41st Cavalry Reconnaissance Troop (Mechanized) At Zamboanga:

by Dr. Hargis Westerfield, Division Historian with Four Recon Award-Winners

In Zamboanga Battle, 41 Cavalry Reconnaissance Troop (Mechanized) was truly a cavalry outfit. Instead of fighting on foot as on Biak, we maneuvered with 42 armed vehicles. Core of our cavalry was 13 M-8s - 6-wheeled armored vehicles, each with an open turret forward mounting a .37mm cannon and a .30 heavy machine gun. Another .30 machine gun was in each bow. For hauling supplies and pulling other vehicles from the mud, we had five half-tracks mounting .50 heavy machine guns. Most of our 22 jeeps had 60mm mortars or machine guns.

We could scout ahead or flanking our 41st Division to find the Japs. Then, like old-time horse cavalry, we could strike in a weak place, then withdraw and bring up infantry.

On 12 March 1945, the mounted 2nd Platoon of 2nd Lieutenant Mitchell scouted on right flank of 163 Infantry fighting for Santa Maria Village. Division Intelligence said that Santa Maria was already secured. But we probed to find only a crossroad between us and the Japs. A field artillery tree-burst halted us.

Mitchell jeeped to Infantry command post and got permission to continue seeking for Japs on 163 Infantry's right flank. As we were about to move, another tree-burst hit us. Platoon Sergeant Angelo Froio was wounded on the side and Mitchell's gunner had right arm and nerves cruelly damaged. Sergeant Darwin L Olson left his shell-hole under fire to bring a Medic for the two wounded. Froio would return to fight in a week, but the gunner rated a "homer."

Next village we hit had a supply dump with about 12 Japs trying to close the dump. We slew two probables; the rest escaped. Mitchell told 41st Headquarters that he found many saki cases; so headquarters took all cases (next time he found saki, Mitchell brought it back for 41 Recon in the M-8 turrets).

Then we spotted a Jap headquarter with a cave. Although Olson's jeep tried to draw fire, no Japs shot at him. Mitchell let 163 Infantry deal with that cave.

Reaching 2nd Platoon's next objective for that day at Mercedes Village north of Pasananca, Mitchell heard that Division Intelligence had ordered 41 Recon and Air Force bombers to attack it at the same time. Mitchell had the bombers grounded and seized Mercedes without casualties, Yanks or Filipino civilians.

Next day, acting Lieutenant William G Rundle's Platoon raced to rescue loyal Filipinos imprisoned in San Romon Penal Colony near the coast west of Zambo City. We feared that Japs or collaborators would murder them. A good blacktop road - Route 8 West - led to San Ramon.

Through binoculars at a distance, Sergeant Everett W Charlson spotted the entrance guard, a lone Filipino with a shotgun. While Sergeant Charles J Nason covered him with his M-8s guns, Charlson rushed the guard and grabbed the shotgun. Not a shot was fired.

The Japs had fled; we scouted the area and found none of them. One prisoner was a schoolteacher named "Ray," (perhaps spelled "Rey" in Filipino Spanish) who spoke fine English. Ray was crammed into a cell just 5 by 5 feet, and condemned for execution tomorrow. Among the collaborators was Head Warden Moreno whom we turned over to our MPs as soon as we got orders. All Filipinos insisted that Moreno was guilty, but we do not know what became of him.

That same day, Rundle's Platoon drove about 5-6 miles up the west coast to contact our guerillas near Labuan. Then a Filipino stepped out into the road with an American flag, we had made our contact. Leader was a mestizo named Johnstone.

Thus, within three days, 41 Recon had scouted around and secured both flanks of our 41st Division in Zambo Battle. We had helped to force Jap withdrawal to the Pasananca cockpit and Mount Capisan.

Our new command post now temporarily located at Mercedes which Mitchell's Platoon had captured, north and east of Pasananca. On 16 March, we moved on the Japs at Malapugan. But they had fled last night. So 1st Platoon tried to head them off at Lunsuran, about six miles north of Zambo City. Fires were observed in Lunsuran. But as 1st Platoon entered that village, Japs fled disorganized into the mountain jungle behind it. They left documents, rations, ammo, and poorly laid mines. East of Tumaga River, no Jap organized units existed - all the way to our guerilla lines cutting them off at Moroc-Brea heights.

