C Company 162 Infantry: Sergeant Camp's Patrol Against Oba's Raiders

by C 162's Sergeant Richard C. Camp, with Dr. Hargis Westerfield, Division Historian


            During the last week of 1st Battalion 162 Infantry's siege of Mount Tambu, C Company's Captain Newman called Sergeant Camp into command post and gave him important orders. Camp was to accompany a small patrol of three natives and penetrate the mountain jungle down to the coast and warn our field artillery that some 200 Japs were raiding to destroy our guns that had turned Mount Tambu and Roosevelt Ridge into death-traps for Jap garrisons. C Company's wire was cut.

This was 14 August, third day of Lieutenant Messec's B 162 patrol's pursuit of Major Oba's raiders who were mainly Captain Arai's Company of Jap 102 Infantry. Messec had sent back information about purpose and direction of the raid.

After memorizing details from Newman's map - only map available in C Company - Camp headed into the jungle at 0800 with three natives - Tomanda, Myra, and one other. At the start, with experienced native scouts, we did double time when that rough jungle terrain permitted it.

            About mid-afternoon, we met a native family that had fled from Jap invaders. We gave them what rations we could, and told them that our Army was setting up a refugee camp for them.

We continued our careful patrol down to the coast. Entering into a swamp, we came upon a river unnamed upon the old maps. Late that afternoon, we heard firing in the distance off to our right and headed toward it, still beside the river. It ran into Lake Salus, which was southeast of our field artillery.

By now, darkfall was nearing. We sensed Jap movement all around us. Finding some low bushes, we settled down for the night. We could hear Jap talking far too close.

We waited out a miserable night with Japs all around us. The Guinea rain began falling. Camp had a shelter half to cover himself, and could take out some of the chill with his breath under the cover. But the natives had only one small piece of canvas. It was not large enough for all three natives, and Tomanda squatted shivering. Camp said, "Tomanda, get under here with me." At first, Tomanda refused. Naturally, the rain increased.

"Get in here!" Camp insisted. Tomanda crawled gratefully under the half with him. Tomanda said, "You sleep, I watch."

It was a bad night there in that rain among Japs in their temporary bivouac area, but no Japs discovered Camp's out-numbered patrol.

At daybreak, Tomanda said, "Jap him come." We heard more talking. Some Japs moved out - who had bedded down a few yards away. We trailed them, with Myra bringing up our rear.

After about 30 minutes tailing the Japs, we came to an inlet maybe 30 feet wide. The Japs turned left inland. Camp suggested that we cross and get ahead of them.

We waded through water fairly deep, for two of our natives had to swim across.

On the other side, we faced a mangrove swamp some 50 yards wide, which we had to cross by stretching our legs from root to root. Again on solid ground, we looked for tracks but found none. Nobody seemed to be ahead of us or anywhere near.

After half a mile, we saw a trail up a mountain. About halfway up, we halted for a break. Then we heard somebody coming along the side of the ridge almost level with us.

It was an Aussie with a rifle. We watched until he was a short distance off, then called to him.

He hit the dirt at once. Camp had a hard time to convince him that we were no Japs. Finally, Camp said that he would stand up, and the Aussie could shoot if he wanted to. But if he shot, Camp said, "Four men will be looking down on you."

When Camp stood up, the Aussie came forward, after still holding back a little. This Aussie was Lieutenant W N Hoffman, whose approximately 30-man platoon had been shot up and driven into the jungle. Their fight had caused the firing which Camp (and also nearby B 162's Messec) had heard last night.

Hoffman stated that when his patrol had bivouacked beside Lake Salus, the Japs had struck them. Most of his men were in swimming, without many guards. Hoffman's platoon was scattered.

The morning after the Jap victory, Hoffman himself was trailing eight Japs - who must have come up the same trail which Camp's men had used. Hoffman had taken to the mountain in hope of getting ahead of these eight Japs.

Then Hoffman valiantly left Camp's men and went up the mountain to search for his men for whose ambush he had been responsible. Just as Camp started to move, fire broke out. Hoffman called for help. He shouted that he was hit in the arm.

Camp shouted to Hoffman to join us for protection. As soon as he spotted Hoffman coming back, a grenade was thrown over his head to where the Jap fire came from. The fire stopped while Hoffman came to us.

It was an ugly wound. The bullet had struck Hoffman's right forearm four inches above the hand. It had broken both bones in his forearm.

While bandaging Hoffman, Camp had someone hold his carbine clear of the damp ground. One native said that the Japs were following Hoffman. All three natives started to run.

Camp yelled, "Merchinee, you bloody Mary!" (Come back here, you woman!) Tomanda and Myra returned; the other unnamed third native ran off with Camp's carbine

Camp had Myra and Tomanda each throw a grenade at the Jap noise in the jungle while he finished binding up Hoffman. The two grenades may have caused the Japs to think that a large force opposed them; they held back while Camp, Hoffman, and the two natives escaped. After 100 yards, Myra saw Camp's carbine 15 feet off the trail and retrieved it. Camp at that time had to stop and make a tourniquet to halt the flow of Hoffman's life-blood.

Farther along in our flight, we were in a little depression. Firing broke out back up the mountain to our left. We thought the Japs were shooting at us and hit the ground. Then from another ridge to the right, we heard more fire.  Japs yelled, and the shooting stopped. We thought that they had fired on their own men. We ran as low to the earth as we could and got out of there.

