Machine Gun Duel

By Staff Sergeant Harold Ingle, H-163

             On 15 May 1944, H Company 163 Infantry embarked on LCI 340 to fight on Insoemanai in the Wakde-Toem Operation.  Already after our beach-head at Aitape, our morale was low.

            For we could not forget 13 May at Santa Anna Mission (Aitape). While Mortar Platoon was test-firing, an 81 mm shell just cleared the tube and blew up in the crowd. Dead were Cpl Troy C Lancaster, Pvt Frank C Hoelscher, Pvt Raymond F Healion, Pfc Edward P Dotson, and Pfc Eric T Anderson. Pfc Herbert C. Bostwick and Pfc Alois H. Legleiter were wounded; Bostwick would die in the hospital. What happened to Brooks, Campbell, Houy, and Ingrahm I never knew. But with seven dead and four possibly dead, and 16 others wounded, Mortars were down to half their strength. And just before embarkation on May 15 we saw two mentally sick - maybe from F - evacuated for battle-fatigue.

            About noon LC1 340 pulled out from Aitape and headed slowly west up the Guinea Shore.

            On 16 May, we anchored off Hollandia with the blue cloudy Cyclops Mountains before us. All day we hove to in Humboldt Bay with nothing to do but smoke and think. Barrath left us with a fever of 106. After dark, LC1 340 steamed off for the landing.

            On May 17, while the destroyers threw in endless chains of red-ringed shells at the thickets of Wakde on our left flank, and had no answer, we followed the riflemen ashore at Arare. Then we hiked to Toem, with the M-1's cracking in the coconut groves southward.

            On the foreshore, we joined up with the provisional Groupment to land on Insoemanai Island and fire a protective weapons barrage next morning to protect the assault on Wakde Island. With E Company's riflemen for protection, D and H Companies of 163 with AT Co and the 641 Tank Destroyers' 4.2's would land on this smaller island of Insoemanai to cover the amphibious charge of the First Battalion plus F Company on May 18.

            On LCV's, we started for the smaller of two wooded islands at 3,500 yards. Our barges grounded

75 yards from Insoemanai. On the nearest beach, Groupment Headquarters set up, with ammo dump and radio station.

            First Lieutenant Donald Lowe took H up a grade of six feet and through scattered forest across Insoemanai. Mid-way we dropped off the 81's and the attached 4.2's. On the far shore, we machine-gunners were posted above the beach on a low coral shelf. To our right around the island's curve were a platoon of E, and then H's First Platoon's machine guns. To our left, AT dug in with two heavy 50's.

            From the mainland, shells whispered overhead to land on Wakde before us. The coral airstrlp ran almost the entire length of the two miles of Wakde. Although its mainland lay dead ahead, a heavily wooded little peninsula of Wakde outflanked us to the right.

            Our position was screened by scattered trees, but we could not dig into the coral. We had to fill sand-bags on the beach in full view of Wakde, but we drew no fire--as yet.

            With the guns protected by sand-bags and ready, Bruner put on the coffee, Then Japanese rifles struck from that wooded peninsula on our right. One E Company man died with a shot through the head. Another bullet detonated an E man's ammo belt which took fire and burned him severely. Still another was wounded.

            We hid by our guns but saw nothing. Regular barrages landed on that wooded point and silenced the snipers. We came out in the open to our coffee-pot. A machine-gun burst plunged among us.

            As darkness fell, the shells still tore overhead against Wakde. The inevitable rain machine-gunned down on us. Beside the guns, we wrapped in ponchos and tried to sleep.

            I awoke to a tremendous burst of shells. It flung me over the sand-bags.

            More shells roared in. Our near-by Artillery Spotter galloped by curslng. The first shell severed his lines, and he raced to Groupment Headquarters to stop the shelling. In the dark, my section scraped at the coral with knives and spoons and bare hands to save themselves from more wild steel. H lost nobody this time, but E had five wounded and one more dead. (Historian's Note: Was 167 FA or 191 FA guilty? Now 191 FA says that 163 Cannon Co. was responsible because of inexperience in combat firing, according to the U.S.Army History.)

