JFK and OPERATION BLISSFULL

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On November 2, 1943, Navy Lt. John F. Kennedy, commander of PT-59, a motor patrol torpedo boat converted into a gunboat, pulled out of Lambu Lambu Cove on Vella Lavella Island in the Solomon Islands. His assignment was a rescue operation, and Kennedy knew something about rescue operations. In early August 1943, Kennedy’s PT-109 had been rammed by a Japanese destroyer and sunk. Kennedy and the surviving crew members were rescued by another PT boat six days later.

Now, Lieutenant Kennedy and the PT-59 went to the aid of marines under the command of Lt. Col. Victor H. Krulak, who had been surrounded by Japanese forces on Choiseul Island. The Allies had landed on Vella Lavella Island, one of the western Solomon Islands, on August 15, 1943. The first elements of the Second Marine Parachute Battalion, First Marine Parachute Regiment, First Marine Amphibious Corps (IMAC) began landing on Vella Lavella on October 1. The rest of the regiment arrived later in October.

The battalion was commanded by Krulak, a 1934 graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy. His men called their 5-feet, 4-inch, 130-;pound commander “the Brute,” a nickname that had been given him by his Annapolis classmates.
Several weeks after arriving at Vella Lavella, Krulak had been summoned to IMAC headquarters at Guadalcanal, one of the southernmost of the Solomons, to discuss a special mission for his battalion. In anticipation of American landings in the northern Solomons, the Japanese were frantically moving troops by barge, often from Kolombangara (north of New Georgia), northeastward to Bougainville, Choiseul, and the Shortland and Treasury Islands.

The idea was for Krulak’s forces, far outnumbered by Japanese, to go to Choiseul, an important base for barge traffic. There they would conduct diversionary raids on Japanese fortifications on the northwest part of the island and make the Japanese commanders think there were more Allied troops than there actually were. They called it “Operation Blissful.”

“Operation Blissful” would, they hoped, convince the Japanese that they needed to send more troops to Choiseul from Bougainville—the Allies’ real objective because of its airfields. That way, there would be fewer of the enemy defending Bougainville, less than 50 miles from Choiseul, when the Allies landed there. Krulak’s commanders gave him some additional firepower to help with the job of deceiving the Japanese. It was a gamble, but they believed “the Brute” was the man for the job, and he needed to be briefed in person.

At this time in the Pacific in World War II, the Allies were plodding their way through the Solomon Islands in their island-by-island push toward the Japanese mainland. There was a long way to go—the costly fighting on Iwo Jima and Okinawa lay nearly two years away—but now they were concerned mainly with the island of Bougainville. By the end of the operation, its supporting characters would include a future President of the United States and a future Supreme Court justice. And “the Brute” would add another chapter into what would become a long and distinguished career in the Marine Corps.

Before Krulak’s men were deployed to Choiseul in late October, several amphibious patrols had been sent to the island. They were guided by two Australians, Sub-Lt. Carden W. Seton and Lt. Alexander Waddell of the Royal Australian Navy, who provided much valuable information and advice.
Waddell was part of a network of coastwatchers in the islands northeast of Australia reporting on Japanese activities. He had been on Choiseul in 1941 and 1942 and knew both the area and the natives better than anyone else. Seton, a former manager of a plantation on the Shortland Islands in the Solomons, had intimate knowledge of the whole area.

Because of the dense jungle, Krulak’s marines, some 658 of them, would be unable to parachute in and would instead have to make an amphibious landing. Krulak was to select a site for a PT boat base and withdraw after 12 days if the Navy decided it did not want to establish the base. Lt. (j.g.) Richard Keresey, a former PT boat skipper, accompanied the marines to help locate a suitable PT base in case the Americans actually took the island.
The actual landing would be made on unguarded beaches in the vicinity of an abandoned village named Voza, on the northern portion of Choiseul’s southwest coast between the two relatively lightly held concentrations of Japanese soldiers at Sangigai and Choiseul Bay. Intelligence indicated there were 4,000 to 5,000 Japanese on the island, most of them refugees from the islands lower down the Solomons, in poor shape and badly armed, dispersed in small camps along the coast. They were now awaiting transportation for a withdrawal to Bougainville. For this operation, Krulak was promised support from Vella Lavella–based aircraft and PT boats.

Krulak’s battalion was ordered to make contact with the Japanese but not to engage in major battles. IMAC would announce to the press on October 30 that 20,000 marines had landed on Choiseul, and to lend credibility to the news reports, Krulak would begin making attacks that day.

An attack on the Sangigai barge station would, they hoped, make the Japanese believe that Americans were present on the island in force. If the diversion was successful, the Japanese would begin to transfer troops from Bougainville to Choiseul before they realized that the November 1 landing at Empress August Bay on Bougainville Island was the main invasion.

During the early evening of October 27, Krulak’s reinforced battalion departed Vella Lavella Island for Voza, on Choiseul Island. Soon after midnight, the first wave of the landing force began traveling to shore. Zinoa Island, a tiny lone islet just 2,000 yards off Voza, was chosen as the place to hide four landing craft, and their Navy crews, which would be needed for raiding up and down the coast. Shortly after the ships departed, while the beachhead was being established, enemy reconnaissance planes discovered the landing and bombed the area without effect. Just to make sure the Japanese knew they were in Choiseul, Allied radio broadcast the news.

Leaving the beach, the marines headed for a high-ground base, to be called the Mountain Camp, about 1,000 yards above Voza, which would be their base camp. With the aid of some 80 natives and led by the Australian Seton, the marines moved off the beach into the jungle. They established a base of operations and set up outposts on the beach north and south of the village.
The marines also created a dummy supply dump of empty boxes on a beach two miles to the north to invite enemy attention to the landing. It worked. After daylight, Japanese planes attacked the dump. Shortly after noon, Krulak had an uncoded message sent to IMAC stating that the entire division, 20,000 men, had landed and were moving toward their objectives.

In the afternoon, Krulak sent out a small patrol west along the seacoast to investigate possible sites for a PT boat base. Two other native patrols working farther away from Voza provided the battalion with information on the nearest Japanese positions. Approximately 150 to 200 Japanese were guarding a barge staging and replenishing base at Sangigai to the southeast, while another force was 30 miles northwest. Krulak decided to attack Sangigai on October 30 as planned. Early on October 29, Krulak sent a patrol, consisting of 10 marines, an Army radar specialist, and Keresey, the former PT boat skipper, some 15 miles north to determine the feasibility of bringing landing craft to Moli Point for future operations against the Japanese forces. They were also to select tentative locations for radar equipment and PT boat bases. They believed they would be back before dark.

The next day’s attack had a two-fold mission: destroying the Sangigai base and impressing the enemy with the strength of the marine forces. E Company, reinforced with machine guns and rockets, would move down to the Vagara River. From there they would move on Sangigai, destroy the garrison, and drive the Japanese into an F Company ambush. F Company, reinforced with machine guns and rockets, would establish an ambush location on a ridge to prevent the Japanese from retreating into the mountains.

When the mission was completed, they would both return to the Vagara River mouth, where the landing craft would extract them. G Company would remain as guard at the Voza Mountain Camp. Meanwhile, the patrol that was heading toward Moli Point reached it without spotting any Japanese. There they found no place to base landing craft or any locations for the installation of radar equipment. As darkness was setting in, the marines set off on their return to Voza but soon decided to stop for the night.

About 4 a.m. on October 30, the battalion left the Mountain Camp. Moving to the beach, the force waited for four landing craft to pick them up. Before the craft could meet the marines, however, four U.S. fighter aircraft attacked the boats, apparently thinking them Japanese barges, and damaged three of them.
E and F Companies marched down the coast to Sangigai, 10 miles to the southeast, for the planned attack. The force was guided by Seton and two native scouts. About the time the marines began their march, the prearranged air strike with 12 TBF torpedo bombers and 26 fighters dropped about two tons of bombs on the enemy positions just outside Sangigai.

Adm. William F. Halsey, commander of the South Pacific Area, issued a press release the morning of October 30 announcing the Allied invasion of Choiseul, indicating that a division of 20,000 marines had landed and was moving toward its objective. Newspapers all around the country ran stories about the invasion, ensuring that the Japanese got the story, too. At the Vagara River, Krulak’s forces split. Krulak took Company F, Seton, and two native guides inland to the headwaters and continued through the mountain jungles toward their ambush position at the Japanese rear.

Company E continued to Sangigai and attacked the Japanese base. The fleeing Japanese encountered Company F’s ambush, and when the fighting died down, about 40 Japanese ran, and 72 were dead. The marines’ own casualties numbered 6 killed, 1 missing, and 12 wounded, Krulak being one of them.
In Sangigai, Company E searched the enemy dead and the buildings for souvenirs and documents. They found a veritable treasure trove of documents and charts, including hydrographic maps showing the water routes of Bougainville and its surrounding islands. While the documents were being inspected, the marines destroyed 180 tons of supplies, food, ammunition, medical supplies, fuel, communications equipment, barge repair parts, and one new landing barge.

Having completed its mission and hearing the firing at the ambush position dying down, Company E started back to the Vagara River to meet the landing craft. There they waited for Krulak and Company F. When they had not appeared by dusk, Company E boarded the boats and headed back to Voza, where Company G was guarding the Mountain Camp. After burying its dead and the excess rocket ammunition, Company F proceeded to the Vagara River mouth, to find Company E and the landing craft gone. Krulak decided to remain where he was for the night because it was already dark and the troops were fatigued. The troops dug in, and, unable to make radio contact with the base camp, Krulak sent some men back to Voza to arrange for the boats to pick them up the next morning. Meanwhile, natives informed Krulak that the Japanese were sending reinforcements to Sangigai—just as the Allied command hoped they would.

In the early morning of October 31, the landing craft picked up Krulak and Company F and took them back to Voza. The force then headed inland to the Mountain Camp. Immediately patrols were dispatched and ambushes erected to thwart the almost certain Japanese reaction to the attack on Sangigai.
A landing craft took the maps, charts, and documents captured during the raid at Sangigai, along with Company F’s severest casualties, to a Navy PBY flying boat, and the plane quickly took off for IMAC headquarters. Satisfied with the Sangigai raid, Krulak decided to strike at the Choiseul Bay area to keep the Japanese guessing and to do as much damage as possible before their true strength was perceived.

In preparation for this operation, Krulak sent Maj. Warner T. Bigger, the battalion executive officer; Lt. Samuel Johnston, the intelligence officer; an intelligence detachment; and a platoon from Company G 20 miles up the northwest coast to scout the area around the village and barge station of Nukiki and the Warrior River. They reported no Japanese troops along the route of their planned attack. Back at the Mountain Camp, Bigger and Krulak went over plans for the next day’s operation against Choiseul Bay. Bigger would lead the raid, taking Company G’s Second and Third Platoons. That evening, natives reported that immediately after the fight to the south—at Sangigai—the Japanese had begun to reoccupy the village.

The Japanese commander, who previously suffered defeat on Guadalcanal, was not convinced that the Allied landings on the Treasury Islands, made by New Zealand forces as another diversion, and Choiseul were the main attacks. But, not wanting to take chances, he ordered Japanese at Bougainville, the Shortlands, and other islands to reinforce the Choiseul garrison. At dawn on November 1, elements of the Third Marine Division and the Second Raider Battalion landed at Empress Augusta Bay on Bougainville.

Krulak later sent the 27-man Third Platoon of Company E to set up an ambush position along the Vagara River near the village of Vagara, which was held by the Japanese. The Japanese, who by this time had become aware of the small size of Krulak’s force, were sending out combat patrols toward Voza. Two miles north of the Vagara River, the platoon was ambushed by more than 20 Japanese and suffered casualties, including one dead. The marines then pushed forward, driving the Japanese back toward Sangigai, killing eight and wounding a number of others. Meanwhile, Major Bigger, along with the G Company commander and the three platoon leaders and their forces, boarded three landing craft and headed northwest to the mouth of the Warrior River.

