Operations to free the islands of the southern Philippines followed in swift succession upon the capture of Leyte and the successful invasion of Luzon. To assure complete domination of the shipping lanes of the southern and central Philippines and unquestioned control of the entire archipelago, General MacArthur ordered the immediate seizure of the strategically situated islands along the water route from San Bernardino Strait through the Sibuyan Sea to Verde Island Passage. The task of defeating the Japanese in the land areas of the Visayas and Mindanao was scheduled for the last stage of the Philippines Campaign. During this final phase when General MacArthur's right flank was secured, a limited operation for the re-capture of Borneo was to be undertaken as the first step toward freeing the Netherlands East Indies.
Plans for the operations in the southern Philippines and in the Netherlands East Indies had been completely changed after the Leyte operation was substituted for the previously scheduled invasion of Mindanao. With Leyte as the entering wedge into the Philippines, the advance into the Visayas and Mindanao had to be replanned. "Montclair III" was the name given to the new plan, under date of 25 February 1945.1
"Montclair III" was divided into two separate but co-ordinated operations-Victor for the southern Philippines and Oboe for the Netherlands Indies. The Victor operations were to be conducted entirely by United States troops of the Eighth Army, while Australian forces were to assume responsibility for the seizure of Borneo, Java, and adjacent islands. Timing was dependent upon the progress of the fighting in Luzon since the plan involved the commitment of available troops and means as soon as requirements of the Luzon operation had been met.2 The use of guerrillas in the central and southern Philippines was expected to permit rapid progress without necessitating great naval or aerial support.3
The operations for the central and southern Philippines were to be carried out in rapid succession. The landings on Paladin were to take place on 28 February 1945, at Zamboanga on 10 March, on Panay five days later, on Cebu fifteen days later, and on central Mindanao on 12 April.4 (Plate No. 94) Landings on Borneo under the Oboe operations
were scheduled for May and June.
A preliminary to the Victor operations was initiated during the early part of February as the Sixth and Eighth Armies jointly undertook to clear a sea route through the central Philippines. Although United States forces had by this time established bases on Leyte, Samar, Mindoro, and Luzon, the Japanese still controlled most of the southern islands. Their positions along the waterways of the central and southern Philippines could menace Visayan shipping from Leyte and the Philippine Sea. The shortest and most important route thus threatened by enemy forces was from San Bernardino Strait to Verde Island Passage around southern Luzon. Control of these waters by American forces would not only secure a vital shipping lane but would also deny the Japanese an important channel for escape or reinforcement. The chain of islands stretching along this route for a distance of 325 miles was accordingly selected as the next operational target.5
On 5 February General MacArthur directed the Eighth Army to "institute operations at the earliest practicable date to clear the northern coast of Samar and the islands in the Cape Verde Passage with the objective of securing the southern exits to San Bernardino Strait and Verde Island Passage."6 The Sixth Army was assigned the northern shores of this seaway including all of Luzon and the small island of Maricaban at the mouth of Batangas Bay.
Two simultaneous landings were made on 19 February on the northwest corner of Samar and on a small island just off shore. This action initiated a series of amphibious operations conducted by troops under Eighth Army command to capture the islands obstructing San Bernardino Strait, the Sibuyan Sea, and Verde Island Passage. (Plate No. 95) The numerous landings were in every instance successful, many of them assisted in large part by guerrilla units, especially in the mop-up phases. The relief of the 108th Infantry on Masbate by Filipino troops on 4 May marked the completion of the Eighth Army's mission in the waters of the northern Visayas. The sea route from the Lubang Islands in Verde Island Passage to the Balicuatro Islands in San Bernardino Strait was now cleared. Although scattered enemy remnants roamed the islands for some time thereafter, General MacArthur had control of the Visayan sea lanes and their principal entrances and exits; his supply route was secure.7
While amphibious landings were in progress on the enemy-held islands within the Visayan passages, attention was focused on the operations designed to destroy Japanese dominance in the Visayas and the southern Philippines. The Eighth Army, early in February 1945, was assigned the task of liberating the islands bordering the Sulu Sea-Palawan region to the north and west, the Sulu Islands to the south, and Zamboanga Peninsula and Basilan Island to the east.8
The task of recapturing these areas was divided into two operations. The first, Victor III, called for the invasion of Puerto Princesa, Palawan, on 28 February; it would be followed shortly thereafter by Victor VI, the seizure of Zamboanga, Basilan Island, and the Sulu Archipelago. Possession of these land areas would ensure control of two vital sea lanes-the north-south route between the Netherlands East Indies and Japan and the east-west route from the central and southern Philippines to Singapore. Co-ordinated large-scale operations would then be conducted against the Japanese on Panay and on Negros Occidental, with Cebu, Negros Oriental, and Bohol as the targets to follow.9
The island of Palawan was of strategic importance because it dominated the passages between the southern Philippines and the South China Sea. It possessed several air strips, moreover, from which Allied planes could establish complete control of the three straits of Mindoro, Linapaoan, and Balabac. The capture of Palawan would aid American forces in severing the Japanese supply lines between the East Indies and the Japanese Homeland. In addition, Palawan could serve as a supporting point for further Allied operations against Mindanao and the other islands in the southern Philippines.10
General Eichelberger designated the 41st Division, under Maj. Gen. Jens A. Doe, for the tasks of liberating Palawan, Zamboanga, and the Sulu Archipelago. The 186th Infantry Regimental Combat Team was assigned to the Palawan invasion, while the 162nd and 163rd Infantry were scheduled for the Zamboanga and Sulu operations.
