From the Still of the Night

On 25 January 1942, Colonel Hal George of the 5th Interceptor Command, the leader of the Bataan Air Force, was promoted to Brigadier General. On the one hand it was a great honor, and a recognition of his potential as a commander. On the other hand, the Bataan Air Force remained but a diminutive command.

General George's HQ near Bataan Field.  (Courtesy Lanbob.com)

General George’s HQ near Bataan Field. (Courtesy Lanbob.com)

On the same day, he coincidentally received a gift of information from Filipino sources, which reported a concentration of Japanese aircraft had assembled at the two airfields in the Manila area, Nielsen and Nichols.

Nielsen Field was the former Manila Airport, which became a military airfield as war approached. It had been the headquarters of the Far East Air Force, the 5th Interceptor Command and related Air Warning Service, as well as the Philippine Air Depot. Today the airfield is no longer there, replaced by Makati City, Metro Manila, where the former runways form Paseo de Roxas and Ayala Avenue.

A Pan-Am Clipper flying boat is visible in foreground, and Nielsen Field is in the background to right in this 1939 view.  (Courtesy Lougopal.com)

A Pan-Am Clipper flying boat is visible in foreground, and Nielsen Field is in the background to right in this 1939 view. (Courtesy Lougopal.com)

Nichols Field was five miles to the south, just outside Manila in the Parañaque area, and had served as a base for fighters as the war began. Since 1948 it has served as Manila International Airport with the co-located Villamor Air Base.

Nichols Field in a pre-war view.  Note Manila Bay to right and much water in the lowlands surrounding Nichols.  (Courtesy CVCRA.org)

Nichols Field in a pre-war view. Note Manila Bay to right and much water in the lowlands surrounding Nichols. (Courtesy CVCRA.org)

But in January, 1942, the Japanese had occupied Manila and the two airfields. However, with this new information about the aircraft, Hal George now moved to give the Japanese at the two airfields a warm reception.

George had earlier secured permission from HQ USAFFE to make a surprise attack with his fighter aircraft when conditions permitted for obtaining a good result. He believed these conditions now presented themselves, aided by fair weather and a full moon which could support a night mission.

Six P-40s were readied for action the next day, and were loaded with .50-caliber machine gun ammunition and six 30-pound bombs each.

Armorers load small bombs beneath the wing of a 57th Fighter Group P-40 in North Africa during WWII.  The P-40 could carry three small bombs beneath each wing giving it a modest ground attack capability.  (Courtesy Warbirdinfomationexchange.org)

Armorers load small bombs beneath the wing of a 57th Fighter Group P-40 in North Africa during WWII. The P-40 could carry three small bombs beneath each wing giving it a modest ground attack capability. (Courtesy Warbirdinfomationexchange.org)

In the evening of 26 January, the plan went into the execution phase. Three P-40’s were to take off first, piloted by Jack Hall, Bill Baker and Bob Ibold, followed by the other three. At 2000 hours, the first aircraft took off, followed by the second. But the third was blinded by the dust from the first two, and cracked up on takeoff. The pilot survived but the aircraft was destroyed. As a result, the second flight of three aircraft did not take off.

The two pilots who safely took off circled around Corregidor Island to gain altitude before crossing over Manila Bay to Nielsen Field. As they approached Nielsen, the Japanese apparently thought the aircraft were their own and turned on landing lights and field lights to welcome them. The American pilots could hardly believe it, but wasted no time to attack, first dropping their bombs and then strafing the hapless Japanese. The attack finished up just as Japanese anti-aircraft guns become active and the two pilots returned safely to Bataan Field with reports of success.

Their reports encouraged General George, who ordered another attack by six aircraft. This time all aircraft made it off safely at 2300. Three headed for Nielsen and the other three for Nichols. The group bound for Nielsen, led by Ed Woolery, with Lloyd Stinson and Sam Grashio, did not have the benefit of any lights, and with Manila blacked out it took them some time to find the field before they attacked it again, with unknown results.

The other group, led by Dave Obert with Bill Baker and Earl Stone, successfully found Nichols and also an alert defense, which shot at them from the ground. Nonetheless, they bombed and strafed successfully, nearly colliding in the dark above the field as they did their work.

As a result, Obert left the area to avoid collision, and flew back across Manila Bay to search for some targets behind Japanese lines. He soon found them, and at about ten minutes past midnight managed to find and then strafe a column of 50 Japanese vehicles along a road with their light on, at least until Obert successfully made his pass along the column.

Obert then searched for another target, and began strafing again before his ammunition ran out. He then returned home safely, though he drew some fire from Fil-Am anti-aircraft units which did not expect a friendly aircraft from that direction – Obert wisely flew out over Manila Bay again and returned to Bataan Field, the last to land – all six pilots in the second attack successfully recovered at Bataan Field.

General George and his fighter pilots were elated at the success of the mission, even though it had cost one of the irreplaceable P-40’s in a takeoff accident. The Bataan Air Force had struck a blow at the Japanese, especially welcome after the difficulty Fil-Am forces experienced from Japanese airpower in the Abucay Line fighting of the previous two weeks.

The Japanese complained of air attacks killing women and children in Manila. They also sent Ki-30 ANN light bombers to attack Bataan Field the next day, without any significant result.

Filipino sources later reported the night air attack had destroyed 14 Japanese aircraft and killed 70 of the enemy. Information from Japanese sources indicated four aircraft attacked two times and inflicted no damage. To this day there doesn’t seem to be any final answer as to the result of this night air attack. But it likely that the American pilots hit something, especially on the first attack when Nielsen was lighted and they could see the field well.

