L Company 163 Infantry: Combat in Abaca Jungle

By 1st Lieutenant William Schacht, and Dr. Hargis Westerfield, Division Historian (G 163)

 

On 4 June 1945, L Company 163 Infantry's remaining 117 men detrucked near Ula Village to relieve L Company 34 Infantry (24 Division) perimetered east of the Talomo River north of Davao City. We hiked down a murky little trail through abaca jungle - an overgrown hemp-field 20 feet high. Abaca leaves wide as banana leaves darkened our path.

While we occupied the main perimeter, 1st Lieutenant Schacht took Tech Sergeant Howard Wood's 3rd Platoon to the Talomo River and relieved an outpost of L 34. Jap machine guns and rifles greeted us 50-75 yards away. Our BARs and tommies silenced them, but we lifted Wayne Johnson back over the bank with a kneemortar wound in his leg. Another "L" patrol sought a route for tanks to seize Highway L, main road north to Riverside Village. It drew fire from Japs 500 yards from our command post. Some mortar-blasts harassed us that afternoon, wounded Orezenowski at 1835.

Ahead of L Company fighting from Ula to Riverside - to Calinan was perhaps the roughest combat in the whole Southern Philippines. Neglected fields of thick-trunked abaca hemp were now 20 foot-high thickets where nobody could see 20 feet ahead. We had to fight through four miles' abaca jungle where Lieutenant General Jiro Harada had deployed his finest battalions.

The Japs held a major strong-point in abaca around Hundred-Foot Bridge in a Talomo River curve northwest of us. With K Company across the Talomo, "L" must win that bridge.

On 5 June "L" made three tries for that bridge. In early morning, Tech Sergeant Fenley's 2nd Platoon was driven to earth by several Jap heavy machine guns at the junction of two secondary roads near the bridge. Fenley's Platoon escaped without casualties.

Then Lieutenant Schacht headed a 3-tank force with Fenley's Platoon and Wood's 3rd Platoon, with an "L" section of our light machine guns and an "M" section of heavy machine guns. We tried to push through to Highway 1 on our side of the Talomo.

After a brief field artillery-mortar barrage, we marched totally exposed through open ground, next on a secondary road. Jap rifles, machine guns, and mortars drove us into the ditches. Every time fire slackened, we moved up, often crawled.

The road ran into an abaca thicket. A Jap leaped out and blasted a mine under the lead tank. Explosion was so thunderous that it drowned out Nip automatic fire pinning us in the ditches.

Tankman Sergeant Danciu yanked his crew through the ripped open turret. "L" posted a guard in the ditches beside the tank. Our Tech Sergeant Fenley was badly burned - his uniform totally blasted off his seared body. Wounded also were Brain, Sergeant Pahmahmie, five other unnamed "L" men. Concussion shook up several tankmen, and killed a man still inside the lead tank.

To save the lead tank and its immobilized "L" guard, the other two tanks and our two platoons fired cover for them. A bulldozer hauled the tank with its corpse back to safety. 

"L" continued fighting. At 1400, Schacht took all three rifle platoons and three tanks on a vast flank movement. This time, we crossed the road and dived into abaca 600-700 yards past' where the tank was mined. Deep in abaca darkness, we hacked and sweated and hunted for paths. To assist our helpless and blind maneuver, a know-it-all tank major directed us from the lead tank. He swore that he knew what he was doing. After some two hours' labor, we filed down a dark, swampy little path where brush hid the sky.

The inevitable happened. Nips lay in amush where the path joined an unexpected road. Firing on the lead tank, they drove five of Schacht's old reliable scouts to cover - McBath, Wilson, and White among them. Leaping for cover, Pfc David W. McBath was shot down and hit some more times on the path before the tank. He died on the tank trying to evacuate him.

Since it was after 1700, Schacht insisted to the major that "L" had to retreat and dig our new perimeter, for I Company had moved up into last night's perimeter. The tanks finally turned in that cramped road-space while Japs poked in shots when they could target us. The tank-major smiled and said, "Good luck tomorrow!" but McBath was dead.

Sadly "L" dug into mud while rain fell hard. Word came that we would attack again tomorrow. Thinking of leading men again into that abaca Jap hell, Schacht prayed hard in his water-filled hole. Some Jap fire hit our perimeter that night.

On 6 June, we crawled from muddy holes to attack. Now Wood's 3rd Platoon and three tanks led out - patrolled some 25 yards' before the tanks to give them room to maneuver. We blasted and fired all we had, and soon passed where the Jap mine had killed our tank yesterday.

Our field artillery had shot well before us. We scouted past smoking pillboxes and rotting old Japs with burned uniforms in roadside ditches. By 1010, we spotted a live pill-box. Our tank 75s blasted it; smoke rose from it. For security, tanks fired into one of our own shell-torn jeeps - evidently caught in Jap country. A rotted body lay nearby in US uniform with a US carbine.

