K Company 162 Infantry’s Papaun Campaign

by Dr. Hargis Westerfield with K-162's Jim Lipke, John Feele, Others

Early on 20 July 1943, K Company 162 Infantry left bivouac south of Boisi Village and marched to seize Roosevelt Ridge. But that Jap fortress would not fall for over three weeks.

The night before, Scout Jim Lipke heard that he was to lead "K" through Boisi Village just below Roosevelt Ridge. His 3rd Platoon said that he was lucky that the Japs never shot the first man - only the second or third. Lipke did not sleep much.

In the morning, our Papuan Platoon slew Japs in an outpost and "K" destroyed their machine gun. Lipke led out K Company. He was indeed lucky to Scout with Papuans. As he had a foot poised above a windfall tree trunk, a Papuan's whistle kept him from putting it down. The Papuan uncovered a land-mine from a heap of fallen leaves where Jim could have lost his foot.

About 1200 Hours, they entered Boisi Village. Captain Lovell and the Papuans saw Japs run out the other side. Colossal blue jungled Roosevelt Ridge towered just 1500 yards north. While the other platoons stopped behind them, Lipke's leading 3rd Platoon made a small perimeter and began to eat.

Then began K's real war! Shells from Jap .75 mm mountain guns and mortars smashed down from Roosevelt Ridge, and enfilade fire from taller Scout Track Ridge to the left. Field artillery shells landed behind 2nd Platoon and before 3rd Platoon.

Lipke heard 12 shells hiss overhead, but just nine exploded. For safety, he ran behind a tree 12 times. Mortar shells fragmented close to probably 1st Platoon with Captain Lovell and 1st Lieutenant Dorigan his executive, just as they started forward.

First mortar shell burst wide of them; the second impacted close while Lovell and Dorigan hugged the swamp. Shell No 3 was almost on them; Shell No 4 on top of them.

Lovell had two rations of bully beef in his pack. They stopped some fragments and perhaps saved his spine and maybe his life. But another fragment put him out of action with a wounded left arm.

Lovell told Exec Dorigan, "Jim, I guess it's all yours now." Dorigan tried to stand up, but then realized that a fragment of the same mortar shell had slashed his foot. Lieutenant Gehring was now K's new commanding officer.

The sweetest sound that Lovell ever heard in his life was our guns down on the shore thumping at the Jap guns a few minutes after he was hit. They were probably 218 Field Artillery's 75s firing from Cochran Beach. They silenced the Jap guns or mortars on Roosevelt Ridge, and enfilade from the heights on our left.

Papuan litter bearers arrived quickly and took the two officers and enlisted man Henderson to the rear where Medics gave blood transfusions.

The Japs had caused a total of 12 "K" casualties. Names of the wounded besides Lovell, Dorigan, and enlisted men Henderson and Carney are unknown; but there were 10 wounded. Killed, however, were Pvt Frederick V Hatton and Staff Sergeant William E Schirmer. (Carney and Captain Lovell were both returned to the USA.)

At 0700 22 July, two days later, "K" attacked Roosevelt Ridge, against an estimated 200-250 Japs in jungle cover. L Company attacked on our left. Our field artillery tried to make our fight easier by a concentration just before we jumped off. North of Boisi, M Company's 81s readied to support us.

Almost every advance up that Ridge had to be in smaIl, narrow columns. Passable tracks were all so narrow and so constricted by heavy brush or large trees that we could not move freely on a broad front. K Company had to divide into two attack lines on two separate ridge shoulders.

But the mountain-side jungle helped "K" on our "first run up the hill." It hid us from the watching Japs. About 1200 hours, a squad actually reached the top unopposed - made it between two manned Nippo positions.

From the uphill corner on the right of this squad, tough little New Jerseyite Kettner watched and ate his "C" ration. When a Jap came, Kettner killed him and kept on eating.

Later the Japs combined against our storming party and repelled that attack line that was first to top Roosevelt Ridge. In scrambling to escape, we had to dodge grenades rolling down on us. Swede Gullstrom of Tillamook was lucky. A grenade caught in his fatigues. Feverishly, he tore at clothing to pull it loose and save his life. The grenade did not explode; many Jap grenade fuzes were unreliable.

To escape from their death near the summit, Scout Lipke, another scout, and his Platoon Sergeant had much trouble. They had been near the top in the right column, and the withdrawal order never reached those three men up front. Concussion grenades exploded above them, and they slid for safety.