It was a poignant reminder to the Japanese that the Fil-Am forces on Bataan were still capable of dishing out punishing blows against them, and that the campaign in the Philippines, and in Bataan would not be as easy for them as those in other parts of Asia such as Malaya or the Netherland East Indies. In fact, it would be quite costly to Imperial Japan, in terms of casualties, equipment, and their precious timetable for conquest.
References

Bartsch, William H. “Doomed at the Start: American Pursuit Pilots in the Philippines, 1941-1942.” Texas A&M University, College Station, TX, 1992.

Pics from

Gen George HQ hut, at: http://lanbob.com/lanbob/H-19BG-extra/H-His/PI-AAC.htm

Pre-war Nielsen Field, at: http://www.lougopal.com/manila/?p=1463

Nichols Field, at: http://www.cvcra.org/interments/?menu=3&det=5030

P-40 loading bombs, at: http://www.warbirdinformationexchange.org/phpBB3/viewtopic.php?p=506867

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Better Late Than Never

Although the veterans of the Bataan Campaign served with distinction and great sacrifice, both during the campaign and the rest of the war afterward, many issues followed their service, affecting them individually as well as family members.  These range from medical care to service pay to pensions, as well as recognition in the form of awards or citations.

Last week, Bataan veteran, Jesse Baltazar, a former soldier and airman, received the Purple Heart in recognition of his wounds received on 15 March 1942 during the Bataan Campaign.  The Stars and Stripes online edition featured his story, which can be viewed with pictures, at:

http://www.stripes.com/news/wwii-vet-who-escaped-from-bataan-death-march-finally-gets-his-purple-heart-1.324828#

The article says he was a member of the 71st Battalion, but as battalions were then numbered from 1 to 3 (or 4, in the case of the 4 th Marine Regiment), this likely refers to the 71st Infantry Regiment of the 71st Infantry Division (Philippine Army).

Regardless of the details of unit assignment, it is great to see a Bataan veteran receive such appropriate recognition for his service and sacrifice.

On the Road Again: The 45th Infantry Regiment (PS) at the Abucay Line, Part 8

This is the last installment of an eight-part series discussing the role of the 45th Infantry Regiment (PS) in the actions on the Abucay Line in January 1942.

As the weary Scouts of the 45th Infantry made their way south toward the new defensive line on 25 January 1942, scores of other units accompanied them on the way back, jamming the roads with men and vehicles. As daylight came, so did the threat of air attack.

Philippine Scout reenactors march along a dusty road.  (Courtesy Panzergrenadier.net)

Philippine Scout reenactors march along a dusty road. (Courtesy Panzergrenadier.net)

The Japanese did not immediately realize the Fil-Am forces had abandoned the Abucay Line, and belatedly made efforts to pursue on the 25th. But no serious interference with the withdrawal from Japanese ground forces developed. The same could not be said, however, for Japanese air forces, and the movement of men and material on the east coast of Bataan was too easy to detect and to attack, which the IJAAF soon did.

The dust was part of the visual signature of the movement. Pounded by men and machine, the east road was ankle-deep with a dully gray layer of dust. Marching infantry churned it up, while moving vehicles, sometimes driven crazily to avoid attacking aircraft, stirred in up in volume, often covering the poor infantry slogging along in the heat of the day. They were soon caked in it, turning their uniforms from khaki color into light gray.

The air attacks came throughout the day in the form of flights of three aircraft, a shotai in Japanese parlance. The attackers were fighters and bombers, likely the usual suspects at this time in the campaign, the IJAAF Nakajima Ki-27 NATE fighters and the single engine, two-seat Mitsubishi Ki-30 ANN light bombers of the 10th Independent Air Group (Dokuritsu Hikotai). They came and went throughout the day strafing and bombing the retreating troops.

Mitsubishi Ki-30 ANN light bombers in flight.  A shotai was comproised of three aircraft.  (Courtesy Pacific War Online Encyclopedia)

Mitsubishi Ki-30 ANN light bombers in flight. A shotai was comproised of three aircraft. (Courtesy Pacific War Online Encyclopedia)

For the regular units of the Philippine Division, such as the 45th Infantry (PS), 31s t Infantry (US) and 57th Infantry (PS) air attack was unpleasant but the troops were trained in how to react to it, scattering and taking cover as best they could.

Perhaps the worst experience was that of the new Philippine Army troops whose training was limited due to the outbreak of the war. They were not trained to disperse for cover under air attack and received a number of casualties.

Corporal Eliseo Prado, a Scout with the 24th Artillery, recalled the aerial attention they received: “It was about noon that clear day that out of the blue sky appeared several Zeros. They dropped their eggs and strafed at the same time. Vehicles here and there are on fire. Some with ammunition exploded. Everybody is on his own either running to the left or right to get away from the planes.” Soon smoke added to the dust as a beacon to attacking aircraft.

Despite the air attacks, the 45th Infantry Scouts continued their march to the south and then east, back to the western side of the peninsula in the I Corps sector, from which they departed for the Abucay Line back on 15 January. Some of the units were able to stay together, such as those in the 3rd Battalion. Others had lost cohesion in the confusing night of movement. The experience of Company F was mentioned in the last post. The commander of their parent battalion, the 2nd Battalion, Lt Col Ross B. Smith, was also lost in the chaos of the battlefield during the withdrawal and was unable to rejoin his unit for another week.

After leaving the Abucay Line, the officers and men of the 45th Infantry were initially tasked with taking up positions on the new Orion-Bagac Line, the new Main Line of Resistance (MLR) rather than being employed from a reserve position to be used in the manner they had at the Abucay Line, counter-attacking a threatening enemy penetration of the defensive line. Indeed, by 26 January they were digging in on assigned positions in the I Corps section.

