A Company, Papuan Infantry Battalion: Our Papuan Soldiers
by Dr. Hargis Westerfield, Division Historian

      This is basically the history of how A Company, Papuan Infantry Battalion fought for 162 Infantry in the Salamaua Operation. But A Company's story begins three years before Salamaua with its formation. (A Company would become nucleus of the Pacific Islands Regiment, to be formed in 1944.)

This first Papuan Company was organized in June 1940 by Major Logan, Aussie-English officer of native police. It was mostly Papuan - of course, with some men from other New Guinea areas - with Aussie officers and mostly Aussie NCOs. These Papuans made good soldiers. Close-order drill was delightful to them, for they considered it ritualistic, and ritual centered their village lives. They quickly mastered the use of rifle and bayonet and grenade; they learned more by touch and sight than by words. But, of course, their major merit would be where they could use their native bush craft as scouts.

By the time that 162 Infantry planned their Nassau Bay Beachhead, these dark New Guinea soldiers were seasoned troops. Some PIB veterans had fought to hold the Kokoda Trail beside the Aussies when the Japs failed to take Port Moresby. During the Jap retreat, they gleefully picked off those Japs rafting down the Kumusi River.

Then they regrouped in smaller numbers around loma Village - on the right flank of the Japs' beachheads. Although hard to supply overland, loma was only 30-40 miles in from the north New Guinea coast. From loma they scouted and observed and slew little Jap units. loma was located only some 50 miles north of 162 Infantry's new staging ground at Morobe.

The Aussie generals assigned A Company PIB to aid 162 Infantry for the Nassau Bay Beach. They had worked already with U.S. and Aussie troops to clear scattered Nippo bands about 50 miles up the coast from Kumusi Mouth to the Mambare River.

As March 1943 ended, PIB patrols reported Morobe clear of Japs, and 162 Infantry occupied it by early April. (Morobe became a base for PT boats harassing the Japs' barge and submarine supply lines across the seas from Rabaul. Morobe also became the seaport for supplies carried the shortest route to the Aussie army in the Owen Stanley Mountains.)

Now commanded by Captain E.P. Hitchcock, A Company PIB had three main strategical assignments. They were to support Colonel MacKechnie's Nassau Bay landing. After mopping up, they

would protect MacKechnie's right flank when 1st Battalion moved into the mountains. Later, they would scout before 162 Infantry along the coast north to Tambu Bay under later-named Roosevelt Ridge.

Already assembled from Ioma Village, "A PIB" had arrived at Morobe by 7 June. By 15 June, they had trekked overland or canoed from Morobe about 45 miles northwest to coastal Buso Village. Buso was only some eight miles from Nassau Bay; and here the PIB waited patiently and patrolled until D-Day two weeks later, on 29 June. Of course, PIB men had searched the off-shore isle but found no Japs. The Japs had not scouted south from Bassis Villages at Dinga Point below Nassau Bay to find the PIB, but the PIB carried on long-range patrols.

For example, the famous Lance-Corporal Tapioli scouted overland to Tabali Creek behind Nassau Bay. (Like surely many others, Tapioli was no Papuan - in his case a Rabaul man.) Captain Hitchcock himself and several NCOs - certainly some of them Papuans - checked out the main trail from Buso to that south height above Nassau Bay that ended in Dinga Point.

On the day before Nassau Beachhead, the PIB canoed from Buso seven miles more up the coast to Cape Roon, then hiked overland maybe five miles to Bachsen Bay. Now they were at the jump-off for Nassau Bay. In the dark night of 29-30 June, they moved stealthily towards Cape Dinga.

PIB and U.S. scouts had by now discovered that some 300 Japs held the Bassis Villages on Cape Dinga, with an outpost on near the east end of the Cape. Where Colonel MacKechnie would land on Nassau Bay, the Japs had an outpost or two. North of the bay, about 75 Japs were dug in near the mouth of the South Arm of the Bitoi River. These estimated 375 Japs were mostly from the machine gun Company of Major Oba's 3rd Battalion 102 Infantry - less 2 PIatoons sunk on Heiyo Maru off New Britain in January 1943.