Following field artillery shelling closely, we reached Hwy 1, the Riverside-Calinan road, past deserted Jap fox-holes. North was only sinister abaca for miles, but K Company was moving towards us. We sent a platoon 250 yards south to secure K's river crossing. The shattered Hundred-Foot Bridge was easily reparable for jeeps. Even if we bailed water from our holes during heavy rain that night, we slept better. I Company had taken over our advance.

On 7 June, life looked a bit better for "L" - even I Company was stopped a few hundred yards up Hwy L. On I's flank, K's 2nd Lietuenant Vukovich had his platoon badly cut up. Although the abaca trails were spooky, L Company's Brown's 1st Platoon contacted G 34 coming up on the Ula Road. Despite some rain in our mess-gear, real hot chow tasted good, that night.    .

On 8 June, our new 3rd Battalion Commanding Officer, fiery, red-headed Major Hamilton, tried a new offensive plan against the stubborn Jap lines. While "I" and "K" fought frontally against a Jap stone wall, "L" would flank it. We were to hike up the east Talomo bank 1,000 yards, turn west then to Hwy 1, and cut the Nips' rear. Our danger was that the Nips might slash our wire to 3rd Battalion, then gather and wipe us out.

Moving out around 1410, we hacked a trail through abaca groves almost night-dark down to the river, and turned upstream.

Silently over vines and up and down steep banksides, we slogged in a 200-yard column. We even feared to breathe here and there among plenty of Jap sign - rice, rags, uniforms, and discarded equipment. About 1540, we broke silence to kill two Japs near a deserted trench system that we bypassed.

That day, we made 500 of our 1,000 yards and dug a tight perimeter for that night high on the bank in thick brush. Roar of the Talomo waters made it hard for us to hear, but they muffled much of our necessary noise. It was strange to hear battle behind us; we were even ahead of our field artillery impact.

Next day, 9 June, in Jap country, we were up by first light and fearfully moving out before 0700. Swishing Talomo waters again covered our sounds, but we have slow going through swamps and over rocks. We had to slash vines. And I and K Company's field artillery (some of it probably on self-propelled mounts) sent shrapnel knee-high among us. We dived for nearest cover, then moved after each barrage, while machine gun and rifle bullets often whistled over us.

That morning, we found six Jap children under eight years old, huddled on a camouflaged platform at the water's edge. We passed more platforms with blood and discarded clothing. By 1300, we had our objective - a small road bridging the Talomo. "L" hurriedly dug in to hold the bridge - with Wood's Platoon at the Hwy 1 junction. Lying among the Japs, we were down to 1 K-ration and 1 fire-unit against the Jap army. Our phone would be easily cut; our radio batteries were half-spent.

By dusk, Wood's Platoon was firing heavily against surrounding Japs. A 40-man Jap Platoon dug in frantically while our mortars pounded them. We had to fire nightlong.

Creeping from water-filled holes on 10 June, we happily heard that the other 3rd Battalion Companies were following our route to reinforce us. By 1100, they all assembled - but for I Company, fighting to open a supply road through the bypassed Jap pocket.

We felt good briefly, but in 30 minutes, puffing "Red Dog" Hamilton was ordering us to make the same forward flank move as yesterday. We were to advance 1,400 yards and take Riverside. Yet I Company was fighting 1200 yards behind us, and we were 1,000 yards ahead of 21 Infantry Regiment on our left and 34 Infantry on our right.   

At 1200, Brown's Platoon began an advance patrol. .By 1400, they had made 500 yards creeping up the Talomo bank, and the rest of "L" joined him. Heading 3rd Platoon, Schacht labored forward for some four hours around natural barriers where Nips could make us a helpless target.

About 1600, we broke from the river-bank thicket into the first great cornfield plain that Schacht had ever seen in the Philippines. We saw Riverside's battered huts and a tall Nip observation tower - saw several miles ahead over open ground to gradually sloping hills.

Feeling terribly exposed after the abaca, we crossed the great field squad by squad - again sheltered by the river- bank until 300 yards from Riverside. We encountered new-dug spider-holes and trench systems maybe circling the town.

Staff Sergeant Fox's squad used the river thicket to approach the first houses. On Fox's signal, Staff Sergeant Hawko's squad searched more buildings but found no Japs. Then Staff Sergeant Lemons' squad seized the road junction unopposed. "L" dug in furiously, expecting vicious Jap attacks.

At darkfall, five Nips walked towards us from west of the Talomo. We slew two, but three fled to inform their officer. Mortars and rifles harassed us. At 0445 that night, 40 Japs attacked from the east road. Our fire and field artillery repelled them. At dawn, 10 Japs lay dead six feet from our perimeter.

