Chapter 14: Zamboanga

The pattern of invasion in the Philippines completely deceived the Japs, for they had long . believed that the liberation of these islands would begin at Mindanao, second largest island of the archipelago. But this large island had to wait while Leyte, Luzon, Palawan and nearly a score of lesser islands felt the weight of crushing American assaults.  Mindanao was to be the twenty-first of the Philippine Islands to be invaded.

The first Allied landing in the Zamboanga Peninsula occurred on the north coast near Dipolog when two companies of the 24th Division landed by air around 8 March. Their objective was to hold Dipolog Airfield, which already was under guerrilla control.

The 41st Division’s phase of the Mindanao campaign called for the invasion of Zamboanga Peninsula, with the seizure of the beachhead adjacent to Wolfe Airstrip, northwest of Zamboanga City, as the primary objective. The secondary objective was a line along Baliwasan River on the west end of San Roque Airfield; the third phase was the capture of San Roque airfield and the fourth objective was the city itself.  The Thirteenth Air Force began its pre-invasion bombardment on 1 March and continued the pounding on the target area daily. Besides striking at Zamboanga, the airmen also concentrated on destroying enemy aircraft, personnel and supply dumps adjacent to the airdromes in the Borneo and Davao areas. The Air Forces maintained an effective blockade against enemy shipping which attempted trips into Makassar and Balabac Straits and along the coast of Borneo and Palawan.  Efforts were made to preserve the pier at Zamboanga and the waterworks, supply reservoir and power plant at Pasananca which served Zamboanga.

The Victor IV landing forces left Mindoro and Leyte on 8 March, and two days later stood offshore of the objective. Intensive pre-assault naval and air bombardments softened the beach defenses between Caldera Point on the west and an area well to the east of Zamboanga City, forcing the enemy to vacate these excellent defensive positions, later declared by observers to be the most extensive and best of their kind yet encountered by the 41st Division.

The assault waves, made up of the 162d Infantry, landed at San Mateo at 0915. As soon as it hit the beach this unit began moving north and west to take the western side of the peninsula. The 163d Infantry followed the 162d ashore, and the latter then turned east and pressed toward San Roque Airstrip and the city of Zamboanga. The first four waves were met with light machine-gun fire but this was soon silenced. As soon as the Nips recovered from the shock of the prelanding barrage they began a heavy artillery and mortar shelling of the beachhead area. Some landing craft were damaged and the shelling continued throughout the day and night as ships discharged their cargo of troops and supplies.

Progress after the landing was rapid and by noon two battalions were approaching the secondary objectives, which were strategic points near the airfields.  This line of advance led through pillboxes, trenches and wire entanglements which had been abandoned by the retreating enemy.

Four hours after the landing, the 2d Battalion, 163d Infantry, pressed through light opposition and reached Baliwasan River just north of Zamboanga City. The 3d Battalion was held up by rifle and machine-gun fire from houses in the Gavilan Point area.

During the afternoon, elements of the 3d Battalion, 162d Infantry, occupied San Roque village. As night fell, all ground units were advancing slowly against stiffening opposition. Although the beachhead area was receiving a steady lambasting from enemy mortars and artillery, the 162d Regiment expanded its beachhead to a depth of 3,500 yards during the day. By nightfall, the 2d Battalion had secured a north-south line along the western edge of Wolfe Airstrip while the 1st Battalion, acting as regimental reserve, remained in position at the east end of the strip.

Back in the United States the news that the Jungleers were once again in action against the Japs broke with startling suddenness as General MacArthur proclaimed the strike with the statement, “The enemy has fled into the hills in disorder.”

The Japs had planned to re-occupy their elaborate pillbox system and defend Zamboanga from these beach defenses. However, the intensity of the preassault barrage and the suddenness of the landing forced the abandonment of such a plan. The Japs left rear-guard elements to slow down the invaders while the main body of the enemy moved six miles inland where there were a series of fixed positions in the hills.  Captured enemy troops later revealed that this was designed to draw the Americans inland from the beaches where they could be annihilated by counterattack, by the naval guns and artillery pieces in the caves and strong positions in the hills. Whatever the enemy plans had been, they were poorly conceived.  The 2d and 3d Battalions of the 163d Infantry continued their push on the morning of 11 March and crossed Baliwasan River, moving toward Zamboanga City. Patrols to the north and west reported no opposition.  Enemy artillery in the vicinity of San Roque and Pasananca still was active and was lobbing shells onto the beach area.

The enemy scored a direct hit on one of the fuel dumps south of Wolfe Airstrip and within a half hour it was about thirty per cent destroyed. The cruiser Boise launched counterbattery fire and, aided by strikes from Army and Marine Corps air units, soon silenced the enemy fire.

