It’s ironic how some 75 years later, many Kagay-anons are still unaware that it was their own compatriots who liberated Cagayan, Misamis on 12 May 1945 and not the Americans.
So while we still enjoy a modicum of attention following the recent 75thAnniversary of Cagayan’s Liberation (albeit a muted one at that) let’s take a look back at how things were unfolding at that time and how come guerrillas, rather than American soldiers, liberated the town from the Imperial Japanese Army (IJA).
It’s important that the Macajalar Landing be understood in the context of the entire strategy to liberate the entire island of Mindanao, (and not merely the liberation of Cagayan), which practically fell into the hands of the guerrillas due to a confluence of planned events.
Before the Liberation of Cagayan, Misamis on May 12, 1945 by local guerrillas of the 10th Military District, preliminary operations were already being carried by out the 110th Infantry Regiment (Guerrilla) to clear Japanese garrison troops from the Bugo-Tagoloan areas in coordination with US Army X Corps.
Genesis of the Macajalar Landing
The 31st Division was already inching up Sayre Highway in central Mindanao late April 1945, its progress delayed not only by stiffening Japanese resistance, but also by the appalling road conditions and bridges destroyed by both the Japanese and the guerrillas.
Despite its nomenclature, Sayre highway was almost impassable for long stretches, and in some places disappeared altogether. Lt. Gen. Richard L. Eichelberger, commanding general, 8th Army, described it as “something of a fraud.”
During initial operations along the highway, it was possible to move supplies via the Mindanao River (Rio Grande de Mindanao) in Landing Craft Medium (LCMs) of the 533d and then transship the materiel overland from the Fort Pikit area to the 31st Division.
However, the rainy season was imminent and there was every likelihood that road conditions would deteriorate further in spite of the best engineer efforts.
Under these circumstances Eighth Army recommended that a new supply base be established on the north coast of Mindanao at or near the terminus of Sayre Highway, and that troops be sent southward along the highway to link up with the 31st Division in central Mindanao, splitting the defending Japanese into two separate and isolated forces.
General MacArthur approved the plan on 29 April and ordered the 108th RCT (Regimental Combat Team) of the 40th Division to land in the Macajalar Bay in northern Mindanao as soon as soon as practicable after 6 May, the landing to be known as the Victor-V-A Operation in accordance with General Eichelberger’s plan for the clearance of the Sayre Highway in Bukidnon.
The 108th RCT was at Ormoc, Leyte, at the time Eighth Army’s field order (issued 2 May 1945) was received. The field order specified Ormoc as the staging area and required the 542d EBSR, then largely concentrated at Cebu City, to provide amphibian engineer support for the 108th RCT.
The commanding officer, 542d F.BSR, created a unit designated Combat Team II for the operation. Combat Team II consisted of Company E of the shore battalion, a platoon of Company B of the boat battalion, a detachment of regimental headquarters, detachments from the headquarters companies of both the boat battalion and the shore battalion, and Company B (less 1 platoon), 262d Medical Battalion—a total of about 425 men. The group was under command of Lt Col E. L. Edwards.
The landing date was designated Q Day and was set for 10 May in an area to be known as Brown Beach near the town of Cagayan, with H Hour at 0730.
Insert photo: Aerial photo of the south shore Macajalar Bay looking SW towards Cagayan dated 22 October 1944, Even seven months before the Macajalar Bay landing, American forces were already scouting for a suitable beachhead, finally settling on Beach No. 12 (codenamed Brown Beach) at Barrio Agusan. (NARA)
On 3 May, a week before the landing took place, a small group of officers, including Captain Harley M. Chatterton Jr., 542d Intelligence Officer of Brattleboro, Vermont, Major Lane, S-2 of the 108th RCT, and Captain Mortimer A. Clift, Brigade S-2, made a reconnaissance of the beach area.
This party left Tanauan airstrip, Leyte, early the morning of the third of May and landed on Macajalar Bay, northern Mindanao, near the barrio of Villaneuva, a few miles from the beach selected for the actual landing.
Here contact was made with the local guerrillas but, contrary to expectations, it was found they did not hold the area near Bugo, selected for the landing. No reconnaissance of the proposed landing beach was therefore possible; however, the guerillas furnished much information on enemy strength and on the condition of the beach, roads and surrounding area.
