Hill and hiked slowly west on the narrow road towards Lake Sentani and the strips. Passing 3rd Battalion securing Pim, we now pushed on supported by 205 Field Artillery and 218 Field Artillery and Task Force 58 carrier planes. Despite only light Jap opposition, Colonel Newman wisely posted C and A to guard our right flank.

Passing a Jap soldier village on the road, C evidently got orders to check out a possible Jap force in Cyclops Mountains foothills northwest of us. With A, we pushed up Borgonjie River, which wound about six miles down from Cyclops into Pim Swamp.

Starting our company patrol, we had a mile of track through jungle along a road into a canyon. But the canyon narrowed; the way got rougher. In the river, boulders loomed as high as a small house. Ominously, the radio was useless here; we lost contact with other outfits.

In late afternoon in the wilderness, we halted at a stream intersection. While Sergeant Simpson's squad worked upstream to find a way out of the canyon, we filled canteens and washed. We were about to open K rations for supper.

Glancing up towards an outpost, Staff Sergeant Yarbrough observed men moving down toward us in the riverbed. At first, he thought it was Simpson's patrol returning. But they were Japs.

These Japs took no pains to conceal themselves; Yarbrough surmised that they had not seen us. Yarbrough grabbed a pack and attached ammo belt from a rock eight feet off, and jumped behind a large boulder. His signals alerted his two BAR men posted on each side of the stream. Our two outguards were working their way back among the boulders.

About 30 Japs were now in view. Our BARs shot; Yarbrough threw down his rifle on this target.

Suddenly Yarbrough could not breathe. He expelled wind; blood spewed out on his hands. He felt the hole where the bullet entered - felt the back of his neck where the bullet must have gone out. For some reason, he was relieved to find no hole in the back of his neck. And Yarbrough remembered nothing more until next day.

            Fighting about 10 feet from Yarbrough, Granvillle Levick guessed that the deadly bullet had glanced from a rock into the sergeant's throat. Levick saw blood and a bubble from the wound, but a medic could do nothing for Yarbrough.

From trees and brush, invisible Japs fired down on us below them in the canyon. Our light machine gun men had no time for tripods; they cradled barrels in their arms and sprayed where bullets seemed to come from. Firepower and falling light combined to stop the Japs; darkness came about 1835.

In our first combat, C spent a bitter, frustrated  night. Most of Sergeant Cotter's 3rd Platoon ran up the left bank of the Borgonjie and hit the ground within 50 yards of the river. Night fell at once.

Ted Cotter guessed that the Japs left the area in 30 minutes, but the scare remained. Every noise brought volleys from our own men. Cotter's hardest job was to keep quiet the two privates next to him. He threatened to bayonet one overgrown child trying to cry for his mother. Trigger-happy rookies kept us awake all night. Cotter believes that most firing came from 2nd Platoon on the other side of the Borgonjie.

With the first shots just before dark, C's Headquarters Platoon and another squad took to high ground on the left bank and lay prone. Shortly after dark, we heard a large group of Japs directly ahead, but hidden by dense brush. They spoke loudly and clashed rifle/bolts. We expected a charge; 1st Sergeant Lathrop ordered "Fix bayonets!" With only his bayonetless carbine, Hi Norton was a scared man.

Then machine guns from the right of the stream enfiladed the Japs before us, broke up the possible attack and slew a number. Norton was uncertain whether A or C gunners fired. Later, he heard that a Yank Air Force prisoner died when we shot down those Japs.

On that 24 April after sunrise at 0634, daylight was bitter for 2nd Platoon. Just before light, 2nd Lieutenant Gerald M. Collins and Staff Sergeant Ted Norton were killed. (Ted Norton was the brother of Hi in Headquarters Platoon) By 0800, Pfc. Buner G. Cruce was dead of wounds.

Also seriously wounded were Ernest Davis and Fanning. Wallace was wounded also. Cotter believes that Wallace and a buddy were AWOL Seabees, whom we rated as top scouts. Our Captain Anklam returned them to Seabees with written commendations. We hoped that their punishment would be light.

            In our night fight of 24 April, we lost three dead and four wounded, but killed 18 of an estimated 160 Japs.

Miraculously, Yarbrough was still alive, despite that bullet through his windpipe, which lodged in his right lung. C cleared a trail wide enough for us to drag him from the canyon on a makeshift stretcher. We took nine hours to carry him five miles to the medics; had to halt our carry to kill more Japs. Despite horrible thirst, he had to go waterless.

