The First Landings
The Japanese did not wait for the destruction of American air and naval forces to begin landings in the Philippine Archipelago. Hours before the first Japanese plane had taken off to attack targets in the Philippine Islands, three task forces had sailed south from Formosa ports under cover of darkness on the evening of 7 December (Tokyo time). Their destination was the Philippine Islands; two were to land on northern Luzon, and the third was headed for the tiny island of Batan about 150 miles to the north. The next day another task force left Palau and steamed toward Legaspi, near the southeast tip of Luzon. At the same time, a fifth task force, scheduled to seize Davao, the principal port in Mindanao, was assembling at Palau. (Map 3)
Altogether, the Japanese planned six advance landings: Batan Island, Aparri, Vigan, Legaspi, Davao, and Jolo Island. All but the last two were on or near Luzon and were designed to provide the Japanese with advance bases from which short-range fighters could attack the fields of the Far East Air Force and support the main landings to follow. A base at Legaspi, the Japanese believed, would, in addition to providing an airfield, give them control of San Bernardino Strait, between Luzon and Samar, and prevent the Americans from bringing in reinforcements. The landings at Davao and Jolo Island were designed to secure advance bases for a later move southward into the Netherlands Indies. The Japanese hoped also, by landing in Mindanao, to isolate the Philippine Archipelago from Allied bases to the south and to cut the American route of withdrawal and supply.
The forces assigned to these landings were small, even for such limited objectives. But to secure so many detachments for the advance landings, General Homma had had to weaken seriously the two combat divisions Imperial General Headquarters had allotted to him for the Philippine invasion. Not one of the advance landing detachments was strong enough to withstand a determined counterattack; the largest was only about as large as a regiment, and the smallest was hardly stronger than a company. Moreover, the timetable for invasion was a complicated one and could easily be upset by any unexpected event.
It has been claimed that the preliminary landings were part of a clever Japanese scheme to draw the American forces toward widely separated points and then cut them off by later landings.1 There is no evidence for such a view. General Homma had no intention of drawing the American troops to the landing points and was not naive enough to hope to deceive the Americans by so obvious a ruse. Nor did he have the troops to spare for such an effort. The size of the forces assigned to the preliminary
landings and the places selected for the landings revealed their true purpose almost immediately to the American command.
The first Japanese invaders on Philippine soil went ashore on Batan Island in Luzon Strait, midway between Formosa and Luzon, at dawn 8 December. The invasion force, which had left the Formosan ports of Takao and Hozan on the evening of the 7th, consisted of 2 transports escorted by 1 destroyer, 4 torpedo boats, and a large number of other small vessels. Aboard the transports was a naval combat unit of 490 men as well as air corps troops who were to establish an airbase on the island. The combat troops quickly seized the airfield near Basco, and air force troops came ashore to inspect the field. It was found to be barely suitable for fighter and reconnaissance planes, but to require expansion for large-scale operations. The next day, while construction crews worked on the field, planes of the 24th and 50th Fighter Regiments began operations from the Basco base.
When the success of the attack on Clark Field became known, the Japanese discontinued work on the Batan Island field. Such a base was now unnecessary. Early on the morning of the 10th, the men of the 3d Gunboat Division, part of the Batan Attack Force, seized Gamiguin Island to the south. A seaplane base was immediately established on the island by the naval base force, thus providing the Japanese with an airbase only thirty-five miles north of Aparri.2
The Americans did not oppose the Batan Island landing and seem to have been entirely unaware of it. In fact, General MacArthur reported on the 9th after the Batan Island landing, that the enemy had not yet landed.3 It is extremely unlikely that even if USAFFE had been warned of the assault any effort would have been made to meet it. On the morning of the 8th, American planes were being sent aloft to intercept reported enemy flights over Luzon. By the 10th the Far East Air Force had already been reduced to half strength, and the Japanese had begun to land on the island of Luzon itself.
Luzon is a curiously shaped island. The northern part of the island is about 125 miles wide, with only one major indentation along the west coast, at Lingayen Gulf. Mountain ranges extend along the east and west coasts to the central plains just above Manila. The range on the east extends southward to Tayabas Bay. To the west of the central plain are the Zambales Mountains which face the South China Sea across a narrow coastal plain. The southern portion of Luzon is narrow and irregular in shape, trailing away in a southeasterly direction for 180 miles.
