F 163's Most Accurate History of Sanananda

by Ralph B. Marlow with Dr. Hargis Westerfield, Division Historian

            At 0400 in the dark, 5 January 1943, F Company 163 Infantry trucked without breakfast to a Port Moresby Strip to fly to Sanananda Battle. Past debris of a loaded bomber that had just blown up accidentally, we boarded Aussie Hudsons - 16 men to a plane. Airborne, we saw New Guinea jungle unroll ahead - a gigantic tufted carpet. Soon our pilot was dodging between pinnacles of the Owen Stanley Mountains. We lurched in currents from the north side.

            Only 45 minutes after Moresby, F 163 hit Dobodora Strip. Groaning wounded with bloody bandages waited to load on a big transport plane for Moresby. We lurched ankle-deep in mud in six-foot kunai grass north towards combat. We drank well water near three 25-pounder Aussie cannon. Jap raiders had blown to ribbons the muzzle of the fourth gun. Other three guns were firing for men in battle eight miles away.

            On 6 January, we perimetered near Soputa, still fairly safe. But that night, Pvt Howard DeHart was accidentally killed, our first dead.

            After an idyllic 7 January of sun and riverside bathing, on 8 January, "F" plunged into sunless jungle-swamp east of Sanananda Road, to avoid Japs on that road. Stumbling over hidden roots and logs, we often sank waist-deep in mud. Rifle and machine gun fire sounded nearby; we slipped aside for natives carrying our wounded in litters. We perimetered on higher ground east of 1st Battalion's Musket Perimeter. Stray rifle bullets cut the leaves overhead.

            For 9 June, we got battle orders. Second in the 2nd Battalion line of companies, we were to follow G Company through the south side of Musket Perimeter, then slog west 1400 yards to cut Killerton Track. The Track was the escape route of three Jap Perimeters "P" that had long blocked Sanananda Road.

            After 500 yards, we filed through 1st Battalion's Musket Perimeter. A 1st Battalion man warned us to hurry across Sanananda road: a Jap machine gun had fired down it that morning. While hurrying F Company across the road, Marlow heeded another man's warning to keep low. A Jap bullet wounded another man sitting on the edge of a hole. Medics carried him off with a stomach wound.

            Our cruelest march of all was the 1400 yards down "Suicide Trail" to Killerton Track We climbed over huge logs and jumped into deep, muddy holes. Some men dropped their rifles into thick mud which made them useless.

            When G Company fired at Japs on the Track, F Company forwarded 2nd Platoon to help them. Soon our 2nd Platoon was prone in the kunai while fighting Jap machine guns a few yards ahead. Medic Bays ran through Jap fire to bandage Green, shot in the back, and Herman, shot in the shoulder. Then 2nd Platoon crawled back to safety.

            And so, on 9-14 January, "F' with our 2nd Battalion blocked Killerton Track with "Perimeter Rankin," and cut off the Jap escape route. Perimeter Rankin was actually a ring of Company perimeters. Each rifle Company detached a Platoon to take its turn to the front closest to the Japs, for 24 hours.

            Fronting the Japs, men sat neck-deep in water in the long night. Guns grew so muddy that we rinsed them in the water in our holes. When relieved wet and sleepless back to our Company perimeter, we let headquarters men clean and dry our guns and ammo while we slept.

            Rain every night and Aussie shells kept us awake. The ground shook sand on us in our holes. To avoid shellfire, Japs crept close to our holes and dueled us with grenades. After the night of 11 January, we found Private William Toth killed five feet from his hole.

            On 14 January, a Jap sniper twice drove "F" into our holes.

Suspecting that he shot from a tall, vine-covered tree, Pfc Irwin C Jacobson, Marlow, and 2nd Lieutenant Rader twice tommie-gunned the tree, top to bottom. The Nippo sniper never bothered "F' again.

            By the end of 14 January, Perimeter Rankin became useless. While the Aussie 18 Brigade struck from the south, our G and E Companies pushed from the north and crushed the Perimeter "P" Japs. Our Weapons Platoon had the repulsive chore of burying some 300 Japs who had held "P." Victorious Aussie 18 Brigade passed north through Perimeter Rankin to battle the Japs on the coast. And "F' got marching orders and new fighting orders.

            Orders were to follow the Aussies about 1.5 miles up Killerton Trail to the Coconut Grove. Then we were to turn east and then south again to strike the Japs' rear on Sanananda Road where we had come from on 9 January.

            By 16 January, F 163 was back into battle. From perimeter in the kunai east of Coconut Grove, we were to push through a Nippo jungle to Sanananda Road. After a medium bombers' air strike of 30 minutes and field artillery shelling, we were to push abreast of G Company on our left flank.

            Leaving our packs, we marched through jungle and swamp to more open ground and marched in three parallel platoon columns. But we lost an hour and the effect of the preparatory shells and bombs. The jungle separated our platoons; we had to regroup near G Company.

