1st Battalion 163 at Zamboanga:  Pasananca and the Reservoir Perimeter

By Dr. Hargis Westerfield, Division Historian

             This is the saga of 1st Battalion 163 Infantry Zamboanga Battle in the overgrown Tumaga River coconut groves, against the Jap Marines of 33 Naval Guard and 54 Independent Mixed Brigade's Field Artillery. Beaching after air strikes and 162's first waves, 1st Battalion landed at San Mateo, under light Jap field artillery and mortar fire. As his LCI (Landing Craft Infantry) grounded, Headquarters runner James thought that all the Jap 20 mm guns in Zambo were firing around us.

            Despite more field artillery and mortar fire after we landed, 1st Battalion's casualties were light, because we were at first in Division Reserve. By 1535, we had perimetered at the east end of Wolfe Strip. In C Company., fragments wounded Eyre in right thigh, Mahl in right hand.

            On 11 March, next day, our real war began. At 1050, a Jap shell near Headquarters Compound wounded lst Battalion's Commanding Officer, Major Alfred, killed Pfc Edward Reichenberger. Later, 2nd Lieutenant Joseph C. Seiler died. He had risked himself the day before to deploy vitally needed vehicles of supplies. That shell also wounded Leach, Staff Sergeant Duvall, T/4s Barnes, Barnard; and T/5 Kisser.

            With Major Kent Commanding Officer now, 1st Battalion crossed Baliwasan River, east towards combat. Northeast of us, near Santa Maria, F Company took heavy fire: mortars, 20 mm machine-cannon. At 1430, 1st Battalion relieved "F".  With 146 Field Artillery help, we smashed the Japs' first Line. Headquarter Company's 1st Lieutenant Foster killed a Jap 20 mm gun too close to us.

            The Japs fell back to their already fortified line 200 yards to the area, and we made perimeter against a possible night counter-attack. That day, A Company lost  Boguslav seriously wounded, and Stricland and Staff Sergeant Joe Smith lightly wounded. Lightly injured in action were McRae and Cavanaugh. D Company's Cunat was lightly wounded.

            That night in C Company, nervous green men threw grenades at carabao who blew booby-traps. One grenade blew the leg off an unnamed man. Our grenades panicked another soldier; he dashed from his hole across the perimeter. A guard killed him because he seemed like a Jap in the dark. Killed also were Pvt Hugh Boyle, Pve Harold Rothchild - and Haught seriously wounded.

            On 12 March, 1st Battalion faced our strongest defenses since Ibdi Pocket. Some 2,000 men of 33 Naval Guard (Marines) were entrenched behind barbed wire, with 20 mm cannon, 75s, mortars, machine guns - invisible in four miles of coconut jungle from Santa Maria to Pasanaca. We must draw their fire to find them.

            At 1010 A Company advanced with our right flank on Tumaga River, and B Company left of 'A.' (And 2nd Battalion advanced on our left flank west of Route 8-A.) At once, small arms and moderate field artillery fire hit us. Passing through Santa Maria, 'A' and 'B' took a heavy field artillery barrage about 1200. B Company viciously slew a Jap observer team directing cannon fire on us. By 1230, 'B' met heavy machine gun fire. Perhaps then, 2nd Lieutenant Nicholas DeSerio had a scout seriously wounded. Directing fire to pinpoint two Jap positions, DeSerio crawled over open ground and rescued the scout.

            B Company had to call for three tanks; they evidently mashed pill-boxes before us. Meanwhile on B's right, 'A' evidently quelled their Japs with mortars and bazookas and would have advanced at 1510. But a pillbox held up B's right flank, with a Jap cross-fire from the left where 2nd Battalion was held up.

