#1…Southern Luzon – 11th Airborne and the 158th RCT…

Three terrain complexes dominate southern Luzon: the Lake Taal Upland on the west, the Mt. Banahao District to the east, and the Batangas Mountains on the south-central coast. The great caldera, or volcanic depression of Lake Taal, centering forty miles south of Manila, is fourteen miles long north to south and about eight miles wide. Nearly surrounded by a steep rim, Lake Taal drains into the northeastern corner of Balayan Bay. Rocky, alternating ridges and gullies, radiating like the spokes of a wheel from the encircling escarpment, inhibit movement around the caldera.

Mt. Banahao, like the Lake Taal caldera, is another volcanic formation, but one that rises sharply from surrounding flat ground. Dominating the eastern section of southern Luzon, 7,150-foot-high Mt. Banahao drops off to Laguna de Bay on the north and to Tayabas Bay on the south. Its eastern slopes fall away to a saddle leading to the southern ridges of the Sierra Madre, in turn descending steeply to Lamon Bay or giving way to the rough hills of the Bondoc Isthmus. Banahao’s western slopes descend to flat ground off the eastern side of Mt. Malepunyo, which lies between Mt. Banahao and the eastern ridges of the Lake Taal caldera.

The Batangas Mountains, forming a 30-mile-wide peninsula between Batangas and Tayabas Bays, lie southwest of Mt. Banahao, south of Mt. Malepunyo, and southeast of Lake Taal. The mountains drop sharply away on the south to a steep, broken coast line overlooking the Verde Island Passage, the name given that section of the Visayan Passages lying between southern Luzon and northern Mindoro. The northern reaches of the Batangas Mountains slope more gently to a generally flat farming region.

Served by a good highway and railroad network (there are no navigable streams), southern Luzon is compartmentalized by corridors that, separating the principal terrain complexes, channel military traffic. The easiest axis of advance from Manila into southern Luzon is a narrow flat along the western and southwestern shores of Laguna de Bay. From the west side of the Hagonoy Isthmus, separating Laguna de Bay and Manila Bay, two good roads, Routes 25 and 17, follow rising ground from the vicinity of Cavite to the Lake Taal escarpment at Tagaytay Ridge, where the 511th Parachute Infantry had dropped during the 11th Airborne Division’s drive from Nasugbu to Manila in February. The ground west of Lake Taal largely confines military maneuver to Route 17 from Tagaytay Ridge to the Nasugbu area. Near Nasugbu the highway turns southeast across rough ground leading to the northwest corner of Balayan Bay. A narrow, flat corridor extends along the northern shore of Balayan Bay and, passing south of Lake Taal, provides access from the west to the northern shores of Batangas Bay. A five-mile-wide corridor separating the Batangas Mountains and the Mt. Malepunyo complex connects the flats at Batangas Bay to coastal plains at Tayabas Bay. Another narrow, east-west corridor, controlled by Mt. Maquiling and associated high ground, follows the southern shore of Laguna de Bay. A third east-west corridor is a mile-wide, sharp defile between the southern section of the Mt. Maquiling complex and the northern slopes of Mt. Malepunyo.

Centering about ten miles east of Lake Taal, Mt. Malepunyo gives way on the west to the most important north-south corridor of southern Luzon–the Lipa Corridor. Connecting the southwestern shores of Laguna de Bay to the Batangas Bay plains, the Lipa Corridor is bounded on the west by the Lake Taal caldera and on the east by Mts. Malepunyo and Maquiling. At the center of the Lipa Corridor (which provides access to all the east-west corridors) lies the commercial center of Lipa, near which the Japanese had partially completed an ambitious airfield complex.

Another north-south corridor, between Mts. Maquiling and Malepunyo, on the west, and Mt. Banahao, on the east, connects the southern shore of Laguna de Bay to the northwestern corner of the Tayabas Bay plains. A third north-south corridor, less well-defined than the other two, follows the saddle between Mt. Banahao and the Sierra Madre to join the southeastern corner of Laguna de Bay to the northeastern section of the Tayabas Bay flats.