Map of Japanese landings at Longoskawayan and Quinauan in late January, 1942.  Courtesy USMC, via Ibiblio.org)

Map of Japanese landings at Longoskawayan and Quinauan in late January, 1942. Courtesy USMC, via Ibiblio.org)

Then an order came down from HQ USAFFE to pull the infantry regiments of the Philippine Division, the 45th (PS), 31st (US) and 57th (PS) out of the NLR and into reserve positions in their respective Corps areas. Trouble was brewing on the southwest coast at Longoskawayan and Quinauan where Japanese troops had made an amphibious landing, and USAFFE wanted a capable reserve force in case local defense forces needed help.

And so the 45th Infantry again displaced, from the MLR into bivouac in the USAFFE reserve south of Bagac, just south of the Saysain River and to the east of the West Road running north-south along the west coast of Bataan. The Scouts had earned a well-deserved rest, in addition to time needed to refit and reequip after the Abucay battles. But like their half-rations, there wasn’t much time for them to rest at this point in the Bataan Campaign.

Philippine Scout reenactors take a rest after a tiring march.  (Courtesy M1 Pencil weblog)

Philippine Scout reenactors take a rest after a tiring march. (Courtesy M1 Pencil weblog)

References

Whitman, John W. “Bataan – Our Last Ditch.” Hippocrene Books, Inc., NY, 1990

Pictures from

Marching Philippine Scouts, at: http://www.panzergrenadier.net/forum/viewtopic.php?f=9&t=20482

Ki-30 ANN, at: http://pwencycl.kgbudge.com/K/i/Ki-30_Ann.htm

Map of Japanese landings, at: http://www.ibiblio.org/hyperwar/USMC/I/USMC-I-IV-1.html

Resting Philippine Scouts, at: https://m1pencil.wordpress.com/2011/01/09/philippine-scouts-airsoft/

Departure Time: The 45th Infantry Regiment (PS) at the Abucay Line, Part 7

As 24 January 1942 elapsed, Japanese air bombardment and artillery fire grew heavier on the western end of the Abucay Line. As the enemy fire came down, the II Corps plan to get the tactical units on the Main Line of Resistance (MLR), including the 45th Infantry Regiment (PS), off the Abucay Line beginning the evening of 24 January 1942 was soon to be implemented. It had three parts:

1) At 1900 hours covering force composed of several other units commanded by Brigadier General Maxon Lough of the Philippine Division would depart the line and establish a covering position for the others to pass through at Balanga.

2) At 2100 hours the bulk of the units on the Abucay Line would begin their movement to the new defensive line extending from Pilar to Bagac. Each unit would leave a “Covering Shell” of some of their own troops on the line composed of about 1/3 of their infantry soldiers augmented by machine guns. They were to hold the line for several hours in order to keep the enemy away from the main body of troops marching south. The 45th Infantry was supposed to be the fifth of the sixth regiments to come off the line and to head south, with the 31st Infantry last.

3) At 0300 hours on 25 January the “Covering Shell” would begin its departure from the MLR and move south to the new defensive line. They were to pass through a screen of tanks of the 194th Tank Battalion some 3,000 yards to the east, after which they were to board buses and head south to Kilometer Post 147.

Map of the withdrawal of II Corps units from the Abucay Line, 24-25 January 1942.  (Courtesy Whitman, page 233)

Map of the withdrawal of II Corps units from the Abucay Line, 24-25 January 1942. (Courtesy Whitman, page 233)

Although the order for a covering shell to remain on the line until 0300 was only for 1/3 of troops assigned, the Scout 3rd Battalion commander Major Strickler thought it insufficient, and he ordered two rifle companies of Scouts to serve in his covering shell. I Company on the left and L Company on the right were to serve in this role.

As for the other two Scout Battalions of the 45th Infantry, the 1st and 2nd, they used one rifle company each, Companies C and F, to cover the withdrawal of their respective main bodies.

The other elements of the 3rd Battalion were to depart at 2100 heading east on the Hacienda Road and make their way to a former bivouac area near Kilometer Post 147 along the Pilar-Bagac Road. Companies K, M with the Battalion Medical Section and HQ detachment, with all their trucks, led by Captain Besbeck, would make this move.

But the afternoon of 24 January was active, as Japanese troops increased the pressure along draws/ravines leading into the Scout position from the west. As a result, a significant fire-fight soon developed.

Japanese soldiers firing a 75-mm. gun Type 41 (1908), normally found in an infantry regimental cannon company. Called a mountain (infantry) gun, it was light and easily handled, and was very steady in action. When used as a regimental cannon company weapon it was issued on the basis of four per regiment.  (Courtesy Allthewars.com)

Japanese soldiers firing a 75-mm. gun Type 41 (1908), normally found in an infantry regimental cannon company. Called a mountain (infantry) gun, it was light and easily handled, and was very steady in action. When used as a regimental cannon company weapon it was issued on the basis of four per regiment. (Courtesy Allthewars.com)

The Scouts had a meal of hot rice served to them in their positions at 1800, just as enemy artillery hit the main line, with infantry attacking at 1830. By 1900, soldiers from the 31st Infantry began crossing through the rear of the 45 Infantry position on their way to establish the covering force at Balanga. As the sun went down, a moon came up which gave relatively good visibility.

By 2000 hours, the 45th Infantry pretty much took over the 31st Infantry’s part in the ongoing firefight, which allowed the 31st to commence its departure from the line, amidst a full scale Japanese night attack. It seems there was some confusion with this 2000 hours move, as units were supposed to stay on the line until 2100, and it came unexpected. But the Scout professionals in the 45st Infantry held the line.

