World War Two: Fall of Philippines; Bataan (4-18A); Orion-Bagac Line / Trail 2

During the three weeks that the Battle of the Points raged along the west coast, another hard-fought battle was being waged along the front lines. No sooner had the troops completed their withdrawal from the Abucay-Mauban line to the reserve battle position then the Japanese struck again. In II Corps the Japanese blow came in the center where, in the confusion which accompanied the establishment of the new line, there was a dangerous gap during the critical hours before the attack. Fortunately it was closed before the Japanese could take advantage of the opening. I Corps, where a similar gap developed, was not so fortunate.

Here the Japanese poured through the hole before it could be plugged and set up strong pockets of resistance behind the line. For the next three weeks, simultaneously with the Battle of the Points and the fight in II Corps, Wainwright’s troops were engaged in a bitter struggle to contain and reduce these pockets. Thus, in the period from 23 January to 17 February, the American positions on Bataan were under strong attack in three places: along the west coast beaches and at two points along the reserve battle line, now the main line of resistance, in I and II Corps.

The Orion-Bagac Line

By the morning of 26 January most of the American and Filipino troops were in place along the reserve battle position, their final defense line on Bataan. The new line extended from Orion westward to Bagac, following a course generally parallel to and immediately south of the Pilar-Bagac road which it crossed in the center. Having left behind Mt. Natib, “that infernal mountain which separated our corps,” the troops were able now for the first time to form a continuous line across Bataan and to establish physical contact between the two corps.l They were also able to tighten the defenses along the front and at the beaches, for the withdrawal had reduced the area in American hands by almost 50 percent.

The area into which the 90,000 men on Bataan were now compressed covered about 200 square miles. On the north, in the saddle between Mt. Natib and the Mariveles Mountains was the Pilar-Bagac road which extended across the peninsula like a waist beLieutenant To the east, west, and south was the sea. As Mt. Natib had dominated the Abucay-Mauban line, so did the imposing mass of the Mariveles Mountains dominate southern Bataan. Except for the narrow coastal strip along Manila Bay, the entire region was rugged and mountainous, covered with forest and thick undergrowth.

The temperature averaged about 95 degrees. Even in the shaded gloom of the jungle the heat during midday was intense. Any physical exertion left a man bathed in perspiration and parched from thirst. As it was the dry season there were no rainstorms to afford any relief. “The heat,” complained General Nara, “was extreme and the men experienced great difficulty in movement.” When the sun set the temperature dropped sharply and those who had sweltered in the tropical heat during the day shivered with cold under their army blankets.

Forming the boundary between the two corps was the Pantingan River which flowed generally northward from the Mariveles peaks. On the east side of the river, in the II Corps area, was 1,920-foot-high Mt. Samat, four miles from the coast and a short distance south of the Pilar-Bagac road. Along its slopes and on its summit were high hardwood trees, luxuriant crEepers, and thorny vines. Though movement through this jungled fastness was difficult, the heights of Mt. Samat afforded excellent observation of the entire battlefield below.

North of Mt. Samat, as far as the PilarBagac road, the ground was similar to that on the slopes. Beyond, in the area held by the enemy, it was low and swampy. To the east of the mountain lay a plateau and along the coast were sugar-cane fields, thickets, and a plain. Flowing from the high ground in the center, through the coastal plain, were several large rivers and numerous small streams, many of them dry at this time of the year. But their steep, forested banks provided natural barriers to the advance of a military force.

Wainwright’s I Corps was west of the Pantingan River. Here there were no plains or sugar-cane fields. The ground sloped sharply from the Mariveles Mountains almost to the sea, and the undergrowth was even more luxuriant and forbidding than on the east coast. Nowhere on Bataan was the terrain less suitable for military operations.

