World War Two: Fall of Philippines; Southern Islands (Part 5-28A)

As long as the decisive struggle for control of the Philippines was being fought on Luzon, the islands to the south were safe from invasion. At no time during the first four months of the war did General Homma have sufficient troops to conduct operations simultaneously in both areas. Having established a foothold on Mindanao, at Davao, late in December, he had been forced to limit operations in the south to air and naval reconnaissance. It was not until April, as the Bataan campaign was drawing to a close, that Homma had a large enough force to embark on the conquest of the southern islands. The opening gun of this campaign sounded on 10 April, one day after the Bataan campaign ended.

The Islands and Their Defense

Mindanao, the southernmost island in the Philippine Archipelago, has an area of more than 36,000 square miles and is second in size to Luzon. Its coast line is irregular and its bays afford shelter at many places for a hostile fleet. Much of the beach line is flat and two large river valleys offer easy routes of advance into the interior. The Zamboanga Peninsula jutting westward from the center of the island into the Sulu Sea is virtually indefensible and easily cut off at its narrow neck from the rest of Mindanao. Along the northeast coast is the Diuata Mountain range; in the wild and largely unexplored interior extinct volcanoes rise to formidable heights.

Transportation and communications on Mindanao were greatly inferior to those on Luzon. There were no railroads on the island and only two highways. The longest of these, Route 1, followed a circuitous route from Digos on the east coast across the narrow waist of Mindanao to Cotabato then northward to the northeast tip of the island. The stretch of road between that point and Davao was still under construction in 1941. Route 3, named the Sayre Highway in honor of the Philippine High Commissioner, extended southward through central Mindanao for a distance of about 100 miles, linking the northern and southern arms of Route 1. The northern stretch of the road was well surfaced and usable in all weather, but the southern portion had a clay surface which, after a rain, “reminded one of the glutinous stuff found near the Black Hills in South Dakota.”

Additional means of transportation on Mindanao were provided by small vessels, which moved freely along the coast and up the island’s two large navigable rivers, the Agusan and Rio Grande de Mindanao. The first flows north through a wide and marshy valley on the inland side of the Diuata Mountains on the east coast to empty into the Mindanao Sea. The second, called simply the Mindanao River, flows south and west through central Mindanao, parallel to the Sayre Highway and Route 1, to empty into Moro Gulf at Cotabato.

Visayan group: Cebu, Panay, Negros,

Between Mindanao and Luzon lie the islands of the Visayan group, the most important of which are Cebu, Panay, Negros, Leyte, and Samar. Most of these islands consist of a central mountain area surrounded by coastal plains. Panay, split north and south by a comparatively large central plain between two mountain ranges, has the largest level area of the group. Cebu, the most mountainous, has the least. The road net throughout the Visayas is generally the same: a primary coastal road all or part way around each island, with auxiliary roads linking important points in the interior to the ports along the coast. None of these roads, in 1941, had more than two lanes, and most were poorly surfaced and winding. On the most highly developed of the islands-Cebu, Negros, and Panay-there were short stretches of railroad.

Coastal shipping supplemented the road and rail system in the islands and linked the islands of the Visayan group with each other and with Mindanao. The defense of Mindanao and the Visayas-comprising a land area half again as large as Luzon-rested with the Visayan-Mindanao Force, commanded by Brigadier General William F. Sharp, who had his headquarters initially on Cebu. This force was composed almost entirely of Philippine Army troops. Of the five divisions mobilized, in the south, only three, the 61st, 81st, and 101st, remained in the area. The other two divisions, the 71st and 91st, moved to Luzon, leaving behind their last mobilized regiments, the 73rd and 93rd. In addition, a large number of provisional units and some Constabulary units were formed on the outbreak of the war.

General Sharp’s problems were similar to those faced by the commanders on Luzon. His untrained men lacked personal and organizational equipment of all types. There were not enough uniforms, blankets, or mosquito bars to go around, and though each man had a rifle-the Enfield ’17-not all understood its use. Moreover, many of the rifles were defective and quickly broke down. Machine guns of .30- and .50-caliber were issued, but many of these were defective also and had to be discarded.

Spare parts for all weapons were lacking and guns that ordinarily would have been easily repaired had to be abandoned. There were no antitank guns, grenades, gas masks, or steel helmets for issue, and the supply of ammunition was extremely limited. General Sharp’s most serious shortage was in artillery weapons. At the start of the war he had not a single piece in his entire command and as a result organized the artillery components of his divisions as infantry.

