I Company 186 Infantry: Our Two Battles of Zamboanga

by Dr. Hargis Westerfield, Division Historian, with Captain Herman H. Haedicke


I Company 186 Infantry actually had two distinct Battles of Zamboanga. The first was north of Zambo City; the second was in the Zambo Mountain foothills on the other side of Zambo Peninsula.

On 30 March 1945, we had our first action, having arrived from quiet Palawan two days before. On that 30 March, we followed K Company who attacked a ridge near Sugar Loaf Mountain, about 15 miles due north of Zambo City. K Company stormed the ridge and advanced, but we found 10 live Japs still fortified in it.

Those Japs still held out on the reverse slope, in cave-like pillboxes. We persuaded two surrenders, but the other eight men waited for death. We dynamited all eight in their three caves, then dug perimeter. That night, Jap machine gun fire and knee mortar shells hit near us. Our own mortars silenced their fire. At daylight, we found a dead Jap in the gulley before our perimeter.

On 1 April, while part of I Company safely reinforced L Company at Brea Barrio, 2nd Platoon and three squads of 3rd Platoon took different routes into danger. Moving along a ridge, 2nd Platoon dug night perimeter to wait for 3rd Platoon, who had to fight.

While on a different route on the ridge, 3rd Platoon's two squads contacted Japs. Attacking at 1600, we secured a portion of a hill. We killed seven Japs, but lost Pfc. Everett Pyle killed. Being too few for the hill, we retreated to protection of F Company 121 Filipino Infantry.

We same 3rd Platoon men had orders to capture a hill 500 yards northeast. Long-range machine gun fire wounded Danieleu (or Danielev) in both legs. Our squad hunted that machine gun but could not find it. We bypassed these Japs and joined 2nd Platoon in night perimeter.

On 2 April, our detached platoons rejoined I Company, who had moved up to battle the Japs in strongly defended Moroc Pocket. At 1000, two squads tried to kill a machine gun with Japs 700 southwest of our perimeter. There we lost Staff Sergeant Wheat wounded, but knocked out the gun with mortars. While evacuating Wheat, Pvt. Wesley Cook in the carrying party was killed.

On 3 April, we fought Moroc Pocket, actually a hill 2,000 yards northwest of Moroc Village. Mortars and machine guns strongly held it. At 0700, "I" withdrew from forward positions while an air-strike and 148 shells of 168 Field Artillery impacted the Japs. But when we pushed, heavy machine gun fire repelled us. After killing 20 Japs, we withdrew. At 1700, Lieutenant Pierce took a light wound. Back in perimeter, we heard shells slice overhead to strike the Japs. Next morning, we occupied the deserted Pocket and patrolled after the Japs. Searching along Missaloy River, one squad drew fire from a Jap Platoon, killed two, but had to retreat. The Japs departed; Moroc Pocket was clear.

And so, with two dead and two wounded, "I" ended our main Zambo Battle. By 17 April, "I" was in garrison one beach.

So "I" battled again. With most of 186 Infantry (and 3rd Battalion 163 back from Jolo, 121 Filipino Infantry, and most of 167 Field Artillery), we made amphib landings to break up the regrouping Jap units. On 17 May, we rounded Zambo Peninsula on LCTs and landed at Panganaran on the west coast about 30 miles north of Zambo City. Hiking 3,000 yards up Panganaran River, we dug in with K Company at 1800. We slept in native gardens 400 yards northeast of the river.

Unlike the fertile plain of Zambo City, the west coast of Zambo Peninsula was like the Guinea Shore which "I" knew only too well. Behind a few small, sandy beaches with a few little streams, the land rose abruptly to jungle mountains becoming 2,000 feet high 5 miles inland. South of Panganran River, there was plain about a mile square rising to peaks 800 feet high. It was New Guinea all over again.

Our Japs were from the same formations we had battled at Zamboanga. These were the 54 IMB (Infantry Mixed Brigade), and the 33 Naval Guards ("Jap Marines"). Before Zambo Fight, 54 IMB was lately organized from a composite of garrison units and rookies. Many were not Japs - but Koreans or Formosans who might want to surrender. The Naval Guards were, of course, a tougher gang who preferred death in battle. Both Infantry and Guards had lost their 75 mm and 20 mm guns. But they still had rifles and machine guns and mortars. And it was hard to find out who wanted to surrender and who wanted to kill us.

We found Japs almost at once; 2nd Platoon killed the first man at 1900 - and another trying to enter our perimeter after 2400. At 0800 next morning, a 2nd Platoon water party surprised a third on a trail and slew him.

On that 18 May, all rifle platoons sent out squad patrols to find any trails that the Japs used for escape routes toward Siocon Bay. Searching 1,000 yards northeast up a creek, 2nd Platoon found no trails - but did kill two more Japs. Our 3rd Platoon probed a ridge-line to our rear for 1,000 yards northwest, with no results.

But 1st Platoon scouted 800 yards east to a well-used north- south trail. We sent a squad north 800 yards and another 800 yards south. The north squad saw no one, but the south squad saw three Japs, killed one. The other two crawled off to safety in the brush.

