Along the Balantay: The 45th Infantry Regiment (PS) at the Abucay Line, Part 3

Overnight 18-19 January 1942, the battalions of the 45th Infantry (PS) retained their two objective areas, to the left and right of the 31st Infantry, despite frequent harassment from Japanese troops, particularly on the left. The harassment came in a variety of forms, lethal and otherwise.

The left flank of 3rd Battalion’s K Company at the end of the line was attacked overnight and more men became casualties, especially in the refused part of the line that trailed off to the southwest, protecting the westernmost end of the Abucay Line.

When Scouts of the 3rd Battalion on the left tried to remove the dead bodies of their comrades to the rear, heavy automatic weapons fire from higher ground to the west made this impossible to do without causing further casualties, so the dead men were buried in their foxholes.

Imperial Japanese Army reenactors display the uniforms, weapons and gear typical of that used by the IJA on Bataan.  (Courtesy Philippine Tourist Destinations.com)

Imperial Japanese Army reenactors display the uniforms, weapons and gear typical of that used by the IJA on Bataan. (Courtesy Philippine Tourist Destinations.com)

Small groups of Japanese soldiers infiltrated through the ravine south of the MLR a hill and into the center of the battalion area between the Hacienda and the MLR. From there they fired automatic weapons with tracers during the night. It appeared that other Japanese in the rear fired back towards them, simulating a firefight, perhaps trying to get the Scouts to reveal their own positions in the night.

The enemy blew bird whistles all night, and various kinds of firecrackers were set off which produced sounds like a mortar shell exploding or the crack of Japanese small arms ammunition.

They fired many red flares around the battalion’s sector, to which I Company responded with their own, maybe anticipating an attack. Machine gun and mortar fire fell upon the rear area of the battalion, and fires also started up in the rear, either set deliberately and/or by the falling ordnance.

All of this at first unnerved the troops as this was the 3rd Battalion’s first combat action at Abucay. Nonetheless, they held their position against all of this being thrown at them from the IJA 141st Infantry Regiment on their front and flank. After the first night, the tricks and sounds had little effect on the Scouts.

Ravine overlooking the Balantay River, in the vicinity of the line occupied by 3rd Battalion, 45th Infantry PS/1st Battalion, 31st Infantry.  (Courtesy AxisHistory.com Forum)

Ravine overlooking the Balantay River, in the vicinity of the line occupied by 3rd Battalion, 45th Infantry PS/1st Battalion, 31st Infantry. (Courtesy AxisHistory.com Forum)

This kind of harassment continued for the nights on the Abucay Line. Reports from Japanese sources indicate the enemy was somewhat baffled at the Scouts composure and steadfastness of the line. A 65th Brigade report read “It seems that the native Army thinks very little of the threats from the rear. Even though elements of our Army advance close to the rear of the main enemy position, the enemy at the flanks remains and continues firing. Many of them stay hidden, and although they depend on leadership from the rear, they hold their positions even when the surrounding situation is unknown. This is worth studying.” (Whitman, pp 196-197)

It wasn’t only the Scout’s performance at night that drew comment from their Japanese opponents. The following comment was made in response to the 18 January attacks of the 3rd Battalion, 45th Infantry (PS) and renewed attacks of the 31st Infantry Regiment,” The enemy, who had once started to retreat to the south and east, seemed to have received reinforcements. His flank and rear fire inflicted incalculable casualties. During the afternoon of the 18th, the enemy resistance suddenly became z powerful and stubborn counterattack and eventually stalled our advance…the combat situation stagnated.” Another IJA report stated that their units were “battered by fierce enemy resistance and fire power.” This is likely recognition of encountering the well-trained and motivated regular Fil-Am soldiers of the 31st Infantry and the Philippine Scouts, both armed with the powerful M1 rifle.

Off on the right flank of the 31st, late on the afternoon of 18 January some 300 Scouts of the 1st Battalion had reached the MLR positions of the 51st Division the day before, finding some foxholes and even some uncut barbed wire. The battalion sent patrols to the east and north and encountered no friendly troops. Hearing heavy firing to the west, a patrol was sent that way, which encountered Japanese. It was a troubling situation, as the battalion itself was not complete on the line, and did not have contact with anyone else in the 45th Infantry.

Philippine Scout reenactors make ready for a charge on an enemy position (Courtesy WWII Forum, PS Living History Co.)

Philippine Scout reenactors make ready for a charge on an enemy position (Courtesy WWII Forum, PS Living History Co.)

Nonetheless, they remained at the MLR overnight, and experienced a relatively light form of harassment from sporadic small arms in the rear. Artillery rumbled and small arms fired off to the east and west.