American planners clearly understood that control of the Lipa Corridor was requisite to the successful prosecution of operations in southern Luzon. XIV Corps, accordingly, planned to drive rapidly south and east through the western and central portions of southern Luzon, securing all the ground east to include the Lipa Corridor. In the course of this drive the corps would clear the northern side of the Visayan Passages east as far as Batangas Bay, at the same time securing the shores of Batangas and Balayan Bays. Then the corps would prepare to strike eastward through the three east-west corridors exiting from the Lipa Corridor, clear the remainder of southern Luzon, and secure the north side of the Visayan Passages east to the Bondoc Isthmus.

To execute this plan XIV Corps had available only the 11th Airborne Division and the separate 158th Regimental Combat Team. These two units were to execute a pincers movement into the Lipa Corridor. One arm–the 11th Airborne Division’s 511th Parachute Infantry and 187th Glider Infantry–would strike toward Lipa from the north and northwest, securing the northern end of the Lipa Corridor, the western entrance to the Laguna de Bay east-west corridor, and the western entrance to the eastwest corridor between Mts. Malepunyo and Maquiling. The other arm–the 158th RCT–would assemble near Nasugbu and attack southeast along Route 17 to Balayan Bay. Then, swinging eastward, the 158th would clear the shores of Balayan and Batangas Bays, gain control over the southern end of the Lipa Corridor, and close the western entrance to the east-west corridor between Mt. Malepunyo and the Batangas Mountains. Having executed these tasks, the 158th RCT would drive north to seize Lipa and establish contact with the 11th Airborne Division.

The operation would be launched on a bit of a shoestring, especially in the light of intelligence estimates that placed anywhere from 10,000 to 17,000 Japanese in southern Luzon. The 11th Airborne Division would strike into southern Luzon with only 7,000 effectives, all of whom had had scant rest after the division had completed its operations at Manila. The 158th RCT, also understrength, had had about two weeks rest after its arduous campaign in the Rosario-Damortis area at Lingayen Gulf. Combined, the two units had an effective strength of little more than two-thirds that of a standard infantry division, and not all this strength would be immediately available for the new offensive. Because its reinforcing units from the 24th Infantry Division had to leave Luzon for operations in the Southern Philippines, the 11th Airborne Division would have to employ its 188th Glider Infantry to protect its line of communications.

Japanese Defensive Preparations

General Yokoyama, commanding the Shimbu Group, had vested responsibility for the defense of southern Luzon in the Fuji Force, composed of the 17th Infantry (less the 3d Battalion) of the8th Division; the 3rd Battalion, reinforced, of the same division’s 31st Infantry; a provisional infantry battalion of unknown strength; a battalion and a half of mixed artillery; and elements of various 8th Division service units. Colonel Fujishige, commanding the Fuji Force (and the 17th Infantry as well), also had control for ground operational purposes of the suicide boat squadrons and base battalions of the 2nd Surface Raiding Base Force, and of Japanese naval troops who had escaped from the Manila Bay islands. Another group under Fujishige’s command were the troops organic to or attached to the 86th Airfield Battalion, a 4th Air Army ground unit stationed at Lipa.

Fujishige’s total strength numbered approximately 13,000 men, of whom no more than 3,000 were trained infantry combat effectives. Some 2,500 of his 13,000, including about 750 infantrymen, were cut off west of Lake Taal. Southwest of Tagaytay Ridge were the remnants of the West Sector Unit (built around the 3d Battalion, 31st Infantry), while in the rough hills south of Ternate was the decimated 111th Surface Raiding Base Battalion of the 2nd Surface Raiding Base Force, holed up along with most of the naval troops who remained alive.

It was not Fujishige’s mission to hold the northern shore of the Visayan Passages. Rather, General Yokoyama had directed him to prevent American forces from rounding the eastern shore of Laguna de Bay to outflank the Shimbu Group’s main defenses. General Yokoyama, from the first, left Colonel Fujishige plenty of leeway in arranging his defenses–in fact, after March 1st Yokoyama had little other choice. By that time communications had broken down between the Fuji Force and Shimbu Group headquarters, and Fujishige was on his own.