Responsibility for the amphibious phase of Victor III was given to Rear Adm. William M. Fechteler, commanding Naval Task Force 78.2, named the Palawan Attack Group. The Thirteenth Air Force and the First Marine Aircraft Wing were designated as the assault air forces, with additional support being furnished by Maj. Gen. Ennis C. Whitehead's Fifth Air Force.11
In preparation for the attack against Palawan, the 41st Division arrived at Mindoro from Biak on 9 February. Final plans were completed and a separate task force headquarters was formed, with the 186th Regimental Combat Team (reinforced) as a nucleus. This task force, designated the Palawan Force, was
PLATE NO. 94
PLATE NO. 95
activated on 17 February under the command of Brig. Gen. Harold H. Haney.12
Palawan Force departed from Mindoro on 26 February and arrived off the southwest shore of Puerto Princesa early on the morning of the 28th. (Plate No. 96) The landing beaches had already been under air bombardment for forty-eight hours, but an additional intensive concentration of naval gunfire and rocket barrage was laid down just before H-hour. The assault troops encountered no enemy opposition, and a beachhead was quickly established.13
The Palawan landings and their strategic significance were covered in the communique of 2 March:
Operations ashore on Palawan were concentrated primarily on clearing the Puerto Princesa area.15 On all sides there was evidence of hasty Japanese withdrawal, and it was not until 2 March that the retreating forces were contacted.16 From that time on scattered Japanese units on Palawan were hunted down with the aid of organized guerrillas. On 9 March reconnaissance troops went ashore on Dumaran island, northeast of Palawan, and reported that the enemy had evacuated the island. By 20 March the airstrips near Puerto Princesa, which had once been an important link in the Japanese ferry and transport route to the Netherlands East Indies, had been rebuilt into all-weather fields and put into operation. The liberation of Palawan was completed by the end of March.
In mid-April patrols of the 18th Infantry cleared Busuanga Island to the northeast of Palawan and Balabac and Pandanan Islands to the south. With this closing of the western exit to the Visayan Sea, the fate of the remaining enemy forces on Panay, Negros,
Cebu, and Bohol was similarly sealed; the Japanese were out off on all sides. As new naval bases were constructed on Palawan, motor torpedo boats of the Seventh Fleet began to patrol the east and west coasts of the island, later extended their activities to adjacent areas, and finally reached as far south as British North Borneo.17 Aircraft meanwhile carried out searches over the South China Sea and bombed Japanese installations from Borneo to Indo China. The ground troops, too, were expanding their scope of operations, as the 41st Division turned its attention to the western tip of Mindanao-to Zamboanga and the Sulu Archipelago.
Basilan Strait, off the southwest tip of Mindanao, constitutes one of the two main approaches to the Asiatic mainland from the southwest Pacific; it is dominated by the city of Zamboanga and the peninsula of the same name. In American hands, Zamboanga would further constrict the enemy-held positions in the Philippines and virtually complete their encirclement.
To the south of Basilan Strait lies the Sulu Archipelago, a long chain of islands connecting Mindanao and Borneo. The islands lie directly astride the shortest water routes from the China Sea to the Celebes, the Moluccas, and New Guinea. Occupation of this area coupled with control of Zamboanga would completely isolate the Netherlands East Indies from the Philippines and provide valuable bases for future offensives against the Japanese in Borneo.18 Victor IV, the assault against Zamboanga and the Sulu Archipelago, was consequently selected as the next operation for the Eighth Army. (Plate No. 97)
Planning for the operation against Zamboanga and Sulu had been undertaken concurrently with the planning for the attack on Palawan, and their seizure was directed in the same field order.19 Again the 41st Division was designated as the assault force, with 10 March 1945 set as the date for the landing.20
PLATE NO. 96
PLATE NO. 97
These operations were to be followed by an assault on Mindanao proper, the principal strategic objective in the southern Philippine Archipelago.21
Despite this planned sequence, the first invasion of Mindanao by American troops actually preceded the scheduled invasion of Zamboanga. In order to take advantage of certain guerrilla actions, an airborne landing was made between 8-10 March on the north coast near Dipolog by two companies of the 24th Division. Their mission was to reinforce and secure the guerrilla-held Dipolog Airfield in order to provide an air base from which planes of the Far East Air Forces could operate in support of the Zamboanga invasion. Aided in their defense of the airfield by guerrilla forces, the American troops remained until nearly the end of March, permitting a squadron of fighters based on the airfield to share in the intensive preliminary aerial bombardment of Zamboanga. The garrison companies were evacuated by air on 27 March in the face of a strong advancing enemy force.22
Loading for the Zamboanga operation was completed at Mindoro on 7 March, while six LST's were loaded with special equipment at Leyte. The Zamboanga Attack Group, under Rear Adm. Forrest B. Royal, departed from Mindoro Strait early the following day, encountering no hostile naval or air opposition. Rendezvousing with the elements from Leyte on the afternoon of the 9th for the passage through the Sulu Sea, the task force proceeded to Basilan Strait and stood off Zamboanga early on the morning of 10 March.
Following an intense air and naval bombardment, reinforced units of the 41st Division, less the 186th Regimental Combat Team which was still mopping up on Palawan, poured ashore against light opposition at San Mateo, just west of Zamboanga City. The Thirteenth Air Force, which had been carrying out pre-invasion bombardment of the objective area since 1 March, continued the aerial pounding throughout the operation.23
General MacArthur was able to report on 12 March:
Consolidation of the beachhead following the landing proceeded rapidly against sporadic enemy resistance.25 The Japanese defensive positions were superior to any previously encountered by the Eighth Army in the Philip-
pines, but they were frequently unoccupied. Many strong points had been abandoned by the Japanese who had become jittery and thoroughly demoralized by the heavy air and naval bombardment.
The initial objective, which included Wolfe Airstrip, was secured before noon. The following day San Roque Airfield and Zamboanga City were taken. The Japanese troops had withdrawn to the heights north of the city and the only defense of the landing area came .from sporadic mortar and artillery fire directed from well-constructed gun emplacements in the hills outside Zamboanga. The roads to and within the city, however, were heavily mined, planted with booby traps and flanked by concrete pillboxes protected by wire entanglements.26
The beachhead was rapidly expanded along the east and west coasts of Zamboanga Peninsula, while to the north of the city, where the enemy had set up a strong defense area protecting artillery emplacements, progress was more difficult.27 Behind the enemy on still higher ground, guerrillas had stretched a series of strong points across the peninsula, forming a barrier to their further retreat. The continuous pressure of the advancing 41st Division tightened the jaws of a vise which closed relentlessly on the Japanese forces. Only a small part of the enemy managed to escape through the guerrilla cordon.
