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/

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