The Memoirs of Armand Charest Part II

Chapter 8

The Battle of Biak Island, D-Day May 27, 1944…

Editor’s Note: This starts Dad’s description of the battle of Biak Island. I have done a bit of research and located some websites that describe present day Biak island, which is now part of Indonesia. These websites will be listed at the end of each chapter of the Battle for Biak Island. The present day descriptions of Biak corroborates Dad’s narrative.

I have to wonder if Dad’s narrative is the only eye-witness account of the battle written.

Map drawn by Armand Charest of the Biak Island Engagement

Let us fast reel forward. E is hitting the beach in an ungainly but deadly efficient ship called an L.C.I. (landing craft, infantry). This guarantees us dry feet as the boat will ease up to a jetty and we will walk down a ramp onto it. I am restrained by space to explain fully the intricacies of sea borne invasions as carried out by the U.S. Navy, to describe the awesome power of an attacking fleet and the make up of a W.W.2 army division.

A beach landing was a difficult undertaking requiring precision planning and timing. After many such operations, sometimes tragic, the navy had succeeded in achieving a high degree of professionalism. We GI Joes appreciated the skill and dedication of the crazy sailors. Let me take some time to explain the details of a beach invasion.

The size of the fleet depended on the size of the landing force that depended on the area to be invaded. In a typical landing the landing force ranged from a division of 15,000 men to a regiment of 3,000 men. The attacking force usually sailed on giant troopships each carrying several thousand men. Navy ships traveled in lanes: the outer lane held any aircraft carriers; next sailed battleships; then came the cruisers and transports. Destroyers circled the fleet, watching for Japanese aircraft or submarines.

Aircraft usually opened festivities by taking off from carriers and dropping bombs on the beaches or further inland. Battleships then opened up and sent 16-in. shells from 20 miles away on designated targets. The whole panorama of war was extremely thrilling. Perhaps that is why men love war so much. Here you had planes swooping low over the beaches, dropping bombs or sometimes strafing targets; shells coming in would sound like trains one hears from a distance. At a designated time the army troops would line up next to the ship railings preparing to climb down cargo nets.

Down below small boats able to carry forty men or one platoon maneuvered close to the transports, bobbing up and down like a worn out cork. The four platoon Sergeants were the first ones down into the boats. Their job was to steady the nets and advising the men when to jump into the boats. If one jumped too soon when the boat was on the upswing, one ran the danger of suffering injuries. If one jumped too late, then one took a chance on breaking a leg. The men had to tie their steel helmets securely or someone down below could get hit by a flying steel pot.

My machine gun was passed down very carefully from one man to another. All in all forty men could scramble down in a few minutes. When the little boat became filled it moved out and another one moved in. You must remember that there were two or three loading stations on each side of the ship. The little boats then circled while waiting for further instructions. This part of the operation was usually classified as SNAFU (situation normal all fouled up).

As the Little boats circled, the boatswain would watch for a flare shot off by a naval officer. When it came the boats formed into a straight line and waited. This operation was called TARFU (Things are really fouled up). It was called that because the boats were not usually in the proper places, so they did not have full companies together. When the second flare shot up, the boats sped away toward the shore. At some close point all aircraft and battleships ceased activities. Then the lucky sailor sitting up on the stem opened up with his machine gun and raked the beach until we hit it or until he ran out of bullets. What happened after we hit the beaches constitutes another story. Suffice it to say that at this point the acronym was FUBAR (fouled up beyond recognition).

Our L.C.I. was equipped with dozens of rows of quick firing rocket tubes. So as we approached the beach we witnessed the first ship-to-shore rocket attack in the South Pacific as the tubes belched hundreds of 3-in rockets. We were awed and appalled as those terrifying messengers of death rained down on the beach area and surrounding jungles. It was a dreadful sight. There is no limit to man”s ability to inflict pain and suffering on his fellow man. I remembered again T.J. “s words and hardened my heart. Some rockets hit the ridges and ricocheted into the air like screaming banshees right out of hell.

Ours is the second wave. The first battalion has preceded us and is already on the march to its objective (see map). The second is to move along the coastal road to the airfields. Since the first has the longer distance to cover, we are given the job of securing the landing area before moving on. This we do. Patrols fan out across the hog back ridges. The third battalion is kept on the ships in reserve. It will land on the second day.

We wonder at the inactivity of the tough Japanese soldiers. It is not their nature to be so passive. We should have suspected something, but in our arrogance we deride G-2″s estimate of ten thousand China war veterans. E Co. sustains a few casualties on the first day, but we are not alarmed. We spend the night in makeshift corrugated-roofed huts. That does not turn out to be a good idea. It rains all night. The noise keeps us awake.

Websites About Present Day Biak Island:

 A database of photographs, descriptions and locations of WWII wreckage remaining on Biak Island, Irian Jaya, Indonesia.

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