Tag Archives: Cabanatuan

The Partisan Archipelago

April 12, 1945 – “The youngest guerrilla in the Philippines is Ponciano “Sabu'”Arida of Santa Maria, Laguna, Luzon. He is eleven years old and has five Japs to his credit. He is attached to the 1st Bn., 103rd Inf. Regt., 43rd Div. He is a member of the ‘Marking’ guerrilla forces.”

While the OSS, which helped organize resistance units behind the lines during WWII, was largely hands-off in the Philippines, make no mistake, the PI was lit ablaze by such groups from April 1942 through the final liberation in the Spring and Summer of 1945.

After all, it is hard to impossible to pacify 7,000 islands spread out across 1,000 miles of ocean filled with people that don’t want to be ruled by a foreign power, no matter how many troops you are willing to pour into the fight– the U.S. had learned that in the very same places in 1899-1902.

As noted by US Army Special Operations in World War II by David W. Hogan, Jr. (CMH Pub 70-42), covering the acts and deeds of Rangers, Alamo Scouts, OSS Jedburghs, Chindits Mauraders, and the like, there is a telling chapter on Philippines guerilla units as led by American hold-outs:

“General Douglas MacArthur, the imperious theater chief, and Lt. Gen. Walter Krueger, commander of the U.S. Sixth Army, made extensive use of guerrillas, scout units, and commando forces, particularly in support of the effort to recapture the Philippine Islands.”

“Even before Pearl Harbor MacArthur, as commander of the forces defending the Philippines, considered the possibility of waging a guerrilla war. Under existing war plans his forces were expected to hold off a Japanese attack for several months before an American relief expedition could reach them. As part of his strategy for such a contingency, MacArthur established an embryo underground intelligence service among the numerous American businessmen, miners, and plantation owners on the islands and also contemplated the withdrawal of some Filipino reservists into the mountains to serve as guerrillas.”

“By 23 December MacArthur’s beach defense plan lay in ruins, and his remaining forces were withdrawing into the Bataan peninsula. Cut off from Bataan, Col. John P. Horan near Baguio, Capt. Walter Cushing along the Bocos coast, Capt. Ralph Praeger in the Cagayan Valley, and Maj. Everett Warner in Isabela Province formed guerrilla units from the broken remnants of Filipino forces in northern Luzon, and MacArthur sent Col. Claude A. Thorp to organize partisans in central Luzon. To meet the need for intelligence from behind enemy lines, Brig. Gen. Simeon de Jesus organized a network of about sixty agents who infiltrated by foot or by boat across Manila Bay and reported by radio to a central station in a Manila movie theater, which forwarded the data to MacArthur on Corregidor. Meanwhile, MacArthur directed Maj. Gen. William F. Sharp in Mindanao to intensify preparations for guerrilla warfare in the southern islands.”

To this were added other bands of scattered American fugitives and renegade Filipino soldiers led by Cols. Martin Moses and Arthur K. Noble.

While Sharp would surrender most of his forces in early 1942, with Horan and Warner following soon after, others kept fighting. By the end of the year, Cushing, Prager, and Thorp’s groups were all destroyed, and the aforementioned officers dispatched by their hunters.

In early 1943, Moses and Noble were killed.

Similar losses were suffered by indigenous forces, for example, Lt. Col. Guillermo Z. Nakar, Philippine Army, was captured and killed by the Japanese in October 1942, reportedly beheaded.

The two most effective American guerrilla leaders were the red-beared Lt. Col. Wendell W. Fertig on Mindanao– who crafted an uneasy alliance among Moros, the local Catholic church and other groups– and Maj. Russell W. Volckmann in northern Luzon. Volckman, who had started 1941 as a company commander, would by 1945 command a mixed force of 22,000 guerillas in the field.

Fertig notably, “maintained his support among the opportunistic Moro tribes in part through the distribution of a LIFE magazine article in which King Ibn Saud of Saudi Arabia allied Islam with the United States.”

Another guerilla force involved one Lt. Iliff Richardson, USNR, a PT-Boat man who, much like the last five minutes of They Were Expendable, took to the hills and kept fighting after Corregidor fell, where the locals soon took up the fight armed with latongs, improvised slam-fire single-shot shotguns.

