The Blood and Mud in the Philippines: Anti-Guerrilla Warfare on Panay Island
8.1 US Forces Land on Panay
Early in the morning of March 18, I was awakened by the sound of heavy explosions from the direction of the Tigbauan garrison. It was an emergency signal from the garrison but it suddenly stopped. The time was 4:50 a.m. The explosions lasted a few minutes and afterwards silence returned. We could not make contact with Tigbauan and we received no information from any of the other garrisons. At that moment, indeed, the garrison of the 3rd Company was blown off by bombardment from warships of the US Fleet and transport convoy led by Rear Admiral A.D. Struble, under the command of Vice Admiral Thomas C. Kinkaid of the US 7th Fleet. Around 7,000 men of the US Army’s 40th Infantry Division (185th Regimental Combat Team and 160th Infantry Regiment and 542nd Engineering Unit) headed by Maj. Gen. Rapp Brush had landed at Tigbauan. Around 200 vehicles such as tanks and military trucks were counted just along the road between Tigbauan and Cordova.
First Lieutenant Chiyomi Toyota of the 3rd Company stationed at the Cordova garrison was the only officer who witnessed the landing of the US forces. The Cordova position stood on a hill eight kilometers north of Tigbauan overlooking the Panay Gulf. With 30 other soldiers, Toyota had successfully parried guerrilla attacks. In the early morning of March 18, however, he awoke to terrible explosions and climbed the watchtower.
He saw the blue-white lights of the warship bombardment and heard the blasts. Flashes from the Kawano unit’s position in Tigbauan, blown off by about 1,500 shells from bombardment of the landing warships, were also visible.
Eagerly waving little American and Filipino flags, the local residents excitedly welcomed the US forces in a festive atmosphere. The US tank forces attacked the Cordova position and Cabatuan airfield. Another unit entered Iloilo City to scout for other Japanese. On the same day, the construction of a temporary runway made of steel matting was started at Oton and was completed the next day.
Around 2 p.m., we suddenly heard guns in the direction of Molo – a dozen shots that moved from point to point, which made me wonder if the guerrillas had finally started using self-propelled guns. Running and stumbling like a rolling ball, an orderly from the Fujii unit soon arrived to report, ‘The enemy tanks are attacking the Molo position.’ The second orderly followed with the report, ‘A dozen enemy tanks are approaching and fiercely attacking from the direction of Molo. There are three or four tanks at the Molo Bridge. The landmines all ended up misfiring. Hurry up and send reinforcements!’
Damn, all my reliable landmines had misfired. I stomped my feet in frustration. Now there was no doubt about the landing of the US forces. First Lieutenant Ishikawa immediately sent the Machine-Gun Force and NCO Cadet Platoon to reinforce the Molo position.
Fortunately, by the time the reinforcements rushed to the scene, the enemy tanks had just withdrawn after rampaging around to their satisfaction. In this battle, First Lieutenant Sugahara fought against a tank at close quarters and was killed in action. A direct hit of the tank’s machine gun blasted off his upper body.
8.2 Fierce Fighting at Jaro: Breaking Out of the Siege
The US landing was evident on that morning of March 18 and emergency calls were sent to the unit leaders. The Japanese Army in Panay had its final operations meeting at the headquarters’ air raid shelter at the Commander’s new quarters near the Iloilo City Hall in Molo. Previously the swimming pool at the garden of the Locsin family residence, the shelter was still in existence in 1973.
At the meeting, the headquarters staff all looked tense. Apart from Lieutenant Colonel Ryoichi Tozuka (unit commander). 1st Lieutenant Ishikawa, and myself, there were the following: Army Doctor Egami, Finance Officer 1st Lieutenant Kuge, 1st Lieutenant Yamamoto (deputy commander of the machine-gun force), Lieutenant Fujii of the 2nd Company, Captain Kaneyuki Koike (Kempeitai commander), and Lieutenant Noda of the 1st Company of the Tanabe unit, Commander Suzuki of the Transport Company, and 1st Lieutenant Mizutani (commander of the oil tank construction unit), a captain in charge of engineering of the airfield construction unit, Commander Ika of the Hôjin Company, 1st Lieutenant Nakamura of the remaining 102nd Division forces, President Kimura of the Japanese Association (Nihonjin-kai), and Medical Doctor Tanaka of the Iloilo Army Hospital. With a few dozen men, Captain Torao Saitô (machine gun unit commander) had left the previous night to lead the retreat of the Santo Rosario garrison at Guimaras. They managed to get back later that evening.
