163 Infantry Regiment: First Round at Jolo

By Dr. Hargis Westerfield, Division Historian


 On the night of 2-3 April 1945, 163 Infantry’s small bloody battle of Jolo began with overseas recon patrol of I & R's 1st Lieutenant Pfirrman. For accurate data on the Jap garrison, Pfirrman went by PT boat from Zamboanga, with the Navy's Lieutenant Sinclair, 41 Recon's Lieutenant Downs, and CIC's Garcia.

On 8 April at 1600, 163 Infantry (less 2nd Battalion) boarded some 30 LCIs, LCMs and probably four LSTs for the 100-mile overnight Zambo-Jolo run. At least one LCI was with a complement of casuals, also had clothing for Jolo civilians. Submarines, two destroyers and a destroyer escort were our guards.

Landing was easy. Guerilla Colonel Suarez had marked our beach with great fires; naval shellfire was heavy. Without opposition, A and C Company's landed from Alligators at 0825 on a 1,000-yard beach of coral sand before Taglibi, eight miles west of Jolo City. By 0942, we contacted Colonel Suarez with guerillas. From positions 800 yards inland, A and C Company's found no Japs. Both 146 Field Artillery (less B Battery) and 163's Cannon Company were ashore through the surf to support us. Planes and Navy were busy on Jap targets behind Jolo City.

To capture Jolo City, we had to overrun forbidding forested 823-foot Mount Patikul blocking Route 5. At 1015, Air Corps B-24s dropped 12 500-pound bombs on Patikul. At 1200, nine Marine SBDs (Douglas dive bombers) planted nine 1,000-pound bombs on Mount Bangkal, two miles southwest of Mount Patikul to retard possible reinforcements.

Starting north into thick forest around the lowest slope of Patikul, I Company reported no Jap contact at 1225. We slew two on the west side of the main summit and pushed eastward where we expected trouble. At 1403, we had automatic fire from some five Japs. To knock them out, we sent a platoon around the south side. At 1525, a few rifle shots wounded one "I" man. At 1044, we fired 60mm mortars on Japs to the south. By 1615, we had taken Mount Patikul with nine Jap dead. Grate was slightly wounded and Bernard seriously wounded, grenade on his hip.

Meanwhile, I & R spearheaded 1st Battalion's move on Route 5 to seize Jolo City. Minefields were heavy: box-type mines and.75 shells buried nose upwards. By 1530 I & R had one wounded in a firefight below Mount Patikul among foxholes and dugouts. We killed two Japs. On 9 April, 163 Headquarters Company lost Golden, Sexton, T/5 Belenky wounded and Pfc.Tom Harris killed-probably all I & R men.

A Company relieved I & R and at first knocked out some opposition along Route 5 in the advance on Jolo City. But by 1730, a roadblock had halted us. We encountered several Jap riflemen, killed one. When we fired, Jap return rifle fire was heavy from an estimated 15 Japs. The day was so late that "A" ceased movement. Staff Sergeant Felix Jurasin was killed. On 9 April also Medic John J. Eckert was killed and Barnard wounded, from units unidentified.         

After mines and Jap fire checked 163 west of Jolo City, we tried another approach. Guerillas said that Japs defended roads outside Jolo but held the city only lightly.

To secure the vital dock area before Jap demolition, we planned a daring attack. While clearing deep water approaches to Jolo, naval minesweepers incidentally swept the sea close to the dock. Destroyers hovered to fire on call.

Then Capt. MacClennan (outfit unidentified) with two officers, 30 men of C Company and a "D" heavy machine gun section boarded two LCMs and charged for the dock. No Japs fired; the dock was undamaged. We quickly captured the street junctions near the docks.

Next day, 10 April at 0857, C Company reported holding all Jolo City. Sporadic .75 shellfire struck at us from the low mountains south of the City, but we had no counterattack.

Held back outside Jolo overnight, at 0740 A Company pushed on Route 5 again. We recovered Jurasin's body. Opposition had vanished, but heavy minefields hindered our arrival in Jolo City until 1143. Back in the city, beginning about 1122, other 163 men already were unloading two LCTs at the dock. By 1400, Taglibi Beach personnel were following A Company into the city to make it our main base for battling the Jap army entrenched among mountains 4.5 miles inland.

With beach personnel came also a large contingent of replacements for 163 after Zamboanga Battle - and a smaller number of Zambo' casuals. Just before dusk, some men unofficially visited the ruined, half-burned city. It was touching to offer a cigarette to a Filipino and see an old crone hold up a stick from a fire to light that cigarette. Matches did not exist. We took friendly Filipinos to our 116 Medics to arrange for treatment of malarious families. The Japs lacked medicines for them.