Grim and stubborn Japanese resistance slowed the advance into the mountains. With the arrival of the 186th Regimental Combat Team in the line late in March, however, the drive gained fresh vigor. By early April organized resistance had ceased and enemy opposition had degenerated into weak forays by scattered, unco-ordinated elements which were later sealed off and decimated by a series of American landings along the western coast of the peninsula.28
Having established firm control on Zamboanga, the 41st Division could now begin the second phase of Operation Victor IV the clearing of the Sulu Archipelago to the south. First action against the numerous islands comprising the Archipelago took place on 16 March when elements of the 162nd Regimental Combat Team landed unopposed near Lamitan on the northeast coast of Basilan Island. Two days later, the same troops occupied Malamaui Island, northwest of Basilan.29
Thrusting deep into the Sulu Archipelago, a battalion of the 163rd Regimental Combat Team on 2 April by-passed Jolo Island, a major enemy stronghold, and landed unopposed on Sanga Sanga Island in the Tawi Twai Group. Objectives were quickly secured and later the same day a beachhead was established on nearby Bongao Island by the same battalion. Hostile action was limited to occasional sniper fire, and all organized Japanese resistance was broken by 6 April, when guerrillas were brought in to garrison Bongao. Guerrilla forces eliminated the few Japanese on Tawi Tawi Island.30
With the fall of Tawi Tawi the Japanese
last opposition dominating their shipping routes to the oil-rich east coast of Borneo. General MacArthur emphasized the strategic significance of the seizure of this small group of islands in his communique of 5 April:
Jolo, central island of the Sulu Archipelago, represented the only point remaining under Japanese control. American reconnaissance patrols had landed on the island on 2 April, and the main landing followed seven days later when the 163rd Regimental Combat Team attacked in force. Guided by the advance scouts, the assault troops hit the beach unopposed about five miles from the town of Jolo.32
By 10 April, Jolo, together with Zettel Airfield, was seized without difficulty. The heaviest opposition was met at Mount Daho, a heavily fortified hill five miles to the southeast of the town, where approximately 400 Japanese had firmly intrenched themselves. This position required four days of shelling by artillery and thirty-six dive bombing strikes before it could be reduced. By 22 April, however, the
back of the Japanese resistance was broken. The enemy troops which managed to escape wandered in small groups throughout the island and soon fell easy prey to pursuing Moro guerrilla bands. Sibago, an inlet just to the north of Basilan, was taken on 26 April and by 10 May the Japanese forces on Jolo had been destroyed.33
After all major positions in the Sulu Archipelago were secured, Seventh Fleet motor torpedo boats, based on Tawi Tawi, patrolled the entire length of the island chain. In addition, airstrips along the archipelago were repaired and enlarged for the use of Allied planes. On Zamboanga Peninsula, active patrolling continued until 20 June, when Victor IV operation was officially declared closed.34 During the two months following the close of the operation, however, over 200 Japanese troops were killed and more than 500 prisoners were captured.
The Eighth Army next turned its attention to the reconquest of Panay, Negros, Cebu, and Bohol. These four islands constitute a strategic geographical unit commonly called the Southern Visayas. Within this smaller theater, however, the topography required the division of operations into two areas and, consequently, the plan for their liberation developed into two campaigns by separate task forces. The areas of these campaigns were separated by the steep mountain range that runs roughly along the north-south axis of Negros Island. To the west and northwest of this range lie Panay and Negros Occidental; to the east, Negros Oriental, Cebu, and Bohol. The mission of liberating Panay and Negros Occidental (Victor 1 operation) fell to the 40th Division with the 503rd Parachute Regimental Combat Team attached. (Plate No. 98) The capture of Negros Oriental, Cebu, and Bohol (Victor II operation) was assigned to the Americal Division.
At the time these operations were launched in March and April of 1945 the Southern Visayas as a group were isolated from the rest of the Philippine Archipelago. American forces controlled most of the surrounding larger islands. To the north, Mindoro and the most important areas of Luzon were in American hands; to the south, the Zamboanga Peninsula and the Sulu Archipelago had been invaded; to the west, Palawan had been captured; and to the east, Leyte and Samar were under the control of American forces. With all escape routes cut off by Allied naval and air superiority, the Japanese forces in the Southern Visayas were caught in a trap from which there was no escape.35
Panay was the first of the Southern Visayas to fall before the fast-moving onslaught of the Eighth Army. The 40th Division (less the 108th Regimental Combat Team) was withdrawn from operations on Luzon in the middle of March and placed under the control of the Eighth Army. This division, commanded by Maj. Gen. Rapp Brush, formed the nucleus of the assault task force, while the amphibious
PLATE NO. 98
phase of the operation came under Rear Adm. Arthur D. Struble, Commander of the Panay Attack Group.36
As in previous amphibious landings, the objective area was softened up by aerial pounding before the invasion by ground forces. Starting on 1 March, nearly three weeks before the assault forces were to land, Marine and Thirteenth Air Force fighters made almost daily aerial attacks on Panay, aiming at enemy installations and troop concentrations. Meanwhile, Allied naval forces harassed the enemy's overwater communications in Guimaras and Iloilo Straits.37
The task force departed from Luzon on 15 March and arrived off Panay three days later. After destroyer bombardment of the landing beaches, the assault waves landed near Tigbauan. As they waded ashore the lead troops were greeted by men of Colonel Peralta's guerrilla forces.
By evening of the first day, troops of the 185th Regimental Combat Team had advanced approximately ten miles along the coast to Arevalo in the direction of Iloilo. Only light opposition was encountered, most of the enemy having retreated north along the Sibalon River. By evening the second day, Mandurriao Airfield had been secured and the 185th Regimental Combat Team stood poised for an attack on Iloilo, the largest city on Panay.38
The attack was launched on the morning of 20 March and Iloilo was taken almost immediately. The Japanese garrison had beat a hasty retreat the previous night, after destroying approximately 70 per cent of the city.39 Before the landing, Colonel Peralta's guerrillas had virtually cleared the interior and coastal sectors of the island and had bottled up most of the Japanese garrison within the Iloilo area. As
the fleeing enemy units hurried north from Iloilo, to escape the American forces, they were met by guerrillas in defensive positions north of Jaro. The guerrilla strength was insufficient to stop the Japanese completely, however, and the enemy troops broke through the lines and continued their retreat.