In moving to the new line, the Americans had relinquished control of the Pilar-Bagac road, the one lateral highway across Bataan. However, they had denied the enemy complete use of that valuable road by selecting commanding positions from which it could be brought under fire, and by extending the main line of resistance across the road in the center of the peninsula. A four-mile-long brandl road, or cutoff, had been constructed from Orion to the Pilar-Bagac road, and the eastern portion of the II Corps line extended along this cutoff rather than along the road itself. To provide lateral communication behind the lines, the engineers were directed to link the cast-west trails, a task that was completed by mid-February. The Americans still had possession of the southern portions of the East and West Roads and continued to use them as the main arteries for vehicular traffic. All other movement behind the line was by footpath and pack trail. The organization of the new line differed in one important respect from that established for the Abucay-Mauban line. Because of the reduced size of units, the shortage of trained combat officers, and the difficulty of communications, the troops on the Orion-Bagac line were placed under sector commanders who reported directly to corps.

Under this arrangement unit designations lost much of their validity and some divisions functioned only as headquarters for a sector. Thus, one sector might consist of three or more units, all under a division commander who retained only his division staff. This organization simplified control by corps also, for divisions and lesser units reported now to the sector commanders. There was, it is true, a natural tendency toward building up a large staff in the sectors, but this inclination was quickly discouraged by MacArthur’s headquarters, which explained that the sector organization had been adopted “for the purpose of decreasing rather than increasing overhead.”

General Parker’s II Corps line stretched from Orion on the east coast westward for about 15,000 yards. Initially the corps was organized into four sectors, lettered alphabetic ally ‘from A through D. Sector A on the right (east), which comprised the beach north of Limay to Orion and 2,500 yards of the front line, was assigned to the Philippine Division’s 31st Infantry (US) which was then moving into the line. To its left and continuing the line another 2,000 yards was Sector B, manned by the Provisional Air Corps Regiment. This unit was composed of about 1,400 airmen equipped as infantry and led by ColonelIrvin E. Doane, an experienced infantry officer from the American 31st Infantry. Sector C was under the command of Brigadier General Clifford Bluemel and consisted of his 31 st Division (P A) , less elements, and the remnants of the 51 st Division (P A) , soon to be organized into a regimental combat team. Together, these units held a front of about 4,500 yards.

The remaining 6,000 yards of the II Corps line in front of Mt. Samat and extending to the Pantingan River constituted Brigadier General Maxon S. Lough’s Sector D. Lough, commander of the Philippine Division, had under him the 21st and 41st Divisions (PA) and the 57th Infantry (PS )-not yet in the line–from his own division. Both Bluemel and Lough retained their division staffs for the sector headquarters. A final and fifth sector, E, was added on 26 January when General Francisco’s beach defense troops were incorporated into II Corps and made a part of Parker’s command. In reserve, Parker kept the 1st Battalion, 33rd Infantry (PA), from Bluemel’s 31st Division, and a regiment of Philippine Army combat engineers.

The emplacement of artillery in II Corps was made with a full realization of the advantages offered by the commanding heights of Mt. Samat. On and around the mountain, in support of General Lough’s scctor, were the sixteen 75-mm. guns and eight 2.95-inch pack howitzers of the 41st Field Artillery (P A). Along the high ground east of the mountain, in support of the other sectors, were the artillery components of the 21st, 31st, and 51st Divisions (PA), with an aggregate of forty 7 S-mm. guns, and two Scout battalions equipped with 75’s and 2.95’s. The Constabulary troops on beach defense, in addition to the support furnished by the 21st Field Artillery, were backed up by about a dozen naval guns. Corps artillery consisted of the 301st Field Artillery (PA) and the 86th Field Artillery Battalion (PS), whose 155-mm. guns (G -PIot) were emplaced in the vicinity of Limay.

General Wainwright’s I Corps line, organized into a Right and Left Sector, extended for 13,000 yards from the Pantingan River westward to the South China Sea. Separating the two sectors was the north-south Trail 7. The Right Sector, with a front of about 5,000 yards to and including Trail 7, was held by the 11th Division ( P A) and the attached 2nd Philippine Constabulary (less one battalion). Brigadier General William E. Brougher commanded both the 11th Division and the Right Sector. Between Trail 7 and the sea was the Left Sector, commanded by Brigadier General Albert M. Jones, who had led the South Luzon Force into Bataan. The eastern portion of his sector was held by the 45th Infantry (PS) ; the western by Brigadier General Luther Stevens’ 91st Division (PA). Like Parker, Wainwright was given responsibility for the beach defense in his area and on the 26th he established a South Sector under General Pierce. For corps reserve, Wainwright had the 26th Cavalry (PS) which had helped cover the withdrawal from the Mauban line.