The river should have been deep enough for small schooners, but the boats became stuck in the shallow coral about 200 yards from shore. The engines made such a loud noise as they tried to get off the coral that Bigger was pretty certain that the Japanese heard it. He had his men offload in the water and head for the east bank. Moving through the jungle, Bigger’s men found themselves in a dense swampland, lost and falling behind schedule. They would not be able to complete their mission at Choiseul Bay and return to the Warrior River by dusk to be picked up, so Bigger decided they would spend the night in the swamp and make the raid the following day, November 2.

He then tried to raise both Krulak and the group back at the Warrior River but without luck—his TBX radio was not working. Bigger sent Lt. Rae Duncan and a 10-man squad back to the Warrior River, where they would use the TBX there to inform Krulak about the change in plans and to send the landing craft back to Voza for the night. When the squad got back to the Warrior River, they found that the TBX team’s radio did not work. Duncan ordered a Sergeant Siefke to take his squad to Nukiki, where they would stay overnight, and go to Voza the next day to report to Krulak and request the landing craft be sent back the evening of November 2. While waiting for the boats, Japanese troops had moved between the platoon and Bigger’s men.

When the landing craft arrived, the platoon boarded, and Duncan told the crew to head back to Voza. If Siefke’s squad was at Nukiki, they would pick them up; if not, they would return for them in the morning. When they reached the barge station at Nukiki and saw no one, the boats continued back to Voza. When Krulak learned of Bigger’s plight, he requested fighter support and PT boat cover for the boats engaged in the withdrawal of the force from the Nukiki area.

Siefke’s squad was nearing Nukiki around sunset, and they decided it would be too dark to determine if the Japanese occupied the village. They moved toward the beach and set up a defensive perimeter on a long coral outcropping and waited until the next morning before moving on. Not long after setting up their position, the marines heard voices on the beach, but with the noise of the surf they could not determine whether they were English or Japanese. They decided to stay put, knowing whoever was on the beach surrounded them on three sides.

While Siefke’s squad stayed hidden and prayed that the Japanese would break camp and leave, Bigger and his men headed through the swamp to complete their mission. Back at the Mountain Camp, Duncan decided to take two of the landing craft and head north to look for Siefke’s men and whoever else might have been sent to Nukiki. As Keresey watched them go, he thought they needed additional firepower, so he proposed to Krulak that they get some PT boats from Vella Lavella. Shortly after 6 a.m., Siefke saw three boats moving up the coast toward them. He had one of his men crawl to a position where he could signal the boats to pick them up.

The Japanese, however, saw the boats at the same time and opened fire. Siefke’s men and the machine guns on the landing craft opened up on the Japanese. As the Japanese fell back into the jungle, Siefke and his men were able to reach the shore and board the landing craft. When the landing craft reached Voza, the men informed Krulak that there were at least two companies of Japanese at Nukiki and eight barges in the water. Krulak, concerned that Bigger’s force might be cut off, radioed the PT base at Lambu Lambu to tell them that they would be needed that night. He also radioed IMAC and requested air and PT support.

Bigger’s men reached the coast at 11:30 a.m., between the Warrior River and Choiseul Bay. When they could not make radio contact with Krulak or the Warrior River TBX team, Bigger sent a five-man squad back to the river. They were to tell the TBX team to contact Krulak and request the landing craft to pick them up at the mouth of the river at 3 p.m. A Sergeant Wilson, a Corporal Gallaher, and three men immediately set off. Bigger’s force, now numbering 56, moved toward Choiseul Bay, oblivious of the situation to his rear. Back at Krulak’s Mountain Camp that morning, word arrived that the Japanese appeared to be moving from both directions to push the marines off their Voza Mountain Camp and secure their barge lines and the important coastal track.

Now that the Japanese knew the real size of Krulak’s force, they were determined to cut it off. At least a battalion of Japanese were between Moli Point and Bigger. Krulak strengthened his defenses. Later that day, intelligence reports from coastwatchers and natives indicated that there were between 800 and 1,000 Japanese at Sangigai and some at Moli, with more moving in by barge from Choiseul Bay.

Bigger’s force was at least two miles away from Choiseul Bay when they ran across and killed a small number of Japanese soldiers at a lookout post. One survivor fled into the jungle. Bigger, concerned that the gunfire had alerted the enemy and realizing that they still had a ways to go, decided to attack just their secondary target—the barge replenishing center and fuel base on Guppy Island. Sergeant Wilson’s patrol reached the Warrior River and saw no evidence of the TBX team. Corporal Gallaher was selected to swim across the river to look for them, but just as he got to the opposite shore, Japanese soldiers came out of the jungle, grabbed him, and quickly disappeared. Wilson decided they would have to go up to the headwaters of the river, cross there, and come back down the other side.

Bigger’s force reached a point on the coast across from Guppy Island around 2 p.m. They immediately began lobbing 60mm mortar shells, 143 in all, down on the island, hitting the fuel dump. As the attack on Guppy Island was taking place, Wilson and his three men crossed the river and moved south back to the ocean. About halfway back, they found Gallaher’s body, stripped naked, tied to a tree, and dead, having been used for bayonet practice by his captors. Continuing on to the coast, they spotted five Japanese, apparently the ones who had killed their colleague. They immediately opened up on them, instantly killing them. They continued to the coast, then set out along the coastal trail to the southeast.

Early in the afternoon, Krulak ordered the landing craft to return to the Warrior River to pick up Bigger’s force that evening, hoping it had made their attack and returned to the river. Also looking for Bigger’s force were the Japanese. Responding to the attack on Guppy Island, the Japanese manned barges in considerable numbers and landed behind Bigger’s force at the mouth of the Warrior River and took up positions on both sides.

Bigger’s force arrived at the Warrior River at 4 p.m., more than an hour late. No boats were there, nor were there any marines. But the Japanese were there—not only on the southeast shore but also behind them. The firefight lasted for half an hour before the Japanese withdrew. A total of 43 Japanese were dead; two of Bigger’s men were killed, one was missing, and two were wounded.
At the Warrior River, Bigger believed there should be some marines on the other side and decided to have some men swim across to find them. If they could not make radio contact with Krulak, they were to continue on to Nukiki or even Voza to tell Krulak to rescue them and warn him about the large number of Japanese in the Warrior River vicinity.

Lt. Samuel Johnston, with two men following him, began swimming. As Johnston reached the shore, two Japanese jumped out of the jungle, wounded him, and grabbed him. Other Japanese began firing at the men in the water and the marines on the opposite shore. One man was killed; the other, though wounded, safely returned to the west bank.

Still believing that there were marines on the eastern bank of the river, the marines on the west bank displayed an American flag. The Japanese fired again and wounded one man. This was the first definite indication that Bigger’s force was cut off from Voza. Duncan and the men on the landing craft heard the gunfire, and they headed toward it. As they moved toward the shore, the Japanese ceased firing.

Perhaps the Japanese stopped firing because they heard what the marines heard—boat engines heading for the mouth of the river. Two landing craft, covered by three fighter aircraft, were coming toward the east bank of the Warrior River. The boats then moved in closer, to less than 100 yards from the beach. As the marines began wading out, the Japanese continued firing on them and the boats. Fortunately, it was getting dark, so the Japanese could not see well enough to fire effectively. The landing craft then pulled away from the beach.

Earlier that day, Lt. Arthur H. Berndston at Lambu Lambu Cove on Vella Lavella had received Krulak’s request for PT boat assistance. He had only two PT boats available, and one, Kennedy’s PT-59, was refueling. Kennedy had only one-third of a tank of fuel in PT-59, which was enough to get them to the Warrior River but not enough to get them back.

The two officers decided that the PT-59 and PT-236, already fueled, would leave immediately. When Kennedy’s boat ran out of fuel, the other boat would tow it. “Wind’er up,” Kennedy told his crew as they left the cove and headed out.
The two PT boats reached the Choiseul coast and began looking for a landing craft to help guide them to Bigger’s force. At around 6 p.m. Kennedy spotted the boat 300 yards off Voza. On board were Krulak and Keresey, who immediately transferred to PT-59. Kennedy was surprised to see Keresey, who, as skipper of PT-105, had been on patrol with Kennedy the night that PT-109 had been cut in half by a Japanese destroyer. Kennedy asked him what he was doing on Choiseul. Keresey replied, “Never mind that, we have to haul ass up the coast. There’s a bunch of marines trapped!”

Kennedy, with Keresey guiding, immediately headed full-out northwest up the coast, with the fuel gauge reading almost empty and only 30 minutes of daylight remaining. At the Warrior River, as the marines were trying to get aboard two landing craft, the Japanese began lobbing mortar rounds at them, and a heavy rain began falling. One landing craft, having taken on more than 30 marines, reversed its engine and began moving away. As it did, the boat scraped the coral reef, which bent the rudder and made steering difficult. Bigger and some 25 marines boarded the other craft. As that boat began moving out to sea, it too began scraping along the coral reef and taking on water. Soon the motor was flooded out, and the boat began drifting dangerously close to the shore and Japanese fire. It finally came to rest on the coral, less than 100 yards from the beach.

A few minutes after Kennedy had put his boat into a fast idle, Keresey could hear something coming from inshore, not gunfire but something else. He signaled Kennedy to turn toward the sounds. As the boat swung in at the Warrior River and the rain squall continued, Keresey saw the two landing craft close by. Keresey hailed them, and Kennedy placed his boat between the shore and the sinking craft. The other craft came alongside, and PT-59 began taking on personnel and equipment from both boats.

As PT-59 headed toward Voza, Kennedy’s crew gave the marines canned peaches, the first real food they had had in six days. Up to that point they had lived on one D–bar and one K-ration per day. The men had lost an average of 15 pounds each during their week on Choiseul. As the two PT boats moved along the coast, the craft with the bent rudder tried to keep up but fell behind. The trip back to Voza was completed without incident. Kennedy transferred the marines to a waiting craft that took them to shore. With their work done, the PT boats started back to Vella Lavella. Halfway across the channel to Vella Lavella, Kennedy’s boat ran out of fuel. It was towed by PT-236 the rest of the way and arrived at Lambu Lambu Cove around dawn. Kennedy, knowing the situation of Krulak’s forces, volunteered to go back to help further.

Late in the day, IMAC asked Krulak by radio whether his forces should be withdrawn the following night. The message ended with the assessment—”Feel your mission accomplished.”Krulak responded that he expected a strong Japanese attack within 48 hours and recommended withdrawal in light of IMAC’s view that nothing further could be gained by continuing operations.

Both IMAC and Krulak realized that, two days into the Empress Augusta Bay landing, it must have been obvious to the Japanese that the west coast of Bougainville was the main target and Choiseul was a diversion. IMAC, knowing sizable Japanese forces were closing in on both flanks of Krulak’s position and that the Bougainville invasion was already a success, decided to curtail the Choiseul diversion. At 2:30 a.m. on November 3, IMAC sent a message to Krulak indicating that the Japanese were closing in on his position and that he needed to evacuate that day. They would be extracted that evening by landing craft.

Krulak, learning of the increasing numbers of Japanese at Sangigai and Moli, had his forces undertake vigorous combat patrols. They ambushed and delayed some of the Japanese leading elements. At Lambu Lambu Cove around noon, Lieutenant Berndston and his intelligence officer, Lt. Byron White, were informed that their five boats, including PT-59, would cover the extraction of Krulak’s battalion that night. The boats, already loaded with fuel and ammunition, would rendezvous with the three craft heading toward Choiseul and escort them to their destination.

