K Company 162 Infantry: Cram Hill At Zamboanga

By K 162’s Charles Brockman and Robert Irick, with Dr. Hargis Westerfield, Division Historian

 

     About 0845, 10 March 1945, K Company 162 Infantry's T/5 Brockman watched from our LST deck while B-24s and Naval guns prepared our landing. About 0915, our Buffalos lined up and drove for San Mateo Beach, west of Zamboanga City. Ahead was a narrow beach, coconut palms, and high blue mountains.

     As K Company ran over the beach, we saw a wide plain instead of New Guinea jungle that we remembered too well. Our green, helmeted columns with alert rifles moved inland some hundred yards, but found no Japs. Brockman heard what he thought to be heavy Jap field artillery firing from the high country ahead - and evidently firing by batteries, not like in New Guinea.

     Attached to Staff Sergeant Chainey's light machine gun squad with Thompson, Forehand, Dye, and T/4 Peacock, T/5 Cook Brockman got orders to dig in while waiting for orders. The Japs still fired over our heads at the landing. With holes half dug, we had to "saddle up" and move, to attack a small village. We thought that we heard our tanks ashore behind us and opening fire.

     The village which we were to attack was probably San Roque, but L Company in the lead found only deserted positions - and no sign of the Japs' great attack tomorrow. "K" had no casualties this 10 March, but 3rd Battalion already had 10 wounded.

     We sheltered that night in Jap trenches from small Jap raids. A Jap talked before our holes, but failed to draw fire. He rapped grenades on his helmet to arm them, and threw and missed. We threw back. Next morning, a Jap head hung in the trench about 15 feet from Chainey's squad's light machine gun.

     On 11 March, 3rd Battalion patrolled into the empty but heavily fortified San Roque area. About 1325, B-25 bombed Jap field artillery ridge positions. Then Jap salvos started again.

     That afternoon, Sergeant Warehime with Martin and another man strung wire along a road and up a slight bank. While Brockman worked with a wire-coil, Warehime and Martin suddenly fired, hit the ground. Searching Jap bodies afterwards, Brockman found a map which Captain Watson, our Commanding Officer, hurried to Intelligence. On that 11 March, first man to die in "K" was Pvt Armando H. Nava, cause unknown.

     On 12 March, "K" saw some bitter combat, with three killed, two wounded. Perhaps some casualties occurred when volunteers went to help L Company, who were expelled from San Roque Bowl by a surprise attack of 300 Jap Marines. But we know only for certain that one death happened during K's disastrous Masilay patrol.

     On that 12 March about 1430, K Company sent a 20 man patrol northwest from San Roque Village towards Masilay Village to try to contact a 1st Battalion patrol. Sergeant Warehime might have led, but only surely identified man in that patrol was Irick, a replacement who knew nobody's name.

     Shortly after the patrol left us, a wild burst of fire came from their direction. Brockman saw three men return; others arrived in scattered little groups.

     About 1515, some 100 entrenched Japs had hit the patrol from both sides of the trail. The surprise fire broke up the' patrol. Fourteen men leaped into the brush and left the leader with only five men. These six withdrew down a streambed. One man was mortally wounded, and the leader stayed with him until he died at 1745. Three hours after the reported time of the ambush, the leader returned with two men, and reported two of his small group still missing.

     The other 14 returned before dark. After Jap fire struck, Irick hid under a fallen tree behind a rock, and never heard his leader say that it was safe to move. After two hours, he returned unhurt to K Company.

     Killed that 12 March were Pfc Barney E. Morgan, T/5 Victor J. Schumacher, Sergeant James J. Reynolds. Reported lightly wounded were Pfcs Bernard C. Miller and James R. Kelley. Time and place of all casualties are unknown.

     At first dark, Japs machine-gunned K's holes. Three M Company 81 mm shells silenced the machine guns, but other Jap attacks marred our sleep that night.

     On 13 March, "K" watched B-25s hit Jap gun positions, and after several passes, the guns were silenced forever. By 1400, we had advanced unopposed to join I Company at an important trail crossing renamed "Harlowton" after a Montana town.

     Regimental strategy now was to envelope Jap Headquarters high on 1500-foot Mount Capisan. While 1st Battalion pushed up West Ridge to Capisan, 2nd Battalion pushed up East Ridge. Having bypassed San Roque Pocket for others to clear, 3rd Battalion with "K" was to drive the Japs from near Harlowton NW up knobs and ridges to Mount Capisan.