Mines and booby traps plagued the doughboys on the coastal road leading to the city, but the engineers did a magnificent job in recovering these obstacles and rendering them harmless. By 1700 the 3d Battalion, 163d Infantry, supported by tanks, entered Zamboanga City, meeting only light resistance in the form of sniper fire. Zamboanga City, capital of Mindanao and third largest city in the Philippines, was in Allied hands after two days of fighting. The “Queen City of the Sulu Sea” had been one of the most picturesque beauty spots in the Philippines. But shelling and aerial strikes had completed the ruin wrought by the Jap occupation forces, which had held the city since January 1942.  By the time the Americans took the city about ninety per cent of its buildings were in some state of damage, many being completely destroyed. Sections of the once stately walls of Plaza Pershing stood awry, tumbling down amid the debris that littered the weed-grown park, the ruin a monument to Japanese neglect and destruction. However, the fleeing enemy left the city power plant and water system in usable condition, and the docks were found in remarkably good shape, although a 25-foot section of the causeway leading to the main dock had been blown out by the enemy.  The Yanks continued the relentless pursuit of the enemy by pressing northward along the ridges of the San Roque and Zamboanga-Pasananca valleys, driving the thinning enemy ranks deeper into the almost impenetrable rain forests, into terrain where the enemy was unable to drag his artillery. The 162d Infantry came upon determined resistance from an enemy force of unknown size in the vicinity of San Roque during the second day’s fighting. The regiment succeeded in taking the high ground in this area but made very slow progress.

The 2d Battalion, I63d Infantry, captured San Roque Airdrome during the afternoon of the third day and continued northeast of the drome, reducing enemy positions all the way. The aviation engineers moved in on the heels of the doughboys and started 24-hour operations on San Roque Airstrip while it was still under fire. During the night the enemy tried several infiltration movements and succeeded in planting mines along the road connecting the beachhead area with Wolfe Airstrip.

The 1st and 2d Battalions, I63d Infantry, advanced slowly toward Pasananca on the morning of 12 March with the intention of enveloping strong enemy positions in the hills north of San Roque Airstrip. The road was heavily mined and booby-trapped and the advancing infantrymen encountered intense machinegun and mortar fire. By evening the 163d had reached a point four hundred yards north of Santa Maria and here it was halted by barbed-wire entanglements, pillboxes and trenches. Despite intermittent artillery fire, the 3d Battalion completed the clearance of Zamboanga City and the peninsula to the east.

Heaviest fighting during the day was in the 162d Regiment’s sector at San Roque Village where the Japs launched a series of counterattacks. At 1400 a force of Jap marines, estimated between eight hundred and one thousand, attacked Company L which repelled the fierce attack. Two hours later Company L was driven from the village by another attack, but retook the town after several hours of bitter fighting. Because the situation was so fluid throughout these attacks the artillery had to stand by helplessly.

It was a known fact that the Japanese hated and feared the small Cub planes used by the artillery for aerial observation and fire direction. This was further substantiated by a dead Jap officer’s diary which pointed out that the Cubs would take to the air, hover overhead, disappear, only to be followed by an artillery barrage of deadly accuracy. The diary explained that it did not take the Japs long to associate these planes with artillery fire, and that as soon as a plane was spotted, all activity ceased.

Infiltration tactics again harassed the Jungleers during the night. Jap prisoners later revealed that they were to employ these tactics and to remain concealed during daylight hours and improve their positions.  Jap front lines were materializing into an elaborate defense system consisting of trenches, bunkers, barbed wire and log pillboxes. These showed signs of having been prepared well in advance and they had excellent fields of fire.

Jap mines were becoming increasingly effective in hindering the movements of the doughboys of the 163d Regiment. On 13 March this unit suffered 83 casualties when the Japs blew the top off a hill north of Santa Maria. It was believed that this was a bomb and torpedo dump and that it was electrically detonated. In other sections of the 163d area, the town of Mercedes was taken. Progress continued in the 162d sector as the town of Rocodo was seized and Caldera Point was secured. The first bit of enemy air action occurred during the late afternoon hours when a single plane sneaked in over the beachhead area and pulled a low-level strafing attack.

The final big push to take Pasananca was begun on the morning of 14 March, the artillery and mortars laying down fire before the jumpoff. The 1st and 2d Battalions, 163d Regiment, met strong resistance but secured a line two hundred yards south of the town.  Some of the lead elements reached a road junction in the center of town by noon but were halted by intense enemy fire. Tanks were called upon to assist the attack but were of little value since the terrain restricted them to roads covered by Jap fire.

The 1st Battalion, 162d Infantry, moved forward 1,500 yards northwest of Masilay but it also was stopped by mortar and artillery fire. The 2d Battalion, on the right, advanced and secured the commanding terrain near Masilay and the high ground overlooking San Roque. The two battalions tried to close the gap which existed between them but enemy resistance prevented it. The enemy attempted to rout the I62d Infantry from the newly taken ground above Masilay and San Roque on 15 March but the Allied lines remained firm. In the Pasananca sector the 163d spent the day mopping up and securing the town.

Darkness served as a cover for increased enemy activity. The perimeter of the 1st Battalion, 162d Infantry, was under attack all night but effectively countered these attacks. Enemy troops did infiltrate the American lines in the vicinity of Wolfe Airstrip and succeeded in planting mines along the edges of the main road and igniting the fuel dump which previously had been hit. During the early morning hours, artillery forward observers reported several infiltrations and said that, in one instance, the enemy was armed with bayonets tied to long poles. Forty Japs were killed during the night.

