2nd Battalion 162 Infantry Headquarters Company: Bradshaw's War Against Roosevelt Ridge

by Joe Bradshaw with Dr. Hargis Westerfield, Division Historian

                                                

When black tropical night pounced on 2nd Battalion 162 Infantry's LCMs en route for battle at Tambu Bay on 26 July 1943, a mini-typhoon pounced also. Oppressive black clouds hid the stars. Jammed into a crowded LCM, Cook Joe Bradshaw watched our dark crafts ahead with blue tail-lights as they fought the waves, veered from the course, and twisted back into line again. Men were seasick. We feared colliding with a fortified Jap Island - to be shot down in our boats.

About 0300 27 July, motors coughed, wheezed to a stop. Our lone Amphib pilot said, "This is Tambu Bay - some doggies and Aussies here already. Make for shore real quiet like. The Nips got the high ground."

About a mile west against the night, Joe noted the dark silhouette of a mountain in a half-circle like a horseshoe. The north arm extended to our right into the sea. This arm was the death-ridge-Roosevelt Ridge.

About 0330, our LCM tried to land. The ramp smashed down into churning surf. As the first heavily armed men leaped into foam, the swirl and the big packs pulled them under. Joe slipped off his pack and held it with his tommie-gun in his right hand. A body washed into Joe; he grappled it and sputtered with that body to shore. Nobody was drowned.

While 2nd Battalion wrung out clothes and ate hot rations we heard fire from the northwest area of Roosevelt Ridge, With field artillery help, E and F Companies had made 400 yards up the ridge, but a torrent of shot and shell forced them back. They perimetered on a bench 50 yards below the summit just in time to repel a Nipo counter. Jubilant walking casualties now came back for coffee and soup. One man was hit between the eyes, but the helmet had deflected it to graze the side of his head.

After early supper, headquarters called for 20 volunteers for the Ridge. Volunteer Joe drew a telephone set. The other 19 each carried two empty water-cans. They cached the cans under underbrush by a little mountain stream and returned to headquarters, but Joe carried the phone set up the slippery cliff path to "E."

While he climbed, bits of lead spattered exhausted Joe. He hid behind a tree until the high whine of the long Nip rifle had stopped. Laboring on up, he heard more shooting. He flailed back at the sound with his tommie, then squirmed unhurt into jungle and climbed onward.

As night fell, a dark figure guided Joe into E Company's perimeter, but first asked for water. Other men crawled over feverishly to beg for a mouthful from his canteen, but Joe had drained it in the hot climb. Since he dared not return below in the dark, Joe lay on open ground and chewed a leaf for his thirst. About midnight, Nips fired rifles and automatic weapons at "E," then mortared and threw grenades. We fired back at the flashes; their attack ended with only two of E wounded.

            Wide awake with E Company at sunrise, Joe noticed a steep bluff on the ridge-crest to his right. It loomed like a medieval castle - this stronghold where G 162's Lieutenant Fisher would die a few days later. Speaking hoarsely with dry, swollen tongue, Captain Hill advised Joe to return to safety. E Company would attack that stronghold at 0930.

Despite some clumsy Jap shooting, Joe easily glided back downhill to the stream. He guzzled cool, rushing water. Then the rising sun reflected olive paint of a water-can left by the carrying party last night.

Now Joe knew what he had to do - whether or not he wanted to - whether or not anyone ordered him to. He sank the 5-gallon can into the stream until it filled, and heaved it with his tommie gun and pack back uphill to E Company.

As Joe sweated back into E's perimeter Captain Hill was deploying platoons for the attack while field artillery fired preparation.

Hill gratefully delayed the push until E's fevered, thirsty men could drain the 5-gallon can. Our field artillery worked on that bluff on the crest later to be renamed Fisher's Perimeter.

Grinning Hill told Joe, "Seems like them snipers don't cotton to you, If you guard our west flank, you might get even."

E's attack failed. Joe thought that many men were wounded, but they made it back alive without help from others. One slim, be-mustached Nordic showed where a bullet had gone through his side. Cheerfully he thanked Joe for the water, sauntered downhill to hospital. Joe never saw him again.