“Like a character in the book A CONNECTICUT YANKEE IN KING ARTHUR’S COURT, Lt. Richardson showed the guerrillas how to fashion the badly needed guns right in their own villages using scrap material like plumbing pipe and old lumber,” correspondent Ben Waters reported in 1944.

By the end of 1943, despite many initial setbacks, the underground resistance groups in the Philipines had started to turn the tide and were linked by radio with MacArthur’s headquarters in Australia. Instead of the airdrops frequently seen in Europe from SOE and OSS, the Navy organized an effort by Tagalog-speaking LCDR Charles “Chick” Parsons, an officer well aware with the PI coastal waters, to supply the insurgents with vital material. Parsons’s “Spy Squadron” of 19 submarines delivered 1,325 tons of supplies in at least 41 missions to the guerrillas between 1943 and 1945, with the emphasis on medicine, weapons, ammunition and radio gear.

This led to increased organization and effectiveness, with fresh local recruits fleshing out the ranks of legitimate organizations of companies, battalions, and even divisions.

One of the most unlikely leaders was Lt. Col. James Cushing, a former mining engineer.

Another successful light colonel was Ernie McClish, a Native American.

From ‘Indians at War, 1945,” the chapter, “A Choctaw Leads the Guerrillas”

In April 1945, after more than three years as a guerrilla leader in the Philippines, Lt. Col. Edward Ernest McClish came home to Okmulgee, Oklahoma, where his family, who had refused to believe him dead, waited for him. Some of his story has been told in American Guerrilla in the Philippines, by Ira Wolfert, and other details have been added in a report given to the Public Relations Bureau of the War Department by Col. McClish. It is an extraordinary tale of accomplishment against great odds.

Lt. Col. McClish, a Choctaw, who graduated from Haskell Institute in 1929 and from Bacone College two years later, was called to active duty in the National Guard in 1940, and early in 1941 he arrived in the Philippines, where he became commander of a company of Philippine Scouts. In August he went to Panay to mobilize units of the Philippine Army there, and as commander of the Third Battalion he moved his men to Negros, where they were stationed when the war broke out. Late in December they crossed by boat to Mindanao, and there all the Moro bolo battalions were added to McClish’s command.

The Japanese did not reach Mindanao until April 29, 1942, shortly before the American capitulation on Luzon, and Col. McClish’s men fought them for nearly three weeks. When forces on the island finally surrendered, McClish, a casualty in the hospital, some distance from headquarters, was fortunately unable to join his men. Instead of capitulating he began to organize a guerrilla army.

By September 1942, he had an organization of more than 300 soldiers, with four machine guns, 150 rifles, and six boxes of ammunition. Some American and Filipino officers had escaped capture and joined the staff. In the early stages of the organization, McClish got word of a Colonel Fertig, of the Army Engineers, who was working along similar lines in the western part of Mindanao, and he managed to reach Fertig by travelling in a small sailboat along the coast. The two men decided to consolidate their commands, and Colonel Fertig asked McClish to organize the fighting forces in the four eastern provinces of the island as the 110th Division.

Organization was at first very difficult. Independent guerrilla bands had sprung up all over the island, some of them composed of robbers and bandits who terrorized the villages. Some were anti-American, says Colonel McClish. Most of them lacked military training and education. But slowly the work proceeded. The bandits were disarmed and jailed; the friendly natives were trained, and young men qualified to be officers were commissioned. By the spring of 1943 McClish had assembled a full-strength regiment in each of the three provinces, a fourth had been started, and Division headquarters staff had been completed.

Simultaneously with the military organization, civil governments were set up in each province. Wherever possible, the officials who had held jobs in pre-war days were reappointed, provided that they had not collaborated with the Japanese. Provincial and municipal officials worked hand in hand with the military, and helped greatly to build up the army’s strength.

Because of the shortage of food, reports Colonel McClish, a Food Administrator and a Civil and Judicial Committee were appointed to begin agricultural and industrial rehabilitation. Army projects for the production of food and materials of war were begun throughout the Division area, and all able-bodied men between the ages of 18 and 50 were required to give one day’s work each week to one of these projects. They raised vegetables, pigs, poultry, sugar cane, and other foods. The manufacture of soap, alcohol, and coconut oil was started. Fishing was encouraged. In some of the provinces food production was increased beyond the peacetime level. The civilians realized that they were part of the army, and that only a total effort could defeat the enemy.

