C Company, 163 Infantry: Battling Perimeters R and S at Sanananda

By Stan “Black Bart” Davison with Dr. Hargis Westerfield, Division Historian

 

            On 1 January 1943, 3rd Platoon's Sergeant Davison squelched into muddy Sanananda Battle. In C Company 163 Infantry's advance party, all squad-leaders and some officers slogged up the Supply Trail knee-deep in mud to little Moore's Post across Sanananda Road from Huggins (later Musket) Perimeter. Here we donned Aussie helmets to keep Jap watchers from knowing that we were fresh troops.

            Farther up-trail, we passed unaware a Jap machine gun 30 yards leftwards, and arrived at our deadly Perimeter Kano (later Fisk Perimeter). The Aussies said that the Jap Army totally encircled us but were on the defensive. With Japs cooking fires 50 yards off, "C" men did not sleep well. Next day in an Aussie patrol, 1st Lieutenant Fisk killed C Company's first Jap.

            On 3 January, all "C" replaced the Aussies in Kano Perimeter. In 3-man holes, we shared 24-hour guard duty - an hour on, two hours off around the clock. Two men per squad had to lie on outguard all daylight hours - hard indeed to lie motionless all day. Nights were restless because we had to grenade Japs prowling outside our perimeter.

            On 6 January, a 3-man patrol unmasked a Jap machine gun nest. Hugh Holmes died from a machine gun burst in his chest, another shot between the eyes. We never found his body. Staff Sergeant Don Dixon was hit in his big toe. Kassing was treated for shock.

            On 7 January, Jap raiders struck our perimeter killed Folyd Richter with a bullet in the brain. Kundert took a shot through the back into left abdomen. Carrying out Kundert, John Malizzio was wounded in the head to die in Australia three weeks later.

            On 8 January, Colonel Doe had permission of Aussie Major General Vasey to attack perimeters Q- R. Q-R blocked Sanananda Road between C's perimeter and Musket Perimeter to the south. Behind an Aussie field artillery barrage, B Company would attack "Q" west of the Road, while our "C" would strike "R" east of the road.

            But first, an Aussie "short" exploded in our mid- perimeter, killed Pvt. John F. Raley and Pfc Aubrey Jones. Pvt. Kenneth E. Sherman would die in hospital on 11 January. T/5 Callantine was pierced in left abdomen and 1st Lieutenant Ferris in right flank. McJames and Harrison were struck also in unrecorded parts of body.

            Field artillery rolling barrage and our advance were uncoordinated. Aussie shellfire among our forward men killed Pvt. Garland McLemore and Pfc. Lloyd Meek. Gillaspy lost his left arm. A tourniquet around his right thigh saved Steen.

            Actual attack failed. The Aussies had only shells with delayed fuzes that exploded mostly in deep muck. Despite cover of 15 minutes' field artillery shelling with C's mortars and machine guns to help, "C" failed to storm Perimeter R. (B Company failed also in bayonet charges against Perimeter Q.)

            "C" had to fight across a waist-deep swamp that had filled up the night before. Killed was 1st Lieutenant Harold R. Fisk when he stood up to hurl grenades. Sergeant Nelson was shot in left arm, Roy Smith in left hand and left shoulder, Cornish in right thigh. Records do not state parts of body wherein Strand, Corporal Martin, and Sergeant Wheat were wounded.

            In this attack, Sergeant Mohl and four men narrowly missed being mowed down by a Jap machine gun. In escaping through blind jungle, they faced a 2nd Battalion 163 perimeter which they thought to be Jap. They fired into it; a grenade blew a mosquito net sky-high.    

They shouted apologies; no one was hurt.

            C Company fell back to Moore's post which part of 2nd Platoon held, opposite Musket Perimeter. Colonel Lindstrom ordered a second attack again across the swamp. Commanding Officer Captain Van Duyn refused to make such an attack in face of sure death.

            While part of "C" fought, Sergeant Davison was on the Supply Trail with a 60-man carrying party. There probably Murphy was shot in left knee and borne back to Battalion Medics.

            C Company's morale was down to sub-zero with five killed and 14 wounded. Kenneth Sherman would die of wounds. Back in Kano Perimeter, renamed Fisk, we cowered under almost steady rain. With just a few bits of ground above water, we had to lie in clammy slit trenches. Dry cigarettes and matches were few. Then came our first mail. We sat in water up to armpits to read it. Davison had seven letters; morale went up; one man even smiled.