The disposition of his forces indicates that Fujishige had analyzed the military topography of southern Luzon in much the same manner as had American planners. For example, he deployed a considerable portion of his strength along a line extending from Los Baños, on the south-central shore of Laguna de Bay, southwest across Mt. Maquiling to Santo Tomas, where Routes 1 and 19 joined twelve miles north of Lipa. From this line he controlled not only the northern section of the Lipa Corridor but also the western entrance to the east-west corridor between Mts. Maquiling and Malepunyo. Fujishige also stationed troops at Tanauan, two miles south of Santo Tomas, to block a third-class road that came into the Lipa Corridor from the northeastern corner of Lake Taal, connecting that corner to Tagaytay Ridge by other poor roads that could only support light military traffic.

Fujishige’s defense of the southern entrance to the Lipa Corridor was based upon positions extending from Mt. Macolod, at the southeastern corner of Lake Taal, southeast across Route 417, the best road leading north from Batangas Bay. To protect his rear or eastern flank against surprise attack, he stationed small detachments at various road junctions in the Tayabas Bay plains. He split his best trained units–the two battalions of the 17th Infantry–into small increments. Having only these two battalions of regular infantry, he divided them among many defensive positions, apparently in the hope that he could thus bolster the effectiveness of the many third-class and provisional units that made up the bulk of his strength. He held out no central reserve.

The Fuji Force had plenty of scores to settle with both the Americans and Filipinos in southern Luzon, and from the many atrocities that occurred in the region after the 11th Airborne Division had landed at Nasugbu, it appears that the Fuji Force did not care how it went about settling those scores. First, Fujishige had lost some of his best troops–those of the West Sector Unit–to the 11th Airborne Division during February. Second, the 11th Airborne had trapped approximately another 1,350 men in the Ternate region. Third, by March 1st Allied Air Forces planes and Allied Naval Forces PT boats had sought out and destroyed almost all the suicide boats of the 2nd Surface Raiding Base Force. Fourth, southern Luzon had become a veritable hornets’ nest of guerrilla activity, creating a situation with which Colonel Fujishige was scarcely able to cope. Fifth, and probably the most embarrassing and vexing, Fil-American forces had snatched over 2,000 American and Allied civilian internees almost from under Fujishige’s eyes.

On the morning of February 24th a task force composed of the 1st Battalion, 188th Glider Infantry, elements of the 511th Parachute Infantry, attached guerrillas, and supporting artillery, tank destroyers, and amphibious tractors made a daring, carefully timed rescue of 2,147 internees from an interment camp near Los Baños on Laguna de Bay. Guerrillas and elements of the 188th Glider Infantry invested the camp by land, coming in from the west; other troops of the 188th Infantry came across Laguna de Bay by amphibious tractors, and troopers of the 511th Infantry dropped onto the camp proper. Annihilating the Japanese garrison of nearly 250, the task force escaped through enemy-controlled territory before Fujishige was able to organize a counterstroke.

The March Offensive in Southern Luzon

The northern arm of the pincers in southern Luzon began to move on March 7th, when the 187th Glider Infantry descended the steep southern slopes of Tagaytay Ridge to the northern shore of Lake Taal. Turning east, the regiment met no opposition until, on the afternoon of the 8th, it came upon Fuji Force defenses at a hill two miles west of Tanauan. With the aid of close air and artillery support the regiment overran these defenses on March 11th, but then halted pending the outcome of the 511th Infantry’s attack south through the Lipa Corridor toward Santo Tomas.

The 511th had assembled at barrio Real, seven miles north of Santo Tomas. Here Route 1, which runs from Manila to Tanauan and then east through the corridor between Mts. Maquiling and Malepunyo, joins Route 21, leading eastward, through Los Baños, along the south shore of Laguna de Bay. The 511th Infantry’s first task was to reduce Fuji Force defenses on Mt. Bijiang, a rough peak located at the northwestern corner of the Mt. Maquiling hill mass and controlling Routes 1 and 21 for about five miles south and southeast of Real. The 511th Infantry launched unsuccessful frontal attacks against Mt. Bijiang from March 10th to the 13th. Thereafter, supporting air and artillery reduced the defenses, which guerrillas finally overran on the 19th. Without waiting for this inevitable outcome, elements of the 511th had pushed down Route 1 to within a mile of Santo Tomas. Meanwhile, other troops of the regiment had moved east along Route 21 to a point about three miles short of Los Baños, where the Japanese had reorganized their defenses.

