F Company, 163 Infantry: Battle on Waterless Wakde

by Platoon Guide Ralph Marlow with Dr. Hargis Westerfield, Division Historian

             On 27 April 1944, F Company 163 Infantry looked forward to a long tropical vacation of swimming and games after the brief Aitape Operation. Except for the death of Pvt Fred L. Vanderpool and Pfc Louis J. Mangold and Seifert's broken shoulder from strafing by misguided naval planes, Aitape has been only sweaty marching and patrolling. We seemed to have a permanent garrison camp in the coconut grove beside a breezy beach at Santa Anna Plantation.

            But on 11 May, Commanding Officer 1st Lieutenant Liebach announced that F Company was to join 163' s 1st Battalion to capture Wakde Island. (It would turn out to be a hot, thirsty cockpit of battle.) On 17 May 1944, after a Navy-Air bombardment, F Company landed on the mainland near Wakde Island - in the first wave, into waist-deep water. We hike behind G Company two miles east and dug in at Toem Village.

            We killed our first Japs that night about 2400. Many U.S. grenade blasts awakened PIatoon Guide Marlow in his hole with Sergeant Mills and Medic Malanca. After our grenades, M-1s fired. A Jap ran; we heard another crawling. From the following silence, a wounded Jap moaned out front, to die just before daylight.

            Next morning, "F" found four dead Nips, including an officer. The moaning Jap had his death-wound in his chest. Staff Sergeant Reeves had killed one Jap; Reed and Sergeant Feifar, two others. Nobody knew who killed the fourth.

            De Kamp had heard another Jap crawl towards him. When he finally saw that dark form near his hole, he knocked the Jap back with one rifle shot. The Jap helmet fell into DeKamp's hole. Next day, we followed a bloody trail but found nobody.

            From the network of tracks we guessed that we had fought 10, heavily armed. They seemed to have accidentally stumbled into our perimeter.

            Next morning. 18 May, after field artillery and Air-Navy blasting on Wakde, we boarded barges for just a little mop-up on Wakde. We carried only a day's rations, a canteen of water, and a unit of fire. All F Company with "B" were in Wave No. 1 except for F's Headquarters in Wave No.2.

            Out at sea about 0900 with 600 yards of water yet to cross, we stood up and saw our automatic fire pulverize Wakde Beach. Suddenly a steady stream of red Jap tracers fired at an LCI gunboat left of us. Other LCIs returned fire, Then many Jap machine guns blasted our first wave. A bullet stream holed the sides of Marlow's landing craft. Crowded men flattened to the bottom where we could. Sitting with rifle upright, Marlow felt an electric shock down his rifle; a bullet had hit his bayonet.

            LCIs now rocketed the beach, Amphibious machine-gunners fired from our landing craft. A scream came from the craft to our left when the coxswain was hit. His craft travelled in circles until a "B" man got control of it.

            Our own coxswain yelled; we braced for the beach impact. As ramps fell, we ran onto the sand and threw ourselves down. Strangely enough, Jap fire halted for seconds. Looking back from the sand, we saw men of 2nd Platoon swarming over a jammed ramp to hit the beach.

            Crawling up among stumps and fallen trees, F Company formed line of skirmishers to advance with B Company. Marlow heard the yell of a B Company man. Looking back at our second wave landing under fire, Marlow saw men falling in surf or on sand. We heard that our Commanding Officer Kenneth J. Liebach was dead, and Pfc. Other E. Dickson. Sellick, Edgin, Serby, and S/Sergeant Charles Larsen were wounded. Exec 1st Lieutenant Ferguson became CO.

            We tried to advance up the low slope which shells had pulverized. Nip fire held us back on our left flank especially. Detached to spring our left flank, 2nd Lieutenant Thomas' 3rd Platoon had hard going. Ahead was a set of wrecked building held by Japs. Thomas' Platoon would have hard fighting.  And meanwhile, the main part of F Company had to fight upwards against a bowl-shaped terrain where Nip emplacements fired down on us.

            Prone in plowed up sand with most of F Company, Marlow heard tank motors come from our left rear. Happily, he saw two tanks blast three pillboxes into the air before him. With B Company advancing on our right, "F' now moved almost unopposed into an area of ruined buildings, with the Strip a few yards ahead. But a bullet wounded Sartibanos in left shoulder.

            While "B" turned right on the south side of the Strip, "F" turned left or west. About a mile long from near one shore of the widest part of Wakde nearly to the farther shore, it had a beautiful rolled and paved coral surface. Revetments - thick mounds of earth - had partIy protected the Nippo planes that no longer flew from it. Some planes lay wrecked on the Strip. We saw just two craters, but many unexploded bombs.

