163 Infantry Regiment: War of Nerves at Toem

By Hargis Westerfield, Division Historian

 On the Toem Foreshore by captured Wakde Island, 163 Infantry fought a war of nerves against the blinding Jap jungle. Our war of nerves was on 23 May - 9 June after we won Wakde and opened Tor River Bridgehead for 158 Infantry to fight for Sarmi.

 While 163 Infantry grouped near Toem Village after Wakde, patrols found Jap clews everywhere. But we did not know that Colonel Soemon Matsuyama's 224 Infantry and Colonel Naoyasu Yoshino's 223 Infantry were planning to hit us together and destroy us.

 Trouble flared first on 163's eastern flank. Here our 2nd Battalion had spent every night since 17 May in wet slit trenches of sand on the west bank of Tementoe Creek.

             On 23 May before 1140, a 32-man E Company patrol sighted 11 Japs after we had crossed the Tementoe en route to coastal Keber Village. Sergeant Peters was shot in his left shoulder. Every try to move farther east drew fire from a small position we could hardly see. We were recalled.

 Meanwhile, eight miles westward, a final K Company patrol across Tor River to Maffin Village No.1 met Jap fire. Sgt. Henry M. Jones was hit in chest and neck, (and later died of wounds). When relieving us, an L 158 patrol had a man killed. K Company rejoined 163 Infantry at Toem.

 On 24 May, G Company's Lieutenant Larson led 28 men to kill 11 Japs "E" saw yesterday - with four BARs, a native, and an Indonesian guide called a "NICA," (Netherland Indonesian Colonial Administration).

 The native led us after a Jap to a log footbridge across the Tementoe. Halfway across the bridge, our point took the crossfire of two Jap light machine guns. NICA Freddie Marooch died on the bridge; G Company's Vitosky was shot off into the water with a head wound. Native and a 2nd Battalion I&R man escaped.

 Although wounded and under heavy fire, Vitosky directed our bullets on the Jap positions to cover his return to safety. He even demanded a BAR to fight again, but we had to leave Marooch' body on that bridge. An estimated 20 Japs had fought from that blind jungle. We killed only one.

 Our regiment was facing south of Toem against an opaque wilderness. We saw only a few Japs, but traces were everywhere, in 8 miles of swamp and brush and forest, Tementoe Creek to Tor River. On Vitosky's heroic day, Lieutenants Milder and Leslie reported from a plane, a network of trails south of coastal Masi Masi Village 4.5 miles east of Toem. They rightly surmised that these trails headed a main inland route turning west outside 163's front - a staging ground for Japs.

 That night at 1820, a Jap rifleman missed Cannon Company's Lieutenant Steiner directing fire. On M's front westward, Lieutenant Arnold heard shots and grenade blasts against Jap infiltrators.

 At 2030, a small Jap patrol penetrated through booby-traps into a 3-man 163 Headquarters Company outpost. Shovan challenged; a Jap 2nd Lieutenant slashed down on him with a saber. Shovan's tommie killed him, but the saber stroke cut deep into Shovan's neck and shoulder. Waking Levitt had a bayonet thrust in his right arm. When Shovan's grenade and .45 slugs raked the trail, the other Nips fled. Found on the dead officer were a jammed pistol, two grenades, and sketches of our positions.

 On 26 May, a 5-man "E" patrol and a NICA guide tried to recover Marooch' body, now on the other side of the Tementoe. Two Jap light machine guns repelled us, but with no casualties.

 Meanwhile, G Company's 2nd Lieutenant Larson's 41-man patrol had outposted to draw Jap attacks across the Tementoe on the coast road. Trading shots with five Nips just before dark, we had an eerie night in holes while Cannon Company's gunners were zeroed in to protect us. After a night of silence, we scouted through Masi Masi Village, full of pillboxes but deserted. This nervous patrol ended with no casualties.

 On 27 May, E's Captain Zimmerman and 67 men forced a crossing of that log bridge over Tementoe Creek, probably after H Company's .81 mortars' preparation. After vicious skirmishing, the Japs retreated 100 yards and stopped us. They killed E's Pfc. Robert Moxey with a bullet in the back, wounded H's Holbrook. Staff Sergeant Newman crawled up under fire, then stood to shoot down Japs. After two Nips died, "E" moved forward and drove the Japs farther back, while Staff Sergeant Muchmore risked himself to draw Moxey's body over a log. We saved bodies of Moxey and NICA Marooch.

 E's men found only empty fox-holes, and no light machine guns. Despite their minor defeat, these Tementoe Japs had successfully screened us from locating 224 Infantry's bivouacs. This Matsuayama Force was coiled a few miles south of us in the jungle-ready to strike that very night of 27 May.

