3rd Battalion 162 Infantry at Zamboanga:

I. M Company 162 Infantry at San Roque

II. I & R and L Company Storm Sibago Island

by Dr. Hargis Westerfield, Division Historian (with Louis Botta for M Company)

 

I. M 162 AT SAN ROQUE

Core of this first history is the action of M Company 162 lnfantry’s two heavy machine guns against the overwhelming surprise attack of Jap Marines in Zamboanga Battle. This attack of the Japs' 33rd Naval Guards happened on 12 March 1945 near San Roque Village.

On 11 March, the day before, 162's forward elements of 3rd  Battalion had maneuvered north from the beach through dangerous jungle foothills. That night, we halted 600 yards south of the fortified San Roque area. Although Jap Marines had garrisoned San Roque, now it seemed unoccupied. We believed that a methodical advance of 163's 3rd Battalion would easily capture San Roque on 12 March.

About 0810, L Company was to patrol 1,000 yards northwards east of the road into San Roque. Then about 1200, "L" was to secure the high ground overlooking San Roque. From this high ground, we expected to cover other companies' advance into the bowl-shaped valley in the hills, which was about 1,000 yards across. So with M 162's two heavy machine guns attached, "L" advanced through heavy brush and a trench network. (The empty trenches were ample for a whole regiment, but our recon patrol saw only a few Jap stragglers.)

But Jap trouble was about to begin. On arriving about 1325 at the ridge selected by his advance patrol, L's alarmed Commanding Officer 1st Lieutenant Camack found himself on top of a knife-like strip too short and too narrow to hold. Only a few men could actually see down on San Roque Village, or see to cover other 3rd Battalion men's advance. Open to fire from higher ground, was this narrow ridge. Even a light attack could surround the ridge and wipe out L's forward platoons.

At once, Camack phoned 3rd Battalion Headquarters for permission to withdraw. But orders returned to do all that he could to hold the ridge. While all men dug in feverishly, Camack brought M's two formidable heavy machine guns and his own L Company's light machine guns up to stiffen the line. Surely, thought Camack, Jap fighters still lurked in that area.

About 1440, Jap Marines sprang their ambush. Rising up from a network of tunnels and trenches around San Roque, they took positions north and west of San Roque Road. They set up a machine gun at either end of their line. After most of L Company's following platoons had entered our field of fire, the Japs opened up.

These Jap Marines evidently struck that part of L Company still moving up to the ridge which Camack held already. The Marines scattered L's column to cover on the east side of the north-south road.

Meanwhile, L Company's men on the ridge were dangerously near to being wiped out. On our right flank, an exposed squad took heavy Jap fire. From the ridge ahead at 200 yards, sporadic fire struck the whole line. In a short time, the thin line of "L" with "M" heavy machine guns could be overrun or outflanked.

Yet 3rd Battalion Headquarters still ordered Camack to hold his ridge position. M's two heavy machine guns with L's lighter calibered .30 machine guns and riflemen fired back. Camack also called down M's .81 mortar shells from the rear. At that distance among low ridges and - in brush, we could not clearly see Jap moving targets. Yet at a later date, Camack found that we did hit some Japs.

But Jap riflemen were working on our flanks. On the right flank, M Company's Sergeant Louis Botta became a target as he sat behind his heavy machine gun. A bullet grazed the top of his left hand. Angrily, he sprayed the Nips' left flank with 250 rounds - but without knowing what he had hit.

Meanwhile, Camack had finally persuaded 3rd Battalion Headquarters that we ought to retreat. (Probably important for Headquarters's decision was the report of Jap pressure on the road behind Camack.) Despite the danger and tension natural in this exposed position, Camack organized a careful withdrawal. He even saw to it that six isolated riflemen were informed to retreat - and himself helped carry off discarded rifles of wounded men.

Weightiest responsibility was M Company's two attached heavy machine guns under Lieutenant Walt Kelly. To cover this withdrawal, Camack used L Company's own two light machine guns and delaying action of his riflemen.

