146 Field Artillery Battalion: Fighting the Jolo Mountains

by Dr. Hargis Westerfield, Division Historian with Captain Robert M. Allen, 146 Field Artillery

Only 15 minutes after 163 Infantry (less 2nd Battalion) made the initial landing on northeast Jolo Island at Tagibi Barrio, 146 Field Artillery prepared to fight. At 0845, 9 April 1945, Commanding Officer Colonel Hintz landed with his recon party. In 30 minutes we had selected battery positions and started our terrain survey for accurate fire. A wet landing delayed A and C Batteries, but by 1045, we were positioned with ranging surveys complete. (Cannon Company 163 Infantry was with 146 Field Artillery Battalion, but our B Battery, was on Victor IV invasion, farther west in the Sulu Archipelago.).

 Although battle-ready soon after landing, 146 Field Artillery had no fire missions for 9 April. Aided by naval guns and airstrikes, I 163 Infantry took Mount Patikul 823 feet over the beach, and seized Jolo City and Zettel Field. Jap opposition was from only three Infantry Battalions and a Naval Guards Unit - under strength, some 2,000 survivors of originally 4,400 men. They had no air force, and just 12 75-caliber cannons, most of which probably never fired.

 Our opposition were typical Jap soldiers; courageous and tenacious, and with no idea of surrender. They were entrenched in formidable mountain defenses over Jolo City. They would kill 35 men of 163 and send 125 wounded to the hospital. And 146 Field Artillery Battalion would have one killed and eight wounded. After our wet landing and the capture of Jolo City, the real Battle of Jolo remained to be fought.

 And so we began the real Battle of Jolo the morning of 10 April against the twin peaks of Mounts Bangkal and Awak, some 3 miles east of Jolo City. We believed that Bangkal (766 ft.) was the right anchor of the Jap defenses in the hills southeast of Jolo. From it, we could get our first good observation of the Jap mountains southward. Across the saddle east of Bangkal stood Mount Awak (572 ft.) which the Japs defended also.

 Using our Piper Cub, we placed 146 fire on the closest positions, and marked for an airstrike and destroyer gunfire both Bangkal and Awak. With the help of Marine dive-bombers and destroyers, we also shot up Bangkal and Awak. By 1330, K Company had taken both hills without opposition.

 Our Shore Fire Control party under Captain Levenson, set up an observation post on Bangkal, and 1st Lieutenant Jacobson got orders to join L Company to attack Mount Magusing to the south.

 Just as Jacobson started to lead his party down the south slope of Bangkal, a command of Japs charged from a tunnel and covered trench system. They tried to reach a mortar commanding the hill crest; five were killed in the attempt. Simultaneously, a surprise attack struck the K squad sent out to make perimeter on Awak. Then' "K" killed 22 Japs but had nine wounded from grenades, mortars and small arms. That night, "K" with 146's observation post had another attack - and slew four more Japs.

             And that night, 146 briefly fought a Jap 75. From Mount Awak, some two miles south of Jolo City, shells fell briefly and harmlessly on the town area. After our forward observer called 105 shells down on it, no further action was necessary.

 Thus by dawn of 11 April, that third day of the Jolo Battle, we had captured Mounts Patikal, Bangkal and Awak. But guerillas reported that Japs still manned a solid defense line of the mountains across our southern front. The line extended from Mount Tumatangas on the west, eastward across the Jolo City road, then along a close rank of peaks - Datu, Agad, Pula, Magusting - all steep peaks 800-927 feet high. Garrison of this Jap "Left Defense Zone" was mainly 365 Infantry Mixed Battalion less one Company. (And 3,000 yards east of Magusing was formidable Mount Daho with a 33 Naval Guards garrison, but that assault is another story.)

 The American attack had two prongs. On 163's left, "L" was to storm Magusing on an advance over open grassland. On 163's right, "C" must advance down the axis of the Jolo City cross-island road and overcome Mount Datu. Both "L" and "C" had some tough fights, and 146 Field Artillery men took prominent parts.

 Without field artillery or Air Force preparation, "L" and 146 observers accompanied tanks up 874-foot Mount Magusing. Lead platoon of "L" with Lieutenant Jacobson's 146 Field Artillery observer party almost reached their objective with no opposition. Suddenly, heavy enfilade fire from covered trenches and concealed pillboxes lashed us from a spur ridge south of the summit. Fierce knee mortar fire also fell from hidden positions on that south ridge.