Japanese infiltrators set fire to straw piles and Nipa huts in the Fil-Am rear area, and it was in this environment that the 45th Infantry main body began its movement south at 2100.

Fortunately, a Fil-Am artillery barrage on the IJA 65th Brigade’s artillery headquarters successfully disrupted the unit. Perhaps as a result, no Japanese artillery fired on the retreating formations. This was fortuitous, as a traffic jam soon developed on the way to Balanga from the confluence of so many units headed off the line to the south.

In fact, 45th Infantry Commander, Colonel Doyle soon found himself in bumper to bumper traffic at the junction of the Hacienda Road with the Back Road with “not a wheel turning.” Units were not abiding in the time and sequence of movement planned and soon ran into one another.

When the 45th arrived it demanded priority movement on the Back Road as it had the longest distance to travel on the move to the new line. Given the short notice of the withdrawal and limited time for detailed planning by II Corps, no military police were present at junctions to direct the confused mass of men and materiel. It would take time to sort the mess out.

Meanwhile, the covering shell back on the line had its hands full as the enemy kept up the pressure. Major Strickler, wearing a khaki cap and armed with a pistol, walked along the backside of the 3rd Battalion’s shell encouraging his men to hold the line, which they did in close combat and even some hand-to-hand fighting. But the Japanese attack let up after 2000 hours, given the energetic resistance the Scouts gave them.

Philippine Scout reenactor wears a look of grim determination as he holds an M1918 Browning Automatic Rifle (BAR).  (Courtesy M1 Pencil weblog)

Philippine Scout reenactor wears a look of grim determination as he holds an M1918 Browning Automatic Rifle (BAR). (Courtesy M1 Pencil weblog)

At 0300 hours on 25 January 1942, the 45th Infantry’s covering shell withdrew from the line, and making a fighting withdrawal the 3rd Battalion passed through the screen of tanks to the east, only to find there were no buses to transport them. Undaunted, they force marched south on the Back Road to the Pilar-Bagac Road.

The covering shells for the 1st and 2nd Battalions, Companies C and F had a more difficult exit from the front line. Enemy pressure on the left was heavy, and Colonel Imai drove his troops of the IJA 141st Infantry Regiment to keep advancing on the left flank. It seems that elements of the 141st Infantry pushed east along the Hacienda Road as the 3rd Battalion shell withdrew, then passed through the tank screen and moved onward.

When the Japanese approached the tanks of the covering shell screen, the tanks, backed up by self-propelled mounts, took them under fire, scattering them.  Before long, the Japanese were also hit from the rear by the Scout’s Company F under Captain Ralph Amato, which apparently began its withdrawal from the line along the Hacienda Road after the Japanese formation had passed by. This company, and perhaps Company C for which no details are available, were thus inadvertently cut off by the Japanese.

When F Company ran into the Japanese formation, there were in the following order, 2nd Platoon, company HQ, 3rd Platoon and then 1st Platoon. On point and leading it was company executive officer, Lieutenant William B. Davis, who deployed his men and scattered the enemy in the darkness in front of him. They marched further until they were hit by rifle and machine gun fire, and again the point deployed – the enemy moved farther to the east. But F Company collided with the enemy again a short time later. The Japanese were probably very confused to find the Fil-Am forces at their front and at their rear.

This time, after an inconclusive 30-minute firefight, Captain Amato decided to skirt the enemy on the road by circling around them to the north, in which he was successful, though in the movement his platoons lost contact with each other and returned to friendly lines separately. With all the confusion on the roads ahead, some of the Scouts did not rejoin the unit back on the new Fil-Am line until six days later.

Philippine Scout reenactors take a rest after marching.  (Courtesy  )

Philippine Scout reenactors take a rest after marching. (Courtesy WW2 Airsoft Association) )

But the dust-up between F Company and Col Imai’s troops did have one benefit. The Japanese decided to stay put and halt their advance along the Hacienda Road until daylight in order to see what they were getting into, a delay which aided the withdrawal of troops from the Abucay Line.

And so it was a successful movement by the 45th Infantry out of the Abucay Line, under enemy pressure but not yielding to the enemy, protecting the west end of the line until the other soldiers were able to move east and south to Balanga and beyond.

Although the movement to the new Pilar-Bagac Line was yet to be completed, the Philippine Scouts of the 45th Infantry had completed their assigned mission and tasks on the MLR in a superior manner in that first hectic battle on the Abucay Line. More battles in the Bataan Campaign would soon follow, but there was no doubt in the HQ of US Army Forces Far East (USAFFE) that the 45th Infantry Regiment (PS) could be depended on in the fight.

References

Besbeck, Louis B., “The Operations of the 3rd Battalion, 45th Infantry (Philippine Scouts) at the Hacienda at Mt. Natib, Luzon, 16 – 25 January 1942 (Bataan Campaign) (Personal Experience of a Battalion Executive Officer).” The Infantry School, Ft. Benning, GA, Advanced Officers Course, 1946-1947, at: http://rodhall.filipinaslibrary.org.ph/PDF/MS%20RH%206_Besbeck_005806-The%20Operations%20of%20the%203rd%20Battalion%2045th%20Infantry%20%28Ph.pdf

Pierce, Henry, J., “The Operations of Company L, 45th Infantry (P.S.) (Philippine division) on the Abucay Hacienda Line, Bataan, P.I., 15 – 25 January 1942 (Philippine Islands Campaign) (Personal Experience of the Company Commander).” The Infantry School, Ft. Benning, GA, Advanced Officers Course, 1949-1950, at: http://www.benning.army.mil/library/content/Virtual/Donovanpapers/wwii/STUP2/PierceHenryJ%20MAJ.pdf