Later, the X Corps authorized the 10th Military District (Guerrilla) to perform a reconnaissance of the Agusan beach area and attack Japanese elements in the area. This mission was assigned to the 110th Infantry Regiment of the 110th Division.
Major Rosenquist, the division intelligence officer, was in charge of the mission. The intelligence collection element, which included Rudy and Hank Hansen (brothers of “Guerrilla Daughter” Virginia Hansen Holmes, author of the eponymously named memoir) would carry out beach reconnaissance of the proposed beach head.
A U.S. Navy LST transported the guerrillas to the beach near the Del Monte pineapple cannery in Bugo on 09 May. Using two small Navy launches, the group split into two elements: Major Rosenquist would do depth soundings offshore while the other boat with Rudy and Hank under Major Spielman of the 114th Infantry Regiment, would land on the beach and provide cover for Rosenquist’s boat.
However, a guerrilla on Rosenquist’s boat was wounded when fired upon by a concealed Japanese machine gun. Their boat moved further offshore while the shore based group of Spielman located the sniper position on a platform suspended between two coconut trees. Four Japanese were killed while a guerrilla was wounded and treated by Hank Hansen.
The group returned safely to their launch base. The following morning the reconnaissance group looked out into Macajalar Bay and observed the 108th RCT arriving in LVTs.
Staging at Ormoc
Meanwhile, at Cebu City on 03 May, all elements of Combat Team II except Company B personnel and a small detachment of the 262d Medical Battalion were loaded aboard 2 LSTs for movement to the Ormoc staging area.
The LSTs transported on davits 3 LCVPs of Company B, but all other craft of Company B remained at Cebu, the plan being for the engineer boat convoy to join the main assault convoy near the objective area on Q Day.
Shore party elements arrived at Ipil, in the Ormoc area, on 4 May and established camp. The next 2 days were spent in planning for the operation.
On 7 May the shore party began loading aboard LSM’s and LST’s.
The main convoy consisting of 10 LCMs, 7 LSTs, 7 LCIs transporting 30 LVTs for taking ashore troops in the initial waves, carrying the 108th RCT and the shore elements of the 542d together with Company B, 262d Medical Battalion, staged from Ormoc on 9 May under aerial and naval protection.
At Cebu City the Company B convoy also headed out on 9 May. It consisted of 14 cargo LCMs transporting shore party equipment, one LCM maintenance boat carrying a small detachment of the 1459th Engineer Maintenance Company, one LCM flak, and one LCM rocket of the support platoon, one LCM fuel boat, and one picket boat.
Two Navy PT boats provided protection. This convoy headed directly for Macajalar Bay, made contact with the main convoy the same afternoon off Bohol Island, and both convoys arrived off the objective area at 0630. A tropical rainstorm during the night failed to slow the convoy, and there was no interference by the Japanese.
Visayan Attack Group Task Force 78.4
The Visayan Attack Group Task Force 78.3 was a 67 ship-strong flotilla under Rear Adm. Arthur D. Struble with the USCGC Ingham (Cmdr. K.O.A. Zittel) as flag and guide.
On 09 May 1945, the Macajalar Bay Attack Unit (Task Unit 78.3.4) was formed and departed for Mindanao.
It consisted of five warships including Ingham, three destroyers (USS Frazier, Meade, Abbot) and one destroyer escort (USS Brazier), 7 LSTs, 10 LCMs, 7 LCIs, and USS LCI (L) 612 (Lt. Kaufman) as Control Unit. Inshore fire support was provided by 4 LCS (L)s under Lt. Sendree, with four minesweepers (YMS) and 2 Navy PT Boats.
An augmentation force of 27 US Army (AUS) ships consisting of 1 PCE E (R), 7 FS, 18 LCMs, and 1 picket boat accompanied the USN flotilla.
The combined force arrived off Tin-ao, Barrio Agusan, Macajalar Bay, at dawn on 10 May 1945 (Q-Day). A line of departure was established 3,000 yards off Brown Beach, the designated beach head.
