L Company, 162 Infantry: Perimeter Fighting on Scout Ridge

By Dr. Hargis Westerfield, Division Historian, with Lieutenants Robert Pope and James Kindt

            On 21 July 1943, L Company 162 Infantry began some 48 days of ridge fighting against Jap perimeters above Tambu Bay. We bitterly remember red-mud foxholes and slippery, half-blind jungle patrols against Jap-held Roosevelt and Scout Ridges.

On 19 July, Jap cannon on Roosevelt Ridge blasted K Company with 12 casualties, but L's attacks of 21-22 July found the guns silent after our field artillery's work. On 21 July with Papuan scouts leading, we almost topped the ridge. Automatic fire repelled us; Bowen was first L man to be wounded.

Next day, 22 July, with K on our right, we pushed two platoons - at first on the tracks of yesterday's patrol. Left of L Company, a Papuan spotted a Jap observation post and light machine gun. Because of a steep cliff and ridge section held completely, we turned slightly east before attacking.

In single file, we pushed up a slanting trail to the right. A Papuan scout led, then an Aussie NCO. Commanding 2nd Platoon supporting, Lieutenant Pope heard a Jap rifle crack, then a "pop" from the Aussie's Tommy gun, then "popopopop." Then Japs fired rifles, machine guns. Pope's men were strung out on a trail paralleling the ridge top some 100 feet below the crest. They hit the ground; a man's helmet fell off and clanked far down the slope. They shot at the crest but saw no Japs.

L Company dropped down 100 yards, called in .81 mortars. Shelling was erratic; we failed to take the ridge. Later, Pope heard that the fight began when a Jap rifleman shot at the Papuan scout, but missed. The Aussie NCO fired back, but at first with his Tommy gun on single shot before he snapped on "automatic." He missed the Jap. Sergeant Harold V. Crook died in this attack; wounded were Kirwin and Sergeant Boggs.

Two days later, 24 July, L left Roosevelt Ridge untaken, and hiked to help I Company already in the long fight of foxholes and patrols on Scout Ridge. Scout Ridge was maybe 12 miles of tangled, high jungle.

From its north end it overlooked nearby Salamaua, then extended south in a wide curve inland to the Jap bastion of Mount Tambu. Scout Ridge contained the heavily fortified main Jap supply line for all the ridges defending Salamaua. Here and on B Ridge, L fought for 47 days.

On 26 July, we supported I Company attacking up Scout Ridge. The attack failed; we lost nobody. Next day, we reinforced Aussie Captain Hitchcock's Papuans against the Jap perimeter south of I.

While a 2nd Platoon squad feinted on one side, 1st Platoon and a 2nd Platoon squad attacked. When attack failed, we fell back into a perimeter. Then we repelled a counter of 35-40 Japs. Bauman and Corporal Bird were wounded. We retreated 100 yards to higher ground and perimetered to secure several track junctions.

Our mortars and field artillery shelled the southern perimeter. After recon patrols of 28-29 July, on 30 July our scouts found the perimeter deserted. Well dug in, some 40 Japs with automatic weapons had held it. Then a recon patrol from our mortar perimeter was ambushed a few hundred yards northwest of that perimeter. Wounded were Hayden, Hick and Carter Williams.

During 31 July-9 August we had various patrols and outposts, but no casualties. By 10 August we had fully relieved I Company in Colvert Perimeter. For the next 19 days, we grimly faced north against the great Jap T Perimeter which barred our advance up Scout Ridge.

On 10 August a recon patrol 600 yards west of Colville heard Jap voices. A booby trap wounded Lieutenant Endicott. We mortared an estimated 40-50 Japs in that position; results unknown. Next day two patrols heard chopping, even saw Japs building emplacements. Sergeant Villwock was wounded in the second of these patrol, on the east side of Scout Ridge,

Three days after relieving I, L Company did not perceive the strength of T Perimeter concealed in jungle above us. On 12 August our eight-man patrol pushed to storm T. Several automatic weapons slashed at us; we fled under our machine gun's overhead fire.

Then L had moments of stark terror in that blind jungle. With whistle and boom and thuds, four cannon shells hit us - a Jap 70 mountain gun. But we had no casualties - only fear of more shells to come.