The public relations office published a newspaper, and headquarters kept in communication with the regiments in each province by radio, by telephone (when wire was available), or by runner. The guerrillas acquired launches and barges which had been kept hidden from the Japanese, and these were operated by home-made alcohol and coconut oil. Seven trucks provided more transport, but it was safer and easier to use the sea than the land. In order to maintain their motor equipment, they “obtained” a complete machine shop from a Japanese lumbering company in their territory.

From September 15, 1942, to January 1, 1945, while McClish’s work of organization and administration was continuing, his guerrilla forces were fighting the Japanese, and more than 350 encounters–ambushes, raids on patrols and small garrisons, and general engagements–were listed on their records. One hundred and fifteen men were killed and sixty-four wounded. Enemy losses were estimated at more than 3,000 killed and six hundred wounded.

The guerrillas finally made contact with the American forces in the South Pacific and supplied them with valuable information about the enemy which was extremely helpful when the time for the invasion of the Philippines came at last. They did their part in bringing about the final victory in the Pacific.

By October 1944, some guerilla units had swelled to over 10,000 or more effective fighters, and openly wore uniforms, seizing control of large swaths of the country’s interior as well as numerous small cities and towns. They were even able to call in close air support at the tactical level. 

It was during this later stage that PI guerilla forces ably served as lifeguards and protectors for downed American aircrews.

Battle of The Philippine Sea, June 1944 (Catalog #: 80-G-23684): Lieutenant Junior Grade Alexander Vraciu, USNR; fighting squadron 16 “Ace”, holds up six fingers to signify his “kills” during the “Great Marianas Turkey Shoot”, on 19 June 1944. Taken on the flight deck of the USS LEXINGTON (CV-16). Note: Grumman in the background and sailor A.L. Poquet at right. Vraciu was the leading Navy “ace” between late June and late October 1944. He was shot down by Japanese AAA near Bamban Airfield in the occupied Philippines on 14 December 1944. Hitting the silk, he was scooped up by friendly Filipino guerillas and spent some six weeks with them, behind enemy lines, before linking up with U.S. forces again. 

Opposed against them, the Japanese Kempati organized local collaborationist police and informants into snitch squads–who, while they did put a crimp in insurgent operations, were more often than not just used to settle local grudges. By 1944, stood up the Makapili (Makabayan Katipunan Ñg Mg̃a Bayani, or Alliance of Philippine Patriots) organization, armed with captured American weapons, to go toe-to-toe with the local guerillas. However, the mighty Makapili only ever made it to brigade (5,000~) strength, although it should be pointed out that they fought alongside the Japanese to the bitter end.

Major Guerrilla Forces in the Philippines, 1942-1945. U.S. Army CMH

A radio net operated across the archipelago, linking operations with advancing Allied forces.

The Philippine General Radio Net Developed during the Japanese Occupation, 9 October 1944. U.S. Army CMH.

A Marine radioman in a foxhole with Filipino guerrillas by James Turnbull; 1945, “Via Shore Party radio, a Marine transmits information from Filipino guerrillas concerning the numbers and disposition of Japanese defenders of Luzon during the invasion of Lingayen on January 9, 1945. In the background, a signalman semaphores a message to ships offshore.” Gift of Abbott Laboratories NHHC 88-159-KN

The famous Cabanatuan Prison Raid, conducted 30-31 January 1945, could not have been pulled off without PI forces.

M1918 BAR gunner, 6th U.S. Army Special Reconnaissance Force (Rangers), along with a Filipino guerrilla, Cabanatuan, early 1945

When MacArthur finally did return, much of the way had already been prepared.

Filipino guerillas and U.S. troops worked hand in hand behind Japanese lines in the PI during WWII

80-G-259551 Filipino Guerilla who fought against the Japanese. Possibly at Guerilla Headquarters at Gingoog on Mindanao, Philippines June 1945

Note the Japanese grenade, M1903 Springfield M1917 Enfield, and M1919 cloth machine gun belt. 80-G-259552

As the Americans began landings in the Leyte Gulf and moved inland former irregular guerillas were quickly outfitted to fight as line infantry, a process that saw them clothed for the first time– typically in obsolete sateen uniforms– equipped with a mix of second-line rifles such as M1917 Enfields and M1903A3 Springfields as well as some newer ordnance like M1 Carbines and M1 Thompsons, then given a pair of often ill-fitting boots.