 

At twilight, a few mortars still impacted the Jap southern mountains. Casuals and replacements bedded down on canvas cots in a large empty warehouse near the dock. About 2020, veterans recognized the whistle and thud of a Jap cannon - "Whistling Charlie" - at it again. Perhaps the shells aimed at our dockside LSTs. But inside the warehouse, casuals thought that the last shell drove directly at their cots. From trying to reassure G Company's rooky Czuleger on the cot next to him, Westerfield suddenly flattened to the concrete floor under the cot. The shell splintered a nearby building and wounded an unidentified man.

E Company's rooky Lieutenant Ruben cleared the warehouse and ordered a protective line of three-man prone outposts around the casuals. G's Westerfield and Czuleger with an attached dark-haired guerilla lad spent the night in the grass-grown, mosquito-loud gutter before the Jolo post office. But no Japs attacked.

From 1st Battalion positions south of Jolo City, observers counted five rounds of Jap fire, from about halfway up the north slope of Mount Datu. Fifteen minutes later, 146 Field Artillery silenced the gun for the night.

Next morn, 11 April, 2nd Battalion rejoined 163 Infantry which we had left at Zambo on 2 April. Sunrise gleamed on our helmets as we formed up at dockside. We had forayed 200 miles west from Zambo and 100 miles west from Jolo to capture Sanga Sanga Island near Borneo from elements of Jap 33rd Naval Guards. Against small opposion, we had secured the Jap barge escape route from Mindanao. Leaving F Company garrisoning Sanga Sanga, we now held Jolo's rear areas for our other two battalions to fight in the mountains. On 11 April arrived also 146 Field Artillery's B Battery from Sanga Sanga to add much needed preparatory fire for 163's battle.

For despite our easy seizure of Jolo Island's capital, the real battle was only beginning on 11 April. Two of the three battalions constituting a Jap infantry brigade were entrenched behind Jolo City, with field artillery and a fine Naval Marine unit. Some 2,200-2,400 Japs manned a mountain defense line half-circling Jolo City. Within two miles of the city, they held a knot of peaks some 800 feet high - and Mounts Bankal and Awak 1.5 miles north of that knot of peaks. They dug in on Mount Tumatangas west of those peaks. And 3,000 yards southeast was 2247 Mount Daho with its 33 Naval Guards garrison (Jap Marines).

On first study, however, our Jap enemy seemed weak. They lacked planes, tanks and a navy. No supply ship had got through since they took over Jolo on 5 October 1944 - six months ago.

This Jap 55 Infantry Mixed Brigade less one battalion was no frontline outfit of seasoned veterans. Formed in Luzon in 1943, it was a conglomeration of garrison units, replacements and other miscellaneous groups without combat experience. Morale was low. Knowing that we had bypassed entire Jap army units in New Guinea, they had expected to be safe while we fought in Japan or Indonesia. They could repulse guerillas indefinitely.

Over half of 55 IMB had malaria and jungle ulcers. Of the sick, only half were strong enough to fight - or 1/4 of the whole. Beginning in March 1945, they underwent daily air raids. Our planes had reduced approximately half of the positions on Mounts Bangkal, Magusing and Dato. On Bangkal, fire had destroyed all ammo, medical and ration dumps.

But these 2,000-odd men were Japanese - men of a proud nation willing to die for their homeland that they knew they would never see again. We could not use tanks in the mountains. The caves and ravines around the great Mount Daho crater were all but impregnable to ground troops and field artillery. On Mount Daho were 350-500 "Jap Marines" detached from that 33 Naval Guard unit that had held Pasananca from 163 as long as men could hold it. Their morale was high. Proudly had Major General Tetsuzo Suzuki written to all of his command on the day we landed: "Jolo will be our grave. It should be of great satisfaction to every Japanese warrior that he fights on his grave." To men of their tradition, it was a noble message.

With two months' food on hand, they had enough ammo for one major engagement. They had 400 rounds per rifle, 700 mortar rounds, 700 field artillery shells for their 12 guns. For each of 16 air-cooled machine guns, they had 12,000 rounds. On Mount Daho the Naval Guards had at least 12 20mm automatic cannon - deadly antipersonnel weapons, as we had learned at Zamboanga.

For 163 Infantry, the Battle of Jolo would be small but bloody. Japs would kill 35 and send 125 to the hospital, with 14 injured in action. (Five dead and five hospitalized wounded would be officers.) Despite the overwhelming force against them, these mainly untried Japs fought well.