I Corps had considerably less artillery than the corps on the east. Corps artillery consisted of one Scout battalion, less a battery, equipped with 75-mm. guns. Jones had for his Left Sector the guns of the 91st Field Artillery and attached elements of the 71st which had lost most of its weapons at Mauban.

Supporting the Right Sector was the artillery component of the 11th Division and one battery of Scouts. Only a few miscellaneous pieces had been assigned initially to beach defense but after the Japanese landings Pierce obtained additional guns and two 155-mm. howitzers. When it established the Abucay-Mauban line early in January, USAFFE had kept in reserve the Philippine Division (less the 57th Combat Team). During the course of the battle on that line both the 31st Infantry (US) and the 45th Infantry (PS) had been assigned to II Corps and committed to action. When the withdrawal order was prepared, Colonel Constant L. Irwin, USAFFE G-3, had placed the Philippine Division regiments in reserve since, he explained, “these were the only units that we had upon which we could depend and which were capable of maneuver, especially under fire.” This provision of the withdrawal plan was immediately changed by General Sutherland who believed that the corps commanders “needed all available help in order to successfully occupy the new line and at the same time hold the attackers.”

Both corps commanders therefore assigned their Philippine Division units to critical points along the new line, and USAFFE approved this assignment. It made no provision, however, for a reserve of its own, on the assumption that “after the withdrawal was accomplished an Army Reserve could be formed.”

Sometime during the 25th of January USAFFE reversed its stand and decided that it would require a reserve after all. The unit selected was the Philippine Division with its one American and two Scout regiments. This action was based, apparently, on the danger arising from the Japanese landings at Longoskawayan and Quinauan Points. General Sutherland felt, Colonel Irwin later explained, that the three regiments might be needed to contain the Japanese at the beaches and push them back into the sea. When the corps commanders received the orders to send the three regiments to an assembly area to the rear, they were thrown “into somewhat of a tailspin.” The new line was already being formed and the departure of the three regiments or their failure to take up their assigned positions would leave large gaps in the line. Corps plans, so carefully prepared, would have to be hastilv changed and shifts accomplished within twenty-four hours.

The shifting of units which followed USAFFE’s order was as confusing as it was dangerous. In II Corps, where the 57th Infantry (PS) had been assigned the extreme left and the 31st Infantry (US) the right flank of the line, General Parker sought to fill the gaps by sending elements of General Bluemel’s 31st Division (PA) to both ends of the line. The Philippine Army 31st Infantry (less 1st Battalion) was fortunately on the east coast in the vicinity of Orion, and it was ordered to take over Sector A in the place of the American 31st Infantry. The 33rd Infantry (PA), assigned to Sector C but not yet in position, was sent to the left of the line being formed to replace the 57th Infantry. In the confusion no one remembered to inform General Bluemel of these changes, although the 31st and 33rd Infantry were a part of his division and assigned to his sector.

In I Corps, where the 45th Infantry had been assigned to the important area between the Camilew River and Trail 7 in General Jones’s Left Sector, Wainwright was forced to fill the gap with elements of the reduced and disorganized 1st Division (PA). Two hastily reorganized battalions of the 1st Infantry were ordered into the line on the 26th as a stopgap until the rest of the division could be brought in, but it was not until the next day that the troops actually occupied their positions.

When these shifts were completed the line-up along the main battle position was as follows: In II Corps, from right to left: Sector A, 31st Infantry (PA); Sector B, Provisional Air Corps Regiment; Sector C, unsettled but temporarily held by the 32nd Infantry, one battalion of the 31st, and the 51st Combat Team; Sector D, 21st and 41st Divisions (P A) and the 33rd Infantry (less 1st Battalion). In I Corps: Right Sector, 2nd Philippine Constabulary and 11th Division (PA) ; Left Sector, elements of the 1st Division (PA) and the 91st Division. The reserve of the two corps remained unchanged but was backed up now by the Philippine Division in USAFFE reserve. The American 31st Infantry was located just north of Limay on the east coast, from where it could support II Corps should the need arise. The 45th Infantry was in bivouac near the West Road, about three miles south of Bagac, in position to aid I Corps. The 57th Infantry was near Mariveles, ready for a quick move to either corps.

