33rd Naval Guard(Japanese): Saga of A Japanese “Civilian” Marine

by Makoto Ikeda with Dr. Hargis Westerfield, Division Historian

This is how Makoto Ikeda of Tokyo finally became a Japanese "civilian" Marine of 2nd Company, 33rd Naval Guard in Zamboanga Battle. (He was called "civilian" because he was not originally trained as a Marine.) He was trained to speak Malayan at the "Raising Asia Special School" in Tokyo. With 22 classmates, he boarded Manko-Maru from Kure Naval Base on 7 July 1944 - for rich Amboina Island in Indonesia about 300 miles west of New Guinea. They were to influence Amboina farmers to win independence from the Dutch - and to build up the Japanese "Greater East Asia Cooperative Sphere."

Ikeda never saw Amboina. On 31 July, a US sub sank Manko-Maru in Bashi Channel between Taiwan and Luzon. After 12 hours drifting, he was luckily saved by a rescue ship, but 16 of his 22 classmates had died. From Manila, he embarked on Kokuzan-Maru to voyage south and west by Zamboanga and Biak - safest way to reach Amboina. But a carrier-bomber of Admiral Halsey's force killed Kokuzan-Maru in Malso Bay of Basilan Island.

Because the US 41st Division had already secured Biak, Ikeda was forever severed from his Amboina language mission. At Zambo, the seven remaining young language specialists of 18-19 years' age were no more useful than Formosan laborers and were treated like them. Attached to 103rd Naval Stores Depot of 33rd Naval Guard, they protected a salt warehouse from Filipino thieves. They also labored to transfer enormous loads of munitions, salt, and other supplies to cave warehouses near the base of Mount Pulungbata north of Pasananca.

As D-Day neared, US air raids increased. On 8 March, a lookout discovered a long line of US fighting ships in Basilan Strait. From where they were guarding a salt warehouse at Talontalon east of Zambo City that day, they hurried back to their Branch Office in Pasananca. A Marine Corsair machine-gunned them, but wounded nobody.

Zambo Battle had begun. The Japanese Marines of 33rd Naval Guard defended the central sector from Zambo City west to San Mateo Beach. Inland, they also held the terrain from Pasananca and Mount Pulungbata westward through San Roque Strip and Mount Capisan. The Marines' sector was strategically the most important for guarding the Zambo area. The Army's 54th IMB (Independent Mixed Brigade) secured both flanks of the Marines.

As battle began, Ikeda and five other language specialists became members of the Marines' Signal Unit. Slender Ikeda and his classmate Yokota were now part of a four-man group of runners. They were two teams of two men each. If one runner was killed, the second runner must still strive to deliver the message. Runners were crucial to the Marines because heavy shellfire often cut phone wires, and radios were scarce.

Naturally, Zambo Battle went against the Japanese. They lacked planes and tanks and long-range field artillery. Still, they fought like Japanese. The Marines still honor two outstanding heroic acts.

Marines still remember Lieutenant (jg) Rensho Masho of 129th Air Defense Company. On 13 March when a US tank attacked, Masho followed the Imperial Navy code of honor. He said, "A commander must lead in battle." With a heavy explosive charge in his arms, he charged the tank headlong. After his death, his 20 men also charged the tank to die there.

On 13 March also, Blow-Out Hill before Pasananca was a scene of Marine heroism. They could not halt the US advance by detonating the mine at a distance by electricity. At the cost of their lives, two Marine petty officers blew the mine by hand and caused E Company 163 Infantry 83 casualties.

These heroes were Eizo Sakanishi, "Naval Higher Fitter Petty Officer," and Akiyo Yamauchi, "Naval Fitter Petty Officer 2nd Class," both of the 27th Torpedo Adjusting Squadron. For their valor, the Admiral of the Combined Fleet posthumously promoted each of them two ranks. (The promotion of two ranks was normally given to a Kamikaze pilot!) Sakanishi became a Naval Sub-Lieutenant, and Yamauchi a Warrant Officer. Zambo Battle was proceeding to a Japanese defeat. Ikeda never forgot the message that he and runner-partner Yokota had to carry from Lieutenant Commander Masaji Fujimoto at Cabatagan to Lieutenant Commander Sasaki of 103 Naval Stores Depot of Pasananca. Nor did he ever forget the dangers of that run.