Even on 10 April while we cleared Jolo City, approaches began on those nearby peaks. Against only light small-arms fire, C Company moved to within 1,000 yards of Mount Datu abutting Route 1 from Jolo City across the island.

But direst action of 10 April was K Company's push on C's left flank against forested 768-foot Mount Bangkal and 572-foot Mount Awak on a ridge leading southwest from Bangkal. Bangkal was apparently the right anchor of the Japs' first line. When we landed on 10 April, our Marine bombers neutralized it to protect our attack on Mount Patikul. The pilots saw excellent cover on its summit and gun positions on northern and western slopes. When eight SBDs dropped eight 1,000-pound bombs, two machine guns fired at them from the west slope and were strafed in turn.

Capturing Bangkal would afford our first clear observation of Jap positions southward. It also commanded Route 10 southeast into Jolo's interior.

At 0710 "K" with "M's" heavy machine guns marched to storm Mounts Bangkal and Awak while A Company 716 Tank Battalion's 2nd Platoon convoyed us. Destroyers hit Bangkal. Beginning at 0745 before us, two Marine SBDs blasted Bangkal for 35 minutes. Guarded by an "L" platoon, four tanks went up with "K." A tank-bulldozer made a 5,000-yard road on past "K" so that L Company could approach Mount Agao (836-850 feet) which was farther south.

Patrolling through alternate clearings and banana groves, "K" was well on the way up the north slope of Bangkal at 1121. By 1145, we were safely on top. "K" men scouted down the saddle to Awak, secured it by 1250.

At 1356, L Company with tanks moved south past "K" on Mounts Bangkal-Awak to take Mount Agao. From the heights, "K" seemed to guard our left flank. But suddenly, the surviving Japs fought back.

At 1425, two Jap rifles fired on "K" from Awak. From the south slope of Bangkal, where they had survived shellfire and bombs, four-five Japs charged from a tunnel and trench system. They tried to run 20 yards to the Bangkal summit and slash "K" with a mortar.

A watching M Company machine gunner slew three of them. The fourth dropped the mortar and ran into the brush. The "M" gunner kept the mortar covered and hoped that another Jap would try for it.

In this brief fight, K Company had seven wounded and two more by 1549. By 1605, "K" slew seven more Japs, then two at 1623. We claimed a total of 22, captured an abandoned heavy machine gun and two officer's sabres. That night, eight more Japs died in a counterattack.

Because of the menace to our left flank from Mount Bangkal and the late hour, L Company held back when it faced Jap pillboxes 1,000 yards from Mount Agao. Lieutenant Walters of M Company spotted a Jap ammo dump some 300 yards from a 3rd Battalion perimeter. Moving to seize the ammo with 20 men, he encountered 30 Japs, killed three, with no Yank losses.

Total recorded casualties of 163 on 10 April were nine wounded and three injured in action. "K" had all nine wounded: Hillary, Glen Langley, George Moore, Neely, O'Bar and Staff Sergeants Kausalik and Brad McDonald. Injured in action were two "A" men (Cirino, Kafer) and Myron DeWitt of an unidentified outfit.

Thus went 163 Infantry's preliminary two days before the main Battle of Jolo. With only three killed, 14 wounded into hospital and three injured in action, we had done well. Jolo City was ours, and the attack on the mounts had begun. But out 2nd Battalion was containing bypassed Japs between Jolo City and the sea near Daingapic Point. And unbroken battalions faced us in an almost continuous defense line of mountains stretching east from Tumatangas through Datu, Agad, Pula and Magusing. And 3,000 yards east of Magusing loomed the nearly impregnable Mount Daho, with its Jap marine garrison.

163 lnfantry's Battle of Jolo would be small but bloody, with 174 casualties in all.

 

CREDIT: Core of this narrative consists of 10-page 163 Infantry Journal, 6-10 April 1945, 146 Field Artillery's "Return to Jolo," Operational Monograph No. 10, Major Tokichi Tenmvo's "55th Independant Mixed Brigage/Outline of the Jolo Operation" and "Terrain Handbook 57". (Actual author of "Return to Jolo" was Captain Robert M. Alien.) Also useful were A Company 716 Tank Battalion's "A Company on Zamboanga-Jolo," M Company's 1st Lieutenant Jack Arnold's diary, my "146 Field Artillery Battalion: Fighting the Jolo Mountains", casualty lists, and 163's Morning Reports for April 1945. (Morning Reports were incomplete, and fire at St. Louis Personnel Bureau destroyed all hope of identifying companies to which many casualties belonged.}

Half tracks and armored vehicles of the 41 Recon Troop gave a big helping hand to 163 on Jolo.