Two hours later, the Nips counter-attacked. They concentrated on our machine gun emplacement, then feinted before Joe's hidden position on the right flank. They disappeared at the first burst of his tommie. Our machine gun flamed out the frontal attack. We relaxed with parched throats the rest of the day.

At gray dawn, Joe left his slit trench and again slipped downhill - at such speed that Nippo riflemen above him were banging away without aiming.

Gulping great canteen cups of water over that stream, Joe suddenly had a new idea. If he left pack and tommie at an outpost, he could carry two cans of water a trip up to "E." He saw his work and did it. In eight days of serving E Company, Joe estimated that he carried up 80-100 gallons (15-20 cans) before a regular water detail was formed for E Company

            On 31 July while with "E," Joe cleaned his tommie and joked with men in nearby holes, as he leaned on a tree. When Captain Hill yelled for him, Joe propped his gun against the same tree, and ran towards command post. A terrific explosion knocked him down but did not cut him. Forgetting what he had called Joe for, Hill hurried to where Medics gave aid to the wounded. Joe's tommie was hurled to the ground, its magazine neatly sheared in two.

On 31 July, Joe still carried water. Once as he passed a steep open space, a Jap machine gun burst missed by a hair-breadth.

Near the stream below, he informed G Company men led by Lieutenant Fisher. At once, a "G" patrol went up to hunt that Jap machine gun. They found signs of an ambush, but the Japs had left after their fire revealed their positions.

Next morning, G Company passed through "E" to attack the bluff. Later, a wounded "G" man told Joe that Hal Fisher was dead, with many more casualties. All the wounded thought that their attack was suicidal. It was foolish to hit well-prepared positions frontally - better to encircle them.

Now renamed Fisher Perimeter, this Nippo bluff was a rounded hill on Roosevelt Ridge with a mask of heavy jungle where we could see no fox-holes. The hill rose to a level top somewhat triangular. But we did not then have a fair chance to reconnoiter to pinpoint the Japs' holes.

On 2 August, Joe became part of a forlorn hope to attack with a new "secret weapon." E Company's Captain Hill ordered 2nd Battalion Headquarters Company's First-Sergeant Dillery, Huse, Bradshaw, and Sergeant Wright to strike on the right side while Captain Hill's group would strike on the left. Joe and Sergeant Wright would take the secret weapon on the right side under Lieutenant Couglin's command.

Jap rifles worried Joe's group on the right until they dropped behind a bank. An officer pointed out their general direction of attack, but they saw only jungle - then realized that no recon had been made.

Sheer love of battle prompted Joe to charge up to hurl the "secret weapon" - a grenade wrapped in gelignite. Luckily, someone tackled him low from behind and dropped him while heavy Jap automatic fire slit the air over his prone body.

We withdrew firing. On the other side of Fisher's Perimeter, Captain Hill took a grenade fragment in the chest and was evacuated. On Joe's side "Pappy" Pvt. William Huse, aged about 40, fell with a grenade sliver hitting over his right eye. First Sergeant Dillery dragged him into a gun-pit, but Hughes was dead at the aid station.

On 4 August, a native told 2nd Battalion Headquarters Major Lowe that the Japs had deserted that section of Roosevelt Ridge which K and L Companies had failed to storm back on 22 July. Grant Ramey, and the Missouri squirrel hunter Sergeant Daniel formed a party to investigate. (Ramey was a 2nd Battalion Headquarters cook like Joe.)

On that 4 August, Grant Ramey, and Daniel scouted up through jungle to where two trails forked before a great open space. From the jungle edge, we looked up a gently climbing draw to a crest shaped like a wide-armed "U." Here were shattered trees and red earth heaved by bombardment. We heard no sound.

Padding up the left trail at over 10-yard intervals, we climbed part way up the Ridge. In the lead, Joe noticed an empty slit trench, hoped that the native was right that the Japs had left. In five paces more, Joe saw a stream of sparks fly down through dark brush - a rolling grenade that missed us and exploded.

Jap rifle bullets whizzed by Joe's tommie hung fire; Ramey's M-1 shot once and jammed. Only Daniel's bolt-action Springfield kept firing -under an avalanche to rifle, machine gun, and mortar fire. More grenades sparked down to explode. All this fire came from left of the "U" rim, but heavier fire began from the right.

