G Company 186th Infantry Regiment and 167th Field Artillery Battalion: Hill 1445 - the Cockpit on Palawan

By Dr. Hargis Westerfield, Division Historian and  Sergeant Roy D. Bennett

       On 5 March 1945, G Company 186 Infantry with 167 Field Artillery's help began four days' fight to storm Hill 1445. Some eight miles north of Palawan's key harbor of Puerta Princesa, Hill 1445 was the Japs' final stronghold - in wilderness behind Thumb Peak, altitude 3645 feet. Hill 1445 was a tall, blind jungle hogback where death lurked invisible.

       Pressing up from 186 reserve at Puerta Princesa, G Company on 5 March relieved E Company which had captured Firm Hill in two days' fight. After advancing up a streambed to replace E Company, G Company set up command post at the intersection of another stream. At once, a G patrol struck up a trail on the left side of the stream's right fork. The trail left the stream and climbed a spur of Hill 1445.

       Our file of rifles scouted through dense rain forest with some great trees. Slowly our scouts led around a giant tree and up a steep slope. A hail of machine gun fire drove us to cover - some of it perhaps 20-mm shells. Our rifles and BARs sprayed the jungle near those guns, but we could not silence them. We called in 167 Field Artillery shells to help extricate us.

       G Company had found the final Nippo stronghold; and on 6 March our F Company cobbers sent a Platoon northwest up Irahuan River to block the trails northwest of Hill 2060. F's objective was to interdict the expected Jap flight from Hill 1445 to the west coast.

       Simultaneously with F's move, G Company probed up that right fork trail again. With rifles useless against this jungle hogback, we fell to the earth when two heavy machine guns struck down at us from the nose of that hogback. Since 167 Field Artillery could not pinpoint either heavy machine gun emplacement, our 105s hammered with delayed fuse. Jap fire wounded Lieutenant. Melton; we evacuated him.

       Safe under cover 75 yards from the Nips, G Company waited while 2nd Battalion Headquarters requested a Field Artillery observer to help our lead platoon against Hill 1445. With no regular forward observer available, the 167 Field Artillery liaison officer volunteered to "sense" 105 howitzer fire to prepare for the attack. About 1330, Frank O'Laughlin started his mission to help G Company. Accompanied by his detachment, he crept within 30 yards of the strongpoint on the dark hogback. But about 1410, a rifle bullet pierced O'Laughlin's chest and killed him. Probably the same bullet wounded G's Sergeant Davis in the leg. Radioman Gower of 167 Field Artillery then took charge until Master Sergeant Weinberg replaced him - and later, Lieutenant. Bane. Unluckily, 167 could not find the pillboxes to kill them.

       At 1850 that same 6 March, 167 lifted the barrage, and G attacked again. We failed again. Robert Garoutte was killed; we could not bring out his body. Hubbard took a bullet in his shoulder; Schultz and McCurly were injured in action. As dark fell, we withdrew 150 yards, made a hasty perimeter with all G Company. The Nips would surely counter-attack before dawn.

       We secured the narrow downhill trail from the Japs' hogback with only one light machine gun and a foxhole on each side of the light machine gun to protect it. But our perimeter was deep and strong.

       That night of 6 March was wild; Nips fired down into us but hit no one. At 0415 when day broke, they crashed a charge down on us.

       We broke that charge; we dropped four dead before our light machine gun.

Then two Japs committed hari-kari behind a great tree. When Tech Sergeant Atchison, Sergeant Smith, Scout McQuaid went up to check the Nip dead, more live Nips crouched watching us from the trail. They did not shoot, and we were ordered back to G's command post at the creek fork.

       Then 2nd Battalion Headquarters called for an air strike. At 1300, P-38s of 13 Air Force ran over Hill 1445 with 1000-lb bombs. Although 167 Field Artillery had marked targets with smoke and had the Piper Cub up 5000 feet to spot the target, the air-strike was useless. The P-38s missed Hill 1445 completely. Two 1,000 lb. bombs straddled G's command post, far to the rear.

       Now Andrew A.  Kossl's First Platoon attacked from a distance of 1200 yards up that trail where we had been stopped before. Kossl called for and got mortar preparation, then pushed with First Platoon. But deadly machine gun fire struck Kossl. He fell behind a tree, seemed to know that he was dying. He gave his field glasses and map to Platoon Sergeant Atchison, told him to take command. As he rolled over, another machine gun burst struck his dead body. Engburg took a bullet through the lung; James was seriously wounded. Wallace, Dinkel, Mansfield, Maybury were also wounded. A bullet hit the rim of Rod Murphy's helmet and cut his face. We saved all wounded, but Kossl's body was unrecovered.