In mid-afternoon, the battalion began leaving Mountain Camp and headed down to the beach at Voza. They took with them all their supplies, except rations, which were given to the native carriers. Before leaving, they left behind numerous booby traps, including a rocket suspended in a tree. Booby traps and mines were placed at various approaches to Voza. Double-edged razor blades were worked into palm trunks to discourage snipers from clambering up. While waiting at the beach, the marines set up a semicircular perimeter and learned that natives working for Seton had come across Lieutenant Johnston’s body. He had been tied to a tree, carved up with knives while alive, and then executed. As darkness fell at Voza, the craft had not arrived. Native scouts reported that Japanese forces were moving closer and soon were less than a mile away. Shortly thereafter, they reported that Japanese barge traffic was moving in large numbers from Moli Point toward Voza.

At 10:30 p.m. the craft were out in the channel somewhere beyond Zinoa. Krulak and Seton immediately boarded a landing craft and went out to find them and guide them to the shore. The PT boats patrolled offshore, screening the seaward approaches. A half-hour later, a Japanese patrol several hundred yards from the perimeter set off one of the booby traps. Minutes later another booby trap exploded. To the marines this meant the Japanese were nearby, and they began to worry about mortar shelling.

The PT boats then interspersed themselves between the landing craft and were ready to open up on the Japanese as soon as they reached the beach. Shortly after returning to shore, at 1:38 a.m., Krulak gave the order to withdraw. As the marines began gathering their gear and heading to the landing craft, the Japanese continued their approach and set off more booby traps. The marines, eager to leave, were ready in 12 minutes. The PT boats escorted the slow-moving landing craft back toward Vella Lavella, and when it was clear they would safely reach their destination, the PTs left the flotilla and returned to their base at Lambu Lambu. When the craft arrived in Vella Lavella, they were met by the regimental commander, selected members of the IMAC staff, and a section of the Amphibious Corps band. That morning, coastwatchers reported the Japanese had occupied Voza and were having difficulty with the booby traps and mines left by the Marines.

The Japanese sent reinforcements to Choiseul, delaying reaction to the Bougainville landing. The Choiseul operation also killed at least 143 Japanese, destroyed several hundred tons of enemy fuel and supplies, sank two barges, and destroyed the barge station at Sangigai, disrupting Japanese barge traffic along the coast of Choiseul.

In addition, the captured documents allowed the Navy not only to more safely navigate the waters around Bougainville but also to mine areas that the Japanese believed were clear, which resulted in the sinking of two Japanese warships. On the night of November 5–6, Kennedy led three PT boats to Moli Point and Choiseul Bay, where they attacked Japanese barges. During the next week and a half, Kennedy’s PT-59 prowled off Choiseul Bay looking for barges. Kennedy’s final action was on the night of November 16–17, when he took PT-59 on an uneventful patrol.

On November 18 a doctor directed Kennedy, who was mentally and physically exhausted and had lost 25 pounds during the preceding three months, to go the hospital at Tulagi. He gave up his command of PT-59 that day and left the Solomons on December 21 for the United States. He left the Navy on physical disability in March 1945. In 1946, Kennedy was elected to Congress, and during the legislative fight of 1948 to decide whether the Marine Corps should be abolished, he was a champion of retaining the corps. In 1960, Kennedy was elected President of the United States.

His first appointment to the U.S. Supreme Court, in 1962, was a man he had known since before World War II, the man who wrote the intelligence report on the sinking of PT-109 and who was a participant in Operation Blissful. Former Lt. Byron White served as an associate justice until 1993. The natives on Choiseul were confused and disappointed about the marines leaving, seeing it as a sign of Allied weakness. Seton and Waddell, the Australians, spent considerable energy convincing them of the necessity of helping the Allies. Seton, still on Choiseul until the spring of 1944, pinpointed targets for a number of successful dive-bombing raids. As a result, Choiseul Bay ceased to be an important enemy base.

The First Marine Parachute Regiment was shipped back to the United States on January 2, 1944, and disbanded. Many of them were then assigned to the newly formed Fifth Marine Division, which took part in the Iwo Jima campaign in the spring of 1945. Admiral Halsey personally pinned the Navy Cross on Krulak for his efforts, and Krulak received the Purple Heart for the wounds he received during the attack at Sangigai. He later joined the newly formed Sixth Marine Division and took part in the Okinawa campaign.

Krulak remained in the Marine Corps and received his third Legion of Merit for exceptionally meritorious service from 1962 to 1964 as special assistant for counterinsurgency activities with the Joint Chiefs of Staff during the Kennedy and Johnson administrations. During Kennedy’s presidency, Krulak, in a meeting with the former PT boat skipper, presented Kennedy with a promised bottle of whiskey for the 1943 rescue from Choiseul, according to an account in the New York Times.

On March 1, 1964, he was designated commanding general, Fleet Marine Force, Pacific, and promoted to lieutenant general. He retired four years later and died in December 2008 at age 95. From 1995 to 1999, his son, Gen. Charles C. Krulak, served as commandant of the U.S. Marine Corps.

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A month in the Philippines in pictures…(will be adding more photos)…

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The Cabu River Bridge, on January 30th, 1945 Captain Juan Pojota and his Filipino fighters held off Jap reinforcements from helping the Jap soldiers who guarded the POW’s at the camp at Cabanatuan. The US  Army’s 6th Rangers attacked the guards, killing about 200 Japs, in a remarkable feat of arms in rescuing 512 US and Filipino POW’s. The raid was so successful that raid is taught at US military academies today…

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The large parade grounds inside the walls of Intramuros…

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My beautiful wife and I at the Cabanatuan POW Memorial, the back wall of the site contains the names of those who perished…

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Closeup of the plaque as you enter the Cabanatuan POW Memorial

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The riverfront walls of Intramuros can be seen at the waters edge that gave no invading force a place to land soldiers, I took this photo from the inner walls….Manila can be seen in the background, the city the fort protected…

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Photo taken of the Mount Samat from the parking lot, you have to climb about a quarter mile of stairs to reach the top of the site. You can see windows up the center of the cross, the horizontal portion of the cross contains an observation room accessible by an elevator, but the elevator was down this day for repairs…bummer…

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The Manila Cathedral is off to the left, the Legislature Building in the background which was heavily damaged during the Battle of Manila, the plaque I’m reading describes Jose Rizal’s importance to the Philippines…

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This memorial marker, located in the middle of a traffic roundabout, is to the 38th Infantry Division, I had to run across 2 lanes of the crazy traffic in the town of Bataan, Philippines…

 

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Here I am snapping a few photos while my wife takes a photo of me and her brothers, parts of the top of the wall at Intramuros were quite large. After touring much of the fort, one can’t reallly fathom the firepower it took for the US to breach these walls. The US had to bring to bear their mighty 240mm howitzers. Many parts of Intramuros was rebuilt postwar as was 80% of Manila…

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Photo of the inside of the Mount Samat museum, there were many exhibits of US, Japanese and ingenious indigenous Filipino made weapons. There were even some weaponry used by the Filipinos that saw action in the Spainish-American War…

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The small chapel within the walls of Intramuros….

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The massive concrete cross erected atop Mount Samat, given the mountainous terrain and the height, this must have been a mammoth undertaking, it’s roughly 15-20 stories in height and has an elevator you can take to the top where there is an observation room at the top, sadly the elevator was down for repairs…

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The main gate of Intramuros, the very same gate of a famous photo of a US Sherman tank entering the grounds of the fort to give support to the US soldiers already inside engaging the defending Japanese defenders. On a sad note, during the bitter fighting, the Japanese were raping women that were held, and executing others out of some sort of revenge…the Japanese had to be wiped out at all costs…and were…

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What I assume to be a guardhouse along the southern wall of Intramuros…

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Passageway leading to the underground portions of the fort, but as you can see, blocked off from entering which was a big disapointment…

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The north wall of Intramuros that faces the Pasig River, that during the Spainish era would have fired on any enemy ships sailing up the river….river is seen to the left, those who work as guides and security withn the fort wear era correct costumes complete with US Navy revolver sidearms…

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Panaorama photo of the northern side of Intramuros that touches the Pasig River, that is Manila in the background. The outer walls of the fort are about 12-14 foot thick all the way around. During the fight for Intramuros the US brought to bear 240mm Howitzers to breach the walls in order for US assault soldiers to engage the defending Japanese “soldiers” who during the fighting were executing some of the civilians they were holding as prisoner. The Japanese died in the artillery strikes or were killed to the last in bitter close quarters fighting with the stalwart US assault soldiers of the 148th Regiment of the 37th Division.

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“Bataan Death Marker” along the road up to Mount Samat the number denotes the distance the US and Filipino prisoners had marched to this point…

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Artillery shells of varying caliber and a very old cannon from the days when the Spainish built and manned this fort. Intramuros was built in the 1500’s to protect Manila from enemy ships sailing up the Pasig River…

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This part of the inner part of the fort was intentially left just as it was after the battle ended for Intramuros. Cannon strikes and rifle fire is still easily seen and gives an indication of the ferocity of the defending Japanese and the determination of the US fighting man to take back the fort and to exact revenge on a brutal and heinous enemy who cared little for human life wether it be their own or the lives of innocent civilians and the US soldiers….

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Panaram shot of the massive Manila Cathedral, there is a famous wartime photo showing US wounded laying on litters being tended to by the brave and steadfast Filipina nurses inside this cathedral, the difference being the cathedral was highly damaged by the fighting…

#1…Retaking the Philippines – Corregidoor…”The Rock”….

Floating earthward without being fired upon by the Japanese, the first man of the first lift of paratroopers was on the ground at 0833, 16 February, three minutes behind schedule. Jumpers from following aircraft encountered sporadic Japanese rifle and machine gun fire, but on the ground at Topside drop zones the paratroopers found only a few small groups of Japanese armed with light machine guns and rifles. These the parachutists either killed or drove off with little trouble. By 0945 the first lift was on the ground and assembled at Topside drop zones–the 3d Battalion, 503d Infantry; Battery C, 162d Parachute Field Artillery Battalion; a platoon of Battery D, 462d Parachute Field Artillery; Company C, 161st Airborne Engineer Battalion; and about two-thirds of Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 503d RCT, including Colonel Jones.

The missions of the troops in the first lift were to secure and hold the drop zones for the second lift; prepare to move out to clear all Topside upon the arrival of the second lift; provide fire support for the assault of the 3d Battalion, 34th Infantry, at Bottomside; and, finally, establish physical contact with the latter unit as soon as possible. By 1000 the ‘troopers had successfully accomplished the first mission, had completed preparations for the second, and had moved two .50-caliber machine guns in position on the southeast side of Topside to help cover the amphibious attack. The machine gunners, whose support fire was not needed initially, had a magnificent view of the assault at Bottomside.

The 3d Battalion, 34th Infantry, had come to Mariveles with the 151st RCT on 15 February, and had left Mariveles Harbor aboard twenty-five LCM’s of the 592d Engineer Boat and Shore Regiment at 0830 on the 16th. Taking a circuitous route around the west end of Corregidor, the first boats hit the south beach at 1028, two minutes ahead of schedule. Contrary to all expectations, there was no opposition as the men of the first four waves poured ashore. But as the fifth wave came in Japanese machine guns opened up from Ramsay Ravine and Breakwater Point, to the left rear–southeast–and from cliffs at San Jose Point, lying at the southwest corner of Malinta Hill.

 

 

AIRDROP, TOPSIDEAs vehicles reached shore they began detonating mines along the Bottomside beaches. In rapid succession a medium tank of the 603d Tank Company, an M7 self-propelled mount of Cannon Company, 34th Infantry, and a 37-mm. antitank gun of Antitank Company, 34th Infantry, were destroyed. Nevertheless, Companies K and L, 34th Infantry, pushed rapidly forward and gained a firm hold atop Malinta Hill by 1100. To that time amphibious landing casualties had been 2 men killed and 6 wounded, far below the anticipated rate.

