54 Independent Infantry Mixed Brigade (Japanese): Night Attack on C Company 162 Infantry at Zamboanga

By Three Japanese Infantrymen with Mr. Makoto Ikeda, Translator, and Dr. Hargis Westerfield

By 15 March 1945, Captain Toyoaki Tanaka had decided that his 361 Infantry Battalion would make their heroic death-fight in their Battle of Zamboanga. Yesterday, US 162 Infantry with heavy field artillery preparation had driven his 361 Battalion of 54 Independent Mixed Brigade from strategic Malagutay Hill. We had holed up on caves on Mount Capisan, a main strong point northwest of Zambo City. But from Malagutay Hill, field artillery observers could accurately observe blasts into caves where us die-hard men could still hold out. Tanaka preferred to die with us in a night attack to recapture Malagutay.

For the assault, Tanaka chose 50 men from his 4th Company, and 22-23 men from his Pioneer Platoon for demolition work. (His other two companies had been detached in a futile attempt to retake Dipolog Strip on the north shore of Zambo Peninsula.)

Tanaka expected battle-death for himself, but he did not expect that his whole force would die also. He named 4th Company's Commanding Officer, 1st Lieutenant lto to command the survivors who would retreat back to Mount Capisan.

Instead of a direct frontal attack from Capisan, Tanaka planned to take the Malagutay Yanks from the rear. From Capisan, we were to march down winding Sinonog River, then climb a steep shoulder of Malagutay Hill to strike C Company 162 Infantry in the rear. (A little while before Tanaka's main charge, another commanding officer was to make a diversionary attack on nearby B Company 162 to draw attention and perhaps reinforcements out of C Company's perimeter. This other force was probably from the garrison of Capisan, the grounded Zamboanga Detachment of the Southern Philippine Naval Flying Corps.

Details of this other attack are not known.)

In the afternoon of 15 March, the storming party left Capisan and went forth to night combat. (Jap name for a storming party is kirikomi, a classic maneuver of Japanese fighting.)

A short way downhill, we passed a pillbox with some 12 Marines of 33 Naval Guards at the machine gun. They would die from US cannon later that day. Down on Sinonog River bank, we found many wounded Marines with Medics. Downstream some distance, we rounded a great river curve and sought a way up Malagutay Hill.

Ahead of the main body, Private Hisao Ogura scouted with 1st Lieutenant Daizo Obata, whom he liked a great deal. Lieutenant Obata was a kind and considerate officer; he would not let Ogura go where he himself feared to go. Obata had often ordered Ogura to hide back in the brush while the officer slipped in close to US positions by himself. (Once at Ogura's hint, Obata had refused to kill a teen-aged Filipino boy who might have revealed a secret route into the Nips' positions.) While scouting downstream ahead of Captain Tanaka's storming party, Obata and Ogura took a short break by a vacant nipa hut while it was still daylight. They watch several parentless chickens picking up food.

Lieutenant Obata said, "Ogura, look at them! A chick can grow without a parent." Ogura felt uneasy. That remark made him believe that Obata had willed to die that night. For Ogura knew that his officer had a three-year-old child back home in Japan. Soon the death-night would indeed close down on that two-man scouting detail.

But the three-man recon patrol of Tech Sergeant Mahumi Honda of Pioneer Company got better results earlier. With Private Tadao Takahishi (who would survive), and Ichiji Kaneko (who would die), Honda scouted about 1-1/4 miles down to where Sinonog River took a broad right curve. Here they heard before them, the thud of American leather, only some 200-250 feet away.

After Honda's report back to the main body, Captain Tanaka decided that any march much farther would be too dangerous. We must climb the steepest way up to the high ground to avoid any Americans who might chance to be on the way up from the river. We must climb in the dark to place ourselves in the rear of the US perimeter.

About 2200 hours that night, we climbed maybe 250 feet straight up from the Sinonog. We climbed through heavy brush and up a cliff. We fought off many stinging mosquitoes. Halfway up Malagutay Hill, we had to sidle and creep up at the same time. Our climb took two hours.

