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

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