After M's Lieutenant Kelly ordered his gunners back, M Company's Botta never forgot L Company's riflemen. They fired and walked backwards, and fired again. But lightly wounded Botta got out from under his heavy machine gun and helped take it down so fast that he deserted his jungle pack and his cherished box of White Owl cigars. (During the next few days, patrols reported killing Japs who had those White Owls.)

Thus L Company and M's two heavy machine guns left their exposed forward positions south of San Roque Village. And with reinforcements from "K" men, L Company repulsed the Marines' attack on the north-south road.

M Company luckily lost no men killed. Only wounded man was Botta, who refused hospital for his grazed left hand. L Company themselves lost no men killed, had seven wounded plus two over-come by heat exhaustion. But "L" plus "M" claimed killing 40 Nips. About 2010 with their usual harassing battle cries, the Japs struck L Company and M's two heavy machine gun positions. Both sides fired rifles, grenades, and light machine guns, but we readily held our perimeter. Grenade throwing kept Botta's pitching arm in condition. Two Japs died; two of our men were wounded, although casualty lists do not name them. And this is the history of M Company 162 Infantry with L Company at San Roque.

 

 

II. 162's I & RAND L CO FIGHT FOR SIBAGO ISLAND

At 0600, 26 April 1945, 162's I and R left Zambo City to clear the reported Jap garrison from Sibago Island, and return it to its rightful owners. In two LCMs, I and R left Zambo in earliest daylight with two PT boats guarding us, and chugged east through the wide channel between the Mindanao mainland and great Basilan Island. We expected an easy fight with supposedly 26 Japs, but they had not answered our 500 "surrender" leaflets dropped from the air.

Lying about 30 miles southeast of Zambo City and eight miles northeast of Matanul Point on Bailan, Sibago was a small jungle island shaped like a bean, 1-1/2 miles long by 3/4 miles wide. It was thickly forested, with two ridges and a lighthouse topping the taller 630-foot ridge. Surrounded by a narrow fringing reef, Sibago had small, sandy bays. It had been inhabited before World War II.

The Japs had probably garrisoned Sibago because of its lighthouse to guide shipping through Basilan Strait. For Basilan Strait was one of the two main approaches to Asia from the southwest Pacific. The enormous Jap Navy had needed that lighthouse to help it move quickly and safely from its Tawi Tawi base near Borneo to defend Davao on Mindanao, or fight in the central Pacific.

By 0830 that 26 April, I and R's LCMs with two PT boats neared Sibago, but did not land. We beached at unoccupied Lanhil Island, 1,000 yards north. From this little jungle island, about the same area as Sibago, we watched preparatory fire for our Sibago landing.

At 0900, four bombers dived on Sibago, loosed bombs on assigned targets, then strafed. At 0915, our two PTs circled and strafed shacks on the lighthouse ridge. At 0930, I and R landed unopposed.

Divided in two sections, we sweatily moved up parallel ridges leading to the lighthouse on the appointed peak. At first, we had no Jap contacts as we hunted up through entangling brush up the steep rises. But at 1150, I and R's Section 1 was about 100 yards from the top on the left ridge. Section 2 was still 500 yards from the top on the right ridge. Still, we found no Japs.

Suddenly at 1300 from a hidden position, Jap fire burst out - intense rifle and machine gun fire, Tech Sergeant Schramm was wounded and evacuated. While I and R's Section 1 fired to protect us, Section 2 retreated to the beach.

By 1345, all I and R was still back on the beach alive. At 1400, we sensibly had landed on Lanhil Island 1,000 yards to safely bivouac overnight and return to Sibago on 27 April.

At 0800 that 27 April, a reinforced L Company rifle Plan and a 2-gun Platoon of Cannon Company left Zambo City to help I and R's attack. By 0830, Cannon Company was landed on Lanhil Island to dig in and support our second attack.

About 1000, nine dive-bombers blasted and strafed caves, shacks, and the lighthouse tower. Ten minutes later, Cannon's two 105s were in action. Our 105s got three direct hits on the tower, but it still stood. Then our two PT boats strafed the beach for our riflemen's landing.

