Four Sanananada Patrols

By Dr. Hargis Westerfield Division Historian


        Here are four more of 163's Sanananda patrols which also got into Division's records. Like many other patrols that went unrecorded, they were nerve-wracking, sweaty, rain-soaked and mud-soaked, and potentially deadly. We regret that names of companies and men are unknown, and all but one officer's name. Yet the details of these stories bring back now what we want to remember about ourselves in our nostalgia for the great old days. What these men endured was true for all of us.

       1. The Telephone Patrol. Our company Commanding Officer had to send a special three-man patrol to find the left flank of a Jap perimeter which abutted on Sanananda Road north of his position. This Jap perimeter was only 100 yards northwards, but deep jungle hid its lines. To aid him in planning attacks, the Commanding Officer needed to know exactly where to place preparatory fire and men to strike that flank.

         Since a large patrol might reveal our plans or meet an ambush, we chose just three men for this recon patrol. We selected one Corporal, one Sergeant, one Staff Sergeant. Most important equipment for this patrol were a sound power phone and lenseatic compass for the Staff Sergeant, and a reel of assault wire for the Corporal. Arms were a tommie-gun with 100 rounds, two M-1s with 64 rounds each. We wore steel helmets and ammo belts, but left behind our hampering canteens, which would be noisy if drunk from.

        After carefully studying the Commanding Officer's map, we men moved out crawling. Visibility while prone was almost never over 10 yards. The Commanding Officer back in command post had to order changes of direction from our telephone reports.

        Staff Sergeant and Sergeant took turns in leading. While the Sergeant covered him, the Staff Sergeant would crawl to the limit of sight and stop. Then while the Staff Sergeant guarded his front, the Sergeant crawled past him and again on past the limit of sight. Both Sergeants led in turn, but the Corporal always stayed behind to payout wire.

          Every 10 minutes, we phoned back a report to the Commanding Officer. By this slow and laborious but careful advance, we moved off the left flank of our perimeter, where we were fairly remote from the Japs. We discovered a deep running swamp stream that was not on our Commanding Officer’s map. It was so deep that we had to swim it.

         Turning north, we found cover without being seen, and saw the sinister line of the Jap perimeter, the dark slots of pillboxes and mounds of bunkers. It was a convex curve bending north. Since we had swum the deep swamp-stream, it was not across from us, and protected by water from an assault there. Three times, our three-man patrol sallied to report on the Jap perimeter. Twice in those three times, we swam that deep creek, which was over our heads. In a later company attack, our findings on the Jap left flank were most useful.

        To judge from this location, a reader might guess that this patrol operated against Perimeter R, east across Sanananda Road from the large Q Perimeter that baffled 1st Battalion for over for a night. Perhaps this patrol got information for C Company, which attacked. "R" unsuccessfully on 8 January. (Pressure on "R" may have become such, however, that on 10 January, AT's lone scout Coporal Knight would find it abandoned.)


2. Patrol at 4:00 A.M.   During Sanananda Battle, Colonel Doe wanted data on location and direction of the right flank of a Jap position, and its type of entrenchments. He knew that Japs were dug in 150 yards before us, but lacked information about that right flank.

          For this patrol, our Battalion Commanding Officer chose carefully three men - a Sergeant and a Private from a line outfit. Assigned for the patrol also was a Regimental Intelligence man to guide us, and sketch the Jap positions. We left Company C Platoon black night at 0400, two hours before daylight. Every man of the company was alerted to our departure time and expected return.

         During darkness, we walked single file. In densest jungle, hiking was difficult; we had to change direction several times. Moving without compass would have been impossible. Halting at daylight, we did not know our exact location. But our guide plotted our approximate site. We moved on.

        Then a lone Jap saw us! We held fire, to avoid a general alarm and maybe the death of our patrol. The Jap fled; we withdrew and changed our course. With our compasses, we reoriented ourselves and veered leftwards on our mission.

        We crossed several parallel trails. We heard Jap voices and took cover. We found ourselves on the edge of a large perimeter. We hid for prolonged observation near a line of Jap bunkers.

Among their bunkers, Japs talked loudly and boisterously. All day, we watched them digging, or building splinter-proof bunkers. Occasionally, they passed us, to cut logs and return carrying them. We saw no outguards; they sent no roving patrols to hunt us out and kill us.

In our intricate search for the Jap perimeter, we had frequently changed directions. We had thus lost all idea of exact location of our home perimeter. Luckily, about 1500, we heard an Aussie rifle-grenade blast off. Since our line company was unique in owning this Aussie weapon, we quickly took the azimuth of this explosion. That night, we followed this life-saving azimuth back to our perimeter, and with all the information we had set out for.

            What were the names of these three men of the patrol? We may never find those names. What company did Sergeant and Private come from? And where did they patrol? Even if we use our knowledge of 163's position and attacks at Sanananda, we can make only an educated guess. We guess that they patrolled to find the right flank of Jap Perimeter S, where A Company would attack on 16 January. Thus, of all the 1st Battalion outfits that took part in this attack, we hazard a guess that these men were from A Company.


3. L 163' s Hunting Patrol to Elwaada. After Sanananda Battle, some Japs fled northwest up the Guinea Shore. They infiltrated across the road running to the sea at Gona Mission. We believed that they were heading for a new assembly area to the northwest.

On 30 May, 3rd Battalion's Commanding Officer ordered a 20-man patrol from L Company into the jungle between Gona Road and Elwaada Village east of the Amboga River. Our mission was to seek for recent signs of Jap activities.