July 30, 1945 – “Type ‘A’, bundle of clothing to drop for either POWs or guerilla forces. Supply for 50-men packed in a mattress cover and tied with steel strapping. This is a free drop bundle dropped from the plane without a parachute. Pile shows the complete bundle plus contents that go into said bundle; 50 pairs khaki suits, 50 pairs underwear; 150 handkerchiefs; 50 sewing kits; 50 caps and 50 belts. Manila, P.I.” (NARA)

Some new PI divisions were even outfitted with 75mm howitzers for the final push to clear Northern Luzon, a campaign that didn’t end until mid-August 1945.

American instructor, with the M1 carbine, stands with Filipino guerillas after they were refitted upon making contact with the US Army in 1945 armed with M1 carbines and M1A1 Tommy Guns, the latter a weapon being replaced at the time by the then-new M3 Grease Gun. Note that most of the men are still barefoot. 

Amicedo Farola, of Dulag, Leyte, is a Philippine guerrilla scout, operating with a reconnaissance squadron of the 24th Division. The hair dress may be unusual, but Farola has more Japanese kills to his credit than he will admit to strangers. His associates confirm his scouting and fighting ability. Digos, Mindanao, March 26, 1945. US Army Signal Corps Photo

1944- Two young Filipino guerrillas are shown after they joined American forces on Leyte. The soldier on right is 16 years old. Note the Marine-issue one-piece frogskin coverall on the soldier to the right. 

Lt. Col. Ruperto Kangleon, Philippine Army, was the acknowledged leader of the resistance movement in Leyte during the Japanese occupation– the Black Army– a force that would be organized as the 92nd Division (PI) in October 1944. He would be decorated by MacArthur personally.

Colonel Ruperto K. Kangleon, Philippine guerilla leader (center) Reporting to General Douglas MacArthur, Supreme Commander, Allied Forces, Southwest Pacific Area, during ceremonies proclaiming the liberation of Leyte, at Tacloban, 23 October 1944. Official U.S. Navy Photograph, now in the collections of the National Archives. Catalog #: 80-G-328059

Others were remembered as well.

Meet Captain Nieves Fernandez, the only known Filipino female guerrilla leader, and school teacher.

Captain Nieves Fernandez. Gotta love a woman that can appreciate a nice sharp machete

In the above photo, she is showing U.S. Army Pvt. Andrew Lupiba how she used her bolo to silently kill Japanese sentries during the occupation of Leyte Island.

When the Japanese came to take the children under her care, she shot them. She didn’t hide in a closet, she didn’t put up a gun-free zone sign, she shot them in the face with her latong.

She then went on to lead forces credited with killing over 200 Japanese soldiers during the war and holds the distinction as the only female commander of a resistance group in the Philippines.

13-year-old Filipino guerilla Adone Santiago reportedly had seven confirmed kills, and by the way he isn’t feeling the American officer (Lt. Col. Robert W. King, 38th ID) pulling a Joe Biden, may have been eager for an eighth. 

Besides the Americans and local insurgents, there was also a formation of ethnic Chinese residents who formed the underground Wha Chi battalion, who fought the Japanese occupation tooth and nail, in the end helping to liberate the towns of Jaen, Sta. Maria, Cabiao, San Fernando, and Tarlac in 1945.

Once the war was over, the Americans, by and large, went home and received some minor notoriety.

PT-boat sailor Richardson, who had been promoted to a Major in the U.S. Army during his time behind the lines, went on to unsuccessfully market a line of “Philippine Guerilla Shotguns.”

Major Illif David Richardson, left, and Colonel Ruperto Kangleon of the guerrilla forces, Leyte, October1944

Meanwhile, Volckmann is seen today as a legend in the SF community and went on to literally write the book (several, actually) on COIN operations, based on his own first-hand knowledge. A book recently came out on him that is quite good reading. 

There were also any number of sensationalized accounts in men’s pulp mags and in trade paperbacks published in the states throughout the 1950s and 60s.

Stanley Borack– guerilla jungle pulp

Still, the resistance movement in the Philipines would never get the same type of coverage that similar, and often much less effective, efforts got in Europe, which is a shame.