On 13-14 August a patrol probed T daily, preceded by 12 rounds of our 60 mm mortars. On 13 August Japs blindly returned rifle and automatic fire at our perimeter. All that night we heard chopping and pounding forward, probably because they expected an assault after the loss of Roosevelt Ridge. On 14 August our patrol drew heavy fire, with grenades and mortars too. Thornton was wounded.

On 15 August pressure increased on T Perimeter. Along with daily patrols drawing fire, M Company's 81's and field artillery shot at observed Jap positions. Their 70 cannon replied with the heaviest shelling we had in the campaign: 20 rounds, but without casualties for us. On 17 August they wounded Colville and Rodriguez on patrol. Our shells cleared the perimeter, but emplacements were still intact.

On 18 August Colonel MacKechnie ordered aggressive patrolling to capture T Perimeter. After night field artillery fire and morning preparatory fire, K led the attack, L supporting. K penetrated a Jap fence by mortar-blasted holes, but machine guns halted the push with three unrecovered dead and six wounded. Then the Jap gun fired six shells and wounded two M Company men in a machine gun position.

And so went days and nights of perimeter combat on Scout Ridge - full of action but now hard to remember. For days all had the same pattern. We sent out patrols daily. If we got heavy fire, we recoiled, often with casualties, then called for mortar and field artillery rounds to quiet Japs. Next day, another patrol probed to measure results.

Nights in our holes were almost never quiet. Besides setting booby traps on the outside perimeter, we had thrown out empty ration cans. Nearly every night the cans tinkled. And always somebody shot or grenaded; others caught the fear and blazed away. On 22 August, for example, we threw 40 grenades during 1900-2030 hours, results unreported. Pope believed that rats caused most alarms. Dysentery was rife among us, especially a nuisance at night. M Company's shell containers became portable toilets.

Rain fell almost every afternoon. We drained drinking water from shelter halves into our helmet. We could not bathe; many feared to take off their shoes. Red mud was everywhere, coloring us reddish brown all over our scraggly uniforms and getting into our skin pores.

Food bored us: C and J rations, some Aussie bully beef and biscuits. We ate them cold mostly; smoke could draw Jap shells. Pope devised many ways to combine those monotonous rations for variations in taste. Even for antismokers, our limited cigarette rations were better than nothing. Some men even smoked tea from Aussie rations.

Besides a Jap cannon, our own shells also menaced us. Once, Pope watched four mortar shells follow each other overhead in a great arc. Topping the arc, Number 2 shell flip-flopped and was passed by Nos. 3 and 4. Pope yelled, "Short!" We hit our holes. It boomed harmlessly among us - a medium with delayed adjustment to collapse Jap holes underground.

After field artillery concentrations 19 August a recon patrol saw destroyed emplacements in T. But next day, a 12-man combat patrol failed again to take T. At 2120 the Jap gun placed about 10 rounds on us, wounding Lieutenant Kruidenier, T/4 Eckstrom and both 3rd Battalion medics.

On 22 August Pope told a field artillery observer that shells from our own guns were coming lower. Observer replied that the fire angle was carefully adjusted to clear L. Next fire would be lower still. Pope wisely hit his hole then; next two of four shells were tree bursts, wounding medics Charnik and Corporal Gager. Field artillery sightings were to clear a tall ridge which hid L Company from batteries below, but the trajectory impacted us.

By 25 August we had a good idea of Jap T Perimeter on a wide hump of Scout Ridge some 50 yards before us. This hump was shaped like a short-legged T with the foot of the short leg facing us. Top of the T was a pimple about 125 yards across the ridge and 75 yards deep. Before L, the ridge narrowed to 15 yards with a network of trenches blocking out attacks. On precipices, machine guns enfiladed both flanks. Holes were often 15 feet deep; reverse slope had shelters safe from field artillery and mortars.

At 0810 on 25 August they returned our 500 light machine gun rounds with heavy, inaccurate fire. Our four-man patrol then fired four rifle grenades and some bullets, but drew no return fire until after 500 more light machine gun rounds. Then we took light rifle fire, but they received twenty 60mm shells without retaliation.