By 0705, all 3rd Battalion but I Company held Riverside with us. At 1025 that 11 June, a US Marine Douglas bomber flipped a 250-lb bomb on us. From a fouled up bomb bay, it impacted the east side of 3rd Battalion's perimeter among us. Pfc Carl R. Mayfield, Tech Sergeant Howard D. Wood were killed, 13-16 wounded. Known "L" wounded were Shields, Denson, Breitzke, Sergeant Bailey. Meanwhile Schacht was out of action with malaria, dysentery, and jaundice for 3-1/2 weeks. By now, "L" was down from 117 men at Ula on 4 June to 86 men, a loss of nearly 1/3 in seven days.

On 11-13 June, all 3rd Battalion holed up in the Riverside mud, except for patrols. Japs were everywhere outside. On 13 June, L's patrol contacted 25 Japs, killed three, but lost nobody.

On 14 June, 3rd Battalion drove for Calinan 2.5 miles north of Riverside, last village before Mount Monoy's wilderness. We were unaware that we were now collapsing Gen Harada's second line of defense, in cooperation with 24 Division. Advancing carefully 14 June, "L" had an unnamed man wounded, but with field artillery help made over 1,000 yards. Advancing on 15 June, we hit the dirt under a Jap machine gun 25 yards ahead of us in the abaca, then routed it with our 60 mm mortars.

On that 15 June, other 3rd Battalion units with tanks led out and captured Calinan by 17 June. Yet at 070018 June, L Company endured five rounds' Jap field artillery in perimeter, lost into hospital Serpas, Pitchford, Buckey Wilson, and Sergeant Ray Miller.

On 19 June, "L" had our last hard fight to seize a road-junction northwest of Calinan towards Malagos. After 1st Lietuenant McGee's leading Platoons held the road-junction, a bypassed pocket of Japs fired on Captain Arnold's 17-man 3rd Platoon bringing up the rear. Sergeant Ratto planted his 60 mm mortar without base-plate on the open road and broke the Nips at 25 yards while we grenaded them. Tanks helped us mop up; nine Japs were killed. Pavao was wounded that night, circumstances unknown.

Now "L" was down to 52 men - haggard, sleepless, dirty, jungle-rotted, a number with minor wounds. Still, we had more nuisance patrols on 19-30 June, while the main body of the Japs' 100 Division men escaped into the mountains. On 1 July, finally, we grouped with our little 3rd Battalion and built a camp where we rested through 8 July. Then we loaded for Zambo, "home" to our own 41st Infantry Division

Historians say that we fought a Jap Division of poor quality. Not organized until mid-1944, 100 Division was one-third Korean, with not over 10 regular army officers. Guerillas had destroyed most of their supply trucks. Their field artillery ammo was critically short. Yet without planes and tanks and outgunned by our longer-ranged 105s, they had battled stubbornly, with only the abaca terrain and native courage to aid them.

L's losses were comparatively few - three dead, of whom two died from our own planes. We had 17 reported wounded and evacuated. (Dates and circumstances of wounds of Brunson, Gloyna, Sergeant Chandler are unknown.) Aided by an overwhelming offensive armament and already skilled in combat, L Company had not suffered greatly. Yet this was one of our finest hours.

 

CREDIT Indispensable for this story was L Company 163 Infantry’s Wm Schacht’s photoprint from his vivid diary – 14 May to 11 June 1945 – a 55-page typescript with three maps. (Schacht’s Diary ends at Riverside where three types of illness evacuated him.) Important especially after Riverside was Lieutenant Colonel Jack Arnold’s “Bucking the Abaca Jungle” (Jungleer, June, 1966). Other sources include 3rd Battalion 163 Infantry’s “Daily Journal, 10 May-10 July 1945). Eichelberger’s Jungle Road to Tokyo, RR Smith’s Triumph in the Philippines, and 24 Division’s The Fall of Davao, which is meager and inaccurate about 3rd Battalion 163 Infantry.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Historians say that we fought a Jap Division of poor quality.

Not organized until mid-1944, 100 Division was one-third Korean, with not over 10 regular army officers. Guerillas had destroyed most of their supply trucks. Their field artillery ammo was critically short. Yet without planes and tanks and outgunned by our longer-ranged 105s, they had battled stubbornly, wtih only the abaca terrain and native courage to aid them.

L's losses were comparatively few - 3 dead, of whom 2 died from our own planes. We had 17 reported wounded and evacuated. (Dates and circumstances of wounds of Brunson, Gloyna, Sergeant Chandler are unknown.) Aided by an overwhelm- ing offensive armament and already skilled in combat, L Company had not suffered greatly. Yet this was one of our finest hours