E Company 162 Infantry: Roosevelt Ridge and Berger Hill

By Dr. Hargis Westerfield, Division Historian with Sergeants Don E. Carlson and Les Dunkin

On 27 July 1943, E Company 162 Infantry's understrength, jungle tired men attacked Roosevelt Ridge where 3rd Battalion had fought since 20 July. "E" was down already form 196 men to 103 men, four officers. Field artillery fired preparations; F Company moved in support.

E's dogged, sweaty riflemen led out-up a trail behind the landward end of Roosevelt Ridge. We climbed beside a clear, cool mountain creek. At a break, we filled canteens to drink deep, and refill. No water tastes better than before the first action.

Dark Roosevelt Ridge's jungle towered above us to our right. Now Captain Bob Hill sent Sergeant Red Hill and his 6-man squad to scout uphill. After long, tense, silence, we heard muffled shots. Shortly Hill's squad fell back to grin with relief. A Jap bullet had nicked Hill's ear - E's first wound.

"E" now hiked some distance farther up the trail, then turned right towards the ridge. We were trying to get a foot-hold atop the Ridge - where the Japs were not, if possible. With Sergeant Carlson's squad leading, E Company climbed in single file.

Under our weight of steel, it was a hot, panting climb. Often we had to hand-pull ourselves up by trees, helpless if we saw a Jap. Near the top, Carlson halted his squad behind him - Cole, Tuck, and others.

Quietly we followed a small side ridge near the summit and a brushy knoll or "pimple". Since the trial was straight, Carlson feared a hidden fire-lane. He passed word for Captain Hill to come up. Seconds after Hill's arrival, a Jap gun blazed automatic fire at us. Carlson shot two clips at the sound of the fire. The Jap fire ceased.

Here among brush where the ridge was not too steep, E Company made our first tangible foothold on Roosevelt Ridge. A Jap-help pimple was just ahead. F Company came up on our left through heavy opposition and dug in our right. Regimental report said that "E" had advanced 400 yards east along Roosevelt Ridge towards the coast. But E Company had 17 days' delay before we took the Ridge.

On 28 July while both 2nd Battalion and 3rd Battalion fought, "E" wlth field artillery help attacked the Pimple from the south. Among the foremost fighters, T/5 Bellinger our cook drove in BAR blazing. But his BAR failed him; Bellinger took a wound in the back of his hand. Sergeant Lee Dunkin's mortars were too close to us to be effective; Bill Doescher's light machine gun never got a chance for fire. Bellinger always believed that only BAR failure had kept him from clearing the Pimple that 28 July.

After these first two days’ assult, “E” settled down in combat perimeter – with fairly heavy patrols and nights of sleepless guard duty. A few days after 28 July, Captain Hill again tried to take the Pimple. While two squads hit the Pimple’s flanks, Carlson’s squad waited in close support. Even though one attack squad was heavily reinforced, we failed again.

Counting men withdrawing, Carlson missed Captain Hill, and decided that we must find him. Just then, Hill ran stumbling down the slope. He gripped his chest with both hands, in excruciating pain. A grenade had blasted him, but he walked unaided to Medics and out of action. New Commanding Officer was 1st Lieutenant Couglin.

After 28 August, "E" failed to take the Pimple in various probes, even if we brought up a 37 mm cannon to .fight it. On 1 August, G Company - newly come from other patrols like that on Lababia Island - passed through E Company to make Its attack, but could not clear the ridge. Jap rifle fire and mortaring continued. On 2 August at 0730, Pfc. Cyril E. Beck was killed.

 

On 2 August, "E" was relieved from the Ridge, but we still fought the Japs by patrols from our bivouac on lower ground. Our patrol of 9 August drew machine gun fire which wounded a Papuan scout. On 11 August, Lieutenant Genung's patrol with two Papuans searched the same area but drew no fire. The Papuans spotted two pillboxes which our field artillery or mortars must have surely destroyed.