North of Manila, the island of Luzon is shaped like a mittened, giant right hand, palm down, with the index finger pointing directly at Formosa. Lingayen Gulf lies between the thumb and the forefinger. From Lingayen south across the top of the hand, like so many veins, are the highways and roads leading to Manila. At the tip of the ring finger lies Aparri, and midway
along the forefinger is Vigan. Both were next on the Japanese timetable for invasion.
Aparri was, before the war, a fairly large port with a population of 26,500. Located at the mouth of the Cagayan River and at the head of the Cagayan valley, with formidable mountain ranges to the east, west, and south, Aparri could be reached from the central plains only by way of Balete Pass from the south or by the coastal road around the northern tip of Luzon. The most direct route from Manila to Aparri, along Route 5 through the pass, was 275 miles long; the more circuitous route along the coast was 100 miles longer. The Americans could safely assume that any force landing at Aparri would not have Manila as its destination. The Cagayan valley was not the route of invasion.
Vigan, the capital of Ilocos Sur Province, lies on the western shore of Luzon, about 220 miles north of Manila on Route 3. To the east lie the Cordillera Mountains separating the Cagayan valley from the narrow coastal plain. About three miles south of Vigan is the mouth of the Abra River, one of the five principal waterways of Luzon. The port for Vigan is Pandan, on the north bank of the river's mouth, linked to the provincial capital by a hard-surface, all-weather road.
Both Aparri and Vigan were in the area defended by General Wainwright's North Luzon Force. With only three Philippine Army divisions, a Philippine Scout cavalry regiment and infantry battalion, one battery of field artillery, and a quartermaster troop, General Wainwright had to defend an area about 625 miles long and 125 miles wide at its widest point. The most he could spare for the entire northern portion of Luzon was one partially trained and equipped Philippine Army division, the 11th, commanded by Col. William E. Brougher. His task was made even more difficult by the absence of headquarters personnel and corps troops necessary to direct and support operations in so large an area. The 11th Division, like the other Philippine Army reserve divisions, had begun to mobilize in September. At the start of the war, its infantry regiments were only at two-thirds their authorized strength of 1,500 men per regiment; its artillery was in the process of mobilization and had not yet joined the division; service elements had joined, but had not yet been organized or trained as units. Transportation was practically nonexistent. The division suffered from a serious shortage of equipment. Individual training, especially in rifle marksmanship, scouting, and patrolling, was inadequate. Only one regiment of the division had begun to train in units larger than company or battery size.4
The 11th Division, with responsibility for the entire area north of Lingayen Gulf, was spread butter thin. Most of the division was in position along the gulf as far north as San Fernando, La Union.5 Beyond that point it maintained only small patrols. One battalion of the division, the 3d Battalion, 12th Infantry, was assigned to defend all of the Cagayan valley. This battalion had its command post at Tuguegarao, with one
company posted fifty miles to the north, at Aparri. There were no troops at Vigan.6
For the landings in north Luzon General Homma organized two forces from the 48th Division's 2d Formosa Infantry Regiment. The force which was to land at Aparri numbered approximately 2,000 men. Its main infantry element was the regimental headquarters, the 2d Battalion, and half of the 1st Battalion. In command was Col. Toru Tanaka, the regimental commander, hence the name Tanaka Detachment. The unit scheduled to take Vigan was known as the Kanno Detachment, after the commander of the 3d Battalion, 2d Formosa.7 It was of approximately the same size and composition as the Tanaka Detachment, and included the rest of the 2d Formosa- half of the 1st Battalion and the 3d Battalion.8
The Japanese attached a great deal of importance to the success of the Vigan and Aparri landings, and what they lacked in ground troops they made up in naval escort. As a cover force, Vice Adm. Ibo Takahashi personally led a flotilla consisting of two heavy cruisers, the Ashigara and Maya, one light cruiser, two destroyers, and a converted seaplane tender. He left Mako on 8 December with his fleet, and on the morning of the 10th was about 200 miles west of Vigan.9
The transports left Mako on the evening of 7 December, about the same time as the Batan Island Attack Force. The 14th Army staff watched them sail with misgivings. The success or failure of these preliminary landings would have a tremendous effect upon the main landings to follow, and the Japanese feared that the Americans might discover and heavily damage, if not destroy, the two detachments.10
Careful provision had been made for air support. With the first light of day, planes of the 24th and 50th Fighter Regiments appeared overhead to protect the convoy from air and naval attack. All that day and the next, 5th Air Group planes covered the two convoys.11 In the early morning hours of the 10th, the convoys had arrived at their anchorages. Not a single American aircraft had been sighted during the entire trip. "It was a miracle," stated the Japanese, "that it [the convoy] wasn't detected by the enemy."12 Before dawn the Tanaka Detachment was waiting off
Aparri; the Kanno Detachment was off Vigan. The wind was strong and the seas high. The next few hours would be the most critical and hazardous of the entire voyage.
