F Company 162 Infantry: Roosevelt Ridge and C Ridge

By Dr. Hargis Westerfield, Division Historian and Sergeant Chester Young



On 27 July 1943, F Company 162 Infantry first struck the Jap 3rd Battalion 66 Infantry Regiment on Roosevelt Ridge, against which 162's 3rd Battalion had fought since 20 July. Burdened with ammo, F's sweaty platoons moved towards the opaque jungle of Roosevelt Ridge. We were to support E Company in the van. We pulled ourselves and battle loads up by vines and trees - over a craggy shoulder towards a great round jungle knoll later named Fisher Hill because G 162's fine 1st Lieutenant Hal C Fisher would die there.

Above us on the ridge-shoulder, "E" began firing. Too soon then, "F" got orders to leapfrog "E" and storm the Ridge. We passed several E Company walking wounded going down to Medics. Before we reached E's front line, our first "F" man got hit - probably from Japs in the right - either Scales or Churney from Weapons Platoon.

Before our attack, Lieutenant Hanson called down a barrage of 81s and 105s. They fell dangerously close in that tangle of ridges and draws. After Hanson adjusted fire, "F" tries a hot uphill push-into Jap defenses among giant ferns and brush.

High on our right flank, Charles Dean knocked out a pillbox. Sergeant Bickel, Louis Shaffer, Chester Young, and Lloyd Waid infiltrated across a Jap fire trail until they attacked a bunker 10 feet away. As they fired their weapons and grenaded uselessly, Young felt a hot object hit his forehead. He had heard that all a victim felt was the bullet's heat. He fell and decided he was dying. Then Shaffer asked where Young was hit, and Young decided that a man who could hear must still be alive. The hot object was only a spent shell from Shaffer's tommie. But Cpl Lloyd L. Waid was killed running back for more grenades.

Since "F" had failed to take the ridge that 27 July, orders came to withdraw. Shaffer and Young shrank from crossing the Jap fire-lane. But an explosion behind them - either Jap or Yank - blew them back across the fire-lane. These "F" men had actually topped the main Roosevelt Ridge - but had tried to take the knoll which no riflemen could seize unaided - where G Company's Lieutenant Hal C. Fisher would die.

Pvt. Myron Leach of 3rd Platoon was actually F's first man to die that 27 July. Corporal Robert E. Ely died also; Sergeant Jack Roy saw Ely's last moments: A happy, clean-cut fellow who seemed without worries, Ely had gone back for more grenades. Finding a Jap emplacement holding up F's right flank advance, Ely stood erect before a pillbox to lob grenades at its slot until a Jap killed him.

Pushing in a squad on the left, Fowler Summers heard a mortar or field artillery shell-burst that wounded Purdue's leg, and gave lighter wounds to Corporal Winston. But like all others, this squad gladly obeyed orders to retreat to a lower crest below what would be named Fisher Hill. That night, "F" flattened miserably in new red-clay fox-holes while Jap tracers stabbed close to their helmets.

Next day, 28 July, Guinea rains muddied F's holes. To avoid a frontal attack, we sent out new patrols to find an easier way to take the knoll, but unsuccessfully. One of the Button boys was wounded: we had trouble bringing him down in mud and driving rain.

On the third day, 29 July, hard-faced, sleepless "F" climbed again towards "Fisher" until Jap fire held us in ferns and brush. Mortar shelling was heavy from the far right of Fisher Perimeter, and maybe from a log-roofed pit in its center.

It was hard to direct accurate covering fire into that heavy growth. Sergeant Sawyer's patrol lost Kendricks, Pfc. Phillip R. Ortiz dead, and Sawyer severely wounded. Among those rain-mists and defilades, men were uncertain whether Yank or Jap shells hit them. Pvt. Richard Stoinski was wounded, died on the way to Medics.

Nobody remembers much of F's next few days on that ridge shoulder below untaken Roosevelt Ridge. We managed to bury some dead just where they fell. An old map bears these crosses: Ely's, Pvt Clifford Snodderly's, Pvt. Loren R. Allen's graves-up and down the twisting contour lines of that shoulder. Nights were an aching half-sleep under fear of attacks. Days were numb with boredom, sleeplessness, fatigue, guard duty, patrols-and ghastly fear.

