E Company, 163 Infantry: Insoemani, Liki and Toem Foreshore

By Dr. Hargis Westerfield, Division Historian

             In the Toem- Wakde Operation, E Company 163 Infantry endured our own shellfire on Insoemanai Island, then seized Liki Island, and finally skirmished with Matsuyama Force at Toem.

            Landing safely on 17 May 1944 under furious air and navy bombardment, we had a brisk little engagement with the Japs. Patrolling from Toem, Tech Sergeant Larsen heard Jap talk ahead of him. When his patrol stepped up to shoot, two Jap scouts saw them too soon. We killed the first scout, but the second ran. One man, name unknown, chased the Jap, but fell wounded but still under fire. Larsen divided his patrol to flank the Japs, then took three men down-trail to draw fire.

            When Jap fires drove Larsen and his three to earth, Larsen saw that the Japs had turned their rifles on the wounded man. Larsen leaped up and rushed to save him. His three front men and the flankers hit the Japs right then. They broke and ran and left behind weapons and packs - and 12 dead.

            Meanwhile, E Company readied to seize Insoemanai Island to fire to secure for landing our Provisional Group of heavy weapons. They were to blast Wakde Island tomorrow before 1st Battalion landed. Wakde lies half a mile north of Insoemanai. Tiny Insoemanai is between Wakde and the Toem mainland, and roughly parallel to Wakde. About 750 yards long and 200 yards across, it was covered with thick brush and a few coconut trees.

            About 1045, with needless preparatory fire from two destroyers and two rocket LCIs, 2nd Lieutenant Ritzenhein's E Company's platoon's landing craft grounded on a coral reef off Insoemanai. Wading in 75 yards, we found no Japs. Then most of "E" with the Provisional Group of heavy weapons landed and positioned. E Company's and AT Company's .50 heavy machine guns first arrived, and D and H Company's heavy machine guns and .81s completed the Insoemanai garrison. The Groupment was ready for enfilade fire on Wakde to protect 163's waterborne attack tomorrow.

            On Insoemanai we found no Japs - only five long deserted native huts. But on Insoemanai, "E" suffered five - or probably six - killed and 5 seriously wounded - our top number of daily casualties in the whole New Guinea Campaign.

       We dug in our machine guns on the open beach. Although we were about 500 yards from the long southern peninsula of silent Wakde Island, we believed by now that no Japs could menace us from there. Suddenly a Jap sniper struck from Wakde. Our 1st Lieutenant Hutton was shot in the right chest and fell in the sniper's sights. Lampe left a safe place and began to drag Hutton behind rocks and trees. That same sniper hit Pvt. Lee S. Lampe in the head, but he kept on dragging Hutton. Lampe died a few minutes later. (As for Hutton, the Casualty List calls Hutton "seriously wounded," but our final Division roster of the dead carries the name "William G. Hutton." First name, initials, last name are the same as our Lieutenant's.)

            Staff Sergeant Nolan was seriously wounded, gunshot in right knee, and Ellingham lightly wounded, shot in his chest. (One of these two men may have been earlier wounded that 17 May in Tech Sergeant Larsen's patrol's fight near Toem.)

            Mortars neutralized the sniper fire, which we now think to have come from near Wakde Jetty. But Insoemanai would still be a place of death or wounds for six more "E" men.

            In the dark about 2200, our own misguided field artillery shells impacted on our Insoemania position. They deflected eastward and missed the long southern Wakde cape by 500 yards. Everyone not on guard was blasted awake. E Company's Captain Zimmerman reported five air bursts and five impacts. Killed was Sergeant Benjamin Thomas. Corporal Frank Sarno was slashed in abdomen and Eddie C Schmidt in right side; both would die tomorrow at Toem. Sergeant Serino was gouged down his right

side right hand, right leg, and right hip. Seriously wounded also were Peterson right side; Reeson left ankle and right hip; and Richardson lower hip. Because of the number of hip wounds, perhaps these four men were all caught asleep on their sides.

            The first shell severed the phone line of our Insoemanai field artillery observer. He raced past H Company's heavy machine guns to Group Headquarters to phone to halt the shelling while other men furiously dug at the coral stone to grovel from any more fire. But no more shells hit Insoemanai that night. We lay on that remote little island with only the wounded or dying while Medics worked on them - and the fear that another wild shell might blast us.

