A Company 716 Tank Battalion for the 41st: Zamboanga

by Dr. Hargis Westerfield, Division Historian

In our Southern Philippine Campaign, A Company 716 Tank Battalion surely saved many lives when fighting for the 41st Division. We helped capture Zamboanga City, San Roque Bowl, and Pasananca Village. On Jolo, we were mobile field artillery. In the black abaca jungle of southern Mindanao, we had nerve-wracking close combat.

We staged from Mindoro Island for Zamboanga. Two of our medium tanks had bulldozer attachments. Battalion sent us a wrecker, Service Company trucks, and Medics. Since many 41sters had never fought beside tanks, we had to orient them - especially how to signal tanks buttoned up for combat, and how to save them from mines or suicide attacks.

On 10 March 1945 after three hours of Air and Navy bombardment, we landed safely at 1000 hours. 1st Platoon's Lieutenant Gilbert supported 162 lnf while 2nd Platoon' s Lieutenant Sette supported 2nd Battalion 163 lnfantry. Staff Sergeant James' 3rd Platoon would guard 3rd Battalion 163 Infantry to push for Zambo City.      

Staff Sergeant James' 3rd Platoon struck out eastward towards the 41st's main objective of Zambo City. By 1500 hours, we were firing with L Company 163 Infantry at every house and pillbox we could hit. Back near the shore, Lieutenant Gilbert's 1st Platoon helped Infantry to seize high ground overlooking San Mateo Beach. Total damage that these platoons inflicted on the Japs that day were 12 machine gun nests demolished, and probably 60 Japs killed.

That first night, probably all tanks assembled for safety at east end of Wolfe Strip near the beach. Tank dozers dug in every tank. We emplaced machine guns to link up an all-around defense for all vehicles. Night was black-dark. Near Zambo City highway, 3-4 Japs tried to draw fire from holding a pillbox that the Infantry had not blown up. Later, one Jap with a "pole charge" Bangalore torpedo - was killed five feet from a tank.

Next day, 11 March, 3rd Platoon' s four tanks had to cross Baliwasan River with L- 163 to win Zambo City. While L Company fired all arms at pillboxes and buildings ahead of us, tanks crossed with two "L" assault platoons. By 1430, we had entered Zambo City - with only a few infantry casualties in two days. For security, tanks shelled every building in sight.

Meanwhile, near San Mateo Beach, 2nd Platoon tanks had helped seize San Roque Strip. We had killed 15 pillboxes, and reduced many small arms positions.

On 12 March, tanks of 1st Platoon and 2nd Platoon were to aid 163's 1st Battalion and 2nd Battalion at Pasananca Strongpoint. Jap Marines held it, and 20mm guns with snipers, light machine guns, and knee mortars. During combat, a bulldozer tank stuck in a hidden ditch. Instantly the crew covered the tank with a smoke screen; another tank rushed up to help. Under fire, both drivers leaped out and attached a cable to pull out the tank. It was soon back into action.

After two hours' fighting, tanks had knocked out six 20 mm guns and several machine guns, with an estimated 100 dead Japs. Tank-Infantry teams advanced 400 yards towards Pasananca Village.

      On the 13 of March, 3rd Platoon’s tanks replaced 1st Platoon and teamed up with 2nd Platoon already before Pasananca. Driving 800 yards up the Santa Maria Pasananca Road, 3rd Platoon killed a 20 mm gun and a 40 mm gun. A small mine blew out a track block and halted a tank. Driver jumped out, replaced the block, and continued fighting.

       On 13 March also in combat for Pasananca, 2nd Platoon destroyed a 20 mm gun and exploded an ammo dump. On 13 March, two valiant Jap Marines died to blow up a hill and caused 33 E-163 casualties with perhaps 50 more in other outfits. This violent explosion lifted one tank off the earth 400 yards away. Yet 163 Infantry continued advancing on Pasananca.

