G Company 163 Infantry: Infighting at Sanananda

By Dr. Hargis Westerfield, Division Historian, with Staff Sergeant Joe Murphy and other "G" men


            
After G Company 163 Infantry's fight to block Killerton Trail on 9 January 1943, we fought again on 14 January. Three nameless little Jap perimeters faced G Company a short distance off. Slanting in echelon northeast, the three Jap perimeters outguarded four P Perimeters some distance south which had defeated the Aussie tank attack 12 January.

On 14 January, when Aussie General Vasey discovered that a Jap retreat had begun, we teamed with E Company to meet Aussies pushing north to squeeze out remaining Japs.

While G crouched in tall grass, Doherty and Murphy scouted south. Through abandoned Jap bunkers and slit trenches they scouted 300-400 yards southward in eerie silence. They passed Jap corpses. Finally in open ground, they sighted Aussies who waved at them.

But when Doherty-Murphy led Lieutenant Braman's 3rd Platoon in, a Jap ambush blasted in our faces. From an opening in the underbrush, some 20 Japs fired heavily. Doherty-Murphy flattened in short grass in an open, level ground. With Doherty following, Murphy threw himself behind a large log.

Once behind the log, Murphy learned that a Nippo bullet had ripped off a rear pocket but failed to draw blood. More bullets crashed through the spongy log. Lying on their backs, they dug in like moles. Dirt flew from digging heels and sheath knives.

From trees behind the unbrush, snipers fired. Shooting from a deserted Jap hole, Belin fought back. A grenade bounded from underbrush into the hole. Belin did not panic from the hole to death in the open. He threw back the live grenade to explode among the Nips. G Company slew maybe 20 Nips - and without reported casualties in G Company.

And so G and E Companies teamed up with Aussies and wiped out the Japs' southern perimeters. Now G participated in 2nd Battalion's second great strategic move of Sanananda. Hiking north up Killerton Trail, we were to turn east into the jungle, then south against the northern perimeters of the Japs. In this move, we could find and destroy any strongpoints behind Fisk Perimeter, and join 3rd Battalion and 1st Battalion's fight against the great stronghold on Sanananda Road. These marches and fights made our 2nd Battalion known as "Rankin's Racers," or "Rankin's Raiders."

That afternoon of 15 January, G patrolled up Killerton Trail and relieved Aussie 18 Brigade men in the Coconut Garden. While the Aussies fought north of us, G marched to help 163 in the final week of battle, 16-22 January.

About 0815 16 January, G headed east from the Coconut Garden 1,000 yards, then south by compass 1,200 yards into what we called Perimeter T. We surprised some 25 Japs in bunkers and went in to kill. Notable was the fight of Indian Raymond "Butch" Ackerman - a one-man army who lobbed grenade after grenade into rear exits of Jap bunkers. (He died fighting on the Kumusi.)

            Then came the famous fight in the "Hospital Lot," in an area near Yank Perimeter AD. About 1200, 2nd Battalion contacted 1st Battalion so that 163 now enveloped the last great Jap perimeters.

With F Company leading, 2nd Battalion. started to cut Sanananda Road. When F met Jap opposition, Captain Benson led G north some 100 yards to bypass the Japs and block the road.

            G Company was patrolling up a narrow trail. Our 3rd Platoon scouts - one was certainly Baird - slipped through a swamp, then up the trail between two yet unseen pillboxes. An unwary Jap guard was squatting in a lean-to; they killed him.

And 3rd Platoon moved forward and found a clearing with thatched native huts on three-foot piles, with fine hiding places for Japs behind thatched walls. The "clearing" was thin jungle 300 yards wide. Benson said that maximum visibility was 100 yards and minimum, 25 feet.

While deployed, waiting for orders to advance, 1st Platoon had two wounded. At least one Jap rifle fired, maybe more. Steblay was hit in right thigh, Corporal Beverley Johnson in right forearm. We could still see the bullet under the skin in his arm. After medic Marshall treated them, both could walk out.

Sudden intense rifle fire met 3rd Platoon. A light mortar impacted nearby. As Lieutenant Braman and another man entered the clearing, a light machine gun opened up from the rafters of a hut. All that saved them, Braman thought, was that the gunner believed he'd killed both men on the first blast.