Colonel Tozuka ordered the abandonment of Iloilo City and the move towards Bocari. I then explained the plan. The plan of the operation was to break through enemy positions at Jaro by force. The front right line, under the command of Captain Torao Saitô, consisted of around 450 men of the machine-gun force, the NCO cadet force, the transport company, the labor platoon attached to the headquarters, and the communication unit. There were around 200 men from the Noda Company of the Tanabe unit and a mortar platoon at the front left line. With the road between Jaro and Pavia at the center, the Saitô Force on the right, the Noda Force on the left, the course of the attack was all left with Captain Saitô, with lst Lieutenant Ishikawa as adviser.
The attack was to commence at 8 p.m. that night, since we would have to force our way through enemy lines before the moon rose at 10 p.m. Before reaching Pavia, we should make a quick turn towards the direction of San Miguel. Behind the first line, the 60 men of the headquarters unit, 60 men of the Kempeitai, 180 of the Mizutani Force, 50 of the remaining 102nd Division Nakamura unit, 200 Hôjin, 80 of the Hôjin Company, the Army Hospital Force and 300 patients, were to follow. Then, the 20 trucks and 20 horses, guarded at the rear by 150 members of the Fujii Company. It was emphasized to all that everyone should arrive at Alimodian by dawn of the next day.
The final unsolved problem involved 50 patients in serious condition. I could not give them the instructions and asked the hospital chief, Army Doctor Tanaka, to do so. He seemed to have already made up his mind and replied in a low clear voice, ‘We will take care of the patients who cannot move.’ He looked pale.
On top of these points were the following instructions: the Philippine Railway, the Shimamoto Shipping Company, the bombs stored in the old Spanish barracks at Fort San Pedro, the electric generation plant, the telephone office, and Forbes Bridge between Iloilo and La Paz should be , destroyed. The military notes stored in the consulate should be burned along with the building it occupied. The Kempeitai commander, Kaneyuki Koike, was to request Governor Caram and Iloilo City Mayor Ybiernas to join the Japanese Army, but that he should not force them to do so. There was a strict ban against setting houses on fire and killing civilians. ‘Don’t ‘ set fire. Don’t kill. We’re fighting against the US, not against the guerrillas.’ Finally, the instructions stressed that the forces should assemble at Jaro before 8 p.m. The planning meeting adjourned around 5 p.m. By then, enemy planes were flying very low over the city.
Soon, explosions of heavy shells fired by the enemy forces positioned at Arevalo started to fall into the city. Soldiers attached to the headquarters burned confidential papers and set fire to the staff car. In the light of the flames, soldiers assembled on the main road in front of the unit commander’s quarters and, set out on a silent march. As we passed the San Pablo hospital, Hôjin women called out to us one after another, sadly pleading, ‘Help us, please, soldiers, we depend on you.’ I felt sympathy for the Hôjin and heavy-hearted about the future. Passing by the Provincial Capitol, my joyful memories of the past in Iloilo City rushed through my mind. Further ahead, the Lopez residence stood surrounded by trees, reminding me of the happy days when I was invited there. I yelled on loudly, ‘Do not set this on fire!’ as we continued to advance, past the Iloilo High School building where our former headquarters had been, and the home of the Cacho head of the PECO that used to be the commander’s residence. The Iloilo Normal School and the Army Hospital were on fire. The Hospital must have been set on fire after the patients who could not move had killed themselves. I felt very sorry for them.
However, after we passed Jaro plaza, all the emotions disappeared. The coconut groves stood silently in the dark. The time had come for the final battle. By now, the front line attack forces were ready at the assembly point. Silent peace before the storm had arrived. This was to the north of the Carmelite Monastery in the Jaro suburbs. The unit commander summoned Captains Saitô and Noda and simply told them, ‘Let us start now.’ The soldiers lying on the ground made no noise until the reverberation of the commanders’ footsteps on the pavement faded in the distance. Suddenly, there were ‘Bang! Bang!’ sounds. Several mortar shots and all the heavy and light machine guns of the Japanese Army fired all at once.
At the same time, just like strong winds and rains, torrents of enemy fire started. Especially distinct were thuds from 20 mm heavy pom-pom guns set on both sides of the road. The shells and bullets passed right above my head.
After some time, the storm of shooting stopped and it became quiet. When the guerrillas noticed that we were moving, their volley started again. Afterward, silence returned. Two hours passed, yet there was no sign of a break through enemy lines. The moon was about to rise. It was now impossible to force through the blockade since we had about 400 elderly, women, children, and patients with us. There was also the danger of the US forces closing in from behind. Besides, we only had limited amounts of ammunition.
Whenever there was the slightest movement on the Japanese side, the enemy showered us with bullets. Eventually, news came that the front line commander Saitô was wounded. Colonel Tozuka and I were shocked, but immediately assigned 1st Lieutenant Yamamoto to replace him. Thus, March 18 passed in this continuous exchange of firepower. (To be continued)