            Yet promise of success had come to Lieutenant Harbig's 3rd Platoon. Harbig's men had scouted a trail they had found up the left fork of the creek. Their original purpose had been to intercept Japs fleeing from Kossl's attack that had aborted. After making a trail-block where the trail up the left fork cut another trail to

Hill 1445, Harbig sent Sergeant Roy Bennett's squad to reconnoiter that trail. When Scout McQuaid spotted three huts on the nose of the hogback which ended Hill 144'5, we checked the huts but found no Japs.

            It was near dark when Bennett reported his find to Harbig, and Captain Fulmer ordered Harbig's 3rd Platoon to fight up that trail tomorrow. A section of G's light machine guns reinforced us at dusk. During the night, those 2 light machine guns blazed out - killed a wild pig. Krauser almost shot a monkey.

        Before 3rd Platoon's attack of 8 March, two 105s of Cannon Company emplaced 1000 yards from Hill 1445 and blasted this hogback of hidden pillboxes. C Battery of 167 fired a precision adjustment with its four guns. Great limbs crashed from giant trees. Then 167 shifted to delayed fuse over the hidden Nips who must have been half-crazed by the amount of shell-fire.

        While these six guns of Cannon 186 and C 167 were thundering on the Japs, Lieutenant Harbig's killer Platoon had stormed to the ridge-top, rifles ready. Harbig ordered field artillery fire lifted. Then Sergeants Smith, Atchison charged over the crest with their squad into the surprised Nips.

            A burst from Scout Kirk's tommy slew a Jap on the trail. Another Jap hit a hole to delay his death awhile. Into a perimeter of Jap foxholes charged Smith's squad. They fired into fox-holes - shot anything moving above-ground. Horn was wounded; but we found Jap dead around a machine gun that had never got off even one burst. In the perimeter, we counted eight Jap bodies. The others must have surely escaped on a trail that G Company could not interdict - a trail from the hogback of Hill 1445 down the reverse slope. It would lead fleeing Japs to the west coast of Palawan and possible escape to Borneo. And so these  Jap survivors got clear away into the hills, safe from all pursuers.
            G Company men saw Japs dodge into the dense growth between Hills 1445 and 1460. E Company followed the valley northwest; orders were to block all trails, but E found only where
Nippo wounded had fled. And F Company saw signs along the Irahuan Valley where Nips had carried off their casualties.

        Thus ended the Japs' tight gallant little defense of Hill 1445 on Palawan - a defense presumably by four Company 174 Independent Infantry Battalions - since they were the only combat troops in the nearby area. (Other Japs outfits in the Puerta Princesa Sector consisted of only the 131 Airfield Battalion, First Independent Maintenance Unit, with mixed personnel from Navy, Army, and Army Air force.) Against overwhelming field artillery superiority and G 186's men with high morale, these Japs had held four days in this well-chosen position, had killed Field Artillery Captain Frank O'Laughlin, G's 1st Lieutenant Kossl, and Robert Garouette. They had wounded nine of us, with two injured in action.

        And why had G Company 186 Infantry fought on wild Palawan, home of the Tagbanaua Moros, and far off on the periphery of Filipino civilization? Aside from keeping General MacArthur's promise to free the Philippines, and aside from cleaning up Nips who might have been nuisances, we had other good reasons. As the map shows, the 300 miles of narrow Palawan makes an almost continuous land-bridge north from Borneo. Jap planes and small boats had used Palawan as a stepping- stone to supply and reinforce Luzon and Leyte. The long coastline had provided a sheltered passage and innumerable safe anchorages for small supply ships for the Philippines. Hub of this important communications link had been Puerta Princesa with two air-strips, a seaplane base, and a good harbor. And when 186 drove the Japs out of Puerta Princesa, G Company had followed them in and rooted them out. Such was G Company 186 Infantry's last important fight overseas, with the help of Cannon 186-and, above all, 167 Field Artillery.

 

Prime credit for this full story is due Roy D. Bennett of Cutler, Ohio, with letters of 7 Feb, 4 May 1971, and his manuscript "Company G Fights for Palawan Hill 1445." To get his data, Roy called Scout McQuaid long-distance in Pontiac, Mich., then visited him and Ed Barosky in Detroit. Roy also drew a fine map of Hill 1445. Also useful was an earlier letter from G's Jordan Davis, G's Morning Report, "History of 167 Field Artillery Battalion During Palawan Operation," untitled Journal of 186 dated 21 Feb-8 May 1945, and "Report of Commanding General Eighth Army on Palawan and Zamboanga Operations."