Neither the 511th Infantry nor the 187th Infantry, nor even both operating in concert, had the strength required to overrun the strong Japanese positions in the Santo Tomas–Tanauan region. Therefore, until March 23rd, the two regiments mopped up in the areas they already held, warded off numerous small-scale Japanese counterattacks, patrolled to locate Japanese defenses, and directed air and artillery bombardments on Japanese positions. Elements of the 1st Cavalry relieved both units on March 23rd.

To the southwest and south, meanwhile, the 158th RCT had made somewhat greater progress. Striking from the vicinity of Nasugbu on 4 March, the 158th Infantry secured the town of Balayan, at the northwestern corner of Balayan Bay, the same day. The regiment then drove eastward against negligible opposition, cleared the northern shores of Balayan and Batangas Bays, and on March 11th reached the town of Batangas, on the northeastern shore of Batangas Bay. On its way east the regiment had bypassed strong elements of the 2nd Surface Raiding Base Force on the Calumpan Peninsula, which separates Balayan and Batangas Bays. The regiment had to clear the peninsula to assure the security of the northern side of the Verde Island Passage and to make the shores of Balayan and Batangas Bays safe for base development; it gave the job to a reinforced battalion. In an operation marked by minor shore-to-shore operations by both Japanese and American units, the American force cleared the peninsula by March 16th. Most of the Japanese garrison escaped to islands in the Verde Island Passage or to the Lubang Islands, which control the western entrance to the Visayan Passages.

Meanwhile, other elements of the 158th Infantry had made contact with strong Japanese defenses blocking Route 417–the Batangas-Lipa road–at Mt. Macolod. Numbering some 1,250 men in all, the Japanese had the support of a 300-mm. howitzer, two 70-mm. guns, ten or more 81-mm. mortars, a few lighter mortars, and a wealth of machine guns and machine cannon, including many removed from disabled Japanese aircraft at the Lipa airstrips. The 158th Infantry, launching an attack at Mt. Macolod on March 19th, had the support of two 105-mm. and two 155-mm. howitzer battalions.

From March 19th to the 23rd,  the 158th Infantry overran outer defenses east of Route 417 and southeast of Mt. Macolod, which lay west of the road. But the regiment made little progress at Mt. Macolod proper and by March 23rd, when it had to disengage to prepare for operations on the Bicol Peninsula, the Japanese still had a firm hold on the mountain.

Thus, by March 23rd the 11th Airborne Division and the 158th RCT had closed with the Fuji Force main line of resistance at the northern and southern entrances to the Lipa Corridor, had cleared the shores of Balayan and Batangas Bays, and had secured the northern side of the Verde Island Passage. Simultaneously, elements of the 11th Airborne Division had considerably reduced the threat to its line of communications posed by the Fuji Force units isolated west of Lake Taal, although it was April 1st before the 188th Infantry overcame the last organized resistance in the rough hills south of Ternate.

Sixth Army plans to speed the clearing of the rest of the northern side of the Visayan Passages by striking into the Bicol Peninsula caused Krueger to relieve the 158th RCT at Mt. Macolod. Initially, Krueger had intended to relieve the 158th RCT on 17 March, simultaneously pulling the 511th Infantry (less 3d Battalion) out of the lines in southern Luzon to act as Sixth Army Reserve for the Bicol Peninsula operation. Upon re-examination of his plan, Krueger began to fear that with the strength left to it the 11th Airborne Division might find it impossible to hold the gains made in southern Luzon by mid-March. Also, he learned that the Allied Air Forces and the Allied Naval Forces could not make ready for the Bicol attack as soon as they had anticipated. Accordingly, Krueger postponed the Bicol invasion a week, giving himself time to move the 1st Cavalry Division into southern Luzon before the 158th RCT had to leave.

Desperately in need of rest and rehabilitation after its fighting in Manila and against the Shimbu Group in the mountains east of the city, the 1st Cavalry Division got only a ten-day breather before moving into southern Luzon. The 43d Division took over from the cavalry unit on the Shimbu front on March 12th, and on the 23rd the 1st Cavalry Division relieved all elements of the 11th Airborne Division in the Santo Tomas-Tanauan area at the northern end of the Lipa Corridor. On the same day, in a rapid truck movement around the west side of Lake Taal, the 11th Airborne Division relieved the 158th RCT in the Mt. Macolod sector.