Somebody told Lipke that all "K" men had withdrawn from above him on the slope. Then he saw a head covered with green cloth coming down the trail behind some bushes. Thinking he saw a Jap, Lipke lifted his tommie gun and fired three .45 slugs where he thought the target was. Then a Yank came leaping into his sights. He was another observer from another regiment in a green fatigue hat. Lipke's three shots had passed just three inches from the man's nose. Lipke learned not to be trigger-happy. (In a similar situation at Zamboanga two years later, Lipke would have fire held and save three more mens lives.)

Lipke now rejoined his platoon and helped form a skirmish line to secure the slower withdrawal of men on his right. Men carried Levit - K's only casualty in that assault. A bullet had grazed Levit's left ear and had broken his ear-drum. Levit had never been heard to swear - or seen to smoke or drink. Now he swore like a mule-skinner.           

Next day, 23 July, 205 Field Artillery's observer 2nd Lieutenant Schroeder helped give "K" more knowledge of why Roosevelt Ridge was formidable. Sent alone to contact Commanding Officer Gehring, he failed to find Gehring, climbed up past him by grasping roots and vines. Unexpectedly, Schroeder found himself on the bare top of the Ridge - saw Japs below far down by Dot Inlet.

Suddenly a Jap bugle sounded. From the west of the Ridge, a Jap heavy machine gun thudded bullets on the summit. Instantly, he threw his body back downhill and saved his life. Schroeder called 205 Field Artillery fire on the Ridge, left - and right. But he couldn't hit the source of the heavy machine gun fire to his left.

After a valorous 3-day action for "K," Observer Schroeder took a serious rifle wound in his chest and went to hospital. But "K" patrols and field artillery harassment continued.

"K" suffered also. On 28 July, K Company was mortared. Pfc Thomas P Hanrahan was killed, and Staff Sergeant Stark wounded in neck and shoulder. Hickey had a bad arm wound. On 2 August, six days later, Jap mortars killed two more: Staff Sergeant Ernest A Lekberg, Battalion Supply Sergeant; and Mail Clerk Corporal Arthur R Pineo. Six more unidentified men were also wounded.

Then after 2nd Battalion breached Roosevelt Ridge with heavy field artillery fire and stormed and wiped out surviving Japs on the east end, "K" still fought. In pushing the stubborn Japs back towards Salamaua Town, we operated on 3rd Battalion's flank. On 17 August, a combined "K" and "L" patrol found that Jap positions were still in depth along Scout Ridge and to the northeast.

Next morn, 18 August, with an "L" Platoon supporting, K Company tried a direct frontal attack on Jap positions and suffered.

At 1815 that day, with the "L" Platoon securing our rear, a "K" combat patrol confronted a high barricade of brush and logs before the Japs' concealed positions. Through holes blasted by our mortars, we crawled under the fence. We couldn't get much past that fence. Jap light machine gun and heavy machine gun fire grounded us. L's fire neutralized the Japs' machine guns. We squirmed back to safety through those mortar holes under the fence.

On that 18 August, "K" had our greatest total of losses since that first day at Boisi -10 of us this time instead of 12. Three were killed: Pfcs Lloyd E Frost, Charles T Barber, and Sergeant Wayne A Harwood. Seven were wounded: Belloni, Lega, Welch, Jenney, Jacobs, Medic Rashkind, and Lieutenant Reed.

By 26 August, "K" and our 3rd Battalion fought against Japs closer to Salamaua. They now held the intersection of Scout Ridge and B Ridge. At 0725, a 16-man combat patrol in two groups of eight men scouted the highest parts of B Ridge. We also must fight to distract Japs from interfering with 2nd Battalion's move up C Ridge. At 1140, Jap fire menaced us higher on B Ridge, and the false ridge between "B" and Roosevelt Ridge. We withdrew 200 yards but kept on observing.

Next day, 27 August, "K" took the same route as yesterday, and slipped up to where we could observe the Japs. As Lipke remembers it, this was a 12-13 man patrol with a phone. When we faced the concealed Japs, orders were to shoot to draw their fire so that we could estimate their numbers.

BARman Arney we posted on our left. He was to open fire - but only at a good multiple target.