     That night, Brockman and others in his hole threw nearly a case of grenades at Japs who sang "Dinah" and "Ohmonah" ("Ramona") to men wanting to sleep Brockman thought that his grenade shut up the serenade. All 3rd Battalion reported three Japs killed.

      In the next two days, 3rd Battalion consolidated positions and faced Japs in numerous caves northwards. On one day, a Sherman tank halted among our holes and drew so much fire that K cowered low. Still under Jap fire, we left perimeter to reinforce "I" on a ridge ahead.

      On 16 March, K Company fought for Cram Hill, named after 2nd Lieutenant James L. Cram who would die there. We teamed with "I" to seize the first hill northwest of Harlowton against an estimated two companies of Japs. I Company had one killed, nine wounded, but held their new ground after rifle and machine gun fire. I Company faced only a single Nip platoon, but we faced a whole company. And "K" failed.

     One cause for K's failure may have been a garbled order. After our riflemen hit the Japs, an order passed down to bend up our mortars for badly needed fire. But Weapons Platoon got the order to bend up the mortars. Mortar crews came up too close to fire on the Japs without hitting our own men.

     As the mortars came up, two rifle squads were fighting up the trail ahead of Chainey's light machine gun squad for whom Cook Brockman carried ammo. This trail smelled strong of Japs. Brockman had passed several unexploded black Nippo grenades beside the trail. On both sides of the guns, brush made a thick cover.

     Seconds later, we heard Jap fire at our riflemen up' the hill above us. "Set up the gun," Chainey ordered. Thompson positioned the light machine gun. Brockman helped insert the belt. Brockman moved 10 feet off the trail to the right. Ahead, we heard the firing halt and start over a number of times.

     With only a .45 in his belt, Thompson slipped over to Brockman and said, "Hand me your M-1 a minute." Thompson casually put the butt to his shoulder and took aim. He fired two shots and returned the rifle to Brockman. "That takes care of one of them," Thompson said. Brockman could not see the body in the brush.

     But Pfc Glen R. Thompson did not know that another Jap was near in the brush with the corpse. As tall Thompson knelt by his gun to await firing order, the Jap shot him. A bullet passed through his pistol belt, the gun handles, a .45 clip, and came out near Brockman. Our Medics were forward with the riflemen, but they could not have saved him.

     Chainey crept up the trail and pulled the gun back, but had to leave the tripod. Captain Watson called, "We're leaving here in 10 minutes!" Japs shot at Chainey and Brockman. Crawling backwards on his stomach, Brockman found himself down among more "K" men. He sheltered on one side of a tree, and Turner on the other. Another Japshot rang out. Brockman felt a hot sting on the left side of his neck. Turner's helmet flew straight up in the air, and landed on Brockman's leg below the knee.

     Just then, a man whom Brockman thought to be Lieutenant Doyle Brown crawled back dragging a bazooka. They worked their way downhill in a sitting position. Brockman believed that the Lieutenant and he were the last men off the hill. "Duck!" called Brown, and Brockman ducked. Brown's M-1 fired twice on their right. Brockman saw two Nippos fall.

     Now out of danger, they caught up with T/5 Veach helping Staff Sergeant Charlie M. Shaylor. He had two holes in his back, close to his spine. "Don't worry about me!" Shaylor gasped. "There's no need for us all to be killed," They helped him anyhow.

     At the foot of the hill, Beaty and more "K" men had halted. They covered Shaylor, Brockman, and Veach with BAR fire. K Company called this place of death Cram Hill. Brockman heard that 2nd Lieutenant Cram died when he stood up firing into a Nippo position. Besides Thompson, Turner, and Cram, we also lost Pvt Ernest P. Miraldi killed. Besides Staff Sergeant Shaylor, machine-gunner Sergeant Wilbur Forehand was seriously wounded. Marked "Lightly wounded" but hospitalized were Pfc Byron P. Leake, Pvts John W. Walker, and Pfc Kenneth C. Kettner. We had four dead, five wounded.

     Next morning when "K" formed to try to take Cram Hill again, Captain Watson mercifully relieved those of us who had fought there yesterday from this attack. Brockman remained below.                                  .