The Landings at Aparri and Gonzaga
In the first light of dawn, 10 December, the men of the Tanaka Detachment began to transfer from the transports to the landing craft. Under cover of fighter aircraft from the recently captured field on Batan Island, two companies made the trip to shore successfully. But strong northeasterly winds and rough sea threatened to do what the Americans thus far had made no effort to do-frustrate the landings. The convoy commander therefore decided to land the remaining troops at Gonzaga, over twenty miles to the east, where Cape Engano offered partial protection from the heavy surf. The convoy sailed east along the coast, leaving the two companies at Aparri, and on reaching the new anchorage the rest of the Tanaka Detachment began to debark immediately.13
The first report of the landing force, estimated as a regiment in size, reached MacArthur's headquarters late in the day, and aircraft were ordered aloft immediately to attack the landing force.14 The purpose of the landing was apparently well understood. Lt. Col. James V. Collier of the G-3 Section noted that the Japanese "most assuredly" were attempting to seize airfields from which fighters could support Formosa-based bombers.15 That night, the staff at USAFFE prepared to take the field, and a general plan for establishing an advance headquarters at San Fernando, Pampanga, with a rear echelon in Manila, was discussed.16
General Wainwright, the North Luzon Force commander, first heard of the Aparri landing, this time estimated as a reinforced brigade of 3,000 men, while he was inspecting the beach defenses of the 11th and 21st Divisions at Lingayen Gulf. Believing that the landing was a feint "to pull some of my forces up to that point and weaken the already weak defenses in the Lingayen Gulf region," Wainwright decided not to offer any opposition to the Tanaka Detachment.17 Since the only route south was down the Cagayan Valley, and since he believed that a battalion at Balete Pass could stop "a fairly considerable force," he made no disposition to meet the attack. He was certain, he later wrote, that the main Japanese landings would come "in the areas where I had the chief weight of my troops"-Lingayen Gulf.18 But he did take the precaution of sending several scout cars of the 26th Cavalry (PS) to the Cagayan Valley to provide communication with the 11th Division troops in that area.19 MacArthur's headquarters in Manila issued orders to destroy
bridges in the valley and to establish a block at Balete Pass.20
The company of the 3d Battalion, 12th Infantry, located at Aparri on the morning of 10 December was commanded by a young reserve officer, Lt. Alvin C. Hadley. When the two companies of the Tanaka Detachment came ashore at dawn, Lieutenant Hadley reported the landing to battalion headquarters at Tuguegarao and was ordered to attack immediately and drive the enemy into the sea. Estimating the size of the force as considerably larger than it was he prudently withdrew south along Route 5, without, so far as is known, firing a shot.21
The reaction of the American air forces was more spirited. As the Tanaka Detachment was unloaded at Gonzaga, two B-17's appeared overhead. They had taken off from Clark Field at about 0930 with orders to attack and sink the naval vessels and transports. The first plane, carrying eight 600-pound bombs, flew over the transport area dropping its bombs. Before being driven off by the Japanese fighter aircraft, the pilot reported a hit on one of the transports. In the second plane was Capt. Colin P. Kelly, Jr., the first war hero and winner of the Distinguished Service Cross. Under orders to attack a Japanese carrier mistakenly supposed to be near Aparri, Captain Kelly had taken off hurriedly in the midst of an air raid with only three 600- pound bombs. When he was unable to find a carrier, Kelly decided to attack what he thought was a large battleship, later presumed to be the Haruna. Of the three bombs, one is supposed to have been a direct hit; two, near misses. As the B-17 flew away, the vessel appeared to have stopped, with black smoke rising in a heavy cloud above it.22 On return to base, the plane was jumped by two enemy fighters and shot down. All of the crew except Kelly bailed out safely. Captain Kelly's body was later recovered in the wreckage.