Surprise was complete. The lack of opposition to the first parachute drops and to the initial landing waves at Bottomside can be attributed both to the shock of preparatory naval and air bombardment and to the fact that the Japanese had not expected a parachute attack. Evidently circling bombers and fighters of the Allied Air Forces had kept the Japanese under cover while the LCM’s and escorts approaching from Mariveles apparently diverted Japanese attention from the incoming C-47’s. Indeed, since the C-47’s resembled “Betty” bombers of the Japanese Army Air Force, the Japanese naval troops on Corregidor may have assumed that the troop-carrying aircraft were more American bombers.

In turn, the parachute drop diverted Japanese attention from the amphibious craft moving on Corregidor. Obviously confused by the co-ordinated assault, the Japanese did not know what to do first. By the time they had recovered their wits sufficiently to take meaningful action, the 3d Battalions of the 34th and 503d Infantry Regiments had secured their initial objectives with negligible combat losses. However, jump casualties among the paratroopers of the first lift had run higher than anticipated–roughly 25 percent of the ‘troopers of that lift had been injured, and many others had failed to land on Topside. There had been a number of contributing factors. For one thing, in their first pass over the drop zones the leading planes had disgorged paratroopers from an altitude of 550-600 feet instead of the planned 400 feet. This increased descent drift and sent some men onto the cliffs south and southwest of the drop zones while others barely hit the narrow beaches below the bluffs. Drift also had increased because the wind velocity was over twenty miles per hour (five miles or more per hour stronger than the velocity then considered safe for parachute operations) and because the wind came more from the

 

north than planners had expected. Colonel Jones and the commander of the 317th Troop Carrier Group, circling overhead in a command plane, were in radio contact with the C-47’s. They were able to have the troop carriers progressively reduce their altitude until by the time the first drop had ended all planes were flying at the right height. Nevertheless, most of the men of the first lift missed the assigned drop zones and landed on, in, and among buildings and trees away from the two fields. Some of the officers who came down with the first lift felt that conditions were too hazardous to risk dropping the rest of the 503d and wanted to halt the second lift. But no command action was taken to stop the second lift, which began dropping at 1240 hours, twenty-five minutes behind schedule. This lift was composed of the 2d Battalion, 503d Parachute Infantry; Battery B, 462d Parachute Field Artillery Battalion; Service Company, 503d Infantry; and the remainder of Headquarters, 503d RCT. The planes came in at the proper altitude, and, although the wind was still strong, most of the ‘troopers landed on the drop zones. The second lift encountered some fire from Japanese automatic weapons, but suffered fewer casualties than had the first drop. Of the 2,050 men dropping on 16 February, jump casualties numbered approximately 280. The resultant rate of 14 percent was 6 percent lower than that the planners had been willing to accept. Japanese fire and crashes into buildings had killed approximately 20 ‘troopers, roughly 210 were injured on landing, and Japanese fire had wounded another 50 men during the descent. While Colonel Jones talked with his staff about the advisability of continuing jump operations on 17 February, the troops on the ground began expanding a hurriedly formed perimeter around the drop zones. The 2d Battalion took over at the two drop fields and the 3d Battalion’s Companies G and H–there were only three companies per battalion in the 503d Infantry–set out to secure the rest of Topside. Company H, assembling at the parade ground, rapidly cleared the main barracks building of a few Japanese stragglers and then moved 300 yards northward to secure the gutted hospital, whence one platoon dashed 600 yards northeast to seize a knoll dominating the entire northeast section of Topside. Company G, meanwhile, advanced eastward down the slopes toward Middleside to set up night positions near the head of Ramsay Ravine, only 250 yards from the closest elements of the 3d Battalion, 34th Infantry. The rest of the 503d’s troops, patrolling all over Topside, discovered that Japanese strength seemed to be located west and south of the drop zones. By dusk combat casualties numbered about 55 men wounded, a much lower figure than anticipated. In the meantime, the question of additional drops had been settled. Colonel Jones felt that since the operation had been successful beyond hope, opposition had been lighter than expected, and the Japanese were obviously surprised and

disorganized, there was no need to risk further jump casualties. Accordingly, he requested XI Corps to cancel the drop of the rest of the regiment in favor of sending it forward by landing craft to Bottomside. The request was approved, and only supplies were dropped on the 17th. One unexpected blessing resulted from the scattered drop of paratroopers in the 0830 lift. Captain Itagaki, having been informed that landing craft were assembling off Mariveles, had hurried with a small guard to an observation post near Breakwater Point, obviously more concerned with the imminent amphibious assault than with the possibility that paratroopers might drop out of the C-47’s already in sight of Corregidor. Suddenly, his attention was rudely diverted as twenty-five to thirty paratroopers who had been blown over the cliffs near the point began pelting down around the observation post. Fired on by the Japanese, the small American group quickly assembled and attacked. In the ensuing skirmish eight Japanese, including Captain Itagaki, were killed. Effective control among the Japanese units, already rendered practically impossible by the destruction of the communications center during the preassault air and naval bombardment, now ceased altogether. Leaderless, the remaining Japanese were no longer capable of coordinated offensive or defensive efforts. Each group would fight on its own from isolated and widely separated strongpoints.

    • Clearing the IslandOnce Rock Force was ashore, operations on Corregidor evolved into a large-scale mop-up. The size of the island and the nature of the terrain precluded maneuver by units much larger than a platoon, while the generally static and disorganized defense of the Japanese led to a “campaign” of small unit assaults. Colonel Jones’s plan called for the 3d Battalion, 34th Infantry, to secure Malinta Hill and contain the Japanese on the eastern end of the island while the 503d Infantry cleared Middleside and Topside. After the 503d’s job had been finished, Rock Force would overrun the tail. Within this framework, operations proceeded in a series of generally uncorrelated incidents. On the afternoon of 17 February the 1st Battalion, 503d Infantry, and other reinforcements reached Bottomside by landing craft. Japanese rifle and machine gun fire, most of which passed overhead, “expedited” the movement ashore, and the battalion soon joined the rest of the regiment on Topside. The troops already on Topside had spent the day expanding their hold, systematically reducing the first of the many Japanese bunkers, pillboxes, and underground defenses they were to encounter, and had developed a pattern for the destruction of the Japanese installations. First, aircraft or naval fire support ships–the air arm using napalm extensively–were called upon to strike positions accessible to these types of bombardment; then the infantry attacked almost as the last shell or bomb burst. When this method failed, the 503d’s own 75-mm. pack howitzers and lesser weapons were brought forward for direct fire. Next, having stationed men with submachine guns and rifles at

advantageous points to cover approaches to a Japanese position, infantry assault teams moved forward behind white phosphorus hand grenades and the extremely close support of flame thrower teams. To avoid backflash and assure the deepest possible penetration of cave defenses, flame thrower operators often projected their fuel unignited, and then used white phosphorus grenades to fire it. If the Japanese within the caves still could not be induced to give up the fight, engineer demolition experts blocked the cave entrances. One Japanese tactic was both advantageous and disadvantageous to the 503d Infantry. Each night small groups of Japanese would attempt to reoccupy positions cleared during the previous day. To the 503d, this often meant some dirty, repetitive work, and additional casualties. On the other hand, the Japanese sometimes reoccupied tactically indefensible positions that proved easy to take out. The 503d Infantry seems to have been happy to let the Japanese occasionally return to such positions, secure in the knowledge that the only result would be more Japanese killed at no cost to the attackers. The only way to keep the Japanese from reoccupying less vulnerable positions was to stop night infiltration, a process that in turn required the blocking of the underground passageways that abounded on Topside. By these methods Japanese casualties began to mount rapidly. On the 17th, for example, over 300 Japanese were killed; nearly 775 were killed the next day. In the same two days Rock Force’s casualties were approximately 30 killed and 110 wounded. Apparently in an effort to redeem their losses in a blaze of glory, Japanese at the southern and southwestern sections of Topside attempted a counterattack in the predawn hours of 19 February. Shortly after 0200 about 40 Japanese committed suicide by blowing up an ammunition dump a few hundred yards north and inland from Breakwater Point, simultaneously killing or wounding 15-20 men of the 503d Infantry who, unaware of their danger, had been occupying a building directly over the ammunition. About the same time Japanese from Cheney Ravine and Wheeler Point, 800 yards southeast of the ravine, started a ground counterattack that reached its peak around 0600. The Japanese force, nearly 400 strong, pushed some of its troops all the way to the barracks area on Topside, but the 503d Infantry finally drove them back after 0800. By 1100 the 503d had hunted down the last stragglers from the counterattack and had resumed its daily process of small unit actions against known strongpoints. Operations on the 19th, including the events during the night, cost Rock Force over 30 men killed and 75 wounded, the Japanese nearly 500 killed. In addition, the 503d had captured 3 Japanese, the first prisoners of the battle. The effort of the morning of 19 February was the last major offensive action taken by the Japanese on Topside, although small groups continued to execute un-co-ordinated banzai attacks from time to time. Some Japanese officers retained control of forces at the southwestern

corner, and here resistance continued to bear some semblance of organization. The last significant opposition, centered at Wheeler Point, ended with a small-scale banzai charge on the morning of 23 February, and by 1800 that day the 503d Infantry had substantially cleared the western section of Corregidor. Colonel Jones could now direct Rock Force’s full energies toward clearing the area east of Malinta Hill, which the 3d Battalion of 34th Infantry had held since the 16th. The battalion had not been inactive at Malinta Hill. The very first night ashore it had to beat off a series of small but determined Japanese counterattacks along the north side of the hill. In these skirmishes 10 Americans were killed and a like number wounded, while about 35 Japanese lost their lives. On the 17th the battalion devoted most of its time to securing the roads leading through Middleside so that the wounded of the 503d Infantry could be evacuated and supplies could be sent to Topside. Here, as on Malinta Hill and Topside, much of the fighting involved the laborious process of cleaning out small caves or, failing that, sealing them with explosives. At Malinta Hill every night was marked by numerous small counterattacks, executed by Japanese from Corregidor’s tail or from within the hill’s tunnels. Everyone feared that at any time the Japanese might set off tons of ammunition and explosives known to be stored in the tunnels, and during the night 21-22 February the expected happened. At 2130 a deafening explosion literally rocked the hill; flames shot out of tunnel entrances; rocks and other debris flew in every direction; fissures opened along the slopes; 6 men of Company A, 34th Infantry, were buried alive by a landslide on the south side. Apparently, the Japanese had planned a controlled explosion to set the stage for a counterattack or to allow the troops inside–now estimated to number 2,000–to escape to the tail area in the ensuing confusion. If so, the explosion had gotten completely out of hand, killing an unknown number of Japanese within the tunnels. Troops of the 34th Infantry killed other Japanese who counterattacked westward, but several hundred Japanese did manage to make their way eastward under cover of the explosion and the counterattack. Additional explosions, apparently marking the suicide of Japanese still in the tunnels, shook the hill during the night of 23-24 February. Meanwhile, Rock Force had prepared plans for the final assault against the east end of the island. The attack was to be undertaken by the 1st and 3d Battalions, 503d Infantry, while the regiment’s 2d Battalion continued to mop up at Topside and the 3d Battalion, 34th Infantry, continued to hold Malinta Hill, Bottomside, and Middleside. Especially heavy air and naval bombardment preceded the attack, which began on 24 February, and the 503d’s light artillery laid down the heaviest concentration of which it was capable. The 503d’s battalions first encountered serious resistance at Engineer Point, off the northeast corner of Malinta Hill, and when they overcame this they developed still stronger opposition at Infantry Point, 800 yards eastward along the north shore. Here some 600 Japanese attempted to assemble for a counterattack, but 300 of them were killed by artillery and infantry defensive