 Tank fires extricated this platoon, but 146's Lieutenant Jacobson could not aid the men with 105 shells. For we were directly on 146's gun target line, and on ground higher than the Jap spur. Jacobson, Sergeant Nims, and other men of the party were under virtually point-blank fire, but they saved all equipment. Jacobson dared Jap fire to bring out L Company's wounded.

 Although "L" had 14 wounded, we could locate Jap strongpoints only approximately. While "L" established covered positions south of Magusing for mortars and machine guns to support our tomorrow's attack, Jacobson's party went into action, Working with 2nd Lieutenant Evans, our liaison pilot overhead, Jacobson directed shell-fire on the south slopes of Magusing.

 While 146 Field Artillery men fought for "L" on our left flank, other 146 men fought for 163 against Mount Datu on our right.

 About 1200, "C" and 146 Field Artillery's observers were advancing up a cobblestone road towards the crest of 800-foot Mount Datu. This road reached the crest through a deep ravine which slashed the rim, halfway around the western slope.

 C Company's lead Platoon had passed up through this ravine while the Commanding Officer and 146's Lieutenant Ludeke's party and two squads remained below at the bend of the road where it turned to run up the south slope of the ravine. A 146 man spotted Jap cave defenses 40 yards across the ravine and called them to the attention of "C." Perhaps because "C" had earlier found almost abandoned pillboxes on the approach to Mount Datu, we felt fairly safe. But the patrol to clear the caves hit a hornets' nest.

 A blast of Jap fire from the ravine, hit this patrol. Jap fire also pinned down C's men and 146 men on the road. For two hours, we cowered prone on the stone road in blazing sun to save our lives. Although in defilade on the road, we could not leave it. The hidden Japs shot anyone who so much as moved.  After we endured two tortured hours, a heavy machine gun - probably D Company's - was manhandled into the unique position where it could plunge fire into the caves. Covered by this fire, we made a run for our lives.

 About this time, T/5 Lloyd Lee silenced a Jap machine gun. But when he tried to escape, fire from a cave trapped him again. Lee threw a grenade into that cave and silenced it long enough to save himself.  Down on the cobblestone road, T/5 Harp took a grenade wound in trying to save his radio. On his second try, Harp got a head wound. He kept on firing at the Jap positions. Pinned down on that sunstruck, heated road, 2nd Lieutenant Ludeke passed out from heat and shock. Regaining consciousness and finally saved, Ludeke refused to leave for the rear that day.

 Because the Jap pocket was in dead space behind the hill, field artillery shells could not hit it. With 163's Major Armstong, Ludeke adjusted mortar fire on the dead space. We tried to destroy our abandoned radio and two infantry radios. Despite earlier heat prostration, Ludeke stayed with "C" to adjust night field artillery fire. (That day, C Company had three killed - two officers - and nine wounded. It took four days to clear Japs from those 15 caves and pillboxes.)

 On 11 April also, 146 Field Artillery blasted partly captured Mount Magusing again. Coordinating with mortars and air-strikes, we helped I Company to conquer Magusing. "I" had two dead, eight wounded - and 45 dead Japs.

 On 163's right flank, the Jolo Road, we battered Mount Kagangan (1095 feet), south of Mount Datu. From their plane, Lieutenants Evans, Allen adjusted two shells before a cave evidently occupied, made direct hits on a pillbox commanding all 1st Battalion's sector. We shelled for three days until "B" took Kagangan 15 April.

 Rejoined by B Battery returned from Sanga Sanga Island, all 146 Field Artillery batteries lined up on the beach near Jolo City. We were now three miles closer to the Japs - but in danger of raids.

 From tall cogon (kunai) grass before our guns, they mapped us. About midnight 15-16 April, some 16 Japs attacked with bangalore torpedoes, rifle, grenades. We repelled them, with machine guns, even grenades and sub-machine guns.

 About 0200, 4-5 unseen Japs got within 30 feet of Staff Sergeant Morgan's machine gun guarding C Battery on extreme east of 146's fire-base. We swung our gun and felled the Japs. Attack ended, except for low moans that we feared to investigate in darkness. But at 0600, a Jap grenade exploded on Morgan's men. Corporal William A. Souza died of wounds. It hit all four others: Callender, Staff Sergeant Morgan, T /5s Poston, Marquis. They fought on; Callender risked Jap fire to bring in more machine gun belts.

