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

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