On 5 August, Colonel Fertig replaced "F" to clean up a little, get new fatigues, even a hot meal. Two Jap planes bombed "F" resting. Slagle jumped into the hole dug for Chester Young and George Lowe. Slagle knocked off Young's helmet. Young's hands were jammed under him so that he could not replace that helmet. A big rock hit the helmet, dented it deeply, almost amputated Lowe's finger. But Young was unhurt.

Next day - despite what 162's Journal says - Young was back up the ridge with other "F" men. On 9 August, and "F" patrol guarded some fine black Papuan scouts into the Ridge ambushes. They ferreted out three Jap pillboxes for our 81s and 105s to hammer. One bold PIB lad crept up to lob three grenades into a pillbox. Machine gun volleys from other pillboxes drove us back, with a PIB man wounded in the foot.     .

            On 11 August, all able "F" men were back on that ridge-shoulder under the Japs. We relieved 72 G Company men, but a third "G" Platoon had to remain to help us. For "F" now mustered only 72, with five officers. From a deep, comfortable hole on Roosevelt Ridge, a Jap diarist noted that Yank opposition was weak.  He waited orders for an attack to wipe out 162 Infantry. But 162 struck first. On 12 August, Captain Munkres' "G" patrol seized part of the Ridge near a bamboo thicket west of Jap Fisher Perimeter. (Narrative of 162 says that 1st Lt. Hal C. Fisher died, that day.) Now all G Company reinforced Munkres' Platoon that night and fought off many attacks. And that night, "F" had attack orders.

On 0700 13 August, field artillery blasted the Ridge east of "G" while Ratliff's F Company and Couglin's "G" waited orders. At 0900 after two hour's blasting, field artillery shifted to E's right flank and F's left flank to prevent Japs' lateral attacks. From the heights, our "G" friends helped clear the way. Under Lieutenants Steenstra and Herbert, 17 G Company Yanks exploded four emplacements, killed 41 Japs, with only six "G" men wounded. And F Company climbed the Ridge.

F Company called it a well-planned attack of 2nd Battalion. Only known casualty was an "H" man - Batts, whom Nips shot in the legs when he was talking to Young. Young's brother Lester was hit but unhurt when a Jap Mortar shot so close that the shell failed to nose over and explode. (Lester would die at Zamboanga.)

At dawn 14 August, scouts saw that Japs between E and F Companies had withdrawn. But Japs still held the seaward end of Roosevelt Ridge. And this 14 August was the great day when Colonel MacKechnie blew the top off that seaward end of Roosevelt Ridge with all the field artillery, anti-aircraft, and Air Force he could get. E Company then safely occupied the Ridge all the way to the sea.

About 1720 that day, Jap knee mortars impacted F's perimeter, killed a lieutenant from Mississippi next to Jack Roy. But main Jap attack bypassed the hard front-line riflemen to hit F's rear - truck-drivers, cooks, and headquarter men. All night, riflemen handed back ammo to save F's rear - against a persistent attack that never stopped. There died Privates Clifford Snodderly, Lloyd "Smoky" Allen, and another Yank - and six Japs we could find to count later.

By 1042, "F" had a position on Roosevelt Ridge. With an "H" heavy machine gun Platoon, a 37 AT gun, a .50 heavy machine gun, we held 100 yards of ridge, with Japs still facing us on the inland ridge. East were 500 yards' Jap ground, but "E" had also attacked and topped the seaward end of the Ridge next to those Japs. In this 500-yard gap which was too close to "F" and "E" for support fire, Japs held hard after dusk 13 August 1943.

As for our F Company we drove inland up Roosevelt Ridge through hurriedly deserted Jap perimeters. After gaining 400 yards, 3rd Platoon's patrol leader, Lieutenant Uppinghouse, sensed danger and dug in. When our security guard found Japs again at 200 yards, I Company reinforced us and dug in. Except for some days' guard on short rations, F Company was now done with Roosevelt Ridge forever.

And "F" fought on to take Salamaua town. After losing Roosevelt Ridge, the unbroken Jap army held a barrier of positions on high ground which kept Aussies and Yanks from Salamaua. To judge by the Aussie map, the strongest part of this barrier was the seaward flank in 162 Territory. Here, one main Jap supply line to Salamaua led along the crest of Scout Ridge, 1500-3000 yards in from Dot Inlet. Four strong Jap perimeters held Scout Ridge supply-line.