Pursued by American and Filipino forces, the Japanese were systematically ferreted out of their retreats and eliminated. Santa Barbara Airfield was secured and by 22 March all organized enemy resistance on Panay had been crushed. Overwater and overland patrols by guerrillas, assisted by elements of the 40th Division, effectively reduced the isolated pockets along the north and west coasts. A small enemy garrison on Inampulugan Island was wiped out, while a landing party to nearby Guimaras Island found the Japanese had retired to the hills. The scattered enemy groups were gradually hunted down by guerrillas and American mop-up patrols.40
Meanwhile, the 40th Division prepared to move across Guimaras Strait to Negros Island. It was estimated that the relatively strong enemy garrison on Negros Occidental, consisting of the remnants of two divisions, would be able to prevent a rapid completion of the operation by the initial landing force of two regimental combat teams. Rather than withdraw units from other operations and cause a postponement of their scheduled dates of execution, however, it was decided to proceed according to the original plan. After the first landings, the 503rd Parachute Regimental Combat Team would be made available to augment the forces of the 40th Division.41
On 29 March the 40th Division, less one regimental combat team, crossed Guimaras Strait from Iloilo and landed at Pulupandon on Negros Occidental. There was no preliminary naval bombardment and the landing was made without opposition. The landing force pushed rapidly inland and the strategic Bago River Bridge was secured after a brief skirmish. Lack of initial resistance was largely due to the assistance of the strong guerrilla units of Colonel Abcede, which were instrumental in confining the enemy principally to the north and northwest coasts of the island.
Troops of the 185th Regimental Combat Team moved northward, crossed the Magsungay River in the face of intense enemy fire and began their attack on Bacolod.42 After destroying a portion of the city, the Japanese garrison had withdrawn to the north and east, leaving a small delaying force capable of only limited action. Bacolod and its airdrome were secured by 30 March, and the outskirts of Talisay were reached the following day. By this time it had become apparent that the enemy did not intend to defend the coastal areas but would make a strong stand in the rugged high ground of the north-central part of the island.43
The Japanese fought tenaciously at Talisay
but the town and airfield fell on 2 April. Silay, a small barrio to the north, was taken the next day. Meanwhile, the 160th Regimental Combat Team had moved into positions at Bacolod vacated by the 185th Regimental Combat Team in its drive northward. The primary objectives in Negros Occidental had been secured; the 40th Division controlled the most important section of the west coast, extending from Silay to Pulupandan, while the area south of Pulupandan was mostly in guerrilla hands.
The division's next attack was directed inland against the Japanese prepared defenses in the mountain ranges of north-central Negros. This eastward advance was rapid and opposed only by delaying actions of a minor nature. By 4 April, the only remaining enemy defense areas in Negros Oriental were the pockets in the central mountain range and the fortified town of Dumaguete.
On 8 April, the 503rd Parachute Regimental Combat Team made an overwater movement from Mindoro to assist the 40th Division. Taking charge of activity on the left flank, it began a concerted attack against the enemy main defense line the next day. Japanese resistance to the 40th Division's advance increased with time, bearing out intelligence predictions that the thrust would encounter the enemy's main defenses.44 Following the first day's operations in the division's assault, it became evident that progress would be slow and tedious for the Japanese were well-entrenched in rugged terrain.
In spite of this vigorous opposition, the attacking forces advanced steadily as the Japanese fell back from strong point to strong point. During the latter part of April the enemy defense deteriorated more quickly; however, it was not until mid-May that operations in the hills were considered to have passed into the mopping-up stage. Even then, with close support from bombers of the Thirteenth Air Force and guerrilla reinforcements, the 503rd Parachute Regimental Combat Team made but slow progress in the hill mass south of Fabrica. Isolated though they were, the Japanese in that area continued to resist until the cessation of hostilities on 15 August.
Reconnaissance elements of the division meanwhile swung around the north coast of Negros and advanced down the east coast almost to Dumaguete. Here they were met by a combat team of the Americal Division which had landed on 26 April as a part of the Victor II operation. In this eastern area no organized enemy resistance was found and, by the end of May, pursuit of these fleeing remnants was taken over by Filipino guerrillas. In the mountains southwest of Dumaguete, United States forces encountered strong Japanese defenses which were not overcome until the second week in June. On 9 June the 503rd Parachute Regimental Combat Team received orders to relieve the troops engaged in Negros Oriental and garrison the island. It thereupon assumed the responsibility for all further operations on Negros.45
The veteran Americal Division, while still engaged on Leyte, was given the triple task of liberating Cebu, Negros Oriental, and Bohol. Pre-invasion plans called for an intense five-day air bombardment of Japanese garrison installations and principal coast defenses prior
to the scheduled landing near the city of Cebu.46
Early on 26 March, following a devastating naval pounding, the Americal Division (less the 164th Regimental Combat Team) under Maj. Gen. William H. Arnold, swept ashore near Talisay, five miles southwest of Cebu City.47 (Plate No. 99) Although enemy reaction was limited to sporadic small arms and mortar fire, the assault waves ran into one of the most elaborate and effective beach defenses yet encountered in the Philippines. The first troops to hit the beaches were halted abruptly by a system of buried land mines which knocked out most of the landing craft.
The 182nd Regimental Combat Team, which landed nearest Talisay, rapidly breached the mine and barrier defenses. The 132nd Regimental Combat Team, however, was able to continue the advance inland only after considerable delay in clearing paths through the mine fields. The Japanese defensive installations were not confined to the beach area, although it was found that the many well-prepared positions in Talisay had been abandoned as a result of the pre-landing barrage. In addition to planting numerous mines and booby traps, the enemy had constructed many pillboxes and barricades commanding all road junctions and the main highway leading into Cebu City . These defensive installations were unmanned, however, and only intermittent sniper fire opposed the advance. With the assistance of guerrillas, Buhisan Reservoir was seized and the city of Cebu was entered the day following the landing. After almost completely destroying the city the main Japanese forces had withdrawn to positions in the hills overlooking Cebu and the Lahug Air field. Here the enemy concentrated his forces, pouring down heavy automatic fire from numerous pillboxes.48
Lahug Airfield was attacked and quickly seized on 28 March and nearby Mactan Island was taken without opposition the same day. Fanatical resistance was encountered, however, on the high ground above Lahug Airfield. It became necessary to bring up tanks to support the infantrymen in the face of heavy automatic fire from mutually-supporting caves and camou-
PLATE NO. 99
flaged pillboxes. These installations, together with demolition traps, formed an elaborate defense system which was overcome only with the greatest difficulty.49
Although the enemy was unable to launch a full-scale counteroffensive, he continually resorted to harassing tactics and local attacks. Infiltration parties frequently penetrated the American defenses and in one case succeeded in destroying an ammunition dump.