            Orders now were to cut Sanananda Road on the north or rear of Perimeter S - where A Company suffered heavy casualties in their attack of that 16 January. In single file, we followed a winding trail into ground which the Japs had cleared for a field of fire. Intense rifle fire grounded us.

            Racing up with orders from Colonel Rankin for "F' to retreat, Marlow found everybody down under Jap fire from everywhere. No matter which side of a tree a man covered behind, the fire came from that direction. Pvt Isac C Counts was down with a large hole torn in his right thigh. Earlier in the fire-fight, Marlow heard, Sergeant Ellis W Olson had orders to deploy his squad on our right flank. He died with a bullet in the brain.

            After Marlow contacted Commanding Officer Ellers, we were told to retreat, a man at a time. When Sgt Robert C Ordish dashed back, a whole Jap volley cut him down. With Marlow and Medic Malanca helping him, Ordish crawled into jungle cover and a waiting litter. He was wounded in the left elbow, buttocks, and back.

            Regrouped safely again, we saw G Company file into jungle to our left and heard their rifles open up. F Company's Commanding Officer had orders to push beside G Company at a 50-yard interval. Lead Platoon would be 2nd Lieutenant Ogden's. It was mostly open ground ahead, among big trees on dry and level ground.

            "F" had hardly advanced more than 50 yards before a machine gun burst drove us to ground. Even Headquarters Platoon was down. Ellers twice ordered the advance to continue, but we did not move. Word came back that 2nd Lieutenant Ralph H Ogden was dead. When Medic Jack Marcus tried to aid Ogden, a machine gun burst slew him also.

            Already, Pfc Emil F. Prinz was dead, and Sergeant Harold W Roush dying from a head wound. Ellers ordered us back, but retreat was impossible under grazing fire. A main source of this fire came from two machine guns in a narrow ravine before F Company, but we did not know that source.

            Ellers then ordered 2nd Platoon from the rear of our column to hit the Japs on our left flank. But 2nd Platoon failed to maneuver far enough leftward to avoid Jap fire. Their fire stopped us; a bullet grooved the skull of Sergeant Willard Johnson. He was paralyzed below the hips.

            After 2nd Platoon failed, Ellers tried once more to advance "F." He told Corporal Carlton O Tidrick's squad to run from our right flank and kill those machine guns.

            Tidrick's squad doubled 40 yards from our right flank, hit the ground, and emptied their guns at what they thought was the machine gun nest a dangerous looking native hut. Concealed in the ravine, the two Jap machine guns opened up - hit Tidrick three times: in shoulder, chest, left forearm. They shot Pfc Kenneth E Paul three times also: in shoulder, thigh, and left forearm. Tidrick half carried, half dragged Paul to safety. We saw the two bloody men with Tidrick supporting Paul with his good right arm. Tidrick's left wrist hung shattered; he bled from a hole in his chest as large as a fist. Tidrick insisted that Paul be treated first, and refused treatment himself until he reported the Nips' positions. Both men lived. (That night, E Company's Captain Buckland with Pfc Joe F Steiner and 1st Sergeant Einar Lund wiped out those Jap gunners who slew Ogden, Prinz, and Roush, and wounded Pvt Isaac C Counts, Sgt Robert C Ordish, Sgt Willard S Johnson, and Paul.)

            Now we had to leave our four dead on the field. We took the trail after G Company which had easily fought through the Hospital Lot to Sanananda Road. That night, we perimetered in water among Jap corpses on the west side of Sanananda Road. Here we remained on 17 January, except for 1st Platoon guarding 2nd Battalion Headquarters. On the night of 17-18 January, Japs blundered into isolated 1st Platoon's perimeter and fought us. Corporal James E. Ray died of a wound that night; Pfc George G Horrocks was shot in the neck, but we repelled the Japs.

            On 18 January, F Company filed down Sanananda Road to begin our bloodiest fight of all Sanananda Battle. While trying to bring 1st Sergeant Maurice E Hundahl's Platoon closer to us, Corporal Harold E. Pulliam scouted too close to Nippo lines. His body was recovered four days later.

            Patrolling down the east side of the road, we slew many Japs in small armed bands, without casualties to ourselves. In late afternoon, we took low traversing fire from several Jap machine guns, and then some mortar shells - but again had no losses. We were now on the edge of our objective, Perimeter V, which was part of Perimeter U.

            Scouting east, 1st Platoon found a group of hospital huts. Able-bodied Japs ran to hide among the sick and wounded. We had no choice but to shoot anyone who moved.