Opposing the Filipino troops-the entire line, except for Sector B, was now held by the Philippine Army-were the same Japanese who had successfully breached the Abucay-Mauban line in the first battle of Bataan. On the east, before Parker’s II Corps, was General Nara’s 65th Brigade and attached 9th Infantry; facing Wainwright was the Kimura Detachment. While General Kimura’s force of approximately 5,000 men was comparatively fresh, Nara’s troops had been hard hit during the Abucay fight. By 25 January, with reinforcements, he had built up his two regiments, the 141st and 142nd, to a strength of about 1,200 men each.

Flushed with victory and anxious to end the campaign quickly, the Japanese hardly paused before attacking the Orion-Bagac line. Some time earlier they had found a map purportedly showing the American scheme of defense. On it, marked in red, were lines denoting the positions occupied by the American and Philippine troops. The main line of resistance was shown some miles south of its actual location, extending from Limay westward to the Mariveles Mountains.

The positions from Orion westward, shown on the map and corresponding to the line actually occupied, were sketchy and the Japanese concluded that they were merely outposts. On the basis of this map General Homma made his plans. He would push his troops through the outpost line-actually the main line of resistance-and strike for Limay, where he conceived the main line to be and where he expected the main battle for Bataan would be fought.

At 1600, 26 January, General Homma issued his orders for the attack. The 65th Brigade was to sweep the supposed outpost line into Manila Bay, then proceed south to the presumed main line of resistance. General Kimura was ordered to drive down the west coast as far as the Binuangan River, which Homma apparently believed to be an extension of the Limay line. No difficulty was expected until this line was reached. So confident was Homma that his estimate was correct and so anxious was he to strike before the Americans could establish strong positions near Limay that he decided against waiting for the artillery to move into position to support the attack.

Unfortunately for the Japanese their captured map was incorrect or they read it incorrectly. The first line they met was not the outpost at all but the main line of resistance. The Japanese did have the good fortune, however, to hit the line where it was weakest and at a time when the disorganization resulting from the withdrawal of the Philippine Division was greatest.

The Fight for Trail 2

It was General Bluemel’s Sector C which bore the brunt of the 65th Brigade attack against II Corps. For three quarters of its total length of 4,500 yards, the front line of this sector followed roughly the Orion cutoff to its intersection with the Pilar River and at that point straddled the north end of Trail 2 which led southward along the east slopes of Mt. Samat through the American lines. With the exception of the East Road this trail offered the easiest route of advance to the Japanese.

Bluemel had organized the defense of his sector on the assumption that he would have most of his 31st Division and what was left of the 51 st to put into the line. Accordingly, he had assigned the right (east) portion of the line, from Sector B to Trail 2, to his own division; the left to the 1,500 men of the 51st Division. On each side of Trail 2, for a distance of about 600 yards, foxholes had been dug and wire had been strung.

On the morning of 26 January General Bluemel set out to inspect his front lines. On the way he met the 1st Battalion, 31st Infantry, heading east away from its assigned positions. With understandable heat, and some profanity, he demanded an explanation from the battalion commander, who replied that he had received orders from his regimental commander to move the battalion to Sector A to join the rest of the regiment. This was apparently the first time the general learned that his 31st Infantry had another assignment. Bluemel peremptorily ordered the battalion commander back into line and told him to remain there until relieved by his, Bluemel’s, orders.