Now we were sure that we were close to a Jap pocket. At 1130, L Company joined us, and I Company reinforced 1st Platoon. Both Cos scouted down the trail to Panganaran River. Here 1st Platoon drew fire from a Jap rifle squad in a cave on the bank of the river. After a short fire-fight, they fled-all but three corpses, and one man who surrendered.

A steep ridge across the river barred I Company's way. At 400 yards up the ridge, our lead Platoon took heavy fire from a strong position. Two machine guns and a half platoon of riflemen shot down from the top of a steep cliff. We could not flank the cliff, but 1st Platoon attacked frontally and silenced the Japs whose cliff we could not scale.            

At dark, I Company minus 2nd Platoon and 3rd Platoon perimetered in a safe spot on the trail near the Japs. Meanwhile, Captain Haedicke had detached 2nd Platoon and 3rd Platoon to circle west and post on the top of the main ridge 500 yards southwest of the main company perimeter. At 2000 Hours, the Jap machine guns plunged several fire bursts at us from the cliff, but their fire was high.

On 20 May, 2nd Platoon and 3rd Platoon scouted east and killed six Jap Marines in a small bivouac about 300 yards from the main I Company Perimeter. All I Company units now reassembled on the ridge-top and prepared for hard fighting.

At 1200, we followed the trail east 400 yards. Here the trail left the ridge, then turned sharp north and dropped back down to Panganaran River.

Halfway down the ridge, the trail turned and led to the cliff-top, where "I" drew fire yesterday. Our 1st Platoon slew 11 Japs here, but failed to find the two machine guns that had shot down on us. At 1500, we dug in for the night. Our 2nd Platoon then backtracked to last night's bivouac and killed two more Japs. Of the 20 slain that 20 May, six were Marines, and 14 Infantry.

On 21 May, I Company left Panganaran by buffalos and landed at Anungan Barrio and bivouacked inland by 1000. Shortly after lunch, a 2nd Platoon outpost fired on four Japs in a cane field 200 yards east. Then 1st Platoon pursued the four up a draw and killed them - and eight more - all Marines.

On 22 May, 1st Platoon and 2nd Platoon had hard fighting. Probing directly west up what must have been Montibo River, between two high ridges for 2500 yards, we attacked 100 Japs in a large bivouac area. First, their outposts fired to alert their comrades. Then machine guns, mortars, rifles blasted at us.

Ensued our careful 4-hour battle in three distinct actions. After trying to hold their ground against our heavy fire, they fell back a few hundred yards up the draw and shot again at our advancing platoons. We drove them out a second time. A third time, they made a stand, but we broke them. They scattered in all directions. In the three actions, we slew 41, took a prisoner.

We lost three wounded, two of them BAR men. Sulley was lightly wounded; Wieczarek seriously wounded. One of these men was hit in the side, the other in the back, with names unreported. Wounded also was an unnamed Medic, shot through the arm when he ran to save Sully and Wieczarek.

On an overnight trail-block on a ridge, 3rd Platoon also fought. A squad patrol killed six in the morning, but after noon, 30 Japs tried to crash through our block.

After we repelled them, a Jap called back from the other side of the ridge that they wanted to surrender. When an assistant squad-leader, probably Pfc. Harold Ortoleva, stood up and 'signed to them to drop their weapons, he was dead in seconds. An light machine gun fired a burst into his chest. The Japs attacked again, but Weapons Platoon's mortars stopped them. That day, I's total kill was 40 Japs, with two prisoners.

On 25 May, I Company lost our second and last man killed in our second Zambo Battle. We climbed to top the south ridge walling the Montibo River. During our march, lead-scout Pfc Stanley Evanoff died from the bullet of a lone sniper, who escaped our revenge.

Thus went I Company's second Battle of Zamboanga. Despite some memorable fire-fights up the Panganaran River and up the Montibo River past Anungan, our war was mainly a mop-up, against stubborn Japs who held out until they died. After 25 May, we patrolled from amphibian landings as far north as 7,000 yards up the coast, and as far south as our previous post at Panganaran. Then we moved down to Sibuko Bay and mounted more patrols. But we killed only a few more Japs. They escaped 30 miles up the coast to Siocon Bay. At the close of World War II, they had moved perhaps 50 miles more, to concentrate with other Jap units on the north-central coast of Zambo Peninsula. Here 105 Filipino Regiment held them.

Of the nearly 5,000 Japs surviving the first Battle of Zamboanga, official figures were that 1,345 had been killed and 377 taken prisoners, of whom 103 were actually Japanese. Of this group of killed or prisoners, I Company claimed 211 killed, and 23 prisoners - from 17 May to 20 June 1945.

With a loss of only four killed and four wounded (and one unnamed Medic wounded), I Company had fought carefully and well; in our two Battles of Zamboanga.

 

CREDIT: Main source is two single-spaced typescript reports of Captain Haedicke, found in Federal Archives. These are the 2-page "History of Zamboanga, Mindanao Campaign," and the 6-page "History of the Panganaran, Anungan, and Sibuko Bay Campaigns." Indispensable also were 186's Casualty Lists and April and May 1945 Morning Reports. Background data were from 10th Information and Historical. Monograph appendix, "The Sibuko-Malayal Operation," and R.R. Smith's Triumph in the Philippines.