In view of the excellent key positions occupied by the Japanese on all principal terrain features, Americal Division forces at first were unable to dislodge them. The 164th Regimental Combat Team, less the 3rd Battalion which was sent to Bohol, was committed on 9 April to bolster the units already employed. Converging in a wide envelopment from the south around the enemy's right flank, the fresh forces joined in a concerted attack on 12 April which soon forced the Japanese to abandon their positions. The principal Japanese defenses in the Cebu City area were overrun by 20 April and the enemy withdrew northward, hoping to arrange for evacuation to Negros. With this action the main fighting on Cebu was finished and the bulk of the enemy forces throughout the Visayas had been overcome. General MacArthur's communique of the following day described the final fighting on Cebu and stressed the significance of the Visayan operations:
Mopping-up operations on Cebu continued with movements up the coast as the Americal Division blocked Japanese attempts to re-organize or to evacuate the island. Control of the coastal areas forced the enemy to retreat to the hilly interior where guerrillas and American combat patrols continued to hunt down and destroy scattered pockets of Japanese troops. By 20 June the enemy on Cebu
was no longer capable of offering effective resistance. Mopping-up action continued well into August, however, as Americal Division troops criss-crossed the northern part of the island, eliminating small groups of Japanese.51
While the 132nd and 182nd Regimental Combat Teams of the Americal Division were engaged in operations on Cebu, the division received orders to invade Bohol and Panglao Islands and destroy all hostile forces thereon. The 164th Regimental Combat Team, which was en route to Cebu from Leyte, was ordered to divert a battalion to accomplish the mission. Since guerrilla reports indicated that the enemy garrison in the coastal areas had withdrawn to the hills, little or no opposition to the landing was expected.
The landing was made on 1 1 April at Tagbiliran on the southwestern tip of Bohol Island. Not until the 15th was any contact made with the enemy. A co- ordinated attack was then launched on 17 April against the Japanese in the hilly interior. Despite desperate resistance and attempted counterattacks, the objectives were seized. Some of the enemy forces retreated northward, where subsequent pursuit destroyed the bulk of their strength. By the end of the month, only ineffective delaying action was encountered, and the battalion forces were withdrawn by 7 May. Final reduction of the enemy stragglers was left to the Filipino guerrillas, assisted by a detachment of 50 Americans.52
The final phase of the Victor II operation began on 26 April when troops of the Americal Division waded ashore north of Dumaguete on Negros Oriental. The landing by the 164th Regimental Combat Team (less one battalion) was completely unopposed. Pushing rapidly south, unhindered except by a few scattered mine fields, the assault forces soon secured Dumaguete and its airfield. The Japanese garrison there had withdrawn after burning part of the town.
In the mountains to the west, however, stiffening enemy resistance developed. Prior to the arrival of the American invasion force, the Japanese had taken advantage of the commanding terrain to create a formidable series of cave and pillbox defenses from which they could be ejected only with great difficulty. Meanwhile, the enemy had an unobstructed view of American movements and could put up a tenacious and effective resistance to delay the progress of the attacking forces.53
Reducing the well-entrenched Japanese forces became a slow and tedious process for the two battalions of the 164th RCT. Following their usual custom, the Japanese withdrew from one strong point to another as their positions became precarious. Heavy artillery fire followed by direct infantry assaults in the face of suicidal opposition became the pattern of combat. The American tactics of sustained assaults upon position after position, however, proved effective. The Japanese were forced farther and farther to the south and relentless attacks finally broke organized opposition on 12 June. The remaining scattered enemy groups were left to be hunted down by guerrilla patrols and the 164th RCT was withdrawn.54
Operation Victor II was officially declared closed on 20 June 1945. American control by that date extended over all the major Visayan Islands. The Japanese who still remained in the central Philippines faced the alternatives of surrender or eventual destruction. Only Mindanao remained to be secured.55
Mindanao had been the initial target area of the Allied forces moving northwestward up the New Guinea coast toward the Philippines but, with the change in plans which substituted Leyte as the point of invasion, the attack on Mindanao was postponed for almost six months. During this time the Japanese defense plans and troop dispositions were radically changed. Some units were sent to the Leyte battleground and others were shifted to meet new possible directions of attack. By the end of January 1945 the largest Japanese force was being assembled in central Mindanao along the Sayre Highway, running from Macajalar Bay in the north to a junction with Route No. 1 from Davao Gulf in the southeast. Other activity was apparent on the western and southern approaches to the city of Davao and at the southern end of Zamboanga Peninsula.56 Late in February, the Japanese plan appeared to be to hold the Cotabato-Parang coast of Illana Bay, defend the Davao and Zamboanga areas, and maintain a mobile reserve in central Mindanao. For the rest, Mindanao's lengthy coast lines remained lightly held and guerrillas were in control of large portions of the island.57
Victor V operation against central Mindanao was carried out shortly after the end of organized Japanese resistance on the Zamboanga Peninsula and in the Sulu Archipelagos.58 (Plate No. 100). The assault landing by General Sibert's X Corps was scheduled to take place at Malabang on the eastern edge of Moro Gulf on 17 April. Five days before the landing, however, the guerrilla commander on Mindanao notified General Eichelberger that
PLATE NO. 100
the initial objectives-the town and airfield at Malabang-were already in guerrilla hands. He further stated that the Japanese had withdrawn inland, leaving the coast in that area undefended.59 Receipt of this information caused a change in plans; the main landing was shifted farther south to Parang while only a reduced force was ordered into Malabang.
Staging at Mindoro, western Mindanao, and Leyte, the invasion force, comprising initially the 24th Division reinforced, rendezvoused off Zamboanga on 16 April. Since no enemy opposition was expected in the Malabang area, there was no preliminary bombardment and a battalion of the 21st Regimental Combat Team waded ashore unopposed early the next morning. Malabang was quickly occupied and the airfield immediately put to use. At the same time, other elements landed on nearby Bongo Island, east of Polloc Harbor, and found it unoccupied.60
Meanwhile, Parang and Cotabato had been subjected to an intense pre-invasion shelling by cruisers and destroyers of the Mindanao Attack Group under Rear Adm. Albert G. Noble. Several bombing and strafing missions by the supporting Thirteenth Air Force, followed by a climactic rocket barrage, completed the pre-assault bombardment, which evoked no enemy naval or air reaction. Assault elements of the 19th Regimental Combat Team stormed ashore near Parang, again only to find that the enemy had fled.