The general had another unpleasant surprise in store that morning. He had hardly resumed his tour of inspection when, at about 1000, he discovered that the 33rd Infantry was not in its assigned place on the right of Trail 2 and that this vital area was entirely undefended. For four hours Bluemel sought to locate the missing regiment and finally, at 1400, learned that this regiment also had been taken from him and was now assigned to the left flank of the corps line instead of the 57th Infantry. There was nothing else for him to do then but spread his troops even thinner and he immediately ordered the 2nd Battalion, 32nd Infantry, and the sixty men of the headquarters battery of the 31st Field Artillery, acting as infantry and armed only with Enfields, into the unoccupied area. It was not until 1730, however, that these units were able to complete their move. Thus, for a period of almost ten hours on the 26th, there had been no troops cast of the important Trail 2. Only good fortune and the action of the tanks of the covering force averted disaster. Had General Nara pushed his men down the trail during these hours he might have accomplished his mission and reached Limay even more rapidly than the misinformed Army commander expected him to.

Bluemel’s troubles were not yet over. Only thirty minutes after he had closed the gap left by the transfer of the 33rd Infantry, he received orders at 1800 from General Parker to transfer the 1st Battalion, 31st Infantry (PA), which he had sent back into the line early that morning, to Sector A. Bluemel had no choice now but to allow the battalion to leave. Parker promised him the 41st Infantry (less 1st Battalion) from the adjoining sector, but that unit would not reach him until late the next day. In the meantime he would have to fill the new gap with one of his own units. He finally decided to use the reserve battalion of the already overextended 32nd Infantry. Thus, on the night of 26 January, the entire 31st Division area was held by only the three battalions of the 32nd Infantry and the artillery headquarters battery. In reserve was the 31st Engineer Battalion with 450 men whose armament consisted exclusively of rifles.

The shifts in the line had been completed none too soon, for by 1900 of the 26th advance patrols of the 65th Brigade had penetrated down the Orion cutoff to Trail 2, almost to the main line of resistance.

General Nara received Homma’s orders for the attack on the morning of the 27th, too late to take advantage of the confusion in the American line. At that time the bulk of his force was concentrated in front of Sector C. Colonel Takechi’s 9th Infantry, the “encircling unit” of the Abucay fight, was in position to advance down Trail 2, and the 141st Infantry was bivouacked about one mile to the east. Above Orion probing Parker’s right flank was the 1st Battalion, 142nd Infantry. The remainder of the regiment was south of Pilar, along the Pilar-Bagac road. Too far to the rear to support the attack was the artillery.

At 1100, 27 January, Nara issued his own orders for the forthcoming attack. These were based on 14th Army’s erroneous assumption that the American positions in front of him constituted an outpost line and that the main objective was a line at Limay.

Nara’s plan was to make the main effort in the area held by Bluemel’s men. The center of the attack was to be Capot, a small barrio near Trail 2 in front of the main line of resistance. Making the attack would be two regiments, the 9th on the right (west) and the 141st on the left. They were to advance as far as the Pandan River where they would make ready for the assault against the supposed main line of resistance near Limay. The advance of these two regiments would be supported by Colonel Masataro Yoshizawa’s 142nd Infantry (less 1st Battalion) on the brigade right, which was to drive southeast across the slopes of Mt. Samat to the Pandan River. Having reached the river, Yoshizawa was to shift the direction of his attack and advance down the river in a northeasterly direction to take the defenders in the rear. The regiment’s initial advance would bring it to the American main line of resistance at the junction of Sectors C and D.

The attack jumped off at 1500, 27 January, with a feint by Major Tadaji Tanabe’s 1st Battalion, 142nd Infantry, down the East Road. Although the Japanese claimed to have met “fierce” fire from the Filipinos in this sector, the 31 st Infantry (PA) was not even aware that an attack was being made. At 1600 the rest of Colonel Yoshizawa’s regiment attacked in the area between Sectors C and D, where the 51st Combat Team and 21st Division were posted. Without any difficulty the regiment occupied the outpost line, but was stopped cold at the main line of resistance.

The main attack by the 9th and 141st Infantry against Capot began as darkness settled over the battlefield. With the exception of a single battalion of Takechi’s 9th Infantry, which managed to cross the Pilar River and entrench itself in a bamboo thicket about seventy-five yards north of the main line, this attack, like that of the 142nd, failed to achieve its objective. General Nara was forced to conclude after the returns were in that a stronger effort would be required to drive the enemy into Manila Bay. But he still believed that the line he had unsuccessfully attacked on the night of the 27th was an advanced position or outpost line.

