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Target: Luzon

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Luzon was the objective. Every move by General MacArthurs forces pointed toward the main, northernmost island of the Philippines, site of its historic capital and scene of the bloody battles of Bataan and Corregidor in 1942.

At weeks beginning, the aerial offensive was in full swing. Lieut. General George C. Kenneys Far Eastern Air Forces were bombing Jap airfields on Luzon, most notably the system of strips and dispersal areas around Clark Field, 50 miles north west of Manila. Army Liberators, Mitchells, Havocs and Warhawks met little opposition in the air. Not since Dec. 28 had the Japs sent up a major intercepting force. Now, relying on ack-ack for defense, they hoarded what planes they could for the crisis they foresaw. The U.S. planes ranged as far as Lingayen Gulf, sinking and firing enemy ships. Marine Corps Corsairs, rigged as fighter-bombers, skip-bombed and strafed targets in southern Luzon; they found some ammunition trains which blew up with a satisfying display.

Navy Liberators from the MacArthur command ranged as far as Formosa, seek ing out forces which the Japs might be moving south for defense of Luzon.

The Shadows Before. Still Kenneys air forces needed more fields from which to fly off these great strikes and the still greater strikes which would be needed when the battle of Luzon was fully joined. And it was essential that existing fields on Mindoro be fully protected against Jap counterattack, whether by land, sea or air. So convoys were formed up at Leyte and dispatched through the Mindanao Sea, with air cover provided by accompanying escort carriers.

These convoys sailed into the Tablas Strait, east of Mindoro, and Mindoro Strait, to the west. They disgorged their troops on undefended beaches, one north of the original landings around San Jos, the other on the opposite coast. In two days, the western force drove to the north end of Mindoro and took Paluan town against slight resistance.

Yet another convoy was spotted by the Japs as it pushed into the Sibuyan Sea. This might have been heading for southeastern Luzon. But again the move was of a preliminary nature: Marinduque, a small island within ten miles of Luzon, was quickly occupied. Soon there would be more fields for Kenneys flyers.

The Great Event. At weeks end, the big show was unfolding. By enemy report, no less than 70 Allied warships had penetrated into Lingayen Gulf, were laying their guns on coast defenses as far south as San Fabian (see map). Third Fleet carrier planes supplied close air support. The Japanese description of the scene was nothing if not vivid: "The whole area of Lingayen Gulf is detonating with the fiercest bombardment ... by the enemy surface units as well as the large carrier-borne plane bombings. . . . Superheavy guns mounted in the fortresses of San Fernando, Bauang, Damortis and other places on the coast of Lingayen Gulf are sending up a terrible barrage and are giving the hottest reception ever recorded in the annals of war to the oncoming enemy convoys. . . . Bellows from our guns spread roaringly across the bay. . . . The enemy task force has battleships or other huge warships at its very front. . . . Grumman and Curtiss planes fly over our positions and repeatedly carry out dives, thus bombing and strafing our positions with machine guns."

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