B Company 163 Infantry: Bernard Marly’s Battle of Sanananda

by Corporal Bernard Marly with Dr. Hargis Westerfield, Division Historian

             B Company 163 Infantry began our Sanananda Battle about two miles up the muddy Supply Trail to Musket Perimeter. From nearby Jap Perimeters P, a .50 heavy machine gun fired overhead, but we dropped unhurt into trackside grass. The fire stopped. In 15 minutes, we sloshed up the muddy trail again.      Each rifleman carried two extra bandoliers and six grenades. Within 30 minutes, we passed a line of Yanks we were relieving - under 100 32 Division men, survivors of a whole Battalion. We crossed a small stream on a slippery log. The guard warned us to hurry because of sniper danger. In a jungle gap, we filed into grassy little Musket Perimeter with tall trees looking down on us.

            On the south side of Musket, Rifleman Marly and "Red" Shell cleared up a trench which departing Yanks had already dug. It was sandy and V-shaped for two men with a pool for drinking water in one end. We sat on the ground at the other end when no snipers fired down. On that first day in Musket Perimeter, B Company fought off two hour-long Jap attacks - had six wounded that first day of battle, 3 January 1943.

            For Marly, night was worse than day. Millions of mosquito’s descended on him. With right arm, he wiped off forehead, right side of face, neck, and left arm. Then his left arm wiped mosquito’s from the opposite places he had missed before. Aussie repellent burned his face; he had to put out the "fire" by rubbing with wet sand.

            About 0220 that night, crawling Japs fired a small-caliber automatic weapon at us. Marly saw the flash of its fire. In turn, Shell and Marly threw four grenades before it ceased fire. (Grenades were those fine Aussie pineapples that did not spark and reveal our positions.) The Jap gun shifted to the north side of Musket and again drew grenade throws. Broken twigs and our own grenade fragments fell before our holes and made men think that they were Jap grenades. But the Japs had no grenades! Soon all scared "B" heaved grenades at Japs who were not there. About 0400, Jap automatic fire harassed us again. And, of course, the Guinea rain soaked our sleepless bodies.

            B Company did have hot Aussie tea for breakfast - indeed had it at first three times daily. Australian was our "C" ration - a square grand can pale golden with corned mutton, tea sack, and 3-4 hard, round "biscuits" to crack our teeth. Soon cans came up dented - sometimes with minute holes. "A bite near that hole would gag a maggot," said Marly.

            Early on 5 January, Marly and Limbocker patrolled north of Musket. About 50 yards out, two hidden snipers opened fire from trees 40 yards apart. One Jap tried to kill Limbocker; the other tried to kill Marly. Both Yanks knelt and fired back at the rifle reports. They would fire twice apiece, one shot of each two at each Jap.

            Marly heard a bullet "sput" too near him - just before he heard the Jap rifle crack. While squeezing a new clip into his M-l, Marly glanced slightly to his left rear. In terror, he saw where the Jap bullets were striking on a barkless stump close to his heel. Sun had found a place to pierce the jungle; sun had lighted up his heel for a Jap target.

            Marly jerked his heel from that deadly sunlight: You could have covered the bullet holes in that stump with a quarter; they had missed his heel by a fraction of an inch. What saved Marly from crippling or death was that the Jap sights were set a little too high for firing down at an angle. Seconds later, two small Jap automatic weapons fired on Marly and Limbocker from the ground. They went from kneeling to prone, wormed silently back to Musket. In a few more automatic bursts, a ricochet from trees would have struck them, if not a direct hit.

            On this 5 January, Cpl Leo J. Limbocker died - probably in the bayonet charges that Captain Hamilton ordered against hidden Jap machine guns. Pvt John McMeel and Sgt Otis Potter tried to save Leo Limbocker, but Japs stopped them. They died also, and Staff Sergeant Ralph Sullender and Julius B. Mendoza who had to be left to die under Jap guns that night. John McMeel's body we never found. Pickenstein was shot in the neck, and 1st Lieutenant Ellers of Weapons PIatoon in right arm. A .50 HMG bullet had pierced a log that he lay behind and wounded him. No bayonet even touched any Nip!