Meanwhile the 41st Infantry, promised to General Bluemel on the 26th, had begun to arrive in Sector C. Advance elements of the regiment reported in on the evening of the 27th and by the following morning, after a twenty-four-hour march over steep trails carrying its own arms, equipment, and rations, the regiment, less its 1st Battalion, was on the line. The 3rd Battalion took over a front of about 1,200 yards east of Trail 2, relieving the 2nd Battalion, 32nd Infantry. Since it had no machine guns, it was reinforced by Company H of the 32nd, and the headquarters battery of the 31st Field Artillery (PA). One company of the 41st, Company F, was placed on Trail 2, well behind the main line of resistance, in position to support the troops on either side of the trail. The 2nd Battalion (less Company F) went into regimental reserve.

When all units were in place, Bluemel’s sector was organized from right to left (east to west), as follows: 32nd Infantry (less Company H); 41st Infantry reinforced by Company H, 32nd Infantry, and Headquarters Battery, 31st Field Artillery; and the remnants of the 51st Division. To the rear, on Trail 2, was Company F, 41st Infantry. On the afternoon of the 28th General Nara ordered his troops to continue the attack. This time, however, he placed more emphasis on the northeast slopes of Mt. Samat where he conceived the enemy strong 334 points to be, and requested support from the artillery. The 141st Infantry, which was east of the 9th, was directed to move west of that regiment, between it and the 142nd, thus shifting the weight of the attack westward. Tanabe’s battalion remained on the East Road.

As before, the attack began at dusk. At 1830 of the 29th the 142nd Infantry on the brigade right waded the Tiawir River, in front of the 22nd Infantry (Sector D), but was stopped there. The 141st, which was to attack on the left (east) of the 142nd, failed to reach its new position until midnight, too late to participate in the action that night.

Colonel Takechi’s 9th Infantry was hardly more successful than the 142nd in its advance down Trail 2. Most of the regiment had crossed the Pilar River during the day to join the battalion in the bamboo thickets just in front of Bluemel’s sector. From there the regiment had advanced by sapping operations as far as the wire entanglements on the front line. Thus, when Takechi’s men moved out for the attack, after an hour-long preparation by the artillery, they were already at the main line of resistance.

The fight which followed was brisk and at close quarters. The 41st Infantry east of Trail 2, supported by machine gun fire from Company H, 32nd Infantry, held its line against every onslaught, with Company K, on the trail, meeting the enemy at bayonet point. West of the trail, elements of the 51st Combat Team were hard hit and in danger of being routed. Fortunately, reinforcements arrived in time to bolster the extreme right of its line, closest to the trail, and the enemy was repulsed.

Next morning when a count was made the Filipinos found about one hundred dead Japanese within 150 yards of the main line of resistance. Some of the bodies were no more than a few yards from the foxholes occupied by the Filipinos, who suffered only light casualties. Again General Nara’s attempt to pierce what he thought was an outpost line had failed.

Action during the two days that followed was confusing and indecisive. The Japanese, after nearly a month of continuous combat, were discouraged and battle weary. Losses, especially among the officers, had been high. “The front line units,” complained General Nara, “notwithstanding repeated fierce attacks … still did not make progress …. Battle strength rapidly declined and the difficulties of officers and men became extreme.” When “the greater part of the Brigade’s fighting strength,” the 9th Infantry, was ordered by General Homma to join its parent unit, the 16th Division, General Nara’s situation became even more discouraging. With commendable tenacity, however, he persisted in his efforts to break through the remarkably strong “outpost line,” and on 31 January ordered his troops to attack again that night. This time he made provision for air and artillery support. The 9th Infantry, scheduled to move out that night, Nara replaced by Major Tanabe’s battalion.

At 1700, 31 January, the assault opened with an air attack against II Corps artillery below the Pandan River. An hour later the artillery preparation began, and “Bataan Peninsula,” in General Nara’s favorite phrase, “shook with the thunderous din of guns.” The Japanese laid fire systematically on both sides of Trail 2 and down the trail as far back as the regimental reserve line.

