Second Infantry Regiment (Moro), Part II (Jolo)

The Sulu Guerilla Story

by Dr. Hargis Westerfield, Division Historian


            On Jolo Island, the combative Tausug Moros had hard struggles against the Japs. Unlike jungled Tawi Tawi, cultivated Jolo lack a large wilderness for concealment. Arms and ammo must be smuggled in from safer submarine landings on Tawi Tawi. The Japs had won to their side many Joloanos with promises to make Sultan Ombra Amilbangsa Sultan of Sulu and Borneo with rich tribute. Notably in richer west Jolo, many families backed Sultan Ombra's choice of the Japs. (The rightful Sulu Sultan, 65-year-old Muhammad Janail Abririr, was in hiding.)

In 1942 from Colonel Alejandro Suarez' headquarters in Tawi Tawi, lieutenants started guerilla action in Jolo. At first after its capture in 1941, Japs held only Jolo City with 150 men; but in mid-1943, reinforcements suppressed guerillas for many months. Finally, coming of 55 Infantry Mixed Brigade's 3,000 Japs should have smothered all guerillas forever.        

But 10 days after 551 Mixed Brigade's landing, we hear of Moro skirmishes with Japs - just before MacArthur's landing at Leyte. A report came on 14 October that an officer and 12 armed men of the Japs' puppet constables had escaped to Mount Tumatangas and joined a guerilla outfit there - perhaps Lieutenant Survian's. Unknown fights must have occurred in Jolo for some time; for on 5 November, 76 officers and men of Colonel Suarez in four native ships left Tawi Tawi to assist in Jolo. On 17 November, armed puppet native officials surrendered to us from Patikul and Maim bung towns in Jolo and on Panguaran Island northwest of Jolo. One Jolo fighter reportedly ambushed and mowed down 40 Japs with his tommie-gun in just one fight. On 20 November, "Jap Moros" failed to halt a food truck when guerillas ordered. We killed seven, caught a district engineer to sketch Jap positions for us.

Although mainly armed with carbines and krises, the small Jolo army of 465 fought well against the Japs' 3,500 men. In the usual Moro garb with pantaloons and turbans or pointed straw hats, they were hard to identify. If defeated, they could hide arms and fade into the Jolo population of 100,000.

In early 1945, guerilla fighting was heavy, notably in the narrowing neck between west and east Jolo. A 50-man outpost at Luuk centering east Jolo was invited down to Niug Nuig, for reasons unknown, two miles south of Luuk. Guerillas ambushed a 15-man patrol and slew all of them.

A Jap Platoon of some 20 at Mount Panonka (location unknown) was short of food and sent out 10 foragers. From Bunbun on the north coast, 60 guerillas struck them near Tiptipon and killed all 10. Near Tiptipon also, Lieutenant Datiles' guerillas fought Commander Goto's detachment. With Datiles were Mayor Abtahi of nearby Panamao and Albert Viray.

We lost no one; Jap Goto and 28 men died here. In February at Baunu Timbangan, some four miles south of Jolo City, a Jap Platoon lost some 30 men in daily attacks. In a few fights, guerillas had begun using mortars.

On 1 March from Sapa Bunuan and positions around Mount Daho southwest of Jolo City, Captain Tulawie led all of 300 guerillas against a 35th Naval Guard unit at Danag. He fought with mortars here. Instead of a Moro Datu's clothing, he wore a US uniform. Another Guard unit from Jolo City rescued these Japs - reportedly with no casualties, according to the Jap story. (One of the few east Joloans opposing Sultan Ombra, Tulawie based near Bilaan - or Camp Romandier. His sister had acted as a spy with messages from Jolo City.) While these smaller fights occurred, guerillas had a memorable fight against the Japs at Maimbung, traditional seat of the Jolo sultans and the third largest island city.

The Japs had a 70-man garrison in Maimbung, with 15 out-posted to guard Sultan Ombra's palace, half a mile north of the town. This palace was a three-story wooden building surrounded by a stone wall. The 15 Japs did not know that Ombra had already fled the palace, but the guerillas knew that Ombra was in the hands of anti-Japs. Sometime in December, they killed 10 Japs, but five escaped and brought up 55 more. The guerillas retreated.

            Being cut off from supplies in Jolo City, the garrison left Maimbung for Mount Matatal (464 feet), some three miles north. Now Japs heard that 300 guerillas had joined 200 already at Maimbung. With 150 soldiers from Jolo City and a .70 mm cannon, the Japs attacked on 31 December 1943 - claimed 150- 200 guerillas, but only five Japs killed, five wounded.

