H Company 163 Infantry at Sanananada: Weapons Company's Carrying Parties

By Harold Ingles with Hargis Westerfield, Division Historian

            Over a week before H Company 163 Infantry's Sanananda Battle began, we already suffered from that battle. While waiting to fly across the Owen Stanley Mountains to fight, we were already near starvation. Our Regiment had already taken most of the supplies over the mountains ahead of us; we were left with just three days rations. But the rain and clouds closed the mountain gap most of the day.

            Camped on that brown waterless plain outside Port Moresby, we were so far from the "water hole" that we had just one daily canteen of water. For food we depended on what the Air Force could snare for us. One day, they had just three bread loaves for H Company's 190 men. One day, Harold Ingle's squad received two big cans of onions. When G Company left, they buried their unused food in slit trenches. Our scouts rushed over to dig it out for "H."

            Then US Air Force pilots flew us across to battle. A medium-height Air Force Major piloted the plane that Ingle boarded with 11 other men on 6 January 1943. Tensely they sat on the floor facing each other while the plane was airborne. Then the plane's radio said to turn back. Twelve Jap Zeros were reported heading for Port Moresby. The plane darted back to the strip where "H" hid in revetments until the "all clear" was sounded and we could enplane again.

            Green jungle flashed under the plane as it headed into the gap. Then "H" men leaped out to hide in tall kunai grass beside Dobodura Strip. Here H Company's Lieutenant Flamm assembled H Company's plane loads and marched us into a grove three miles from the Strip. Next day, Flamm led us four and a half hours through knee-deep slime and across Giruwa River bridge to reunite with the rest of H Company.

            On that restless night of 7 January, our jumpy pickets of often shot at Japs who weren't there. One waiting guard wounded his relief man in the dark. Wounded man was probably Lee Johnson, shot in left foot. (Earlier, on 3 January, Reichert was hit in left thigh and right leg. Nothing else is known about Reichert's wounds.)

            On 8 January, H Company drew three days front-line rations before starting north up the trail for 163's battle ground. (Ingle drew three cans of that memorable Aussie mutton!) Bypassing the MT (Motor Truck) Road, we hiked on a trail behind Aussie positions that faced Jap holes called Perimeter P. Past pickets at the end of our 2nd Battalion, "M" at first heard just a few rifle shots at our left.

            But in mid-afternoon, shots at the head of 2nd Battalion's column pinned all of us down. Green men burrowed their heads into the earth; they feared that a Jap sniper had his sight blade rested on them.

            Up and hiking again after an hour, "H" crossed a little stream outside 1st Battalion's perimeter on MT Road. And suddenly we were in the war! Down the trail hobbled eight of 1st Battalion's wounded. Ingle saw a GI whom he had known in Australia. Legs were covered with bloody bandages, but he was grinning on his way out. While finding positions, "H" detailed men down to the stream for water. Shots rang out; for the first time, we heard the call for Medics. We decided that we wanted no water.

            H Company spent an uneasy sleepless night about 40 yards from the Japs. Life was miserable that first perimeter night with the stinging mosquitoes, the rain and the sand and the fear.

            Out of our holes early on 9 January, H Company miserably shook water and sand from our equipment and harnessed up to trek westward. On that 9 January, our 2nd Battalion's mission was to straddle Killerton Track and cut off the Japs' supply route or escape route to the sea.

            We waded the narrow stream where snipers had harassed any watering parties last night, then passed through 1st Battalion's positions holding off the great Japs' pocket to the north. Outside 1st Battalion's holes, half decayed Japs and their equipment were sinking into the sand.

As "H" waited here, Major Walt Ranking, our 2nd Battalion Commanding Officer was talking to Colonel Doe. Nearby, four dead GIs lay on stretchers under blankets. Only their mud-covered shoes were showing. We could see a big log pillbox that had guarded the first Jap position. From trees off to the south a sniper fired an occasional shot down on 1st Battalion.

            Soon 2nd Battalion's point with Rankin disappeared down a little trail through dense jungle. Colonel Doe stood beside the track and shook hands with almost every man and wished him luck.