Hoffman would later report that he had encountered 50 Japs that morning of 15 August when he was wounded, on a spur northwest of Lake Salus. Perhaps some armed remnant of Hoffman's patrol was putting up a fight. Maybe this fight kept the Japs too busy to pursue us.

            We were down in the low country near the sea now. Hoffman was becoming weak and exhausted from loss of blood and our hurry. At a native village, Camp loosened and retied the tourniquet. While Myra stayed with Hoffman, Camp and Tomanda checked out the native village. It was vacant, and we went on.  Soon we arrived at a clearing with another ridge across it.

Tomanda spotted a fox-hole ahead. Watching it awhile, we saw a Yank helmet and head.

Camp called across the clearing to identify us and say that we were coming to the hole. Crossing that clearing was hard work, for he still did not know that the guard believed him. They were a ragged group, and Camp with his Aussie hat and shirt.

After explaining his patrol to the Yank in the foxhole, Camp phoned the battery commander with his warning about the Jap raiders. (Camp does not remember the name of the field artillery formation, whether 205 Field Artillery or 218 Field Artillery). He took wounded Hoffman to the hospital, then returned to the field artillery kitchen. It was two days since he had last eaten.

"C" ration cans were boiling in a kettle. Camp gave each native a can and opened one for himself. He was looking into a box of cigarettes. Someone walked behind him and profanely queried what he was doing. "Just what it looks like," said Camp. The other man said, "That's the way with you blasted Aussies. We give you an inch and you take a mile."

Turning around, Camp realized that he was talking to the battery captain. The captain saw the US dog-tags hanging out of the unbuttoned shirt and asked Camp's name and why he had on the Aussie uniform. Camp explained, that our US uniforms were worn out.

This was the same officer whom Camp had talked to on the phone. When Camp told him that they had not eaten for two days while coming down to warn the field artillery - or had had no cigarettes on Tambu for thee weeks - Camp, Myra, and Tomanda could have had the whole kitchen.

Now the first Jap raider fired on the outpost. Camp, Myra, and Tomanda stayed to help the field artillery garrison all that day and night. But the fire was evidently only to harass this battery; no Japs drove home an attack.

Leaving the field artillery next morning after breakfast, Camp went first to visit Hoffman at the hospital. On the way, they saw an Aussie outfit, and maybe 30 natives with this outfit. While Myra and Tomanda talked with natives whom they knew, Camp went on to the hospital.

The doctor told Camp that Hoffman was still weak, but plasma transfusions were making him convalescent. Returning to Myra and Tomanda, Camp ran into trouble. He arrived just in time to see an Aussie officer glaring at Tomanda. The officer put his hand to his pistol and said, "You will do as I say, or I will shoot you right here."

            Camp saw red at the treatment of his native cobber. He jabbed his carbine into the officer's flank and said, "Hold it - unless you can get your gun out and shoot before I can.” Camp told Myra and Tomanda to leave.

The Aussie said that he was a captain and had trained these men as scouts. He had a claim on them to go fight the Japs with him. (Perhaps this officer was Captain EP Hitchcock, head of the Papuan Infantry Battalion).     

Camp replied to the captain that these men were assigned to his outfit and that they were leaving with nobody but Camp. Camp refused to identify himself and left. He warned the officer to remain where he was until Camp was gone.

Farther up the beach that 16 August, Camp and the natives found an anti-aircraft outfit in time for dinner - mashed potatoes, meat, brown gravy, and corn. Camp had been without this kind of food for so long that it made him briefly sick. His natives also felt queasy.

Camp helped the anti-aircraft men to set up a better defense against the raiders. He put out booby traps on an inland trail into the swamp. As night fell, he posted the natives nearby for observation - with himself just a few yards behind them.

The night was quiet, but a Jap did come. He took one of Camp's booby traps apart, looked around, then headed back into the swamp, without giving any more trouble.

Then Camp and his men reported to 3rd Battalion Headquarters farther up the coast and asked what was the best trail he could take back home to C Company. Colonel Roosevelt asked Camp to escort some officers to inspect C Company.

Next morning, Camp's party started out with the officers to go to C Company - a 12-mile hike. About halfway up to Mount Tambu, the natives heard a noise near the top of a high ridge. Camp and a native scouted forward.

They smelled coffee! Here was a tent pitched and two Aussie Salvation Army men with a fire going under a coffee-pot for travelers - 5 or 6 miles from anywhere safe. Camp never forgot that coffee-break.

Back with C Company, Camp was sure that he would be called in for getting the drop on that Aussie captain. But he heard nothing. Back in Australia with 162 Infantry, 1st Battalion Headquarters called Camp over to get full details of his patrol. They wanted to give him a medal!

But when they learned of the run-in with the Aussie, they perceived that there was the danger of trouble from this officious captain. Camp got no medal for his hard work.

Such was the great patrol of Sergeant Camp and New Guinea men Myra and Tomanda. At dire risk to themselves, they saved the life of crippled Aussie Lieutenant WN Hoffman, and helped warn the coastal gunners of the swoop of Oba's raiders. This patrol is one of Camp's finest memories of World War II and 162 Infantry.

 

CREDIT: Prime source is Camp's 5-page typescript, "A Soldier's Experience." Australian David Dexter's The New Guinea Offensives supplied helpful data. Camp's story about what Aussie Hoffman told him, confirms my theory about why Hoffman's patrol was overrun. Neither David Dexter (I wrote to him years ago) nor Canberra's Australian War Memorial has given me primary information on Hoffman's patrol. It was an Australian disaster. I have omitted mention of another scout and his native who became separated from Camp.