The Fall of the Philippines

On December 7 1941, following the attack on Pearl Harbor, Japanese aircraft bombed the U.S. military installations in the Philippines. On December 22, the Imperial Japanese Army landed on the island of Luzon and began the invasion of the strategic U.S. territory.  In the face of the Japanese onslaught, General Douglas MacArthur, commander of U.S. forces in the Philippines, notified his commanders that War Plan Orange-3 was in effect. The prewar plan called for American and Filipino troops to defend only the Bataan Peninsula and Corregidor Island until reinforcements arrived. However, the U.S. committed to defeat Nazi Germany first and abandoned its forces in the Philippines. On the night of March 12 1942, upon the order of President Franklin D. Roosevelt, General MacArthur and his family and staff left Corregidor for the southern island of Mindanao, whence they were flown to Australia. On April 9, the forgotten defenders of Bataan surrendered. It was the largest surrender in U.S. military history. Thousands of Filipino and American prisoners of war were forced into the infamous Bataan Death March. On May 6, Corregidor surrendered. The defeat marked the fall of the Philippines.

Guerrilla Activities During The Japanese Occupation

The Philippine underground was the most active and effective guerrilla resistance movement of the Pacific theater during World War II. Many of the guerrillas were former regular Philippine Army troops and some were directed by American officers who evaded capture after the fall of Corregidor. Several units eventually made contact with MacArthur's headquarters in Australia. The guerrillas were instructed to refrain from any major military engagement to avoid harsh reprisals on the people. All military operations were limited to strategic harassment, sabotage, and ambush until the actual invasion of the islands was begun. The collection, coordination, and transmission of useful intelligence were stressed as the most important, immediate contributions the guerrillas could make to the Allied cause. The enormous volume of valuable military information sent by the various guerrilla units in the Philippines to General Headquarters constituted a contribution fully as important as their direct combat participation. The extent and degree of intelligence coverage are evident in the complex radio communication system developed under the noses of the Japanese during the days of their occupation. The entire archipelago from north to south and from east to west was literally dotted with guerrilla transmitting and receiving stations.

Guerrilla Contributions During The Invasion

During the American re-conquest of the Philippines, the guerrillas began to strike openly against Japanese forces, carried out reconnaissance activities ahead of the advancing regular troops, and took their places in battle beside the advancing American divisions.

It was on the island of Leyte that the Filipino guerrilla and the American soldier first joined forces in battle. With the initial U.S. Sixth Army landings on the beaches at Tacloban and Dulag, Colonel Ruperto K. Kangleon's units went into action. They dynamited key bridges to block Japanese displacement toward the target area; they harassed enemy patrols; and they sabotaged supply and ammunition depots. Information on enemy troop movements and dispositions sent from guerrilla outposts to Kangleon's Headquarters was dispatched immediately to Sixth Army.

The guerrillas also performed valuable service in maintaining public order and in keeping the roads and highways free of congestion. After the American beachheads were established, the Leyte guerrilla groups were attached directly to the Sixth Army corps and divisions to assist in scouting, intelligence, and combat operations.

On neighboring Samar, a regiment of the 1st Cavalry Division, which landed on 23 October, was aided extensively in its mission by the guerrilla units on the island. The main objective of seizing and controlling the strategic Taft-Wright Highway was achieved by a dual drive of cavalry and guerrilla forces. While the 8th Cavalry battled to capture Wright at the western terminus of the Highway, the guerrillas fought the Japanese from Taft on the east. A junction of the two forces in December cleared the enemy from the heart of Samar and prevented his reinforcement of Leyte from the northeast.

When the Sixth Army landed at Lingayen Gulf on Luzon, the Japanese were caught in the midst of a general redeployment of their forces throughout the island. Seizing the advantages of the moment, the guerrillas broke out in full force. Roads were torn up, bridges destroyed, mountain passes blocked, and rail and motor facilities sabotaged at every turn to interfere seriously with Japanese troop and supply movements.

Shortly after the American landings, Major Bernard L. Anderson was requested to form a Filipino battalion to be attached to General Krueger's Sixth Army forces. Major Anderson responded by taking the best personnel at his disposal to form the first "Anderson Battalion". This unit performed efficiently and valiantly throughout central and eastern Luzon and built a battle record of 3,000 Japanese killed and 1,000 captured.

Major Robert Lapham's guerrillas in central Luzon played a prominent part in effecting the dramatic rescue of over 500 Allied internees from the ill-famed Cabanatuan prison camp. The first in a series of bold liberations of Allied prisoners from enemy hands, this daring raid was carried out 25 miles behind Japanese lines by a mixed force of 286 guerrillas, 121 troops of the 6th Ranger Infantry, and 13 Alamo Scouts. The guerrillas acted as the eyes of the raiding force to guide it through the brush and as its ears to be on the alert for any surprise flanking movement by the enemy. They constructed roadblocks at the northeast and southwest approaches to the stockade to hold up hostile reinforcements and also arranged for food caches so that the liberated prisoners could be fed at convenient points along the return route.