On 12 December he received from Manila eight old 2.95-inch mountain guns, three of which were lost two weeks later at Davao. The remaining five pieces constituted Sharp’s entire artillery support throughout the campaign. To alleviate the shortages in clothing, spare parts for weapons, and other equipment, factories, staffed and operated by Filipinos, were established. They were able to turn out such diverse items as shoes, hand grenades, underwear, and extractors for the Enfield. Unfortunately there was no way to manufacture small-arms ammunition or artillery pieces, and those remained critical items until the end.

General Sharp’s mission, initially, was to defend the entire area south of Luzon. When organized resistance was no longer practicable, he was to split his force into small groups and conduct guerilla warfare from hidden bases in the interior of each island. Food, ammunition, fuel, and equipment, were to be moved inland, out of reach of the enemy, in preparation for such a contingency.

Those supplies that could not be moved were to be destroyed. At the end of December, after he had made his decision to withdraw to Bataan, General MacArthur informed the Visayan-Mindanao Force commander that he could expect no further aid from Luzon and instructed him to transfer the bulk of his troops to Mindanao for the defense of that island and its important airfield at Del Monte. The move to Mindanao began immediately and was completed early in January.

With Sharp’s headquarters and most of the troops on Mindanao, the Visayas assumed a secondary importance in the defense of the south. In the event of attack it would be virtually impossible to reinforce any of the islands in that group from Mindanao. Each of the six defended islands Cebu, Panay, Negros, Leyte, Samar, and Bohol-was now dependent upon its own garrison and resources to meet a Japanese invasion.

Visayan-Mindanao Force

The organization of the Visayan-Mindanao Force established early in January lasted only about one month. On 4 February, in an effort to facilitate the delivery of supplies expected shortly from Australia, USAFFE assumed direct control of the garrisons on Panay and Mindoro, both a part of General Sharp’s command. A month later, a week before MacArthur’s departure for Australia, the remaining Visayan garrisons were separated from General Sharp’s command which was then redesignated the Mindanao Force. The five garrisons in the Visayas were then organized into the Visayan Force and placed under Brigadier General Bradford G. Chynoweth, who had commanded on Panay. As coequal commanders, Sharp and Chynoweth reported directly to higher headquarters on Corregidor. This separation of the Visayan-Mindanao Force clearly reflected MacArthur’s desire to insure the most effective defense of Mindanao, which he hoped to use as a base for his promised return to the Philippines.

Japanese planning for operations in the south did not begin until late in the campaign. The initial 14th Army plan for the conquest of the Philippines contained only brief references to Mindanao and the Visayas, which were expected to fall quickly once Manila was taken. During the months that followed the first landing, Homma showed little interest in the islands south of Luzon. But even had he desired to move into that area, he would have been unable to do so. In February the campaign on Bataan had reached a stalemate. Imperial General Headquarters, informed of Homma’s situation and worried over his slow progress, pressed for an early end to the Philippine campaign and finally, early in March, sent the needed reinforcements. With them came orders to begin operations in the south concurrently with those against Bataan and Corregidor.

It was several weeks before the troops scheduled for use in the south reached the Philippines. The first contingent came from Borneo and arrived at Lingayen Gulf on 1 April. It consisted of Headquarters, 35th Brigade, and the 124th Infantry, both from the 18th Division. Led by Major General Kiyotake Kawaguchi, the brigade commander, this force, with the addition of 14th Army supporting and service troops, was organized into a separate detachment known as the Kawaguchi Detachment. Four days later elements of the 5th Division from Malaya, consisting of the headquarters of Major General Saburo Kawamura’s 9th Infantry Brigade and the 41st Infantry, reached Lingayen. With these troops, augmented by service and supporting troops, Homma formed the Kawamura Detachment. These two detachments, plus the Miura Detachment already at Davao, constituted the entire force assigned the conquest of the southern Philippines.