Whitman, John W. “Bataan – Our Last Ditch.” Hippocrene Books, Inc., NY, 1990

Pictures from

Japanese 75-mm gun, at:  http://www.allworldwars.com/The-War-Against-Japan-Pictorial-Record.html

Philippine Scout with BAR, at:  https://m1pencil.wordpress.com/2011/01/09/philippine-scouts-airsoft/

Philippine Scouts at rest, at:  http://ww2aa.proboards.com/thread/6444/philippine-scouts

Awaiting further orders: The 45th Infantry Regiment (PS) at the Abucay Line, Part 6

The order read “Hostile penetration through the corner of the Main Battle Position makes the further defense of this position inadvisable.” So started Field Order Number 9 sent from USAFFE HQ to the two corps headquarters on Bataan, I Corps on the west side and II Corps on the east.

The enemy was successfully driving a wedge between the two corps with the IJA 9th Infantry Regiment’s drive over the lower slopes of Mt. Natib into the Abo-Abo River Valley, which also threatened to cut off the II Corps forces on the Abucay Line. There were no further reserves to commit to the battles for the MLR on Bataan.

Imperial Japanese Army reenactors survey the terrain.  (Courtesy Panzergrenadier.net)

Imperial Japanese Army reenactors survey the terrain. (Courtesy Panzergrenadier.net)

The order from Corregidor was General MacArthur’s directive for the two corps to abandon their current positions on the Main Line of Resistance and make their way to the reserve battle position, roughly on a line running east-west along the Pilar-Bagac Road crossing the peninsula.

Map of the battle lines on Bataan, January 1942.  Note the northernmost line, the Abucay Line on the east and the Mauban Line in the west, as well as the reserve line across the peninsula.  (Courtesy US Army)

Map of the battle lines on Bataan, January 1942. Note the northernmost line, the Abucay Line on the east and the Mauban Line in the west, as well as the reserve line across the peninsula. (Courtesy US Army)

At 1000 hours on 23 January, II Corps staff met to discuss how the corps would accomplish the move, a complicated event even without simultaneously being engaged with the enemy in battle. The staff determined a sequence of movement for the various units in the corps, and the last to move south would be the tactical units on the MLR, who were slated to depart at dark on 24 January. II Corps staff drafted their Field Order Number 2 which they would send out on 24 January to confirm the orders issued on the 23rd.

A team of Philippine Scout reenactors observe and communicate in this view.  (Courtesy Panzergrenadiers.net)

A team of Philippine Scout reenactors observe and communicate in this view. (Courtesy Panzergrenadiers.net)

For the Scouts of the 45th Infantry Regiment (PS), 23 January saw increasing enemy pressure on the western flank as the IJA 141st Infantry Regiment tried to get around and behind the left flank of the Fil-Am line. Over this day and the next the unit nearly exhausted all of its mortar ammunition. When the collar clamp on the sole 81-millimeter mortar developed a crack, the mortar was rendered inoperative, and the remaining 20 rounds were transferred over to H Company in the 31st Infantry.

Mortar squad assembling an 81-MM. mortar during training in the Philippine Islands in 1941.  (Courtesy Allworldwars.com)

Mortar squad assembling an 81-MM. mortar during training in the Philippine Islands in 1941. (Courtesy Allworldwars.com)

As the field artillery and support troops of II Corps began moving south after dark, the Scouts remained at the MLR. Fortunately the Japanese did not detect the movement of those other units, which proceeded unmolested. But around midnight the Japanese launched an infantry attack along the line near the Abucay Hacienda. Defenders fought them off yet again, with the attack ceasing at dawn.

Artistic (CGI) rendering of IJA night attack.  (Courtesy Giantbomb.com)

Artistic (CGI) rendering of IJA night attack. (Courtesy Giantbomb.com)

One of the weapons the Japanese used at night against the Fil-Am forces was the Kirokomi-Tai, small units of soldiers who infiltrated into positions. (Norman, pages 87-88) A five man squad under the command of a Gunso (senior sergeant) would prepare for such a mission at dusk, studying their objective from about 500 yards away through binoculars. When it was completely dark, past nautical twilight, they began their work.

They put socks or rags around their boots to help quiet their steps until they got about halfway to the Fil-Am front line. At that point, they got on their stomachs and crawled as instructed by the gunso, ““like house lizards,” right side, left side…right side, left side.”

Once they were within 100 yards of the objective, they began to crawl like inchworms, rising and falling slowly, making their way quietly to the defensive line. The gunso aimed to lead them to any gap in defensive positions that would allow them to approach a Fil-Am soldier in a defensive position from the side or from the rear. They would approach an unwary soldier, perhaps utter a word in English of Filipino to elicit a response and perhaps confirm the location, then attack with a bayonet.

After the attack, they would try and gather anything useful and return to their own lines, crawling all the way. It was an unnerving night tactic that was challenging to defend against, especially by tired soldiers inexperienced with the guiles of their Japanese foes.

But in whatever form, infantry attack or small squad infiltration, the 45th Infantry was not dislodged from their position. With word of a withdrawal coming down, they would soon have something quite different to pay attention to.