Guerrilla information had indicated that the main Japanese hill position was on Mount Capisan, shown on guerrilla maps as northwest of Pasananca. Accordingly one battalion of the 162d Infantry moved across country to flank Capisan and assist the advance of the 163d Infantry. After this movement was under way and the lower foothills had been taken it was learned Capisan was to the west, above Masilay. The enveloping battalion was then ordered to change direction and was sent northwest straight up the ridge to envelop Capisan from the east, while the three battalions above Masilay moved up the ridges to assault frontally and from the west. All four battalions arrived at Capisan on the same day.

In this advance the battalions moved separately up the ridges from one-half to ten miles apart. The attacks were made successively through the day, each battalion being supported in its attack by all available Marine Corps dive bombers, all the Division artillery and the battalion mortars and machine guns. The steep ridges made the use of tanks impossible. The daily advances were eight to twelve hundred yards, the objectives being spurs on the main ridge up which the battalion was advancing. The work of the engineer bulldozer operators was outstanding. They bulldozed roads along the knife-edge ridges, directly behind the assault battalions, and always caught up with their battalions by nightfall, thus permitting continuous supply and evacuation.

Except on the east flank the Japs were driven out of all positions, and into the rain forest on an average depth of twelve hundred yards from the beach. More than three thousand Japanese dead were counted in this period. The Japanese survivors—two to three thousand—started marches through the rain forest towards the east and west coasts, the bulk of them moving to the west. On 17 March, the bitterly contested high ground north of San Roque and west of Pasananca finally was secured. Contact was established between the 162d and 163d Regiments in this sector on 18 March.

The invasion of Zamboanga touched off a whirlwind series of successful landings that were to drive the Nips from the Sulu Archipelago. The first of these strikes came on 16 March when Company F of the 162d Infantry crossed Basilan Strait and went ashore at Lamitan on the northeast coast of Basilan Island, twelve miles from the tip of Zamboanga. Only slight resistance was encountered and when Lamitan was secured patrols were dispatched to Isabela and Bojelebung.  These were found to be cleared of Japs. Two days later elements of Company F landed unopposed on Malamau, northwest of Basilan. The invasion of Basilan netted the Americans the first raw rubber source to be recovered from the Japs. The 360,000 rubber trees on the plantation of an American rubber company were found in good condition, although the Japs had not cultivated them during their occupation.  Nor did the enemy ship any of the rubber to his homeland.

The mills and warehouses were found burned.  Before the war Basilan’s rubber resources had filled the requirements of the Philippine Islands and left enough for some shipments to the United States.  Meanwhile, the fight for the foothills along the Pasananca line went on. Night infiltrations continued but these gradually caused less and less damage and were of little more than nuisance value. The 1st Battalion, 186th Infantry, arrived from Palawan on 19 March. Two days later it moved to positions on the east flank to outflank the Japs in front of the Pasananca water intake.

Stiff resistance greeted the 2d Battalion, 163d Infantry, when it continued its attack northwest of Pasananca and it made little progress. This continued until 24 March when the enemy hill positions behind Pasananca were mopped up and the lengthy task of pursuit began.  In the preparation fire before the attack on this date, the 205th Field Artillery caught hundreds of the enemy in the open and had devastating eflPects from its fire.  By the end of March, the 3d Battalion, 186th Infantry, rejoined the Division and relieved elements of the I63d Infantry on the east side of the Zamboanga Peninsula, thus freeing the veteran Montana outfit for another job of island hopping. Guerrilla forces were operating north of the 186th’s lines and the Japs, caught between these two forces, began a slow retreat through the coconut and banana plantations toward the misty rain forests in the towering green mountains to the north.

April became another month of startling headlines. The tragic, almost unbelievable, news of the death of President Roosevelt stunned members of the armed forces as it raced along the lines to the men. Okinawa was attacked and Ernie Pyle, the correspondent who gave the folks back home a down-to-earth picture of the war, met sudden death on tiny Ie Shima shortly after arriving in the Pacific to write about that phase of the war. The Jungleers claimed some of the headlines as they clinched their victory in Zamboanga and made several jumps onto nearby islands to secure the Sulu Sea area.

During the ensuing weeks the 41st Division troops pressed forward above Zamboanga, gradually building up a line along the Sinonog and Maasin Rivers in the vicinity of Moroc-Lumayang. This area became the focal point of activity. During the night of 3 April the Japs, in a strongly defended pocket two thousand yards northwest of Moroc, temporarily held up the Allied advance with machine-gun and mortar fire. The following night the artillery laid down fire on the enemy positions, and the infantry launched an attack on the morning of 5 April. This attack was met with grim, stubborn resistance and the enemy launched a counterattack. After a severe struggle the Jungleers finally overran the position.

During the early part of April the 41st Division troops expanded and consolidated their positions. Patrols probed deeper into enemy territory along the west coast of the peninsula and reached Sibuko Bay by 24 April. To speed up the ousting of the Japs, the 1st Battalion, 186th Infantry, made an amphibious hop up the west coast of Zamboanga, going ashore on 26 April at Babuan, eighteen miles above the original landing point at San Mateo. Numerous contacts were made there and at Labuan but the enemy’s fanactical resistance weakened considerably as he moved into smaller and smaller pockets and as his routes of escape were cut.