Some information indicates the 2nd Battalion reached the objective area on 18 January, or at least some stretch of the MLR and placed two rifle companies on the line with the third in reserve. Other information indicates the 45th Regiment completed its movement to the right flank objective on the afternoon of 19 January.

On the morning of Monday, 19 January 1942, the unsupported and out of contact with any other friendly units, the relatively vulnerable and exposed Scouts of the 1st Battalion withdrew to rejoin the rest of their battalion. Enemy activity in the sector was insignificant; nevertheless a renewed attack in the afternoon by the 31st Infantry, supported by attacks by the two 45th Infantry battalions on the right was directed.

The 31st had to move across some very difficult terrain, e.g steep banked ravines floored with dense underbrush, which greatly slowed the movement and cohesion of the Polar Bear soldiers.

A small ravine on the Abucay Line, perhaps one of those the 31 st Infantry had to traverse in the battle.  (Courtesy AxisHistory.com Forum)

A small ravine on the Abucay Line, perhaps one of those the 31 st Infantry had to traverse in the battle. (Courtesy AxisHistory.com Forum)

Efforts at a coordinated attack were compounded by the jungle, bad maps and limited communications between units. Although some progress was made the 31st did not reach its assigned objective due to the fierce resistance of the enemy as well as the challenging terrain and other conditions stated. The enemy continued to pressure the western end of the Abucay Line, where the 31st Infantry and the 3rd Battalion of the 45th Infantry faced the worst of it.

Philippine Scout reenactors charge a simulated enemy position.  (Courtesy WWII Forum, PS Living History Co.)

Philippine Scout reenactors charge a simulated enemy position. (Courtesy WWII Forum, PS Living History Co.)

On the right flank, the two battalions of the 45th attacked as directed, starting at about 1600. Following the same path, the units successfully reached the Balantay River (again). The battalions overlooked a mile-wide valley from a low hill line along the south bank of the river. Although the position was good, the rugged terrain below them and the foliage allowed the Japanese ample areas for concealment. Fortunately the sector was relatively quiet, unlike those to the west, although this might also suggest their combat capability might have been applied somewhere else more helpful, but that was up to those in charge at higher echelons.

There on the line at the Balantay, the Scouts of the 1st and 2nd Battalions found some of the men of the 51st Infantry Division (Philippine Army), some of those killed in action earlier. They found them in their foxholes, where they had taken their stand against the Japanese, and where they fought and died. Not all of the men in the 51st had broken and run. The Scouts removed the bodies from the foxholes and buried them. Around the positions, they also gathered various automatic weapons and a large quantity of ammunition.

So the end of the day, 19 January, found the battalions of the 45th Infantry Regiment (PS) on the MLR in positions formerly occupied by the 51st Division. The 31st was still making strenuous efforts to reach their assigned objective, though they had gained a little ground. Things were looking like they might soon be restored.

But as this transpired, another significant event occurred to the west, on the eastern slopes of Mt. Natib, which threatened the re-stabilizing Abucay Line. An alert patrol of three Scouts from the 3rd Battalion observed a Japanese Infantry Regiment make its way south along the edges of the mountain, in terrain Fil-Am forces considered too rugged for major unit movement. They returned safely to convey the information.

At noon the same day, civilians contacted the military to tell them of Japanese troops sighted coming down the slopes of Mt. Natib, apparently headed towards the barrio of Guitol, well behind the Abucay Line.

Map of the Abucay Line, January, 1942 .  (Courtesy US Army)

Map of the Abucay Line, January, 1942 . (Courtesy US Army)

It was an ominous development. But for the moment, the 45th Infantry Regiment (PS) was “all in” along their assigned parts of the MLR, on the Abucay Line, in mortal combat with a deadly foe.

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

Morton, Louis, “The Fall of the Philippines,” Chapter XVI, The First Battle of Bataan, at: http://www.history.army.mil/books/wwii/5-2/5-2_16.htm

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

Whitman, John W., “US Army Doctrinal Effectiveness on Bataan, 1942: The First Battle,” US Army Command and General Staff College Thesis Paper, Ft. Leavenworth, KS, 1984, at: http://www.dtic.mil/dtic/tr/fulltext/u2/a147751.pdf

Photos from

IJA Soldiers, at:  http://ptd.com.ph/more-fun-in-the-philippines/living-history-a-glimpse-of-the-past/

Balantay River area, at:  http://forum.axishistory.com/viewtopic.php?f=33&t=160351

Philippine Scouts charging, at:  http://www.ww2f.com/topic/16320-philippine-scouts-living-history-company/

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