            And "B" was back in our wet holes for another sleepless and fearful night. It did help morale that Colonel Doe himself inspected our outer holes. Always he wore a fatigue cap with the silver eagle plain to see, but he inspected on his belly. A stocky, middle-aged man of 42, he crawled close enough for every rifleman to see him. After Doe, when it was almost too dark to see, ammo and grenades were thrown close to us and cans of corned mutton or beef.      

            On 7 January Staff Sergeant Marvin S. Lockman died, whom Captain Hamilton called his best soldier. Probably from a tree inside our lines, a sniper holed Lockman's helmet in front into his brain. On 7 January also, Pfc Frank J. Gorshek was slain.

            On 8 January, B Company charged bayonets again in our biggest attack, and with our greatest losses in all Sanananda Battle. While C Company struck Perimeter R east of the road, "B" would hit nearby Perimeter Q west of the road.

            This time, we had 15 minutes' preparation from the 25-pounder cannon of Australian Hanson Troop. But they had exhausted all their shells except those with delayed fuses. The shells impacted like coconuts falling from trees, but the fuses delayed them to explode harmlessly underground - if they exploded at all. (B Company's 81 mm mortar shells would have smashed the Jap, but they were protecting Regiment 1 and 1st Battalion Headquarters, At Musket Headquarters also were .37mm AT guns whose frequent, accurate fire could have pierced Jap bunkers, but B Company never had the use of them.)

            After the harmless 25-pounder shells, B Company charged bayonets again. Only this time, we blew no whistle, and our charge was a walk in a ragged line. We got nowhere.

            Heavy Jap fire started against our first line even before Marly's 2nd Platoon left Musket. The Japs seemed to have an automatic weapon every 10 feet of their line, said Weapons Platoon Sergeant Eder. We could do nothing against interlocking fire from at least four machine guns.

            Lockman's former Platoon suffered grievously. Eight men died: Sgt Marvin Berg, Pfc Robert F. Russell, Pvt Adam Genther, Pvt Lester Foltz, Pfc Denton Carroll, Sergeant Hugh Holmes, Corporals Bernard W. Irmen and Frank A. Rogers. Berg's body disappeared. Eight were wounded: Castillo in shoulder, left hip; Laabs in left shoulder; Corporal Petrovich in left shoulder and arm. McFarland was shot in his hips; Kjemhus in left hand; and Martin in right foot. Cawiezell's left eardrum was traumatically fractured. Sergeant Rubens was hit in left hand and right temple; he never fought again. (While B's attack failed, "C" failed also, with six killed, and 13 wounded.)

            After about mid-January, Marly and Shell were moved into a hole on the north side of Musket. Here, Jap attacks seemed more determined than before. They seemed to ignore our grenades, or maybe our arms were giving out.

            Next day to counter this new Jap fury, a direct line was connected to a 60mm mortar of Staff Sergeant Eder's Weapons PIatoon. In zeroing in, the mortar men found that they must slant their tube at the minimum range dangerously close to the holes. Base-plate had to ground in the sodden sand, which made their accuracy theoretically unreliable. But the piece would not fire except in dire emergency, we were told.

            Next night when the Japs attacked furiously again, somebody called for the mortar's help. Marly heard the "sloop" of the shell leaving the barrel, and cowered flat in our hole. Seconds later, the shell impacted, and two to three more before us. Jap automatic fire ceased. When they struck again that night after three or four of our futile grenades, the 60s again silenced the Japs, with three rounds. Weapons Platoon men aimed the mortar so accurately that they could have lobbed a shell into a canteen cup on the parapet of our hole.

            One night after we saw our first sunset from Musket Perimeter, 15 inches of rain waterfalled us. By dawn, just our heads were above water our rifles and ammo belts and grenades on grass outside our holes. When we tried to bail, the water flowed right back. Water had wrinkled hands and feet. Marly's feet hurt as if they were in boiling water. When he slipped off a sock with his feet submerged, they burned even worse. Their wrinkles even had wrinkles - sidewise and lengthwise

            After 84 hours of their septic tank, Shell and Marly crawled forward to dig a new hole, despite Jap danger. Shell said he preferred a shoulder wound to lying in water. Quietly, they dug into an Infantryman's luxury - a new hole only damp, but not deep in water. When orders came for all "B" men to dig drier holes, Jap fire drove them back into their holes like turtles. Only Marly and Shell luxuriated in drier holes.

