Second Battalion Headquarters Company 163 Infantry: Ammunition and Pioneer Platoon

By Tech Sergeant Normand Mathews and Dr. Hargis Westerfield, Division Historian


These are memorable actions of, 2nd Battalion 163 lnfantry's Ammunition & Pioneer Platoon near Toem across from Wakde Island, on Biak, and at Zamboanga. "A&P" was a select specialist group of 25 men, and an officer, 2nd Lieutenant Harlan Milder (killed at Zambo). Besides supplying ammo for 2nd Battalion 163 Companies, A&P was a miniature Combat Engineer Battalion, with the hard labor and danger that Combat Engineers endure. We built bridges and booby-trapped 2nd Battalion perimeters. (In the British Army, "pioneer" is the name for a combat Engineer Company.) We handled tricky explosives. Like combat Engineers, we were combat men.

 

Wakde-Toem Operation. Just after dawn 18 May 1944, while 163's 1st Battalion with F Company hit Wakde Island, A&P got orders to fight on the Toem Foreshore across from Wakde. A Nippo patrol had slipped across Tementoe Creek into the seaside jungle below dug-in 2nd Battalion 163 Infantry. A&P's Lieutenant Milder's patrol hunted them.

 

Beside our M-1s, we had unlucky Pfc William G. Barnes borrowed from G Company for extra fire-power. Barnes was on the point of our patrol, with Lieutenant Milder and Tech Sergeant Scourbrough. When we entered more open ground near the beach, Jap automatic and rifle fire split the air. A bullet in the head killed Barnes instantly; we others hit the sand under Jap fire.

 

Shooting from a partly ruined bunker, the Japs had opened fire on our first 4-5 men. If they had waited to see our whole patrol, more A&P men would have died.

 

Lieutenant Milder ordered return fire, but we failed to see Japs to shoot at. Behind a coconut palm, Mathews watched Jap bullets splash up the sand. Milder led the dash with his first three men to a shell-hole about 25 yards away. Leaping over Barnes' body, Mathews followed with McDowell, Tech Sergeant Scourbrough. In the shell-hole, we found two dead Japs.

 

A large drift-log was stranded from the surf before the Japs' positions. Barnes' body was close by under a dark thicket. Milder jumped up and ran for the log - Mathews, McDowell, Scourbrough still with him. The big log was precisely long enough to protect all four men from the deadly Jap fire.

 

As Milder carefully raised his head, a Jap bullet clunked through the top of his helmet. Head below the log, Milder ordered intense fire from our M-1s. (He had only a carbine.)

 

A G Company squad-patrol had reinforced A&P and also opened fire on the Japs. All this time, expert riflemen Scourbrough and Mathews were firing behind each end of our log. Jap fire slackened.

 

From each end of the log, Mathews and Scourbrough threw a grenade; they landed together on the target. Milder sprang up with his carbine firing and charged; Scourbrough and McDowell and Mathews followed, M-1s blazing. "G" men charged also.

 

Four Japs broke and ran; we gunned down two of them instantly. One was a tall dead Jap on his back, in a neat and clean uniform. Two more were dead in the bunker. Besides these four now dead, we leaped after two more in flight. We killed them in a bamboo thicket.

 

From this fight Milder got a fine officer's saber. Scourbrough had a wrist-watch off the last Nip whom we killed. As pay for G Company's dead Barnes, A&P claimed a total of six dead.

 

         Some days later, perhaps after the air recon of 2nd Lieutenant Milder and 1st Lieutenant Leslie, a probable Jap Headquarters was located 4-5 miles from A&P's holes. Leaving perimeter one morning early, Milder and Leslie led a fast A&P patrol to shoot up and destroy that Headquarters.

 

We travelled faster and lighter because we had been persuaded to replace our M-1s with those nuisances of little carbines. We checked out a network of trails pounded by Jap feet. After several miles without trouble, we scouted a large clearing across the trail. Advancing at wide intervals, we saw huts and buildings scattered throughout the clearing.

 

Not permitting souveniring, Milder ordered all buildings, torched, and as much equipment destroyed as possible. When smoke ballooned up, we left. We were afraid that Jap patrols might see the smoke and hunt us down.

 

As we descended a series of switchbacks on our trail, a scout signaled, "Japs ahead." Our patrol looked down on a sizeable Jap carrying party enjoying lunch, happily chatting. This supply detachment had no security guards.

 

Slowly we eased into position above. We looked forward to using our light 16-shot carbines. On signal we fired as one man.

 

A few Japs fell; the others leaped into jungle and disappeared. But at rapid fire, some of our bolt-handles flew off our carbines. Despite all of our carbine fire, only two Japs lay dead. Some Japs had left blood on the ground. After destroying their rice and other food, we returned to Battalion with their medical supplies. (Surely, those Japs had been carrying to a Headquarters that they had not known to be deserted.) Back in perimeter, most of us exchanged our tricky carbines for our reliable M-1s.

 

 

 

Norm Mathew's story of Barnes' death and A&P's shootout is a correction of my own statements in my story "Tementoe Creek and Tor River" (Jungleer, September-December 1975). On rear guard at the beach when G Company 163 Infantry's 3rd Platoon reinforced A&P, I never knew until Mathews told me in 1982, that A&P had any part in the Barnes shootout. From a long distance while at the same time turning to watch for more Japs crossing the Tementoe, I thought that I saw G Company's Varney and Sahs make the killing. I apologize to the A&P men who did the killing: Milder, McDowell, Scourbrough, and Mathews of A&P.

 

CREDIT: Prime credit is due to Tech Sergeant Norman Mathew's 15-page single-spaced typescript on Toem-Wakde, Biak, and Zamboanga, sent in three installments beginning 28 June and ending 13 August 1982. Mathews also helped me in letters of 19 June, 16 July, 27 July, 4 August, and 13 August - all in 1982. G Company 163 Infantry's Gerald Varney also helped in a letter of 1 August 1982. Although 163's Journals omit mention of A&P, I organized Mathew's story of Zamboanga by reference to 163's Zambo Casualty List.