            Which battalion of 191 Field Artillery Group at Toem fired those projectiles on us - 218 Field Artillery, 146 Field Artillery, or Cannon Company 163 Infantry? The 191 Field Artillery Group Headquarters reported that CN Company fired on our own regiment because they were inexperienced in gunnery.

            But next morning, we jaded, sleep-starved "E" men crouched at our heavy machine guns. With AT and D and H Companies, we volleyed Jap Wakde, then took Jap fire in return while our landing barges drove for Wakde Beach. We easily won our morning duel - fired until the attack waves of 163 men came between us and the struggling Japs.

            But E Company did not fight on bloody Wakde. At 1148 18 May, while 1st Battalion and F Company battled for Wakde Strip, "E" had orders to capture another remote little islet for a 5th Air Force radar warning station. The islet was Liki, 20-25 miles west of Insoemanai, and 16 miles out at sea from Jap-held Sarmi Town on the New Guinea mainland. Much larger than Insoemanai, Liki was 4 miles long, about 20 miles square. Against an alert, aggressive Jap garrison, E Company could encounter bitter jungle fighting.

            On 19 May, E Company joined a sizable landing force to capture both main Koemamba Islands, the name of the group Liki belongs to. Convoy consisted of two attack transports, two LCTs, with two destroyers. Aboard with "E" was I Company 163 Infantry, whose mission was to land on Niroemar, a smaller island a few miles east and secure the ground for another radar station.

            While "E" waited for the destroyer bombardment to cease, we saw before us on the southwest side of Liki, a sandy, flat beach - only beach in the whole steep-sided island. Covered with jungle, Liki rose before us to three wooded peaks, the center and highest peak 1039 feet.

            Landing was unopposed. By 1140, Captain Zimmerman reported that "E" had entered Saoe Village, and by 1245 had scouted 600 yards east of Saoe, and found no Japs. By 1248, we were on the west coast, 200 yards past Isjuma Village. Isjuma had been evacuated by Japs several days ago. By 1430, an LST was unloading the Air Force radar; and by 1847, all of "E" but 2nd Lieutenant Ritzenhein's security platoon was returning to Toem.

            By 20 May, Ritzenhein's platoon had picked up five natives with their chief, whom the pre-landing bombardment had slightly wounded. We found just 31 natives on Liki, although others may have easily hidden in the uplands. Only Jap signs were a few saki bottles, maybe 12 L-shaped trenches, a grave, and Jap clothing on some natives. The natives said that 30 days ago, the 38-man Jap detachment had forced them to gather all available food for the Japs to take to Sarmi. After sending an "E" squad to replace all I Company on Niroemar, Lieutenant Ritzenhein would soon rejoin "E" at Toem.

            When E Company returned to the Toem Foreshore, we dug in strongly in our 2nd Battalion on rear-guard of 163 beach-head, on Tementoe Creek. (Hollandia was about 143 miles east of the Tementoe.) Left of us, G Company anchored 2nd Battalion on the seashore, and battered D Company back from Wakde, lay holed up on our right. With other 2nd Battalion men, E' s objective was to secure 163' s rear from Colonel Soemon Matsuyama' s 224 Infantry. We were in the possible line of a drive from Matsuyama Force, which had earlier trekked east to recover Hollandia from the 41st. Major-General Hachiro Tanoue, however, had recalled Matsuyama to help defend Sarmi. About 3,000 survivors of the Hollandia garrison had also made their way through 143 miles of jungle from Hollandia to join General Tanoue.

            While 1st Battalion 163 Infantry set up tents west of us under protection of a few scattered machine gun positions, 2nd Battalion 163 Infantry slept every night in holes on guard, and patrolled daily. Soon we found the Jap fighters.

            On 23 May, an ''E'' patrol marched east across Tementoe Creek towards Kedir Village, about 2 miles away. Thick flat jungle was everywhere except on the narrow beach. We sighted 11 Japs in three groups - one of five men, another of four, and a third of two. In the fire-fight, Sergeant Peters was seriously wounded - gunshot in right shoulder. After our fire-power repelled the 11, we were in turn halted by Jap rifles. Every move drew fire from what we thought to be a small defense position, which we could not see. We fell back in order, while our field artillery hit their hidden positions.