The Virayas

The creation of the Visayan Force on 4 March had brought a change in commanders and a renewed vigor to the preparations for a prolonged defense of the islands in the Visayan group. In the force were about 20,000 men organized into five separate garrisons, each with its own commander. The largest of these was Colonel Albert F. Christie’s Panay Force which consisted of the 61st Division (PA), less the 61st and 62nd Infantry (regiments), and the 61st Field Artillery which Sharp had taken to Mindanao. To replace these units, the island commander had organized the 64th and 65th Provisional Infantry Regiments. The addition of miscellaneous Constabulary troops brought the total of Christie’s garrison to about 7,000 men.

Colonel Irvine C. Scudder, commander of the troops on Cebu, where Visayan Force headquarters was located, had about 6,500 troops, including the 82nd and 83rd Infantry (PA), the Cebu Military Police Regiment, a Philippine Army Air Corps detachment, and miscellaneous units. On Negros were about 3,000 troops under the command of ColonelRoger B. Hilsman, who had led the force opposing the Japanese landing at Davao. Leyte and Samar were held by a hastily improvised force of 2,500 men led by Colonel Theodore M. Cornell, and Bohol by about 1,000 men under Lieutenant Colonel Arthur J. Grimes.

General Homma’s preoccupation with Bataan gave General Chynoweth, the Visayan Force commander, an additional month in which to make his preparations. Much had already been accomplished when he assumed command, and under his direction the defenses were rapidly brought to completion.

On Cebu and Panay, where the defenses were most elaborate, the men had constructed tank obstacles, trenches, and gun emplacements, strung wire, and prepared demolitions. Airfield construction was pushed rapidly on all the islands. Panay alone had eight. Negros had an air and sea warning system and was able to alert the other garrisons of the approach of enemy planes and ships. Most of the work on these and other defenses was done by civilians, thus leaving the troops free to continue their training.

Perhaps the most interesting feature of the preparations for the defense of the Visayas was the program known as Operation Baus Au, Visayan for “Get it Back.” Initiated by General Chynoweth during his tenure as the commander of the Panay garrison and then adopted on Cebu, Operation Baus Au was the large-scale movement of goods, supplies, and weapons into the interior for use later in guerrilla warfare. Secret caches were established in remote and inaccessible places, and at mountain hideouts which could be reached only by steep, narrow trails barely passable for a man on foot.

The 63rd Infantry, which did most of the cargador work on Panay, adopted as its insignia a carabao sled loaded with a sack of rice and bearing the inscription Baus Au. The effect on the civilian population of Operation Baus Au and other measures for a prolonged defense in the interior was unfortunate. The Filipinos felt that they were being abandoned and their faith in the American protector was badly shaken. What they expected was a pitched battle at the beaches ending in the rout of the enemy. “They took great pride in their Army,” noted Colonel Tarkington, “and having been indoctrinated for years with the idea of American invincibility, were all for falling on the enemy tooth and nail and hurling him back into the sea.”

Japanese knowledge of conditions in the Visayas was accurate and fairly complete. Though they did not know the exact disposition of the troops in the area, they knew which islands were defended and the approximate size of the defending force. Homma was confident that with the reinforcements from Malaya and Borneo he could seize the key islands in the group. His plan was to take Cebu with the Kawaguchi Detachment and Panay with the Kawamura Detachment. These two forces, in co-operation with the Miura Detachment at Davao, would then move on to take Mindanao. That island conquered, the remaining garrisons in the Philippines could be reduced at leisure if they did not surrender of their own accord.

No time was wasted in putting this plan into effect. On 5 April, four days after the Kawaguchi Detachment reached Lingayen Gulf, it was aboard ship once more, headed for Cebu. With 4,852 trained and battletested troops, General Kawaguchi had little reason to fear the outcome.

The Cebu Landings

First word of the approach of the Japanese reached General Chynoweth on the afternoon of 9 April, during a meeting with his staff and unit commanders. Three Japanese cruisers and eleven transports, it was reported, were steaming for Cebu from the south. All troops were alerted and a close watch kept on the enemy flotilla. That night further news was received that the Japanese force had split in two, one, sailing along the west coast, the other along the east. By daylight the enemy vessels were plainly visible, with the larger of the convoys already close to the island’s capital, Cebu City, midway up the east coast. Shortly after dawn the Japanese in this convoy landed at Cebu City; at about the same time the men in the other convoy came ashore in the vicinity of Toledo, on the opposite side of the island.

