116 Engineers Combat Battalion

by Sergeant Ken Gwin with Frank Turosik with Dr. Hargis Westerfield, Division Historian

Continued from Salamaua, Wakde and Biak Campaigns…

After the Biak Operation in New Guinea, Gwin was with A 116 Engineers in the Battle of Zamboanga. Here, bomb disposal was his specialty, with Bill and Ray Maas. They disarmed all types of mines and bombs - fishing pole types – chem-electric, contact, vibration, and concussion bombs. Gwin and Bill Maas were working on the "safe" side of Blow-Out Hill - on the other side from the Japs - just before E Company 163 Infantry suffered the great explosion of 13 March 1945.

Gwin and Bill Maas never forgot disarming 500-lb sea mines built like squat gas bombs. On the top sides were raised metal arms like elbows. Vials of acid were in the bends of the elbows. Tripping attached wires would let the acids seep down on galvanized plates and cause electrical detonations. They also found warheads off Jap torpedoes, almost unscrewed to explode.

Up to now, we have thought that the two Jap Marines blew out the hill too soon before E Company had topped it. But now it seems that the Japs blew it at what they believed to be the right time to catch all of "E" still on what looked like the "safe" side of the hill. E Company 163 Infantry was lucky that A 116's Engineers Gwin and Bill Maas had neutralized that side of the hill when they disarmed the bombs at the risk of their lives.

On 16 March, Gwin saw the death of A 116 Engineers' Lieutenant Elwood Call. Japs still held 1,000-foot mountains around 163's 1st Battalion Elwood and Gwin were forward seeking locations for army water points. Jap mortars were firing all day.

About 1425, Call was telling 163 officers about new mines and booby traps. A mortar fragment blew out the brains of Call on Gwin - also caused seven 163 Infantry casualties. Gwin escaped.

No history can better emphasize the importance of the Engineers to the 41st than this one about A 116's Gwin and his buddies.


CREDIT: Prime part of the this history is Ken Gwin's 24-page business letter size handwritten manuscript, "A 116th Combat Engineers WW II," backed by Frank Turosik's story of his wound on Biak. I also used another history: "2nd Battalion 163 Infantry: Irving's Siege of Ibdi Pocket," for background, from the March 1971 Jungleer.