Spirit of 1945 by James Turnbull “Filipino guerrilla waving an American flag while standing in the surf. This man was spotted by one of our observation planes waving a flag in the midst of our most concentrated pre-invasion bombardment a few minutes before H-Hour. He was attempting to signal our forces that the Japanese had retreated and that we would be able to land without bombardment. This was probably one of the greatest single acts of heroism of the whole operation.” NHHC 88-159-LD

For a great read on the subject see the CMH’s chapter on the Philippines Campaign dedicated to the Philippine Resistance Movement.

Welcome home, Lt. Crotty

Lt. James Crotty as lieutenant junior grade aboard a Coast Guard cutter. Crotty, a 1934 graduate of the U.S. Coast Guard Academy, served throughout the U.S. including Alaska prior to service in the South Pacific. Photo courtesy of the MacArthur Memorial Library, Norfolk, Va.

R 290809 OCT 19
FM COMDT COGARD WASHINGTON DC//CCG//
TO ALCOAST
UNCLAS //N05360//
ALCOAST 335/19
COMDTNOTE 5360
SUBJ:  THE RETURN HOME OF LT THOMAS JAMES EUGENE CROTTY, USCG
1. It is my honor to report that we will bring LT Thomas James Eugene “Jimmy” Crotty, a Coast Guard and American hero, home.
2. LT Crotty was born on 18 March 1912, in Buffalo, New York. He graduated from the United States Coast Guard Academy in 1934 after serving as Company Commander, class president and captain of the Academy’s football team. He served his first seven years after graduation onboard cutters in New York City, Seattle, Sault Ste. Marie and San Diego.
3. In the days leading up to the attack on Pearl Harbor, he served with the U.S. Navy as Executive Officer onboard USS QUAIL, part of the 16th Naval District-in-Shore Patrol Headquarters, Cavite Navy Yard, Philippines. He aided in the defense of Corregidor during the Japanese invasion in the early days of WWII, supervising the destruction of ammunition and facilities at the Navy Yard and scuttling the fleet submarine USS SEA LION to prevent its use by the Japanese. As the Japanese advanced on Corregidor, LT Crotty eagerly took charge of cannibalized deck guns from the ship and led a team of brave enlisted Marines and Army personnel fighting for an additional 30 days until the Japanese bombardment finally silenced the defense of the island fortress.
4. Following the fall of Corregidor, LT Crotty was taken prisoner by the Japanese and interned at the Cabanatuan Prisoner of War Camp. After his death on 19 July 1942 from diphtheria, he was buried in a common grave along with all those who died that day. 
5. After World War II, the U.S. government moved remains from the common graves to the Manila American Cemetery and Memorial in the Republic of the Philippines. On 10 September2019, as part of an exhaustive effort by DoD to bring every service member home, LT Crotty was positively identified from the remains exhumed from the cemetery in early 2018.
6. LT Crotty is the only known Coast Guardsman to serve in defense of the Philippines; his service authorizes the Coast Guard to display the Philippine Defense Battle Streamer on our Coast Guard Ensign. He was posthumously awarded the Bronze Star, Purple Heart, and many other decorations. A full accounting of his service can be found in the blog at:
https://compass.coastguard.blog/2019/09/18/the-long-blue-line-lt-crotty-and-the-battle-for-corregidor/
7. On Friday, 01 November 2019, arrival honors will be held at Joint Reserve Base, Niagara NY at 1000. Funeral services will be held on Saturday, 02 November 2019 at 1200 at St. Thomas Aquinas Roman Catholic Church, Buffalo, NY followed by interment with full military honors at Holy Cross Cemetery in Lackawanna, NY.
8. LT Crotty embodied our core values of Honor, Respect, and most especially Devotion to Duty. As we celebrate his life and legacy, we also celebrate the lives of the more than 600 Coast Guard members we were not able to bring home from WWII. He represents the proud legacy of the Long Blue Line of Coast Guard men and women who place themselves in harm’s way every day in the service to their country and fellow man. He is one of many who made the ultimate sacrifice; we should never forget his efforts and the sacrifices of the thousands of Coast Guard men and women who served so bravely in our service over the last 229 years.
9. To honor LT Crotty, I ask every Coast Guard unit and member to observe a moment of silence as he begins his journey home on Thursday, 31 October 2019 at 1900Z (1500 EDT/1200 PDT/0900 HST).
10. The Half-masting of the national ensign for all Coast Guard units will take place when LT Crotty is honored at the U.S. Coast Guard Academy in the spring of 2020. Information will be sent SEPCOR.
11. Admiral Karl L. Schultz, Commandant, sends.
12. Internet release is authorized.

