L Company 163 Infantry: Capturing Zamboanga City

by Dr. Hargis Westerfield, Division Historian with 1st Lieutenant William F. Schacht



On 10 March 1945, 2nd Lieutenant Schacht with other L Company 163 Infantry men numbly watched the Zamboanga plain appear misty and gray with sunrise over high mountains. From the deck of LCI 1,000, we saw cruisers, destroyers, and rocket-ships hide the land in a smoke-pall shot with flames. At 0840, 48 B-25s' bombs lofted debris high above the water. At 0915,162 Infantry's first waves hit the beach and dashed inland.

Next, in the seventh wave, L 163's men felt LCI 1,000 slide up the sand. Out we jumped and ran across open beach and panted inland 300 yards. It was hard, sweaty going - thick brush among shell-holes and shattered barbed wire.

In 10 minutes, we had dropped excess equipment and were on the line of departure east for Zambo City. Inland on the left, 2nd Lieutenant Rumph's 2nd Platoon moved off, and on the coast on the right, Schacht's 1st Platoon. Attached to his platoon were two L Company light machine guns and two "M" heavy machine guns. Dostal's squad protected the four machine guns. Tanks were on call, and an LCI accompanying us alongshore.

Hampered by more thick brush and barbed wire, we finally halted at an open field about 1313 at Gavilan Point. As we moved again, rifle fire and a Jap machine gun drove Stafford's squad to earth. Advancing with the other squads closer to the beach, Schacht heard Rumph's Platoon return fire. Jap fire came from a hillside and farm buildings across the open field.

L Company's 60 mm mortars were up on call, but Schacht's other two squads also lay prone under Jap fire. He wondered how to regroup his platoon and strike back. Our Commanding Officer, 1st Lieutenant Quackenbush, ordered L's 3rd Platoon onto the hill to silence the Japs, but Schacht saw unsuspecting Yanks walk right over the pillbox. It ceased fire when our riflemen crossed it, then opened up again. Our Executive Officer, 1st Lieutenant Anderson, took part of Schacht's Platoon around to meet the tanks and advance with them.

Schacht led his other men to flank the Japs. About this time, 2nd Lieutenant Rumph of 2nd Platoon also drew Jap fire when he neutralized the Jap pillbox with grenades. Then his squad cleared it.

            Now with assault fire, 3rd Platoon closed in on the Japs and drove them away. Stafford's squad of 1st Platoon was now saved; only Hurlburt was briefly missing in action. Meanwhile, L's 2nd Platoon had killed two Japs. Back at the beach-head, I Company had two prisoners, but reportedly lost two men from Jap bayonets.

            Regrouping again at the buildings ahead, "L" was ready to push again with the tanks about 1500. Pressing on through thick jungle, we fired on every building and pillbox in sight with rifles, machine guns, mortars, and tank 75s. At 1410, we took blasts from knee mortars, replied with 81s to silence them.

By 1800, Schacht's Platoon was hot, thirsty, and exhausted and took a break lying down while other units came up. Hurriedly we perimetered some 400 yards inshore. We had hardly time before dark to get water, unroll wire, and find a log to lie behind while outguards watched and booby-traps were set up. That night, Schacht slept but little, although nobody in 1st Platoon had to fire.

On that 10 March, we had not gone far. Baliwasan River was 500 yards ahead, and beyond it was Zambo City two miles farther ahead, probably held by Japs for house-to-house fighting.

At 0730 11 March, Schacht's 1st Platoon again led out, with three tanks and four machine guns. We patrolled 500 yards to the bridge by 0815. Japs seemed to dig in, across Baliwasan River; the road was mined.

To support the tanks' crossing, we fired all we had on the pillboxes and buildings on the other side. By 0940, four tanks and two "L" Platoons had crossed. Four Japs died when a pillbox was knocked out.

Again 1st Platoon led out; Schacht had to march first. The tanks and "L" moved steadily up the beach. We advanced faster because Scout Lemons fearlessly checked out pillboxes and buildings.

Schacht still wonders about one silent pillbox with a .50 heavy machine gun. Although several 1st Platoon men grenaded it and shot into it, rear elements still found four live Japs inside.