            Although B Company to our right, and F's detached 3rd platoon behind us were firing, it was a comparatively quiet day F's other two platoons patrolling westward.

            We fired on a Jap machine gun 150 yards ahead near a revetment, then waited fro C Company to come up behind us. We became a little careless. Kneeling to look at a native hut before him, Marlow took a shot at close range from a Jap rifle. Muzzle-blast temporarily blinded him. Nearby Tucker complained of pain in his back. Ellwood saw the Jap rifleman rise to his feet and run for the grass hut - and dropped him with a rifle shot. The Jap bullet had penetrated Tucker's pack but deflected on the blade of his entrenching tool. Same bullet holed Schulte's canteen. Evidently the Jap tried to line Marlow, Tucker, and Schulte in his sights and slay them all in one shot!

            Another rifle bullet caught Krause sitting on the edge of a shell-hole - shot him through the skull above his ears. Marlow and Staff Sergeant Mills held Krause while Medic Malanca dressed the wound. Although expected to die or survive insane, Krause was sent to the States and discharged in full mental health.

            About 1200, "F" watched C Company start to hike 135 yards across the narrow middle of Wakde Strip. From a revetment near us, four Japs set up a machine gun on the strip edge to kill C Company. Just one burst they got off. F's Thomason and assistant Rutzatz machine-gunned the four Japs. They seized their gun and holed up - perhaps with two wounded. Other Jap fire from another direction killed two "C" men, wounded three; but F's men saved "C" from heavier losses.

            About 1300, F Company advanced west along the south edge of the Strip. After some distance, gunfire grounded us. Sergeant Edmund Williams lobbed a grenade into a Jap position, but got two in return. Williams leaped back unhurt.

            With more grenades and their M-1s, Sergeant Reeves with Lamb and two nearby squads rushed the Japs. Jap return fire was wild. We saw red tracer bullets spray high in air and overhead to our rear. A dying Jap had frozen to the butt of his machine gun.

            Hidden in a hole just a few feet away was the four-man machine gun crew that had fired on "C" crossing the Strip. Hunter, Miller, Sergeant Feifar each threw a grenade into their hole. Hunter BARed the hole for certainty of their kill. Besides four dead gunners in that hole, we counted 11 mangled bodies in a nearby trench two feet deep, and 15 feet away seven more chopped up corpses - and 15 feet away seven more battered corpses in another two-foot deep trench.

            "F" was ordered to turn back east along the Strip to help "B" in trouble. Our own agony was that we had run out of water. The milk of green coconuts only made us more thirsty. Hiking east, we found a stagnant pool, but the officers held us back - assigned a man from each squad to fill our canteens. But only a few were filled before we got orders back into battle with empty canteens.

            Passing B Company's men sweating in their holes under the sun, we lined on B' s right flank and ran forward crouched low in the open. Now we had to crawl through heaps of splintered lumber and jagged tin - the remains of shell-tom buildings. We tried to dig in, but any move drew Jap fire. For an hour, we lay pinned down and choking with thirst. Corporal Plummer was hit in the spine. Two litter bearers rushed in almost bent double and rescued Plummer. He survived paralyzed from the waist down.

            Commanding Officer Ferguson convinced 2nd Battalion Headquarters to let us crawl back over the road from our advanced position to entrench on line with B Company. We could dig shallow holes only a few inches deep in rocky soil.

            Now 3rd Platoon rejoined us from clearing southwest Wakde with tank help. Dead in 3rd Platoon were Cpl Jack P. Von Hoene, Cpl Everett R. Shields; wounded were Galindo, Filippone, Lyons, Sergeant Grilley. By now Marlow reckoned that F Company had four dead, 13 wounded.

            About dusk, "F" received K rations and more ammo, but our only water issue was a canteen cup from a bomb crater 12 feet deep. Awake on guard that night, Marlow saw lightning and felt a few drops of water. Later rain did fall, but stopped after he drained two swallows of water into his helmet from his poncho. All night, exploding U.S. shells shook the ground and spoiled our sleep. Once a flare lighted up our lines; a few Jap machine gun bursts flailed us. But no attack occurred.

            At daylight from debris 50 yards across the road, the Japs opened fire, They would shoot heavily a few seconds, then cease fire and move in closer and fire again. A fallen coconut log masked F's fire, We had to stand up to see the Japs to fight,

            Tucci rose from his hole and slew a crawling Jap officer with his M-1. As Rowe raised his M-1, a Jap bullet wounded him in the temple. Medic Malanca rushed in to aid him, and took a bullet in his right shoulder.