            On 10 January, Davison began the most nightmarish patrol in his life. At 0400, he headed a 3-man patrol to scout Jap Perimeter S across Sanananda Road. With him were C's Nowlin and a man from another Allied outfit whom we'll call "Tommie."

            Through thick jungle, we crossed the road and hiked about 200 yards before we turned right. Davison had decided that it would be a better plan to circle behind the Jap perimeter than to follow the Road. We tracked four different azimuths, first 340 degrees, then 355, then 10, and finally 140 degrees to put us in a half circle behind Perimeter S.

            Daylight had come. Just as we settled down to observe, a lone Jap with a knife wandered out towards us. Without time for good cover, we dropped to earth just where we were.

            The Jap was digging around in the tree roots for food. Hacking around all the time, he circled before Nowlin, then before Tommie. Finally, he circled in front of Davison, who lay covering him with his Thompson gun.

            The Jap stopped and peered into the brush. Davison looked him right in the eye a Jap with a long black beard, glasses ¼  inch thick, filthy clothes, and a rank odor. With his tommie covering the Jap, Davison leaped up. The dazed Jap put up his hands and dropped back. With left hand, Davison motioned him to come closer. Davison now decided to knock him out with a left hook, drag him back into the brush and kill him.

            Suddenly Tommie from another outfit panicked. He jumped up, pointed his M-1 at the Jap. Tommie's M-1 shook like a leaf - his face pasty gray, his eyes popping out. The Jap bounded back screaming what sounded like "No! No!" He fell flat on his back, rose, rushed back to his perimeter, falling several times.

            Tommie crashed through the brush opposite from the Jap. Davison and Nowlin caught him, hastily decided what to do.

            We could hurry northwest towards Gona Battle, west to 2nd Battalion who might shoot us for Japs - or try to find our way back through Jap country. We were totally lost. When Tommie bolted, we had lost our azimuth.

            We failed to retrace our path. We blundered into a knee-deep swamp. Vines and undergrowth hampered us. One kind of vine would hook to our clothes and rip them off if we did not stop to pull the barbs out just as they went in. Clouds of mosquitoes whirred down and bit our faces.

            From 0900 to about 1230, we wandered in the swamp and dodged huts and dugouts on rising ground. We skirted a partial clearing with several Jap tents and Japs sitting outside. Snipers pecked at us, but we kept mostly out of sight. We crossed Jap parallel tracks with wire on them - north to Sanananda Point. Japs talked behind us; we hid.

            Cover was excellent; a 30-man Jap patrol passed within five feet. From 1300 hours to 2030 near dark, we flattened without movements except for relieving our dysentery - Tommie's uncontrollable. His continual moving about did not reveal us. Yet all afternoon, Japs walked and laughed and talked all around us. Even our own field artillery harassed us; a fragment missed Nowlin's back by some three inches.

            Always, we sought the direction of C's perimeter. Then we heard a wondrous sound - the sharp crack of Mohl's Aussie grenade launcher which an Aussie had passed on to him. It went off several times. Azimuth was 180 degrees south.

            About dusk, a Jap sniper came from a tree just ten yards ahead. Maybe he missed seeing us because he had looked to the front with the thick foliage below and behind him.

            At 2030 in moderate dark, we headed south along a stream bank, as quietly as we could. Tommie crashed along, however. We heard Nips right and left, but they may have thought that we were raiders headed for the front.

            Finally, we entered Fisk Perimeter clearing, marked by a bent tree. After Davison called "Black Bart! " Mohl ordered C Company to hold fire until we rushed in. Nowlin and Davison gratefully bolted a can of herring and smoked their first cigarettes in 26 hours. They were as happy to see us as we were to see them.

            After resting all 14 January and shooting through the back a Jap who came down the Road too close and then decided not to surrender, Davison had another patrol order. With 15 men, he was to check out the jungle to the rear and left of Jap Perimeter S.

            At 0400 15 January, this patrol marched to a point some 200 yards past the Road. While Seeger,  Rummel, and Davison observed, four 3-man patrols cleared the jungle for 250 yards but found nothing. Returning, we saw dead Japs and faced two of them alive near an outpost. Nobody fired. To dodge them, we crawled 150 yards the full length of a clearing and homed to Fisk Perimeter by 1100. At 1200, "C" made a small attack.

            Although the Japs had deserted the smaller Perimeter R east of the Road, larger Perimeter Q to the west still held out - a labyrinth of trenches and bunkers 150 by 300 yards. On 15 January, A Company sneaked inside this Perimeter. With B Company men, our C Company's 2nd Platoon cordoned the tenacious Japs and fought them.