Then on 13 August "E" hit Roosevelt Ridge. With "F" attacking on our west flank, "E' supported by Cannon Company and an H section of heavy machine guns went to the ridge after accurate field artillery and mortar preparation. Although 162 Headquarters called E's a "diversionary action," fighting was deadly. Killed by 1030 were Pfc's Eugene B. Pool and Mike Davis. By 1042, a Platoon of Cannon Company acting as infantry were on a high knoll commanding Jap positions below. But Japs still held pillboxes along the landward Ridge crest west of E Company where F Company faced them and overlooked them on higher ground.

"E" then tried to close that gap towards "F" to the west. Leaving a holding force to secure against the Japs dug in on the Ridge east of us, we pushed west but failed. At 1115, Corporal

Cain was wounded. By 1130, heavy Jap machine gun and mortar fire had driven "E" to earth. We called for field artillery help. But neither mortar men nor field artillery observers could shell the narrow gap between "E" and "F" without endangering our own men. By 1345, Medic Fain D. Williams was dead, and 218 Field Artillery's Sergeant Donald J. Crunican, an observer.

And so, that night of 13 August, "E" with Cannon Company held 100 yards of Roosevelt Ridge's crest. East towards the sea, our rifles faced 800 yards of Jap country. West, again, we faced Jap pillboxes ruling the 70-yard gap to where "F" and "G" men were dug in.

But by dawn 14 August, the Japs had fled from this gap. Now while Colonel MacKechnie concentrated all Task Force Field Artillery within range, E Company nerved itself to storm the Japs' last 800 yards of Roosevelt Ridge.

Some 20 B-24s and B-26s dropped tons of bombs on the Ridge. At 1315, 75 mm howitzers, Aussie 25-pounders, 105s, screaming Bofers anti-aircraft guns, little 37 mm cannon, heavy machine guns, light machine guns struck Roosevelt Ridge. Inland mountains thundered with echoes. The top fold of the Ridge lifted into the air, fell into the sea.

In 20 minutes, "E" men had dashed across the denuded, red-scarred Ridge to execute remaining Japs. We advanced through debris and parts of Nip bodies. Stench from remaining holes was terrific. Without casualties, "E" mastered Roosevelt Ridge.

But our Roosevelt Ridge victory merely preluded our second harder and longer operation against the Japs. Their unbroken army still barred us from Salamaua. From Scout Ridge 1,000 yards west of Dot Inlet to Francisco River 3,000 yards farther west, a line of Jap perimeters held off Aussies and 162 Infantry. And on 162's front on the sea, the Japs had anchored this line with five adjacent perimeters at right angles to their main line of resistance - which was on high Scout Ridge.

Thus, "E" with other 2nd Battalion outfits got orders to work with other 162 men to crush this seaward right angle of Jap strong-points. While we climbed up from the sea and pushed west, 1st Battalion and 3rd Battalion pushed on them from inland. By now, the whole 2nd Battalion was down to 245 men.

And so, in the dawn hours of 26 August when F Company spearheaded the night advance up the mountains from Dog Inlet, "E" followed and dug in to guard F's supply line down C Ridge. Then we fought to liquidate the Jap perimeters on Scout Ridge, while field artillery pounded positions that we located but could not seize at first.

From 29 August through 1 September, "E" patrolled against these Japs, and suffered. On 29 August, Guzik was wounded at 1130, and Corporal Blake at 1630. On 29 August, fragments wounded Bell, Blake, Vorhies.

On 30 August at 1100, E's 6-man recon patrol seized a high knoll directly before F Company. Jap rifles, machine guns, some grenades expelled us. But we retook the knoll at 1245. Later that day, E's 2-man patrol probably teamed with an "F" patrol and struck up C Ridge - probably from that knoll which our recon party had gained at 1245.

As we advanced, Jap resistance began within 20 yards after our start. During our push with F Company - all of 200 yards, some six Japs died. By 1925, we had pulled back slightly from our farthest point of advance and dug in for the night. We had two casualties - Conley wounded, and Pfc. Odel V. Heltzel missing in action. Conley saw Heltzel killed, but found that he weighed too much to move.