Meanwhile, the 163d Regiment thrust deeper into the Sulu Archipelago on 2 April when the 2d Battalion leaped two hundred miles southward from Zamboanga and landed at Tawi Tawi where the vast harbor and former Jap naval base was seized. This surprise move netted two smaller islands in this group as unopposed landings were made on Sanga Sanga and Bongao.  This leapfrog movement enabled the Jungleers to isolate strategic, twenty-mile-long Jolo Island, home of the picturesque Moros, and the new conquest brought the Allied forces to within thirty miles of oil-rich Borneo. This provided a springboard for later attacks on Borneo itself by Australian forces. The Japs got the usual tipoff that the landing was in the offing when air groups pounded the Tawi Tawi group daily for two weeks. The landing was made under the cover of naval guns and planes and was aided by guerrilla forces. Casualties were very light.

By-passed Jolo was not being overlooked but was getting a lot of attention in the form of daily air raids.  PT boats had made several runs into the channel to attack Japanese shipping in the Jolo City harbor. With all of this activity, it was no surprise when the 163d Infantry, less its 3d Battalion, went ashore on the north coast of the island on 8 April.

The closest enemy concentration was reported to be at Mt. Patikul, but the 1st Battalion overran the objective with little difficulty and pressed toward Jolo City, the capital of the island, while Company C made an amphibious assault in the harbor to coincide with the entrance of the remainder of the 1st Battalion from the east. The 3d Battalion, upon landing, moved against Mt. Bangkal, securing that objective by 9 April.  A coordinated attack on a series of hills south of Jolo City was launched on 12 April with the 1st Battalion moving out from the captured city while the 3d Battalion pressed its attack from Mt. Bangkal. The 3d Battalion struck against Mt. Magusing, on the eastern flank of the chain, while the 1st Battalion met the first strong opposition of the campaign as it hit at Mt. Dato, the westernmost peak of the series. This entire ridgeline was taken that day but only after some casualties were suffered.

Mt. Daho loomed as the next obstacle to be reduced and the 1st Battalion began the attack on 16 April. It soon became apparent that the Jap headquarters force, estimated at four hundred troops, was determined to make a final stand here. The hill was covered with connecting trenches, dugouts and pillboxes. For four days artillery blasted the enemy positions while Marine Corps air groups completed thirty-six bombing runs over the target area. On 20 April, the 1st Battalion

infantrymen edged their way up the side of the hill only to be halted by a hail of lead, which killed 3 men and wounded 29, and forced the withdrawal of the attackers. Another assault was planned for the following day but it was delayed twenty-four hours because the airfield from which the supporting planes were to take off was unserviceable.

The artillery saturated the target area during the night of 21 April and early the following morning thirty-seven planes flew overhead to lend their support.  The combined shelling and bombing was so effective that the doughboys were able to move forward at a rapid pace without a single casualty. The area was found littered with bodies of 235 Japs and it was believed that many more had sealed themselves into caves and blown themselves to bits. This broke the Jap stand in the sector and the few enemy troops that escaped from Mt. Daho wandered aimlessly in small groups and were easy prey for roving guerrilla bands.  One group did reach Mt. Tumatangas and took up defensive positions there. This resulted in continuous fighting from 23 April until 30 June when Mt. Tumatangas and Mt. Taran, an adjoining ridge, were secured.  The capture of Jolo completed the conquest of the entire Sulu chain and gave the Allies possession of the finest port in the archipelago. Beautiful Jolo City, sometimes called “Jewel of the Sulus” and “Shrine City of the Moros,” was found in ruins. The Japs had put the torch to much of what remained of the romantic old city when PT boats began their attacks on the shipping in the harbor.

Muhammed Janail Abirir II, 65-year-old Sultan of Sulu and leader of the 300,000 Mohammedans in the Sulu Archipelago, personally welcomed Colonel William J. Moroney and his 163d Infantry men as they took over Jolo City. The old Sultan, who had surrendered to General (then Captain) John J. Pershing in the United States’ war against the Moros in 1913, had remained loyal to the U.S. during the Japanese occupation and surreptitiously had flown the Stars and Stripes at his hideout camp during the Jap invasion.  Upon arrival of the American troops the Sultan again brought forth the tattered old flag and raised it over his domain.

The Sultan had been stripped of his possessions by the Japanese and he felt most keenly the loss of a saber presented to him by General Pershing and a rifle, which had been a gift from General Leonard Wood. Some of the potentate’s military prestige was restored, when during an exchange of gifts. Colonel Moroney presented him with his own .45-caliber pistol.