fires before the attack got well under way. The remaining Japanese retreated eastward, and by nightfall on the 24th units of the 503d held all but the last 3,000 yards of the tail. On the 25th the American troops decreased this distance about 1,000 yards. That night’s lines ran from Cavalry Point, on the north shore, south-southeast some 700 yards to the south shore at Monkey Point. The 503d had encountered stiff resistance, including some banzai charges, near Monkey Point, and during the afternoon many of the Japanese still remaining on the tail attempted to escape by swimming to Bataan or Caballo Island. Those refusing to surrender to cruising PT’s or engineer LCM’s were killed by the boats’ gunners and strafing planes. As dark came on the 25th, Rock Force was confident that the morrow would see the end of significant resistance on Corregidor. The 3d Battalion, 34th Infantry, would not be there to share in the glory, for with the 24th Division assembling on Mindoro for operations in the southern Philippines, the battalion had to leave. Its place was taken by the 2d Battalion of the 38th Division’s 151st Infantry, which moved over from Mariveles. Shortly after 1100 on 26 February the Japanese on Corregidor executed their final, suicidal tour de force, blowing an underground arsenal at Monkey Point amid scenes of carnage on both sides. As the dust from terrific explosions settled, a hollow appeared where a small knoll had previously stood. Debris had flown as far as Topside where one man, almost a mile from the explosion, was injured by flying rock. Other debris hit a destroyer 2,000 yards offshore. A medium tank was hurled 50 yards through the air, most of its crew killed. Bits and pieces of American and Japanese troops splattered the ground; rock slides buried alive other men of both forces. Over 200 Japanese were killed outright, while Rock Force lost some 50 men killed and 150 wounded. Medics took an hour and a half to clear the casualties from the area, and at the end of that time one medical officer, an eyewitness to the horrors, could only report: As soon as I got all the casualties off, I sat down on a rock and burst out crying. I couldn’t stop myself and didn’t even want to. I had seen more than a man could stand and still stay normal. . . . When I had the cases to care for, that kept me going; but after that it was too much.

The explosion marked the end of organized resistance on Corregidor, and by 1600 on 26 February elements of the 503d Parachute Infantry had reached the eastern tip of the island. The battle was over except for mopping up small groups of Japanese holed up in waterline caves. This process the 503d Infantry had to hurry along since the regiment had been alerted to get back to Mindoro no later than 10 March in order to make ready for participation in operations to clear the southern Philippines. By 2 March General Hall and Colonel Jones had concluded that mopping up had progressed to the point that they could set an official terminal date for the Corregidor operation. Casualties to 2 March, including those from the parachute drop, numbered over 1,000 killed,

wounded, injured, and missing.  Japanese losses–actually counted–numbered about 4,500 killed and 20 captured. An additional 200 Japanese were estimated to have been killed while trying to swim away, and it was thought that at least 500 might have been sealed in caves and tunnels; a few remained alive in various hideaways. On 2 March 1945 General MacArthur returned to Corregidor, just nine days short of three years after his departure. A simple yet impressive flag-raising ceremony was held. The theater commander and those members of his staff who had shared the terrible days of 1942 on The Rock must have had large lumps in their throats as Colonel Jones stepped forward, saluted, and reported: “Sir, I present to you Fortress Corregidor.”539383_10151141847769382_1547078294_n

#1…Saipan…

“All around us was the chaotic debris of bitter combat. Jap and marine bodies lying in mangled and grotesque positions; blasted and burnt-out pillboxes; the burning wrecks of LVTs that had been knocked out by Jap high velocity fire; the acrid smell of high explosives; the shattered trees; and the churned-up sand littered with discarded equipment”..

-First Lieutenant John C. Chapinin, Third Battalion, 24th Marines.

#1...27th Division troops advance behind tanks on Saipan...into what was known as "Death Valley"...

#1…27th Division troops advance behind tanks on Saipan…into what was known as “Death Valley”.

 

The planners believed that from that base, vital lines of communications from Japan to the Netherlands Indies could be severed. They also believed that bases in the area could be used by B-29 long-range bombers to attack the Japanese home islands. The planners further believed that if an invasion of Japan were to occur, those bases could be used as staging areas for the vast numbers of soldiers that would be required.

The operational plan for Saipan, code-named Forager, called for an assault on the island’s west side, with the Second Marine Division on the left and the Fourth Marine Division on the right. The U.S. Army’s 27th Infantry Division waited in reserve, ready to be fed into the battle if needed.

The invasion of Saipan was a vital strategic step for the United States forces to defeat the Emperor, and the Japanese knew it. They were dug in and waiting for the Americans to proceed to the beaches before “releasing hell” on them.

 

Pre-invasion

On June 11th, 1944, Task Force 58 launched 225 planes to the Southern Marianas. The objective of the mission was to take out both Japanese aircraft and air facilities. The strike destroyed between 150 and 215 planes. Over the next three days, the navy flew strikes against Saipan with the further objective of destroying coastal defensive sites and burning the cane fields south of Mutcho Point, to facilitate an amphibious landing. During those three days, another 50 planes were destroyed and 68 damaged.

Although the strikes destroyed Japanese aircraft, the amount of damage inflicted on the airfields and gun positions was limited. The dirt airstrips could be quickly repaired and only a direct hit would damage the gun emplacements. Due to the actions of the air strikes from June 11th to the 15th, however, remaining Japanese aircraft created no more than a slight nuisance against the landing force during the entire Marianas Campaign.

The most critical phase of the Battle for Saipan was the fight for the beaches. To succeed, the Marines had to establish a beachhead onto which sufficient troops, heavy equipment, and supplies could be brought ashore. On the first day, the marines gained tenuous control of the beaches, but they were not secure, since artillery and heavy weapons fire still rained on men and equipment. Six more days would be required to secure the beaches.

D-Day on Saipan

On June 15th, 1944, U.S. Marines once again would show the world why they were referred to as “devil dogs” by the Germans half a world away. With plenty of grit and determination, marine divisions would relentlessly cross the beaches of Saipan.

At first light, the Navy fire support ships of Task Force 58, lying off Saipan Island, increased their previous days’ preparatory firing involving all calibers of weapons. At 5:42 a.m., Vice Admiral Richmond Kelly Turner ordered, “Land the landing force.”

Around 7 a.m., tank LSTs (landing ships) moved to within approximately 1,250 yards behind the line of departure. Marines in the LSTs began to progress from them into LVTs (tracked landing vehicles). Control vessels containing navy and marine personnel with their radio gear took their positions, displaying flags indicating which beach approaches they controlled.

 

Around 8 a.m., amphibious tanks and tractors began their movement toward the beaches. Seventy-two planes bombarded the beaches as the first waves of the amphibious landing force were approximately 800 yards from the beach. Cover aircraft then shifted their attack inland when the tanks and tractors were within 100 yards of the beach. The main attack of the marine divisions was centered near the southwestern Saipan beach village of Chalan Kanoa.

The landing area was well registered for artillery and the Japanese had 16 105mm, 30 75mm, and eight 150mm guns on the high ground overlooking the beaches and were extremely accurate due to the precise sighting in of the guns and the use of bamboo sticks to help in adjusting fire.

As the U.S. soldiers stormed the beaches of Saipan, it soon became clear that it wasn’t going to be an easy task. Two thousand marines became casualties, but 20,000 were ashore by nightfall.

Japanese counterattack

At 8 p.m., a large force of Japanese infantry, supported by tanks, counterattacked the left flank of the Sixth Marines, Second Marine Division. Fortunately, naval “star shells” lit up the sky enough for the defending marines to see the outlines of Japanese soldiers as they lurked in the night. The marines’ machine guns and heavy rifle fire, along with the assistance of a battalion of 75mm howitzers, stalled the Japanese counterattack.

At 3 a.m. and just before daylight, tanks and infantry attacked the defending marines again. Those last attempts were not strong enough to overwhelm the rugged Second Marine Division.

On the evening of the 16th, the 27th Infantry Division landed on Saipan. Their objective was to capture Aslito airfield and to isolate the Japanese in the island’s southeast corner.

Meanwhile, the Second and Fourth Marine divisions continued their push past the beaches. By the fourth day the Japanese had given up trying to defend the beaches and had moved inland to set up defenses in the hilly and mountainous terrain.

Mount Tapotchau

Saipan represented a new prickly problem for an American assault. Instead of a small, flat coral islet in an atoll, it was a large island target of some 72 square miles, with terrain varying from flat cane fields to swamps, to breakneck cliffs, to the 1,554-foot-high Mount Tapotchau.

On June 21st, the 27th Infantry Division moved in between the Second and Fourth Marine divisions to conduct a three-division attack on Mount Tapotchau. The 27th Infantry began a grueling fight up the mountain, while the Second Marines continued to move northeast, and the Fourth Marines attacked eastward on the relatively flat, but heavily defended Kagman Peninsula.

 

After two days of fighting, the division’s attack against the main Japanese defensive force ground down to a stalemate. The Second Marines were on the outskirts of the coastal village of Garapan, and near the summit of Mount Tapotchau. The 27th Infantry had made minimal progress, and the Fourth Marines had overrun the majority of the peninsula and were nearing the island’s eastern side. However, the main Japanese defense on Mount Tapotchau remained intact. During those two days of fighting in caves, ravines, and gullies, the Second Marines lost 333 men, the 27th Infantry lost 277 men, and the Fourth Marines lost 812 men. American artillery and tanks were generally useless in a jungle environment filled with broken terrain. The fighting was mainly man-to-man with mortars and machine guns providing the heavy firepower. Close air support was nearly non-existent due to the demands of the Battle of the Philippine Sea.

On July 5, the 27th Infantry and the Fourth Marines finally captured Mount Tapotchau and pushed northward up the narrowing island. Due to the narrowing of the front, the Second Marine Division was pulled into reserve.

Banzai rush

On July 7, the battle to secure the Japanese-occupied island of Saipan crested in one of the largest banzai charges of the Pacific War. That charge — which lasted more than 15 hours — brought the total combined Japanese and American casualties for the bloody campaign to more than 30,000.

 

“Suddenly there is what sounded like a thousand people screaming all at once, as a hoard of ‘mad men’ broke out of the darkness before us. Screams of ‘Banzai’ fill the air, Japanese officers leading the ‘devils from hell,’ their swords drawn and swishing in circles over their heads. Jap soldiers were following their leaders, firing their weapons at us and screaming ‘Banzai’ as they charged toward us.Our weapons opened up, our mortars and machine guns fired continually. No longer did they fire in bursts of three or five. Belt after belt of ammunition went through that gun, the gunner swinging the barrel left and right. Even though Jap bodies built up in front of us, they still charged us, running over their comrades’ fallen bodies. The mortar tubes became so hot from the rapid fire, as did the machine gun barrels, that they could no longer be used.”

– First Lieutenant John C. Chapin

July 8th quickly became the beginning of the end. The Japanese had spent the last of their unit manpower in the banzai charge; now it was time for the final American “mop-up.” LVTs rescued men of the 105th Infantry who had waded out from the shore to the reef to escape the Japanese. Holland Smith then moved most of the 27th Infantry into reserve, and put the Second Marines back on the line of attack, with the 105th Infantry attached. Together with the Fourth Marines, they swept north toward the end of the island.

 

By the time the Americans reached the northern end of Saipan on July 9, thousands of the island’s men, women, and children were at the top of the cliffs overlooking the shark-infested waters. And because of pre-invasion propaganda that had been distributed by the Japanese to citizens of the island, many natives were horrified of being tortured and maimed if captured by the Americans.

Despite loud speaker efforts of Americans attempting to persuade the enemy away from the cliffs, reason would not come to be. Hundreds of natives and soldiers jumped from the cliffs of northern Saipan (some were thrown by Japanese soldiers), while others committed suicide by holding onto grenades in caves. All but 1,000 of the Japanese military soldiers were dead, along with 22,000 civilians.