XIV Corps now divided southern Luzon so as to place Lipa, Mt. Macolod, and Mt. Malepunyo in the 11th Airborne Division’s sector in the south; the 1st Cavalry Division had the region to the north. General Griswold, the corps commander, directed the 11th Airborne to complete the reduction of Japanese defenses at Mt. Macolod, seize Lipa, and clear Route 19, the main road through the Lipa Corridor, for five miles north of Lipa. The 1st Cavalry Division would seize Santo Tomas and Tanauan and advance south along Route 19 to gain contact with the 11th Airborne Division.

The 11th Airborne Division again faced the problem of assembling sufficient strength to execute its missions. The division controlled only one battalion of the 511th Infantry, and one of the 188th Infantry’s two battalions was still engaged south of Ternate. General Swing organized his remaining units into two regimental task forces. The 187th Infantry, reinforced by tanks, guerrillas, and artillery, was to seize Mt. Macolod; the 188th Infantry, less its 1st Battalion but with the 511th Infantry’s 3rd Battalion attached, would strike toward Lipa up roads lying east of Mt. Macolod. Tank destroyers and guerrillas reinforced the 188th Infantry’s groupment. The 1st Cavalry Division assigned responsibility for its drive south through the Lipa Corridor to the 2d Cavalry Brigade. The 1st Cavalry Brigade would secure the division’s rear area, mop up at Mt. Maquiling, and advance east along the south shore of Laguna de Bay as far as Los Baños.

Except at Mt. Macolod, the task of clearing the Lipa Corridor proved unexpectedly easy. Leaving the town of Batangas on March 24th, the 188th Infantry task force encountered no serious resistance until, on the evening of the 26th, it reached hill defenses two and a half miles southeast of Lipa held by the Fuji Force’s 86th Airfield Battalion. The next day the task force overran the Japanese positions, and during the following night most of the Japanese remaining in the Lipa area withdrew eastward to Mt. Malepunyo, after allegedly setting fire to the town. Actually, American air and artillery bombardments had already battered Lipa beyond recognition. The fire, no matter how started, could have done little additional damage.

The 2d Cavalry Brigade had moved equally fast. The 8th Cavalry took Santo Tomas on March 24th after a sharp fight; Tanauan fell on the 26th as Japanese resistance throughout the 2d Brigade’s sector began to collapse. On the 27th, XIV Corps reassigned responsibility for the capture of Lipa to the 1st Cavalry Division, and behind close air support that completed the destruction of the town, the 8th Cavalry secured Lipa against little opposition on March 29th. That evening the regiment made contact with patrols of the 188th Infantry task force south of Lipa.

Meanwhile, troops of the 7th Cavalry had advanced about five miles east into the corridor between Mts. Maquiling and Malepunyo. The 1st Cavalry Brigade had been making good progress along the Route 21 corridor on the south shore of Laguna de Bay–it took Los Baños on the 25th, and by the 29th had troops four miles beyond that town. Reconnaissance elements moved across Laguna de Bay in small craft and landed near the southeastern corner of the lake, finding few signs of Japanese. The 1st Cavalry Division and the 188th Infantry task force had completed their shares in the operations to secure the Lipa Corridor and both were ready to swing eastward in strength through the east-west corridors. At Mt. Macolod, however, the 187th Infantry task force was facing a far different situation.

The 187th began its attack at Mt. Macolod on March 24th, but it was not until  April 1st that the task force, having encircled the landward sides of the terrain feature, was able to concentrate its entire strength against the main Japanese defenses. Then, down to an effective strength of less than 1,250 men, the task force launched an unsuccessful assault against the Japanese defenders–300 men holding well-prepared positions in excellent defensive terrain.

There was a hiatus in operations at Mt. Macolod from April 3rd to the 17th, when the bulk of the 187th Infantry concentrated near Lipa. The regiment renewed the attack on the 18th with reinforcements including a company each of medium tanks, tank destroyers, and 4.2-inch mortars, and over 500 guerrillas. By April 21st the reinforced regiment had overcome the last resistance, completing the job that the 158th RCT had started on March 19th.