Actually Captain Kelly had not attacked a battleship, and certainly not the Haruna. Nor had he sunk any vessel of the Japanese fleet. There were no battleships in Philippine waters at this time; the Haruna was hundreds of miles away supporting the Malayan invasion. Only Admiral Takahashi's cover force, with the heavy cruisers Ashigara and Maya, was in the vicinity, and it was 200 miles off the west coast of Luzon. Kelly was nowhere near this force, although the Japanese report it was attacked by heavy bombers that day.23
The air attacks did not seriously hinder the Japanese landing at Gonzaga. Two other attacks against shipping resulted in the reported sinking of a transport. Actually, the Japanese suffered only minor damage ; one minesweeper run aground and another heavily damaged.24
The Tanaka Detachment was ashore and in Aparri by 1300, when it reported the capture of the airfield. In Aparri it was joined by the two companies that had landed there earlier. By evening elements of the detachment had penetrated six miles south to occupy the strip at Camalaniugan.25 Construction troops and air service units moved in immediately and began to extend the airfields, establish depots, and ready the strip for operations. It had not been possible to bring much heavy equipment ashore that day because of the air attacks, and some supplies, such as drummed oil, had been lost or floated ashore because of the transport crews' anxiety to retire.26
Early the next morning the Tanaka Detachment began to march south toward Tuguegarao, along Route 5. Aircraft from the 50th Fighter Regiment and the 16th Light Bombardment Regiment flew over the highway, bombing likely targets. The 3d Battalion of the 12th Infantry retreated quickly down the Cagayan valley, offering no opposition, and by 0530 on 12 December elements of the Tanaka Detachment had reached Tuguegarao airfield, fifty miles to the south.27
The Landing at Vigan
Simultaneously with the landing at Aparri, the Kanno Detachment of 2,000 men began to debark at Pandan, near Vigan. A P-40 pilot flying reconnaissance gave the first warning of the attack at 0513 of the 10th. Alerted by this message, the Far East Air Force readied five B-17's and escorting P-40's and P-35's to bomb the invaders. By 0600 the planes were airborne, flying north to the threatened area.28 The reception of the Kanno Detachment promised to be a warm one.
As at Aparri, bad weather and heavy seas upset the landing schedule. Only a small portion of the Japanese force was able to get ashore at Pandan that morning, but these men quickly moved on to seize Vigan by 1030. Meanwhile the convoy came under attack from American planes and suspended all efforts to land the rest of the force.29 The five B-17's, each loaded with twenty 100-pound demolition bombs, came in for their first run over the target shortly after 0600. They were covered by P-40's of the 17th Pursuit Squadron. After the B-17's had dropped their bombs, the P-40's dived through the antiaircraft fire to strafe the ships. The P-35's of the 21st Squadron now arrived on the scene and, despite the lack of armor and leakproof tanks, flew low to strafe the invaders again and again. One of the transports, hit by a B-17 bomb, exploded during the last P-35 run, destroying the squadron commander's plane.30
Later in the day, three more heavy bombers attacked the Vigan Attack Force. The first B-17 to arrive over the target dropped its bombs on what was thought to be a carrier, with no observed effect. The second attacked a cruiser unsuccessfully, but managed to score a direct hit on a transport. The last plane had had time to load only one 600-pound bomb, and this the bom-
bardier released over the water, near the transports.31
Despite the presence of eighteen naval fighters and planes of the Army's 24th Fighter Regiment, the Japanese were unable to fend off the American attack. As a result of the day's action, the enemy lost the transports Oigawa Maru and Takao Maru, both badly damaged and beached, and one minesweeper, sunk. The Japanese also suffered casualties aboard the destroyer Murasame and the light cruiser Naka, Rear Adm. Shoji Nishimura's flagship, which was slightly damaged.32
The successful attacks of the 10th were to be the last co-ordinated effort of the Far East Air Force. On that day the Japanese attacked Nichols, Nielson, and Cavite, completing the destruction begun two days earlier at Clark. Thereafter the American fighters with few exceptions flew only reconnaissance missions over assigned areas; the 21st and 34th Squadrons covered south Luzon while the 17th and 20th patrolled the northern part of the island.33
