Philippines Campaign, Phase 2
Contributor: C. Peter Chen
12-28 Dec 1944
Before American forces could consider assaulting Luzon, the largest island in the Philippines and home to the capital city Manila, advance airbases must be established so that the troops could move under the protection of friendly aircraft. On 12 Dec, Brigadier General William Dunkel and his troops sailed for Mindoro under the protection of the Seventh Fleet by way of Surigao Strait. The landing took place on 15 Dec. Completely surprising the Japanese, who thought Negros or Panay would be the next American target, the landing was unopposed. Carrier-born aircraft circled above also nearly unchallenged, but many Kamikaze aircraft slipped through and caused considerable damage to American shipping including sinking two landing craft, though in the grand scheme of the invasion the sacrifices achieved little. By 28 Dec, two fighter bases were ready for the Luzon invasion scheduled for 9 Jan. With Mindoro lost, Japan also lost the use Manila as a central transfer station of naval transports.
"What you have done on Leyte and are doing on Mindoro are masterpieces", George Marshall complimented Douglas MacArthur.
9 Jan-27 Feb 1945
With Mindoro secured, American forces were now just south of Luzon. While MacArthur's intention was to make his main landing assault at Lingayen in northern Luzon, elaborate attempts at deception were made in the south. He had his aircraft unceasingly make reconnaissance flights and bombing missions in southern Luzon. Transport aircraft made many paradrops with dummies, while minesweepers cleared Balagan, Batangas, and Tayabas Bays. Filipino resistance fighters in southern Luzon, too, were called to conduct major sabotage operations. All the effort was to provide a false notion that the American landing was to take place in southern Luzon instead of Lingayen. General Tomoyuki Yamashita, commander of the Japanese ground forces in the Philippines, must had at least made slightly unsure, for that he did not move his headquarters to northern Luzon until after the landing had already taken place at Lingayen. The opening amphibious operation at Luzon landed more men than the first wave of the Normandy landing, and 175,000 were ashore within the first few days, securing a beachhead twenty miles wide. Vice Admiral Shigeru Fukudome noted after the war that he "had no advance information of [American] movement against Lingayen until the fleet actually [departed]." Even by then, the Japanese believed the landing would be attempted around Manila Bay, and they "were taken by surprise when [Americans] appeared in Lingayen and started landing there." When all of MacArthur's first-phase landers set foot on Luzon, he had 280,000 men at his disposal; that was more than the number Eisenhower had in the campaigns for North Africa, Italy, or southern France.
Special Attack units, again, posed a threat for the landing forces. USS Ommaney Bay, an escort carrier, was lost when a Kamikaze aircraft dove through its wooden flight deck. Two dozen other warships were damaged by similar suicide attacks, with one destroyer sunk. As the campaign stretched on, Rear Admiral Oldendorf would lose more than twenty vessels from Kamikaze before the Japanese defenders ran out of aircraft.
Yamashita led the defending Japanese troops in fighting valiantly against the advancing US army. Though wielding a larger force, he could do little to stop the American advance without air power. He decided to take part of his troops into the island's interior and attempted to draw the campaign as long as possible; this strategy was approved by the Imperial General Headquarters (IGHQ) at Tokyo on 18 Jan. Yamashita split his forces in two major groups, one fortifying Luzon's mountains and the other to defend Manila. Clark Field was captured by XIV Corps on 23 Jan, reclaiming the airfield that saw the destruction of part of the US air force helplessly on the ground. The 11th Airborne Division under the command of Lieutenant General Robert Eichelberger and the First Cavalry Division each raced toward Manila as the 37th Division marched toward the same target from the north. The three-horse race was won by the First Cavalry, reaching the heart of the capital city on 3 Feb, starting the phase of the campaign that saw house-to-house clearing of Japanese who fought stubbornly in Manila.
Before Yamashita had left Manila for his new headquarters in Banguio, he left Vice Admiral Denshichi Okochi instructions to destroy the port facilities and declare Manila an open city. However, Okochi defied his orders. With a division-equivalent of mostly naval personnel, Okochi and his men engaged in a horrendous pillaging act. Hospitals were set afire with patients tied to their beds. Women of all ages raped and murdered. Babies' eyeballs were gouged out and smeared on walls. 100,000 Filipinos would be murdered mercilessly in Manila and all around Luzon in the last days of Japanese control.