We decided that this was a Jap hospital area, but deadly armed men held it, in defiance of international law. "What should we do?" we asked Benson. "Do? Do what you always do," he answered.

G Company opened up on the shacks with all possible firepower. A hut collapsed under a stream of bullets. We flanked the shacks, picked off the riflemen. Sergeant Doherty sneaked behind the light machine gun man who had almost killed Braman and knocked him off the rafter. From the nearby cemetery the light mortar fired only three-four times, and we killed it. Meanwhile, grenades began exploding among the huts as able-bodied defenders and hospital invalids blew themselves up - or tried to blow up G Company.

Some Japs fought in the open; some fought from foxholes and trunks of large trees. Others ran and were cut down. And in the huts, our tense riflemen found live Japs under blankets and dead Japs under blankets. And G Company had no chance to check each corpse with a stethoscope - not when a pale hand might reach out to blast a grenade in your face.

So G fired first and pulled blankets off corpses later. Some Nips were dead or dying of wounds, malaria, dysentery and blackwater fever. Some patients held live grenades under blankets and tried to blast us or blow themselves up. Murphy saw one Nip rifleman with an amputated leg - prone and firing from the floor of a hut. We found newly-dead grenadiers hiding under blankets beside skeletons.

We did not count the bodies in the Hospital Lot. Lieutenant Braman of 3rd Platoon said that he did not hear much shooting. But when Tokyo Rose learned of the Hospital Lot, she named the whole Division "Butchers" and said that we would never leave New Guinea. The division took the name of "Butchers"; at that time "Jungleers" was a name not yet in use.

That night of 16 June, G blocked Sanananda Road and partly made perimeter north of the road. With Morales, Sergeant Muryphy lay in a slit trench with a gob of mud as parapet. They were exposed on a point with a Jap bunker a few yards on the left rear. Far behind was a two-man Yank hole. Left, a terrific 20 yards off, were BAR-man Mayberry, his assistant, and an ammo bearer.

Murphy and Morales had a bad night. Darkness brought crawling Japs and grenade throwing. By 0300, Morales was so tired that Murphy let him sleep. Half an hour later, Murphy heard scuffles and grunts from Mayberry's hole. Had a Jap knifer got in? Was a Jap light machine gun set up already to strike from the rear at dawn?

Two grenades blasted the dark near Mayberry's hole. Then came black silence, and the minute hand of Murphy's watch dragged on to daylight, with perhaps snakelike death lurking from behind.

The slight New Guinea night breeze gave way to the dead calm that comes before dawn. Muted sky beyond the fringe of jungle branches hinted at daylight.

Ready to strike the supposed Japs behind him, Murphy strained eyes into the decreasing darkness. A helmet stirred. Out of the mud came Mayberry's face, and two more G faces. Nobody knew who had thrown the two grenades that missed.

Although most of G Company now left the road for Perimeter AD, Braman's 3rd Platoon held the roadblock for some four nights. After our bitter ambushes several times the first day, the Japs tried to pass mainly at night.

Doherty and Lieutenant Braman devised fine ambush tactics. By day, we hid in swamp 15-20 feet off the road except for two forward scouts. When the scouts alerted G, the men eased in from the swamp and prepared to kill. We had two machine guns. At night, we manned positions on the road shoulder.

Once, 11 Japs hiked up the road. Gunners let them go 10 feet past to where they could see us -then piled up 11 dead. Wrongly, we tired men let the 11 lie there. In 30 minutes came 20 Japs - perhaps to check on their 11-man point. When they saw 11 dead, the 20 ran. G slew 15, but five still ran. Giessler killed four of these five with one sweeping burst of his BAR.

About 0230 on 20 January, 15-20 Japs hit 3rd Platoon to break our ambush. All died. Not until daylight did Fred Bennett report the bullet in his leg. To keep Bringard in the same hole from worrying about him, Bennett had endured the wound in silence all night. Some Japs we killed even carried suitcases containing silk shirts, perhaps for furloughs in Australia after conquering it. (Also on 20 January, Treangen was shot in the right foot.)

