For the men and women on Bataan, Valentine’s Day, 1942, offered little respite from the war. In fact, the western side of the peninsula was still reeling from the combat actions involved in the battles of the “Points” and the “Pockets.”
These Points and Pockets battles began in January, 1942 when the Japanese attempted both seaborne amphibious assaults and landborne infiltration in an effort to outflank and infiltrate through gaps between Bataan’s defenders on the western side of the peninsula. The enemy was trying to carry on the momentum resulting from the January battles on the Abucay-Mauban Line. in which Bataan’s defenders were outflanked and forced into a retrograde south to the new main line of resistance between Orion and Bagac.
Hard fighting was required to defeat the enemy attackers, and ultimately all the Japanese efforts were frustrated, and with heavy losses – the 20th Infantry Regiment was rendered combat ineffective. It had entered the Bataan Campaign with 2,690 men. By mid-February it was mauled, with only about 650 men left, mostly sick and wounded.
But on Valentine’s Day, 1942, the Battle of the Pockets was still underway. The Little and Big Pockets had been cleared; remaining was the finger-like salient of the Upper Pocket, a stalled effort to relieve the troops that were in the other pockets.
Six different Philippine Army and Constabulary forces units had contained the Japanese forces of the 2nd Battalion, 33rd Infantry in the Upper Pocket since it was formed on February 7. They were joined on February 13 by additional forces used to clear out the Big Pocket. These included the 1st Battalion, 45th Infantry Regiment (Philippine Scouts) which took up position and attacked on the south side; troops of the Provisional Battalion, 51st Division and 92nd Infantry pushed in from the west; 11th Infantry and 2nd Battalion, 2nd Constabulary pushed in from the east.
The terrain this battle was fought over is perhaps hard to visualize and appreciate. But a description of the area from page 338 of Morton’s official history conveys some appreciation for the challenge: “It is covered with tall, dense cane and bamboo. On hummocks and knolls are huge hardwood trees, sixty to seventy feet in height, from which trail luxuriant tropical vines and creepers. Visibility throughout the area is limited, often to ten or fifteen yards. There were no reliable maps for this region and none of the sketches then in existence or made later agreed. Major terrain features were so hazily identified that General Jones asserts that to this day no one knows which was the Tuol and which the Cotar River.”
Joining the attacking infantry units were M3 Stuart light tanks of the 192nd Tank Battalion. The tankers were aided in the dense and confusing jungle environment by the Igorot troops of the 2nd Battalion, 11th Infantry.
From Morton’s official US Army history, page 346, “Hoisted to the top of the tanks where they were exposed to the fire of the enemy, these courageous tribesmen from north Luzon chopped away the entangling foliage with their bolos and served as eyes for the American tankers. From their position atop the tanks they fired at the enemy with pistols while guiding the drivers with sticks.”
By the end of Valentine’s Day, blood, sweat and tears of the Battan defenders had reduced the Upper Pocket salient by half – it was only 350 yards long and 200 yards wide. (Sorry for you metric system users, but one yard is equals to 0.9144 meter.)
The next day the Fil-Am forces attacked from the south reduced this area by half. By February 16, the salient was only 75 by 100 yards. The Upper Pocket was completely pushed back out in an unopposed attack the next morning. This restored the MLR and ended the Battle of the Pockets.