1st Battalion Infantry: Conquering Mount Daho on Jolo

by Dr. Hargis Westerfield, Division Historian

On 15 April 1945, Cannon Company of 163 Infantry began 163 Infantry's battle for the Jap Marine fortress of Mount Daho. Cannon joined 146 Field Artillery, Marine bombers, Moro infantry to destroy the great outwork of Daho. This outwork was a tenaciously held strongpoint of three mutually supporting 20 mm guns at Kilometer 7.5 on Route 10 southeast of Jolo City.

On 15 April, C and 146 Field Artillery fired 300 rounds in 30 minutes. After an air-strike, the Moros overran the outwork. Then on 16 April, 163's 1st Battalion took over the operation to fight Daho to a finish.

Looming on the southern sky, 2247-foot Mount Daho was an enormous flat-topped ridge with the crest slanting down slightly from right to left. At least seven dark ravines led up through the jungle to its summit. Daho was actually a dead volcano with the top blown off, the fourth highest mountain on Jolo.

Main Jap positions were on the crest of two partly bare ridges climbing south to Daho's summit. Emplaced here were 90 20mm twin-gunned machine cannon. Supports were heavy machine guns, light machine guns, mortars well dug in. Between the ridges were deep, forested ravines connecting with another deep ravine between the two ridges and Daho's north slope. The ravines well concealed communication lines, dumps, and cover for reinforcements.

Except after heavy losses, Daho was impregnable to infantry. We needed all the guns and planes we could get. Daho was potentially as deadly as Sanananda - only Sanananda tilted.

On 16 April, we dug in A and C Companies on each side of Route 10. 'B' now had orders to fight southeast from Kilometer 7 - a recon in force. About 1300 'B' met 20mm fire near four Kilometer 8. By 1315, 20mm fire had wounded two B men, one D man, one guerilla. At 1330, we had plunging fire from the base of Daho on the north slope. We called for an air-strike that probably never happened because of fear of hitting 1st Battalion's recon patrols.

On 15 April, 163 reported 19 Japs killed, but not specifically killed by B Company. We lost D's Pfc Don Marshall wounded, with Pfcs Truman K. Caldwell and Theodore E. Drake probably from "B."

By 17 April, we had located Jap positions. This morning Daho endured our heaviest air-strike so far. Then at 0755, three combat patrols got orders to strike straight west to Daho, if unopposed.

Transferring grenades from a tight pocket to his pack for ready throwing, B Company's Staff Sergeant William H. Coppedge pulled a pin accidentally. We scattered at this warning, but not enough to save ourselves. Coppedge fell on the grenade and died for us.

As "B" in the middle patrol started up the ridge, machine guns lashed us and a 20mm gun halfway up the ridge - perhaps the gun that shot yesterday. Field artillery air observers neutralized the gun with several battery volleys, then called for precision fire, saw two direct hits, destroyed the gun.

But Jap rifles still fired. From a position on East Ridge, a hail of machine gun fire and mortar shells fell on "B" men. Another 20mm gun fired; Jap Marines counter- attacked. Perhaps at this moment, B's lead scout Edgerton was heroic. Japs fired from three sides; his platoon was prone. Pfc John J. Edgerton charged the Jap 20mm gun, killed it, and died there.

Although "B" slew some 15 Japs in this counterattack and called down 36 field artillery rounds on the others, "B" was repelled, in a two-hour fight. Field artillery reported that "B" had one killed, three wounded, four missing - later three who finally returned safely.

Three more 20mm guns opened up from another position on the slope of Daho, south of East Ridge. To save "B," 146 shelled and screened with smoke. From the ground, Field Artillery's Lieutenant Allen caught gun flashes in an aiming circle. At 7,000 yards through BC scope, he called down fire and silenced the guns. Before Allen could fire, A Company also lost three wounded. Besides Coppedge, "B" lost killed: Pfcs Howard D Moore and John J. Edgerton, and Pvts Frank Shaw and Jack M. Courtney. B's wounded were 1st Sgt Algier D. Coward, Pfc James L. Denevan; 1st Lieutenant Nicholas R. DeSerio was injured. "A" lost Pfcs Victor G. Conley, Gordon R. Gorby, Kenneth L. Bellet wounded; Sgt. William Fox, Pfcs Cecil W. Hendrix, Wesley H. Bailey, John W. Compton were injured. Killed was Medic T/3 Eldred W. Madden, and Pfc D.B. Gamble wounded.

On 18 April, 45 planes hit Daho twice; field artillery fired some 500 rounds. Field Artillery's Lieutenant Allen placed a bomb salvo where a 20mm had shot yesterday. The salvo tore off foliage, revealed a half-closed cave. Cannon Company dragged a 105 to B's forward position, under cover of bombardment. A 37mm AT gun came up also.

