The first tank-versus-tank engagement between US and Imperial Japanese forces (and the first US tank-to-tank engagement of WWII) occurred on 22 December, 1941 just north of Damortis, near the eastern shore of Lingayen Gulf, Luzon. A US M3 light tank platoon, the 2nd Platoon of Company B, 192d Tank Battalion, engaged Japanese tanks of the 4th Tank Regiment, one of two Japanese tank regiments which were landed on Luzon in 1941.
The initial American engagement did not go so well, which is a separate story. Nevertheless, after General MacArthur made his decision on the night of December 23 to abandon his beach defense plan and resort to WPO-3, the M3 light tanks of the 192nd and 194th Tank Battalions played an important role in the movement of the Luzon force to Bataan and the defense of various lines of resistance on the way to Bataan.
Arguably the most successful US tank action of the Philippine Campaign of 1941-1942, and perhaps the largest as well, occurred in the small town of Baliuag on New Year’s Eve, 31 December 1941.
Baliaug, in Pampanga Province (in Bulacan today), was an important defensive position along the last of the defensive lines shielding the withdrawal of USAFFE troops into Bataan. Baliuag was then “…a town of rambling houses and nipa huts scattered along Route 5 and the north bank of the Angat River.” Indeed, if the enemy were to push south of Baliuag they would have been able to reach Plaridel, six miles to the south, and then cut the road leading from Manila to the vital bridge at Calumpit, cutting off any remaining South Luzon Force elements trying to make it into Bataan.
As the 91 st Infantry Division (PA) withdrew, the 71st Infantry Divison (PA) initially defended Baliuag on 31 December 1941 against an assault by a battalion of Japanese infantry from the 48th Infantry Division supported by the 4th and 7th Tank Regiments. The Japanese force was led by Col. Seinosuke Sonoda, commander of the 7th Tank Regiment, and it also had a company of engineers also to repair and roads or bridges to facilitate the Japanese advance.
Early Japanese efforts to ford a stream north of Baliuag were resisted successfully, and the enemy sought a new avenue of approach. The 71st stayed in Baliuag until early afternoon, when they departed at about 1400 enroute for Plaridel and movement onward to Bataan. By this time the Japanese had managed to reach the eastern end of Baliuag and by 1500 were massing to make an attack.
With nothing in between the retiring 71st and the approaching Japanese combined force, Brigadier General Albert M. Jones, Commander of South Luzon Force, ordered the M3 Stuart tanks of Company C, 192nd Tank Battalion to be committed in order to hold the enemy at Baliuag. Jones’s own 51st Division (which he had commanded before assuming command of South Luzon Force) had not yet crossed at Calumpit and was holding the road from Plaridel to Calumpit.
The US tanks were supported in this action by six self-propelled mounts (SPMs) of Colonel Babcock’s Provisional SPM Battalion, which were positioned in dry rice paddies a few thousand yards west of the town, aided by a forward observer about 500 yards west of Baliuag.
Beginning at 1700, the Japanese sent two platoons of medium tanks into Baliuag, and there they were engaged by there by two platoons of Company C/192nd in a back-and-forth fight lasting some two hours long. The American tanks hunted down the Japanese tanks in the town and, in conjunction with the SPMs, destroyed them. Thus they prevented the Japanese from being able to pass through the town, which also shielded the retiring PA infantry from an armored assault.
Louis Morton in the Fall of the Philippines described the action as such: “The American armour made a shambles of that part of Baliuag in Japanese hands. The tanks rolled through the streets, firing into bahays, smashing through the nipa huts as if they were so many toy houses, and scattering hostile infantry right and left. A ferocious, wild and close-range tank-versus-tank battle followed. In the fading daylight American and Japanese tanks chased each other up and down the narrow streets, fought toe to toe in the fields on the edge of town and in the open spaces while enemy infantry, in a futile gesture, fired small arms at the tankers.”
Note: To view a painting of the battle in the town, see the cover of Osprey Campaign Book 243, by Clayton Chun titled The Fall of the Philippines 1941-42, at: http://www.amazon.com/Philippines-1941-42-Campaign-Clayton-Chun-ebook/dp/B007MLVEH8#reader_B007MLVEH8
Morton’s annotated account (See source below in references) indicates that these two platoons, supported by the SPMs and presumably 71st Division artillery, destroyed 30 Japanese tanks, although most other sources indicate the Japanese only lost up to nine tanks in the battle. It is not clear from this variance in numbers how many tanks the Japanese actually lost, and the reference to eight or even nine) could possibly only refer to the two platoons of Japanese tanks that initially entered Baliuag. Certainly the Japanese Tank Regiment involved in the battle, the 7th Tank Regiment, had an order of battle of much more than eight tanks:
7th Regiment HQ (1 Type 97 Medium Tank, 2 Type 95 Light Tanks)
Company HQ (1 Type 95 Light Tank)
1st Platoon (3 Type 95 Light Tanks)
2nd Platoon (3 Type 95 Light Tanks)
3rd Platoon (3 Type 95 Light Tanks)
4th Platoon (3 Type 95 Light Tanks)
2nd Company, Company HQ (1 Type 97 Medium Tank, 2 Type 95 Light Tanks)
1st Platoon (3 Type 97 Medium Tanks)
2nd Platoon (3 Type 97 Medium Tanks)
3rd Platoon (3 Type 97 Medium Tanks)
3rd Company (as above)
4th Company (as above)
Regt. Maint Company
The annotated Morton account noted friendly losses in the battle consisted of one M3 and four M2 (presumably M2A4, the direct predecessor of the M3 Stuart and equipped with the same armament).