There was no activity near Vigan during the night of the 10th, but from Lingayen Gulf, 100 miles to the south, came reports of another Japanese landing. Around midnight "several dark shapes" were observed approaching the mouth of the Agno River. When confirmation was received, one battery of the 3d Battalion, 21st Field Artillery (PA), opened fire. "It was like dropping a match in a warehouse of Fourth of July fireworks," wrote the American instructor assigned to the regiment. "Instantly Lingayen Gulf was ablaze. As far as the eye could see the flashes of artillery, shell-bursts, tracer machine gun bullets and small arms. . . . Thousands of shadows were killed that night."34 When morning came, all that was found of the supposed invasion was one life preserver with markings which may have been Japanese characters. The absence of sunken ships did not prevent the 21st Division commander, Brig. Gen. Mateo Capinpin, from reporting to Manila that an attempted hostile landing had been repulsed.35
What actually happened that night was that the Japanese had sent one motor boat into Lingayen Gulf on a reconnaissance mission. The Japanese had no force near Lingayen then and no plan for a landing in the area at that time. Nevertheless, the news of the frustrated enemy landing was reported in the press as a great victory and the 21st Field Artillery was officially credited with repulsing an enemy landing.36
Meanwhile, the Vigan Attack Force, unable to land troops and supplies in the face of rough seas, had moved four miles to the south. Protected by a squadron of fighters, the Japanese were finally able to put the Kanno Detachment ashore. A small force was immediately dispatched north, along Route 3, to Laoag, the capital of Ilocos Norte Province, fifty miles away. By the
following evening that town and its airfield had been occupied.37
The Japanese now had a firm foothold in northern Luzon, with planes of the 5th Air Group operating from fields, however inadequate, at Aparri, Vigan, and Laoag.38 Originally Homma had intended to leave the Tanaka and Kanno Detachments in position, but the American reaction had made it evident that there would be no counterattack. He decided therefore to leave only small garrisons to hold the seized airfields and to send the bulk of the two detachments, forming substantially the 2d Formosa Regiment, to Lingayen Gulf to meet the main force of the 14th Army when it came ashore. Colonel Tanaka was to march around the north tip of Luzon along Route 3 to Vigan, and there join forces with Kanno. The combined force would then move south along the coastal road to Lingayen Gulf. At the same time Homma sent his chief of staff, General Maeda, to Luzon for a personal inspection and to brief the commanders on the change in plans. Maeda arrived at Aparri on 14 December and after talking with Colonel Tanaka placed him in command of both detachments and gave him his new mission.39
By 20 December the Tanaka and Kanno Detachments had joined and were ready to move south toward Lingayen Gulf. At 1300 that day Colonel Tanaka led his reconstructed regiment (less three companies) out of Vigan, along Route 3. Repairing destroyed bridges along the line of march, forward elements of the regiment reached Bacnotan the next evening. There they made contact with the 11th Division troops, but by a flanking movement to the left (east) were able to force part of the defenders back, while cutting off others who made their way eastward to the mountains. Colonel Tanaka finally reached San Fernando, La Union, on the morning of the 22d.40
Just a few hours earlier the main strength of the 14th Army had begun to land across the beaches at Lingayen Gulf, a short distance to the south. Colonel Tanaka just missed being on the beaches to greet his comrades. The advance landings on northern Luzon, seen in retrospect, accomplished little. The fields seized were poor and, by the time they were ready for operations, were of small value. The detachments that landed did not require close air support, since in no case did the Americans offer any determined resistance. The 5th Air Group had planned to operate mainly from Luzon bases by 17 December, and by the following day had placed a number of Japanese air units on the recently seized fields. But they were not needed. As events turned out, Japanese misgivings were entirely unfounded; the dispersion of force entirely unnecessary. But this was small comfort for the Americans. In General Wainwright's words, "The rat was in the house."41
The area held by General Parker's South Luzon Force was ninety miles at its widest point and stretched from the Rosario-Infanta line, southeast of Manila, sixty miles to the Atimonan-Padre Burgos line. In this region were five bays, all suitable for landing operations, and two large lakes, Laguna de Bay and Lake Taal. Altogether there were 250 miles of possible landing beaches. The area contained a good network of roads and one railroad which extended from Manila southeast to Daraga. Along the west coast the terrain was rugged, restricting the defenders to the roads. On the east coast, which was mountainous a good part of the way to Atimonan, the terrain presented a formidable obstacle to any military force. Below Atimonan was the Bicol Peninsula, trailing away in a southeasterly direction like the tail of a downcast dog. Near its tip, in Albay Gulf and only one mile from the southern terminus of the Manila Railroad, lay Legaspi, the next Japanese objective.