Under heavy shellfire, they arrived at Marine Headquarters in one of the tunnels near Cabatangan in the San Roque area. On the hill overhead, 3rd and 5th Marine Companies still desperately held positions despite field artillery, tank, and infantry attacks.

In the tunnel was Lieutenant Commander Sasaki, 33rd Naval Guards Executive. Sasaki courteously thanked them for their services. In a bombardment shaking heaven and earth, he was steady as a rock. (He would die during the great retreat after battle.)

Back into the hell of shelling went Ikeda and Yokuta to relay a message from Headquarters of the southeast Fleet to Lieutenant Commander Fujimoto at Pasananca. Shells were falling outside the tunnel, like a rain-torrent. They ran but repeatedly flattened when shells impacted too close. Once Yokota covered Ikeda with his body when a shell burst threatened him.

Finally arrived in the Pasananca cockpit under intermittent field artillery fire, the runners saw that supplies were being destroyed before evacuating. White smoke emitted from cave mouths. A black stream of sugar was afire. As they reported to Fujimoto, a bloody Army Private fell from nearby cliff ledge. He shouted, "The shells kill even before we see the enemy."

Without even glancing at the wounded soldier, Fujimoto listened intently to the runners. They had to shout; Fujimoto was half-deaf from destroyer guns when he had fought at Guadalcanal. The message from the Naval Guards Company was from headquarters, southeast Asia fleet: "Choose a way to survive at all costs. Expect the day of restoration of the Empire to come." The message forbade acts of suicide.

Now the two runners got orders to rejoin their Defense Unit of 103rd Naval Stores Depot in the Moroc area about five miles north of Zambo City. Here were ridges 1200- 1500 feet high where the Marines fought guerillas and 186 Infantry. This Moroc Pocket was the final strongpoint of Zambo Battle.

After their report, Ikeda and Yokuta began running and dodging shell bursts up the narrow Moroc Trail. They passed a file of Formosan laborers with shoulder loads of rice or salt bales. Some were taking a trailside break without permission. Ikeda and Yokuta warned them to hurry - shouted "American tanks are coming!"

The runners found their 2-squad Defense Unit entrenched on a ridge for cover against the guerillas before them. An unwieldy 13mm machine gun helped secure the ridge. Eastward was an open slope of a former open field. About 150 yards ahead, the rain forest stood up - ideal cover for the guerillas. Next day, guerillas opened up with rifle fire and grenade launcher blasts. Although they blasted the Japanese from their holes and captured the machine gun, the ground was retaken in about an hour. Guerilla arms were superior, but morale was poor. Guerillas were undisciplined troops never trained to stand in battle. The machine gun was safe where the guerillas had abandoned it in their hurry to withdraw.

Squad-leader Okamoto had fought bravely here, but a bullet pierced his arm. Ikeda's classmate Tanioka was wounded also. Lacking hospital facilities in the coming retreat into the mountains, both would perish from wounds from which they normally would have recovered. Tanioka would die on 22 May, and Okamoto on 27 May.

After more confused fighting in the Moroc area, the Defense Platoon fell back under heavy shellfire. They gave up their cumbrous, almost unused machine gun. It was impractical for combat in the muddy jungle. Never intended for land use, it was formerly mounted on a motor launch sunk in Zambo Harbor. Not an Infantry weapon, this salvaged machine gun was a clumsy carry. It broke down into only two heavy assemblies - the barrel, and the complicated base. They could not emplace it for effective use in jungle mud.

But back in the safer rear echelon, Engineer Warrant Officer Onue grew wildly angry at the abandonment. Although he was no longer with the Defense Platoon, he still retained command of it. He ordered his men to recover the machine gun. And no matter how unreasonable he was, they must obey his order. For among Japanese armed forces, a superior officer's order was considered to be an order of the Emperor Himself. They had to obey this murderous order.

Higher Petty Officer Oda picked Ikeda among only ten men to retake this gun. As darkness fell, they started forth with Oda himself leading. They were just lightly armed, for two men would have to carry the heavy barrel on their shoulders.

The machine gun lay hidden under bushes in the bottom of a valley, and they did safely infiltrate close to it. But carrying it 'off was more dangerous than finding it. The guerrillas had silently let them enter the valley while they held fire all around. Now they fired from all directions. The Japanese were pinned down on a brushy slope with a clump of trees. They flattened fearfully prone in despair of their lives.