            Killed were C's Pfc Francis A. Tague and Pfc Herman Staub.  Baskin was shot in left ankle, and Urnikis in left shoulder- blade. Companies A, B, and C's 2nd Platoon were relieved from fighting Q Perimeter, for they would fight with the rest of C Company for Colonel Nordstrom against Perimeter S.

            Thus at 0600 16 January, "C" had battle orders. With "A" on our right, we were to attack Perimeter S from near Sanananda Road. At the first Jap resistance, "C" would form a skirmish line to the left.

            After the heaviest barrage Davison had ever known - field artillery, mortars, machine guns - C Company moved down Sanananda Road, in column of pIatoons. We saw shell craters six feet deep. Barrage had blasted Japs from a first line into a second line.

            Because this was the area of his patrols, Davison's squad led, with scouts Rummel and Seeger. When they found a "dead" Jap on the ground, Rummel said that he had never seen one dead with his eyes closed. Mohl fired his tommie into the live Jap; Van Duyn shot him in the head to make sure.

            Company A lost heavily on the right, but "C" fanned out to the left without fighting. Near the swamp where Davison and Nowlin had hidden the day before, Colonel Nordstrom decided to set up Perimeters A - D in the rear of the Japs' route to the sea.

            Now "C" had orders to make a perimeter protecting 1st Battalion's north flank. But Van Duyn's patrol of Davison, Seeger, Rummel, Robles, and Swiec could find no good site for a perimeter. We did find a strange trail with US wire on it and cut that wire because we thought the Japs were using it. Later, Swiec learned that it was 2nd Battalion's wire. We had to re-splice it. We routed a bunch of Japs on the Road and killed two. C's only casualty that day was Dye, shot in the knee.

            On 19 January, "C" became part of 163's all-out push against remaining Jap perimeters S-T-U-V in the Road-bend area east of Musket. A barrage began about 1700 hours, and we attacked just before dusk amid rain and mud. This 19 January was the day that Staff Sergeant Mohl and Corporal Rummel crossed a creek and broke into a line of Jap pillboxes with grenades, because their rifles would not work. They killed six pillboxes.

            But "C" lost two killed, ten wounded. Dead were Pfc Don Smith, Corporal Albert Freitas. Most wounded had to lie in the mud all night, with Smith and Freitas. Staff Sergeant Don Dixon took a bullet in the back above the right hip. Bullet shattered his ammo belt; six to eight pieces had to be extracted from his body. Gunter was shot in right leg, Toelaer in right thigh and head, Tylick in thigh and biceps. Perry was hit in left shoulder-blade, Praznowski in the middle of his back. Busse was shot in right chest and arm, and Robles in right cheek and arm. A bullet perforated Nowlin's right cheek; Mall was hit in left index finger.

            On 20 January, supported by our 60 mm mortars, we shot our way into the Jap lines. Report was that Levy slew 22 Japs but was wounded four times - most serious in left knee. We had two killed and two more wounded besides Levy. Corporal Earl W. Nance and Sergeant Lyle Whitney both died of wounds. Nielsen was hit in head, Slosar in right leg. Davison's detail counted 200 dead Japs.

            On 21 January came "C"'s final big attack. Although main thrust was by A and K Companies under strong field artillery and 81mm mortar barrage, "C" fought into the Jap positions without this barrage. After "A" overran their objectives, they helped "C" finish their fight. "C" lost only newly promoted Corporal Hanenkrat, a bullet in left leg. All 163 Infantry counted 500-525 dead Japs that day.

            Thus ended C 163's Sanananada Battle except for more mopping up. Battle and disease had cut company strength from an original 185 to 115 by 17 January. By 20 January, Davison's 3rd Platoon alone had shrunk from 40 down to 15. Fifteen men had died, out of 96 deaths in all 163 Infantry. Such was the price of victory.

 

CREDIT: Thanks to A 163's Howard McKinney's help, Stan Davison has sent to me his fine 23-page Diary (now a single- spaced typescript), and a 2-page handwritten letter of 5 March 1985. Other assistance has come from 163's Sanananda Casualty List, Dr. Samuel Milner's Victory in Papua, and the original handwritten "War Diary/163rd Combat Team" provided by R. L. Arnett. In some ways, this is probably more accurate than the earlier published story of C 163 at Sanananda (Jungleer, Oct 1978).