To defend south Luzon, General Parker had two Philippine Army divisions. On the west was the 41st Division (PA) commanded by Brig. Gen. Vincente Lim, a West Point graduate and former deputy chief of staff of the Philippine Army. On the east was Brig. Gen. Albert M. Jones's 51st Division (PA), with its northern boundary along the line Pililla-Infanta and its southern boundary at Atimonan-Padre Burgos.
The 51st Division, like Colonel Brougher's 11th Division (PA), was poorly equipped and imperfectly trained. Presumably all the men had had five and one half months training some time during the past five years, but, said General Parker, "this was never apparent."42 The enlisted men of the division spoke the Bicolanian dialect, and the majority of the officers, who were from central Luzon, spoke Tagalog, making training even more difficult than it would otherwise have been. One infantry regiment had had thirteen weeks' training, another five weeks, and the last none at all. In the opinion of General Jones, the only troops in his division capable of offering any effective resistance were those of the 52d Infantry.43
For the landing in south Luzon General Homma had organized a force of approximately 2,500 men from the 16th Division.44 Led by Maj. Gen. Naoki Kimura, infantry group commander of the division, this force consisted of infantry group headquarters, the 33d Infantry (less 1st Battalion), a battery of the 22d Field Artillery, and engineer detachments. Accompanying the Kimura Detachment was the Kure 1st Special Naval Landing Force with 575 men.45
Two days before General Kimura's men boarded their transports at Palau, Rear Adm. Takeo Takagi sortied from that base with an impressive naval force. By dawn of the 8th he had reached a point about 120
miles east of Davao. From here, the carrier Ryujo launched the attack against Davao which the Preston had evaded. Following this strike Takagi turned northeast and early the next morning joined Kimura's transports, which had left Palau at 0900 the day before. Accompanying the transports was the Legaspi Attack Force; to the rear, en route from Palau, was the 17th Minelayer Division.46
By 1100, 11 December, this combined force was 135 miles east of San Bernardino Strait. Here the minelayers broke formation. Escorted by 2 destroyers, one column headed for San Bernardino Strait; another column, accompanied by 1 light cruiser and 2 destroyers, turned south for Surigao Strait. By midnight both groups had reached their destinations and had begun laying mines. The U.S. submarines S-39 on patrol in San Bemardino Strait, was attacked and driven off by 2 Japanese destroyers without inflicting any damage on the Japanese force.47 From a point about 100 miles offshore, planes of the Ryujo covered the convoys as it moved toward the shores of Albay Gulf. Admiral Takagi's force remained behind to provide distant cover. As the convoy approached the beaches, the Japanese planes shifted operations to the Legaspi area.48
The Kimura Detachment began to land at Legaspi early on the morning of 12 December. No difficulty was experienced and there was no opposition; the nearest American and Filipino troops were 150 miles away. By 0900 the Japanese were in control of the airfield and the terminus of the Manila Railroad. A few hours later, when he had a firm grip on Legaspi, General Kimura sent advance detachments to the northwest and southeast. The next day the huge cover force returned to Palau to prepare for the next landing.49
The initial report of a Japanese landing at Legaspi came from the railroad stationmaster there. The apocryphal story is told that his call was switched from the railroad central to USAFFE headquarters in Manila and the following conversation took place:
The subsequent conversation between the Japanese officer and the stationmaster-if it ever took place-is not recorded. When South Luzon Force headquarters received news of the landing, it considered a proposal to send a strong force south to surprise the Japanese and push them back into the sea. There were many practical difficulties in the way of such an expedi-