Such was G Company's dark fight at Sanananda. Besides Japs, mud and fever, we remember minor jungle horrors. Rats scurried from corpses into our holes at night. Snakes squirmed in for warmth. Bats or maybe flying squirrels attacked wallaby rats in the trees at night. Then we heard screams like that of a woman in labor. Our hearts beat in fear like trip hammers. Worst of all for G Company were the sweet sounds of jungle doves, for often they were Jap signals. We counted the systematic number of coos and tried to figure out meanings that could indicate death for us.

Even after 163 had destroyed the last Nippo perimeter on 22 January, G had a last deadly fight. On 24 January, two Japs surrendered. They claimed to be Buddhist monks. They promised to lead us to 26 Japs ready to yield but afraid to be shot on sight.

At 1045 on 25 January, Lieutenants Corts and Braman led 32 men to help "monks" bring in the 26. Some 400 yards into jungle, we found four bewildered, unarmed Jap medics. Maybe their surrender made us too relaxed.

We then found a chain of dugouts filled with dead Japs. At one chain of dugouts, Pingatore saw five live Japs. When one ran, Pingatore killed him with a Tommy gun. (The two "monks" evidently escaped about this time.) From behind a pillbox, a Jap rifle wounded Pingatore.

While we covered with fire, Lieutenant Corts crawled in to aid Pingatore. A rifle bullet punctured Corts' Adam's apple and shoulder. An explosion from a pillbox deafened us. Evidently a Nip tried to throw a grenade through a narrow slit, but it rebounded.

Medic Woodman crawled up to bandage Pingatore and Corts. Although Pingatore could walk with an arm wound, we made a litter for Corts. A dazed Jap shuffled from the exploded pillbox to be spared and received the first aid he loudly demanded.

Fifteen yards farther on our return, Japs shot up our rear guard: Corporals Vierra and Kozing, Captain Arthur Braman and Sergeant Jack Anderson. Earl "Bud" Hall of 2nd Battalion Headquarters died without a sound.

With three dead and two wounded, Braman retreated. We had five prisoners: the Jap wounded by a Jap grenade in the pillbox and the four meds. Next day, the captain recovered the bodies. Pingatore and Corts both survived; Corts with a metal whistle in his throat for talking.

Such was G 163's saga of Sanananda - after 9 January 1943, when we blocked Killerton Trail. (Its story is told elsewhere.) We teamed with Aussies to kill P Perimeters, then cut off the last great Jap perimeters on Sanananda Road. We wiped out T Perimeter, cleared the Hospital Lot and held the roadblock. After the main battle, we had a treacherous ambush. Casualties - with those on Killerton Trail-were at least six killed and 14 wounded. Known dead from disease were typhus victims, Corporal Mercille (28 March) and Sergeant Molina (6 April). Our kill of Japs was surely over 10 times all our casualties.

Strictly speaking, G Company's Sanananda concluded with our ambush of 26 January. Yet our fighting record was the cause, we believe, of still more casualties. We got another combat order. With G 186 Infantry attached, we battled Nips at the Kurerda River crossing, then fought their tenacious rear guard all the way to the Kumusi River. In the Kumusi Patrol, we had three killed and 10 wounded. But the Kumusi Patrol is another story of G 163 in the Papuan Campaign.

 

CREDIT: Murphy's Ietters (6 April, 15 April, 6 August, 1974) caused complete rewrite of this story. Other Ietters were from Captain Arthur "Buck" Braman (18 February 1963) and Sergeant Frank Steblay (10 December 1974). Highly important were Colonel Wm. C. Benson's "History of G Company;" George Weller's Sanananda articles in Chicago Daily News (1943). I used also Dr. Samuel Milner's Victory in Papua and these 163 documents: "Casualty Lists,"The New Guinea Chapter--the Battle of Sanananda" (15 pp.), a 19-pp. "Extract from History" and a 106-pp. journal also called "Extract from History. "  What I write here will stand as corrections of early data published in Jungleer on E, F, and G 163.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 
 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

4Jsters take time out for an evening meal on the outskirts of Mokmer. Our guess is that the men were dining on Spam and processed American cheese with bits of bacon.