The attack was launched on the night of 30 January 1945. Within thirty minutes the entire Japanese garrison had been wiped out and the last prisoner removed from the prison area. The Rangers' return was covered by a guerrilla delaying action which successfully fought off approximately 800 enemy reinforcements sent to assault the strategically placed roadblocks. Meanwhile the litter patients from the camp were transported by guerrilla-organized carabao cart train to Sibul Springs, whence they were evacuated to a hospital at Guimba.

The raid at Cabanatuan was the most complex operation that Rangers conducted during World War II. It remains as the greatest rescue mission in U.S. military history.

On 23 February, in another equally brilliant and even more extensive liberation of Allied internees, Luzon guerrillas helped troops of the 11th Airborne Division to release more than 2,100 prisoners from the Los Baños prison camp in Laguna Province on the shores of Laguna de Bay.

For several nights prior to the attack, guerrilla units infiltrated through the Japanese lines to gather in the area of Los Baños. On the morning of the 23rd, one element of the 11th Airborne crossed Laguna de Bay in amphibious craft while another element took off by plane for a spectacular parachute drop. All forces converged in a swift and coordinated attack which caught the Japanese guarding the camp in the middle of their morning calisthenics. The entire garrison was annihilated with practically no loss to the Allies, and the Los Baños prisoners were evacuated across the Bay.

The Marking Guerrillas, led by Colonel Marcos V. Agustin, carried out extensive combat operations in the mountains northeast of Manila. After a month's hard training and fighting with the troops of the U. S. 43rd Division, Colonel Agustin's force, numbering some 3,000 men, was assigned a part in the powerful assault on Ipo Dam, the largest of the three dams supplying Manila. While two prongs of the 43rd Division converged on the dam from the south and west, the guerrilla force formed a third prong that came down from the northwest. The Japanese were routed from their defense positions, and the dam was captured intact. After successfully completing their assignment in the Ipo sector, the Marking Guerrillas pursued the fleeing remnants of the enemy into the hills and later aided considerably in other missions which, in the words of the 43rd Division Commander, Maj. Gen. Leonard F. Wing, otherwise would have required costly and protracted action by American forces.

In the northern half of Luzon, Colonel Russell W. Volckmann's units fought effectively with I Corps against General Yamashita's beleaguered forces in the high mountains around Kiangan and in the plains of the Cagayan Valley. Supported by planes of the U.S. Fifth Air Force, these guerrillas were able to clear the enemy entirely from Ilocos Norte Province. They captured San Fernando on the eastern shore of Lingayen Gulf and took part in the drives on Baguio and the succeeding operational bases used by the Japanese in their retreat into the northern hills. Guerrilla destruction of the bridges on the Bagabag-Bontoc road reduced the Japanese to a single carabao trail for transport of supplies. Cervantes, on the way to Bessang Pass, was taken by guerrillas and, in a hard-fought battle, they captured the Pass itself to break into a part of the Japanese defense perimeter.

In the bitter fight for Balete Pass in the Caraballo Mountains, guerrilla infiltration of enemy lines paved the way for the final assaults on this key approach to the Cagayan Valley. In the Valley itself, Colonel Volckmann's forces seized the important town of Tuguegarao and occupied its adjoining airfield.

By the first half of July 1945, when the U.S. Eighth Army assumed combat responsibility for Luzon, the Japanese had been driven deep into the mountains, their main power broken and their destruction or surrender inevitable. A large part of the painstaking task of mopping up these dismembered but dangerous forces was performed by the various guerrilla groups whose elusive fighting tactics were particularly well suited for jungle and mountain warfare against isolated enemy troops.

So widespread and effective had been the assistance rendered by the Filipino guerrillas in the liberation of their country that General Krueger, upon withdrawing the Sixth Army from combat on Luzon, said in acknowledgment:

The gallant Filipino forces, despite tremendous difficulty and with very limited means at their disposal, rendered invaluable support to our operations. Their accomplishments are worthy of high praise.

When the U. S. 40th Division went ashore on Panay in March 1945, Colonel Macario Peralta's forces made a large contribution toward eliminating the Japanese. Even before the landings, his guerrillas had cleared the enemy from the outlying districts and had won possession of nine airstrips in the northern and southern parts of the island. To aid the advance of the American troops, all important bridges were repaired, roads were serviced, and key junctions were kept under control.

After the 40th Division forces had moved inland from the beaches, the guerrillas were used as guides and patrols. Guerrilla troops joined in the liberation of the capital city of Iloilo late in March and in the subsequent attack on the strong Japanese garrison at San Jose.

Despite deficiencies in the resistance organizations on the islands of Negros, Cebu, and Bohol, the guerrilla forces played a significant part in the liberation of their territories when the Eighth Army invaded the southwest Visayas.