Marching west 24 April, we still secured 186's north flank in the westward advance. We killed eight more Japs, probably from the 160 who attacked last night. About 1630, we rejoined 1st Battalion where the Air Strips Road branched off to Koejaboe on Lake Sentani, a 21-mile long freshwater lake meandering west.

Next morning, 25 April, C was part of 186's two-pronged move to capture Hollandia Strips. While 2nd and 3rd Battalions slogged along the shore, we boarded LVTs for a 10-11 mile ride. After five miles of open water, our barges passed right between Ase Island, with Ajapo Village on the sharp point to port. Air Force planes guarded us. Firing on suspicious native huts, we saw no Japs. Rounding the great swamp peninsula on the north shore, we landed safe at Nefaar Village, near a flaming Nippo dump that 186 had machine-gunned.  

We dug in on barren hills south of the strips. From the north, Jap anti-aircraft fired heavy concentrations of time fuze shells on us. Although demoralizing, they made only a few light wounds hospitalized overnight a shell-shock casualty.

On 26 April by 1030, we took Cyclops Strip unopposed. Wreckage of 288 Jap planes littered the strips. Although Jap 6th Air Division's commanding officer thought himself out of range of Army planes, our General George Kenney attached extra belly tanks to his fighters. In three days, beginning 30 March, Kenney's fleet of some 230 planes of 5th Air Force, had wiped out Jap 6th Air Division. This Jap disaster explains why Task Force 58 landed 186 safely at Humboldt Bay.

            On 26 April also, a C patrol contacted a 24th Division patrol near Weversdorp Village. With this contact of 41st and 24th Divisions, main objective of Hollandia invasion was accomplished.

But C still had battle ahead. Some 400 Japs - Iast organized fighters at Hollandia - were entrenched on Hill 1000, 4000 yards northeast of Cyclops Strip. In Cyclops Mountains foothills, they overlooked a long ravine leading up from the Strip.

While B advanced up the lower bench land right of the ravine, C occupied the crest of a kunai grass hill to B's right. Far too exposed for safety, we took heavy Jap fire from the rain forest before us.

Pvt. B. F. Lingerfelt got a deadly chest wound. Medic John H. Shelton tried to save him, while we called down field artillery on the woods. Our field artillery's first salvo struck our own 3rd Platoon and killed both Lingerfelt and Medic Shelton; also wounded Alex Schneider and Shimek.

We returned some fire. With telescope sights, 3rd Platoon's sharpshooter Beaty killed a Jap at 500 yards. Seeing Japs at 300 yards, Brazille had orders to fire his light machine gun on them. Before he emptied a full belt, three bullets wounded him in shoulder - put him out until he was able to land on Wardo Beach on Biak in mid-August.

Headquarters Platoon had better luck. On rearguard for C, we saw six Japs sneak from the brush on B's right and take position behind a rock. Unsuspecting B had for some reason pulled in their outguards. We killed at least four with carbines or rifles; the others fled. On a patrol of our own that day, 1st Sergeant Lathrop took point-blank pistol fire from a Jap officer. The Jap missed; Lathrop killed him.

D Company's 81s barraged the Japs' position to cover B and C's withdrawal. With two dead and three wounded, C had just twice B's number of four dead and six wounded. In return, we reported six Japs killed at 1030 and 16 killed from later patrols.

On 29 April, heavy shellfire broke up the Jap concentration on Hill 1000. Although C Company was positioned to attack as late as 1600, we took no part in 1st Battalion's occupation of the hill where the others slew 72 shell-dazed Japs. Preparatory mortar and field artillery fire had slain 37. An estimated 100 had retreated into the Cyclops Mountains wilderness.

            Such was C Company 186 Infantry's war at Hollandia a memorable day of landing, afternoon and night battles on Borgonjie River and daylight battle at Hill 1000. It was all infantry jungle mud and sweat and blood. Although opposition from a planless Nippo defense was light, we still lost five dead and seven wounded. In sweat and blood and mud, C Company 186 Infantry underwent a strenuous training session that tempered us for our great Battle of Biak.


CREDIT: Most important sources were personal letters of C-186 men: Ted Cotter - 10 December 1974, 7, 10, 14 December 1976, 2 January 1977 and one undated late in 1976. Important also were Ietters of Granville Levick, 15 November, 14 December 1976 and Hi Norton, 20 January 1977. Nick Wheeler's D Company.186 "The Show at Hollandia" (Jungleer XX, 2), was useful, also B-186's Durand Mandoline's map of "B's" attack on Hill 1000. Useful also were 186's Casualty Report, "C's" April Morning Report, R.R. Smith's "Approach to the Philippines”, “George Kenney's "General Kenney Reports" and "New Guinea Terrain Handbook”.