On 14 March, 3rd Platoon' s tanks made 500 yards and destroyed 16 pillboxes and a 20 mm gun. Left of 3rd Platoon, 2nd Platoon gained 500 yards and collapsed 10 pillboxes. At 1328 hours, 163 Infantry reported a disabled tank  that had thrown a track. After the crew saved its machine gun, radio, and the 75 mm gun's percussion mechanism, infantry ditched around the tank and buried booby-traps. (Two days after terrain was safe, we found the tank undamaged.)

 

      Meanwhile, the fight for San Roque Bowl also went on.  On 12 March, without tanks, L-162 was forced from a ridge guarding approaches into the Bowl. With "E" and AT Company, our 1st Platoon of tanks took over the push for the bowl. On 14 March, 1st Platoon demolished six pillboxes and some small arms holes.

On 15 March, 1st Platoon supported E-162 in an attack to rescue their pinned down platoon. Our tank fire repelled the Japs. Then "E" Platoon crawled back to safety below our fire. By dark, we had helped "E" to drive a deep wedge into San Roque Bowl.

On 16 March, 1st Platoon continued our San Roque action, destroyed eight pillboxes and more small arms holes. Next day, we positioned on high ground above a valley some 500 yards wide. Entrenched Japs on high ground around the valley held up our tank-Infantry advance.

To cover the Infantry, we shot 150 rounds of 75 mm cannon into the Japs' entrenchments. Then we lifted fire for 162 Infantry to overrun their positions.

       On 18 March, 1st Platoon's three tanks successfully supported 162's move into the Zambo mountains. While returning, a tank ran over a 100-pound aerial bomb which all troops had over- looked in the road. Tank suspension system was blown away, motor cracked, and a tank floor upheaved. One man was slightly wounded. But Jap withdrawal was triggered into the hungry mountains west of Sinonog River.

A few days before victory at San Roque, our tanks still battled for 163 Infantry at Pasananca. Heavy direct fire from our .30 heavy machine guns and .75 cannon of 3rd Platoon on 15 March drove the Japs from high ground near Pasananca. We destroyed four pillboxes and a .75 mm gun that was dug in on a hill-top. Pasananca was taken, and 163 Infantry got command of high ground needed for observation of retreating Japs. We had one man slightly wounded by mortars as he was closing his turret hatch.

Final fighting for 163 Infantry in the Santa Maria-Pasananca terrain was now under way. Our 2nd Platoon supported 1st Battalion 163 near Pasananca and shot up six pillboxes and a truck. Our 3rd Platoon aided 3rd Battalion 163 northeast of Santa Maria and wiped out nine pillboxes. Mortars lightly wounded two tankmen. Lastly, on 20 March, 2nd Platoon with three tanks fought for 1st Battalion 163 Infantry. Six pillboxes, a 20 mm gun, and a radar position were shattered.

      In our Battle of Zamboanga, 716 Tank Battalion 's A Company fought well. We had only a few slight wounds and but little damage to our tanks. We surely saved many U.S. lives at San Roque and Pasananca. Lacking a tank force, the lighter armed Japanese 54 Independent Mixed Brigade and 33rd Naval Guards (Marines) did not have a chance to win. But A-716's success was even more due to our rigid training and cooperation with the "tank-infantry" of 162 and 163 Regiments.

 

CREDIT: Most important source was 716 Tank Battalion's report - 14 pages, single-spaced typescript- 5 on Zamboanga, 2 on Jolo, 7 on what was named "The Davao Sector." (Davao portion was mostly not on the 41st outfits, but on 24 Division.) Especially important were two Jungleer histories by Captain William Schacht on Zambo and southern Mindanao. (Zamboanga history was No. 128 in Jan 1981 Jungleer; southern Mindanao history was No 142 in Oct 1982 Jungleer.) Also useful were RR Smith's Triumph in the Philippines, Eichelberger's Jungle Road to Tokyo, with official narratives of 24 Division and 162 Infantry.