End of a dynasty

After the fall of Saipan, Premier Hideko Tojo declared that Japan had come face to face with a national crisis, a crisis that was unprecedented in its history. The following month, Tojo and his entire war cabinet resigned. That liquidation resignation was a major turning point in the war, because until then the military had essentially been in charge of the government…

#1…The US Invasion of Leyte – October 20, 1944…

The Battle of Leyte took place as part of the Pacific War during the Second World Warbetween the Americans, under the command of General Douglas MacArthur, and the armed forces are imperial japan, placed under the command of generating Tomoyuki Yamashita, for possession the island of Leyte in the Philippines, from 17 October 1944 to 31 December 1944. TheBattle of the Philippines is part of the campaign carried out by the Allies to retake the islands, occupied by Japanese troops during a long campaign between December 22, 1941 and May 6, 1942.

Background…

The Philippines has been an important source of supply, especially for the rubber and control of maritime oil between Japan, Borneo and Sumatra. For the United States, the taking of the Philippines has been a key strategic step to isolate the empire by the Japanese occupation zones in China and the rest of the Pacific. It was also a personal matter for MacArthur: Two years before this they had left the Philippines with the promise to return and also insisted on the fact that it was a moral obligation for the United States as soon as possible to free up the archipelago.

From September to early October 1944, the pilots of the U.S. 3rd Fleet under Admiral William F. They carried Halsey successful actions in the Marianas and Morotai, destroying about 500 enemy aircraft and 180 vessels. These successes in the sea of the Philippines, Okinawa and Formosa showed that the invasion of the Philippine archipelago was feasible.

Leyte is one of the largest islands of the Philippines, there are numerous areas with deep waters and sandy beaches offering the perfect country for amphibious landings and supplies fast. The streets and plains that stretch inland offer the possibility of a rapid advance to the infantry and armored divisions, the plains give the possibility to build airfields from which the U.S. Air Force can strike enemy bases and airports in all the Philippines.

A mountain range of volcanic origin covered by a dense forest divides the island from north to south into two zones. The wider area of the island, said Leyte Valley, stretching from the northern coast along the east coast and there is the greater part of the towns and roads. The western area, called Ormoc Valley, is connected to the other side of the island by a single road (Highway 2) that starts from the city of Palo on the east coast, arrives at the port of Ormoc on the west coast, continue south towards the city of Baybay, and then conginuge to Abuyog to Highway 1, ending on the Strait of San Juanico. The peaks of the mountains are not very high, but thanks to the jagged shapes, the caves and the gorges offer an excellent defensive position to the Japanese troops.

The population of Leyte was over 900,000 people, mostly farmers and fishermen, many of the residents had joined the guerrilla war against the Japanese to oppose the harsh repression that the civilian population was subjected to. The U.S. Secret Service esteemed the number of Japanese troops on Leyte to about 20,000, most of which form part of the 16th Division under the command of Lt. Gen. Shiro Makino.

Lineups – Allies…

The invasion of Leyte was the largest amphibious landing carried out by the U.S. and its allies in the Pacific theater. Gen. MacArthur was put in charge of all the forces of air, land and naval Pacific Central and South America. The air and naval forces in support of landing troops lay mainly in the U.S. 7th Fleet under the command of Vice Admiral Thomas C. Kinkaid composed of 701 ships, including 127 warships. Kinkaid’s fleet would have the task of carrying and to land troops on the beaches. Seconded to the Royal Australian Navy’s Seventh Fleet possessed five warships, three ships from landing and five auxiliary vessels. The 6th Army United States Army under the command of Lieutenant General Walter Krueger was the main fighting force consisted of two corps of two divisions each. The 10th body of Maj. Gen. Franklin C. Sibert included the 1stCavalry Division and 24th Infantry Division except the 21st infantry regiment that acted as a RCT. The 14 º body at the helm of Maj. Gen. John R. Hodge included the 7th Infantry Division and some regiments of the 96th Infantry Division. The 32nd, the 77th Infantry and the 381 th Regiment of the 96th Infantry Division were arranged as reserve forces. Additional units such as the 6th Ranger Battalion, had the task of ensuring the control of outlying islands and guide the landing forces and fire support of warships to the landing beaches. The new Army Service Command of the 6th head of the Major General Hugh J. Casey was responsible for the organization of the bridgehead, supplying units on the ground, building or improving roads and airports. In all, Gen. Krueger had under his command 202,500 troops on the ground. On Leyte, about 3,000 Filipino guerrillas under the command of Lieutenant Colonel Rupert Kangleon were ready to assist landing forces attacking the Japanese rear.

The mission of the 6th Army was to occupy Leyte in three phases. The first would start on 17 October, three days before at about 80 km east of the landing beaches, with the occupation of the three islands which control the landings on the eastern side of Leyte Gulf. The second part, called A-Day, was to take place on October 20th, the 10th and the 14th Corps would land at separate beaches on the east coast of Leyte, the first to the north, the second 24 km to the south. The 10th Corps would take Tacloban City and its airfield north of the bridgehead to secure the strait between Leyte and Samar Islands, then you would be directed through Leyte Valley to the north coast. The task of the 14th Corps was to secure the southern part of Leyte Valley to build an airfield and create a base for logistic support. Meanwhile, the RCT formed by the 21 Regiment would guarantee the control of the strait between Leyte and Panaon Islands. In the third phase, the two corps would take separate routes through the mountains to eliminate the enemy from Ormoc Valley and the west coast of the island, and at the same time, occupy the outpost on the ‘island of Samar 60 km north Tacloban.

Japanese…

The Japanese Imperial Army estimated by the U.S. Secret Service could count on 20,000 men, serving in the 16th Infantry Division, Japanese troops in continuing the battle grow to reach 55,000 units.

The Battle – The Landings…

The preparations for the invasion of Leyte began at dawn on 17 October with demining operations and the movement of the 6th Rangers accompanied by a detachment of the 21st Infantry Regiment to the three small islands of Leyte Gulf. Although late due to a storm, the Rangers took control of the islands Suluan and Dinagat 12:30. On Suluan, the Rangers dispersed a small group of Japanese and destroyed a radio station, while on Dinagat they met resistance. On both, the Rangers proceeded with the installation of navigation lights for landing ships that would arrive three days later. The next day, the third largest island Homonhon, was occupied without opposition. Meanwhile, some teams reconnaissance revealed that the landing beaches were free for the assault troops.

After four hours of heavy naval gunfire on 20 October, the A-Day, the 6th Army Army landed on assigned beaches at 10:00. The 10th Corps of 6 km stretch of beach between Tacloban airfield and the Palo River. While 24 km to the south, the 14th Corps landed on a 5 km stretch of the river between San José and Daguitan. The troops had many difficulties due to the marshland and the barrage Japanese. Within an hour of landing in many areas, the units were insured bridgeheads firm enough to receive heavy vehicles and large amounts of supporting materials. Only in the 24th Division of the Japanese forces blocked the soldiers destroying several landing craft. But even this area at 13:30 was pretty sure to allow General MacArthur to make his triumphant entry from an amphibious landing to the Filipino people and announcing the beginning of their liberation: “People of the Philippines, I’m back! by the grace of Almighty God, our forces are again on Philippine soil. ”

By the end of the day, the 6th Army Army had penetrated 3 km on the island and controlled the Strait Panaon south of Leyte. In the area of the 10th Army Corps, the 1st Cavalry Division had taken control of the airfield in Tacloban City, and the 24th Infantry Division had occupied the top of the highest hill in the area of the landing. In the area of the 14th Corps, the 96th Infantry Division had launched the attack on the Catmon Hill. The 7th Infantry Division had taken the town of Dulag, and had forced the General Makino to move his command post of 16 km in the city of Dagami. The initial battle was a victory for the U.S. at a cost of 49 dead, 192 wounded and 6 missing.

Country of Southern Leyte Valley

In the days following the 6th Army made significant progress due to the lack of organization of the Japanese defenses. The 1st Cavalry Division of the Mag. Gen. Verne D. Mudge secured control of the capital of the region, Tacoblan, October 21. On October 23, General MacArthur with a ceremony formally restored the Philippine government. The same day the 1st and the 2ndBrigade of cavalry started a preventive step to prevent Japanese counterattack from the central areas of the island. At the end of these operations, the 1st Brigade was moved to the rear to catch his breath after long battles of the previous days.

The 24th Infantry Division, of Maj. Gen. Frederick A. Irving, encountered a strong enemy resistance. After several days and nights of hard fighting the 19th and the 34th Infantry Regiment expanded its bridgehead, killing about 800 Japanese, and took control of the rise overlooking the north entrance of the Valley of Leyte. In the following days two regiments of infantry and several armored vehicles supported by artillery fire, penetrated into Leyte Valley, by 1 November came in sight of the north coast and the port of Carigara. The following day, the 2nd Brigade of cavalry occupied Carigara. In its way through the Leyte Valley the 24th Division had inflicted nearly 3,000 casualties on the enemy. These advances left only to the Japanese island of Leyte Ormoc City.

The 14th Corps of General Hodge sent two divisions in southern Leyte Valley, as were four airfields and a large supply center. Major General James L. Bradley in command of the 96th Infantry Division was to occupy Catmon Hill, a promontory 430 m, the highest point in between the two bridgeheads, and was used by the Japanese as an observation point to direct artillery fire on the means by landing as they approached the beach. Under the incessant coverage of artillery and naval guns, Bradley and his troops made their way through the marshes to the south and west of the heights to Labiranan Head. After a long battle of three days, October 28 the 382 Infantry Regiment took the key base of the Japanese defenses, Tabontabon about 8 km inland, and killed about 350 Japanese. At the same time two battalions of 381 º and 383 º Infantry Regiment slowly advanced on opposite sides of Catmon Hill and met with fierce Japanese resistance. When the top of Catmon Hill was captured on 31 October, the Americans had exceeded 53 casemates, 17 caves, and different positions of heavy artillery.

On the left side of the 14th Corps the 7th Infantry Division under the command of Major-General Archibald V. Arnold moved inland to occupy the four Japanese airfields between the towns of Dulag and Burauen. On October 21, the 184th Infantry occupied the airfield Dulag, while 32 º Infantry Regiment liberated both banks of the river Calbasag. The bloody struggle for the capture of airports and the village was decided by the presence of the American M4 Shermantanks that paved the way for the infantry. A Burauen, the 17th Infantry Regiment defeated a fanatical resistance, but useless by enemy suicide attacks tried to stop the American tanks attacking the explosive armored hulls. About 2 km to the north, 32nd Infantry Regiment killed more than 400 Japanese at Buri airfield. While two infantry battalions of 184 ° patrolling the left flank, the 17th Infantry and the 2nd Battalion of the 184 °, with an operation to the north, tried to occupy Dagami, 10 km north Burauen. Using flamethrowers to drive the Japanese out of their pillboxes and a cemetery, U.S. troops captured Dagami October 30, forcing Gen. Makino to evacuate his command post several kilometers to the west. Meanwhile, on October 29, the 2nd Infantry Battalion of the 32nd, preceded by the 7th regiment of cavalry reconnaissance, moved 24 km south along the east coast to Abuyog to probe the area, over the next four days patrolled west through the mountains to look at Ormoc Bay, during these operations met with no resistance.