tion, the most serious of which was how to surprise an enemy who had control of the air and sea. The proposal was soon dropped, but General Jones's 51st Division (PA) was ordered to send units south into the Bicol Peninsula to destroy highway and railroad bridges and to evacuate as much railroad rolling stock as possible.51 Two companies of the 1st Battalion, 52d Infantry, each with an attached machine gun platoon, were sent south to outpost Route 1 and the Manila Railroad, the only two routes north from Legaspi, and a specially trained detachment of the 51st Engineer Battalion was ordered to prepare all bridges for demolition in order to delay the enemy advance.52
First American reaction to the Legaspi landing came on 12 December when 2 fighters struck the Japanese-held airfield, killing three and injuring two men. Two days later 3 of a group of 6 Del Monte-based B-17's, ordered to attack the landing force, reached the area. They attacked a Japanese minesweeper and a transport, thought to be a destroyer, with meager results, and 9 naval aircraft based on the Legaspi strip. The unescorted bombers were no match for the Japanese fighters and soon beat a hasty retreat. Only 1 of the B-17's was able to make its way back to Del Monte; the others had to crash-land short of their base. The Japanese lost at most 4 fighters.53
With Legaspi firmly in Japanese hands, the Kimura Detachment moved northwest along Route 1 toward Naga. Ground units first made contact on 17 December when a Japanese patrol ran into a demolition detachment of the 51st Engineer Battalion working on a bridge near Ragay. The engineers managed to destroy the bridge and establish themselves on the near bank of the gorge, whereupon the Japanese patrol withdrew. The next day the Kimura Detachment entered Naga.54
Pushing northwest from Naga, rebuilding bridges and repairing roads as they advanced, the Japanese reached Sipoco on the 19th with an estimated force of one battalion of infantry. Patrols were still active near Ragay, and reports reaching the Americans mentioned other Japanese elements moving along Route 1 toward Daet. By this time, the two outposted companies of the 1st Battalion, 52d Infantry, were at Aloneros and Sumulong, and had thrust strong combat patrols forward. Luzon at this point forms a very narrow neck only seven miles wide, and any force from Legaspi must pass through one of the two barrios, Aloneros on the Manila Railroad or Sumulong on Route 1. The position was an excellent one.55
On 21 December, the division commander, recently promoted to brigadier general, ordered Lt. Col. Virgil N. Cordero, the regimental commander, to move on Sipoco with Companies B and C of the 52d Infantry. At 0500 the next morning, a Japanese force estimated to be a company attacked Company B at Timbuyo, just east
of the Negritos Camp along the highway. The Filipino troops, under the command of 1st Lt. Matt Dobrinic, were in a well-organized position and drove off the Japanese, chasing them down the road for about six miles. They inflicted heavy losses on the enemy, suffering about 15-percent casualties themselves.56
On 23 December General Jones ordered his troops to withdraw from the Bicol Peninsula when a Japanese invasion force appeared off Atimonan. Part of the 1st Battalion, 52d Infantry, was cut off by the Japanese landing at Atimonan that night, but some of the men made their way back into the American lines. The 51st Division had accomplished its objective. It had delayed the enemy advance and prevented an immediate juncture of the Kimura Detachment with the main elements of the 16th Division soon to land at Lamon Bay.57
The Japanese landings in the southern Philippines, in Mindanao and the Sulu Archipelago, were intended primarily to provide bases for the 16th Army's drive on Borneo. They had no effect on Japanese plans for Luzon, except to prevent reinforcements from reaching that island from Allied bases to the south and to cut the American route of withdrawal.