On the night of 30 June - 1 July after midnight, our MacKechnie Force floundered ashore through boiling surfs and made perimeter at Nassau Bay. Some time that same night, Hitchcock's men set up Company Headquarters on the high backbone of Dinga Peninsula. Here they overlooked the Jap-held Bassis Villages on the north coast. A few Japs still held Bassis No 3 Village, nearest to Dinga Point. Late on 2 July, his men began fighting the remaining Japs in the next village, Bassis No.2. Soon they would clear out all Japs from Dinga Point. Partly because of Papuan help, 162 Infantry was establishing a firm base on Nassau Bay. We were beginning the advance up Bitoi River into the mountains to cut the Japs' Komiatum Track Salient to Mubo Strip.

Since a little detachment could now finish off the last Cape Dinga Japs, the Aussie generals ordered the Papuans northwards. Crossing Bitoi River north of 162's beachhead, they were to advance up the coast. They were to mop up any Jap pockets and find a landing beach for barges in Dot Inlet, maybe 15 miles north of Dinga Point.

Colonel MacKechnie agreed to Captain Hitchcock's request to move his men by sea for the first 5-6 miles up the coast to Salus Village. The Papuans boarded launches, but they could not land at Salus. Heavy surfs repelled them twice. Then Colonel MacKechnie allotted them four landing barges. A Jap air strike drove them from their barges while they still were at Nassau Bay. Hitchcock gave up his idea of water travel

Instead, Captain Hitchcock forwarded Lieutenant R.R. Gore's Platoon to probe the Salus area. Japs skirmished with Gore and wounded two Papuans, names and types of wounds unknown, but probably light wounds. Hitchcock called our field artillery down on those Japs and drove them off. Meanwhile, another Platoon patrolled Bitoi South Arm for straggling Japs while the main body of A Company assembled at Duali Village to move north.

By 9 July, the pursuing Papuans had found traces of 150 Japs who had apparently moved north from Lake Salus 4-5 days before. They had retreated on both sides of Lake Salus. (These Japs were, of course, most of Major Oba's Japs who had failed to hold Nassau Bay from Colonel MacKechnie. North of Lake Salus, they met men of 3rd Battalion 66 Jap Regiment who were sent south to aid them - but too late. By 9 July, Oba's remaining 250 men (out of 375) were back at Salamaua in safety. We would hear of them again about 12 August when they destroyed themselves in the raid to blow up the Allied field artillery.)

About 9 July, a probable B-25 of our Air Force dropped a message to the Papuans near Lake Salus. Another B-25 had splashed with its crew three miles offshore. With native canoes that they had found abandoned on Lake Salus, the Papuans tried to save the downed crew, but heavy seas made that rescue impossible. A U.S. Higgins boat searched also, but found only lonely waters heaving into the sky.

But the search ended well and a little comically. Over in Lake Salus, the scouts saw four men in swimming, and shot at them, but hit no one. They received the "surrender" of the four-man crew who had landed on their own and needed no rescue!

Meanwhile Colonel MacKechnie was seriously concerned about the outcome of Captain Hitchcock's patrols into the northern ridge area from Scout Camp inland to the ridges between Dot Inlet and Tambu Bay. (Not yet had that ridge been renamed Roosevelt Ridge.) Future operations of 162 Infantry.

Hitchcock reported that Jap observation posts were on the north side of Tambu Bay and nearby Dot Inlet. Local natives said that 200 Japs held Boisi Village on Tambu Bay. Other Japs were digging in on the first ridge past Tambu Bay - probably what 162 Infantry would later call "E" Ridge.

On Papuan information, 3rd Battalion 162 Infantry - our new General Coane Force - moved north to capture what would be named Roosevelt Ridge. K's mission was to march on the trail behind the beach, mop up, then seize the Ridge. I and L Companies and some M Company weapons sections were to arrive before Boisi at the same time to help "K." "I", "L," and "M" were to slog up a "secret" trail which the Papuans informed us of.

But here the Papuans failed us. We found no secret trail - only rugged ground. Although "K" hiking up the beach neared Boisi the morning of 18 July, "I" and "L" took two days to arrive, and their two days' rations exhausted, their shoes unserviceable.