On patrol 31 August, Corporal Sudderth had wounds from fragments. On 1 September 43 when recon patrols contacted Japs, Corporal Wilson went to hospital from a hand wound. But Corporal Fred J. Brittingham was killed. Pfc. Leland H. Bone died in hospital - in shock from having both legs amputated.

Thus in four days' patrols, "E" lost three dead and six wounded, although only Wilson was marked "hospital" in records. Then came orders for a 5-day "rest" - at least to pull back halfway down C Ridge to "Goalby Outpost," where life was fairly easy until 6 September (Carlson was lightly wounded and evacuated on 4 September.)

Then "E" returned to the front at 0900 7 September - to fight on Berger Hill - 162's final combat of the Salamaua Operation. On 8 September, E's 60 mm mortars began the attack with a barrage by experts. After two ineffective mortar attacks back on Roosevelt Ridge, our mortar men had learned how to handle our 60 mm shells which had too much power at those short hillside ranges. Dunkin, Corbell, Jarvis, Ken Baker, and their three squads had agreed to pull all charges off the shells, and "fire the tubes by hand by rule of thumb," as Dunkin said it. Our mortar fire was now accurate. .

At 1145, "E" struck Berger Hill with our "first wave" - a 10-man combat patrol. Heavy machine gun and rifle fire pinned down Corporal Virgil Bell's squad and gave Bell his abdominal death wound. Although even in a Jap fire-lane, Sergeant Robinson tried to give Bell first aid, heroic Bell ordered his squad to get out and leave him to die. Probably wounded then was Ospenkowski - in neck and groin and both legs. By now, "E" had sent four more Yanks to secure the attack squad's rear.

Now "E" reinforced went up to take Berger Hill. With eight "F" men attached and an H Company heavy machine gun, we reached the summit. But we could not hold Berger Hill; we reeled back from the last spasmodic resistance that 162 ever had to face in the whole Salamaua Campaign.

Jap mortars zeroed in; machine gun fire swept the hill. Lieutenant Couglin took a fragment in right shoulder; Sergeant Wignall had fragments in his face, Hark's left eye was blackened. A bullet wounded Walker over the left eye; fragments hit Miller on his left elbow. None of these five was wounded seriously, but it was common sense to fall back and let weapons and field artillery impact Berger Hill. (Meanwhile, back at Dot Inlet, T/4 Brownson and RH Miller got fragment wounds also.)

That night, "E" rested and licked our wounds back at' Goalby's Post, and a day later, on 9 September, "F" occupied Berger Hill unopposed. And "F" happily contacted Aussies pushing from inland. This "Jap corner" of Scout Ridge was evacuated; it remained only for decimated E Company to join other 162 outfits in pressing the Jap retreat through Salamaua and towards Lae.

Thus fought E Company 162 Infantry to win Salamaua - during 76 days' action of our regiment. Only 17 E Company men were left to ford Francisco River into Salamaua. Only one of them was a rifleman.

Although most of E Company's casualties were from sickness like malaria or dysentery, we had on our record seven dead enlisted men. We had one officer, 12 enlisted men seriously wounded - and one officer and 32 enlisted men slightly wounded. (The Morning Report and our narratives do not agree on these numbers. And we claimed 71 Jap killed in action. Such was E Company 162 Infantry's history of Salamaua a record of hard, professional work in combat.)

 

 

CREDIT: Prime credits are due to Don E. Carlson's undated 8-page legal sized handwritten manuscript and Les Dunkin's story to Carlson 14 November 1971. They used my dossier based on Ch. VIII entitled "2nd Battalion Operations" in 162 Infantry's Narrative of Salamaua. I used also 162 Infantry's Journal of Salamaua, and Morning Reports for Aug., Sept. 1943. Helpful also was Chester Young's F' 162 story, "Roosevelt Ridge and C Ridge," (Jungleer, December, 1979). Clearest overall picture of fighting on C Ridge is in Australian David Dexter's The New Guinea Offensives.