 Jap machine guns, rifles, and this last 20mm gun smothered our fire. Cannon men and field artillery observers crouched in a bomb crater; 20mm projectiles bracketed that crater. Jap fire halted; we surfaced and fired back; the 20mm drove us under again. After several more firings, we withdrew under field artillery smoke at 1600. Cannon's Sgt David G. Conant was wounded; B's Staff Sergeant James A. Smith was injured, perhaps in this same action. With air observation, field artillery later silenced that last 20mm gun with two direct hits.

On 19 April 1st Battalion positioned to storm Daho. After two 18-plane strikes by 0730, we moved to Kilometer 9, Route 10 to set up observation post and base of fire. On the hill 2,000 yards northeast of Daho, we emplaced a 105 cannon and a two 57mm AT recoilless cannon, with light and heavy mortars. Our rifle companies made perimeter near Kilo 8 beside our line of departure.

Hub of Mount Daho's defense was the crest of West Ridge climbing south to Mount Daho, with another defense on East Ridge. Major Armstrong planned to overrun weaker East Ridge first. A Company would lead the attack; "B" would fire in support. Once we took East Ridge, C Company from reserve would storm West Ridge under support fire of both other companies.

Greatest day of battle for Mount Daho was 20 April. Beginning 0800, planes dropped 45 I,000-pound bombs. (At Ibdi Pocket, 163 had used 64 1,000-pound bombs from planes.) Then .50 caliber machine guns ricocheted quick patterns of red on the ridges. After this 45-plane strike, 146 Field Artillery hammered reeling ridges with "fuze delay" and "fuze quick." Cannon's 105 and two 57s fired; mortars drummed steadily into the smoke-pall; debris flew everywhere.

Suddenly firing ended; silence was startling. A small smoke-plume from burning grass lapped up toward Jap lines. About 1910, A and B Companies advanced covered by trees. Dense brush and slippery rises made us advance too slowly.

In 40 minutes, we were half-way up the slope. Jap machine-gunners were firing but not hitting close - perhaps because gunners were unadjusted to downhill fire. At 1015, "B" on the right took machine gun fire. Field Artillery's Lieutenant Hornefius ordered return fire on that pillbox, splintered it with delayed fuze. At 1100, "B" took 25 mortar shells, fire from one heavy machine gun, three light machine guns, had four men wounded. Field Artillery smashed back for "E."

At 1140, "A" tried to drive our attack home. Breaking into the open centering East Ridge two-thirds up the slope,  rifles, mortars, and machine guns. Our 57s and Cannon's 105 with 146 Field Artillery scored direct hits on both pillboxes; a delayed fuze field artillery shell killed one pillbox.

But Jap fire halted A's next try to advance. Probable reason was B Company's failure to support "A" with fire. For "B" took the wrong direction on Daho's twisting trails among brushy ridges, came out high on West Ridge, 200 yards below the Japs' strongest position.

B's Commanding Officer - probably 1st Lieutenant Lunney, bravely tried to right the mistake. Dispatching a platoon back to East Ridge for "A," he threw all other "B" men into a desperate attack on the supreme Jap position above him.

Although using only two die-hard platoons instead of two companies as originally planned, "B" almost took West Ridge. After two BARmen - Earl Harris and an unnamed man - killed two Jap machine guns, intense rifle and machine gun fire stopped us. Lead platoon could not move without heavy losses. 2nd Lieutenant Joseph A. Saratowicz crawled up and smashed a machine gun nest with a grenade, was wounded to die. Fire from one heavy machine gun, three light machine guns, had four men wounded.

We silenced the Jap rifles but had no flank security. We retreated firing on more Nip riflemen. Only BARman still in action, Harris helped break three counter-attacks. Harris, McFaull, Sergeant Estes and others secured our retreat under smoke. B Company records say that intense automatic fire had pinned our attack for four hours. At 1500, we attacked again around the right flank but after an hour’s fight withdrew because of ammo shortage.

On East Ridge to B’s right, spearhead A Company fought well minus expected support of “B,” but withdrew after heavy combat. On the ridge, Staff Sergeant Carson F. Fritz spotted a trench system with a machine gun holding back A Company. Deploying his squad skill fully to cover him, Fritz charged the machine gun. Firing as he ran, he silenced the gun but was seriously wounded.

The platoon leader – probably 1st Lieutenant Robert R. Dupont  - was wounded, but Tech Sergeant Carpenter slew six Japs. We had to withdraw, but A Company's Pfcs Earl E. Ewing, Arthur Shults, and Yee N. Jin secured our retreat and died.

The Japs pursued “A” too far down the slope. Before they could disengage, and accurate, intense field artillery barrage slew many. Spotting many Japs scrambling down the rear of East Ridge, our Piper Cub had called fire on them.

