Second Battalion Headquarters Company 163 Infantry: Ammunition and Pioneer Platoon

By Tech Sergeant Normand Mathews and Dr. Hargis Westerfield, Division Historian

 

Zamboanga. In Zambo Fight, 2nd Battalion 163's A&P operated with greater efficiency than in New Guinea. In place of slow, laborious backpacking like on Biak, we had jeeps to carry ammo. Every morning before the day's fighting, we jeeped in close behind the firing line to restock riflemen, and machine gun and mortar crews. Each morning, men were anxious to rebuild their supplies of grenades depleted from throwing at prowling Japs last night.

At Zambo, we had our first casualties - some 20 percent of our small command of 26. First to die was gallant 2nd Lieutenant Harlan Milder. On 11 May 1945, our second day in battle, Milder with other 2nd Battalion officers went to inspect our front, or to study the destruction of some Jap positions which we had overrun.

Milder should have been safe, but last night, Jap patrols had probed 2nd Battalion's lines. Some riflemen were still edgy with fear that Jap snipers had remained behind in ambush. When the officers moved through heavy jungle, a Yank BARman opened up on them. The first burst mortally wounded Milder, but no one else was known to be hit. After some difficulty in making it clear that our officers were not Japs, Milder was rushed to the aid station. Milder died on the way.

As always in 2nd Battalion 163, A&P was responsible for handling all explosives where possible. Men often asked that we booby-trap their positions at night and remove those tricky explosives at dawn before patrols could secure the area before the front. We had to handle the new trip-flares, 4-pound anti-personnel mines, and "bouncing betties."

We cannot forget the large officer who jeeped in one afternoon and requested some "betties." When probably Tech Sergeant Riggs hesitated to issue them, the officer was wrathful. Riggs finally let go of them. Some days later, we learned that a mine had prematurely exploded and killed him - a "bouncing betty," in fact. When 2nd Battalion fought its way up Tumaga Valley against Jap Marines, A&P was called for demolition charges and flame-throwers. (Maintenance and use of flame-throwers was another A&P function.) A rifle platoon needed help to dislodge Japs from bunkers holding a Y-shaped crossroads.

Three Jap positions guarded the jungle where two roads merged into another road. The roads made a pattern like the letter "Y." Two smaller bunkers held right and left arms of the "Y," and a larger bunker blocked the road junction where the two arms of the "Y" came together. Some fire still came from the bunkers.

While two A&P teams flamed out the slots in the two smaller bunkers, Tech Sergeant Riggs and Matthews prepared TNT charges. Their first thrown charges somewhat damaged the two smaller bunkers. Their second charges demolished both bunkers; they also unroofed two trenches leading to the third much larger bunker at the road junction.

Heavy rifle platoon fire or the flame-throwers had apparently driven the Nips from the smaller bunkers into the large bunker - most likely A&P's flame-throwers.

Riflemen and flame-throwers now concentrated on the last bunker. No return fire came. The Platoon leader ordered AP to destroy the bunker so that no Nips could slip back into it.

For a thorough job, Riggs and Mathews had to crawl up the two narrow trenches from the destroyed bunkers. They had to place charges under all four corners of the supports of the roof of the large bunker - then light fuses and snake out fast.

But the crawl-trenches were shoulder-deep in crumbling earth. The Lieutenant placed two men, a man above each trench to help Riggs and Mathews to escape.

Inside the bunker with two dead Japs, they placed four charges. They counted "Three," saw their fuses light, and scurried on their knees into the light of the trenches.

But no man waited above Mathews to pull him out. And behind him, the fuses were short! Desperately, he grabbed a sapling on top of the ground, but it broke loose and let him drop.       

The next second, the blasts blew Mathews up and out of the trench. Dazed, he heard chunks of bamboo logs, earth, and rocks thudding around him. But he was not hit. Never did he find the man who could have helped him up to safety.

At Zambo, A&P men had casualties in our deadliest fight. A Jap reinforced Platoon slipped behind 163's advance. Finding an unguarded bridge on a heavily trafficked road, they dug in above the bridge. They covered all approaches with a mortar and a 20 mm machine-cannon. They laid bangalore torpedoes on the bridge.

Finding the bridge-block, 2nd Battalion ordered an A&P squad to clear the bridge of torpedoes, while two squads of 2nd Battalion's AT Platoon covered us. Nobody was aware of the Jap ambush.

On that 16 March when A&P began to remove the torpedoes, hot Jap steel struck among us. Pfc Joseph A. Paradiso instantly died with a mortar fragment in his back. More mortar fragments seriously wounded Pfc James T. Hull in his legs. As we scrambled for cover, a 20mm fragment smashed Lentz' arm and elbow. Another 20 mm fragment slashed Conners' face.

The unhurt A&P and AT Platoon men saved their lives around a sharp curve in the road. When other 2nd Battalion men reinforced us, Roman Catholic Father Lynn was among the first to arrive. Father Lynn at once ran to carry out a wounded man. A&P men never knew how the fight ended when the bridge-block was finally liquidated.

These are the great memories of 2nd Battalion 163 Infantry in the New Guinea and southern Philippine Campaigns - Toem, Biak, and Zamboanga. A little team of specialists - a miniature Combat Engineer outfit - we labored for 2nd Battalion and handled tricky explosives. For 2nd Battalion 163 also, we were expert trouble- shooters where needed.

 

CREDIT: Prime credit is due to Tech Sergeant Norman Mathew's 15-page single-spaced typescript on Toem-Wakde, Biak, and Zamboanga, sent in three installments beginning 28 June and ending 13 August 1982. Mathews also helped me in letters of 19 June, 16 July, 27 July, 4 August, and 13 August - all in 1982. G Company 163 Infantry's Gerald Varney also helped in a letter of 1 August 1982. Although 163's Journals omit mention of A&P, I organized Mathew's story of Zamboanga by reference to 163's Zambo Casualty List.