            At a clearing above water, we passed a dead Aussie with his skeleton covered by a raincoat and a GI in the same sort of death. We passed the sweetest awful smell and splashed into the swamp again. H Company then halted and squatted in as dry a spot as we could find.

At that time, H Company did not know that we were within eight yards of Japs' positions on higher ground along Killerton Trail. The Japs could have played hell with mortars on 2nd Battalion, but they held off. Then G Company cut the Track with a loss of four dead and seven wounded. Ingle heard that the leading 2nd Battalion men panicked, but that Rankin's coolness halted their panic.

            In the slightly higher and dryer ground northern of waterlogged G Company, "H" perimetered on what was named Rankin Heights. Here men from 116 Engineer Battalion dug a trench a few yards long close to the Japanese. Here those Engineers had a few casualties before H Company manned the trench with a heavy machine gun. That night "H" slept in shallow holes at the edge of the jungle while Japs troubled us with random knee mortar shell fire. They had to throw down only a few to make us jumpy. On that 9 January, H Company was lucky to get just one casualty - Bushnell wounded by a ".45"- other facts unknown, but that it was a serious wound.

            On 10-14 January, "H" had two assignments. We were to guard 2nd Battalion's Killerton Perimeter. And with AT Company, we provided carriers to take wounded and supplies along the waterlogged trail to and from Musket Perimeter.

            On 10 January, eight "H" men had to struggle through mud and water with a non-commissioned officer who had shot himself through the foot. It was swollen horribly and he moaned; After some two hundred yards we cursed him.        

            At Musket Perimeter, we hefted up ammo, rations, and tea to splash 1100 yards back to 2nd Battalion. Just after the trail left Musket, we had to swing across a fallen log. Under Ingle's feet, a buried Jap now bobbed up from the muck where hundreds of feet had disturbed his grave. Ingle at first tried to avoid him, but later in his fatigue, he stepped anywhere. In this carrying party, Robertson slipped and fell into the dark, soft mud before Ingle. Ingle laughed, but tripped over hidden wires. Ammo weighted him under, and two bags of tea whipped up to cross around his neck. The taste of mud would linger in his mouth for days. So tired did they become that they slipped and fell almost every minute. With his pants ripped off at his knees, Ingle struggled into perimeter and fell again.

            For the last two days, Ingle got out of this dripping hike for 2nd Battalion. Only tall men could carry above water where Ingle would have drowned.

            Nights were horrors of fear and hard awaking, dusk to daybreak. We listened to Japs probing for our holes, but dared not fire and give away our location. We would hear a step in water, then wait long minutes for the next step -- or a thrown grenade. Then a twig would drop into our hole, although there were no trees above the hole. Next daylight, we saw split-toed prints by our holes. (During a rain one night, Ingle shifted his sleeping position. Next to him, 200-pound J.B. almost choked Ingle before he realized that Ingle was not a Jap.)

            Meanwhile, 2nd Battalion harassed the Japs in Perimeters P to the south while Aussies fought north towards us. Once, Ingle watched Yanks of 2nd Battalion prod for a hidden tree sniper. A BAR-man shot a clip down one side of a tree, and a second clip down the other side. The dead Nip plunged from the tree; his useless rifle fell with him.

            Ingle well remembers Major Rankin running around everywhere without a helmet while his tired runners plodded along behind. Leading an attack, G Company's Captain Benson had a helmet strap shot off. "Now I am mad!" said Benson. Fighting the Japs on Killerton Trail and south to Perimeters P, 2nd Battalion had just four more casualties but counted 350 dead Nips.

            After futile hot, hungry patrols in kunai grass north towards the sea, 2nd Battalion turned east back to the MT Road and back into the main Battle of Sanananda. For the remaining battle, 2nd Battalion held the MT Road to fight the cut-off Japs trying to escape to the sea. At one section the road crossed a little stream. Ingle saw two BAR-men with a stack of seven Japanese piled like cord wood. Japs would crawl down the ditch which ended at the stream, then expose themselves on the road to cross into another ditch. Then the BARs raked the Japs and added them to the pile.