            Sometime in January 1944, Jap intelligence reported that an unknown guerilla captain with 200 men came to Maimbung and coordinated guerilla fighting. They used mortars more often. On 1 February, guerillas dislodged the Matatal Japs with mortars. Although apparently surrounded, they escaped in the night, abandoned two cases of rifle ammo and food.

            The Japs entrenched at Mount Kumuray, about four miles north of Maimbung. On that 29 January, 150 men were dispatched south from Jolo City to rescue them. The guerillas fought the probably united group on the Jolo road - killed 20 by Jap figures, or 50 by guerilla figures, and lost four killed and four wounded. Remaining Japs reached Jolo City alive.

So in early 1945, "Moro Hell" broke loose on the Jolo Japs. On 17 February 1945, guerillas seized the Camp Andres Municipal Building, near Luuk, in the heart of east Jolo.

Their loss was one killed, four wounded, but 57 Japs died, Lieutenant Yamada included. An allied plane bombed Japs for us on Patia Island, two miles south of the west Jolo coast. On 28 February 1945, guerillas captured the hill position above the air-strip, killed 11 Jap Marines, drove the others into western Patia jungle.

The light-armed guerillas fought well. By 1 April, they had harried the Japs to concentrate mostly on the "Mounts" 4.5 miles from Jolo City. Renamed the Second Regiment, the guerillas had grown from 465 men to 1,000. But they needed US help against 3,500 Japs - with 16 heavy machine guns, maybe 20 deadly 20 mm cannon, mortars, and field artillery. They needed battle-disciplined infantry, planes, tanks, and field artillery.

On the night of 2-3 April, a 41st Division recon team on a PT boat slipped into Bunbun Village near Jolo. Lieutenant Lowry of 41 CIC, Jolo refugee Emesto Garcia and Lieutenant Downs of 41 Reconnaissance Troop met with Captain Tulawie and Lieutenant Sindayan, and got recent data on Jap strength and locations. They were guests of the pro-American Sultan Abrir. Enroute back to Zambo at night with them, PT Commanding Officer Lieutenant Sinclair sank a small craft at the Jolo City dock.

After Lowry's visit, 163's landing was easy on 9 April. Guerillas had marked Taglibi Beach with bonfires. Armed with krises, carbines, and some rifles and BARs, turbanned short brown men brought us to Suarez. Battle cooperation began.

            On 11 April 1945 while 3rd Battalion 163 attacked Japs in the mountains southeast of Jolo, guerillas were to hold the 500 Jap Marines of Mount Daho from aiding the Jap Infantry on the Mounts.

For this mission, guerillas had to storm heavily fortified Danag Village east of Mount Daho. We helped them with Cannon Company's gun on call and Captain MacClennan, a Canadian observer from Saskatchewan - as permanent liaison officer. After an air- trike, four companies 400 guerillas overran Danag in an hour's fight-captured two heavy machine guns, a 20mm gun, and an ammo dump. No casualties were reported.

After an air-strike the next day, the guerillas tried to contact 3rd Battalion 163 down from Mount Bangal. But we came up against a tenaciously defended Jap Marine strongpoint - the Inouye and Sato Platoons, 100 strong, out-posting Mount Daho.

On 13 April at 0830, nine Marine planes bombed with nine 1,000-pounders; then 146 Field Artillery shelled. The bombs missed, but guerillas struck at once. A 20 mm gun repelled them, but we now knew where all three guns were. Field artillery again lashed the Japs, marked the three gun positions with smoke. Eighteen Marine SBDs dropped 1,000-lb bombs. At first, this guerilla attack went well, but by 1154, machine guns and rifles halted them - and the sole 20 mm gun firing. Guerilla patrols tried to round the Japs' right flank, but failed. Best action of the day was their recon patrol's guidance of 146 Field Artillery's Lieutenant Van Buren to pinpoint all three guns' locations just 75 yards from them. That night from forward positions, guerillas with an 81 mm mortar claimed a hit on a Jap gun emplacement with their second round - harassed until 0300. Next morning, 15 April, 146 Field Artillery with four Cannon 163 guns hammered the three 20 mm guns; then came an air-strike.

When guerillas seized silenced 20 mms on 16 April, the Japs had fled Mount Daho. No report has come of guerilla casualties; but at least 50 Japs died, with a large number wounded. The guerillas had fought well; but 163 now had to storm Daho.