Three minutes after 1st Platoon was nearly 100 yards up the beach past where we had rested, Japs guns salvoed on other men in the same spot. L's Pfc. Godfrey Suttle was killed, Balke and Reitz lightly wounded. M Company's Pfc. Edward Dittrich was killed. Two men of C Battery 218 Field Artillery were hit also: T/5 Ripari seriously wounded and Royalty lightly wounded, probably men in an observer party.

            Schacht's 1st Platoon also expected shelling, cowered behind the concrete sea-wall. Shells did burst within 50-100 yards. Medic Neumark rushed back to aid the wounded - moved them under a bridge for protection, then exposed himself to call for transportation.

Schacht's men pressed on hurriedly to get clear of this Jap field artillery fire. While replenishing ammo and scouting the outskirts of Zambo City, we got orders to take it with tanks' help.

At 1430, with I Company on our left, we entered a city of ruined stone buildings 2-3 stories high. It was silent, but we took no chances with Japs. Tanks shelled every building in sight. A network of concrete emplacements covered the waterfront, but no Japs fought us. By 1740, Zambo City was officially captured.

L Company had a blissful day and a half to enjoy Zambo City, bright with the smiling faces of Filipino families returning from the hills in clean clothing. Generals Eichelberger and Doe made a special call to congratulate us for capturing Zamboanga. But other 163 men needed 3rd Battalion for a reserve while battling Jap Marines in the slot of Santa-Maria-Pasananca. By 1300 13 March - the day E Company was blown up - we had left Zambo City to become a reserve for 1st Battalion and 2nd Battalion in heavy combat north of us. We saw our wounded arriving from the front.

On 14 March as we entrucked from perimeter near Wolfe Field, Jap shells fell around us. We escaped unhurt up the road to make next perimeter in a grassy coconut grove near Santa Maria. On 15 March, our patrol helped rescue AT Company 500 yards ahead. "AT" lost two men here; we had no losses.

Pasananca fell without our help, but "L" fought on 17 March against Japs holding a village across the Tumaga River. Even with help of 81s and 105s, I Company had failed the day before.

Shortly after crossing the Tumaga, we entered that quiet Jap village deep in a coconut valley some 3,000 yards northeast of Santa Maria. Jap rifles, mortars, machine guns stopped us - killed Pvt. William Shea and Pfc. Gerald R. Frees. On the right flank, Strulowitz of Schacht's Platoon was wounded in the leg. "L" returned to our same holes that night. On 18 March, field artillery and an air-strike of 1000-pound bombs drove the Japs from that area into the high ridges.

Just before dark on 18 March, Schacht's 1st Platoon got a nerve-wracking job. Isolated from even I Company in advance, we were fearful in that thick brush among the Japs. While setting booby-traps, Staff Sergeant Stafford looked up to face a big Nip Marine. Stafford fired once, and ran. Sergeant Dostal and others saw two Japs in camouflage uniform. We hit the holes. At dusk, maybe 60 knee-mortar shells lighted just east of us. Nobody was hurt, but nobody slept all night.

On 19 March, "L" teamed with I Company to push to the hills 3-4 miles north up Tumaga River. Passing through the deserted village, we seized a ridge ahead under covering fire, and in turn covered I Company's advance 800 yards north to begin a new 3rd Battalion perimeter.

At night, Japs lobbed 4-5 rounds of mortar shells each hour into 3rd Battalion's perimeters. Schacht thought that they wounded two men each time. Caught once in the open while out for water, Schacht heard the first of five hit within 15 yards. Throwing himself into a handy vacant hole, he gritted his teeth, heard the other whistle and fall and burst. Yet that night, only "L" man reported wounded was a Weapons Platoon man - probably Tedeschi.

About 2200, grenades and booby-traps blasted before 1st Platoon at something moving. Dahlstrom phoned that Japs were infiltrating and throwing grenades everywhere. Near the Tumaga 100 yards from Schacht, Dahlstrom had to stop talking to keep the Japs from finding our holes. Finally, Schacht to call for our machine guns to fire a final protective line. Yet we have no report of Yank or Jap casualties. A Jap Platoon with a machine gun had successfully crawled through us from the rear and rejoined their outfits to continue battle in the ridges. On 20 March, "L" had another day of diving into holes when mortar shells dropped.

On 21 March, "L" climbed into an even more dangerous position-a long, narrow ridge that we named "Knee-Mortar Hill." Gasping under our heavy gear, we climbed straight up 300-400 feet on a path of stone and sliding sand.

