186 Infantry Regiment: 186 Infantry's Battle of Zamboanga

by Dr. Hargis Westerfield, Division Historian

 

This is the basic history of 186 Infantry at Zamboanga - history that has had almost no space in print. After we easily defeated the Palawan Japs, Colonel Newman sent 1st Battalion and 3rd Battalion to fight in the Zambo hills. We reinforced 162 Infantry and released 163 Infantry for the Sulu Sea invasions. Ten days after the 41st's D-Day at Zambo, 1st Battalion saw action beginning on 21 March, and 3rd Battalion fought on 30 March.

As 186's Colonel Newman later saw the Zambo situation, the Jap units were still intact in hill entrenchments and fairly well supplied. They were determined to hold out; they had nowhere to go but the unexplored mountain rain forest. Newman thought the other 41st units were making no real effort to conclude the operation. (He made these statements without considering the earlier heavy fights of 162 and 163 Infantry, nor the difficulties arising when front-line troops had to pull out for invasions on Basilan and Jolo.)

Orders were for our 1st Battalion to relieve E-162 on the Division's left flank on West Ridge, east of the Sinonog River. Mission was to protect 162's left flank for the assault against the ultimate goal of Mount Capisan.

At 0630 21 March, C Company and a D Platoon of heavy machine guns relieved E Company on West Ridge. At 0800, "A" positioned west of "C" on that same ridge. B Company protected battalion command post and D's 81 mortars. AT Platoon brought up a 37mm AT gun and two .50 heavy machine guns.

On 22 March "C" had orders to attack "Ridge X" about 300-400 yards north. Moving out at 0935, "C's" lead platoon took heavy rifle and machine gun fire at 300 yards. Killed was lead scout Pvt. Clifford Linton at 1100. At 1115 through 1500, our machine gun, mortar and 37mm fire impacted the Japs. By 1445, "C" held the Jap position. We slew two Japs, found seven dead and captured two light machine guns.

On 23 March "C" struck again. After fire from Cannon Company's two 105s, "D's" 81s and our 60s, we overran the Jap perimeter. At 1000, rifle fire killed a "C" man. We slew seven Japs and captured an light machine gun.

At 1330, "C" sighted a large body of Japs west of us on another ridge. We ordered a .50 heavy machine gun and mortar to fire on those Japs. Covered by the sound of our weapons, concealed Japs killed one more "C" man and wounded two others. By 1530, we had slain 15 more Japs," seized two more light machine guns and a 90mm gun. At 1900, 10 Japs walked in on us to die. We lost Sgt. Thomas McCune and newly promoted Staff Sergeant Glenn A. Sachs dead, Gerecke and Slomka wounded.

            As early as 0810 that 23 March, B Company and a section of "D's" heavy machine guns pushed on "C's" right flank, to contact "C" on a ridge junction to our left. Although we seized two Jap pillboxes, we failed to contact "C". While A Company fired five mortar missions supporting "C," 2nd Lieutenant Maschko was lightly wounded by Jap mortars.

On 24 March, while G Company 162 overran Bald Hill on our right and captured the ultimate objective of Mount Capisan, 186's 1st Battalion also fought to secure the ridge on 162's left flank.

Moving out simultaneously at 0940, C and B Companies tried to make contact. At 1225, fire from a Jap pillbox wounded three D Company heavy machine gun men (Kreager, Earl Jones, McCoy), probably attached to C Company. At 1300, "B" and "C" contacted - and found the Japs leaving. By 1420, "C" had killed 15 Japs and captured a deserted 20mm gun. At 1845, 1st Battalion’s AT Platoon saw a few Japs bathing in a river (probably the Sinonog) and slew four with a .50 heavy machine gun.

On 25 March A Company moved 1400 yards north and east to the already captured Mount Capisan, found another Jap 20mm and contacted 162 Infantry. At 1030, a mortar short wounded Bondurant, Huff and Sellers. A "B" patrol on the ridge killed a Jap, found seven dead, seized three 20mm guns and four machine guns.

Thus 186's 1st Battalion supported 162 Infantry against Mount Capisan. Fighting on West Ridge with only light losses, we cleared the ground east of the Sinonog River. We now denied the Japs further observation of the coastal plain. We had driven them across deep gorges into the mountain rain forest.

On 26 Mar. 1st Battalion 186 Infantry moved eight miles northeast to relieve 163's 1st Battalion and fight Hill 2000. (The "163" men left to fight on Jolo).

On 27 March B Company advanced 1800 yards up the ridge and met heavy fire from Japs on the reverse slope. We slew eight Japs, began blasting out caves and trenches with bangalore torpedoes. Shortage of bangalores and rough terrain held us from completing the job. Next day, 28 March, "B" advanced again, killed six Japs at 1000 and established a new position. Staff Sergeant Heal was wounded.