Japanese Counterattack…

As soon as the 6th Army pushed deeper on Leyte, the Japanese counterattacked by sea and by air. On October 24, about 150-200 enemy aircraft attacked the American beachheads from the north, but fifty American fighters took off to intercept the enemy. It is estimated that aviation Japanese lost between 66 and 84 aircraft in this action. For the next four days they continued the Japanese air raids, which severely damaged the deposits of food and ammunition, thereby threatening the success of the American. The Americans responded by bombing Japanese airfields on Leyte and the neighboring islands, by 28 October, the threat of air strikes conventional enemies had ceased. The imperial aviation was in a situation of shortage of means and drivers, as well resorted for the first time the use of suicide bombers, a group of suicide pilots who used their planes, loaded with fuel and bombs, as real bullets jumping against Allied ships. The targets were the transport ships and the fleet of escort who were in the Leyte Gulf to protect operations on the island. The Japanese were able to sink an aircraft carrier escort and severely damage many other ships.

The greatest danger to U.S. forces is represented by the Japanese fleet. The High Command of the Imperial Japanese Navy decided to send all the ships at his disposal to destroy the forces of the U.S. Navy in support of the 6th Army, thus creating the conditions for a pitched battle of considerable importance for the continuation of the war in the Pacific. The plan was to attack the Imperial Navy fleet into three groups in the Leyte Gulf. The first group, which included four carriers but no aircraft on board, had to act as a decoy, attracting the 3rd U.S. Fleet north away from Leyte Gulf. If the bait was successful, the other two groups, consisting mainly of heavy surface fleet, including the superbattleship Yamato, would enter the Leyte Gulf from the west destroying support vessels now remained completely isolated and at the mercy of the Japanese guns .

On October 23, the U.S. Navy took over the presence of the first group consists of the Japaneseaircraft carrier bait. The units of the U.S. Navy immediately began maneuvering to face the enemy, so began the largest naval battle of the war in the Pacific and one of the largest of the entire history of mankind: the Battle of Leyte Gulf. They fought for three long days from 23 October to 26 October, but in the end the battle ended with a decisive defeat for the Japanese that will significantly decrease their ability to stop the Allied advance. However, from December 11, the Japanese were able to send in Leyte more than 34,000 soldiers and more than 10,000 tons of material, mainly through the port of Ormoc on the west coast of the island, despite the heavy losses inflicted on convoys from continuous missions of interception the United States Air Force, which led to the two battles in the Bay of Ormoc.

Advanced in Northern Leyte Valley…

Supplies Japanese created serious problems to both commanders Krueger and MacArthur. Instead of passing the mopping up operations in the eastern part of Leyte, the 6th Army faced heavy fighting in the mountains on the western side of the island, and in these clashes were also utilizing the three reserve divisions that were on Leyte. All this has led to significant delays in the operations of General MacArthur for the campaign in the Philippines and in the war plans of the Ministry of War in the Pacific.

The 1st Cavalry Division and the 24th Infantry Division stationed in Carigara November 2 managed to break through enemy lines, giving new impetus to the Allied campaign. After 17 days of fighting, the 6th Army had achieved all its goals in the first and second stage, and also one of the objectives of the third phase, Abuyog. In addition, some elements of the 7th Division had gone to the southern end of the island in the 14th Army Corps and had taken control of the town of Baybay on the west coast. Only one key area, Ormoc on the west coast of the island, remained in Japanese hands.

To occupy the Ormoc Valley, General Krueger had in anticipation of using a giant pincer movement, with the forces of the 10th Corps moving south through the mountains and the units of the 14th Corps moving north along the western shore of the island . To overcome the resistance of the enemy, and especially in the mountain barrier to the north, Krueger mobilized its reserve forces, the 32nd and the 77th Infantry Division, while MacArthur activated the 11th Airborne Division and the 21st Regiment recalled from the area of Panaon to rejoin the rest of the 24th Division, was replaced by an infantry battalion of the 32nd. On 3 November, the 34th Infantry Regiment was moved west of Carigara to rake the rest of the northern coast before moving to the south of the mountains. The 1st Battalion was soon attacked by a ridge along the highway. Supported by the 63 Battalion of Artillery, eliminated the Japanese unit on the crest, and the 34th Infantry continued unopposed to the city of Pinamopoan all night, managed to recover many heavy weapons abandoned by the enemy, and stopped at the point where the Highway2, head south towards the mountains.

Battles of Breakneck and Kilay Ridges…

AMH-517

On 7 November the 21st Infantry Regiment held his baptism of fire in Leyte when it moved into the mountains along the Highway 2, near the Bay of Carigara. The 21st, with the help of the 3rd Battalion of the 19th Infantry Regiment, 1st Division faced the Japanese Imperial, also just arrived on the island, which was trincerando along the road that ran from east to west of the island. The Japanese were erecting an extended network along a ridge formed by tunnels, bunkers, trenches, bunkers, machine-gun, mortar and artillery and countless booby traps and was where Japanese soldiers were hiding and then launch a sudden attack against banzai Allied troops. This ridge became known as “Breakneck Ridge”.

The typhoon began on November 8, and the heavy rains that followed in the days following further hindered the American advance. The storm worsened the situation significantly adding to the enemy defenses also fallen trees and mud slides while also creating significant delays in the transportation of supplies, the 21st Infantry continued its attack slow and difficult, even with the problem of having to often withdraw and recover hills that had been taken earlier. After long fighting the Americans launched the attack on the hill “1525″, strategically important, located 3 km east, enabling Gen. Irving to engage the enemy defenses on a front of 6 km along Highway 2.

Five days of fighting positions on the hill, seemingly impregnable, and past two nights to repel enemy counterattacks forced Gen. Irving to launch an attack on two fronts on defenders. The 2nd Battalion of the 19th Infantry passed around the hill from the east in 1525 behind the enemy’s right flank, cutting Highway 2 5 km south of Breakneck Ridge. To take the left side to the west, Irving Carigara sent by the 1st Battalion of the 34th Infantry, under Lieutenant ColonelThomas E. Clifford, to a point located 3 kilometers west of Highway 2. After crossing a ridge and the river Leyte, American troops attacked the enemy on the left side to 270 m from Kilay Ridge, the higher ground behind the main battle area. On 13 November both battalions reached positions only 900 m from Highway 2, despite strong opposition from enemy and heavy rains. But a counterattack against the Japanese Kilay Ridge battalion of Clifford and from a hill east of the 2nd Battalion forced the Americans to withdraw. Neither of the two battalions completed the objectives assigned to it.

It took two weeks of hard struggle in the mud and the rain to bring the men of Clifford to break through enemy lines on the ascent to Kilay Ridge. On December 2, finally, Clifford’s battalion occupied the top of the hill, and immediately the 32nd Division took over the remaining Japanese defenses in Kilay Ridge. Clifford’s battalion suffered 26 dead, 101 wounded and 2 missing, and killed more than 900 Japanese. For their arduous efforts to Kilay Ridge and adjacent areas, the two battalions were awarded the Presidential Unit Citations and Clifford received the Presidential Distinguished Service Cross the equivalent of the award received by individual battalions. Only 14 December, the 1st Cavalry Division and the 32nd Division took total control of the area-Kilay Breakneck Ridge, putting the defense portions of Highway 2 between Carigara Bay and the Ormoc Valley, under the control of the 10th Corps.

Throughout this phase, American efforts were increasingly hampered by logistical problems. Land and mountain roads impassable forced the unit dedicated to the transport of the 6th Army Army to improvise columns of supplies with Navy landing craft, landing craft excavators, air drops, artillery tractors, trucks, and even hundreds of Carabaos Filipino volunteers bearers barefoot. Understandably these difficulties in supply led to slow down the advance, particularly in the mountains north and east of Ormoc Valley and subsequently in along the ridges of Ormoc Bay…

 

#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.

#1…The 158th Regimental Combat Team – Clearing Bicol/Legaspi…

Very irregularly shaped and characterized by rough, mountainous terrain of volcanic origin, the Bicol Peninsula stretches southeast from Atimonan on the Lamon Bay shore of the Bondoc Isthmus nearly 170 miles to the tip of the subsidiary Sorsogon Peninsula, Luzon’s most southerly extension. The best route of communication in prewar days was a branch of the Manila Railroad that wound its way through the peninsula to Legaspi, forty miles northwest of the Sorsogon Peninsula’s tip. The railroad, however, had been unusable at least since December 1944, when Allied Air Forces planes from Leyte had begun to knock out bridges and destroy rolling stock. Guerrillas had lent a hand to the work of destruction, and had also conducted sabotage operations along Route 1, likewise leading southeast into the Bicol Peninsula from Atimonan. Paved only through a few towns before the war, Route 1 was a two-lane, gravel road over most of its distance. In some of the more rugged parts of the peninsula the highway, which the Japanese had not maintained any too well, narrowed to one lane of gravel or dirt and was subject to washouts and landslides.

The southern shores of the Sorsogon Peninsula form the northern side of San Bernardino Strait. Therefore, Sixth Army and Allied Naval Forces planners gave consideration to proposals to land the 158th RCT directly on that peninsula, but soon found that the region had few good landing sites, lacked protected anchorages, and had poor overland communications. On the other hand Legaspi Port, on the shores of Albay Gulf two miles east of Legaspi, had good landing beaches, the best port facilities in the Bicol area, and offered access to overland routes to both the Sorsogon Peninsula and the rest of the Bicol Peninsula. Moreover, Albay Gulf provided a large protected anchorage area. Finally, quick seizure of the Legaspi-Legaspi Port area would give the 158th RCT an excellent chance to cut off Japanese forces on the Sorsogon Peninsula and prevent other Japanese from withdrawing into that peninsula in an attempt to maintain control over San Bernardino Strait.

A landing at Legaspi Port, however, would pose certain problems. Sixth Army’s G-2 Section estimated that 1,500 to 2,000 Japanese held strong beach defenses, including heavy artillery, in the Legaspi area or were so deployed as to be within easy striking distance of the shores of Albay Gulf. Intelligence officers also believed that the Japanese maintained mine fields in Albay Gulf and San Bernardino Strait and that other Japanese manned coast defense guns on the Sorsogon Peninsula in order to control the strait, the shortest water route to Albay Gulf from the 158th RCT’s staging area in southern Luzon.

The necessity for mine sweeping Albay Gulf and San Bernardino Strait, as well as that for intensive preassault aerial bombardment along the Albay Gulf beaches, had as much influence on General Krueger’s decision to postpone the landing at Legaspi Port as had the necessity for moving the 1st Cavalry Division into southern Luzon before taking the 158th RCT out. Moreover, the bulk of the naval resources in the Pacific was committed to the Central Pacific Area’s invasion of the Ryukyu Islands, beginning in late March; to the support of Eighth Army operations in the southern Philippines, now picking up momentum; and to the supply and reinforcement runs to Luzon. Scant naval means were left over to stage the Bicol Peninsula operation–the Allied Naval Forces had no heavy bombardment ships, nor could the Allied Naval Forces redeploy the necessary mine sweepers from the southern Philippines in time to meet Krueger’s initial target date for the Legaspi assault, 25 March. The task of reducing the Albay Gulf beach defenses devolved upon the Fifth Air Force, but with its other commitments, the Fifth Air Force could not begin large-scale bombardment at Albay Gulf until 23 March.

Allied Naval Forces planners pointed out that a two-day aerial bombardment would be inadequate to assure destruction of known and suspected beach defenses. Unable to face with aplomb the prospect of staging an amphibious assault against defended beaches in the mined and restricted waters of Albay Gulf, the Allied Naval Forces insisted that the Fifth Air Force be given time to obliterate the defenses. Having little choice in the face of all these problems, General Krueger finally set the date for the Legaspi assault at 1 April.

The 158th RCT would stage at Balayan Bay–some cargo and a few attached units would load at Subic Bay–and sail eastward aboard the vessels of Task Group 78.4, Capt. Homer F. McGee, USN, commanding. The first wave would go ashore in LCVP’s, but so few of these craft were available that the 158th RCT would be able to land only two companies abreast in the initial assault. Planners did not think it too risky to send such a small force shoreward, for they expected that the preliminary air and naval bombardment of the beaches would have driven most of the Japanese three to four miles inland. The Japanese, even if so inclined, would probably be unable to organize a counterattack before the rest of the 158th RCT had landed by LCI, LSM, and LST.