As the grade eased off near the summit, Tanaka's low voice started passing words downhill, mouth to mouth. "We have reached their military road. Forward, all squad leaders!" After all the squad leaders had their orders, we stood on the road. Although the American Engineers had hurriedly built this road, it was hard-surface, and about 30 feet wide. We felt the roughness of caterpillar lugs and smelled burnt oil. To our right, that road led down to the Sinonog River bridgehead and the coast. To our left, the road still led uphill to the black fear where the US positions were dug in. To help allay that fear, all squads assembled and took a 30-minute break and ate the first of the three rations we had carried with us. (This was the final ration which too many of us would ever eat.)

In pitch-black darkness, Ogura heard an officer's low voice. "I forgot my sword at a halt back there." Another officer said, "Without a sword, you can't carry out our attack. Go back at once and bring it with you." Ogura thought that the officer never fought that night at all. To recover that sword in the black downhill dark would be impossible.

Soon now would come time for kirikomi, that great storming party for which we had labored uphill into black hours before dawn.

We forwarded beside the road a recon patrol of 10 picked men, with probably 1st Lieutenant Obata as Commanding Officer, and among them, Private Ogura, The scouts could see nothing in the blackness, but sometimes, a lightning bolt would give us a quick photo of the terrain.

Meanwhile, Tanaka's men prepared for their, death-fight. They marked themselves for identification. Captain Tanaka tied a squad-flag and a white sash across his chest. Other officers tied white sashes diagonally from right shoulder to left armpit; NCOs now had white armbands; and privates had white headbands. To muffle our footsteps, we wrapped our feet in white rags.

(American after-action report is that the Japs split up into three groups. The Pioneer Plan group was to blow up an Engineers' bulldozer parked in the road by C-162. A second group was to knock out automatic weapons. A third group was to break into C's headquarters and slay officers. Such was report on attacking C Company, but we lack the report of plans against nearby B Company.)

Beside the road, Scout Ogora saw high above him a black shape and felt tractors underneath. While finding no guards there, Adj Senda checked for turrets but saw none. He decided that it was a bulldozer, but four times larger than any bulldozer he had ever seen.

Captain Tanaka ordered Tech Sergeant Honda's men to blow them up. While Pioneer Platoon began placing demolition charges, the other Tanaka Battalion men pushed into the blackness hiding entrenched Yanks of 162 Infantry.

Some 50-60 yards from the bulldozers, Ogura stepped on a US soldier asleep on top of the ground and killed him.

After the American's death-cry, Ogura heard what sounded like a hammer banging on steel. The "hammer" seemed to awaken many sleeping Americans.

Captain Tanaka shouted, "One, two, three!" and heaved the grenade that he had armed. He drew his saber and led the charge. Left of Tanaka, Lieutenant Obata's squad charged, and to the right, 1st Lieutenant Fujiwara's squad. All six rifle squads came up into line and charged-along with Obata's and Fujiwara's - 2nd  Lieutenant Mori's, 2nd Lieutenant Hori's, Associate Lieutenant Karatsu's, and Adj Senda's. They went in with the bayonet, but had not yet fired a shot. Then US machine guns fired their final protective line.

Most of the Japs fell right there. Tech Sergeant Honda said that they fell like "ninepins" before a bowling ball.

In the lightning flashes, Private Ogura saw Captain Tanaka still running erect, saber upraised. "All officers, take a charge!" he shouted again.

Ogura followed Lieutenant Obata in the charge. In the lightening, Ogura saw his Lieutenant friend fall and die. Ogura threw himself flat on the ground - luckily into a hollow behind a fallen coconut tree trunk. Above him, the bullets hit an upright tree. Fragments of wood struck his face, slashed his forehead. Some bullets ricocheted from the ground and battered his helmet.

Ogura saw one Jap pierce an American's chest with a saber. He saw Lieutenant Fujiwara sitting cross-legged on the ground with his mortal wound. A squad leader shouted, "Orderly, rush to help him!" The orderly did stand up to give aid, but a bullet felled him. Fujiwara shouted, "Stay off! I can't see! I'll commit suicide." He died on his own grenade.

Meanwhile, Captain Tanaka was shot in the right side. An orderly was killed before he could touch Tanaka. Our commanding officer still leaned on her saber in a bullet shower before he fell.

All around, Ogura heard desperate shouts: "Long live the Emperor!" "Banzai, Tanaka Battalion!" He heard pitiful cries:  "Give me a cup of water!" "Give me a grenade for suicide!"