Soon the fire ceased. They hoped that the guerillas believed that they were dead, or had escaped. In a low voice, Oda told his men not to move. Later, he slowly removed his helmet and carefully lifted it up on the end of a stick. Instantly, a bullet whizzed by his helmet.

Their last hope left was for the night to come soon. A heavy attack before dark would wipe out all eleven men.

In time, night did fall - a long black tropical night. In the first light of dawn, they were safe to leave their valley of death. Nobody was hurt. They still took an entire day to rejoin the Naval Guard up front.

Of course they could not recover the useless machine gun. Oda reported to W/O Onue that the guerillas had destroyed it. Oda brought back some smaller parts of the machine gun to prove that the detachment had tried hard to recover it. The report did not ruffle Onue. Nonchalantly he said, "I had already struck your names from my roster." The villain had ordered them to retake a useless machine gun - not expecting them to return alive!

At Moroc, they heard that the Army had let down 33rd Naval guards. On their east at Zambo City, the 360th Battalion had failed to attack on the Marines' flank. Another time, an Army Battery had pulled out from support without even informing the Marines.

Worst of all, the Army had diverted rice - that vital necessity - from the Marines. The Army had often robbed rice from Naval laborers' carrying parties. Supposing that both Army and Marines had enough rice, the 103rd Naval Stores group followed orders to burn the remaining supplies of rice in the caves. For the months when they would keep on fighting the US, the Marines were left with rice for only 2-3 weeks.

On 31 March, the Marine 33rd Naval Guard began their long hunger-and-death march into the starved Zambo mountains. (Ikeda and his classmate Akira Makita became assigned to 2nd Company 33rd Naval Guards.) Their march was over 300 twisting miles long, over a period of five months. It was continual foot-slogging in muddy mountain jungle and fighting guerillas and US troops - mostly while near starvation. Places of many deaths on the west coast were Sibuco, Panganuran, and Annungan. Lieutenant Commander Masaji Fujimoto was killed by a US mortar shell at Sibuko on 8 May. On different days there died also Naval Guards' Commanding Officer Captain Keinosuke Ikeda, his Exec Lieutenant-Cmdr Heiji Sasaki, and other officers like Higher Petty Officer Tetsuo Okada, and Squad-Leader Tetsuo Oda. (The Supreme Commanding Officer of the Zambo trooops, Lieutenant General Tokichi Hojo, himself committed suicide - not by slitting his abdomen, but by a bullet in the brain.)

Dead also were the last five of Ikeda's classmates who had started out from Kure on 7 July to be interpreters in Indonesia: Tetushi Kishini, Eichi Kato, Yoshito Tamioka, Terue Yokoa, and Akira Makita, who had been closest to Ikeda in battle. After Makita dropped behind the ranks between Panganuran and Annungan, Ikeda kept supporting him and encouraging him. Finally, he must leave him to die.

The Marines' 2-week rice ration was soon gone. They ate camotes - Filipino sweet potatoes, from a few fields. They ate wild things when they could catch them. Ikeda ate a big snake, a small frog, slugs - anything to keep alive. As military formations broke up, Ikeda teamed with men of Naval Stores. Protected by his rifle, they gathered food for all three of them.

After hiking to the west coast of Zambo Peninsula, the Marines crossed the mountains to the east coast and hiked north again. Finally came peace, and Emperor Hirohito's order to surrender. Five months after Moroc fighting, they laid down their last arms - and went home to rebuild battered Japan. Out of 4365 men of 33rd Naval Guards (Marines) plus attachments, only 560 survived. But Ikeda was one of them!


CREDIT: Most credit for this history is due to Japanese "Civilian" Marine Makoto Ikeda's manuscript, "Experience of a Certain Japanese Naval Civilian Employee at Zamboanga." This is an 8-page 7 X 10-inch document in English – in small, clear handwriting, prepared in 1986. More assistance came from four letters of 8 March, 8 April, 28 August, and an undated letter - all written in 1986 - and then Ikeda's corrections to my final manuscript. RR Smith's Triumph in the Philippines was also somewhat useful. When Ikeda wanted our US history to help him in his own history of the Japanese Battle of Zamboanga, he contacted the Washington (D.C.) Center of Military History, and the Center contacted our Division Association, which contacted me.  I have called my friend Ikeda a "Civilian" Marine because that was his precise Japanese status. (But to me, he ended up his war a true Japanese Marine because he seems to have acted as one.)