            By 14 January, Sanananda Battle began its final and victorious phase. Continual Aussie-US pressure and semi-starvation were beating the Japs. South of us, Perimeters P were overrun; the Road was opened. Northwards, our 2nd Battalion had cut off Jap retreat. The Japs had deserted Perimeter R, and A and K Companies were fighting inside Perimeter Q which had killed too many good "B" men already.

            On 15 January, B Company moved east to join our 1st Battalion in the final actions against Perimeters S-T-U east of Sanananda Road. Already deployed against Perimeter Q, K Company was not told that "B" was hiking east. An M-1 scorched Sergeant Johnson's upper lip but drew no blood. A second "K" M-1 bullet holed Sergeant Picketts' pack, but deflected on a metal mirror and merely felled him. K's fire was halted before anyone was actually wounded.

            On 16 January, A Company's push on Perimeter S was failing with 49 losses. Captain Hamilton ordered McKenzie's 3rd Platoon up from reserve to attack against an unbroken Nippo machine gun line. Now down to 20 men, we moved out in small groups over kunai grass among low, sparse brush. Farthest left, Marly's three-man group was hit hard. Before we ever fronted the Jap line, a sniper mortally wounded BARman Corporal Morin - a shot into nose and left eye. When the other two men tried to help Morin into a shallow ditch, the sniper shot Blumenthal in the spine and paralyzed his lower body. Marly brought up litter-men to evacuate them, but both Willis Morin and LeRoy Blumenthal died later. At every chance, Marly's M-1 duelled the nearby Jap sniper, but another, unknown "B" man made the kill. On that 16 January, more "B" men died - Corporal Harvey Lingle and Runner Russell Hapke from 3rd Platoon, and 2nd Platoon's Sergeant Henry Johnson when Captain Hamilton suddenly withdrew 2nd Platoon before 3rd PIatoon attacked.

            Marly returned to Musket Perimeter. When Jap fire struck near his new hole on the west side, Marly expected an attack. His M-1 fired so fast that linseed oil ran from the overheated stack. Later, he went with two Graves Registration men to search for Johnny Lorr, missing in action after separation from a buddy on patrol. (Lorr did return later.)

            Finally, on 21 January, B Company became part of 163's last fighting at Sanananda. After some 40 minutes' Aussie fire and US machine guns and mortars, all 1st Battalion rifle Companies plus "K" advanced. B Company entered terrain where brush was blasted out into long open vistas. We passed a corpse heap of an estimated 300 large Korean Marines - men averaging 180 pounds in weight and in height 5 feet, 8 inches - close to average US height. We passed three immense unfired dual purpose cannon with a huge ammo supply stacked like cordwood. Ammo was in clips of 6, each big cartridge 24 inches long and 3 inches in diameter. Marly never has learned why these guns had not fired on us.

            Suddenly Marly saw his first live Jap - a man running away. Coop and he fired and knocked him into a hole, where they dropped in a live grenade and left him.

            They shot a second running Jap and dropped a second live grenade into the hole that he fell into. They grenaded two thatched huts, but found only four dead attendants around a corpse on the table in each hut. Perhaps one was a surgeon. Officers' swords hung on the walls. In 30 minutes, 163's successful storming party was over, and we counted 165 Jap corpses in B's area alone. "B" had , no casualties.

            Thus ended Marly's Battle of Sanananda. He found himself suddenly a Corporal and leading an honor-guard for Aussie Lieutenant General Herring and other "brass" three miles up the road to the sea and the Aussies who had overrun the coast. Then came for Marly a hospital session with malaria and a cyst. He was placed on limited service and transferred to Medics. Like the other surviving "B" men, Marly had lived through a swamp in Hell. Out of 96 deaths in 163 Infantry at Sanananda, 27 of them were in B Company alone.

 

CREDIT. Bernard Marly's original typescript is 26 pages long, single-spaced - a thorough coverage of almost everything a historian would want to know, down to the last detail of his equipment. I wrote this also with the "framework" provided by B Company's 1st Lieutenant Walter McKenzie's history entitled "Bayonet Charges at Sanananda," published in the 1985 Jungleer. Other "framework" is 163 Infantry's Sanananda Casualty Lists, where I have mainly used dates of deaths. Much of this history may contradict the official history, Dr Samuel Milner's Victory in Papua, and my earlier Jungleer publications on B 163 in July 1974 and October 1978. I believe that Marly's and McKenzie's stories are much more correct, however.