            Next day, 25 May, 2nd Lieutenant Larsen's G Company patrol of 28 men with extra BARs went out to search for the 11 Japs. This time, when "G" tried to cross a stream on a log footbridge, an estimated 20 Japs with two automatic weapons crossfired on the bridge. "G" lost scout Freddie Marooch of the Netherlands Indies Civil Administration (NICA), and G's Vitosky with a head wound. G's patrol fell back without recovering Marooch. In mid-morning next day, a six-man "G" patrol found five freshly dug foxholes on the coast track to Kedir Village, and saw three Japs crossing the track west of the holes. Japs had certainly occupied this area.

            Next day, 26 May, E Company sent six men, including a sergeant and another NICA man to find NICA Marooch. At 1145, we saw his body, but no longer on that log bridge. It was removed to the far side of the stream, as if to tempt us into ambush. We saw no Japs, but just as we tried to cross, a light machine gun opened up from near the trail. We escaped unharmed.

            On 27 May, E Company moved out in strength to force that log bridge crossing and recover Marooch. Attached to our 67 from "E" were an officer and two men of H Company's 81s, an officer and three Cannon Company men, two Intelligence men, and five Medics. This patrol turned out to be a recon in force that should have alerted the whole regiment to strengthen our perimeters.

            This time, a probable preparatory bombardment seems to have helped "E" cross that stream on that log bridge. We advanced 500 yards before Jap contact. After a vicious fire-fight, the Japs pulled back down the trail.

            Although we advanced 100 more yards, Jap fire-power drove us to earth. We tried to flank the Japs with a squad, but their rifles stopped us. Pfc. Robert E. Moxey lay mortally wounded, his body exposed on the side of the log which Jap eyes watched over their rifles. Their close fire kept us from dragging Moxey's corpse over to the safe side of the log. Finally, Staff Sergeant Muchmore crawled to the log and pulled the body over to what would have been safety if Moxey still lived.

            Our slightest move now drew Jap bullets that seemed to come from everywhere, but Staff Sergeant John Newman noted direction of the main fire while Muchmore pulled Moxey back over the log. Although he drew some shots, Newman crawled towards the log. A few yards from the sniper, Newman stopped crawling, lay quiet as if dead. Suddenly he stood up to his full height and fired rapidly. He killed two Japs and neutralized the most dangerous position.  [and was awarded a Silver Star]

            Now Muchmore and Newman redeployed and attacked. Our M-1 s repelled the Japs. Instead of the expected bunkers, we found only deserted Jap foxholes.

            Besides losing E's Moxey killed, we lost also H Company's Holbrook wounded some time during this fight. We brought back the corpses of Moxey and NICA Marooch. We had won our small battle, but the Jap outfit that we had fought, was still intact deep in that blind jungle.

            On the night of that same 27 May, a command from Matsuyama Force charged into 163's tents at Toem. Wisely avoiding our 2nd Battalion's deadly perimeters on the Tementoe, they chose a vacant jungle near B 116 Medics for deployment. Some 200 Jap riflemen, mortar-men, and machine-gunners broke into 163's camp. Motor pool guards finally smashed them near the shore. Except for men well dug in like our 2nd Battalion, 163 Infantry had a wild night until the last Japs were expelled.

            Today it seems that the Japs fighting "E" and "G" on 23-27 May were a decoy force to conceal Matsuyama's plans to overrun 163 Infantry. They had left that log bridge unbroken to draw us over it in their direction - and had moved Marooch's body across to be sure that we would follow. Their ruse succeeded.

            But as for E 163, our Toem-Wakde action was finished, although we did not reinforce our 41st on Biak until 12 June. After a small holocaust from our own shells on Insoemanai, we had island-hopped to land safely on Liki. Then we had fought well on rear-guard at Toem. We had five or six dead, and wounded. But our action in the Toem- Wakde Operation was only a prelude to harder fighting on Biak.

 

CREDIT: This history I pieced together mainly from award stories of Leo Lampe, Tech Sergeant (later Lieutenant) Don Larsen, and Staff Sergeants William Muchmore and John Newman, with help of 163's Toem-Wakde Journal. Much help came also from R. R. Smith's Approach to the Philippines, and Terrain Handbook No. 26 (Sarmi) from Allied Geographical Section, Southwest Pacific Area (New Guinea). Help came also from my own "War of Nerves at Toem," (Jungleer, Jan 1979). E Company's Don Torgerson identified Larsen as being an E Company man also.