Considerable mopping up remained to be done but the Southern Philippines had been freed from Jap oppression and was once more in American hands. Six islands, Palawan, Zamboanga, Basilan, Tawi Tawi, Jolo, and Busanga, had fallen to the 41st Division within a period of forty days in what undoubtedly was one of the most sensational, but least publicized, campaigns made by a single division during the Pacific War. The 41st had regained from the enemy and was responsible for 186,000 square miles of territory. This remarkable series of campaigns put a ring of steel around the Sulu Sea and gave the Allies bases from which they could dominate Jap shipping routes from Borneo, Malaya, Java and Sumatra. The Jungleers were holding a vast front, probably greater in extent than that occupied by any other division in the war.  From the Manila headquarters of General Mac-Arthur came a communique which read, “We now control the entire length of the western shores of the Philippines from the northwestern tip of Luzon to the southwestern tip of Mindanao—a distance of approximately eight hundred miles. The blockade of the South China Sea and the consequent cutting off of the Japanese conquest to the south is intensifying.”

To General Doe, the Commander-in-Chief sent the following message: “Palawan and Zamboanga represent splendid performances which reflect greatest credit on all concerned. Their perfect coordination, their resolute determination and their complete success show the fighting services at their best. Please inform all ranks.”

Most of the native population was emaciated from the lack of food, clothing and proper medical treatment and programs of relief and rehabilitation were well under way shortly after the arrival of the American forces. This program was aided and abetted by the vast stores of enemy materiel which had been captured.  The amount taken in the southern Philippines was greater then that captured anywhere during the liberation of the islands except at Manila.

The Nips had murdered and outraged the natives and had seized their food. The Jap garrison was plentifully supplied, as evidenced by the huge stores captured.  Nevertheless, the enemy had refused to give or sell anything to the Filipinos unless they turned collaborators.  The Jungleers relieved some of the more serious shortages. Guerrilla troops were fed and clothed and city officials of Zamboanga were brought out of hiding in the hills and were fed and given help in reorganizing their government.

Disease was at an alarming stage among the native population, but paradoxically, the health of the American troops was considerably better then at any other stage of the Pacific war. Malaria, which had taken such dreadful tolls during the early campaigns, now was well controlled. Some men had been downed by the disease many times and at one time the malaria rate ran as high as 361 men in 1,000. On Zamboanga this figure was lowered to between 25 and 30 men per 1,000. Medical men had made great progress in the control of malaria, as well as many other afflictions which were common in the Pacific Theater. Doctors learned that the malaria rate rose and fell in direct proportion to the amount of preventive effort put forth and the atabrine schedule.

Wherever there were troops, malaria-control units were at work, spraying and draining the pools and ditches which provided breeding place for mosquitos.  Use of life-saving atabrine had long since become an accepted part of life in the tropics. Doctors also had learned that the constant use of good foot powders was the answer to many of the tropical diseases. However, many men still were plagued with jungle rot, that painful, irritating sloughing off of the skin.

In playing a major role in the recapture of the Philippines the Division had fought as it did through the entire war, not as a division operating as a single unit, but divided into several groups, each a powerful and effective battle team. The Jungleers proceeded with the methodical and thorough skill born during the long New Guinea campaigns, to seize vast territories from the Japs. During these operations the 205th Field Artillery supported the 162d Infantry, the 218th Field Artillery supported the 186th Combat Team, while the 146th Field Artillery was teamed with the 163d Infantry.

Zamboanga has been termed the “perfect amphibious operation.” It was No. 8 in the series of amphibious movements made by the 41st Division, and although from the start of the plans there could be no doubt of its success, observers said later that the fight might have been as rough as that at bloody Biak had the Japs elected to defend their beach fortifications.  Meanwhile, the Jungleers were at last out of the steaming, malarial jungles and Zamboanga took on all the aspects of a paradise. The campaign had long since settled down to the business of rooting the Nips out of their hideouts and destroying them as they were found. A life of comparative ease and luxury was begun by the men of the 41st Division. Avacados, papayas, bananas, pineapples, camotes and other native fruits and vegetables were available. Yanks bargained and bartered with the proud and wily Moros. Trinkets and items of clothing were traded to half-naked Filipinos for chickens. Such items as mattress covers and cigarettes always were good persuaders when one wanted to drive a hard bargain.

Division headquarters move into ancient, moss-covered Fort Pilar, built long ago by the Spaniards as an outpost against the warlike Moros. Pilar’s twenty-foot-thick stone walls rose majestically above the old sea wall built to curb the restless waves of the Sulu Sea. It was about this ancient fort that the United States built Pettit Barracks at the turn of the century.  Pilar’s sturdy walls had withstood the Nip reign of wanton destruction and waste but the courtyard was filled with weeds and littered with piles of debris.  Facing it, rows of venerable acacia trees looked down upon a once beautiful avenue rich with memories of American military men such as Pershing, Wood, MacArthur and Wainwright, who had served there. The Jungleers laid down their guns and turned to cleaning because they were there to stay.

A sample of the Japs’ cruel disregard for native rights had been the refusal to permit the Filipinos to worship at the ancient shrine of Bien Bernido al Virgen del Pilar. The shrine, which occupied a space alongside the wall of Fort Pilar, had fallen to ruin. The 41st Signal Company went to work, repaired and repainted the picket fence, cleaned up the sacred spot and erected a sign welcoming the natives to worship there again. The natives came, especially on Saturday afternoons, and before long there were hundreds of burning candles, which restored the old-time glory of Pilar’s historic shrine.

