K Company 163 Infantry Combat on Sanananda Road

By Dr. Hargis Westerfield, Division Historian with Commanding Officer Ed Reams

Embarking from Aussie C-47's at Dobodura, K Company 163 Infantry got lost at once. Too quickly gathered in the landing area by planeloads and dispatched into the kunai, K was not reassembled until 9 January 1943. (By this time, 1st Battalion 163 had already battled from Musket Perimeter, and 2nd Battalion had sealed off the Jap escape corridor on Killerton Trail.) On 11 January came K's first memorable assignment.

When Japs deserted Q Perimeter near Musket, A Company moved from a position on the supply trail to occupy Q. K in turn garrisoned A's position enroute to Musket Perimeter. (Voya was the place where supply convoys had to leave closed Sanananda Road and take to the jungle to bypass the Japs and supply Musket Perimeter.)

On 12 January, K covered the right flank of Aussie 18 Brigade which tried to storm the southern Jap Perimeters P frontally. The Aussie attack failed, with heavy casualties and loss of three tanks. K Company's action was not reported.

On 16 January, we began operations that continued through 22 January to the close of the main Battle of Sanananda. About 1200, we slew our first Jap - perhaps a marine because of his anchor insignia. At 1230 on 15 January, we patrolled with three NCO’s and five privates. While on a bridge across a creek, Marr took a bullet in the left foot.

At 1645 that 15 January, we teamed with L Company to relieve A and B against hard-fought Jap Perimeter R, north of Musket. While those companies joined other 1st Battalion elements for their great offensive of 16 January, we pressed Perimeter R. About 2000, 12 Jap rifle grenades struck K, but all were evidently duds. Pvt. Jacob P. Dresen probably died in action before R - from a shot in lower abdomen.

On the morning of 16 January, K was holed within 30 yards of the Japs and had taken some machine gun fire. But by 1410, K and L finished mopping R Perimeter. Captain Reams slew his first Jap, who died hard under 15 .45 caliber Tommy gun slugs. Our Jap kill was light; many had escaped. In our final day against R Perimeter, we had no casualties.

Now all Jap perimeters south of Fisk were overrun. But concealed in jungles and swamps where Sanananda Road bent east, the Japs held hard in Perimeters S, T, and U. North of these Jap positions after the great fight of 16 January, 1st Battalion established Perimeter A-D. This perimeter interdicted Jap retreats seaward and based our attacks on S, T, and U.

At Perimeter A-D 17 January, K reinforced battered A Company. While one platoon chopped a supply trail for 2nd Battalion which had crossed from Killerton Roadblock, the other platoons scouted south to find Jap positions in Perimeter T. We hit swamp south of A-D and were recalled.

At about 1515, six Japs with fixed bayonets rushed an outpost against Novolli, reputedly the largest man in K Company. Novolli pulled a Jap up by his own bayoneted rifle. He seized the Jap's body and beat him to death on the ground. In this fight, we killed five Japs and wounded one who evidently escaped.

On 18 January, K had heavy combat. With A Company on our right at 0815, we pushed south towards a section of T Perimeter that A had found yesterday. This section consisted of three bunkers across a 75-yard width of kunai jungle. After a short approach march, K took heavy machine gun fire on our left flank across Sanananda Road in the recon zone of another battalion.

To avoid this fire, both companies fell back to the same starting point and moved off more to A's right. In changing directions on this blind jungle, we got lost for about an hour until striking the new supply trail we had cut for 2nd Battalion. Japs fired again - heavy fire on K from the southeast.

While Jap fire halted A also, we pivoted on A's flank and turned down the road back towards Fisk Perimeter. I Company also deployed a platoon before Fisk to dispose of Japs K might drive towards them. I Company sprayed the right side of the road with automatic weapons to keep down snipers.

Here by the one-lane corduroy Sanananda Road, we contacted F Company shooting its way southwest to hunt down Japs. F had shot both sides of the road, but now gave way for us to fight on the right (west) side of the road. But a machine gun fired from a concealed trench on the road behind us on our left flank. We halted. F Company fought on southward to where a deep stream a Jap machine gun's halted it with heavy casualties. But K Company kept contact with A and rested for battle against T Perimeter tomorrow.

On that battle day against T Perimeter 18 January, K lost at least three killed, 14 wounded-all wounded marked as "serious." Actual time of casualty is unknown. Once, Japs in T Perimeter called that they were surrendering. Captain Reams told 2nd Lieutenant Douglas H. Rawstron to try to take them prisoners - but to be careful. When Rawstron stood up - perhaps with Pvts. John T. Price and Walter L. Barger, Jap fire killed them and pinned down K Company.

Medics tagged all 13 wounded as "serious," mostly from bullets. Six took high bullet wounds, Burre in upper arm, Rogers in right shoulder, Campion in left hand, Gernentz in left ear, left cheek. Sergeant William B. Miller was hit in left hand, Sergeant Nemec in back. Four had low wounds - Cawood in right leg; Riddle, right knee; Roy Hall, left thigh; Zawko, right thigh. Cambra suffered mortar fragments in chest and left shoulder. Simons had a fragment in right arm, a bullet in left shoulder. Salvaggio's and Shaheen's wounds were in unspecified parts of bodies.

