163 G Company’s Bongao Action Philippines

by Dr. Hargis Westerfield Division Historian with G Company 163 Infantry’s Staff Sergeant Kermit  Dulian

 

On 1 Apr 1945, G Company 163 Infantry awoke before daylight for our voyage southwest from Zamboanga to seize Bongao Island. We embarked with our 2nd Battalion, B Battery 146 Field Artillery, and attachments in a small convoy with Destroyers Phillip and Waller, four LCls with rockets or mortars, and Marine planes overhead.

Briefed in our LCI, we learned that G's Commanding Officer Captain Braman, had scouted Bongao from a plane and drawn Jap fire. G Company was to land first on Sanga Sanga Island and then on Bongao at the far western end of the Sulu Islands. By defeating the Nippo garrison, we would cut off other Japs' escape routes from Jolo, last important stronghold between Zamboanga and Borneo. On mountainous little Bongao, the Japs had field artillery, and anti-aircraft in concrete emplacements.

At daylight on 2 April from our LCI, we saw blue mountains of northeast Borneo in the distance. We steamed close to little Bongao with two large peaks - that looked too much like Biak.

We watched some 50 Liberators drop 500-lb. bombs on Bongao. The Marine Corsairs loosed lighter bombs and strafed. Destroyers Phillip and Waller silenced some Jap 20mm anti-aircraft fire.

Our convoy steamed close to Sanga Sanga Island just east of Bongao. Guerillas stood knee-deep in water for welcome; the U.S. flag flew on the beach. Landing in bouncing rubber boats, we heard guerillas say that all Japs had left for Bongao across the channel. G Company was to storm Bongao.

An hour later, "G" had hiked through heavy jungle to Sanga Sanga Strip. Its coral surface would need but little labor to ready it for heavy bombers. As we reached the Strip, Jap 20 mm fire hit the beach behind us. Our destroyers silenced them.

Leaving F Company to guard the Strip, G Company led H and E Companies to the southwest coast of Sanga Sanga Island. Across the channel lay the thick jungle of Bongao. While lunching on K rations, we heard some spatters of fire from Bongao that hit the beach where we had landed. Still, our war didn't look bad so far.

After G Company beached, we were to push in to the first high peak westward, to probably the lower slopes of Bongao Peak, height 1030 feet. With Kabogan Peak (706 feet) across a saddle eastward, the Japs had observed for the former battle-fleet anchorage of Tawi Tawi Island to the south. We heard that the Japs still garrisoned both of those peaks. And we already knew that they held Dila Point with 20 mm guns on the northeast end of the island where Port Bongao was located.

At 1200, our landing was prepared by a Marine air-strike and a barrage of B Battery's 105s and H Company's 81mm mortars. Then G Company boarded Alligators armed with .50 heavy machine guns. Because the bow heavy machine gun was mounted high on the Alligator, Dulian made Moyer - his tallest man - the gunner.

After the heavy barrage, G Company's Alligators' .50s sprayed the Bongao foreshore as we crossed the 200-yard channel. We had no opposition, but both of 2nd Platoon's Alligators stuck in mud about 50 feet out. We waded in with water to our armpits.

Still drawing no fire, "G" started inland through dense jungle. Jap 20 mm fire sounded somewhere east of us, but it again shot on the beach at unloading craft. So safe was our march that Kern found a pineapple and ate it on our first break. We hit an opening in the jungle about one-fourth mile inland and scouted to the base of the first hill southward. A "G" patrol west along an unused track to the coast found no Japs.

Most of the Japs were evidently laired on Kabogan and Bongao Peaks to the south and were waiting for us. We had come in behind the other Jap stronghold around Port Bongao to the northeast, and the Japs would have to leave fast to keep from being trapped there.

Meanwhile G Company came down a jungle track to a wider north-south trail that crossed the unused east-west trail. That north-south trail led between Kabogan and Bongao Peaks to the coast. We held an important strategic position in the approximate center of Bongao Island.

With E Company, we halted and out-posted all four ways.

Suddenly Jap sniper fire and mortar shells struck at us, but hit nobody. A Platoon of H Company heavy machine guns reinforced us. Tiredly, we dug perimeter, and relaxed in our holes. On this strange island, the night blacked us out - all quiet but for a few Jap mortar shots.

About 2100, the Japs counter-attacked from the nearer peaks, probably Kabogan Peak. We thought afterwards that they misjudged our location in the darkness. From the noise, we believed that there must have been a whole company on each flank - an overestimate of maybe 400-500 Japs.