Led by US guerilla leader Captain Donald LeCouvre, 41 Recon now hunted 23 miles north and east of Zambo to contact the hidden city of Filipino Curuan. On the way, we met many roadblocks and had a minor skirmish. Entering Curuan, we found 5,000 refugees from Zambo City. Doctors, lawyers, and businessmen had tilled the soil for food to stay alive. We began to bring them home - first the Zambo mayor with the police chief and other city officials.    

After Jap withdrawal from Pasananca and Mount Capisan, 41 Recon still had many patrols and some bloody fights. For by late March, the Japs had broken through the guerilla lines and held high ground near Moroc, about 7 miles north of Zambo City. We had to locate the new Jap lines and establish contact by radio with the guerillas.

And so, about daylight 29 March, 1st Lieutenant Cieslik's 7-man patrol entrucked from base camp at Ft. Pilar in Zambo City to contact some 30 Filipino guerillas near Moroc. Besides Cieslik, known US members of this patrol were Staff Sergeant Cluff L Tippets, and Sergeants Lawrence L Bourlier and T/4 William M Alsup, who was the radioman. Near Moroc, the climb was steep and Alsup almost fainted before we found the guerilla camp at mid-day.

At once, Alsup made radio contact for the guerillas with 41st headquarters. He gave the guerillas current frequencies, procedures, and codes to help them cooperate with the 41st. When Alsup saw that his comrades were going on an evidently hopeless mission, he volunteered to go with them - at least to draw fire.

Patrol's mission now was to determine strength and main Japanese positions. We were also to find a possible Yank supply line.

Our Platoon Leader, 1st Lieutenant Theodore P Cieslik, was a newcomer to 41 Recon from an outfit garrisoning Panama. Cieslik was desperately eager for combat. Like Alsup and Tippett, he carried a carbine. At least one patrol member had a tommy-gun.

Bourlier and most other men had M-1s. For hand-to-hand combat, most of us had managed to "acquire" a pistol, one way or another.

Choosing what seemed to be safest terrain, Cieslik led his patrol into the rear of the Japs. Soon he probed into a small pocket and began to draw fire from three sides - from rifles and machine guns. He spotted a Jap machine gun's field-of-fire and saved our patrol from being wiped out.

When Jap fire seriously wounded a guerilla scout, Cieslik ordered covering fire from his six men and went in under heavy Jap fire to rescue him. Cieslik's alertness, quick thinking helped him to complete our patrol's mission far ahead of the expected length of time.

Boulier's bravery was outstanding. When Jap fire hit two guerillas and cut them off, Bourlier went in to save them. Under much fire, he brought out one wounded man and gave him first aid. He tried to save a second guerilla, but Jap fire repelled him. As dark began to fall, he kept on creeping up for the second guerilla. Only after dark could he rescue that second wounded man. (Not until seven days after Cieslik's patrol and a final counter-attack could infantry spring the Japs from their Moroc stronghold.)

Back at San Ramon Prison which Rundle's Platoon had liberated, his 3rd Platoon fought off a night attack by about 30 Japs. We had no casualties, but they bayoneted many civilians outside the prison. We cleared the area and slew six more Japs. Meanwhile, AT Company 162 Infantry took over security for the prison.

On 12 April, 41 Recon's 1st Platoon began a recon patrol that led into battle with the Japs. Led by 2nd Lieutenant Frank M Petre, we were to scout Jap movements on the east coast of Zambo Peninsula, probably near Curuan. Being inexperienced, Petre wisely had Staff Sergeant Raymond L McKinsey take the lead.

From a perimeter of armored cars and jeeps, McKinsey took a ten-man patrol with a Filipino guide up an almost unused trail. Lieutenant Petre accompanied us. With Corporal Russell Thompson, McKinsey took the point of the recon patrol.

In over four hours scouting we found no Jap tracks. A Filipino came down the trail and said that he had seen no Japs. (McKinsey admits that he should have taken the Filipino back up the trail with him.)

The trail gave out suddenly. Just 30 feet ahead, we saw some 25 japs eating or resting. They could not see us in the darker jungle behind us. They lacked out- guards also.

As McKinsey was placing his 10 men, a shot rang out, whether Yank or Jap, he never knew. Japs scattered in every direction. Our 11 men charged in cursing and snap-shooting with M-1s and carbines with tommies to back us.

Behind McKinsey, a Yank yelled, "Grenade!" McKinsey stopped. A hammer seemed to crash McKinsey in the hip. T/5 Willard J Lightcap and 2nd Lieutenant Petre riddled the Jap officer-grenadier. Full of adrenalin, McKinsey charged ahead firing.