The Division observed its third year of overseas duty on 22 March, but the occasion was not one of celebration, but simply a milestone. There were many months and many miles of hard fighting behind, a trail of white crosses from Australia across New Guinea, onto Biak and now in the Philippines. Men looked to the future but none knew the course ahead.

Many new faces began to appear in the Division as the oldtimers left for home, and replacements, fresh from the States, took over to carry the fight to Tojo’s doorstep. No longer was the 41st Division a “Pacific Northwest unit,” because its members hailed from every state of the Union. When the Division was first summoned for duty its officer personnel was about seventy per cent National Guardsmen but now they numbered only twelve per cent.

Oldtimers were being rotated home at a rate of three per cent a month but that rate was sufficient to take care of those who were qualified for the return trip.  Problems of transportation and getting sufficient numbers of replacements prevented the immediate application of the rotation system. On the home front members of Congress were being subjected to a barrage of mail from relatives of the men, demanding that the 41st Division be returned to the States as a unit, or at least that the oldtimers be returned. Rotation had become the first topic of conversation at any GI gathering, and when the War Department introduced the point system, this subject replaced rotation as No. 1 topic of the day. Every original member of the Division automatically had more than the necessary 85 points to qualify him for return to the States and discharge.  Contemplating their impending return to the United States and civilian life, the men of the Division took part in a poll designed to reveal the nature of their postwar plans. Of 432 men queried these answers were obtained: 108 men hoped to get back to their old jobs; 87 expected to go back to school; 61 wanted to seek college training under the GI Bill of Rights; 34 expected to remain in the Army; 45 intended to go back to work on a farm; 12, who had not had farm experience, planned to take up farming; 35 former farmers had decided to start life anew in the cities; and 50 hoped to take technical training courses to prepare them for new work. This was a healthy indication that these men, who had fought to preserve their democratic way of life, had no feeling that the world owed them a living. Their only hope was to get an opportunity to make a decent living in the manner of their own choosing and to pick up some semblance of the life which they had left behind but had never forgotten.  These were the opinions of mature men of twenty-three and twenty-four years of age, toughened by nearly five years of Army life. They had been mere kids of eighteen, nineteen and twenty, many of them, when they were called from schoolrooms that September day in 1940.

With all the talk of returning home and being returned to civilian life, the fact still remained that the war in the Pacific had to be won. In order to prepare the new men for the big things looming on the horizon, a training program was inaugurated. The next amphibious operation would be the ninth for the veterans of the 41st Division, and according to War Department communiques issued after the war ended, this one would have taken the Jungleers onto the Japanese homeland. As the Division increased the intensity of its training speculation ran wild. Men watched the bulletin boards with keen interest as the news broke that the first atomic bomb had been dropped on Hiroshima.  There followed the announcement of Russia’s entry into the light against the Japs and the dropping of the second atom bomb. It became more evident that the next Allied thrust would be into Japan itself. Like the Japanese, the men began asking: Where will the first blow against the Jap homeland fall.-“ When will it come? How much longer can the enemy withstand the onslaught, the B-29 raids, the atomic bombs?

That was the status of affairs when the news broke that Friday night, 15 August, that the Japanese were willing to accept the terms as outlined at the Potsdam Conference of the Big Three. First indication that something unusual was taking place came from the firing of guns and flares aboard the ships sitting in the harbor. As the news spread up and down the peninsula there was more firing of weapons and a feeling of relief and thankfulness that the whole bloody mess had come to an end. Tenseness filled the air for the next few days while there was an exchange of notes and communications between Washington, Moscow and London. Finally the news came that the Allies would accept the Japanese offer of capitulation, but there was no celebration since this was an anticlimax to the men who were relieved of the task of carrying the fight to the enemy’s front door. When the surrender became an established fact, conjecture as to the role the Jungleers would play in the occupation of Japan soared to hitherto unknown heights.

 

Chapter 15: Mindanao

The Victor V operation was designed to eliminate the enemy force, estimated at thirty thousand troops, in Central Mindanao. The initial objective was the seizure of the Malabang-Cotabato area where an advance base was to be established. The target date had been set for 12 April but due to the unavailability of assault shipping this date was set back to 17 April.

The 24th and 31st Divisions were designated as the forces to accomplish this mission while the 41st Division and the 503d Parachute Regimental Combat Team were held as Army reserves. The assault was to be made in the vicinity of Malabang since no enemy group of any sizeable number was located there, the big Jap concentration being in the Davao sector.  Guerrilla forces seized Malabang while the Victor V convoy was loading and the plans were shifted to make the impact of the American landing at Parang, seventeen miles southward, instead of Malabang, the original objective.

The landings were made unopposed and the first few days were spent in flushing out and eliminating isolated enemy groups. The Mindanao River was found to be navigable and the period from 18 to 21 April found one party making its way up the river to Fort Pikit via Lomopog while another force took the overland route through Dilap. Both forces converged on Fort Pikit and continued the drive to Kabakan, thence to Digos on the Davao Gulf, arriving at the Gulf town on 27 April. In the first ten days of the campaign American troops had dashed across the island and penetrated 110 miles. This prepared the way for an early assault on the main Jap force in the Davao sector.