Planes bombed the flanks, while destroyers laid a barrage of 5-inch shells directly upon the beach at 0730 with Ingham directing operations.
Following the naval shelling, the 78.3.46 Inshore Support Unit consisting of LCS (L) 30, 42, 79 and 80 under Lt. Sendree lay down a close covering fire on the beaches starting at 0810, followed by a rocket barrage at 0825, before receiving orders to lift gunfire by 0827 to allow the first wave of the LVTs to land.
Landing at Tin-ao, Agusan
H-Hour was set back one hour when a torpedo was fired ineffectively by an enemy submarine, but at 0803, Landing Ships, Tanks (LSTs) began discharging the 1st Battalion of the 108th RCT aboard Tracked Landing Vehicles (LVT Buffaloes) for the first and second waves, the first wave hitting the beach with no opposition at 0830 and the second landing four minutes later. (For a real time look at the actual landing, click here 00:23-02:40)
The first of LCMs landed in the fourth wave fifteen minutes later. Two LCM’s of Company B, 542d EBSR, went ashore in wave 4 at 0845, landing 2 bulldozers of the shore battalion. Shore party headquarters personnel landed from LSM’s of the same wave.
Their bulldozers immediately set to work hauling vehicles up the soft beach.
The soft sandy texture of the beach proved to be somewhat of an obstacle, but this was overcome by the use of pierced steel planking (Marston matting) to form tracks up the beach and by much hauling by our bulldozers, which was hampered by a lack of towing chains.
However the entire convoy was successfully unloaded before nightfall of the first day and a strong perimeter was set up by shore personnel reinforced by some of the LVTS.
First amphibian engineers ashore on Q Day were reconnaissance personnel and demolition squads aboard LVTs of wave 3. They found no mines in the beachhead area.
They found the beach to be about 1,000 yards long and 20 yards deep, composed of deep, soft sand and with a relatively steep offshore approach which permitted the 3 LSMs of wave 4, 6 LCIs of wave 5, and 7 LSMs and one LCI of wave 6 to drop ramps directly upon the beach. LCMs and LSTs remained offshore on call.
The entire area was sheltered, with no underwater obstacles—an almost perfect landing beach. The only drawback was the soft sand, which caused vehicles to bog down as they moved off the landing craft. Dozers were available, however, to tow them to the hard ground back of the beach, and pierced steel planking and matting were available later to construct exit routes.
At 0908 Medium Landing Ships (LSM) began beaching and unloading.
LSTs were called in at 1045, going ashore high up on the beach. The shore party had constructed high earthen ramps in front of each ship and paved these ramps with steel planking, so that when the ramps were dropped vehicles rolled off easily and moved down the earthen ramps with no difficulty. Two of the LSIs were entirely mobile-loaded, one of them being fully off-loaded and off the beach by 1200.
During the morning most of the LCM’s of Combat Tram 11 also went ashore, landing much shore party equipment as well as personnel.
To the 2d ESB the Macajalar Bay landing was noteworthy for the fact that, on the first day, an LCM of the 542d landed the two millionth soldier to be transported by brigade craft in SWPA operations on Q Day at Brown Beach. It was the 2nd Engineering Special Brigade’s 82d combat landing in support of operations that had taken the Amphibian Engineers from Nassau Bay in British New Guinea, by way of Finschhafen, Saidor, Tanahmerah Bay and Wakde Island in Dutch New Guinea, Biak Island in the Schouten group, to the goal of the Philippines.
It marked the first time American forces landed in Cagayan at exactly the same date three years earlier that the USAFFE Vis-Min Forces under Maj. Gen. William F. Sharp surrendered to the Japanese in Malaybalay, Bukidnon.
Guerrillas Clear the Way
The Americans found the beachhead at Tin-ao, northeast of Agusan near Bugo in the Macajalar Bay Area already secured by the guerrillas.
The close coordination between the guerrillas and the invasion force is illustrated by the official chronology of this operation which details how Col. Wendell W. Fertig, commanding officer of the 10th Military District, was authorized by Maj. Gen. Franklin C. Sibert, commanding officer of the X Corps, to eliminate the Japanese forces at the Bugo-Tagoloan area. Fertig ordered the 1st Battalion (Bn), 110th Infantry Regiment, 110th Division to undertake the mission.