At 0720 29 March, with heavy support from machine guns, mortars and field artillery, A Company stormed Hill 2000. Finding 11 Japs already dead, we took a knee mortar and dug in. Small groups of Japs harassed us all afternoon, wounded Hudson and Bucy. We had a 30-minute air strike from 1230 to 1300. At 1800, "B" killed 15 Japs, captured a light machine gun and destroyed a large ammo dump in caves. Again we had to use bangalore torpedoes. At 2120 that night, Japs mortared A-186 and K-163. Newly arrived from Palawan, 167 Field Artillery Battalion barraged these mortars and silenced them.

On 30 March Colonel Newman with 3rd Battalion 186 was down from Palawan to fight at Zambo. At once, his 1st Battalion reverted to him from attachment to 162. With 163 gone to Jolo, we took over the 41st's right flank - all ground east of San Mateo and Harlowton. Instead of the already captured Mount Capisan, objective was now 163's objective of Mount Pulungbatao. We were also to drive northeast to pin the Japs against the Filipinos' 121 Infantry pushing southward.

On 30 March 1st Battalion fought from Hill 2000. At 1500, "A" endured Jap machine gun, mortar and small arms fire. Kopecky and T/5 Howard Kelly were wounded. At 1820, "C" fought off three desperate banzai charges from 30-40 Japs wielding at least one light machine gun. Next day, 12 Japs lay dead before our lines.

Also, on 30 March K-186 poised for heavy action in that northeast corner of our front towards Moroc. Left of a never forgotten hill shaped like a haystack (or sugar loaf), we looked up at grassy, open ridges. A higher ridge leftward was our objective; we heard that 163 Infantry could not take it even after Marine dive bombing. "K's" Lieutenant Geisler made a sneak attack without field artillery or air strikes. He slipped his platoon up a saddle to that higher ridge and fired down on Japs on the reverse slope. The Japs resisted stubbornly.

On Geisler's right, "K's" 2nd Platoon had trouble when it probed a banana grove atop a small knob. From that grove, a Jap heavy machine gun killed Staff Sergeant Glen A. Hall, pinned down scouts Kelley and Kechele. Kechele thought the grove held only three-four Nips at the gun. Not until "K's" 1130 barrage of 60mm mortars did we overrun the Japs on the reverse slope and in the banana grove. We found 16 dead Nips, one light machine gun and one heavy machine gun. Pushing north of our captured position, "K" took rifle fire again.

At 0900 31 March, "K" pushed north once more. At 1131 we had rifle fire from hastily prepared positions. Leading 2nd Platoon's point squad under rifle fire, Staff Sergeant Baker killed the Japs' two-man outpost. When 2nd Platooon won their position, Baker had slain six of the nine Jap dead. On that 31 Mar. "K" advanced 1500 yards north and occupied Masilay Village.

Late that 31 March, Lieutenant General Tokichi Hojo ordered remnants of his 54 Independent Mixed Brigade to withdraw northward. He knew that effective resistance was now impossible. Because Filipino 121 Infantry Regiment held his easier escape route northeast up the coast past Belong, Hojo's army had to retreat inland among the starvation mountains of Zambo Peninsula. Of the original 8900 Japs, 3900 still lived. Only 1385 would survive to the war's end.

On 1 April both 186 Battalions continued combat patrols deep into the dark mountain rain forest. K Company's Kechele said that the rain forest was like a stone wall that they butted their heads against. Every trail was an ambush.

On that 1 April Jap mortar fire wounded a "K" man, perhaps Ken Miller. One "K" Platoon destroyed a ration dump in a stream valley, then halted 300 yards farther upstream, under light machine gun fire from a commanding position. Another "K" Platoon pressed the Jap position from the north but found only deserted equipment and signs of wounded Japs. Perhaps Pfc Seneca Mann was wounded here, to die later. Perhaps on 1 April Pfc Lyle L. Vaught was found dead near dark on a trail to the spring near "K's" perimeter. That spring underwent occasional Jap sniper fire.

            At 0500 2 April "C's" Pedine took mortar fragments in the thigh and middle right finger. At 0930, B Company fought 30 Japs, killed seven, seized or destroyed two light machine guns, two knee mortars and a 20mm gun. At 1700, "C" captured one heavy machine gun, also 15 saddle horses and a blacksmith's shop!

Also on 2 April, an "I" patrol up Misuloy River met hard resistance and had men wounded. In relieving pressure on that patrol, an "L" patrol won a fire fight. In another "I" Platoon, Staff Sergeant Wheat was wounded lightly, and Pvt. Wesley H. Cook died in a carrying party. M Company had two losses, probably from men attached to I Company. Saware was lightly wounded; Pvt. George Langel was missing and recovered dead on 7 April.