           Guerillas fought also in the Mount Tumatangas wilderness - 40 square miles of mountain forests with five small peaks besides Tumatangas (2664 feet). A Jap 75 mm cannon blasted Jolo City from Tumatangas. On 17 April, 17 guerillas stormed this gun pointed at the city, slew 15 Japs. But 50 Japs retook the gun, held off reinforcements with machine guns and mortars. Next day, 146 Field Artillery killed the gun.

            When 163 took over the main guerilla positions on Tumatangas, action was inconclusive. Using 146 Field Artillery's heavy shellfire, we merely mopped up Japs' fixed positions. We were saving US lives to fight in Japan. But guerillas patrolled and picked off Japs. On 3 May, they cleared the Tumatangas north slope, slew 40 Japs on Mount Mabusing. On 4 May, they thrust up a draw to the main Jap water point, killed 34 Japs, took a heavy machine gun.

            Final struggle between guerillas and Japs is best told from Japanese reports. On 19 May, 163 left Jolo to the Black 368 Infantry (93 Division); but the Japs fought on. They assigned a unit to watch Jolo City, and entrenched on Tumatangas' steep western slopes and nearby Mount Kagay (1476 feet), and Mount Taran (1233 feet). In fighting here, the Japs lost more men - an entire 60-man unit missing, in fact. In mid-July, they had to retreat to Hill 785, two miles northwest of Tumatangas and dig in.

On 23 July, Americans attacked from the coast; barrages fell heavily on Hill 785. On 29 July, the surviving 500 Jap soldiers and Marines divided into three columns and marched. They deserve a salute from any soldier reading this - homesick men in the sweating tropics, from a land like the USA - men who never expected to go home again but would not surrender.

            Farthest north, the Left Column (365 Battalion and Brigade field artillery) started for Bahu on 29 July along the north slopes of Mount Dato and Mount Magusing. Guerillas struck between Mounts Magusing and Daho and made 70 casualties of the 150-man force. This column took five days to reach Mount Bahu on 29 August.

            On 29 July also, the Middle Column (363 Battalion) started farther south, by Mount Kagangan and Mount Daho. On 3 July, guerillas with mortars fought them. The Japs penetrated the guerilla lines but lost 100 out of 150 men. Then they got a little reinforcement - the remains of the southernmost Right Column.

            On 29 July also, the larger Right Column of 200 men (Brigade Headquarters and special troops) took the most exposed route, after passing south from Mount Tumatangas. They passed through Indanan Town (pop. 2069) and trekked along the south slope of Mount Daho. Guerillas harassed them the whole way; they lost 150 men; the Brigade Commanding Officer died on 1 August.

On 2 August, Right Column joined Middle Column, and they reached Mount Bahu on 7 August, 10 days after they had begun that 10-mile retreat. Total survivors of the three columns were about 180, plus perhaps some of the 70 casualties of the Left Column who may have lived. This retreat was a brave death march of which the final Commanding Officer, Major Tokichi Tenmyo was surely proud.

Twelve days after V-J Day when the Tokyo government surrendered, a US plane dropped leaflets on Mount Bahu which had a copy of the Emperor's message. At once, Tenmyo's envoy went to Jolo City and returned on 16 September with verification. Entrucked to Jolo City, the Japs disarmed at 1600. A total of 87 still lived - 82 Army, three Marines, and two civilians.

Such are outstanding recorded events of the epic struggle between guerillas and Japs on Jolo. Much of the struggle was never recorded and could not be written about. Many events were recorded but too obscure to be written about in this history. To make a reliable report of comparative battle casualties for guerillas or Japs is impossible. We do know that guerillas forced the Japs from their outposts into the Jolo City-Daho-Tumatangas area. Jap sources reveal that they fought well at the "Battle of Maimbung;" US sources say that they fought well in the first assaults before Mount Daho. We have told the epic of Jolo's guerillas as well as we could - and not without honor to the Japanese.


CREDIT: Sources include 360 pages of Colonel Alejandro Suarez' messages to General Douglas MacArthur; 146 Field Artillery's Captain Robert Allen's "Return to Jolo," "Reduction of Mount Daho," and "Struggle for Tumatangas;" and 163 Infantry's Journal of the Jolo Operation. Invaluable with these were "Interrogation of Major Tokeichi Tenmyo, 19 March 1947," and "Staff Study of the Jolo Operation”, from Eighth Army's "10th Information and Historical Service." I used also 41 CIC's Clarence Lowry's undated letter of 1978, and Mrs. Rose Marie Adjawie's letter of 25 October 1976. (She was Public Relations Officer of Jolo City's Mayor.) Major John Jacobucci of 163 Infantry phoned to identify Captain MacClennan, supplied me a large Jolo map.