Defending the capital, where Kawaguchi had landed the bulk of his troops, was the Cebu Military Police Regiment of about 1,100 men under the command of Lieutenant Colonel Howard J. Edmands. Edmands’ mission, like that of other unit commanders on the island, was to hold only long enough to allow the demolition teams to complete their work, then fall back into the hills. “I had no idea of being able to stop the Japs,” explained General Chynoweth, “but I thought we could spend two or three days in withdrawal.”

[The account of operations on Cebu is based upon: Chynoweth, 6Ist Div (PA) and Visayan Force Rpt, pp. 13, 16-24, 33; Tarkington, There Were Others, pp. 265-81; Scudder, Rpt of Mil Activities in Cebu, and Lt Col Howard J. Edmands, Rpt of Invasion of Cebu, last two in V-MF Rpt af Opns, pp. 401, 436-51. The Japanese apparently made more than two landings but their exact number and location cannot be fixed with certainty. American sources list as many as seven landings along both coasts. The only available Japanese source simply states that the Kawaguchi Detachment landed “on the east coast of Cebu.”]

The fight for Cebu City lasted only one day. Faced by a foe superior in numbers and weapons, the defenders fell back slowly, fighting for the time needed to block the roads and destroy the bridges leading into the interior. By the afternoon the fight had reached the outskirts of the city and at 1700 the Japanese broke off the action. Under cover of darkness Edmands pulled his men back to previously selected positions about ten miles inland, along a ridge which commanded the approaches from Cebu City to the central mountain area. Though the Japanese were in undisputed control of the capital at the end of the day, Edmands had achieved his purpose. He had gained the time needed by the demolition teams, and his regiment was still intact and withdrawing in good order.

The Japanese enjoyed equal success that day on the west side of the island, in the neighborhood of Toledo. Western terminus of the cross-island highway, that town was an important military objective. But, on the assumption that the narrow channel along the west would discourage an enemy from landing there, only a small force, the 3rd Battalion, 82nd Infantry (PA), had been placed in that area. The Philippine Army battalion opposed the enemy landing vigorously but without success and finally fell back along the cross-island highway toward the town of Cantabaco, leaving the Japanese in possession of Toledo.

At Cantabaco, midway across the island, the highway split in two. One branch turned northeast to pass close to Camp X, where General Chynoweth had his headquarters, then southeast to Talisay. The southern branch led into Kaga. At both places there was a defending force of Filipinos whose route of withdrawal depended upon the security of Cantabaco. Should the Japanese pursuing the 3rd Battalion, 82nd Infantry, gain control of that town, the defenders would be cut off.

General Chynoweth appreciated fully the importance of Cantabaco to the defense of Cebu. Even before the Japanese landings, in anticipation of difficulty there, he had brought Colonel Grimes and his 3rd Battalion, 83rd Infantry, from Bohol to support the defenses of western Cebu. Now, on the afternoon of the 10th, he ordered Grimes to cover Cantabaco, and as an added precaution sent a messenger with orders to his reserve battalion in the north to move down to the threatened area. Grimes, “eager to get into the fray … started out with a gleam in his eye,” and Chynoweth, confident that he had things reasonably well in hand, settled down for a good night’s sleep. He got little rest that night. Time and again he was awakened by anxious staff officers who reported that the enemy was approaching from the direction of Cantabaco.

Despite these reports Chynoweth remained confident. He had received no message from Grimes, and he felt sure that if the enemy had broken through at Cantabaco, Grimes would have sent word. Moreover, there had been no explosions to indicate that the demolition teams along the road were doing their work. He had inspected these demolitions himself and felt sure that if the enemy had passed Cantabaco, the charges would have been set off.

But at 0330, when the sounds of battle became louder, Chynoweth’s confidence began to wane. The enemy was undoubtedly nearing Camp X. A half hour later all doubts vanished when large groups of Filipinos, the outposts of Camp X, appeared in camp. They seemed hypnotized, fired in the air, and refused to obey commands in their haste to flee. After a brief conference with his staff, Chynoweth decided to pull back to an alternate command post on a ridge a half mile to the north and await developments there.

The collapse of the Cantabaco position had been the result of an unfortunate and unforeseen combination of events. The demolition teams in which Chynoweth had placed so much faith had waited too long and when the enemy appeared, led by tanks or armored cars, they had fled. Like his commander, Colonel Grimes believed that the enemy would be halted by blown bridges and obstacles along the road. Not hearing the sound of explosions, he, too, concluded that the Japanese were still at a safe distance. In his confidence he drove forward to familiarize himself with the terrain and was captured by an enemy patrol. Deprived of their commander, his men “stayed quite well hidden.” So well were they hidden that even the Japanese were unaware of their presence.