Now 162 planned to base 2nd Battalion on Dot Inlet-just the other side of captured Roosevelt Ridge - and overrun the Japs on Scout Ridge. While 3rd Battalion pushed north from Roosevelt, our own 2nd Battalion would climb up from Dot Inlet against Scout Ridge. (The whole 2nd Battalion was now down to 300 men.) Meanwhile, 1st Battalion 162 would press the Japs from inland.

And F Company let 2nd Battalion up from the sea at Dot Inlet in a heart-breaking jungle night march 25-26 August. Sergeant Roy never forgot that all-night slogging in the rain and black uphill jungle. While a rope guided the leader, following men held hands for safety. Next day, some of us had skinned noses because men ahead had stopped without warning in the blackness and we bumped our noses into their packs. F Company halted unhappily at our new outpost halfway to the crest of "C" Ridge, which was supposed to intersect our objective, the Japs' trail on Scout Track Ridge. With daylight, field artillery and mortars blasted the Japs, and "F" occupied the highest part of C Ridge.

But "F" did not cut Scout Track Ridge. Leftwards was a green hill at 75 yards. Right across a deep draw was what we named Berger Hill (after Maj. Armin Berger) 100 yards off. And 50-75 yards ahead was a Jap water-hole, with Scout Track Ridge above it.

Evidently F Company at first had orders to keep quiet. But we were short of water and went for it at the water-hole and saw a Jap there. One rifleman - some say Wally Stone - shot a Jap through his helmet dead into the water-hole. Another story is that the bullet merely caromed the helmet into the air and merited Stone a good Nippo cursing.

Came then F's day of battle, jungle-style. At 0845, Patrol No.1 scouted for Berger Hill. Just past the water-hole, we heard movements to our left rear, turned, and slew two Japs, maybe wounded another. Fearing reprisal from the rear, we hurried up Berger Hill far enough to see Jap defenses, then got safely back to our perimeter.

Patrol No.2 moved straight forward to try to climb Scout Track Ridge. When a Jap came towards the water-hole, we fired at him, then other Japs, and claimed 11 killed. But grenades from the Ridge forced us back. Patrol No.3 climbed the hill to the left and fought Japs there.

From 26 August through 8 September, "F" fought Japs on Scout Track Ridge. On 8 September, however, E Company rather than "F" occupied Berger Hill. But heavy machine gun fire struck E from at least two pillboxes. With their commanding officer the first man wounded, E retreated. This was 162's last action of the Salamaua Campaign. Our own F Company secured Berger Hill on 9 September unopposed. And then F Company followed jungle trails past the vacated Jap positions and followed other trails that put us into battered Salamaua on 12 September to close the operation. Last man to die from F Company was Griggs.  

Such was F Company's Salamaua Campaign - two successful missions against Roosevelt Ridge and Scout Track Ridge up from C Ridge, then occupaton of bombarded Salamaua. From an official strength of 133 men on 29 June, F Company shrank to 33 worn-out veterans by Sergeant Young's count at Salamaua. Official 162 report is that "F" lost eight killed - compared to 17 for "A", 11 for "C", and seven each for "E" and "K." (These five companies had 50 dead of the 98 total for all 162 Infantry, field artillery, and attached elements.) And some of the additional 14 "Died of Wounds" may have been "F" men. "F" had 11 seriously wounded, and 19 slightly wounded. But for our eight dead and 11 seriously wounded, we reported 90 dead Japs. F Company had endured grueling tropical mountain jungle fighting against entrenched Japs, but with minimum losses. F Company 162 Infantry's Battle of Salamaua was a brave, dogged fight of expert American infantry.

 

CREDIT: Personal sources are letters of Sergeant Chester Young 28 February, 14 March, 23 October; Sergeant Jack Roy 10 March,' Fowler Summers 24 May, and Walt Stelter 10 February - all in 1970. Company clerk Stelter gave me a list of all known "F" men to contact. When statements conflict and I am unable to reconcile them, I have preferred Young's data to others'. F Company left no Morning Report to be found for July 1943 August Report is meager, unreliable. Other important sources include 162's Report of Operations and Journal, and Australian David Dexter's New Guinea Offensives- which is best for the overall picture - and maps of Roosevelt Ridge from the later Colonel AR MacKechnie's papers.