             On 27 May after four days' patrols, 163 Infantry should have readied for Matsuyama's charges in formidable perimeters. We may have been off-guard because vigilant General Doe was gone on 25 May to Hollandia to assist in the invasion of  Biak. Our temporary commander was 158 RCT's Brigade General Edwin D. Patrick. Even on 30 May, three days after our attack, Patrick still believed that the Japs were concentrated against 158 Infantry far east of Tor River.

 Matsuyama's attack in early dusk could have been a 163 disaster. Except for 2nd Battalion in holes on the Tementoe, tents were up almost everywhere. "D" and "M" had slung hammocks. "A" was short 100 men unloading a ship-sent down unarmed!

 About 2000 after a red alert where a Jap plane bombed Wakde, Matsuyama struck. Knee mortars hit 163 Headquarters and 1st Battalion from the dark. Our booby-traps blew; Jap grenades impacted. Suicidal killers charged with three grenades wired on their bodies to explode together.

 Our fire detonated the suicide grenadiers before they neared us. But by 2005, C's Schneekloth was hit in right shoulder. A fragment took Schoening in the chin.

 Perhaps C's line held in the first attack, but by 2030, Pvt. Francis Buck had died from a bullet in the head, and Pfc. Everett Gilkinson from a bullet in the abdomen. Jap riflemen had broken C's line.

 Screaming Japs burst into 163 Headquarters. They cut off some staff officers and other command post personnel - unarmed and out of their holds - in a command post tent. Luckily, the Japs missed them in the dark. With fixed bayonets, Japs struck 163's Medics' hospital with disarmed patients, but all patients could walk. Medics saved everyone. (Some time that night, a steel fragment slashed Medic Frye in his right cheek.)

 Dug in a Message Center, radioman Norman and phone-central Belenky could not run. When 13 -14 Japs charged with bayonets, they shot rapid fire - killed one, diverted others.

 Maybe 200 Japs had breached our lightly held lines. Of these, some 100 attacked 1st Battalion's motor pool to blow it up. But from a slit trench, four blazing M-1s stopped them. The motor pool chief, Staff Sergeant Burton, Staff Sergeant Engbretson, T/4 Switzer, and T/5 Donakowski piled up 13 Jap dead, their last corpses 2-20 feet from the trench. Burton got a bayonet through his shirt. Found on Jap bodies, map located all staff installations and anti-aircraft beach positions.

 Despite this confusion, 163 Infantry riposted professionally. In Headquarters Company, Staff Sergeant Cox rallied 20 men for a new defense line, while Staff Sergeant Knight flanked our line with a .50 heavy machine gun. Then they buttressed a weak section of the perimeter.

 C Company made an important move. Guided by Schoening, who was cut off in the dark and wounded but still at the phone in his hole, "C" counter-attacked. We reoccupied our frontline holes, linked up with "B" on our right, and "D" on our left.

             "C" lost more wounded in the forward holes. About 2100, Limpert caught a fragment in the left knee; Prerost was shot in right arm and left knee. Pvt. Sidney Spear had fragments in right and left legs (time unspecified) and died of wounds 30 May. Although not in a forward hole, T/5 Lindsay was hitby a fragment in his right leg at 2130.    

 No more Jap attacks came through after midnight, but sporadic rifle fire continued until daybreak. Last wounded was Bystrek at 0500, with a shot in his left ear.

 According to available reports, main Jap impact in 163 Infantry was against "C," 1st Battalion Headquarters, and 163's Headquarters Company. But "D" and "B" and "A" had minor parts in the night attacks. (We know very little about A Company 116 Engineers' own bloody fight.)

 Without their heavy machine guns posted and being short of ammo, D Company kept pretty quiet on C Company's left. Seriously wounded was Tech Sergeant Lygren with fragments in cheek, ear, and shoulder. A Jap came through near the hole of Lawler, Pinkley, and probably Sergeant Curran. The sergeant dropped the Jap, who later crawled away because they could not spare a grenade to finish him. At dawn, Lawler killed a Jap withdrawing 50 yards away - Lawler's first kill in his career.

 In "B," Pvt. William Sedal died, circumstances unreported. In A Company's street, Japs set up a light machine gun and sprayed the tents, but hit no one. (On Arara Beach, Engineers guarded 100 men of our port detail.) Although cut off on outpost, A's Bud Einboden, Denny, LaRoue, and Hill were safe in the dark.

 In M Company, Lieutenant Arnold heard that A Company 116 Engineers killed 17 Japs, half a mile down the road. There six Engineers died, with two seriously wounded. Gunshots killed five men. Pvt. Richard E. Renkel and T /5 Joseph Zelesnikar were hit in the chest, T /5 William J. Mossman in the head. T /5 Russ Larsen was struck in head and chin; T /5 Clyde Wilds in the pelvis. T/5 George Eichenlaub died from a fragment in left arm. Besides these dead, Robertson was wounded in the jaw, Jim Thomas in the groin-both gunshot wounds. Nothing more is known of A 116 Engineers' fight.