Two landings were scheduled in the south, one at Davao in Mindanao, and another on Jolo Island in the Sulu Archipelago. Two detachments, both under Maj. Gen. Shizuo Sakaguchi, infantry group commander of the 16th Army's 56th Division, were organized for these landings. The first, originally scheduled to capture Davao alone, was led by Lt. Col. Toshio Miura and consisted of the 1st Battalion of the 16th Division's 33d Infantry, plus engineer and service elements. To it was later added the Sakaguchi Detachment, composed of the 56th Division's 146th Infantry, an armored unit, and one battalion of divisional artillery. The strength of the entire force was about 5,000 men.58
This combined force was under 16th Army control, although the date of departure from Palau was set by 14th Army headquarters in Formosa. Once Davao was seized, the Miura Detachment was to revert to 14th Army control and the 16th Army's Sakaguchi Detachment was to move on to Jolo Island on its way to Tarakan in Dutch Borneo. For the Jolo Island operation, the Kure 2d Special Naval Landing Force from Legaspi and a naval airfield maintenance unit were to be added to the Sakaguchi Detachment.59
The combined force left Palau at 1400 on 17 December in fourteen transports. Admiral Takagi's force provided naval escort. Direct support was given by a destroyer squadron, while a cruiser squadron and the carrier Ryujo constituted a close covering force.60 On the afternoon of the
19th, from a point about 200 miles east of Davao, the Ryujo launched six planes to attack the radio station at Cape San Augustin, the tip of the eastern arm of Davao Gulf, while the seaplane carrier Chitose launched its own planes to reconnoiter over Davao. The transports arrived off the city after midnight on the night of 19-20 December.61
At 0400 troops of the Miura Detachment, covered by carrier-based aircraft, began landing in the northern section of Davao while elements of the Sakaguchi Detachment came ashore along the coast southwest of the city. Defending this sector of the island were about 2,000 Philippine Army troops led by Lt. Col. Roger B. Hilsman, commander of the 2d Battalion, 101st Infantry.62
The Miura Detachment was momentarily mistaken for an American naval or marine force when it was first sighted. When a Japanese destroyer began shelling the beaches, this misapprehension was quickly removed. The only opposition offered to the landing force came from a machine gun squad which inflicted numerous casualties on the enemy before it was knocked out by a direct hit from a Japanese shell.63 Thereafter Colonel Miura's men met no further opposition. The casualties suffered made it necessary to commit those elements of the Sakaguchi Detachment which the Japanese were saving for the Jolo Island operation.
By about 1030 that morning, Colonel Hilsman had pulled his men out of the city along the road leading northwest into the hills, leaving behind three of the eight 2.95- inch guns which constituted the artillery of the Visayan-Mindanao Force. The troops remaining in Davao were directed to withdraw also and set up defensive positions along the heights surrounding the city.64
The Sakaguchi Detachment apparently met no resistance southwest of the city. Moving northeast along the coastal road, it entered the city and made contact with Colonel Miura's force early in the afternoon. By 1500 the city and its airfield were occupied. That evening a seaplane base was established south of the city, and the next morning naval shore units began bringing Japanese nationals into Davao.65
General Sakaguchi lost no time in dispatching the Jolo Force, consisting of one infantry battalion (less two companies), with attached artillery, engineer, and communications units, and the Kure 2d Special Naval Landing Force. Its departure was delayed first by the unexpected casualties to the Miura Detachment and then by a B-17 attack. Nine of the bombers had come from Batchelor Field near Darwin, Australia, and they hit the Japanese at sunset of the 22d. The raid came as a complete surprise to the Japanese. Fortunately, for them, visibility was poor and the Jolo Force suffered only minor damage. The next morning the convoy set out from Davao, reaching its destination on Christmas Eve.66
First warning of the approaching force reached the defenders, 300 Constabulary troops, at 1700 of the 24th. The landings began three hours later. The Constabulary were able to offer only slight resistance, and by the following morning, the Japanese were in the town of Jolo.67 From Davao and Jolo the Japanese were in position to launch an attack against Borneo.
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