            That night, A Company on B's right hand had to set up in an isolated perimeter. On that 12 March, 1st Battalion had made only 400 yards through coconut groves from the south to north of Santa Maria. 'B' lost most men. When 1st Lieutenant Starr led his Platoon up a draw, a heavy machine gun or 20 mm shell struck him. We luckily saved him. Killed that day were Pvt. Carl L. Frazier, Staff Sergeant Joseph Immerman, with Pvt Edward J. Flaig to die of wounds 14 March. Besides Starr, Sergeant Coop and Barman William C. Daniels were seriously wounded; Czarnick, Humphreys, Fishman, and Zapp slightly wounded. T/ Sergeant Davis of Headquarter Company was seriously wounded; T/5 Stem slightly wounded. 'A' lost Collins, lightly wounded.

            Fighting for both Battalions, 716 Battalion's tanks had killed six 20 mm guns, several machine guns. And 146 Field Artillery had two direct hits on Jap 75s. After all-night harassment, 146 Field Artillery reported a great decrease in Jap field artillery fire.

            But on 13 March, the day of Blow-Out Hill, 1st Battalion had hard fighting. Our first action that day was easy. A 'B' patrol found a Jap position vacated 400 yards ahead; a platoon seized it. Without waiting for tanks, all 1st Battalion advanced those 400 yards - on the way saw a dead 20 mm gun that had fired last night - a live clip still in the breach.

            C Company mistakenly fired on 'B' ahead of them. When Tech Sergeant Walter Yates of 'C' stopped his Company from more shooting, a Jap rifle killed him. Replacing 'B' on the front at 1048, 'B' lobbed mortars before 'A' and helped that Company to come up beside it.

            C Company made 200 yards more. 2nd Lieutenants Worthly and Moore killed a five-man pillbox crew. When we found a mined bridge over a little stream, Anti-Tank Company deloused it for two tanks to cross.

            Farther across the stream, both Battalions fought for the hilly jungle just south of Pasanaca. Straddling Route 8-A to 2nd Battalion's right, C Company met heavy fire in a small farm area at a hill-base.

            Pfc Fred F. Supino Jr. was perhaps killed here, another man wounded. Crouched in a farm building, a scout pointed for 1st Lieutenant Irish the Jap machine gun and supporting riflemen holding up 'C' Irish called a bazooka team to come up, but a Jap rifle shot him through the groin. Captain Houston bandaged him. The pillbox was later gutted.

            About 1440, the Japs blew up a hill close to C's left flank among forward elements of E Company. Fragments flew 1500 feet high. For minutes, 'C' cringed under whole falling trees, stones, and clods. C's Burns embraced a tree for safety. Pfc Louis Uhler was evacuated to die later of a broken neck. 'C' had two casualties that 13 March - but not all from Blow-Out Hill. Other 1st Battalion men also suffered.

            But no Jap offensive followed the explosion - perhaps because the heaviest destruction was on their side of Blow-Up Hill. On C's front, Burns and others heard loud, confused Jap voices. Burns turned a light machine gun on the sounds and heard anguished moans; but no attack followed.

            Both Battalions kept advancing. While 2nd Battalion got a foothold on the west ridge over Pasanaca, 1st Battalion drove to the clearing just before the village. Taking fire from three sides, we recoiled to the woods and dug in. Our helping tanks killed a 20mm gun and a 40 mm gun for us.

            In 1st Battalion, 'C' was hurt worst on Blow-Up Hill day. Beside dying Louis Uhler, these men were marked 'lightly injured:' Tyree, Ross, Tomaso, Favara, Siefert, Martinez, Mahl, Popp. Injured also were Tech Sergeants McKeller, Wronkiewicz, and Staff Sergeantts Sarnowski, Pesavento. Kosola, Tegeler, Stewart were 'lightly wounded; On C's right, A Company's Long and Sergeant Neil Hyde were killed, Phipps and Gilvin seriously wounded. Other wounded were Baker, Aikin, Buckner, Boc. In D; Nyberg was lightly wounded and four lightly injured: Riggs, Olsen, Bradford, Staff Sergeant Neilson. Except for C's Louis Uhler, we do not know which of these three dead and 26 other casualties were mine victims. ('A' did report that four of their nine losses were from the mine, but did not name them.)