Colonel Salvador Abcede's units on Negros had done valuable preliminary work to assist the invasion troops. The guerrillas held the Japanese to a line stretching from Bacolod, the capital, on the west to San Carlos on the east. Most important towns south of Bacolod were under guerrilla control. After the landing of the U. S. 40th Division, the guerrillas, familiar with the jungle terrain, served efficiently as scouts and guides in helping to rout the Japanese from hidden retreats and successfully executed numerous combat missions assigned by the division.

Lieutenant Colonel James H. Cushing's guerrillas on Cebu played havoc with Japanese patrols and movements prior to the arrival of the Americal Division. Enemy lines were disrupted and the task of the invading troops was made considerably easier. The guerrillas had also developed an airstrip and had control of all but a few areas in east and northern Cebu. After the landing, Colonel Cushing's guerrillas joined the combat patrols of the Americal Division in trailing enemy remnants which had fled to the mountainous interior.

Most of Bohol Island was free of Japanese and under surveillance of Major Ismael Ingeniero's guerrillas before the coming of the American forces on 11 April. The landing parties were met by the news that no enemy forces were in the area.

With the American invasion of the southern Philippines in early 1945, the 38,000-strong guerrilla force in Mindanao under Colonel Wendell W. Fertig began to strike openly against the Japanese forces occupying the island. They seized the airfield at Dipolog, held it until elements of the 21st Infantry landed, and later helped them defend it against strong Japanese counterattacks while a squadron of American fighters used the field as a base for operations to the south. When the American forces chased the Japanese from Zamboanga City, guerrillas set up strong positions behind the retreating enemy troops to form a wall against any further escape into the mountains. On 12 April, five days before the first Eighth Army landings along Illana Bay on Mindanao's west coast, Colonel Fertig notified General Eichelberger that the initial objective of Malabang and its airfield already had been captured by the guerrillas.

Acting on this information, the American forces made their assault further down the coast at Parang, for a drive on the enemy-held town of Cotabato. On 10 May, when elements of the U.S. 40th Division landed near Bugo on northern Mindanao's Macajalar Bay, they found that the guerrillas had cleared the Japanese from the beaches and were ready to assist in the advance to the important town of Cagayan. Aiding the drive of the U.S. 24th Division, Colonel Fertig's forces guarded Highway No. 1 from Kabakan to the Tanculan River so that the Americans could race across the island without fear of an unguarded flank. Guerrilla troops also seized the Tagum River area on north Davao Gulf, as well as Talikub Island in the Gulf itself.

In the neighboring islands of Mindoro, Masbate, and Palawan, guerrilla units, though not as strong or as well integrated as those on Panay, were also helpful. On Mindoro, the Japanese fugitives in the interior were hunted down in the mountains and through the jungles; on Masbate, the guerrillas conducted their own amphibious assault and occupied the capital town; on Palawan, guerrilla groups confined the Japanese to the area of Puerto Princesa and joined in the elimination of scattered enemy pockets. With the assistance of the various guerrilla units of Colonels Peralta, Fertig, and Abcede, the invasion tasks of the Eighth Army forces in Mindanao and the western Visayas were immeasurably simplified and greatly shortened.

In both Europe and the Philippines, popular support, intensified by the enemy's repressive occupation policies, created the proper climate for special operations. In the Philippines, however, the cooperation and coordination between guerrillas and U.S. commandos was much more effective. The unity of command, along with favorable terrain, produced a remarkable environment for special operations. The Southwest Pacific Area Command was thus able to integrate the efforts of the Filipino guerrillas with those of the Alamo Scouts and the 6th Ranger Battalion to achieve better results in terms of their support of the invasion and ensuing U.S. ground campaign. 

The Alamo Scouts was the special recoinnassance unit of the U.S. Sixth Army. From a simple advance recoinnassance unit, the Alamo Scouts became a sophisticated unit in the Philippines.  They conducted 54 recoinnassance and intelligence-gathering missions and supplying and coordinating large-scale guerrilla operations on Leyte and Luzon.  From their first operational mission in the Admiralty Islands in February 1944 to the end of World War II, the Alamo Scouts performed 106 known missions behind enemy lines without losing a single man, killed or captured.  The Scouts are now recognized as forerunners of modern U.S. Army Special Forces (Green Berets).

While Filipino-American guerrilla operations in the Japanese-occupied Philippines are not part of the direct lineage of the Special Forces, some of the guerrilla leaders were involved in advising and creating the modern organization. They included Russell Volckmann, who commanded guerrillas in Northern Luzon; Donald Blackburn, who also served with the Northern Luzon force; and Wendell Fertig, who developed a division-sized force on Mindanao.

The U.S. granted the Philippines its full independence on July 4 1946, almost 48 years since acquiring the islands from Spain following the Spanish-American War in 1898.

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