Highly important on 2 April was the contact of 186 patrols with 121 Filipino Infantry Regiment in a river valley two miles north of Mount Pulungbata. Now the Jap escape route up the south coast had fully closed, but Jap resistance continued.

On 3 April at 0645, "K" withdrew 500 yards south from our perimeter while Marine dive bombers struck the rain forest before us. Then 167 Field Artillery fired 148 rounds into the forest. Our patrols found 10 Japs, but no resistance.

Crossing a ridge, "K's" 2nd Platoon drew fire. Retaliating first with a light machine gun, we attacked. The Japs charged us downhill. We slew 20 Japs, had at least two wounded: McGhee and Staff Sergeant Baker with a stomach wound. A field artillery barrage at 1815 let us take the position without more shooting.

A six-man "L" patrol with a Filipino company struck 1700 yards down Misuloy River into Jap country and slew five Japs out of a group of 14. Four hundred yards farther, we saw 100 Japs bathing. From carefully chosen positions, we killed 47 of the 100. Still drawing fire from a bluff north of the river, we called for 167 Field Artillery shells at 1730. Next day, with an "L" platoon, reinforcement, we dispersed or slew all Japs in this area.

            At this late hour at Zamboanga, Jap tactics seemed clear. With no hope to inflict even token losses on us, they were surviving in tactically isolated pockets and withdrawing slowly. They would show fight only when our patrols found their bivouacs and routes of escape. With abundant ammo, they would show fight when confronted. But our patrols were rushing their slow withdrawals; we had a knack of catching them unawares.

After 31 March most of the actual fighting and most of 186's few casualties were with 3rd Battalion to the east. Yet 1st Battalion continued the risky hard work of searching out Jap concentrations. C Company's Sergeant Oscar R. Runge died of wounds 3 April. On 4 April, when "A" moved to cut off Jap retreat north of Brea Village, 1st Lieutenant Lloyd F. Vick died on a recon patrol.

In 3 Battalion on 5 April, "L's" Brough was seriously wounded. On 6 April, while pursuing Japs on a bloody trail from Misuloy River, L Company met ambush from 100-200 Japs on a horseshoe ridge. They shot at us between the horseshoe heels. Despite our mortars' preparation, the Japs repelled attempts of our two patrols to take the heels. Japs attacked our mortars. Slaying 15 Japs, we withdrew, while 218 and 167 Field Artillery impacted 120 shells on the ridge. With more field artillery, we cleared the ridge on 7 April (Lagro of M Company was wounded on 7 April, perhaps in this action.)

Motor patrols began. After a 41 Division Headquarters motor patrol, "K" men followed through with a foot attack. On 14 April 1st Lieutenant Cloud's patrol fought those Japs on the east coast northwest of Wariwari. "K's" Kelley and two 41 Recon men pressed through a clearing at two Nips on a little knoll. Heavy rifle and machine gun fire wounded both recon men. Kelley rushed the Japs, drew fire; the two wounded crawled to safety. His heavy, accurate fire stopped a small Jap attack. The Japs withdrew silently.

Such were 186's outstanding actions in the fortnight after General Hojo ordered the Jap retreat. (And, of course, we made many other nerve-wracking patrols with meager results.) The Zambo City vicinity was cleared of taps. By 26 April 186 Infantry began landing on the west side of Zambo Peninsula to shatter new concentrations of Hojo's' 3900 fugitives. The real Battle of Zamboanga had ended.

As of 20 June 1945, we claimed killing 2331 Japs, with 103 Jap prisoners and 114 non-Jap prisoners. In return, 186 had 15 dead, 39 wounded and 13 injured in action. (Of course, these figures include Jap casualties and ours for 55 days after the real battle had ended.)

As Colonel (later Major General) Newman once wrote, our few casualties emphasizes the masterly achievement of 186 Infantry in the Battle of Zamboanga. By 1945, 186 Infantry was a skillful battle team capable of great fighting in the Japanese home islands.

                                 

CREDIT: Personal story from K-186's (Jungleer, September 1968). Most of this history I pieced together from "History of 1st Battalion 186 Infantry (17-30 March 1945)," 186 Infantry’s "Zamboanga Operation," and 41st Division Artillery's "Narrative Report of Zamboanga Operation." Important also were Colonel D.P. Newman's letter to me (10 February 1963), 186's Casualty List and Morning Reports, and Maurice Kelley's and Isaac Baker's Award Stories. R.R. Smith's "Triumph in the Philippines" contains a too brief overall story of Zambo battle. This history was greatly assisted by the discovery of a map buried in "8th U.S. Army's Operational Monograph on Zamboanga-Sulu.