            We now had located the Japs main line. On 14 March, after 32 minutes' air bombs and field artillery, both Battalions advanced at 0954. But in an hour, heavy fire stopped us from a Jap pillbox concentration. And 146 Field Artillery's Piper Cub spotted a high-velocity .75 cannon commanding Route 8-A into Pasanaca.

            When 'C' called for tanks, one came, but could not find the Jap gun. Gould of 'C' offered to lead the tank in, but the tank returned with a report that Gould was killed. With his squad down under Jap fire, Sergeant Stuart tried to guide the tank into its target. Sergeant Harvey B. Stuart leaped before he could shelter at its side, 20 mm shells ricocheted from the steel and killed him. Staff Sergeant Madden then led the tank to silence the 20 mm gun and route a rumored 100 Japs in that area.

            On that 14 March, B Company's Captain Arthur Merrick saw Staff Sergeant Paul Leisnig die from a bullet in the head when he walked near the Company Command Post.  B's seriously wounded were Franklin, and Anthony; Falcone and Staff Sergeant Lindl were lightly wounded. In 'C' Pfc Charles R. Lamphere was hit, to die on 15 March. Sergeant Kocyon was seriously wounded; Lopez, Wheeler, and Tom lightly wounded; and Stanko lightly injured.

On that 14 March, 'B' claimed one 700-yard advance. Coordinated with field artillery, planes, tanks, our pressure was getting results. By 1500, we heard explosions in Pasanaca!

            The Japs were indeed leaving Pasanaca. On 15 March, first 1st Battalion recon patrols reported no activity ahead. By 1350, word came that a small patrol, probably of C Company, had passed through the village on the right of Route 8-A: Probably this patrol found a badly burned 20 mm gun on the road, and the abandoned high-velocity .75 that had fired on us yesterday.  And before 1350, 1st Battalion had already pushed on to our next objective after Pasanaca: to seize Zamboanga City Reservoir and Power Station, two miles north. Still, we must overwhelm Japs on surrounding ridges - Japs with field artillery, mortars, 20 mm guns, machine guns, and small arms. Our 146 Field Artillery fired 600 rounds that day.

            An A Company patrol pressed for the Reservoir on our left, and a 'B' patrol on our right. B's patrol crossed Tumaga River - about 1.5 feet deep-and slew three Japs in a cave. By 1435, the 'A' and 'B' patrols contacted at the disused oval Reservoir. While 'B' secured the Reservoir, 'A' hunted farther and found a deserted emplacement with three silent .75s. Forty-five minutes later, all 1st Battalion had followed the two patrols and had dug an oval perimeter around the Reservoir.

            Headquarters men told A's Sergeant Clifton James that a nearby tunnel was clear of Japs, but he checked it out with a flashlight. From the depths, five Japs rushed him. James hurled his light at them, fled for the tunnel mouth. But he tripped; they ran over him. An officer shot his pistol at James' stomach, but missed at 10 feet. The Japs disappeared into the brush.

            Two silent Jap anti-aircraft guns pointed skyward some distance from our perimeter, but a 'B' patrol returned uncertain whether Japs could still fire them. B's Commanding Officer Arthur Merrick led a second patrol to enquire and found them harmless. From nowhere, a Jap bullet smashed the left lens of his glasses, deflected on the nose-piece, and splintered the right lens. Merrick escaped with a slightly bloody nose, glass fragments in his upper cheek. Besides Merrick, only casualties listed in 1st Battalion on 15 March were Delrial of Headquarters slightly wounded, and C's Clarence Smith and Eramo also slightly wounded.

            Reservoir Perimeter was an easy target, constricted under total observation from ridges on three sides up to 1,000 feet. At 0710 16 March, a vicious Jap 20 mm gun forced Major Kent to dive for a hole, shells exploding at his heels. Two 'D' gunner failed to kill it with a heavy machine gun. Anti-Tank Company's .57 recoilless cannon silenced the 20 mm with four rounds.