 Three days before this night attack, 146 Field Artillery already fought Mount Tumatangas, last great Jap stronghold on Jolo. Garrisoned by 365 Independent Infantry Battalion and most of 55 Infantry Mixed Brigade's 12 mountain guns, it held other fragments of broken commands.

 Tallest of all Jolo mountains (1264 feet), this massif with Mabusing and Batu Puti comprised some 30 square miles of forested sheer slopes. Overhanging Jolo City, Tumatangas with its combination of cannon and infantry was the last great challenge to 163's combat team.

 On 12 April, 146's Lieutenant Rainville spotted extensive trenches and gun positions half-way up its eastern slope. They were dug into sides and rim of a huge crater shaped like a "Figure 8." And northwest of the crater was a stream bed with much-used water-holes. Rainville surprised many Jap troops in the open to blast them with 105s. That afternoon airborne, he saw more trenches and activity. Over 100 rounds crashed among them. Making a precision adjustment, he got target hits on a gun position commanding Jolo City.

 That night of 12 April, a Jap 75 shot on Jolo City which B 163 had seized that afternoon. One shell smashed warehouse timbers and narrowly missed killing some 50 casuals from Zamboanga who had bivouacked there a few minutes before. So on April 13, 14, and 16, Marine bombers smashed Figure 8 Crater, water-holes, and gun positions. No gun fired again until 17 April.

 Attacking towards the crater 17 April, guerillas encountered another hidden Jap strongpoint. They took a Jap 75 pointed at Jolo City, but machine guns and mortars repelled them.

 That night, the gun shelled Jolo for the last time. A direct hit on the hospital killed three civilians, wounded seven more, killed 163's Medic Albert Jiminez.

 On 18 April, we zeroed in. With delayed fuzes, we heavily concentrated fire on this position by centering sheaf. Our pilots saw four target hits. Later, 163 found the gun knocked out. An "L" Platoon burned it up with a magnesium grenade. Thus ended the last fire of 55 Independent Mixed Brigade's 12 guns.

 Reports now pinpointed the Crater area as the strongest Jap concentration on Jolo-with 500-1000 Japs. When 163's Commanding Officer Colonel Moroney flew over it with Lieutenant Rainville, a heavy machine gun and several lighter "woodpeckers" shot at them.

 On 24 April, "K" with 146 support began the action to liquidate the Crater garrison. Although Jap fire at first repelled "K" from the intricate net of Jap trenches, 146's Lieutenant Simpson performed miracles of close field artillery support on 26-27 April. Simpson crawled through the brush within 50 yards of the Jap positions to call down fire. Once, shells fell 35 yards before him. On 27 April, 163 Infantry used direct fire - brought up a Cannon Company 105, two 57mm AT guns, and heavy machine guns. After this fire, "K" easily occupied the eastern rim of the Crater. This memorable action of 27 April against Figure 8 Crater still did not conclude fighting on Tumatangas. Again and again, 146 fired on Tumatangas - but only to break up diehard Jap concentrations. For 163 made no wasteful all-out effort to kill the last Jap in that vast wilderness. Guerilla action was of limited effectiveness except over a long period. After the last 146 men left Jolo - two guns of A Battery about 27 May - small-scale fighting continued until Black 93 Division men forced the Japs off Tumatangas in early July. But the last 87 Japs did not surrender until 26 August 1945, 12 days after Tokyo admitted defeat on 14 August.

 Such was 146 Field Artillery's great 7-week operation to conquer Jolo. Our shells broke the major resistance on the Magusing - Datu range, ended the siege of Mount Daho, made Mount Tumatangas harmless. We did this with 4393 shells, - with 77 "missions," 85 "concentrations," and 43 "massed fires." (At Zambo, we fired only 11813 total rounds.) We had done well.

 

CREDIT: Basic narrative is from three unpublished manuscripts attributed to Allen. These are "Return to Jolo," "Reduction of Mount Daho," "Battle from Tumatangas." Most useful also were Terrain Handbook No. 57, and award stories of Herp, Lee, Ludeke, Morgan, Marquis, Poston, Calldneer, Simpson, and letter of John E. Johnson (aided by Peter Tortorello of 7 August 1978.) Major Tokichi Tenmvo's "Staff Study of Japanese Activities in Jolo ..” was also helpful. After Gen Suzuki died, Tenmyo was Commanding Officer of Jap forces.