Sweeping Eastward

While the 187th Infantry had been reducing the defenses at Mt. Macolod, the rest of XIV Corps had been driving east beyond the Lipa Corridor. Two factors prompted General Griswold to strike east before Mt. Macolod fell. First, General Krueger was putting pressure on the corps to clear the Tayabas Bay section of the northern side of the Visayan Passages quickly. Second, in late March, the Sixth Army commander had directed XI and XIV Corps to gain contact along the eastern shore of Laguna de Bay in order to prevent troops of the Fuji Force from escaping from southern Luzon in order to join the main body of the Shimbu Group.

Griswold planned to place the emphasis on his drive eastward on his left, the 1st Cavalry Division’s sector, not only because of Krueger’s orders to make contact with XI Corps east of Laguna de Bay but also because the 11th Airborne Division was, in late March, too scattered and too weak to undertake a concerted attack. As of March 30th the 187th Infantry still had its hands full at Mt Macolod; the 511th Infantry, less 3d Battalion, was still in Sixth Army Reserve for the Bicol Peninsula operation; and one battalion of the 188th Infantry was still occupied west of Lake Taal. Griswold therefore expected little more from the 11th Airborne Division, at least for the time being, than reconnaissance eastward toward Tayabas Bay from the southern part of Lipa Corridor.

The new XIV Corps drive started on March 30th as the 12th Cavalry, 1st Cavalry Brigade, struck eastward from the vicinity of Los Baños. The regiment moved first to Calauan, seven miles beyond Los Baños, and then marched southward along a secondary road toward San Pablo, at the eastern exit to the east-west corridor between Mts. Maquiling and Malepunyo. Strong Japanese forces held defenses in rocky, bare-sloped hills between Calauan and San Pablo, but in an attack lasting from April 1st to the 5th the 12th Cavalry overran those positions, losing 20 men killed and 65 wounded while killing about 140 Japanese. On the last day of this fight the 12th Cavalry made contact with 5th Cavalry patrols coming north from San Pablo, seven miles south of Calauan. The 5th and 7th Cavalry Regiments had fought their way through the Mt. Maquiling-Mt. Malepunyo corridor against stiff but rather disorganized Japanese opposition and had reached San Pablo on April 2nd.

On  April 5th the 1st Cavalry Brigade and elements of the 8th Cavalry from the 2nd Brigade began patrolling northeast, east, and southeast from San Pablo and Calauan, rounding the southeast corner of Laguna de Bay and probing into the north-south corridor between Mts. Malepunyo and Banahao. Resistance melted away and the cavalrymen encountered only small, disorganized groups of Japanese in the area patrolled. On April 6th the 5th Cavalry made contact with XI Corps troops at the southeastern corner of Laguna de Bay, thus completing one of the XIV Corps tasks.

Twenty-odd miles to the south, meanwhile, the 11th Airborne Division had accomplished far more than General Griswold had expected of it. Interpreting its reconnaissance role in the broadest fashion, the 11th Airborne Division on 1 April had started pushing elements of the 188th Infantry east through the corridor between Mt. Malepunyo and the Batangas Mountains. The leading troops emerged at Tiaong, in the north-south corridor between Mts. Malepunyo and Banahao, on  April 3rd, and the next day established contact with 5th Cavalry patrols from San Pablo, eight miles to the north. The 188th Infantry next dispatched patrols into the Tayabas Plains region south of Mt. Banahao, finding the plains free of Japanese and under the control of Filipino guerrillas. When on April 6th troops of the 188th Infantry reached Lucena, the largest town on Tayabas Bay, XIV Corps had finished the job of securing the northern side of the Visayan Passages in its zone.

Mop-up in Southern Luzon

From Lucena, Route 1 ran eastward across the Bondoc Isthmus to Atimonan on Lamon Bay; Route 23 went north from Lucena through the corridor between Mt. Banahao and the Sierra Madre to a junction with Route 21 at Pagsanjan, point of contact between the XI and XIV Corps. On  April 7th patrols of the 11th Airborne Division started north from Lucena and 1st Cavalry Division patrols left Pagsanjan on their way south. Making contact on  April 10th, the patrols from the two divisions secured the Mt. Banahao-Sierra Madre corridor against negligible resistance.