They drove rapidly inland to secure Parang and the high ground overlooking Polloc Harbor. They then turned southeast along Highway No. 1, toward the vital junction where Highway No. 5 branches off in the direction of Cotabato and Sarangani Bay. Few enemy stragglers were encountered, and the advance was retarded only by the destroyed bridges along the road. By the next morning, the road junction had been secured and the main force headed eastward toward Kabakan in the central part of the island.61
On the morning of 18 April, elements of the 21St Infantry set out from Parang in a shore-to-shore movement to the mouth of the Mindanao River with the mission of seizing Cotabato and Tamontaka. Their
landings followed heavy air and naval bombardment and were unopposed. After the seizure of the town and the airfield at Cotabato, part of the same force proceeded up the Mindanao River. By this time, the initial mission of the 24th Division-the seizure of the Malabang-Parang-Cotabato area-had been completed, four days ahead of the originally scheduled date.
With the beach area secured, a two-pronged drive across the island to Davao Gulf was begun. A battalion of the 21st Regimental Combat Team started up the Mindanao and Pulangi Rivers by gunboat and landing craft while the 19th Regimental Combat Team began an overland movement along Highway No. 1. The objective was Kabakan, at the junction of the east-west Highway No. 1 and the north-south Sayre Highway (Highway No. 3). Control of the Kabakan area would mean control of the island's road network. It would also prevent the Japanese from concentrating their forces and opposing the advance inland; in addition, it would isolate enemy pockets of resistance and establish a secure supply route into the central area. Finally, it would open the way to Digos and Davao Gulf.62
The 34th Regimental Combat Team, which had remained in floating reserve during the first two days following the landing, meanwhile disembarked and moved up to assist the 21st RCT. Since progress up the Mindanao River proved to be more rapid than along Highway No. 1, a battalion of the 34th RCT was assigned to capture Fort Pikit in a double drive, by land and by water, from the town of Paidu Pulangi which had already been reached in the advance up the river. Aided by Navy gunboats the river force landed safely near Fort Pikit joining the rest of the battalion and moving into the old American fort by the afternoon of the 21st. The enemy had again retreated just ahead of the advancing Americans and by the following day, elements of the 34th RCT secured the critical junction of Highway No. 1 and Sayre Highway, just south of Kabakan. The town of Kabakan itself was entered the next morning, after a brief clash with Japanese patrols.
Control of this area placed the X Corps in position to strike north along the Sayre Highway to Malabalay and Macajalar Bay and also southeast to Davao Gulf. By the same token, the main line of communications between the two principle Japanese defense sectors was severed. The 24th Division could now proceed down Highway No. 1 to seize Digos and split Mindanao in half. The 31st Division, which had arrived on Mindanao five days after the 24th Division, was available to proceed north up the Sayre Highway to block the enemy's retreat from the east coast and secure the main north-south supply route. The final drive against the Japanese on Mindanao was thus divided into two separate and distinct actions along the two highways leading out of Kabakan.63
On 24 April the 24th Division, which had advanced 60 miles in seven days, launched its thrust along Highway No. 1 toward Davao Gulf. Although the retreating Japanese offered resistance in the form of light small-arms fire, destroyed bridges, and mines emplaced along the route of approach, the ad-
vance was nowhere appreciably retarded.64 As the leading elements approached Digos, Japanese disorganization was reflected in the large quantities of abandoned equipment and supplies found along the way.
The drive on Digos proceeded rapidly. On 27 April, advance elements of the division crossed the Digos River and entered the town. After a sharp fight enemy positions were soon overrun. Davao Gulf was reached and Padada Airdrome secured on the 28th, making the drive to Davao Gulf one of the most rapid infantry advances of the Pacific War. Approximately 110 miles had been covered in slightly more than ten days after the initial landing at Parang and the front door to Davao was now open.
While mopping up continued around Digos, the 24th Division turned north along Highway No. 1 toward Davao. Resistance was encountered from enemy positions en route but the advance continued. After driving the Japanese from the high ground commanding the approaches to Davao, the city was entered on 3 May. The next day the mines and booby-traps were cleared and the remaining enemy troops were killed or captured. Seizure of Davao, the last major city held by the Japanese in the Philippines, came as a climax to a drive that had covered 145 miles in 15 days. Still remaining, however, was the task of finding and destroying the large enemy force that had withdrawn to the hills to the north and northwest.65
The 31st Division, commanded by Maj. Gen. Clarence A. Martin, had meanwhile swung into high gear for its , drive northward along the Sayre Highway. Starting on 27 April, the division directed its initial thrust toward the town of Kibawe, at which point the Talomo Trail, running northwest over the mountains from Davao Gulf, joins the Sayre Highway. Although slowed considerably by destroyed bridges, the division met only scattered delaying action and was able to capture Kibawe and its airstrip by 3 May.66 With this mission accomplished, the lines of retreat utilized by the enemy to evacuate his troops from the Davao Gulf area to central Mindanao were blocked and his forces in the Davao sector were effectively isolated.
The 31st Division continued to advance along the Sayre Highway from Kibawe concurrently with the 24th Division's drive on the defense above Davao. (Plate No. 101) The enemy fought tenaciously to permit movement of his remaining combat units into the Malaybalay area. By 10 May, however, elements of the division had reached Maramag, secured its airstrip, and continued the drive to the north. On the 15th, the Japanese made a desperate banzai attack in the vicinity of the airstrip, but it was successfully repulsed. This defeat ended
PLATE NO. 101
the last major offensive action by the Japanese along the Sayre Highway and from then on torrential rains became the main deterrent to the advance. Valencia fell on 16 May and Malaybalay, capital of Bukidnon Province, was seized on the 21st.67
Late in April, it became apparent that the enemy was planning to consolidate for a final stand in the hills northwest of Davao. General Eichelberger therefore decided to land a regimental combat team at the rear of the enemy in the Macajalar Bay area of northern Mindanao. This force would then drive down the Sayre Highway to meet the 31st Division advancing from the south.