            It was D-day for Wakde. As we gulped our rations at dawn, A- 20's started the show with a low- level attack.

            Our section's fist mission was to cover the beach in the area of the ruined plantation houses--from the pier farthest to the right to a large tree several hundred yards farther. Since daybreak we had waited for orders.

            But the Japs beat us to the punch. They opened up and pinned us down.

            Then Cumba and Frazer fought them with O'Sullivan and Vados the assistant gunners. They trav ersed the area with their heavies. Leaves showered down as Japanese gunners' fire lifted too high to hurt us. As the enemy's fire slackened, I heard other American sections to right and left as they too fired on Wakde.

            Yet the Japanese stuck to their guns. When Roth and I jumped out to break our barrel loose, bul- lets thudded into the sand-bags around us.  We got in 8,000 rounds of heavy machine guns into the plantation area and every other suspected spot on the beach.

            At the height of our fusillade, the landing-barges jammed with helmeted green infantry slowly rounded the tip of Insoemanai - A, B, C, and F. Now the were in the slot between us and Wakde.

            It was a slow parade of high-ramped landing barges against an ominously silent and threatening island. Wakde still lay quiet under the terrific pounding of our mortars and artillery. The blasts of our machine-guns must have kept the Nips from manning their gun-ports. But as the squadrons of Americans drew abreast of us and masked our guns, we had to cease firing.

            Suddenly Japanese Wakde burst into flames. Small arms fire raked the barges. Possibly mortar shells splashed around them.
            The leading barge was hit; the coxswain went down before a stream of machine-gun fire. His LCV drifted off course towards us; then some brave man gripped the helm and held it hard on through mortar blasts and bullet-strikes into the beach.

            The first wave of barges got in; the landing-ramps crashed on the beach; the riflemen raced through the surf. They made about ten yards on that beach and hit an invisible wall. They fanned out prone, faced inland, fired where they could. It was a hard landing.

            Then our attention was diverted to a little donga opposite us. Out of a bunker, a saber-waving Japanese officer led twenty to thirty soldiers up the hill to our landing area. They carried two machine- guns.

 

            I ordered Cumba to fie. But the fire-control officer on our island (from AT. I believe), refused us permission. He claimed that we couldn't be sure they were Japs. When was the last time he had seen a Yank officer leading troops into battle with a sword, I asked.

            By this time, most of the rifle-men had climbed out of sight, but the din of small arms was terrific. For two tanks were ashore: the two surviving tanks of 603 Tank Company had sprung the left side of the beach-head loose. The rifle companies were fighting inland.

            Like watching a ball-game, we cheered as the tanks mopped up those evil pill-boxes. At each bunker, a tank slowly thrust the muzzle of its cannon into the slot. The resulting blast killed the pill-box. Riflemen followed closely and fired at every movement in the debris of the explosion.

            This tank-and-rifle cooperation continued until the war had worked its way out of sight. Now the beach-head swarmed with movement as service troops unloaded ammo and supplies.

            At dusk, H Company with the Provisional Groupment was re-called from Insoemanai. We hiked with our heavy guns across the island again and waited until the barges ferried us back to the mainland.

            This was the duel with machine-guns on Insoemanai against Wakde. The Provisional Groupment lost 2 dead, 12 wounded. At least 240 dead were counted in the area of our fire, and we know that H got many of them.

            Moreover, the Provisional Groupment got credit for keeping the Japs down when they could have banzaied to bayonet the boys pinned on the beach. And we prevented the redeployment of enemy infantry from the other side of the island where the Japs had most expected the landing.

            Finally, on 22 May 1944, General Jens A. Doe himself told Pfc Louis Frazer, "Your heavy machine guns did a swell job on that little island."