General Krueger had already directed XIV Corps to continue eastward from the Banahao-Sierra Madre corridor to the shores of Lamon Bay in order to seal off the Bicol Peninsula and make ready to launch a drive southeast through the peninsula to gain contact with the 158th RCT, coming northwest. Accordingly, on April 11th a company of the 188th Infantry, meeting little opposition, followed Route 1 across the Bondoc Isthmus to Atimonan. The previous day troops of the 5th Cavalry had reached Lamon Bay at Mauban, eighteen miles northwest of Atimonan. Strategically, the campaign in southern Luzon had ended–the only task still facing XIV Corps was to track down and destroy organized remnants of the Fuji Force.

Before the beginning of April XIV Corps had learned that the Fuji Force was withdrawing into the Mt. Malepunyo hill complex. Indeed, from the inception of operations in southern Luzon, Colonel Fujishige had included such a withdrawal in his plans and had long since begun preparations for a last-ditch stand at Mt. Malepunyo. But Fujishige had expected his Lipa Corridor defenses to hold out longer than they did, and he had not anticipated that his units west of Lake Taal would be cut off. As a result, he had gathered only 4,000 troops at Mt. Malepunyo by early April; of these no more than 1,800 were combat effectives, and he was unable to man many of his prepared defenses. Over 2,000 more troops of the Fuji Force were alive on southern Luzon in early April, but they had little hope of reaching Mt. Malepunyo.

The forces available to XIV Corps for an attack against Mt. Malepunyo included only the 8th Cavalry, one squadron of the 7th Cavalry, and the 511th Parachute Infantry, released from Sixth Army Reserve on April 12th. The 1st Cavalry Brigade was committed to the thrust into the Bicol Peninsula; the 7th Cavalry, less one squadron, had moved north of Laguna de Bay to relieve XI Corps units in the Santa Maria Valley; the 187th and 188th Infantry Regiments were needed for mopping up and security missions throughout the rest of southern Luzon.

During the period April 6th-12th patrols had discovered that the principal Fuji Force defenses were located in the northwestern quadrant of the Malepunyo complex, and by the 16th preliminary attacks had compressed resistance into an area around Mt. Mataasna-Bundoc, a peak 2,375 feet high at the northwestern shoulder of the hill mass. Further attacks from April 17th thru 21st, productive of limited results, served mainly to illustrate the fact that more strength was needed. Accordingly, XIV Corps added the 188th Infantry to the attacking force, simultaneously unifying the command under Headquarters, 11th Airborne Division.

On April 27th, following two days’ bombardment by seven battalions of artillery, the 511th Infantry, the 188th Infantry, the 8th Cavalry, one squadron of the 7th Cavalry, and almost 1,000 attached guerrillas launched a final attack. By coincidence, Colonel Fujishige had started to withdraw his remaining troops eastward to Mt. Banahao that very day, and so found his defensive and withdrawal plans completely upset. By dark on the 30th the combined forces under 11th Airborne Division control had overcome organized resistance at Mt. Malepunyo. Since April 6th Colonel Fujishige had lost almost. 2,500 men killed in the futile defense of the Malepunyo hill mass.

Colonel Fujishige ultimately gathered over 2,000 troops along the upper slopes of Mt. Banahao, including a few men who infiltrated through XIV Corps lines from the region west of Lake Taal, The Fuji Force commander and his remnants were quite content to remain in hiding for the rest of the war, and somehow 1st Cavalry Division and guerrilla patrols failed to discover them. At the end of the war the colonel came down off Mt. Banahao to surrender with nearly 2,000 men.

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One thought on “#1…Southern Luzon – 11th Airborne and the 158th RCT…

  1. #1…I have 2 things that make this story of the 158th special to me, one is that the 158th is from my home state of Arizona, the 2nd is that my wife’s mother was born and raised in Legaspi…and she remembers the day as a young girl when the Arizona soldiers landed, she remembers them being bigger than life, and immediately felt the difference in the lives of the people of her hometown. After 3 years, the Japanese were finally gone…she had seen too much brutality as young girl should experience or see.
    The base of the 158th is still in operation as a National Guard base in the heart of Phoenix, Arizona. The 158th Museum is housed in the lone original building of where German POW’s from the European Theater were imprisoned. The road into the base is named after the 158th as “Bushmaster” way. General MacArthur gave the 158th very high praise for its WW2 performance by saying “No finer combat team has ever been deployed to battle”. The “Bushmasters” were to spearhead the Invasion of Japan by landing on Kyushu Island during the opening phase of Operation Coronet…the begining portion of “Operation Downfall”….

    Like

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