The 108th Regimental Combat Team of the 40th Division from Leyte was selected for the operation. It landed unopposed, near Bugo on 10 May. The Japanese had withdrawn from the area and the beach was already in the hands of guerrillas who had also captured the nearby town of Cagayan. The entire northeast coast was reported cleared of the enemy.
The drive toward Del Monte Airdrome was only lightly opposed, and the airfield was secured on 12 May. The following day, stiffening opposition was encountered at the entrance to a canyon below Del Monte where the enemy had set up strong, well-placed defenses. Reduction of this strong point was completed by 18 May, however, and the remaining Japanese troops were overcome within the next few days. The meeting between the 108th Regimental Combat Team and the 155th Regimental Combat Team of the 31st Division took place just outside Impalutao on 23 May. The juncture of the two forces marked the end of Japanese resistance along the Sayre Highway.68
With the Sayre Highway opened and the Davao area liberated, the X Corps' campaign was strategically ended. The fighting, however, was not yet over. There remained the task of ousting the Japanese from the mountain areas to which they had fled. As usual, the enemy held fanatically to his hill positions, especially those east of the Sayre Highway near Malaybalay. In that area, elements of both the 108th RCT and the 31st Division continued to send out strong patrols to the east and west throughout May and June.
Late in June a battalion of the 31st Division moved by water to the shores of Butuan Bay and advanced southward up the Agusan River toward Waloe. The objective of this maneuver was to deny the valley to remnants of the Japanese forces east of the Sayre Highway and to destroy any of the enemy who might be moving south through the Agusan River Valley from the Surigao Peninsula to join the groups in that area. By 1 July, the battalion had reached Waloe and had overcome all organized resistance. The remaining enemy groups fled to the hills. Operations against these pockets in the area between Malaybalay and Waloe were still under way on 15 August, the date of the Japanese acceptance of the terms of the Potsdam Declaration.69
In the Davao area the Japanese clung stubbornly to their positions near the western terminus of the Talomo Trail. The battle for the ground on the flank of the 24th Division's
route to Davao raged throughout May and into June. Elements of the 41st Division moved from Zamboanga to enter the struggle and on 9 June relieved battle-weary units of the 24th Division. Not until the middle of June, however, did the enemy's defenses along the lower reaches of the Talomo Trail begin to disintegrate. From that time on, the fighting developed into the usual, protracted mopping-up operations. The advance along the trail continued on to Kibangay, which was captured on 2 6 June. Beyond this point the road became impassable and showed no signs of enemy fortifications. At the other end of the trail, elements of the 31st Division instituted a drive southeastward from Kibawe. Entrenched Japanese slowed the progress of the advancing forces, but by 30 May, they secured a bridgehead across the Pulangi River. From there the drive continued slowly to the village of Pinamola which was taken on 30 June. During the ensuing weeks the drives from both ends of the Talomo Trail encountered stubborn resistance which continued until the end of hostilities.70
On 30 June, when the enemy had been driven out of both Kibangay and Pinamola on the Talomo Trail and had been forced to flee into the mountains east of Malaybalay, the Mindanao Operation was officially declared closed. Action after that date was confined mainly to patrols, but an additional landing operation proved necessary to complete the destruction of enemy units on the island. Sarangani Bay in southern Mindanao, which had been considered in the early planning phase of the Philippine Campaign as the initial landing spot for the return of General MacArthur to the Philippines, remained as the last point to be taken. Planning for the reduction of this area began early in July, with the 24th Division designated as the landing force. The scheme of maneuver called for a three-pronged offensive, two forces proceeding by overland routes, while a third made an amphibious landing on the north shore of Sarangani Bay. By this strategy the enemy was to be hemmed in by concurrent offensives from the south, the northeast, and the northwest.
An Expeditionary Battalion of Filipino troops was landed at Malalag Bay on 7 July and began its march overland toward Buayan the following morning. It encountered no organized resistance and arrived at Buayan on the 16th. The amphibious landing to the west of Buayan by a battalion combat team of the 24th Division was made on 12 July. Opposition was lacking since the area had already been secured by guerrilla forces. Meanwhile, a battalion of provisional antiaircraft personnel serving as infantry had departed from Fort Pikit by landing craft to Lake Buluan and had proceeded overland toward Tupi where, on 13 July, it met advance elements of the battalion striking northwestward from its landing beach of the previous day. Vigorous and extensive patrolling was carried out but, except for occasional skirmishes, there was little resistance. The enemy retired northward into the mountains where it required several weeks to rout him out of his positions. By 11 August, however, the mop-up of the Sarangani Bay area was considered terminated and the operation declared at an end.71
With the completion of the Mindanao Operation the mission of the Eighth Army in the
PLATE NO. 102
southern Philippines was ended. General Eichelberger's forces in a series of simultaneous and rapid offensives over a large area of diverse terrain conditions had destroyed the enemy and left his decimated troops scattered in disorganized bands throughout the hills and jungles of the archipelago. All that remained was to accept the surrender of the helpless Japanese remnants. Now that the arduous task of the Eighth Army in the Philippines was finished, a new job lay before it-a part in the occupation of the Japanese Home Islands.
In a special communique to the press from his headquarters in Manila, General Mac Arthur had announced the official end of the Philippine Campaign in the following words:
In contrast to the New Guinea Campaign which had required two long years of uphill battle, the Philippine Campaign had been won in nine months of rapid operations. During this short period American combined arms had routed the strong and hard-fighting Japanese Fourteenth Area Army from its prepared defenses and broken its power as a military force. The issue had been decided
JAPANESE GROUND FORCES IN THE PHILIPPINES
early in the campaign when the best of Japan's army, navy, and air force had been crushed at Leyte.73 The invasion of Luzon a few months later climaxed the Philippine Campaign and brought final and utter defeat to General Yamashita's divisions. The Eighth Army's widespread series of operations covering the Visayas, Palawan, the Sulu Archipelago, and Mindanao destroyed the remainder of Japan's once powerful Thirty-fifth Army and completed the liberation of the Philippine Archipelago. By the summer of 1945 every major island and every important strategic area was freed from the control of the enemy. General MacArthur had redeemed his promise and the people of the United States their pledge to drive out the Japanese invader. The Philippines were again free.