To cull 20 healthy men from malarious L Company was hard on patrol leader Lieutenant Wall and L's other officers. To get the 20, Wall and others had to choose some of us with a 100-degree temperature. We went heavily combat-loaded - with four tommie-guns, two BARs, 15 M-1s. Every man carried two grenades. With each M-1, we bore 96 rounds; for each tommie, 60; for each BAR 200. Every second man had an entrenching shovel. We wore steel helmets. Besides combat packs, we had shelter-halves, head-nets, gloves. (Leggins were optional.) Patrol carried two rations per man to make an estimated five meals. Cooks had three small billy-cans.

After early hot lunch, we left command post at 1130 for an excepted nine-hour hike. A point of three men led off at limit of visibility, usually 15 yards. Followed the main body at five-yard intervals, the rear guard of two men 15-20 yards behind. Although our point scouted with ported rifles, our main body marched at slung arms. At swamps or rickety bridges, the three-man point crossed singly, then covered the forward jungle for main group to cross after them.

Route led us three miles from Gona Mission up the Guinea Shore almost to Amboga River, then left about a mile to Watrasata Village.

Before Watrasata, the three-man patrol heard Jap voices. Although tall kunai screened us, they slipped up carefully and saw Japs striding about and talking - unaware of any pursuit. The point slew all five stragglers. Their packs held fruit and vegetables from native gardens. The village was unguarded.

Turning south after Watrasata with Amboga River close on our left, we reached Elwaada Village at 1630. Despite our malaria, we had cut marching time from an expected nine hours down to five.

Before Elwaada, trail widened to 15 feet; the point men hugged the sides of the trail. At 125 yards, they saw two Japs at the far end of the village.

Fearing an ambush, Lt. Wall moved us in from Elwaada's forested flank and rear. After his point killed the two Japs, we searched the six huts, but found no more Japs.

            While cooks made supper, we checked the south approaches to Elwaada. We dug two-man front-line slit trenches in diamond formation inside the line of huts - our two BARs aiming north or south on the two trail-openings. (Waller had wisely refused to occupy the huts exposed to jungle from which Japs might have struck.)

            Dug in by 1800, we had supper. Several natives came to make friends with us. Two more natives rushed in shouting that two Japs were foraging their gardens, 10 minutes' hike north of Elwaada. Our five-man detachment killed them. The rest of the night went quietly. We look turns on guard, half of the patrol at a time.

            Next day, a mission boy and others guided patrols south to Eurorabadi and towards Bareda. We killed three more Japs on the trails, but we found no organized resistance anywhere in that area. After a total kill of 12 Japs, Waller's patrol returned to Gona that same day.


            4. G-163's Kombela Flank Patrol. This flanking combat patrol occurred some time during 2-6 Feb when Jap veterans of Sanananda repulsed Captain Benson's G Company veterans and an attached platoon at Combela River-mouth. After losing one dead, four wounded on 2 February, Benson naturally tried to outflank the Japs' fine natural defense position on the beach. But since a second body of organized Japs might be crouching farther inland to outflank the outflanking G Co, Benson dispatched a combat patrol on his left flank and rear. From his "G" force of 90 men and some officers, he sent one officer, 19 men, and two native guides to protect his exposed flank.

Wearing steel helmets, we loaded for heavy combat. Each tommie gunner had 200 rounds, each rifleman 160, and each BARman 400. Every man had two grenades. We carried four machetes to clear jungle, and eight shovels for holes. Besides combat packs, all carried mosquito bars. Although these were old Sanananda men somehow or other in good health, they were otherwise not especially qualified.

We expected to need only two hours for two miles to Fufuda Village. Our trek required six hours; we carried our heavy steel loads through deep sago swamps where we sank shoulder-deep. We had to cross Kakita River twice.

Before Fufuda, our Lieutenant (probably Zimmerman) detached as Sergeant and nine men to cross the stream and enter that village. The Lieutenant and nine others crossed another stream to Kumbada.

 The Lieutenant's order of march began with a native 50 yards ahead. A two-man point followed the native at 20 yards before the main body. Carefully watching the jungle, the other "G" men brought up the rear in single file. The native halted our patrol 100 yards from the village and went on alone. In 10 minutes, he beckoned the Lieutenant, who slipped up with his men. Through the jungle, we saw four Nips.

The Lieutenant deployed us as skirmishers, then assigned two men to each Jap target. When he dropped his upraised arm, these G Company killers shot dead all four Nips.

That night, our eight shovels dug a perimeter of 25 yards diameter. We had two trenches of three men each, and a four-man team on the most dangerous flank. During daylight, we posted two outguards forward to get an advance view of the trail.

For three days, we thus garrisoned Kumbada Village. We ate as well as we could, that everlasting bully beef - but also native vegetables. We slew four more Japs.

Back at Fufuda, the Sergeant's patrol killed two Japs when we entered the village. We set up a perimeter to cover the trail junction, and in three days killed five more Japs. A native guide killed another Jap in another way - at short range with an axe.

Returning towards Bakumbari River, the reassembled two parts of the patrol killed one more. We had a total of 16 dead Japs, with no casualties of our own. We now rejoined G Company which by now had outflanked Combela Crossing and was pushing its Jap defenders upon a waiting band on Aussies on the Kumusi River.


CREDIT: Core source is "Training Note No.3 (Headquarters 41st Infantry Divisions) dated 4 June 1943. For background, I scanned two manuscripts, both entitled "Extract from History, 163rd Infantry Regiment." One was dated 1 January 43 - 30 March 44; the other, 27 December 43 - 7 April 44, Samuel Milner's Victory in Papua. Dr. Leeon Aller gave me "Training Note No.3" which is unavailable in Federal Archives at Washington.