            About daybreak 23 January, Ingle raised up from his hole while Branham and Aragon blasted with a heavy machine gun, while Cumba fired his rifle down the road. The heavy machine gun killed one and wounded one. Cumba's rifle killed another.

            Then in heavy sweat, 2nd Battalion slogged up the final section of the corduroy MT Road towards the sea. We tried to cross a stream over a bridge so damaged by our mortars that we slipped off into knee-deep water.

            One decayed bespectacled Jap was draped over a loose log across the road. As every GI tramped on the log, the dead man lifted a bony hand like a greeting. Every man had to look back on what seemed to be a salute as the next man stepped on the log.

            The growth along the track was strewn with Jap battle flags, and many machine guns. We inspected rifles with bullets stuck halfway up the barrels because oil had been lacking. Many corpses were armed with bayonets attached to long poles.

            H Company saw worse things. The dead were stretched in heaps on raised platforms over waterlogged jungle. As each pole of sick or wounded dead, other layers were thrown on top, to die. As our troops closed in, the more able bodied blew themselves up on the platform with others around them. A platform looked like a slaughter house. .

            "H" performed a better burial service for them, we dug pits beside the platforms, then toppled the platform; spilling the dead into holes that we had dug. Little Hediger of California had to jump on top of every heap and help push them in. We counted over 800 dead around the naval base for Sanananda. There were some prisoners. One surrendered before the machine gun that Ingle belonged to. After debating, we let him strip and come in. Most interesting was a Lieutenant-Colonel of Marines who had the high rank of paymaster -- a former diamond-cutter from Sydney. Down to 60 pounds, he couldn't walk, said that they didn't know Buna had fallen or that US troops were fighting them. Some Japs took advantage of our custom to save their lives by surrendering. Two alleged Buddhist monks guided us to 26 Japs who might yield to G Company. While Major Rankin and G's Captain Benson were away, a Battalion Exec Officer ordered a "G" Platoon to investigate. Four Jap Medics gave up, but it was an ambush.

            Pingatore was shot in the chest; 2nd Lieutenant Corts was pierced in his Adam's apple. Killed were G's Pfc. Walter Pomplun and Pvt.Merle O. Watkins, with 2nd Battalion Headquarters' Pfc. Earl E. Hall. On returning to G Company, Captain Benson stormed up to threaten to kill the Battalion Exec who had ordered "G" men into the ambush. Taking all G Company with him, Benson cleared out the Japs. Their dead had been cannibalized.

            When "H" reached the sea, Ingle wondered why the fight for Sanananda was worth three weeks' agony. He saw only a long cape with blasted coconut trees and a corrugated tin shack punctured by bullets.

            For our remaining Sanananda Operation, "H" guarded the coast. Malaria and dysentery especially made us a little outfit. Ingle's machine gun section was down from 17 to seven men, his platoon was down to 24.

            Since our "battle" was mainly transporting supplies, we had just a few men wounded: Reichert, Johnson, Bushnell. But we had a fourth on 1 February. Craig and Brandt were acting like cowboys with pistols. Craig's.45 accidentally holed Brandt through the throat, but Brandt survived.

            Such was H's Sanananda Operation. H was now Just a small band of tired, sickly, and hungry GIs. 'Carrying supplies, muddy hiking, and "action."  But this action was still great and important soldiering for 163 Infantry in the Battle of Sanananda

 

CREDIT: Most of this history comes from an 11- page single-spaced typescript from Harold Ingle's Diary. It's that part of his World War II Diary beginning 22 December 1943 and closing 2 February 1944. The G 163 episode is part of G Company's History No 93 (Jungleer, Nov 1976). Brandt's accidental wound is mentioned only in Ingle's Diary; the other three wounds are listed in official list from Sanananda. Overall background is from Dr. Samuel Milner's Victory in Papua. Ingle's H Company's "Machine Gun Duel on Wakde" (Jungleer, Nov. 1958, No.5)