            Scouting farther east and south, 2nd Lieutenant Raber's Platoon saw Japs carry laundry down to the stream across from them. Pvt Robert J Heisler's BAR was to begin the shoot-out; it jammed after two shots and stampeded most of the Japs. In the fire-fight then, Pfc Edmund F Krull's rifle was shot from his hands. Lieutenant Raber was shot in left arm and neck. A third bullet pierced his helmet, grazed his head, and bloodied his face. Most of the Japs escaped.

            On 18 January, "F' claimed 54 Japs killed, with only Lieutenant Raber wounded and Corporal Harold E. Pulliams killed. But next day, 19 January, was our deadliest day of battle at Sanananda,

            On 19 January, main action began by Corporal Leslie D Cameron of Weapons. With rifleman's protection, Cameron crawled dangerously close to Nippo lines to call down fire on them. For 30 minutes, without shorts into our own company, he called down Aussie field artillery and 163's 81 mm mortar battery into a perimeter 150 yards wide. Now "F' got orders from an unremembered source to charge the Japs with fixed bayonets down into the draw and across the little stream. While we still deployed in line, Nippo fire began. Only waist-deep in a little Jap hole, Pfc Ralph B Marlow himself incurred three near-misses by Jap bullets and dived for a coconut tree.

            With 1st Platoon and 2nd Platoon in line, we screamed and charged the Jap positions across the draw. But despite Cameron's great barrage, the Jap machine guns blasted away. From behind a tree that machine gun fire was cutting, Marlow saw our shattered platoons retreating, while a Jap machine gun enfiladed us in the draw. Some men dangled shattered arms; some limped; some were carried. Some able men cried hysterically. This charge cost "F" at least seven dead, 14 wounded, and one seriously injured. Corporal Ernest C Reynolds and Sergeants Aaron K. Dickey and Harry L. Billsborough died within a few feet of a Jap pill box. Reynolds warned us not to risk our lives to save him. Other dead were Private Harry L. Scott, Pfc. Bruce Beighey, Pfc John J. Kramarik, and Pfc Fritz Molitor. Although 163' s Casualty list says that Private Cecil Helmer was wounded in the neck, Marlow reports that Helmer died later.

            Despite agony of a rupture, Corporal Ward Williams save BARman Pvt Josiah A Fallstick from drowning from his wounds. Fallstick lost a lung from a bullet in his chest; he had a hand wound also. Pvt Richard Zimmerle was shot in right leg; Pfc Alfred L Brown in right leg and arm; and Pfc William S McLean in right foot.

            Other recorded wounds were mostly higher up - Pfc Joseph S Lawrence and Pvt Jacq Arguello both with a bullet in left shoulder apiece. Pvt Jesse W Denton was hit in right elbow, Pfc Richard F Brune in right hand, and Pvt Albert S Babicz in right wrist and left shoulder. Pvt Sam DeFrisco was only man hit by grenade fragments - in left arm and mouth. Unreported was the nature of Hahn's, Caswell's, Mitchell's and Payne's wounds.

            After Perimeters U- V were liquidated four days later, F Company learned that we had prematurely charged an almost impregnable position until much more field artillery fire and mortaring. We had charged 19 log bunkers heavily manned by machine guns. Centering the perimeter were trucks buried in the ground with machine guns bolted to their motor blocks. Storming the "Motor Pool Perimeter" on 19 January would have cost the lives of several under strength companies.

            E Company replaced F Company on that 19 January, but did not have to charge the Nips' lines. On I and L' s successful assault of 23 January, E Company had only to provide fire support. Marching back north up Sanananda Road, we spent the sunny morning of 20 January washing uniforms that were a mass of solid mud. We dried our billfolds and photos in that sun and cleaned three days' rust from our guns. Although our pathetic little company still had much marching and patrolling in mud and rain still to do, our Battle of Sanananda was ended.

            We had probably had 15 killed, 22 wounded, and one seriously injured. After marching to cut Killerton Track on 9 January, we had fought bloodily and well in our two great fights of 16 and 19 January 1943.

 

CREDIT: Core of this history is Pp. 31-79 of Ralph Marlow's 293-page handwritten manuscript which F 163 leaders unofficially commissioned him to write while it was happening. Background sources include 163's Sanananda Casualty List, Yank Magazine's Staff Correspondent Dave Richardson's "Sunset Division Eclipses the Rising Sun," Dr. Samuel Milner's Victory in Papua. Two earlier "F" stories of Sanananda already in the Jungleer are Jess Fallstick's BARman at Sanananda (Jungleer, June 1960), and "Two Days' Infighting at Sanananda" (Jungleer, January 1977). Marlow's history corrects or adds to these narratives. Milner and they omit F's fight of 16 January Sergeant Olson did not throw away his life and five other men's in a charge of 19 January; he was killed on 16 January. Sergeant Billsborough did not waste these men's lives either. The deaths were the result of a bayonet charge ordered by officers superior to the men of F Company. This charge was not even mentioned in Training Note No". 2 - evidently because the officials did not like to admit their failure in judgment.