Next morning, 19 January, K still fought Perimeter T. Advancing again A's left, we had no trouble at first. Enfilading the brush from A's right, a heavy machine gun platoon raked the way clear for us. Light machine gun's pushed ahead and shot for us. Then our machine gun's had to cease as our advance moved ahead of them. The Japs rose from defilade and slew three A men, wounded six. K Company. lost six wounded that day. Both A and K had to dig in below Jap small arms fire.

Repulsed by a strongpoint, K killed a few Japs and seized a Bren gun. Better still, a wounded Jap crawled into K's lines with important information. He warned us that we were fighting toward 10 machine guns in a trench system guarding the former Jap headquarters for all Sanananda. This news undoubtedly saved us many casualties.

On 19 January, most of K's wounds were in the upper parts of our bodies again. Japs shot Sergeant Gore in left radius, Ruskin in right radius of their forearms. Corporal Floyd Smith was hit in the bone of the upper left arm. Rizzi took a wound in right shoulder, Steele in upper back. Bingham was hit on the right side-upper forearm bone and knee. Martin Johnson was wounded, place unspecified.

On 20 January, K and A were back to 1st Battalion's Perimeter A-D and out of action while I Company made an abortive attack on Perimeter U, to the southeast. There I Company used all available field artillery and 81's of 163 RCT but failed.

On 21 January, harassed A Company - and especially our K Company - had good hunting. After pulling back 150 yards while Aussie field artillery fired and our 81's blasted from Musket Perimeter like batteries, we moved out while heavy machine gun's fired overhead. This time, we struck to the right of the 10 Jap machine gun's and drove home our attack with assault fire.

While Lieutenant Grisson, a little to the rear, phoned directions to platoons, Captain Reams led K Company in. We caught most of the Japs still underground or trying to extricate themselves from shatter- ed bunkers. The garrison panicked and ran up Sanananda Road across our line of fire. We had great killing. The attack of A plus K was so demoralizing and firing so heavy that B and C were enabled to storm Perimeter S to the westward. While an A Platoon now turned west and mopped up the roadside westward, our K Platoon cleared it eastward.

Together, A and K and support weapons killed some 530 Japs that 21 January 1943 in the heaviest slaughter since the Aussie massacre back at Gorari 12 November 1943. K Company estimated that our share of the kill was 80-100. K had just two wounded - Kausalik with a fragment in left leg and Sergeant Barnes with a shot in left heel.

That night after the destruction of T Perimeter, tired K men relaxed in 3rd Battalion's nearby perimeter for a good night's sleep. The last organized Jap Perimeter U was strongly besieged, but we took turns on guard against chance collisions with stragglers. The moon was full above the misty jungle.

About 0600 22 January, just as the moon was setting and just before sunrise, some 150-200 escaping Japs evidently halted to rest with the head of their column against K's perimeter. When they sensed K Company, they leaped into our foxholes and started shooting.          

Some K men with blistered, mud-caked, soggy feet had bivouacked above ground. There was some momentary panic. Rohrig heard Jap bayonet men charging us. Like pigs, they grunted as they charged: "OUGH! OUGH! OUGH!"

But Captain Reams and his men were now coldly alert and firing back. When one Yank got a bayonet in his breastbone, he grabbed the Jap rifle, kicked the Jap in the teeth, and shot him dead with the Jap rifle. We readily repelled the attack.

In broad daylight, we saw 31-33 Japs lying dead in what seemed to be a hastily formed skirmish line. We found an abandoned heavy machine gun on half-load. We took one seriously wounded prisoner-a Jap officer who spoke English.

K's own losses were surprisingly light. Japs shot one mortar-man when he left his hole to put his weapon into action. This casualty was either Cpl. Sam Nash or Paul Snedaker. Nash was hit in the back and the left hand to die 27 January. Snedaker was wounded with bullets in chest and right leg. Sergeant Arthur T. Goldsmith was accidentally shot dead. Novolli and Tom Pierce had slight wounds.

From the wounded Jap officer, 163 Headquarters learned that this body of Japs had landed at Giruwa to reinforce the Sanananda garrison just 10 days before. Originally 500 strong, it had lost some 200 in battle and in sickness, with 150-200 unaccounted for. Although urgently dispatched southward, none of them had ever got into action in the front lines near Musket Perimeter. Unaware of their location, they were trekking west when they collided with K in the dawn. Nobody knows anything certain about the rest of their career, but it is possible that they faced G and L on the Kumusi, the 100-odd still alive.

Such was the war of K Company 163 Infantry at Sanananda. Committed late to battle, we helped mop up R Perimeter, then forayed down Sanananda Road with A Company. In two days of good combat, we finally destroyed Perimeter T. In a Japanese dawn attack 22 January 1943, we climaxed our war with a smashing repulse. Our losses were comparatively light: with six dead, 17 wounded. We had fought well, with minimal losses.

 

CREDIT: Most important sources are Captain (now Lieutenant Colonel retired) Ed Reams' 5-page, legal-size handwritten letter, undated, 163 Casualty Lists, "41st Division” Training Note No.2, Sections ll, III.” Other sources, all important, arc Samuel Milner's Victory in Papua, 163's "Extracts from History," Murray Noble's 15·page handwritten letter (after 22 May 1973), 163 's detailed journal of Sanananda.