On 26 August L made a "diversionary attack" to support 2nd Battalion's attack on our right flank. Our attack was a forlorn hope: a four-man point with 10 backing it, and a full platoon ready to follow on call. Leading the point, Corporal Morris arced six grenades at emplacement, but machine gun fire wounded him. Colville crawled to help Morris. Estrada exposed himself to fire and was hit also. Another man (perhaps Joe Smith of the point) and Colville rescued Morris. With altogether 14 rifle grenades, we thought we destroyed an emplacement.

Then 12 60's on two emplacements brought no return fire. When 117 81's struck T, guided by forward observation, seven Japs fled. We set up a sniper observation post for others.

On 27 August probably one of eight cannon shells wounded Friesen. On 28 August two cannon wounded two M Company men in an machine gun position.

At 1000 on 29 August L took T Perimeter. We lobbed in 180 .80mm shells and fired nine shots to signal to B Company. pushing from left flank. Our sniper post advanced unresisted. At 1200 we entered T, then met a B Company patrol on Bald Hill behind T Perimeter. The Japs had left T several hours before.

Also on 30 August, a patrol found a trail from T down a spur ridge and flanked a Jap perimeter retarding I Company. When 4,000 machine gun rounds got no return, we informed I and pushed. At 1455 we met I in the empty perimeter.

            Except for one officer and 25 men attached to I Company, L now spent two happy days of rest in 3rd Battalion's area. (On 1 September that patrol left with I killed eight pillboxes.) On 3 September we replaced I Company in a former Jap perimeter at the junction of B and Scout Ridges, which was named Kindt Perimeter after the officer who replaced Commanding Officer Dicks on 23 August.

L Company still fought grimly the almost impregnable positions at this B-Scout Ridge junction. Scout Ridge was surely the bastion of Jap defenses of Salamaua. So strong was Scout Ridge that a map of our battle lines now formed a "V" with L Company facing the base of the "V". On both arms of the "V," Yank-Aussie outfits were almost into Salamaua, but on Scout Ridge Jap strongholds kept the "V" arms apart-seven perimeters on the Ridge itself.

Our final battle was on 4·8 September. Early on 4 September we fell back some 100 yards while mortars hit our last Jap perimeter. M Company's Sergeant King was wounded. Then field artillery barraged, and the mortars again, while we reoccupied Kindt Perimeter. Our patrol took three Jap emplacements before our repulse. Wounded were Sergeant Lindahl and Corporal Inman. Tampke fought notably well.

At 0645 on 5 September 20 Jap 81-mortar rounds barraged, slaying Tampke and wounding Jacobsen and Hubbard. A recon patrol found new Jap construction. Next day at 0630 our weapons flailed the Japs. We killed two Japs but had to retreat. Despite 260 81 shells, our second push of 6 September failed again.

At 0645 on 7 September they missed our perimeter with 8-10 heavy mortar rounds - all duds. With clear forward observation, M fired 200 rounds, causing far greater damage than all our previous fire. On 8 September, after more 81's, we seized their silent perimeter. On our last day of combat, ironically enough, a sniper killed Pfc Ottis C. Colville, hero of our 26 August attack.

The day before, Lieutenant General Hatazo Adachi, Commanding Officer of the Jap 18th Army, had ordered immediate evacuation of Salamaua. On 10 September L pursued the Jap retreat and on 12 September slept in that destroyed little New Guinea port.

Company Kindt remembered well our staggering into Salamaua on 12 September with about 60 survivors from battle. (We were officially 138 strong on 29 June.) He recalled laughing at, then pitying, E Company from C Ridge with only 22 survivors. (Official figures specify 94 L men, 39 E men, but those others were probably not at Salamaua.) Officially, L Company lost only three dead, eight seriously wounded and 12 lightly wounded - figures not jibing with this story, but close enough to seem accurate. Other losses came mostly from disease, although most men recovered.

Thus went L Company's war for Salamaua. It was a war mainly on Scout Ridge - a war of nerves and endurance rather than a war of wounds and death. It was a hard war in a reeking mountain jungle perimeter under Yank and Jap shells with nights of broken sleep and seaming daylight patrols.

 

CREDIT:  Letters from Pope and Kindt, award stories of Morris, Estrada and Colville.  162's Journal of July-Sept. 1943 and Col. A.R. MacKechnie's Report of Operations.