            Assisted by a 20 mm gun and mortars Jap reoccupied positions before an A Company Platoon. Wounded to die later, 2nd Lieutenant Clarence E Stout adjusted mortar fire on the Japs and destroyed them.

            All day Jap fire continued. At 1425, a mortar shell blasted 1st Battalion officers in council. A chest fragment killed 1st Lieutenant Edwood C. Call of 116 Engineers; C's Capt Harold B Houston was hit in the side to die later. B's Captain Arthur Merrick took a head wound; his runner Garcia survived in shock after he was blown off the ground. In 1st Battalion Headquarters, Major Kent was wounded in both knees; runner Jones thrice in the head. Hurley was badly tom up, Executive Captain Skaugit wounded also. The Japs holed a rescue ambulance, but the two volunteer drivers loaded most casualties and escaped at 80 miles per hour.

            Wounded Major Kent remained to direct fire for an hour; Staff Sergeant Cline especially helped him. Staff Sergeant Raymond F. Heinitz laid new wire under mortar fire to assist Kent until shock forced Kent to give up command.

            Besides 2nd Lieutenant Clarence E. Stout killed 16 March, 'A. lost Curtis, Capell, probably wounded and Tech Sergeant Dore lightly wounded. Besides Garcia and Captain Merrick wounded, 'B' had Blount seriously wounded. Staff Sergeant Earl D. Snyder died in 'D.' Graychee was lightly injured, and six men lightly wounded: Huguley, Hunt, Parker, Richards, Serek. Total losses of 1st Battalion were four dead, 15 wounded, one injured.

            But the heavy shelling of 18 March was the Japs' last. Field artillery, planes and lst Battalion's patrols were killing their most lethal weapons. On 17 March, 'B' killed three Japs, lost Higbon and Staff Sergeant Klingsporn seriously wounded. On 18 March, with 2nd Battalion on our left, we sortied from the Reservoir to drive the Japs off the ridges. Losing Pvt Harold Brill killed before a Jap position, 'C' overran it with two tanks. On 20 March, 'B' used .81 mortars and tanks to help seize Jap positions. At 2330 that night, knee mortars or small arms killed Pfc Emil J. Baron - with a fragment in his heart. Sergeant Teddy Rasberry was killed, Lawrence J. Andrews, Junior Brown, Staff Sergeant Michi lightly wounded. On 23 March, C's Hetterman was lightly wounded. By 23 March, 1st Battalion's battered companies were being relieved from action.

            In 1st Battalion 163’s Zambo Battle of 10-23 March we had maybe 19 killed, 70 wounded against Jap 33rd Naval Guards. Their loses were far greater, but the made a tenacious defense - with  our planes and tanks – and heavier field artillery. Our 1st Battalion 163 Infantry had won probably our hardest battle.

 

CREDIT: Basic for this history are letters of 1st Battalion Headquarter Company's Clifton James (8 Nov 1978), A's Clifton James - different from the other James - (3 Oct 1968, Robert 'Ace'' Helman (30 Oct 1968), B's Art Merrick (5 April, 9 July, 7 Sept, 23 Nov-all 1979); and C's George Irish (9 Oct 1976). Only Headquarter Company's James gave almost full coverage of his Company's action. Other writers gave scattered but important details of their Companys. I used these Federal Archives: March 1945 Morning Reports, 163 Infantry Journal, First Battalion S-1 Journal, 146 Field Artillery's Captain Robert Allen's "Zamboanga Recaptured", and ''Attrition in Pasananca" - with 716 Tank Battalion's ''A Company on Zamboanga-Jolo." Also I examined Award stories of Byron Cline, Nicholas De Serio, Gordon Foster, Raymond Heinitz, George Irish, James Kent, Francis Madden, Joseph Seiler, Clarence Stout, and Harvey Stuart. (James' story of Hq Company 1 Battalion was No 115 in Dec 1979 Jungleer.)