Without warning in that black night, H Company heavy machine guns opened up in short bursts. Hand-grenades blasted. Japs yelled or screamed. A Jap officer gave orders; then came more screaming. Jap rifles were firing over our heads. Then their attack ended suddenly but for more screaming - and moaning.

At daylight, we found seven dead Japs on the trail with five new rifles, much ammo and food, and a battery radio to send and receive codes. They wore new uniforms.

But all was quiet that morning of 3 April. No Jap snipers harassed the men clearing the area. After breakfast near the corpses, Staff Sergeant Dulian got orders for a four-man outpost down-trail towards the south coast. Scouting south with BARmen "Tony" and Moyer, Dulian and MacNamara found that they had to set up in the open. They kept low, for they could be seen from both peaks behind them. And 1st Platoon had heard Japs digging in probably on Kabogan Peak before daylight.

After the outpost, Dulian’s squad had to run a patrol with his six men, 2.5 miles to Pahut Village on the west end of Bongao. This trail skirted the foot of Bongao Peak past a Jap observation post with anti-aircraft defenses. At the end of this trail 42 Japs had outposted with native police. Dulian complained that they might hit an ambush when returning, and have trouble bringing back any wounded. Captain Braman gave him Tech Sergeant Reese and a medic who brought up the rear.

Dulian pushed his patrol west as fast as was reasonable. Much of the trail went through dense jungle, with plenty of Jap signs. At the island's end, Pahut Village had wooden huts unlike the usual native huts of nipa palm. Hogs and chickens pecked or rooted around the clearing. While MacNamara and the medic secured our rear, we checked out all the huts - a double tier 1/4 mile along the beach. We found no Japs.

Returning safe to G Company, we heard an occasional fire-cracker report of a Jap rifle. Sniping on G Company came from a peak at 600 yards. A bullet narrowly missed our Catholic Chaplain Father Lynn, who was usually up front with 2nd Battalion.

Meanwhile on that same 3 April, Tech Sergeant Kozing's Platoon warily moved east towards Port Bongao, the most important Jap stronghold on the island. Medicines and foods were scattered all along the trail. We thrust our M-1s into empty barracks, mess halls and concrete pillboxes. A silent 40 mm gun was still mounted at the edge of Port Bongao. An E Company patrol contacted us here. The "E" patrol had followed a trail south between the two peaks, and turned to search the coast of southeast Bongao before it met us at Port Bongao. "E" had seen no Japs.

About 1600, most of our 2nd Battalion left the "Four Corners" between the two peaks and occupied Port Bongao. Only an "E" rifle Platoon with the "E" Weapons Platoon remained to garrison this strategic post against the Nips on the two peaks.

G Company could not understand why the Japs had left for the peaks. Everywhere were roads and trails covered by emplacements with fine fields of fire. Even with help from air power and field artillery, they would have been hard to overrun.

On the way into Port Bongao, Dulian's squad acquired a bottle of whiskey and two bottles of Jap beer. With 7-Up from Waskovich, we had our first whiskey since Biak. Dulian's and Waskovich's men dug in on a slight rise above Port Bongao. Our kitchen crew had hot food for us. Moyer and Kern brought up a collection of souvenirs, including a full case of Jap soft drinks, a bicycle, cans of Jap tomatoes, silk shirts, socks, another bottle of whiskey. After whiskey and a Jap soft drink as chaser, we holed up at dusk, near H Company's heavy machine guns.

About 0200,Jap machine guns fired - probably at some fires that guerillas had lighted near the port. Dulian wakened BARman "Tony" to take over guard. As "Tony" rolled over on his face, a stray Jap bullet drew blood from a fleshy part of his body. The Jap rifleman had aimed too high at H Company in the dark; they had heard the bullet hiss over them. Our positions were on ground a little higher, and so "Tony" had caught the bullet.

On 4 April, Reese's Platoon - now just 24 men - got orders to knock out 20 mm guns on low Hill 101 above Port Bongao. On 27 March, Air Intelligence had reported three guns there, with 200 Japs. We were then to attack Kabogan Peak frontally.

Waskovich's squad led. We made a steep climb to top Hill 101. Field artillery and planes had pounded it. A low plane radioed that the pillboxes seemed to be empty. We found four twin 20 mm guns set in concrete pillboxes, but all damaged from shells or bombs. Lamb slew a stray Nip. In Jap huts, we found three cases of beer for refreshment - a bottle for every two men.