Reportedly after this action Brigadier General Weaver, C.O. of the Provisional Tank Group, decided that the M3 was superior to the Japanese medium and light tanks he faced.
The annotated Morton account assesses the battle: “…Baliuag shattered the 7th Tank Regiment. The 57mm guns of the Type 97 tanks were ineffective against the M3 except at point blank range from the rear. The 37mm guns of the Type 95 light tanks also proved to be relatively ineffective. The US 37mm guns were effective against the Type 97 frontal armour at close ranges, and the 75mm gun literally blew the Japanese tanks apart.”
Of note, this annotated posting of Morton’s work has an interesting footnote:
“The 7th Tank Regiment was one of the four Japanese tank regiments with a German Panzerkorps observer with it, in this case Colonel Joachim Mittel. He observed the battle at first hand, fighting himself with small arms and satchel charges. This behaviour earned him the respect of the Japanese, and his report was instrumental to their tactical and technical development.”
The supporting SPMs and artillery held fire as the tanks battled it out in Baliuag. But after the tanks departed, they opened up on the Japanese and kept firing until 2200, keeping the Japanese at bay to allow the continued movement of South Luzon Force elements up to Calumpit.
The retiring tanks themselves cross the bridges at 0230 on 1 January 1942, and the last of the 51st Infantry retired from their positions at 0400 on motor transport. Approaching Japanese infantry nearing Plaridel tried to stop them with small arms fire but were unsuccessful and quickly left behind as they had no vehicles.
The no-holds-barred armored action in Baliuag had mauled the Japanese tank force which was unable to intervene against the final exodus of South Luzon Force. By 0500 the last friendly units had crossed over the bridges; at 0615 the order was given and the Calumpit Bridges were blown up by engineers.
THE HISTORY OF BATTLES OF IMPERIAL JAPANESE TANKS, PART I, at: http://www3.plala.or.jp/takihome/history.htm
2nd Lt. Ben Ryan Morin, http://www.proviso.k12.il.us/bataan%20web/Morin.htm
Dioso, Marconi. The Times When Men Must Die: The Story of the Destruction of the Philippine Army During the Early Months of World War II in the Pacific, December 1941-May 1942
Dooley, Thomas, “The First U.S. Tank Action in World War II,” accessed at: http://www.benning.army.mil/armor/earmor/content/Historical/Dooley.html
Jones, Albert M. image at: http://pwencycl.kgbudge.com/J/o/Jones_Albert_M.htm
Morton, Louis, The Fall of the Philippines, Chapter XII: Holding the Road to Bataan, at: http://www.ibiblio.org/hyperwar/USA/USA-P-PI/USA-P-PI-12.html and at: http://www.history.army.mil/books/wwii/5-2/5-2_12.htm
Edited account of Morton description of Baliuag action, with additional material added, at: http://francefightson.yuku.com/topic/895/APOD-Philippines-Pt-16-Holding-the-Road-to-Bataan#.VKOzaHvm4qM
Yeide, Harry. The Infantry’s Armor: The U.S. Army’s Separate Tank Battalions in World War II, page 21
M2 Light Tank, Wikipedia entry at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/M2_Light_Tank
M3 Stuart, Wikipedia entry at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/M3_Stuart
M3 Stuart light tank, scale model at: http://www.missing-lynx.com/gallery/usa/szm3.htm
M3 Motor Gun Carriage, Wikipedia entry, at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/M3_Gun_Motor_Carriage
Type 95 Ha-Go http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Type_95_Ha-Go
The Chieftain’s Hatch: Type 97 “Shinhoto Chi-Ha” Restoration, at: http://worldoftanks.com/en/news/pc-browser/21/type-97-resto-moonshadow/?page=1
Type97 Chi-Ha & Shinhoto http://www.tanks-encyclopedia.com/ww2/jap/Type_97_Chi-Ha_Shinhoto.php’
I.J.A. Type 97 Medium Tank [CHI-HA] Early production hull, IPMS USA Kit review, at: http://web.ipmsusa3.org/content/ija-type-97-medium-tank-chi-ha-early-production-hull