     Using delayed fuze, our field artillery blasted Cram Hill for two hours. "K" easily took it by 1125. Martin was marked lightly wounded. We killed six Japs, found 20 who died yesterday. All told, 3rd Battalion counted 40 Jap bodies. Many more were surely sealed in caves.

     That night, "K" took machine gun, rifle, and mortar fire from the west. T/5 Brockman, T/4 Peacock, and S/Sergeant Rush endured close mortar fire. Clear in the night, they heard Staff Sergeant. Jensen's orders to his mortarmen. The Jap mortars ceased, and Brockman threw only three grenades all night.  But in another hole while sitting on guard, Pfc William Stonecypher died with a rifle slug in his neck.

     On 18-22 March, "K" was in 3rd Battalion's careful advance over the hills towards 162 Infantry's major objective - Mount Capisan. On 18 March, L Company easily took a hill 700 yards north. Our 3rd Battalion contacted 163 Infantry eastwards. No Japs remained on our left flank. That night, "K" killed three Japs from a small patrol around us. Through 22 March, we made much use of field artillery and Marine Air Force and advanced short distances.

     On 24 March, all three 162 Battalions with 1st Battalion 186 Infantry attacked Mount Capisan itself. While 2nd Battalion struck frontally, our 3rd Battalion must secure 2nd Battalion's right flank. This meant that we had to capture the hill mass east of Capisan. At 1230, after field artillery preparation, K Company led 3rd Battalion in this attack.     

     Leading some 210 '''K'' men, scouts Testerman and Irick went slowly and carefully with alert rifles while BARman Murphy backed them. From an eye-corner, Irick saw Testerman's M-1 rise to his shoulder. Testerman fired twice; Irick fired once; they hit the ground. Close under a Jap machine gun, we threw 10-12 grenades and slew the entire 5-man crew. But BARman Murphy took a bullet in his hand half-way between little finger and wrist. K Company overran all Jap opposition, and by 1415, we held that eastern hill-mass so that G 162 could seize Mount Capisan by 1700.

     In pitch-darkness that night under heavy rain, we soaked in our holes. Holed with Poston and Sergeant Torre, Inick heard Jap grenades thud beside him. In split seconds, his hands found and threw out three grenades. Thankfully, he heard two of them explode safe outside the hole. Next morning, a Jap Marine six feet, six inches tall lay dead on the earth above us. He was armed only with a spear.

     On 25 March, 3rd Battalion had to push west and south towards 2nd Battalion now holding Mount Capisan - probably to overrun troublesome Japs who had killed two H 162 men in their holes last night and wounded another. Battalion objectives were to secure three prominent hills - the first 300 yards away, the second 800 yards off, and the third hill 400 yards distance.

     The companies of 3rd Battalion took Hill No.1 at 1000, and Hill No.2 at 1040. There were no casualties all day in I and L Companies but for a man lightly wounded who remained on duty.

     But the hour of capture of Hill No.3 went unreported in 162's Journal. We presume, therefore, that K Company had a harder time to take Hill No.3, for we lost two killed by rifle-fire in mid-afternoon. Killed by sniper fire at 1520 was 2nd Lieutenant Doyle L. Brown, with Pvt James J. Middleton wounded.

     And now the main Battle of Zamboanga was over for K Company 162 Infantry after a hard fortnight of hiking, taking casualties, and digging in to face Jap harassment after dark. We were in truth lucky that our ambushed Masilay Patrol did not end in heavy losses - and lucky also that our fight on Cram Hill of 16 March cost only four dead. Our losses totaled only 11 dead - in comparison, for example, with G 163's loss on Biak of 10 dead, in another hard battle.

     K Company had been a reliable front-line company. On 27 March, we went into a brief reserve with other 3rd Battalion Companies - and then marched inland to help mop up surviving Japanese.

 

CREDIT: Brockman sent me a 4-page single-spaced typescript undated, and letters of 17 June and 10 July 1981. Irick sent me letters of 12 May, an undated letter of about 1 June, dated letters of 23 June. 20 July, and 4 September - all 1981. Each man started writing without knowing of the other's existence; they have now reestablished their "comradeship formed in combat." Important also were 162's Zambo "Report of Operations." detailed Journal, Casualty List, and RR Smith's Triumph in the Philippines. I used a xerox of K Company's February-June 1945 payroll to check on ranks and spelling of name, but it was hard to read.