Philippine scout reenactors set up an M1917 .30-caliber machine gun in a field setting.  (Courtesy AsianJournal.com)

Philippine scout reenactors set up an M1917 .30-caliber machine gun in a field setting. (Courtesy AsianJournal.com)

References

Besbeck, Louis B., “The Operations of the 3rd Battalion, 45th Infantry (Philippine Scouts) at the Hacienda at Mt. Natib, Luzon, 16 – 25 January 1942 (Bataan Campaign) (Personal Experience of a Battalion Executive Officer).” The Infantry School, Ft. Benning, GA, Advanced Officers Course, 1946-1947, at: http://rodhall.filipinaslibrary.org.ph/PDF/MS%20RH%206_Besbeck_005806-The%20Operations%20of%20the%203rd%20Battalion%2045th%20Infantry%20%28Ph.pdf

Norman, Michael and Norman, Elizabeth. “Tears in the Darkness: The Story of the Bataan Death March and its Aftermath.” Farrar, Strauss and Giroux, New York, NY, 2009.

Photos from

Japanese soldier reenactors, at: http://www.panzergrenadier.net/forum/viewtopic.php?f=9&t=20482

Map of Bataan January 1942, at: http://www.history.army.mil/books/wwii/5-2/5-2_15.htm

Philippine Scout reenactors, at: http://www.panzergrenadier.net/forum/viewtopic.php?f=9&t=20482

Philippine Mortar Squad, at: http://www.allworldwars.com/The-War-Against-Japan-Pictorial-Record.html

Japanese night attack at: http://www.giantbomb.com/call-of-duty-world-at-war/3030-20777/

Philippine Scout reenactors set up an M1917 .30-caliber machine gun position, at: http://asianjournal.com/aj-magazines/forgotten-soldiers-a-film-recognizing-the-bravery-and-courage-of-wwiis-philippine-scouts/

A Tactical Move: The 45th Infantry Regiment (PS) at the Abucay Line, Part 5

Attacks and counterattacks on 22 January 1942 changed nothing on the ground along the Abucay Line. It seemed both sides were merely exchanging casualties in men and losses in equipment without gain.

But at 1200 hours on 22 January 1942, Japan’s 14th Army conducted another major attack against the left end of the Abucay Line, in the western section held by the 31st Infantry and 45th Infantry (PS) regiments. Artillery and air attacks hit the 1st Battalion of the 31st infantry the hardest. The amount of ordnance on the battlefield raised clouds of dust which obscured the approach of the Japanese infantry.

Smoke and dust on the battlefield added to the confusion on the Abucay Line.  (Courtesy    )

Smoke and dust on the battlefield added to the confusion on the Abucay Line. (Courtesy world War 2 Airsoft Association.com)

Philippine Scouts in L Company, 3rd Infantry Battalion saw a fire start on their right flank in a cane field that covered the position of the 1st Battalion. Under artillery and aerial bombardment, in smoke and flames the situation quickly became chaotic, and after an hour, Scouts saw soldiers from the 1st Battalion falling back. A number of soldiers from that battalion’s D Company attached themselves to the Scout L Company.

Scouts in I Company sighted soldiers from 1st Battalion’s C Company withdrawing to the south, and sent a patrol over that confirmed their line positions were empty and that the Japanese were attacking. Shortly after this the Japanese stopped firing and the area was suddenly, eerily, quiet.

As a result, the Battalion Executive Officer, Captain Louis B. Besbeck, in the temporary absence of the 3rd Battalion Commander from the Battalion Command Post, ordered I Company to place security detachments on their right flank and ordered L and K Company to stay on the line but advised them a change in disposition might be necessary.

Philippine Scout reenactors alert on the battlefield.  (Courtesy   )

Philippine Scout reenactors alert on the battlefield. (Courtesy Panzergrenadier.net)

When Major Dudley G. Strickler returned to his Battalion CP at 1345 he came with new orders: A withdrawal from the Balantay River MLR and a directive to refuse the extreme left flank of the Abucay Line at 1400. The 45th Infantry Regiment’s (PS) time on the Abucay Line was coming to an end.

At 1400 the move from the MLR began, with Major Strickler leading the rifle companies southeast to establish a new position behind the 31st Infantry. The Scouts of I Company in the middle of the battalion area departed across the open ridge in the center of the position, while K and L Company came out through the sugar cane fields to the west. It was easy for the companies to break contact with the enemy.

At the extreme left, Captain Besbeck formed a screen with four machine guns and a squad of Scout riflemen which held their position as the rest of the battalion withdrew to the southeast.
As the Scouts arrived at their new position 100 yards behind the 31st Infantry, they immediately began to prepare it. The new position began at about 1,000 yards east of the Abucay Hacienda on the Hacienda road, and extended to the south and southeast 1,000 yards through sugar cane fields. It was some 200 yards behind the new frontline positions of the 31st Infantry.

There is no readily available information on the activities of the 1st and 2nd Battalions of the 45th Infantry on this day. But it is noted that the 3rd Battalion of the 31st Infantry now found itself exposed on both flanks and withdrew from the Abucay Line also. Perhaps the other two battalions of the Scouts received the same withdrawal order the 3rd Battalion had.

The new defensive position of the 3rd Battalion, 45th Infantry (PS) was arranged as such: Company L held the position near the Hacienda road. Company I emplaced itself near the left flank of the left company of the 31st. One officer in the battalion noted with pride that the battalion “…brought out all its own ammunition and equipment as well as machine gun belts, mortar rounds, grenades and rifle ammunition abandoned earlier by other units. And there the Battalion stayed as everything began to change on the Abucay Line, 22 January 1942.

The two regiments of the Philippine Division were now back to where they had started out on 19 January. On the face of it, it was a tactical withdrawal, as the move from the old MLR was to new positions just south of the old line. The two regiments were still intact and organized.