It was on 27 April that the 162d Infantry of the 41st Division, still participating in the Victor IV operation at Zamboanga, was alerted for overwater movement to Parang where it was to be attached to X Corps for a role in the liberation of Central Mindanao.  In Northern Mindanao - the Japanese forces were concentrated mainly along the Sayre Highway, which ran north from Kabakan to Bugo, on Macajalar Bay.  On 27 April elements of the 31st Division began the northward trek from Kabakan while the 108th Regimental Combat Team (40th Division) staged a landing in the vicinity of Bugo on 10 May and began to drive south on Sayre Highway. The 108th Regiment and 31st Division troops met in the vicinity of Impalutao on 29 May.

Meanwhile, the 162d Infantry had departed from Zamboanga on 3 May, arriving at Parang the following day. Upon arrival the Jungleers were assigned the task of defending the Corps beachhead, relieving elements of the 31st Division, and mopping up in the Cotabato area. The relief in the beachhead area was accomplished by 6 May and for the next three days the Jungleers set up base camps and did limited patrolling.  The regiment’s 3d Battalion and Battery C, 205th Field Artillery Battalion, were attached to the 24th Division for an amphibious movement to Talomo, about fifteen miles north of Digos on the Davao Gulf. The 162d’s zone now extended east to Digos and Talomo.

Troops of the 41st Division were to play two roles in the Victor V operation. From 4 May to 10 June the 162d Infantry operated under Corps control and was mopping up and guarding lines of communication.  During the period from 11 to 30 June the Jungleers were committed to battle against the enemy entrenched northwest of Davao and during this latter phase operated under 24th Division control.

During the first phase the Jungleers patrolled south of the Mindanao River towards Sopoken, and in the area north of Dilap and west of Sayre Highway. Large enemy concentrations were reported in both sectors but initial contact was not made with the enemy until 13 May when the Antitank Company ran into an estimated forty or fifty Japs northeast of Dilap. Some of the Jap party was killed but the Jungleers withdrew under heavy enemy mortar fire.

Patrolling and the constant shifting of units continued.  Artillery air observers disclosed that a large number of Japs were spotted northeast of Dilap on 18 May. The cannoneers concentrated their fire on the area and the following day patrols moved out to make contacts with the enemy but were unsuccessful.  This led to the belief that the enemy was merely searching for food and was always on the move.  Numerous contacts were made in the Sarangani Bay area, where large concentrations of Jap troops had been reported, during the next week but operations were greatly impaired by incessant heavy rains which made roads practically impassable at many points.  More Japs were detected in the area northeast of Dilap and some brief encounters took place, but the enemy gradually dispersed northward.

The 106th Guerrilla Division was ordered to relieve the 162d Infantry in its rear area positions and the Jungleers were directed to assemble in the vicinity of Maramag, this movement to be completed by 6 June.  The 162d Regiment moved to the Fort Pikit-Kabakan area and on 30 May the first convoy, composed of the 205th Field Artillery and advance regimental headquarters, began to move north over Sayre Highway.

As a result of the heavy rains the road was in very poor condition and at some points bulldozers were used to pull the vehicles over particularly bad stretches of the highway. Before long the bogged-down convoy had traffic at a virtual standstill. This situation existed until 5 June when the 162d Regiment’s orders to assemble at Maramag were rescinded and the 41st Division unit began movement back to its assembly point in the Fort Pikit-Kabakan sector.

The drive up the coastal plain from Digos to Davao City had been launched on 30 April by the 24th Division.  Determined enemy resistance was encountered at almost every turn but the city was captured by 4 May.  Considerable mopping up remained to be done and the largest concentration of enemy troops was reported to be in the Mintal-Tamogan area, west and northwest of Davao City. Here the action was to be limited to slow advances against stiff resistance and enemy artillery fire which was to account for many American casualties.

The 3d Battalion, 163d Infantry, which had just arrived from Jolo, was attached to the 24th Division on 11 May, and Company K had relieved elements of the 34th Infantry Regiment along the line of communication between Davao and Talomo Rivers by 15 May.  The remainder of the 3d Battalion, 163d Infantry took over security positions in the Davao City area. The 24th Division then began the drive to the north and northwest of Davao. While its 19th Infantry was engaged in this sector its 21st and 34th Infantry Regiments were fighting in the Mintal-Tamogan area and were pushing toward Tamogan.

The 3d Battalion of the I62d Infantry had been attached to the 24th Division since early May and as the drive toward Tamogan was launched. Company K, I62d Infantry, embarked at Digos and made landings at Luayon, Balut Island and Cape San Agustin on 3, 4 and 5 June to clear the entrances to Davao Gulf and to destroy reported enemy coast-watcher stations on the southeastern section of Mindanao. Only light resistance was encountered at each point and considerable enemy equipment was destroyed.

Following its return to the Fort Pikit-Kabakan assembly point after heavy rains had thwarted its attempted move to Maramag, the 162d Infantry, less its 3d Battalion, received orders on 6 June which attached it to the 24th Division. The Jungleers began the move to the Davao area the following day, and although road conditions hindered progress considerably, advance elements reached Bago by 9 June.