Ahead of K Company on 19 July, a Papuan Platoon positioned to hit the Jap outpost south of Boisi. Next morning, "K" supporting, they killed four Japs. K Companies light machine guns finished off the outpost.

Again the Papuans scouted for "K" to Boisi. But here Jap field artillery and mortars from Roosevelt Ridge gave K Company 12 casualties. The three-week siege of Roosevelt Ridge had begun.

Papuans participated in that siege of Roosevelt Ridge.

On 21 July, their scouts led L 162's first attack almost to the summit before automatic fire drove L back. In L's attack the next day, a Papuan spotted a Jap light machine gun which we avoided. Then he saved some lives when he drew Jap fire. The second attack failed. On 24 July, three Papuans and Aussie Sergeant Makin guided 218 Field Artillery's Lieutenant Schroeder to high ground to direct shell fire. They saved his life when a 10-man Jap patrol attacked the observation party and wounded him.

When I 162 probed Scout Ridge west of Roosevelt Ridge 26 July, Papuans led the way and warned us in time to beat off a hard Jap attack. When the Japs struck "I" at night on 28 July, Papuans held holes beside us. Two of them panicked from their holes, however. I Company's Sergeant Maurice Kelley says that they were cut in two, but their Company did not report their names.

When Major Oba's raiders tried to demolish field artillery on the beach, Papuans moved on them. On 16 August, they slew three raiders and a native guide, and dispersed 20 Japs on 18 August. Beside Aussie Companies, they drove the raiders inland to where B 162's Messec's patrol shattered their main body.

      PIB detachments were most notable as scouts, however. Teamed with Lieutenant Folsom's 162' s I&R, the great Lance-Corproal Tapioli was outstanding in finding and killing Japs before they detected him. Thanks greatly to his scouting, no Yank I&R scouts were killed. With Tapioli in I&R were other fine Papuan scouts: Liokina, Arnau, Trumuet, Orosol. When 162 Infantry left the Australian New Guinea Territory, our officer asked to take Tapioli with us. Request was refused, reasons unknown. I&R men still believe that 1st Lieutenant Folsom would never have died in ambush on Biak with Tapioli there to observe for him.

In the diary of A Company Papuan Infantry Battalion, however, we find only the names of a few Papuan fighters and brief statements of their activities. We have already mentioned the wound of Siribin at Bassis Villages.) On 5 August, Biruge died, probably when K 162 tried to top an unnamed ridge. On 9 August, Nugea and Corporal Angiau stalked a Jap ridge pillbox, grenaded it, and heard moans. Angiau was wounded in his leg and both arms. On 10 August, Nugea and Loe were commended for observing mortar fire for 162 Infantry. Probably other names and Papuans and their deeds went unmentioned in this brief diary of A Company PIB.

Our Papuan soldiers did well. By October 1944, a second native Battalion was organized, and with our 1st Battalion made into the Pacific Islands Regiment. In 1945, Aussie Field Marshall Sir Thomas Blamey ordered a third Battalion to be constituted, with a fourth on the way just before the war ended. The performance of A Company (and Captain C.E. Chalk's B Company in other parts of New Guinea) had rightly promised that the New Pacific Islands Regiment would become splendid troops in bush warfare.

 

 

CREDIT: Most of this story comes from gleaning three fine histories published by Canberra's Australian War Memorial, a series under the general title, Australia in the War of 1939-1945. These total 2150 pages with abundant maps and detailed indexes. Titles of the volumes and authors are Southwest Pacific Area - First Year Kokoda to Wau (Dudley McCarthy), The New Guinea Offensives David Dexter), and The Final Campaigns (Gavin Long). Dexter's book concerns the Salamaua Operation. Of limited use is "War Diary, A Coy 1st Papuan Infantry Battalion," also filed in Australian War Memorial. Unlike other Aussie Company diaries, this diary is sketchyand hurried. To possible readers who are citizens of Papua New Guinea, I can say only that I used my available data as best I could. I have tried to write this history for both U.S. and Papua New Guinea readers. P .S. Story of Papuans soldiering with 162's I&R appeared in March 1963 Jungleer.