While the tactics were in the hands of MacArthur's field commanders, the general grew bored and decided to visit prisoners recently liberated from the Santo Tomás prisons. The prisoners there were his Bataan troops. He was surrounded by thousands of his former soldiers, he recalled,
After the First Cavalry reached the city, the house-to-house fighting phase began, and it lasted for a whole month. The overuse of tank and artillery fire took 1,000 civilian lives along with the Japanese troops hidden in the houses. On 25 Feb, MacArthur marched into his former residence, where his wife Jean and his son Arthur witnessed 132 Japanese aircraft ravaging the American base at Cavite from the balcony over three years ago. The city was finally declared secure on 3 Mar 1945. By this time, Manila was only nearly a pile of rubble; in WW2, only Warsaw experienced greater damage than Manila. 70% of the utilities, 75% of the factories, 80% of the southern residential district, and the entire business district were destroyed.
When MacArthur, en route to Manila, sailed by Corregidor, he stood on the deck of the ship and stared in deep thought. He later commented.
Jean MacArthur's comment after seeing Corregidor once again, under the protection of American fighters up above, was more of the casual nature:
Jean's comments were not unfounded. George Kenney, MacArthur's air chief, did indeed drop four thousand tons of various bombs on the island before it was recaptured by MacArthur's troops.
On 27 Feb 1945, Manila was considered safe for the return of the Philippines government. At Malacanan Palace, a formal ceremony restored Sergio Osmeña as the head of all of Philippines.
10 Mar 1945
Eichelberger and the US 8th Army landed on Mindanao on 10 March following the capture of Manila. Japanese troops at Mindanao would fight a guerilla war in the mountains of Mindanao until the last days of the war.
Conclusion of the Campaign
The Philippines were finally declared secure on 30 Jun 1945, and on 5 Jul MacArthur announced that "[t]he entire Philippine Islands are now liberated". In the end, as 17 divisions of American forces moved against the defenders, nearly all 23 divisions of Japanese troops were annihilated. At the end of the Luzon campaign, MacArthur received the report at his desk that the Philippines campaign at that point only cost 820 American lives, while over 12,000 Japanese were killed; such was the result of the superior firepower employed by the Americans by air, land, and sea.
After Manila was secured, MacArthur engaged in a bitter campaign to clear Japanese soldiers from every inch of Filipino soil. This campaign was highly criticized, for many viewed it as a campaign that wasted American lives for objectives that were inconsequential. The campaign was considered by many as MacArthur's selfish venture that fulfilled the obsession of clearing every corner of Philippines of the Japanese.
Across all the islands, efforts of local resistance groups against the Japanese should not go unmentioned, as they rivaled the effectiveness of the French resistance. By 1944, 180,000 Filipinos had served in the resistance in some way, with one in six of them serving in Luis Tarluc's Hukbalahaps. The Huks, as they were referred to by Americans, were a band of Marxists that were consisted mostly of the middle class whose devotion were attributed to their faith in MacArthur. The Huks and other resistance groups, after Hollandia, sent Australia nearly 4,000 radio messages every month, detailing from military maneuvers to the guest list at the Manila Hotel. MacArthur, in return, sneaked equipment, transmitters, and even commando teams to the guerillas by submarines. The Japanese secret police put price on resistance leaders and publicly beheaded those caught, but the Filipinos only fought on with greater determination. One such leader was Lieutenant Colonel Guillermo Nakar, a former member of the 14th Infantry of the Philippine Army. After being caught sending intelligence info to MacArthur's forces, he was tortured and beheaded. Instead of shutting down his cell's operations out of fear, however, "a new leader rose to carry on the fight", recalled MacArthur. As American troops advanced in Luzon, guerilla forces cut telephone wires to disrupt Japanese communications, while key bridges behind Japanese lines were dynamited. MacArthur commented that these irregulars in Luzon "accomplished the purpose of practically a front-line division." He noted that
Beginning in Dec 1944, after the American occupation of Mindoro, the flow of oil into Japan was cut to nearly zero. In Sep 1944 700,000 tons of tankers ferried oil and rubber from various ports in the South Pacific to the home islands; by the end of the year that number would be cut down to 2,000. With control of Philippines, the United States and the Allies added another instrument to blockade Japan.
Sources: American Caesar, Interrogation of Japanese Officials, the Pacific Campaign, Reminiscences.
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