Ogura happily knew that all bullets had missed him, but blood streamed from minor cuts above his eyes. Silence had fallen everywhere over the stricken field, He began to crawl from the hilltop. He touched many bodies of his comrades and tried to awaken them, but they were cold. For a while, he did not know what to do: turn back to fight, or save his own life. Nobody was left to give orders. Then he spoke to two other survivors. They agreed to make their way back to Mount Capisan Headquarters.

Thus Captain Tanaka's kirikomi assault party failed to overrun US positions on Malagutay Hill. They failed to take out C 162's automatic weapons. Sergeant Honda's demolition detail also failed to wreck the giant bulldozer. C 162's Yank Weekley may have been the man who wounded the demolition Jap bearing explosives; he was found blown in two. They did bayonet 162's Commanding Officer Captain Louis Krist, but he survived. They inflicted a total of 12 casualties, including Krist - with five killed and seven wounded.

Meanwhile when his men died under machine gun fire, General Sergeant Masbusi was lightly wounded where he hugged the ground. He heard other men fall back from the fight and commit suicide.

In darkness over shell-torn ground, Honda misjudged his direction back to Mount Capisan. After lengthy wandering in the Zambo foothills, he could not return to Capisan until the day after the attack had failed.

As fire died out that night, unwounded Adj Chida also decided to fall back to Mount Capisan. About daybreak, he slipped downhill into the Sinonog River defile. Once US M-1 s fired at his back, from two directions. Then Chida ran and saved his life and finally returned to Mount Capisan.

Against the disciplined American defense, Captain Tanaka's gallant raid had failed, with the loss of at least 51 men, according to Chida' s report. But Major Hanada, 54 Independent Mixed Brigade's Chief of Staff, claimed that the attack had caused 400 casualties. As late as 1986, Hanada still wrongly said that us troops had to retreat from Malagutay Hill over a mile and reform our lines.

As already pointed out, C 162 had just 12 casualties reported for 16 March. But we can readily pardon Hanada for his untrue statement. It would help the morale of all the Japs on Mount Capisan to believe that they had won a great victory. Hanada was correct, however, that all 1st Battalion 162 Infantry did move east about 1-175 miles from Malagutay Hill. But they went to clean up stubborn resistance in San Roque Bowl. Instead of a whole Battalion, only E Company alone took over the western approaches to capture Mount Capisan.

Here, finally, is the probably complete story of Jap tactics against Malagutay Hill. between 0200 and 0400, they launched two major attacks against 1st Battalion. C Company repelled a frontal attack of 50 Japs with the help of heavy mortar fire and field artillery. Twenty Japs died; B Company had four killed and three wounded. This was not an attack of Tanaka Battalion; we still do not know what outfit these Japs belonged to. It was surely a diversionary attack to draw attention from Tanaka Battalion' s attack on C 162. Tanaka Battalion with about 70 men was more successful with their penetration of C 162's perimeter. They did cause five deaths and seven more' wounded men, but failed to pry C 162 from the Hill. We counted 25 Jap dead.

Today, we are happy that 50 Japs may have survived - that 1st Lieutenant Chida, Tech Sergeant Honda, and Private Ogura survived to tell the tale. We know that Private Takahisi survived, and probably 1st Lieutenant Ito whom Tanaka had ordered to command the survivors. Today, we hope that many of the 50 lived to return to Japan and the lives that they had given up for the Emperor.

 

CREDIT: Core of this battle piece is ten 1st two pages 7x10 inches, handwritten by Mr. Makoto Ikeda, a Japanese "Civilian Marine," who also survived the Battle of Zamboanga. Ikeda translated three narratives: those of 1st Lieutenant Tokuhisa Chida, Adjutant of Tanaka Battalion; Tech Sergeant Masabumi Honda; and Private Hisao Ogura. Honda provided a fine map also. Another source is Ikeda's own letter of 17 August 1977. US sources are "Narrative" of 1st Battalion 162 Infantry at Zambo, Zambo Casualty List, and the 41st Assn's "Division History No 181 -C Company 162 Infantry: Battle Before Dawn at Zamboanga," in August 1987 Jungleer. (All three Japs' Infantry stories apparently were written 30 years after Zambo Fight.)