But some companies were down to 60% strength after days and days of combat. For example, the Philippine Scouts of L Company arrived at the Abucay Hacienda on 18 January with 131 officers and men. They walked out from the MLR with 79 men standing, suffering about 40% losses. Not all of those lost to effective duty were killed, as a number of Scouts had been wounded and evacuated to the rear. Still, the level of losses was significant and could not be replaced. It is likely a number of the men who were wounded on the Abucay Line were later able to return to duty in their unit.

A wounded Scout reenactor is helped by a comrade.  (Courtesy    )

A wounded Scout reenactor is helped by a comrade. (Courtesy pbase.com)

Japanese aircraft dominated the sky on this day, much to the chagrin of the soldiers on the ground, who felt their every movement was subject to enemy observation, even if their position was camouflaged. The Fil-Am artillery found it difficult to fire without receiving counter-battery fire from Japanese artillery, spotted by their observation aircraft in the sky above.

It is unknown to this web log writer why there was no greater effort on 22 January to counter the activity of the enemy air forces over the Abucay Line, especially considering their limited success in the days prior. A single sortie by a lone P-40 of the Bataan Air Force at 1820 hours to reconnoiter the MLR returned to base with engine trouble. Aside from that there is no information available at the time of this writing. Perhaps Bataan Field was attacked by the Japanese frequently enough to keep the aircraft grounded.

But despite this setback to the Fil-Am forces on the MLR, the Japanese were not optimistic about their 22 January success. Huge efforts against the Abucay Line had come at great cost but achieved only modest gains against what was a cohesive Fil-Am defensive position with great firepower. By the end of 22 January, the IJA 65th Brigade, the “Summer Brigade,” listed losses of 342 soldiers killed and another 777 wounded. A Japanese wrote about the situation: “the enemy, showing no signs of retreating, was resisting with increased tenacity.”

At their respective headquarters, General Parker of II Corps and General Nara of the 65th Brigade considered the situation. Both sides were exhausted in the battle, and it seemed a matter of which side would lose heart for the fight first.

George Marshall Parker, Jr. (April 17, 1889 – October 25, 1968) was an Officer of the United States Army with the rank of Major General.  He commanded the II Corps during the Bataan Campaign.  (Courtesy Wikipedia)

George Marshall Parker, Jr. (April 17, 1889 – October 25, 1968) was an Officer of the United States Army with the rank of Major General. He commanded the II Corps during the Bataan Campaign. (Courtesy Wikipedia)

General Parker considered that the Philippine Division counterattack to restore the 51st Division’s former positions on the MLR had failed. True, part of the MLR had been re-occupied by the 45th Infantry, but the 31st Infantry was unsuccessful in their sector for various reasons. II Corps had little more in reserves should the situation deteriorate further – in fact there was concern about the IJA 9th Infantry Regiment on the slopes of Mt. Natib and moving into the Abo-Abo River Valley, which threatened the left flank of the Abucay Line. In discussions with the USAFFE Chief of Staff, Major General Sutherland, it was decided that a withdrawal from the MLR was required. If the II Corps left flank was turned, the enemy could roll up the units on the Abucay Line and finish the Bataan Campaign.

General Nara was “indignant in a towering rage,” and “all units were attacking repeatedly…with no hope of victory in sight and with steadily mounting casualties.” In addition to the losses in men, which Nara expected would run him out of soldiers, his units were also losing their spirit in the meat grinder of the Abucay Line. A Sergeant Nakamura of the IJA 141st Infantry Regiment, who had been in action since the start of the battle for the Abucay Line on 9 January, wrote in his diary on 22 January “Last night a trench mortar shell about three feet long dropped near us. I thought it was my end…Minami and Aoki of the 3rd Squad died in action.” Nevertheless, General Nara drove his men to continue the attack.

But as 22 January closed, the Philippine Scouts of the 45th Infantry were in their new positions on the new line just south of the old MLR, holding the southwest flank of the line. The discussion of generals at command posts far from the front lines was far from the Scout’s minds as a day of disappointment turned into a night of uncertainty.

References

Besbeck, Louis B., “The Operations of the 3rd Battalion, 45th Infantry (Philippine Scouts) at the Hacienda at Mt. Natib, Luzon, 16 – 25 January 1942 (Bataan Campaign) (Personal Experience of a Battalion Executive Officer).” The Infantry School, Ft. Benning, GA, Advanced Officers Course, 1946-1947, at: http://rodhall.filipinaslibrary.org.ph/PDF/MS%20RH%206_Besbeck_005806-The%20Operations%20of%20the%203rd%20Battalion%2045th%20Infantry%20%28Ph.pdf

Norman, Michael and Norman, Elizabeth. “Tears in the Darkness: The Story of the Bataan Death March and its Aftermath.” Farrar, Strauss and Giroux, New York, NY, 2009.

Pierce, Henry, J., “The Operations of Company L, 45th Infantry (P.S.) (Philippine division) on the Abucay Hacienda Line, Bataan, P.I., 15 – 25 January 1942 (Philippine Islands Campaign) (Personal Experience of the Company Commander).” The Infantry School, Ft. Benning, GA, Advanced Officers Course, 1949-1950, at: http://www.benning.army.mil/library/content/Virtual/Donovanpapers/wwii/STUP2/PierceHenryJ%20MAJ.pdf

Whitman, John W. “Bataan – Our Last Ditch.” Hippocrene Books, Inc., NY, 1990

Photos from

Skirmish line and explosion at:  http://ww2aa.proboards.com/thread/3709/ww2-airsoft-hong-kong-style

Philippine Scouts on line, at:  http://www.panzergrenadier.net/forum/viewtopic.php?f=9&t=20482

Wounded soldier at:  http://www.pbase.com/kalashnikov/image/135166848

General Parker, at:  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/George_M._Parker_%28general%29

Bataan Air Force Reinforced

Given the ongoing fighting on Bataan, on 14 January 1942, Commander of the Bataan Air Force, Col. Hal George, called for reinforcement from the P-40’s that were based in Mindanao, which were used for reconnaissance operations in that area. The aircraft were from among the nine P-40’s which had been flown from Bataan down to Mindanao on 4 January 1942 – there were 18 P-40s on Bataan that day before the force was split up.