We overran the panicked Japs to where we could see 100 yards down a draw. Here Japs were setting up machine guns or mortars. We toppled several mortar teams to the ground, but there were too many Japs. Light mortar shells chipped leaves on us. Ammo ran low, and McKinsey signalled "Retreat."

Of an estimated 20-22 dead Japs, McKinsey and Thompson claimed three apiece. Vernon R Betts claimed two; Petre, Pfc Lonis Lango, Corporal William B Moody and T/5 Estanislao Ortega one each. Staff Sergeant Alipio Manahan our guerilla guide killed one also. Sergeant James E Schneider our radioman did not score, and was angry. We do not know who slew the other Japs.

Next day, Division ordered line Infantry to clear that pocket of probably 150 Japs. Our Russell Thompson and Donald E Nelson volunteered to take the point ahead of the infantry to find them, but the Japs cannily ambushed us a mile closer than where we expected them. They shot Thompson and Nelson both in the hips and forced the infantry to dig in.

Despite orders against it, a fine infantry Sergeant dragged both men from under fire down the trail, gave first aid, and bore them to Medics. Nelson survived; rumor that Thompson died was incorrect. Of course, the Japs were dispersed, those still alive.

With McKinsey's and Petre's fight of 12 April, our Zamboanga Battle seemed to be over. Lieutenant Downs' Platoon returned from a month on Jolo Island with 163 Infantry. We planned for 2-3 weeks labor on our overworked vehicles. But four days after Downs' return, "Division" ordered us to help out Infantry pursuing the defeated Japs up the Zambo Peninsula. Our specialized radiomen, gunners, drivers and mechanics were set afoot in the hungry, wet mountains of disease and death. We left only 25 men behind to construct a camp and complete heavy maintenance on our 40-odd "cavalry" vehicles.

About half of 41 Recon was ordered up the Zambo Peninsula west coast to assist 1st Battalion 186 Infantry in the Siocon Bay area. We were to set up ambushes to intercept the Japs.

But the Infantry Commanding Officer failed to obey his orders to have ambushes set up. He merely sent out 41 Recon and 186 patrols to kill Japs. Mitchell's men's orders were to ride an Amphib craft down the coast, beach, and work back to 186 Infantry.

We trailed a Jap squad to the jungle edge of a native garden. Bees stung some of us. We fled and scared the Nips to flee also. That night, it was hard to pull out stingers; two men must take morphine. We still heard the Japs - rose at crack of dawn and slew all 8-10 of them.

Main Jap body hid in the mountains. William G Rundle's 18 man patrol searched for the Japs - found them in a native garden. When their fire grounded us, Rundle had to get a Piper Cub to call down 12 Field Artillery rounds to expel the Japs. Pursuing again, we were ambushed from two sides. To save our scouts, we flanked the Japs from high ground and drove them out.

Despite just two days' rations, we had to continue the pursuit. We chased them for four days. Often a die-hard ambush of sick and wounded fought us until they died. On Day No.4, an LCM brought food with infantry to relieve us - even while we looked down on some 30 surviving Japs.

Joyfully, we left the Japs for infantry combat, and boarded the LCM for our Zambo camp. By 2 June, a third of 41 Recon was confined with foot and body ailments - and bee stings.

Our 25-man rear echelon also suffered. Floods continually soaked our camp area. We had to remove vehicles and tents to a dryer area - start laborious overhauling, and cleaning all over.

In Zambo Battle, our 41 Recon Cavalry was a highly trained, hardworking and hard fighting outfit. Our recons saved many US and guerilla lives. We slew 133 Japs. (Killed or found dead in mountain patrols were 86 of them.) In return, we had just nine wounded in action - none killed. Ours was a top-level performance of expertly     trained mechanized recon cavalry.

 

CREDIT. Discovery of Awards citations of William Alsup, Larry Bourlier, Everett Charlson, Ted Cieslik, Ed "Curly" Mitchell, Ray McKinsey, Darwin Olson, Russ Thompson and William Rundle with Bourlier and Cluff Tippetts each adding a sworn statement of Ciesliks' Award in the National Archives spearheaded this story. Letters come from Alsup (9 and 25 November), Mitchell (15 and 17 Dee), McKinsey (undated), and Chester Cheney (undated), all in 1987. Rundle wrote, 12 January 1988. Also useful was an over five page letter-sized single-spaced portion of an official report merely labeled "Headquarters, 41st Cavalry" 26 June 1945. (Story of 41 Recon on Biak was in Jungleer, February 1964.)