Crotty Coming Home

Corregidor Lifeboat Colt 1911 Pistol In May 1942, the minesweeper USS Quail

Image via National Firearms Museum

On 5 May 1942, the “Old Bird” Lapwing-class minesweeper USS Quail (AM-15) was the last surviving American vessel as the Japanese invaded the Philippines. [We covered her luckier sisters USS Avocet (AVP-4) and USS Heron (AM-10/AVP-2) in separate Warship Wednesdays a few years ago]

When Quail was disabled at Corregidor, site of the last stand of U.S. forces near the entrance to Manila Bay, LCDR J.H. Morrill had the ship scuttled and gave his crew the choice of surrendering to the Japanese or striking out across the open ocean. Seventeen sailors chose to join him on the desperate voyage. With the above pistol recovered from a dead serviceman as their only armament, and virtually no charts or navigational aids, they transversed 2,060 miles of ocean in a 36-foot open motor launch, reaching Australia after 29 days.

LCDR Morrill received the Navy Cross and eventually retired at the rank of Rear Admiral.

As noted by Navsource: “Although the Quail was lost, some of its crew decided that surrendering to the Japanese on Corregidor was not an option. Even though the odds against them were enormous, these incredibly brave men in their small boat managed to avoid Japanese aircraft and warships while, at the same time, battling the sea as well as the weather. But like so many of the men in the old U.S. Asiatic Fleet, they simply refused to give up. It was a remarkable achievement by a group of sailors who were determined to get back home so that they could live to fight another day.”

The gun is currently on display at the National Firearms Museum in Fairfax, VA.

Quail, U.S. Navy photo from the January 1986 edition of All Hands magazine, via Navsource

Quail, U.S. Navy photo from the January 1986 edition of All Hands magazine, via Navsource

One of the Quail‘s “loaner officers” who didn’t make the trip south was Lt. Jimmy Crotty, USCG, who had a more tragic fate.

U.S. Coast Guard Lt. Thomas J.E. Crotty

An explosives expert who graduated from the U.S. Coast Guard Academy in 1934 at the head of his class, he was serving with the Joint In-Shore Patrol Headquarters at Cavite when the war kicked off and spent several months on Quail working the minefields around Manila Bay.

When Quail was sunk, he volunteered to move to Corregidor where he served with the Navy’s headquarters staff and was captured while working one of the last 75mm guns with the 1st Battalion, 4th Marine Regiment. He died two months later under the unspeakably harsh conditions at Cabanatuan Prison Camp #1.

The USCGA Football team dedicated their 2014 season to Crotty and his Bronze Star and Purple Heart are in the custody of the Academy.

Now, the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency (DPAA) announced that U.S. Coast Guard Lt. Thomas J.E. Crotty, 30, of Buffalo, New York, killed during World War II, was accounted for Sept. 10, 2019.

One of the 2,500 Allied POWs who died at Cabanatuan, Crotty was buried along with fellow prisoners in the Camp Cemetery, in grave number 312.

According to DPAA:

Following the war, American Graves Registration Service (AGRS) personnel exhumed those buried at the Cabanatuan cemetery and examined the remains in an attempt to identify them. Due to the circumstances of the deaths and burials, the extensive commingling, and the limited identification technologies of the time, all of the remains could not be identified. The unidentified remains were interred as “unknowns” in the present-day Manila American Cemetery and Memorial.

In January 2018, the “unknown” remains associated with Common Grave 312 were disinterred and sent to the DPAA laboratory for analysis, including one set, designated X-2858 Manila #2.

To identify Crotty’s remains, scientists from DPAA used dental and anthropological analysis as well as circumstantial and material evidence. Additionally, scientists from the Armed Forces Medical Examiner System used mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) analysis.

Crotty will be buried Nov. 2, 2019, in Buffalo, New York.