D Company 186 Infantry: Zamboanga, and Sibuco Bay

by Nick (Leroy) Wheeler and Other D 186 Men, with Dr. Hargis Westerfield, Division Historian

 

ZAMBOANGA On 10 March, we were placed on a 12-hour alert as reserves for 162 and 163 Infantry's landing at Zambo. On 16 March, 1st Battalion heard that tomorrow we would embark at night for Zambo to reinforce the two regiments. They had suffered many casualties, said the rumors.

On 18 March, LCIs landed 1st Battalion near San Mateo Beach. We followed a stream to junction with another stream and dug in as night fell. On 19 March, we moved to a main road and waited for orders. On 20 March, we entrucked behind Engineers' bulldozers making a road. Finally, we detrucked and topped a flat-topped hill, and the Japs were dug in before us at the edge of the rainforest.

While we tensely waited for briefing from 162 Infantry to whom we were attached, Lieutenant Hundahl called key NCOs to his hole. Expecting battle orders, they found him dealing out four hands for a quick pinochle game. Some men tried to improve supper by cutting up tomatoes and peppers from a looted garden into cans of C-ration hash, then heating it in a helmet. The peppers made the hash inedible. Luckily, a mess-truck had arrived by this time with a hot supper.

On 21 March, 186's 1st Battalion relieved 162's men to fight Japs holding Ridge X before us. Ridge X was on the left flank of 162's drive up West Ridge to capture Mount Capisan, that towering center of Jap resistance at Zambo. D's 1st Platoon of heavy machine guns positioned with "C" to fight Ridge X; our .81s would fire from behind a ridge.

At dawn 22 March, "C" attacked while D's four heavy machine guns fired overhead, along with 1st Battalion Headquarters .37s and .50 heavy machine guns. D's four gunners claimed destruction of many machine gun nests. Sabby's heavy machine gun fired five belts with fine results - but ruptured ear-drums of loader Peters. Peters left D Company with his head a bloody mess. Despite death of Scout Clifford Linton, "C" took the ridge and two machine guns - found seven dead Japs, From C's newly stormed ridge, terrain ahead seemed like an endless series of ridges with short saddles and deep valleys.

Next day, 23 March, our .81s and Cannon 186's 105s helped "C" drive the Japs from Hill 620, the next ridge. Then a machine gun section of D's 2nd Platoon supported "B" on the right. B Company tried to fight up Hill 620 and contact "C" on their left. Intense fire wounded D's Bell, Anderson, Sergeant Scott, but they came back a few days later. A sniper bullet glanced from a log for a near miss on Staff Sergeant Kreager. Japs held "B" from contacting "C" that day.

On 24 March while G 162 overran Bald Hill to our right and went on to storm Mount Capisan, our 1st Battalion 186 kept fighting for Hill 620. D's 1st Platoon's heavy machine guns relieved 2nd Platoon. Lieutenant Schroeder's 1st Platoon split up for B and C Companies still trying to make contact. When "B" assaulted, Sergeant Bamber's machine guns would try to destroy whatever automatic gun positions they could locate.

At 0940 with our support, B's two rifle platoons attacked Hill 620. Terrain was steep, Jap fire heavy. When B's Captain Messec observed with "D" men, a 167 Field Artillery shell impacted behind them, slammed rocks and earth onto them, and dazed them with concussion. Rocks in the face cut B's Messec and D's Lieutenant Schroeder, who also suffered minor burns. The shell ruptured Sergeant Hannegan's ear drum, also gave concussion to Sergeant Stender.

A Jap machine gun grounded some of B's forward squads. It was firing from 350 yards away across a saddle in the ridges. Gunner McCoy and loader Jones of Kreager's squad finally found a ridge position from which to fire on this long-range machine gun. Just as Kreager gave firing orders and McCoy and Jones put their second round into the machine gun receiver, a 20 mm shell hit their gun.

The shell smashed the receiver and damaged cradle and tri-pod. When the shell exploded, the red-hot largest fragment slashed Gunner McCoy in the shoulder. It turned and buried itself in his chest - luckily failed to penetrate his rib-cage.

Loader Jones and Staff Sergeant Kreager were also down with fragments. Gillespie, Virginia, Hulm, and Sergeant Stender ran up and dropped to the ground to crawl back with McCoy, Kreager, and Jones. The red-hot tracers of shells from the Jap 20 mm gun barely cleared the helmets of our men inching along on their faces. We saved all three of D's wounded men.

Meanwhile, Sergeant Olsofska's squad silenced that Jap machine gun 350 yards away across the saddle. Then Sergeant Halter's .37 gun from A Company's Platoon directed accurate fire on that 20 mm gun. Our Captain Gage saw Jap legs and arms fly through the air.

That battle of 24 March ended in victory for both 186's and 162's men. About 1330, 186's B and C Companies contacted on Hill 620, with D's help. And G 162 had taken Mount Capisan. After a skirmish next day, 1st Battalion contacted G 162 holding Capisan.