            As the sun climbed in the sky, we endured more thirst torture. When Jap fire eased off, men desperately leaped from holes to grab green coconuts for moisture. By 0900, heat was so painful that men shaded themselves from the sun with ponchos.

            Not until 1100 that 19 May did three tanks come to spring us from our holes. With "C" on our right and "B" and "A" on our left - A Company was north of the Strip - we lined up to pin the Japs on east Wakde. With "C" and "B," we slowly advanced behind the tanks. They surmounted debris and riddled Japs below with machine guns. Tank 75s blew rubbish piles high into the sky.

            Vengefully "F' followed the tanks and slew all survivors. Some Japs ran and toppled and died from shots in the back; but not one Jap raised hands to surrender.

            Lieutenant Cammenca jumped sideways to fire his carbine into a dugout the tanks had missed. Cammenca pressed the long plunger; he released his ammo clip on the ground. He silenced the dugout with two grenades. To Cammenca's left, Sergeant Reeves threw a grenade into what seemed to be another dugout. Cammenca and Reeves discovered that they had grenaded two entrances to the same tunnel, with two Japs at each end. The Japs were armed with bayonets lashed to long poles.

            Passing through the blasted Jap lines, we hunted southeast on Wakde. We saw only one live Jap; Schulte BARed him dead. We saw two B Company corpses left from yesterday. We seized their empty canteens.

            Near the beach was a Jap well: two 50 gallon bottomless barrels sunk into sand. After we filled canteens, a small craft rounded the southeast cape with fresh water, which replaced the brackish beach side water of the Nips. Here we had to evacuate a young "F' man because of battle fatigue.

            In mid-afternoon, "F" had orders with "B" and "C" to clear northeast Wakde past the northeast corner of the Strip. Here was heavy timber, and a series of beach cliffs pitted with caves and crevices. Passing wreckage of a plane of ours with its dead pilot, we found a smouldering Jap ammo dump. Here a grass fire exploded a 50-caliber shell to wound Staff Sergeant McGowean in the left hand. A pile of bombs were stacked close to the fire; "F" got out of that area fast.

            With C and B Cos, we now turned west to check out the top of northeast Wakde - except for 2nd Platoon searching the beach slope. Soon rifle-fire came from 2nd Platoon. A Jap rifle bullet from a cave gave Sergeant Herbert L. Lisiecki his death-wound in the chest. Sergeant Cameron was hit in left elbow. 2nd Lieutenant Houser's .45 pistol in his shoulder holster deflected another Jap bullet; it knocked him down but did not wound him. Covered by our rifle fire, Houser, Sergeant Dunlap, and others pulled out Cameron and dying Lisiecki. An ambulance came, but Lisiecki died in it on the way to the aid station.

            Now that the Japs who still lived were cornered in the northeast Wakde caves, F Company was recalled late in the day. Crossing the Strip, we had nothing to say to one another. To Marlow after two days' battle, we were like a winning football team after fighting the greatest game of the season.

            That night, starved F Company found that our kitchens had come up with a hot meal of salmon, meat, beans, and coffee. We slept in last night's holes in the weird silence from the dead Jap lines. On the morning of 20 May, we breakfasted on cornflakes, grapefruit juice and coffee. We had cigarettes and full canteens.

            On 20 June, "F" searched again for more Japs on northeast Wakde. When 2nd Platoon drew cave fire, their bazooka silenced it. "F" flamed a 50-gallon drum of Jap gasoline down the cliff. As skirmishers at five-yard intervals, we shot up the cliffside crevices. We found no Japs, and at supper cheered loudly when an LST ferried us to the mainland - dirty, tired, bearded veterans. Out of 40 dead, 107 wounded on Wakde, "F" lost 5 dead, at least 14 wounded. Of 163 's 40 dead, 107 wounded. Japs had 759 dead.

 

CREDIT: Basis of this history comes from pages 148-194 of Ralph Marlow's handwritten, sinqle-spaced manuscript wherein I found also F 163's definitive histories of Sanananda and Biak (two histories of Biak). Supporting data were from 163 Infantry's Casualty Reports, Officers' Payroll of 1944, and R.R. Smith's Approach to the Philippines. Clyde Plummer's fine history of F 163 on Wakde (Jungleer, Oct., 1979) also used some of Marlow's data. Marlow's manuscript was unofficially commissioned by his ranking superiors in F 163.