Arney was cautious at first. He finally opened up. Then he ducked, moved about 10 feet aside, and fired again. It was a clever move, but he ducked again, and returned to the same spot too many times.

So now a canny Jap light machine gun man waited for Arney to lift his head to fire the BAR. The Jap lanced a whole clip through Arney's head. As Arney's eyes dilated, Lipke bravely crawled up to him. Lipke pulled back Pfc Andrew M Arney and his BAR back to safe ground.

(Official 162 Journal says of this fight that the patrol divided into three sections. Section No 1 moved right and located a pillbox with three Japs in it. We grenaded all three to death. Section No 2 moved left into rifle and light machine gun fire. We retaliated with BAR and rifles. We grenaded a pill-box. Section No 3 shot up a light machine gun position and a hut containing eight Japs. Of an estimated 50 Japs, we slew 24 - with only losing Arney.)

Hastily we buried Arney, and evacuated that ridge slope. We halted in thickets for safety. We crossed open spaces low and at the double - a man at a time.

Back in perimeter, they asked us separately to pinpoint where we had buried Arney. Days later, he was found for Graves Registration to bury him properly in a graveyard.

Instead of 50, total Jap strength in this position was estimated at 300.

Arney was last "K" man to die. K's last wounded man was McGoldrick. A sniper shot off his right thumb. A Portable Hospital did a fine job repairing his hand, but we never saw McGoldrick again - believe that he was sent home.

By 10 September, K Company with other Yanks and Aussies had fought free of those everlasting ridges and jungles. We were pursuing the retreating Japs towards Salamaua Town.

On 12 September morn, "K" started hiking from the western curve of Bayern Bay. But we hiked in the direction opposite Salamaua. We could readily have crossed Francisco River unopposed and turned right to enter Salamaua. We could have been first into Salamaua! At this point, the river ran slow and was just waist deep. But we had orders to let the Aussies enter before the Yanks.

Instead, we marched inland back from Salamaua along the south bank of the Francisco. Then we turned hard right and waded the river where it was deep and rapid. Then we circled Salamaua Aerodrome and returned almost across the river from where we had started out that morning.

Near the end of the hike, we caught a sick Jap lying in a hut - K's only prisoner. With blackwater fever, he was looking at us through mosquito netting. When we saw him, our Platoon Lieutenant could not draw his pistol fast enough. Then he found that he could not murder the poor sick man looking up at him with both empty hands in sight. The Jap was so maddened at being left by his outfit that he told us all that he knew about the other Japs. Later, Medics gave him blood transfusions and he was still alive when Lipke last heard of him. Next day, 13 September 1943, "K" entered Salamaua. Our Papuan Campaign was ended.

"K" had fought a deadly war into the ridges above Tambu Bay and Dot Inlet. Once, we were down to a total front-line strength of 39 - although on 12 September before Salamaua, we had an officially reported strength of 64. This last number no doubt included men in hospital. Yet most of our decrease was due to illness; not battle casualties. From 29 June through 12 September, we had a reported only six killed, 14 seriously wounded (three of those wounded, officers), and 23 lightly wounded. (No attempt is here made to harmonize these figures with the previous number of K 162 casualties in this campaign.) In return, we claimed 91 Japs killed out of our 3rd Battalion's total of 316, second after I Company with 119. But as with most infantrymen's wars, K Company 162 Infantry's was mostly digging and climbing and taking sleepless turns on guard against a heroic Japanese Infantry. Such was our World War II.

 

CREDIT. Three most useful sources are Jim Lipke's 5-page handprinted letter received in Nov 1987; John Feeley's Casualty List in a letter of 16 November 1984, and 162's detailed Journal of 9 July-13 September 1943. Excellent contributions are from Ed Wildfong's letter of 13 June 1984, and 146 Field Artillery's Don Schroeder's History in Jungleer for February 1987. Useful also were Hal O'Flaherty's report in Chicago Daily News (22 July 1943), and Lieutenant Leonard Jermain's "Battle Saga of Northwestern's Own 41st" (undated, probably from Portland Oregonian). Other references are Colonel AR McKechnie's Report of Operations of 162 Infantry/8 July-13 Sept 1943, and Australian David Dexter's The New Guinea Offensives. But official list of 162's casualties in the Papuan Campaign is lost, and McKechnie's report omits most of what 3rd Battalion 162 did before Salamaua.