A harrowing D Company accident occurred on that 25 March. A .81 mortar shell dropped on a rifle squad and almost buried it. Our "medium" with a delayed fuze wounded three men. The yoke locking nut on a mortar had not locked properly. The barrel jerked off its base plate, raised the trajectory, and shortened the range. Some NCOs were chewed out.

The Japs fled from where they had guarded the western approach to Mount Capisan - fled north into the mountain rain forest. After relief by 162 on 26 March, "D" blissfully stayed overnight on the beach to eat hot food, bathe, and clean weapons.

Our 1st Battalions 186 Infantry replaced 163 men who were ordered to capture Jolo Island far west in the Sulu Sea. On 27-30 March, we pushed west against Japs pockets on Hill 2,000 - actually a whole series of ridges above San Mateo. Although Japs still stoutly held reverse slopes, they had no chance against aggressive riflemen, D's heavy weapons, field artillery, and Air Force. On 29 March, Leyba and Sharpe took light wounds from Jap mortars, but remained on duty - D's only casualties. By 30 March, the Japs were on their great retreat north into the hungry Zambo Mountains. General Hojo's objective was probably to seize the rich ricelands of Siocon over 70 miles north of Zambo City, but his men would never arrive there.

Last memorable action of D 186 was on Tech Sergeant Milkovich's patrol inland from Sibuko Bay, on the northwest side of Zambo Peninsula, about 30 miles north of Zambo City. At Sibuko Bay, 1st Battalion had landed unopposed from LSTs to intercept the retreat of less than 3500 defeated but persistent despairing Japs. Although "D" retained our 81s for security, our two heavy machine gun platoons now patrolled as riflemen - but now armed also with some .30 light machine guns.

In early May, D's 2nd Platoon of machine-gunner-riflemen were attached to C Company on an outpost six miles inland on a river with a name unknown to us. Airmen and guerilla reports made us expect contact with the head of the Japs' main body.

D's Tech Sergeant Milkovich led 20 men with a BAR and a light machine gun four miles south of C's outpost, and across a river. He talked with C’s Sergeant Jerecki back from a patrol on the main trail up into the hills. All Jerecki's men felt that somebody unseen had watched every move. Our "D" patrol pushed on along.  

Late that afternoon, we had a fire-fight. Milkovich set up light machine gun and BAR against the Japs, Suddenly their numbers increased; their mortar shell smashed our light machine gun tripod. Letourneau took splinters in his hips. Our patrol retreated across the river - but for Scott, Crittenden, and Clarke covering their rear.

But the Japs crossed downstream to cut us off. Clarke was missing. There was a second fire-fight; Milkovich's nose was almost shot off. He dispatched Ruether "C" to say that he would fight a delaying action - and to warn C's men in their holes not to fire if we returned in the dark.

Our patrol pretended to dig in, but slipped away at night. Letourneau painfully hobbled along with helpers. We finally reached safety with "C" at 0300.

Clarke came back next morning. He said that at least half a Company of Japs had re-crossed the river to a hill. Two "C" rifle platoons found the main body of Japs in a lush wide ravine, and checked their advance while their third platoon and Weapons Platoon reinforced "C." There were several fire-fights.

Colonel Anderson sent D's Captain Gage by PT boat to Zambo to guide a Marine Corsair pilot to bomb the Japs. After the first run failed to find the Japs, our .81s marked target with smoke. Corsair bombs and mortar shells killed or wounded many Japs and forced survivors to leave weapons and supplies. D Company then had mop-up patrols where Thilmony and Garrison were wounded and hospitalized for a few days.

D186's Southern Philippine Campaign soon ended. With no dead and only 14 wounds, we fought well on Palawan and at Zambo.

 

 

CREDIT: Overwhelming credit is due to a 34-page single-spaced typescript researched and composed by Nick Wheeler and reviewed by 1st Sergeant Wayne Strebig, both of D 186, D's contributing authors were Commanding Officer Captain George Gage, Ross Kreager, Marion Criswell, Lloyd Sabby, and Albert Hannegan - with all three platoons and Headquarters represented, I checked also 186's two Casualty Lists from the Southern Philippine Campaign - one from 28 February to 27 March 1945 (on Palawan) and another from 30 May through 20 March 1945 (at Zamboanga - less 2nd Battalion and Cannon Company), This last list seems to me inaccurately kept, Where Wheeler and this last list disagree, I have relied on Wheeler, (I may have made unavoidable errors, for the typescript has been nearly unreadable - in some places.) This is the fifth and last of Wheeler's stories - the only full history of any weapons Company ever to appear in Jungleer. First four were reprinted in my Fighting Jungleers, Originally, they were published in Jungleer, in December 1973 (Campaign in Papua), June 1970 (Hollandia), March 76 (Biak), and January 1977 (Biak also),