The request for reinforcement was approved by MacArthur’s HQ, and orders were sent to Mindanao. After drawing cards to decide which of the pilots would return to Bataan, four pilots set out from Del Monte Airfield on 18 January with their P-40’s from the southern island. Unfortunately, one aircraft was lost when its rough running Allison engine quit overwater and the pilot, 2nd Lt. Gordon S. Benson, 3rd Pursuit Squadron, had to bail out, which he did successfully.

Map of the Philippine Islands.  (Courtesy Islandproperties.com)

Map of the Philippine Islands. (Courtesy Islandproperties.com)

The other three, flown by 1st Lt. Edward R. Woolery (3rd Pursuit Squadron), 2nd Lt. David L. Obert (17th Pursuit) and 2nd Lt. Robert S. Ibold (21st Pursuit), though delayed by weather enroute with stopovers at Cebu City, Cebu and San Jose, Mindoro, successfully made it to Bataan Field by dusk on 20 January 1942. The pilots ate a dinner of cold corned beef on bread. That night they were given a blanket and slept on the ground, unsure of what was next.

A can (tin for Commonwealth types) of Corned Beef (aka Bully Beef).  (Courtesy Wikipedia)

A can (tin for Commonwealth types) of Corned Beef (aka Bully Beef). (Courtesy Wikipedia)

The next morning Col. George called them in to his operations office, now at Bataan Field after transfer from Little Baguio near Mariveles. He gave them the choice of either remaining at Bataan Field to fly or of rejoining their pursuit squadrons which were assigned the beach defense mission on Bataan. Even with the warning that the flying would be “…the hardest and most dangerous they would ever do” all three opted to stay and fly, without hesitation. One of them would never leave Bataan again.

The addition of these three pilots brought the number of pilots at the Bataan Field to eleven men, including pilots from all five pursuit squadrons in the command.

Aircraft mechanics from the Headquarters Squadron, 24th Pursuit Group and 17th Pursuit Squadron pose with a Curtiss P-40E in a camouflaged revetment at Bataan Field, January, 1942.  From left to right, front row:  Charles Parman, Alan Waite, Brown Davidson, Henry McCracken, William Miller, Melvin Dixon, Lyall Dillon; middle row:  Marcus Keithley, Jesse White, Ellis Holcomb, Chester Brown, Louis Tome, Michael Tardivo, Sid Wilkinson, John Dujenski; back row:  Earl Akers, Richard Hunn, John O’Neal, Louis Myers, Clarence Hatzer, Henry Blair, William Alvis.  Dujenski, Keithley, White and Wilkinson had just returned to aviation duty from the west coast fighting at Quinauan Point. (Photo courtesy Wikipedia; names in Wm. Bartsch's "Doomed at the Start.")

Aircraft mechanics from the Headquarters Squadron, 24th Pursuit Group and 17th Pursuit Squadron pose with a Curtiss P-40E in a camouflaged revetment at Bataan Field, January, 1942. From left to right, front row: Charles Parman, Alan Waite, Brown Davidson, Henry McCracken, William Miller, Melvin Dixon, Lyall Dillon; middle row: Marcus Keithley, Jesse White, Ellis Holcomb, Chester Brown, Louis Tome, Michael Tardivo, Sid Wilkinson, John Dujenski; back row: Earl Akers, Richard Hunn, John O’Neal, Louis Myers, Clarence Hatzer, Henry Blair, William Alvis. Dujenski, Keithley, White and Wilkinson had just returned to aviation duty from the west coast fighting at Quinauan Point. (Photo courtesy Wikipedia; names in Wm. Bartsch’s “Doomed at the Start.”)

With the reinforcementsfrom Mindanao, on 21 January 1942 there were seven P-40E and two P-40B in commission at Bataan Field. In addition to the fighters, there were several other aircraft too, including one Beechcraft Staggerwing, two basic trainers, two primary trainers and a single O-49 observation aircraft. These were used for various support missions, such as courier flights to Corregidor.

A US Army Air Force Beechcraft Staggerwing biplane in flight during World War II.  (Courtesy WW2incolor.com)

A US Army Air Force Beechcraft Staggerwing biplane in flight during World War II. (Courtesy WW2incolor.com)

It wasn’t much of a plus-up, but every little bit helped in defending Bataan and having some capacity to strike back at the Imperial Japanese invaders. Given the imminent seizure of various points and airfields in the Netherlands East Indies, the likelihood of any fighters arriving in the Philippines from Australia where such aircraft were then arriving was decreasing daily. The Bataan Air Force would have to fight on with the P-40’s on hand.

References

Bartsch, William H. “Doomed at the Start: American Pursuit Pilots in the Philippines, 1941-1942.” Texas A&M University, College Station, TX, 1992.

Photos from

Philippines Map, at: http://www.islandsproperties.com/maps/

Corned Beef, at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Corned_beef

P-40 and Mechanics, at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bataan_Airfield

Beechcraft Staggerwing, at: http://www.ww2incolor.com/us-air-force/staggerwing-flight.jpg.html