Here we were on a ridge 200 yards long by 20-25 yards wide with another perpendicular drop on the opposite edge. Across a deep valley of gardens and coconut groves were the Jap ridges left and north near Tumaga River was dominating Sugar Loaf Mountain, rocks and brush and the steepest of all. Right and northeast of Sugarloaf was a horseshoe of three high hills, the Japs' main line of resistance, just 1000 yards east of us.

Topping this ridge about 1200 that 21 March, we soon took sniper fire and many knee-mortar blasts from the three high hills rightward. We scattered to holes carved in the rock on the reverse slope. Our M Company gunners had a number of casualties. L Company's Black Dog was wounded.

Morale was down at nightfall. We were dirty, tired, thirsty. Our only water must come up the steep path 300-400 feet. Just below us a few miles away, the lights of Zambo City twinkled at dusk, then gleamed steadily into the night. L Company had only a few hours to enjoy our captured city, but base section commandos were now happy in it.     

On 22 March, "L" with machine gun’s heavy machine guns still secured Knee-Mortar Hill, while observers called fire on the horseshoe curve of the 3 hills 1000 yards away. Observers from M Company's 81, Cannon Companies 105s, 146 Field Artillery's 105s, and Marine-Air's bombers - all targeted heavier fire than the Japs returned. In "L," Shedd was our only wounded, but "M" had several losses.

L Company on 23 March still held Knee-Mortar Hill while I Company attacked Hill No.3, which, was closest to us on our right flank. After a Marine air-strike and barrages, I Company's 60-man force with two litter squads advanced up the gap to the left of Knee-Mortar Hill, then turned right down the valley before us toward Hill No.3. At 1013, field artillery shelled the base of No.3 Hill.

Schacht watched I Company near the top of Hill No.3 and face Japs' hidden pillboxes that opened up with machine guns, mortars, and rifles. He saw "I" men crawl to the top and form a firing line. After an exchange of grenades against the Japs, "I" cleared the crest in a heavy fire-fight. The fire died down about 1142 with "I" victorious. L Company's 2nd Platoon then reinforced I Company.

Losses of I Company were one killed, 10 wounded. Captain Villwock was hit in the shoulder. But "I" had won a new observation point for directing fire at the main Jap position on the ridge crest 250 yards northwest and 100 feet higher, and on a saddle running west to Sugarloaf Mountain. These were the final Jap strong points on those ridges. For reasons unknown, however, 3rd Battalion never expelled the Japs from those positions, but our relieving 186 Infantry stormed them on 30 March.

But near nightfall, Schacht's 1st Platoon left Knee-Mortar Hill forever. Recrossing the Tumaga, we replaced B Company on nearby Hill No.8. B Company departed happy and gay from Jap saki and whiskey looted from the Jap Marine village downstream. Next day, Schacht's "recon" patrol to the village returned with eight cases of liquor and 35 chickens for L's Sunday dinner.

L Company's Zambo war was almost over. On Hill No 8, we had a fine rest except for a patrol up the Tumaga on 26 March. Scouting up the west bank, Schacht's men narrowly escaped death on a trail constricted to a hillside ledge. From a hidden pillbox, a Jap heavy machine gun and 5-6 rifles opened up on us. We slew 5-6 Japs caught outside the pillbox, and luckily escaped untouched. "L" then called down M Company's mortars on them and cleared them out. On 30 March, AT Company 186 Infantry relieved us to go into rest camp back down in the Tumaga valley where we had endured the infiltration of that Jap Platoon 11 long days ago.

So went L Company's Battle of Zamboanga. Despite the danger and sheer hard work L Company had endured in 19 days from San Mateo Beach to Knee Mortar Hill, Schacht reported just three killed, 13 wounded. In our march to capture Zambo City and our fight to help I Company below Sugarloaf Mountain, "L" did an efficient job with minimum losses.

 

CREDIT: Core of this story is Schacht's retyped Diary of 66 pages, with Award Stories of Schacht. Lemons, Rumph, Neumark, Quackenbush. Backing is from 163's Zamboanga Journal and 146 Field Artillery's Captain Robert Allen's "Zamboanga Recaptured," and "Battle for the Ridges." Morning Report of L 163 for March 1945 names only seven of the 13 wounded mentioned by Schacht, but Schacht's figure is probably more accurate.