L 162's Sibago Island Fight

by Dr. Hargis Westerfield, Division Historian

At 0600 26 April 1945, 162's I&R left Zambo City to clear the reported Jap garrison from little Sibago Island, and return it to its rightful owners. In two LCMs, I&R left Zamboanga City 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 against the supposed 26 Japs, but they had not answered our 500 surrender leaflets dropped from the air.

Lying about 30 miles southeast of Zambo City and 8 miles northeast of Matanul Point on Basilan, Sibago was a small, jungled 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 was inhabited before World War II.

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

 By 0830 that 26 April, I &R's LCMs with PT boats neared Sibago, but did not land. We beached at unoccupied Lanhil Island, about 1000 yards north. From this little wooded island, about the same area as Sibago, we watched preparations for our Sibago landing.

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

Divided in two sections, we sweatily moved up parallel ridges leading to the lighthouse on the pointed peak. At first, we had no Jap contacts as we hunted up through the entangling brush on the steep rises. But 1130, I &R's Section 1 was about 100 yards from the top on the left ridge. Section 2 was still 1500 yards from the top on the right ridge. We still 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&R's Section 1 shot to protect us, Section 2 fell back to the beach.

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

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

At 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 landing.

Ashore at 1030, L' s Platoon and I&R patrolled inland while our mortars set up on the beach. At 1040, "L" climbed a ridge towards the lighthouse, but slowly because of that evil terrain. Meanwhile, by 1045, I&R had advanced up the ridge to the right of the lighthouse. By 1230, I&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 Inman was killed. Although I&R reported no losses, they took scattered fire from well-concealed emplacements.

            Sometime during this fight, "L" lost either Forte or Sergeant Darrell Brown wounded. L's Commanding Officer, 1 Lieutenant Camack, wisely decided not to waste men for a storming party.

We scouted the heights from all directions, but most approaches were perpendicular; we needed mountain-climbing equipment, in fact. At 1400, both "L" and I&R were back to the beach to dig in.

On 28 April, while the other men of 162 Infantry were assembling for the move from Zamboanga into Central Mindanao, another L Company reinforced Platoon was sent to assist the protracted fight for Sibago.

At 0730, 28 April, both L Platoons and I&R were leaving Sibago Beach to climb the same ridges to fight the Jap positions around the lighthouse base. By 1100, we had drawn both automatic and rifle fire. One "L" man was wounded. (Perhaps it was either Forte or Sergeant Brown; no other man is named. Casualty report of 162, however, put Forte and Brown beside slain Inman on 27 April.)

While "L" fell back to the beach, I&R remained in position under light fire, but had no losses. At 1600, 1& R again returned to the beach.

Best news of 27 April came from our mortarmen and Cannon's gunners. During the afternoon, we had destroyed the brush and nearby shacks around the lighthouse. We had exposed the open mouth of one Jap cave.

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

Again, "L" attacked some time before 1100, but the going was still hard. We had a wounded man, unnamed. The Japs still had dominating positions, and stopped our attack.

Although "L" withdrew by 1400, I&R slept that night 500 yards from the tower.

On April 30, story of the final and fifth day of the Sibago Island Operation is incomplete. At 0800 from its ridge position, I&R saw no Jap movements. From 0800 to 0930 at intervals, we directed heavy machine gun and light machine gun fire plus BAR and rifle fire at the Nips around the lighthouse. We shot at the cave position, two remaining shacks, and a water tank where they might be hidden.

And by 0930, I&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 dead. Whether Filipino soldiers found a few more Japs hiding out and killed them, is not recorded.

It took five days for 162's "L" detachment and our I&R Platoon plus Cannon 162's two 105 cannon to overrun Sibago Island, even with the help of PT boats and dive bombers. But we had given cannons and planes and PT boats fine practice for later fighting. At a cost of one dead and two wounded, we had finished off 58 more Japs. We had returned to the Philippine nation another little corner of their beloved homeland.

 

Editor's Note:  "Sibago" is an expansion of four paragraphs of L 162's Zambo history. Surely 33rd naval Guard held this island - the Japanese Marines.