 Matsuyama's uncompleted attack could have been 163's major disaster, but he made comparatively few casualties. His total kill was four 163 Infantry men, 6 Engineers of A 116. Wounded were seven 163 men, two Engineers, one Medic mentioned already. Probably two more Medics were casualties that night: T/3 William Middleton killed by a shot in the chest, Tech Sergeant Duff wounded by a shot in right shoulder. Our Regiment counted 18 dead Japs, found 11 new graves outside perimeters, and suspected that other casualties were carried off.

 That morning, many bullet-holed tents looked like sieves; looted barracks-bags gaped in the streets. Outside perimeter, an F Company patrol was the only one to fight Japs. Meeting 15, "F" received fire from rifles and an automatic weapon, killed 2 Japs. Patrolling southwest 2100 yards on a much-used trail, "K" men found a small bivouac with bloodied clothes. "B" scouted a new-cut trail 1200 yards south of Arare but saw no Japs. Yet Japs were 3 miles south of us in deep jungle.

 And 163's war of nerves intensified. Bulldozers cleared fire-fields; machine guns and barbed wire now guarded our front. News came that 158 Infantry was defeated across Tor River.

 Two nights later, our nervous, un-rested front exploded in wild farce. An M-1 and a carbine fired in 1st Battalion; then almost every machine gun and some mortars blasted out. One could nearly read by light of our fire, but no Japs attacked. Accidentally killed was M Company's Pfc. George A. Wall, shot through the head. For reasons unknown, A 116's Sergeant William M. McNulty died with a head wound; A 116's John D Brown was missing in action, later reported dead. T/5 Schultz of 2nd Battalion Headquarters had fragments in neck and left arm. K Company's Vasquez threw a grenade which hit a tree and rebounded to blow off his left hand.

 On 30 May, most 163 men embarked to reinforce our 41st on Biak, but 2nd Battalion, Cannon Company, and most of Service Company stayed to secure 158 Infantry General Patrick needed us until 6 Division replaced battered 158 Infantry.

 For us, the war of nerves continued. By 30 May, General Patrick had learned nothing from 163's night fight of 28 May. He believed that only roving bands of Japs were south of Toem; actually, 200 organized Japs were within three miles of our coast. Patrick's command was scattered in beach detachments that Japs could destroy in detail. For 5.5 miles from Tementoe Creek west to Maffin Village No.1 across the Tor, were 21 different perimeters. Six were unsupported anti-aircraft emplacements spread wide to catch low-flying Jap planes.

 This time, Yoshino's 224 Infantry struck. They hit four isolated anti-aircraft emplacements between Arare and Unnamed River, in the middle of Toem Foreshore.

 They overran two anti-aircraft positions, damaged a multiple .50 and two .40 mm guns. They turned a captured .50 heavy machine gun on B Company 158 Infantry and charged it. They killed 12 of us and wounded 10, and left 52 Japs dead, when they withdrew at 0430. Meanwhile, 163's 2nd Battalion lay safe in holes where we had slept since 17 May, when 163 landed. And Colonel Yoshino's was the final attack on Toem Foreshore. On 10-12 June, all battered Jap formations crossed Tor River, to fight again outside 163's sector.

Our 2nd Battalion's war of nerves continued awhile longer, where we were entrenched near the graveyard where H's Ingle counted 179 graves by 4 June. On 5 June, we had seven H Company men seriously wounded; a 105 shell from 158's 147 Field Artillery hit H's mortar position. Pvt. Charles C. Smiley died of the wound in his left leg. Sergeant Motheral's left ankle was amputated. Staff Sergeant Little slashed in right arm and back, LaCoste in right arm, Levandosky in upper left thigh. Stabach was hit in left knee, 1st Lieutenant Flamm in left ankle.

 About 9 June, the last 163 men left for Biak. We still remember Toem Foreshore as a spooky place, despite fairly easy casualties - 15 dead, 26 wounded to hospital, one missing, later reported as dead. We remember too well, blinded patrols in flat jungle; lurid nights of fire in the coconut aisles; the threat of Jap assassins against laxly fortified lines. Such was Toem Foreshore's War of Nerves for 163 Infantry.

 

CREDIT: Personal sources include D Company's Sergeant William Lawler's memoirs, diaries of M's Lieutenant Jack Arnold, H's Sergeant Harold Ingle, Westerfield's history of G Company, anonymous history of A Company. Indispensable were 163's 40-page journal of 12-30 May 1944, RR Smith's Approach to the Philippines, 163's May 1944 Morning Report. Important also was General Douglas MecArthur's Japanese Operations in southwest Pacific. G Company's Captain Arthur Braman gave me G Company's handwritten petition which was basis of Vitosky’s medal award. Other medal awards I used were those of Shoven, Newman, Muchmore, Norman, Belenky, Cox, McKnight. Burton himself told me his story about his night fight - interview at Canton, Ohio about 1968.