The Memoirs of Armand Charest Part II

Chapter 10

D-Day Plus Two… The morning engagement and first Banzi charge

Map drawn by Armand Charest of the Biak Island Engagement

This day G Co. takes the lead followed by. F. and then E. G moves out cautiously since the map shows that we are getting close to the airfields. I can feel the tension mount. We no longer joke. Scouts move up the road and on the right flank. We are hindered there because the ridges angle more and more to the left; in effect limiting our maneuverability.

As a result we cannot deploy and are forced to stay in file formation. I then notice that there are now two navy ships and that both of them have moved closer to shore. We can feel danger all around us. All talking ceases. We hold our weapons at the ready. My throat feels dry all of a sudden. My heartbeat ratchets up a notch or two. I have difficulty with my breathing. I grip my weapon more tightly. My eyes move up and down the ridges. I become afraid.

The road dips down into a hollow and goes along that way for perhaps a quarter mile before gradually rising onto the plateau upon which are located the three airfields. At that point the beach disappears into steep cliffs. G moves cautiously, slowly into the depression. The scouts increase their vigilance, methodically feel their way ahead, clamber over obstacles. We feel that the ridges are impassable so no G.I. is up there. Big mistake!! I have a premonition of disaster, as if we are about to be overwhelmed by a calamity.

I look back and feel relief to see medium “Sherman” tanks following close behind. The order comes through: keep alert, close up the order of march. I can feel the adrenaline pumping a bit faster. My pulse rate increases. At mid-morning the invisible Japanese make their presence known and the 2nd battalion, 162nd Inf., is in a deadly fight for its existence.

First to be hit is G. As it emerges onto the plateau and before it can deploy into open order, the well-trained Japanese smash into it like a whirlwind. First to go are the lead scouts. The enemy troops circle around and slip between G and F. To the crackling of rifle fire are added the deep devil”s tattoos of heavy Japanese machine guns as their bullets search for unlucky G.Is and the whomping of murderous mortar shells as they fall among us like angels of death.

It is no contest. G never has a chance. In minutes, literally, it is overwhelmed and ceases to exist as a fighting unit. The few survivors, those nearest the cliffs, take refuge there and await relief. The navy crews become aware of the situation, pump shells from their twin 20 mm. guns upon the onrushing enemy infantry and rake the ridge tops with covering fire. But the human tornado moves on.

F Company has a little time to get ready and since it is on softer ground the men are able to dig in a bit. It slows down the juggernaut, just enough for E to deploy and form a line from the beach to the ridges. By this time the artillery has been alerted and soon the “long toms”(155 mm. rifles) back at the landing area start searching for targets.

Their heavy shells sound like freight trains as they pass overhead; the ground shakes as they land. F”s machine guns go into action. The air is rent with the noise of exploding shells, the sharp reports of rifle fire, the crash of destroyed tree tops, the cries of the wounded. All is bedlam. But F cannot hold and it receives orders to fall back through E. By this time E has dug in and has established a solid defense line and the weary survivors of F stream through to serve as a reserve.

I remember thinking about the unexplained courage of soldiers everywhere who without hesitancy hurl themselves upon enemy guns knowing full well they have no chance to survive. The attacking Japanese are no exception. With that in mind I crouch in my foxhole waiting, watching, praying, hoping that I would prove capable of being called soldier. We do not wait long.

We hear the war cry that has guided and animated the Imperial forces to conquest after conquest. From hundreds of voices comes the dreaded “Banzai”. Without being given an order to do so, we open fire with every weapon at our command. The noise is ear splitting. To the whomp whomp of the navy guns is added the shriek of heavy artillery shells.

By a stroke of dumb luck my foxhole is next to the road. So I have a clear view. The Japanese come on with fixed bayonets. We are not able to contain the charge entirely. Some get through, but are dealt with by the reserves. Dead enemy bodies lie next to me on the road. I hear a clanking noise. Two “Shermans” move into position adding their firepower to ours. I do not look up when I hear a crunching noise. I pray it isn’t what I fear it is.

Fortunately for the average soldier a firefight usually does not last long and he is too busy to be afraid. The fright comes before and after. I am too occupied to think of fear. My main thought is about survival. The Japanese wave washes up to our guns, hesitates, recoils, rolls forward again and then falls back-but only for a short while. Twice more the courageous enemy soldiers move forward screaming their blood curdling battle cry. Dead bodies cover the ground in front of our foxholes. The Japanese do not hesitate to climb over their fallen comrades to get at us.

But E has not escaped unscathed. I hear cries for medics and stretcher-bearers. A call comes in from the navy: “You have company on the ridges. We think the enemy is trying to circle around you”. We thank the sailors. F co. men are sent up to prevent further encroachment.

During the excitement the non-coms are everywhere: directing fire, keeping the men calm, pointing out targets. None is more visible than T.J. Brown. He is an inspiration and a rock. He is the quintessential soldier, the reassuring voice, and the glue holding the company together. But we caution him to keep down a bit. He has to be reminded from time to time about his worth to us.

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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