At about 1930 the barrage lifted and the infantry made ready to attack. At just this moment the artillery in Bluemel’s sector opened fire on the ford over the Pilar River and the area to the north in what the Japanese described as “a fierce bombardment.” Simultaneously, according to the same source, “a tornado of machine gun fire” swept across the right portion of the Japanese infantry line assembling for the attack, effectively ending Japanese plans for an offensive that night. The careful preparation by aircraft and artillery had been wasted and the attack, mourned General Nara, “was frustrated.”

That night Colonel Takechi began to withdraw his 9th Infantry from the bamboo thicket ·in front of the main line of resistance near Trail 2. Casualties in the regiment had been severe and the withdrawal was delayed while the wounded were evacuated. By daybreak, 1 February, only one of the battalions had been able to pull out of its position. The rest of the regiment, unable to move during the hours of daylight, remained concealed in the thicket until darkness. Then a second battalion began to pull back, completing the move that night. On the morning of the 2nd, only one battalion of the 9th Infantry remained in the thicket.

Meanwhile General Nara had been receiving disquieting reports of heavy troops movements behind the American line. His information was correct. General Bluemel was making preparations for a counterattack. His first effort on the 30th to drive the Japanese from the bamboo thicket had failed because the artillery had been unable to place its shells on the target. What he needed to hit the thicket was high-angle fire, but he had had no light mortars and the ammunition of the 3-inch Stokes mortar had proved “so unreliable as to be practically worthless.” 20 Since then General Parker had given Bluemel a battery of 2.95-inch mountain pack howitzers and ordered him to attack again. By the morning of the 2nd he was ready. The 2.95’s, 300 to 400 yards from the thicket, were in position to deliver direct fire and the 31st Engineer Battalion (PA), drawn from reserve to make the attack, was in readiness behind the main line of resistance.

At 0800 the counterattack opened. While the pack howitzers laid direct fire on the target, the 31st Engineer Battalion crossed the main line of resistance and headed toward the enemy concealed in the thicket. They were supported in their advance by rifle and machine gun fire from the frontline units near Trail 2. The engineers had not gone far before they encountered stiff resistance from the single battalion of the 9th Infantry still in position. After a small gain the attack stalled altogether, and elements of the 41st Infantry were sent into the fight. The advance then continued slowly and by dusk the Filipinos, at a cost of twenty casualties, had reached the thicket. There they halted for the night.

Next morning, 3 February, when the engineers and infantry, expecting to fight hard for every yard, resumed the attack, they found their advance entirely unopposed. During the night the last of the 9th Infantry had slipped out of the thicket and across the Pilar River. Bluemel’s troops thereupon promptly moved the outpost line forward to a ditch about 150 yards below the Pilar-Bagac road. The danger of a break-through along Trail 2 was over.

General Nara’s ill fortune was matched only by his persistence. Although he had been repulsed with very heavy casualties three times and had lost his strongest regiment, he was still determined to push the “outpost line” into the bay. During the next few days, while activities along the front were limited to patrol and harassing action by both sides, he reorganized his brigade, replenished his supplies, and sent out reconnaissance parties. By 8 February he was ready to resume the offensive and that afternoon told his unit commanders to stand by for orders. Before they could be issued, however, he received a telephone call from 14th 4rmy headquarters at San Fernando suspending the attack. Late that night, at 2330, he received another call from San Fernando canceling his plans altogether and directing him to withdraw the brigade to a position north of the Pilar-Bagac road and there await further instructions. General Homma’s orders were based only partially on Nara’s inability to reach Limay.

Everywhere on Bataan the Japanese offensive had stalled. The landings along the west coast had by this time proved disastrous and had resulted in the destruction of two infantry battalions Homma could ill afford to lose. But even more serious was the situation along the I Corps line in western Bataan where General Kimura had launched an offensive on 26 January.

SOURCE: The Fall Of The Philippines by Louis Morton (United States Army Center of Military History)

World War Two: Fall of Philippines (4-18B); Fight for the Pockets

World War Two: Fall of Philippines (4-17B); Battle of the Points; Anyasan and Silaiim

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