The reserve battalion had never even started south. The messengers sent to that battalion failed to return, and if the battalion commander did receive Chynoweth’s order to move to Cantabaco, he never complied with it. Instead, the battalion moved farther north, well out of reach of the enemy.

Opposed only by the retreating 3rd Battalion, 82nd Infantry, which was quickly dispersed, the Japanese had advanced swiftly from Toledo through Cantabaco and then along the Talisay and Naga roads. It was the Japanese force along the Talisay road that had scattered the Camp X outposts and forced upon Chynoweth the realization that his plans for the defenses of Cantabaco had miscarried.

With the enemy in possession of the cross-island highway, the fight for Cebu was over. Nothing more could be accomplished in central Cebu and on the night of the 12th, Chynoweth, with about 200 men, started north to his retreat in the mountains. From there he hoped to organize the few units still remaining on the island into an efficient guerrilla force. The Japanese did not claim the complete subjugation of the island until 19 April, but Wainwright had already conceded the loss of Cebu three days earlier when he ordered General Sharp to re-establish the Visayan-Mindanao Force and take command of the remaining garrisons in the Visayas.

The Seizure of Panay

When General Chynoweth, the first commander of the Panay garrison, assumed command of the Visa yan Force and moved to Cebu in mid-March, he had named as successor Colonel Christie, his chief of staff. Under Christie’s leadership work on the island’s defenses continued and by mid-April preparations for the expected Japanese attack had been virtually completed. As on Cebu the plan of defense provided only for delaying action to allow the demolition teams to complete their work. The 61st Division (PA) and other troops on the islands, altogether 7,000 men, were to fall back to previously selected positions until they reached the mountains to the north. From there, well provided with the food and supplies gathered as a result of Operation Baus Au, Christie would wage guerrilla warfare against the enemy until such time as reinforcements arrived.

The enemy landing came at dawn, 16 April, and was made by the Kawamura Detachment of 4,160 men. The bulk of General Kawamura’s troops came ashore at Iloilo, at the southeast corner of Panay, and a smaller force landed at Capiz to the north. Two days later a third landing was made at San Jose, along the southwest coast. None of the landings was opposed. By 20 April General Kawamura had occupied the strategic points of the island, and so far as he was concerned the campaign was over.

For Colonel Christie, safe in his wellstocked mountain retreat, the campaign had just begun. Wild game was plentiful; he had ample fresh water, 500 head of cattle, 15,000 bags of rice, hundreds of cases of canned goods, and an adequate supply of fuel. Machine shops had been constructed in the mountains, and when his supply of rice gave out there was a mill to thresh more.

Almost immediately he began to send his men out on hit-and-run raids. These so aroused the Japanese that they organized a punitive expedition at San Jose to capture Christie and destroy his headquarters. A Filipino agent sent warning of the Japanese plans and an ambush was prepared by a company of men armed only with bows and arrows, spears and bolos. Hidden along the sides of the pass leading to Christie’s hideout, the Filipinos with their primitive weapons took the Japanese completely by surprise, killed many, and sent the rest posthaste back to San Jose. But the successes of guerrilla warfare could not disguise the fact that, with the principal towns and road net in their hands, the Japanese controlled the island.

By the seizure of Cebu and Panay, the Japanese had secured a firm grip on the most important islands in the Visayas. The forces still holding out on Negros, Samar, Leyte, and Bohol were considerably smaller than those already defeated and driven back into the hills, and the Japanese were confident that these islands could be occupied at will. By 20 April the campaign for the Visayas was, for all practical purposes, at an end, and General Homma was free to send the Kawaguchi and Kawamura Detachments against Mindanao.

[The account of operations on Panay is based on Tarkington, There Were Others, pp. 297-306. The Visayan-Mindanao Force Report of Operations contains no report of activities on Panay after Chynoweth’s departure, and none was prepared by Colonel Christie. Interv, author with Christie, 6 May 47. The only Japanese account is in 14th Army Opns, I, 215.]

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

World War Two: Fall of Philippines; Southern Islands (5-28B)

World War Two: Fall of Philippines; Siege of Corregidor (5-27)


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