Victory in the Philippines had been achieved by the joint efforts of all forces involved. The intensity of the fighting had varied from area to area according to terrain conditions and the state of the Japanese defenses but in all operations the smooth co-ordination of United States land, sea, and air forces had been the keynote of the American success. The reaction of Japanese Fourteenth Area Army staff officers to the part played by the component American forces was a tribute to this strategy of three-dimensional warfare. Maj. Gen. Haruo Konuma, Deputy Chief of Staff, Fourteenth Area Army, commented on the combined use of the three branches of the United States forces in the following words: "The U. S. Navy and American air power together made important contributions to American victory in the Philippines by their protection of landing convoys. Once ashore, moreover, the landing forces were given excellent protection by the supporting naval and air elements. The Air Force and the Navy contributed greatly to the success of the ground forces during and following the initial assaults, and then continued to keep open the routes to supply the land forces.... The basic reason for American victory in the Philippines was America's ability to concentrate and maintain the necessary men and materials in the front line while at the same time cutting the Japanese lines of communication. The well co-ordinated action of their land, sea, and air forces was also a substantial factor in achieving victory."74
Speaking of the U. S. Navy, Col. Shujiro Kobayashi, Tactical Staff Officer said " Through the action of submarines and carrier-based Grummans, Japanese supply was effectively cut off in the Philippines. The naval big guns also blasted beachheads before invasions, forcing our troops into the hills. Indeed the American Navy seemed everywhere at once and powerful."75
Maj. Masaaki Kawase, Supply Staff Officer of the Fourteenth Area Army, indicated how American air power had disrupted Japanese operations during the Philippine Campaign when he stated: "I believe that American
airpower had a great deal to do with their victory in the Philippines and it was the decisive factor in their success. The American pre-invasion air attacks on the Philippines had a marked effect in neutralizing our defense preparations. Damage caused by their frequent air attacks on airfield installations, aircraft, ships, etc. was tremendous. When our convoy ships were struck at Manila Bay, we lost 200,000 tons of war materials. At the time of the American invasion of Leyte, our air force was literally helpless and failed to conduct effective air operations against enemy convoy ships. Supremacy in the air and on the sea was quickly attained by the enemy in the Visayan area, thus making it impossible for us to reinforce and supply the Thirty-fifth Army in Leyte at an opportune time to meet the invading forces. In Luzon we had been always overwhelmed by the enemy air attacks and our action was limited during the day. Above all, our supply lines were completely cut off and with food and materiel shortages we could not display but a fraction of the strength deployed on Luzon."76
A third Staff Officer of the Japanese Fourteenth Area Army, Lt. Col. Yorio Ishikawa, had the following comments to make with regard to the American ground forces' conduct of the campaign: "The United States forces with their superior equipment and techniques made surprise moves by overcoming terrain and inclement weather believed humanly impossible. For instance, the United States forces made landings on Leyte when a severe typhoon prevented our patrol planes from operating. In another instance, United States forces advanced through the difficult terrain near Baguio by constructing roads which we did not believe they could do."77 To these comments, Colonel Kobayashi added: "Generally, American leadership and planning were superb. To mention the outstandingly good points, locations for operations were well chosen, and landings were expertly timed. In addition, the Americans had succeeded in shutting off our supply lines from Formosa and French Indo-China. Through the American-supported Filipino guerrillas, our supply lines within the Philippines were cut. The guerrillas also transmitted intelligence which led to effective bombing of our positions and supply dumps."78 In over-all appraisal of General MacArthur's conduct of the Philip pine Campaign, Lt. Gen. Shuichi Miyazaki, Chief of Operations Bureau, Imperial General Headquarters, stated: "Strategic plans, strategic preparations, operational decisions-these were splendid. I came to the decision in Tokyo that the combined use of air, ground and naval forces and in general all war plans involving the co-operation of these three together were especially notable for their success."79
The Philippine Campaign proved the advantages of General MacArthur's adherence to a master plan which, though broad in scope, was fluid in execution and sufficiently flexible to cover operations from Port Moresby to Manila. His central plan permitted rapid intermediate strokes along its stupendous axis, as in the cases of the Admiralties operation, Hollandia, and even Leyte itself. The Allies had carefully selected definitive and progressive objectives and concentrated their power in each co-ordinated assault. In comparison, Japanese planning was extemporized and spas-
PLATE NO. 103
modic, and their leadership often vacillating.80 Their last-minute decision to alter all previously prepared plans and force a decision on Leyte instead of Luzon, for example, exemplified the makeshift character of Japan's military strategy in the later stages of the war.
On the other hand, the long planning and brilliant strategy of General MacArthur and his staff which led to the liberation of the Philippines were well rewarded by the great destruction and enormous losses inflicted on the enemy on Leyte, Luzon, and the other islands of the central and southern Philippines. The choice of this archipelago as the decisive battleground of the Pacific War had ensured American forces the advantages of a friendly native population and familiar terrain. The careful consideration of such factors was characteristic of Allied planning in the Southwest Pacific Area and one of the chief reasons for the unbroken succession of victories achieved.
Defeat in the Philippines confirmed the worst fears of the Japanese leaders. The Japanese empire of conquest was cut in two and the volume of sea traffic between Japan and the southern regions was reduced to a mere trickle. (Plate No. 103) The Netherlands East Indies and Malaya-the El Dorado to the south which had lured Japan's leaders into war in 1941, and which for four years had supplied much of her resources-were now lost. The words of Adm. Mitsumasa Yonai, Navy Minister in the Koiso and Suzuki Cabinets, July 1944-August 1945, were unmistakably clear: "When you took the Philippines, that was the end of resources, in cutting off the southern supplies."81
With access to the southern regions cut off and with the ever-growing wall of the Allied sea and air blockade virtually impenetrable, Japan's time was fast running out. Her stock piles of raw materials to feed her hungry war machine were almost exhausted. Japan's security in space was a thing of the past. The great ally of geography which had separated the Japanese Homeland from the Allied forces and had proved such a tangible obstacle to the Allied prosecution of the war in the Pacific was now practically overcome. Distance was no longer a protector of Japan's factories or population and the approach of imminent peril could no longer be concealed from her people. The Philippines would soon become a powerful new base for the final blows to end the war. Once the cornerstone of Japan's military conquests southward and a strong bulwark in her pattern of defense, the Philippines now presented a close and dangerous threat to the Japanese nation itself.