Low Hill 101 was a fine observation post for our Marine observer to direct bombs on Kabogan Peak before our assault. But first wave of Corsairs bombed and strafed too high above it. Most bombs missed; two Corsairs almost collided. Next flight missed at first; we saw one bomb splash the bay a half mile off. Finally, the Corsairs smashed some bombs where we wanted them.

After 146 Field Artillery fired also, our platoon went up the road for our frontal attack on Kabogan while 3rd Platoon attacked from the west, at about 1140. First, we had to take only a small hill below the main peak. We worked our way slowly up the hillside into well-placed defenses through barbed wire tangles. They were fine, naturally well-protected positions with small fields of fire. The Japs were gone, however, except for torn up bodies and much equipment. The radio ordered us to push on, 400 feet up to the top of the 706-footpeak. Jungle was thick, with many caves and rough but much-used trails.

After setting up defenses at the base of the sheer slope, 2nd Lieutenant Beale sent Dulian's squad to find a way to the top of the peak from our side. Jap signs were plentiful, but we could find no way to climb. As we withdrew, rifles opened up on us, but missed. It now made no sense to dig out a few die-hard Japs at the cost of good G Company soldiers who would be needed on Jolo or in Japan. Guerillas could take care of those Nips.

About 1500, Reese's Platoon got orders to spend the night with E Company's 2nd Platoon down at the "Four Corners" where we had fought off Nips in the night attack of 2 Apr. We had 1500 yards to hike.

With just 300 yards left before E Company, Lieutenant Beale suddenly said, "Let's go!" Dulian's squad hurried after him, without scouts. At a sharp trail-bend, Beale yelled suddenly, "Put 'em up!" He drew back behind Dulian. There were two Japs ahead, one lying down. The Jap on the ground said, "More Japs there."

Suddenly the prone Jap moved. Beale emptied his carbine into him. Later, we found that he was a one-legged Jap. The second Jap started to run; Dulian killed him. Bolts clicked across the trail. Dulian saw a third Jap there and killed him. Two Jap shots missed Dulian.

Now on Beale's orders, Dulian's squad started up the trail. Kern and MacNamara opened up on a Jap. At the trail-curve, hidden Japs fired back. Putting his other four men in line, Dulian told them to fire when ordered. Kern, MacNamara, and Dulian moved in close and threw grenades. Then the whole squad raked the trail-curve. After silence, we found five live Japs pinned in the ditch, and slew them.

Dug in beside E's men, we heard that they had sniper fire from the peak at 1200. About midnight, booby traps exploded, and several Japs bypassed our perimeter - probably seeking water. Dulian heard movement before us about 0100 and awoke MacNamara and Kern. An unseen Jap tried to pick us off in the moonlight. He knocked his grenade on wood to arm it. As we ducked, it exploded before our hole and hurt nobody. We had no more Jap trouble that night.

After a few more nerve-wracking patrols, G's Bongao Action was ended. Japs still hid on the peaks, but we turned Bongao over to 375-400 guerillas to outpost the water-points and thus draw out the Japs. And by 1545 on 6 April, "G" and other 2nd Battalion men were safe across the channel to Sanga Sanga Island.

As for the originally estimated 300 Japs on Bongao, the last 200 bravely held out until 26 April. On 27 April, they tried to escape to Borneo, but PT boats gunned them down, but for some 40 survivors. Already, however, on 10 April, G Company had left for Jolo and our last fighting in all World War II. Our Bongao Action had been brief and efficient.

 

CREDIT: Basic personal story comes from a 12-page, double-spaced typescript from G Company 163 Infantry's Staff Sergeant. Kermit Dulian. I collated this history with another history published in the Jungleer in June, 1985. This story is "146 Field Artillery and 2nd Battalion 163 Infantry: Bongao and Sanga Sanga Island." For both this history and that one, I used also "Sulu White Task Force Field Order No.1," and 2nd Battalion 163's "Narrative Report," "Casualty List," and 5-page "Journal." My historical background comes from R. R. Smith's Triumph in the Philippines, Reports of General MacArthur/ Japanese Operations in the South-West Pacific, and Terrain Study No. 102nd Sulu Archipelago (from Allied Geographical Section, S. W. Pacific, Area 1). G Company 163 Infantry's great Commanding Officer, Captain Arthur (Buck) Braman first suggested this story to me by his gifts of F.O. No 1, a map of Bongao Island, and an Air Command Sketch of Bongao. Since writing this history, I credit Mr. Makoto Ikeda of Tokyo for writing that our enemies were "Japanese Marines" of the 33rd Naval Guard to which Mr. Ikeda also belonged.