41 QM Company: Those Indispensable Quartermasters

By Dr. Hargis Westerfield, Division Historian and Colonel H.B. Cary, QM


To forward rations and ammo into infantry perimeters, we truckers and clerks of 41 QM lived a life of overwork in the deadly jungles. Of course, we were never as often in danger as were riflemen, and living conditions usually were better too. But without our supplies carefully allocated, no rifleman could live for a day at the front. Here is a part of our story -of men who kept our infantry fighting the Japs.

We began the war as a regiment: 116 QM Regiment, 3 Battalions, 13 company units. On 1 November 1942 at Rockhampton, we became the small 41 QM Company, but with a full colonel commanding-Colonel Frederick C. Roecker. We were now six platoons: Headquarters, Office of Division Quartermaster, Service Platoon, and three truck Platoons.

By 5 January 1943, our 35-man detachment saw action against Japs at Sanananda, as far as 41 QM could act. From our supply dump 2640 yards west of Soputa, jeeps trucked supplies up Sanananda Track. With 163 Service Company, we guarded native carriers for Musket Perimeter. We labored with light trucks to clear Dobodura Strip and dropping ground and forward loads into dumps for Sanananda.

From near Musket, our QM ammo trucks returned wounded from the front to Dobodura airlift. Medics brought to us men in stretchers, but could spare no aid men. Often our drivers had to halt in danger en route to give wounded what aid they could.

Rations for 163 were bad indeed: bully beef, Aussie hardtack and tea. These were so nauseous that when C rations first arrived on about 15 January, front-line men called even the C's a delicacy.

To fairly allocate supplies was itself a hard task that QM well performed. During 5-25 January 1943 at Dobodura, Sergeant Powell operated like a computer. As chief clerk, he performed hard mental work daily. He had to calculate fairly the rations for 6,000 Aussies and Yanks and 2,000 natives.

Because of shortages, Powell could not use proportions from Army manuals. He had to use percentages based on fluctuating lots of various supplies on hand. He also had to supervise dispatching of our limited number of small trucks to haul supplies and return wounded from the front. Powell had one of the excruciating jobs of 41 QM.

Beginning 27 January, we faced a ration shortage. For eight days bad weather halted the airlift of supplies from Moresby. We had only three days' rations and two days' gasoline on hand.

In this crisis, supplies had to come over the rough jungle road from Oro Bay, 16 miles east of Dobodura, even though four bridges were washed out. Other units carried our supplies until the last crossing. We had to get our motley fleet of little trucks and trailers to where they could haul from Warisota Plantation to Sambogo River Crossing.

We could not float these trucks across the river; a shallow bar blocked us off in midstream. At the west bank, the river was three feet deep before a bank with a 55-foot slope of black loam. With natives, we got down into the river to manhandle them over: 32 quarter-ton Aussie trailers. These transported supplies back to the ferry, where natives carried them across. This is how we kept the men of Sanananda supplied until the bad weather ended.

Although 41 QM started the great Dobodura dump, we had to move it to a new area, remote from the main center. Too many troops now bivouacked too close to it for us to protect supplies from pilferage. But in the new jungle area, we were too shorthanded to administer it adequately. Sickness had dropped our detachment from 41 to 25. We secured 25 men detached from infantry to truck supplies. We few remaining QM men had to issue supplies and safeguard the new dump. Back at Moresby, some 38 QM soldiers were the nucleus of a Provisional Air Supply Company. We packed parachutes and sacks for air-dropping on Dobodura. Meanwhile, small homesick detachments of 6-16 clerks and drivers labored at obscure jungle villages with exotic names: Hariko, Boreo, Buna. We supplied 162 Infantry and leapfrogged up the coast to Nassau Bay.

Such are 41 QM highlights of the Papuan Campaign. We dumped supplies, guarded supplies and issued supplies. Like other 41st men, we endured homesickness, monotony, heat , sun and rain, hard work and fevers. But we kept the infantry fighting.

 

(Continued at Hollandia)