Meanwhile, the 21st Infantry had cleared the area southwest of Mintal and had captured Bayabas, Mulig, Alambre and Tankulan. The 34th Infantry drove north from Mintal and captured Ula on 3 June after which there was a short period of consolidation and mopping up in the newly taken areas. The 1st Battalion, 34th Infantry, captured Biao on 8 June. In the center of the 34th Infantry zone, the 3d Battalion, 163d Infantry, continued its advance northwest on the Kibawe-Talomo trail and captured Riverside on 10 June.

The 162d Regiment, now in the assembly area at Bago, prepared to relieve the 34th Infantry. On 10 June the 1st Battalion took over the positions of the 1st Battalion, 34th Regiment, in the vicinity of Biao.  The 3d Battalion of the 162d Regiment moved to Ula and was subjected to mortar and machine-gun fire as it effected the relief of 34th Infantry elements there.  The 162d Infantry was in position by 13 June, and the 163d Regiment’s 3d Battalion, which continued mopping up in the Riverside area, was attached to the 162d Regiment.

The 162d Infantry and 3d Battalion, 163d Infantry, moved out from Riverside and the 21st Regiment left from Wangan on 14 June for a coordinated attack on Calinan. Company C of the 162d remained in the Piao area to conduct patrol activities. The troops advanced steadily against stubborn resistance and numerous roadblocks and blown-out bridges. Many enemy strongpoints were by-passed, and by late afternoon of the first day, forward elements of the 3d Battalion, 162d Infantry, had reached a point mid-way between Riverside and Calinan.

Bridges strong enough to support tanks were completed at Riverside and the following morning the armor rolled out to support the infantry attack. Forward elements had been under mortar fire throughout the night. As the tanks rolled forward they knocked out many of the enemy strongholds which had been by-passed the previous day. By 16 June the infantry advance was meeting a deliberate delaying action but with the aid of artillery fire and aerial bombardments the Jungleers moved to the south edge of the town.  which was entered by the 3d Battalion, 163d Infantry, on the morning of 18 June. The infantry lost the support of the tanks during the last day of the push when heavy rains made the unimproved roads so slippery that the armor could advance no farther. The 1st Battalion, 162d Infantry, carried out a series of flanking movements while pressure was being maintained on the town. Company C, patrolling north towards the Davao River from Biao, was making scattered contacts.  Mortar and machine-gun fire greeted the Jungleers as they entered Calinan and the stubbornness of the resistance indicated that the Japs still were determined to make the Allied advance a costly and difficult venture. Large quantities of mines were found on the Riverside-Calinan road and in their haste the infantrymen blew up or removed only those on the highway, leaving those along the sides of the road to be rendered ineffective later.

Following the capture of Calinan, the 34th Infantry relieved the 21st Infantry and attacked west toward Malagos. Simultaneously, the I62d Regiment advanced north from Calinan and secured the Lascon Plantation area. The push continued into the northwest but the enemy had become disorganized and was fleeing into the hills. The official closing date of the campaign was announced as 30 June, and by this date the area north to Davao River had been mopped up and Tamogan had been taken.

When the clearing of the Sayre Highway was completed on 23 May intelligence reports indicated that the enemy’s 30th Division and a number of other units had taken refuge in the mountains immediately east of the highway and particularly in the vicinity of Silae and Cabanglasan. In order to destroy these enemy forces and drive their remnants into the wild mountains east of Pulangi River, the 31st Division, with the 108th Regimental Combat Team and the 2d Battalion of the 162d Infantry attached, was ordered to advance into eastern Bukidnon Province. To accomplish this mission a total of five columns advanced east from Sayre Highway more or less simultaneously.  The southernmost column to move east of the road consisted of the 2d Battalion, 162d Infantry. This force crossed the Pulangi River, south of Panadtaran and seven miles north of Maramag, on 12 June to clean out the Iglosad-Namnam area. For three days the Jungleers worked east and north until they met the enemy about 7,500 yards southeast of Maligan.  Fighting continued until enemy resistance was broken on 17 June, and the advance continued against rifle and machine-gun fire to the vicinity of Iglosad. As the Jungleers continued around the north slope of Mt. Botony through Luminatao on 20 June, they encountered an estimated two hundred Japs entrenched in strong positions. The Pulangi River and marshy terrain prevented the use of artillery but for the next five days mortars and airplanes pounded the enemy positions.  Companies E and G overran the enemy strongpoints and the Japs fled to the mountains to the east on 25 June. Patrolling continued until the close of the campaign but only scattered contacts were made. When the campaign was closed the 2d Battalion, 162d Regiment, was relieved south of Valencia by the Philippine Army’s 112th Infantry, which continued the drive east of Glodsad.

Troops of the 41st Division aided in the mopping-up activities until 4 July when they departed from Davao to rejoin the Division at Zamboanga. By 9 July the entire Division was once more concentrated in the Zamboanga sector awaiting orders for the next strike against the slowly diminishing Japanese empire.