Upon assembling ashore, the 1st Battalion, 158th Infantry, would secure the beachhead area, clear the town of Legaspi, and capture a small airstrip a mile north of the town. The 2d Battalion would make ready to swing south and southeast into the Sorsogon Peninsula; the 3d Battalion would be in reserve. After securing the beachhead and the Sorsogon Peninsula, the 158th RCT, upon orders from Sixth Army, would strike northwestward up the Bicol Peninsula to gain contact with XIV Corps, which would be moving southeast into the peninsula from southern Luzon. The Sixth Army’s task of clearing the northern side of the Visayan Passages would then be completed.

Sixth Army’s estimate that the Japanese had over 1,500 troops in the Legaspi area was quite accurate. The Japanese garrison there included about 1,000 naval troops of the 35th Naval Guard Unit, among whom some 500 men could be counted as trained combat effectives, and 600-700 Japanese Army troops, comprising a reinforced company of the 26th Independent Mixed Regimentand elements of various 4th Air Army ground service units. Around 500 more Japanese, including about 175 Formosan labor troops and some stragglers from Samar, were on the Sorsogon Peninsula. The remaining 1,400 Japanese on the Bicol Peninsula, distributed among three concentrations far northwest of Legaspi, were almost all from the 4th Air Army. Japanese command on the peninsula was divided. The 35th Naval Guard Unit reported to Headquarters, 33d Naval Special Base Force, on Cebu Island; the Army troops were ostensibly under the direct control ofShimbu Group headquarters, but by 1 April were out of contact with that headquarters.

The Japanese on the Bicol Peninsula were not interested in the defense of the northern shores of the Visayan Passages, and the 4th Air Army troops on the Sorsogon Peninsula had no intention of denying San Bernardino Strait to Allied shipping. The earlier task of the air force units had been to maintain an airstrip that the Allied Air Forces had long since put out of action. Now the principal mission of all Japanese on the Bicol Peninsula was to deny Sixth Army the use of that peninsula as a route of advance against the rear of Shimbu Group’s main body of troops.


LANDING AT PORT LEGASPI

The Japanese had established two defensive lines in the Legaspi area. They anchored the first (easterly) line on the south at Mt. Bariway, 2 miles southwest of Legaspi, extending the line north 4 miles along a low ridge to barrio Busay, 3 miles northwest of Legaspi. Busay lay on Route 164, the connecting link between Legaspi Port and Route 1 at Camalig, 6 miles northwest of Legaspi. The 35th Naval Guard Unit defended the second line, which lay in rough, densely jungled ground along the Cituinan Hills south and southeast of Camalig. These hills controlled the approaches to Camalig via Route 164, from the east, and via Route 1 from the south and west.

Task Group 78.4 moved through San Bernardino Strait and into Albay Gulf on 1 April without incident. The only opposition to the 158th Infantry’s landing at Legaspi Port was a few rounds of artillery fire from a weapon that a destroyer quickly put out of action. Hitting the beach about 1000, the 158th Infantry secured Legaspi Port, Legaspi, and the airstrip north of Legaspi by 1300, finding no Japanese. In the late afternoon troops moved on to Daraga, a mile and a half northwest of Legaspi, and then advanced southward along a secondary road leading to Route 1. About 800 yards south of Daraga Japanese machine gun fire from the Mt. Bariway-Busay Ridge pinned down the 158th’s leading company, and during the following night Japanese infantry surrounded the unit. The next morning,with the aid of a diversionary attack staged by other elements of the 158th Infantry, the beleaguered company fell back east of Daraga. Meanwhile, patrols had uncovered more Japanese defenses on the ridge line northwest of Daraga. The 158th Infantry had gained firm contact with the Japanese first line of defense.

The 158th RCT was now in a bit of a dilemma. Under orders to clear the Sorsogon Peninsula as quickly as possible, the RCT had found the only overland means of access to that objective, Route 1, blocked by the Japanese defenses south and southwest of Daraga. The RCT would either have to drive off the Japanese there, or it would have to move troops to the Sorsogon Peninsula in a shore-to-shore operation. Brig. Gen. Hartford MacNider, commanding the 158th RCT, could not choose the latter course at this time. First, so few landing craft were available to him that to divert any from general unloading to move even a battalion to the Sorsogon Peninsula might very well create insoluble logistical problems at the Legaspi beachhead. Second, Task Group 78.4 had found no signs of Japanese along the southern shores of the Sorsogon Peninsula as the task group had transited San Bernardino Strait. Third, Eighth Army had already cleared the southern shores of the strait. MacNider therefore felt that he could safely postpone his advance into the Sorsogon Peninsula until such time as the 158th Infantry could use the overland route. Finally, lacking precise information on the strength and extent of the Japanese defenses in the Daraga area, MacNider was loath to divert much strength to the Sorsogon Peninsula. The 158th Infantry, having only 2,000 combat effectives, was some 900 men under authorized strength.

From 2 through 10 April the 158th Infantry fought hard in rough, jungled terrain to overcome the resistance in the Daraga region, the regiment losing 45 men killed and 200 wounded, the Japanese over 500 killed. The battle took considerably longer than General MacNider had anticipated and threatened to cause an undue delay in the occupation of the Sorsogon Peninsula. Therefore, on 6 April, deciding he could wait no longer, he had loaded the Antitank Company, 158th Infantry, on five LCM’s of the 592d Engineer Boat and Shore Regiment and had dispatched it to Bacon, on the north shore of the peninsula. Landing against no opposition, the Antitank Company quickly secured Bacon and the Philippine terminus of the transpacific cable, and then moved on southwest five miles to occupy the town of Sorsogon against no resistance.

By 9 April patrols had discovered that most of the Japanese on the Sorsogon Peninsula had concentrated in low hills north of Bulan, on the peninsula’s southwestern coast. Of insufficient strength to attack this Japanese concentration, the Antitank Company continued patrolling until the 2d Battalion, 158th Infantry, after an unopposed motor march along Route 1 from Daraga, reached Bulan on 12 April. Supported by a 105-mm. howitzer battery of the 147th Field Artillery and by Fifth Air Force planes, the reinforced 2d Battalion broke up the Japanese concentration near Bulan by 16 April at the cost of only 6 men wounded. The battalion, which returned to Daraga on the 18th, had killed or found dead over 150 Japanesein the Bulan region, and had accepted the willing surrender of 155 Formosan labor troops. Guerrillas took over the task of mopping up.

Clearing the Bicol Peninsula

The 158th RCT, acting upon new instructions from Sixth Army, turned its energies to clearing the rest of the Bicol Peninsula and to gaining contact with XIV Corps, which Sixth Army had directed to start driving into the peninsula from southern Luzon. Without waiting for the 2d Battalion to return from the Sorsogon Peninsula, the remainder of the 158th RCT, on 11 April had struck toward Camalig from Daraga, employing Routes 1 and 164 as axes of advance. Troops along Route 164 bypassed the Japanese defenses at the Cituinan Hills to the north and entered Camalig unopposed on the afternoon of the 11th.

Since the Japanese in the Cituinan Hills posed a threat to the 158th RCT’s line of communication back to Legaspi, General MacNider felt that an advance in strength beyond Camalig before reducing the Cituinan defenses would overreach the bounds of a calculated risk. Accordingly, on 12 April, the 1st and 3d Battalions, 158th Infantry, attacked into the hills. Slowed by thick jungle and rough terrain almost as much as by the Japanese, and constantly harassed by night attacks, the two battalions had not overrun the defenses when, on 19 April, the 2d Battalion returned from the Sorsogon Peninsula to join the fight. Progress continued to be painfully slow, and it was not until 28 April that organized Japanese resistance finally collapsed. The task of clearing the Cituinan Hills cost the 158th Infantry approximately 40 men killed and 235 wounded; the Japanese lost almost 700 men killed in the region.

Although the 158th RCT did not know it, the reduction of the Cituinan Hills marked the end of large-scale organized resistance on the Bicol Peninsula, where no more than 1,400 Japanese remained alive as of the end of April. On the 29th the main body of the 158th began moving northwestward from Camalig, following a reinforced company that had reached Iraga, twenty-five miles distant, on 14 April. Rapidly, the regiment overran potentially strong enemy positions in excellent defensive terrain as the remaining Japanese, demoralized, offered only token resistance before melting away into hills on either side of Route 1. On 2 May patrols of the 158th Infantry established contact with the 5th Cavalry at barrio San Agustin, on Route 1 fifteen miles northwest of Iraga.

Troops of the 1st Cavalry Division had begun moving onto the Bicol Peninsula on 12 April, when they relieved units of the 11th Airborne Division at Atimonan. The next day the 5th Cavalry struck east from Atimonan and on the 14th reached Calauag, thirty miles away. All the way from Atimonan to Calauag, Route 1 was in poor condition and beyond Calauag supply movements were almost impossible. The speed of advance now hinged on the speed of engineer road and bridge repairs. Accordingly, the 5th Cavalry secured the eastern shore of Tayabas Bay and set up a supply point at the bay’s northeastern corner so that LCM’s could bring forward ammunition, food, and equipment from Batangas. Beginning on 27 April the main body of the regiment began moving by LCM across Ragay Gulf, the first indentation on the south coast of the Bicol Peninsula beyond Tayabas Bay. On the 28th the regiment, encountering no resistance, moved from the shores of Ragay Gulf to Naga, eight miles northwest of barrio San Agustin, and had no trouble marching south to meet the 158th Infantry.

Guerrillas had informed XIV Corps, which acquired control of the 158th RCT on 22 April, that a Japanese force of some 2,500 men was dug in along the slopes of Mt. Isarog, an extinct volcano centering eight miles northeast of San Agustin. This report the 5th Cavalry and 158th Infantry proved false in a series of patrol actions between 2 and 15 May. The next day, the 16th, General MacNider radioed to General Griswold that the Bicol Peninsula was secure and that no signs of organized Japanese resistance remained.

The two regiments continued patrolling for some weeks until, on 6 June, the 5th Cavalry returned to southern Luzon. The 158th RCT busied itself with the problem of reorganizing and equipping guerrilla forces and in mid-June turned over responsibility for further mopping up to the Filipinos. To that time the operations to clear the Bicol Peninsula had cost the U.S. Army units involved approximately 95 men killed and 475 wounded. The Japanese had lost over 2,800 killed and 565 captured, including 350 Formosan labor troops whom the Japanese Army had left to fend for themselves.

The strategic goal of the Bicol Peninsula operation–to finish clearing the Visayan Passages–had been realized on 2 May with the contact between the 158th Infantry and the 5th Cavalry at San Agustin. The final patrolling and mopping up the two regiments undertook had provided the necessary capstones to the combined Sixth Army-Eighth Army campaign to assure the safety of the Visayan Passages for Allied shipping.

Undertaken against generally ill-equipped, poorly fed, second-class and third-class Japanese forces, the campaign had yet proved costly. U.S. Army units involved had lost roughly 300 men killed and 1,130 wounded; the Japanese, to mid-June, had lost at least 8,125 killed and nearly 750 captured. The campaign had proved logistically more important than it had strategically or tactically. Sixth Army, Eighth Army, and Allied Naval Forces had not found the Japanese coast artillery and mine fields they had expected to discover emplaced so as to endanger Allied shipping in the passages. Nevertheless, General MacArthur would ultimately have had to direct his subordinate echelons to eliminate the Japanese from southern Luzon, the Bicol Peninsula, northern Samar, and the islands of the inner passages if for no other reason than to liberate from the Japanese yoke the many thousands of Filipino inhabitants of those regions and to restore to the Filipinos their lawful government…