            Despite the fire, Joe on the ground had field-stripped his tommie and now fired from left to right at the Japs above. Dropping to earth on the brow of the slope, he hit a soft mound. It was a Yank body; he jerked off the exposed dog-tags and pocketed them with another set from another body four feet away. Meanwhile, he kept firing at a circle of Jap shadows firing at him.

Joe rolled farther back down the draw to shelter behind the log, again sprayed the bushes with his tommie in a half- circle. After he had rolled another 10 yards, Ramey's M-1 no longer jammed and Daniel's Springfield still shot to quiet the ridge-crest. Finally safe at the trail fork, Joe fired his last bullets. After we left, the Japs still wasted intermittent fire on that ground.

             After a day's rest, we three reconnoitered that part of Roosevelt Ridge projecting 1/4 mile into Tambu Bay. We also nosed part way up that shallow saddle 100 yards from where the Ridge started projecting into the sea. As we drew Jap fire from three sides, heavy mortar fire slapped the each behind us, but we could not locate the mortars. Days later, we found that they were not behind the Ridge, but behind the next ridge (B Ridge) 600 yards north-north west.

With Battalion Headquarters kitchen short of help, Grant Ramey had to quit the patrols, but Joe and Daniel were ordered to examine the Ridge end to end. We were to avoid combat, but to pinpoint Jap positions.

Hearing heavy fire from Fisher Perimeter on 12 August, we learned that G 162 had taken it in the way it should have been taken long ago. G's Captain Munkres had spent several days observing it from concealment near Scout Ridge. After sustained frontal field artillery cannonade, Munkre's men attacked the Japs' rear. Our big guns drove the Japs from their pits. When they ran back towards them after the shelling, their own holes flamed sudden death from our men who had seized them and were firing from them. They helped "F" and "'G" to storm the nearby crest. The Japs still held 500 yards of the Ridge eastward to the end of the peninsula.

Early on 14 August, before the Great Bombardment began before 162 stormed the Ridge-peninsula, Daniel and Joe guided 50-100 men into their assault position 30 yards below the crest. Hidden on the edge of the ridge-top jungle, we watched Japs in the open below us, talking, laughing, grunting.

Came then the Great Bombardment of the eastern end of Roosevelt Ridge. About 20 B-24s and B-26s bombed it. At 1315, 218 Field Artillery's 75s, 205 Field Artillery's 105s (and perhaps an attached 155 mm gun), Aussie 25-pounders and Bofors anti-aircrafts guns of 209 Field Artillery and 162 Field Artillery - all pounded the Ridge. Our Division Artillery claimed that 20 guns fired 2,228 rounds. (Battery A 218 Field Artillery alone fired 236 rounds that day.)

But we men on the Ridge clutched the ground in fear. Some shells fell short near us; fragments ricocheted and screamed around us. Concussion lifted us off the ground, or belted us like boxers' fists. We fought nausea, the urge to break and run.

Suddenly the guns stopped their thunder. A green wall of us stormed into the Jap ground. Jumping over mangled bodies, we tossed grenades into bunkers and heard screams and crazy laughter. We mowed down Japs who tried to fight.

Our 2nd Battalion 162 Infantry had triumphed on Roosevelt Ridge. The Japs would soon evacuate even what they still held of the western crest. But ahead of 2nd Battalion and all other 162 outfits lay harder combat. We still had to overrun "B" and "D" Ridges to capture Salamaua Town. Joe Bradshaw would scout or fight for his life on B, C, and D Ridges for many more days.

 

CREDIT: Core of this story is Bradshaw's 13-page typescript, mailed to me from Australia in September 1980. Other help came from E 162's "Roosevelt Ridge and Berger Hill, " written with Don Carlson and Les Dunkin. Supporting documents include 162's Journal (9 July-10 September 1943), Company AR MacKechnie's "Report of Operations of 162 Infantry... in Papua, New Guinea," untitled Report of Headquarters, 41st Division Artillery for 1943, Australian David Dexter's The New Guinea Offensives, and an item from the log of Battery A 218 Field Artillery for 14 August 1943. Another source is First Sergeant Ken Dillery's letter of March 1981.