Ashore at 1030, L's Platoon and I and R patrolled inland while L's mortars set up on the beach. At 1040, ''L'' climbed a ridge towards the lighthouse, but moved slowly because of the evil terrain. Meanwhile, by 1045, I and R had advanced up the ridge to the right of the lighthouse. By 1230, I and R reported themselves in position on the ridge summit 500 yards from the lighthouse. L Company had closed in to 100 yards from it.

But the Japs opened up on both outfits. "L" slew two Japs, but Corporal Ralph F. Inman was killed. Although I and R reported no losses, they took scattered fire from well-hidden emplacements.

Sometime during this fight, "L" lost either Forte or Sergeant Darrell Brown wounded. L's Commanding Officer, 1st Lieutenant Camack wisely decided not to waste men for a storming party. We scouted the heights from all directions, but most approached were perpendicular; we needed mountain-climbing equipment, in fact. At 1400, both "L" and I and R were back on the beach to dig in for the night. At 0830 27 April while other 162 Infantry men were assembling to move from Zamboanga into Central Mindanao, another L Company Platoon, reinforced, was sent to assist in this too-long fight for Sibago Island.

And at 0730 on 28 April, both L Platoons and I and R were leaving Sibago Beach to climb the same ridges to fight the Jap positions around the lighthouse base. One "L" man was wounded. (It was either Forte or Sergeant Brown; no other man is named. Casualty report of 162, however, put Forte and Brown beside Inman on 27 April, the date that Inman was killed.)

When "L" fell back to the beach, I and R remained in position under light fire, but lost no one. At 1600, I and R again returned to the beach.

Best news, however, came from our mortar-men and Cannon's gunners. During the afternoon, we had destroyed brush and nearby shacks around the lighthouse. We had exposed the open mouth of a Japanese cave.

At 0800 29 April - our fourth day on Sibago - the Marine dive-bombers struck near the lighthouse with apparently excellent results. Then at 0930, L's unopposed riflemen moved up the same ridge as yesterday. We had no opposition. At 1010, also, I and R was in position on the right ridge, with heavy machine guns and BARS.

Again "L" attacked - some time before 1000, but going was still hard. We had a wounded man, name not reported. The Japs still had dominating positions, and stopped our attack.

Although "L" withdrew by 1400, I and R slept that night 500 yards from the tower. The story of the final and fifth day of the Sibago Island Operation is not complete in enough detail. At 0800 from their ridge position, I and R saw no Jap movements. From 0800 to 0930 at intervals, fire was directed at possible Nip positions around the lighthouse. We shot at the cave position, two remaining shacks, and a water tank where they might be hiding.

And by 0930, I and R had rejoined our two ''L'' Platoons on the beach to embark to rejoin our Regiment at Zambo. Instead of 26 Japs, 58 Japs were reported as dead. (We surmise that all of these Japs were die-hard "Jap Marines," of 33rd Naval Guard Regiment who had guarded the southern Philippine coast all the way from Bongao Island near Borneo to southern Mindanao.) Whether reoccupying Filipino soldiers found a few more Japs hiding out and killed them - is not reported.

Even with the help of PT boats and dive bombers, it took five days for 162's "L" detachment, our I and R Platoon plus Cannon 162' s two caliber 105 guns to overrun Sibago Island. But we had given planes and PT boats and cannon fire practice for the expected infighting in Japan. At a cost of one dead and two wounded, we had finished off 58 more Japs. We had returned to the Philippine Republic another little corner of their beloved homeland.

 

CREDIT: M 162's San Roque history comes mainly from two undated letters of Louis Botta, written in 1979. Botta wrote up M Company on Biak, but died before he could finish M's Zamboanga history. I used also 162 Infantry's Casualty List (13 March - 28 June 1945), and Journal (27 January - 2 May 1945), R. R. Smith's Triumph in the Philippines, and L Company 162 Infantry's history, "San Roque and Sibago Island" (Jungleer, March 1978). Sibago Island fight story comes from entries on pp 72-78 of above Journal, with "San Roque and Sibago Island."