For Jolo fighting, losses were heavy - five dead, 29 wounded. A's Jin, Shults, and Ewing were dead. Wounded were Staff Sergeants Carson F. Fritz, Robert W. Helman, Willard D. Wilson; Tech Sergeant Lewis B. Ingram, Corporal James R. Cummings; Pfcs Ross W. Allen, Virgil V. Ellsworth, Luther G. Jarouse, Harold E. Jocoy, Fred J. Kohut, Frank A. Konradt, and Pvts Orval V. Broadhead, Hugh L. Frye. B's 2nd Lieutenant Joseph Saratowicz was dead. Wounded were Tech Sergeant Jose T. Delsi, Pfcs Clifford L. Burdick, D.B. Gamble, Clifford P. Krowiorz and Richard Hansen; Pvts James E. Brown, Raymond A. Cross, Richard M. Ferguson. 

D Company had two machine guns knocked out, Pfc Claud S Bailey dead, and four wounded: Sergeant Joseph J. Frankowski, Corporal Daniel V. Satterthwaite and Pfcs Gerald G Gritter, Ralph J. Hayslett.

"A" did not number Japs killed; "B" claimed 32 dead, 20 probables. All units killed an estimated 100. Reasons for failure to storm Daho 20 April go far deeper than failure of all "B" men to support "A." Ammo was running short before our retreat. Despite four days' field artillery and 36 dive-bombing missions, much fire was useless. Because of ravines cutting sharply in all directions, projectiles had to hit vertically to impact inside them. Worst of all, bombardments had failed to cover high, open ground of the strongest emplacements.

We planned to assail Daho tomorrow, 20 April, but bad weather grounded planes at Zamboanga. We kept the Japs on edge and prepared for battle tomorrow. At 1425, all our cannon, mortars, machine guns fired on Daho to pretend an attack. About 1530, 27 planes bombed, with some 25 per cent of the bombs actually on target. Nine planes at a time strafed twice. Our supports made it a point to blast that high, open ground neglected yesterday.

Patrols found that the crests of our bitterest fights were deserted, but Japs held caves on reverse slopes, and on the side of Daho above those crests. One patrol discovered a covered approach for tomorrow's attack. That night while field artillery shelled Daho, we heard explosions above us.

At 0850 23 April after 37 planes struck - four with rockets - we grimly attacked - into the silence of a dead mountain. For after dropping their bombs, our Marine planes returned over their targets three more times, but without bomb-loads. The simulated bomb-runs were to keep remaining Japs under cover until 1st Battalion reached their holes. By 1035, however, all three Companies had reached initial objectives with no Jap fire. By 1700, we had found 147 Jap bodies and killed two more Japs presumably those whom C Company reported having seen before 1005 that morning. We had no casualties in 1st Battalion. Daho was ours, a week after 1st Battalion’s first attack. By General Suzuki's order, the Japs had begun withdrawing the night of 20 April after our great assault.

Original Daho garrison was 500 Imperial Marines of 33rd Naval Guards, and 100-150 men of 363 Infantry Brigade falling back from Mount Datu. We counted 288 recognizable Jap bodies, but believed that all arms had killed 350 of the 500 Guards. (We lack figures on 363 Infantry Battalion.) Many were blown to fragments, or sealed in caves we feared to penetrate. Our battle losses - mainly in 1st Battalion were 11 dead, 39 wounded to hospital, five injured.

In the attack of 20 April alone, field artillery had fired 600 rounds of 105s. (Total rounds for, 146 Field Artillery's entire Battle of Jolo, is unknown.) Marine planes had some 35 strikes, 300 sorties,

and dropped 1400 tons of bombs - half of their action on Jolo, in fact. They had also fired 32 rockets. In an area some 1/3 miles long and 200 yards deep, not a whole tree was standing. In those deep, narrow ravines, concussion must have been terrific. One prisoner said, that after each strike nearby, his senses left him for 6-7 hours.

Such was 1st Battalion 163 Infantry's great siege of Mount Daho. Ibdi Pocket, Wakde, Pasananca - all of these are formidable positions that we think of when we remember storming Mount Daho.

 

 

CREDIT. Main sources are 146 Field Artillery's Captain Robert Allen's "Reduction of Mount Daho," and 163 lnfantry's Journal 13-25 April 1945, I used also medal stories: Edgerton, Coppege, Harris, Saratowicz, McFaull, Estes, Fritz, Ewing, Shultz, Jin, Sheeran. Other sources were "Operational Monograph No. 10," 163's May, 1945, Morning Report, Casualty List called "Sulu V-4 Operation/ Jolo Island," A and B Companies' payroll lists, Robert Sherrod's History of Marine Aviation in World War II, and report of Lieutenant Colonel Alfred E. Hintz. (Morning Reports are incomplete and casualties' outfits hard to identify.) With no personal narratives to help me, I had to piece together some actions from medal stories - a difficult and unreliable process. (146 Field Artillery's story of Mount Daho appeared in June, 1963, Jungleer.)