From 27 April 1945 till the eve of the Macajalar Bay landing, guerrillas fought a see-saw battle with Japanese garrison troops in Tagoloan and Bugo, with air support from American B-24 Liberators and B-25 Mitchell bombers.
On 09 May 1945 guerrilla patrols made a three-pronged attack on the Japanese in Bugo to establish the beach head but Japanese reinforcements which arrived by truck from Alae, Bukidnon, forced the guerrillas to withdraw to Baluarte.
Later on the same day, all guerrillas were ordered to withdraw further north of the Tagoloan River to avoid the scheduled air and naval bombardment of the area scheduled the following day to clear the way for the American landing at Tin-ao, Barangay Agusan, Cagayan, Misamis.
The close coordination between the guerrillas and the invasion force is further illustrated by the visit of guerrilla officers aboard the Ingham at 0928 Hrs to discuss the situation ashore, departing at 0942.
Later the same day, two LCIs shuttled guerrillas from Villanueva and Gingoog to Brown Beach, and again on May 12 ferrying more guerrillas from Gingoog, Balingasag and Baraboo to secure the beach head.
Close Air Support & Cover
If the previous strafing and bombing sorties of the 13th Air Force and the Marine Aircraft Groups, Zamboanga (MAGSZAM) were awespiring, they didn’t compare with the daylong air bombardment of the Tagoloan and Cagayan areas on 10 May 1945.
At least 65 sorties were carried out by various aircraft, the most by 16 B-25 Mitchell medium bombers which strafed and bombed Tagoloan with another 16 hitting Cagayan starting at 0730 Hrs. Each B-25 carried 12 100-lb. bombs and both missions reported 90% of bombs on target with no antiaircraft fire reported.
They were supported by 16 SBD Patrol Bombers which dive bombed targets in the Sayre Highway to prevent Japanese reinforcements from coming to the aid of their beleaguered comrades in the beach head, while Marine F4U Corsairs flew combat air patrol over the area, being relieved by P-61 Black Widow night fighters early evening. A lone PBY Catalina also flew over the area to pick up downed aviators but no enemy aircraft appeared to contest the landing. (see archival film footage of SBD’s dive bombing Japanese positions at Maramag, Bukidnon here from 02:17-0:2:30 followed by Marine F4U fighter-bombers dropping napalm at 02:32)
Securing the Beach Head
With the precision of long practice the amphibian engineers developed the beachhead in routine fashion, establishing dumps near a lateral road inland and setting up beach defenses, their own combat equipment supplemented by LVT’s armed with machineguns and posted at strategic points along the perimeter.
Eight LCMs guarded water approaches on cither flank. Off-loading of LSTs continued throughout the afternoon.
Late in the day three FS boats (270, 275 and 390) arrived from Ormoc. Offloading by lighterage, principally LCMs, was initiated since there were no docks or usable jetties. (For a real time view of the actual film footage of the FS Boats click here)
By 1900 the seventh and last LST was fully off-loaded, the beachhead was never under enemy fire, and in fact the 40th Division troops advancing inland met only
light and ineffectual resistance, killing 17 Japanese during the day.
After Q Day the operations of Combat Team If at Brown Beach were normal and without unusual incident.
Shipping was off-loaded almost entirely by LCM and LCVP lighterage. Relatively few Filipinos were available for labor assignments at the beachhead, and the shore party was assisted for a few days by the 3d Battalion, reinforced, 164th Infantry (Americal Division), which arrived from Cebu as the 40th Division’s reserve.
When the 3d Battalion went into combat, local labor had become sufficiently plentiful for recruitment of a force of about 150. Blackout orders permitted off-loading only during daylight hours, and the daily rate therefore was somewhat low, averaging 518 tons. That, however, was adequate.
In addition to beach operations, Combat Team II was assigned various construction jobs, including road building, a POW stockade, and reconstruction of 2 bridges.
Also, the amphibian engineers were made responsible for the maintenance of 10 miles of the Sayre Highway extending southward from the beach.
Boat operations during late May, June, and early July were routine, involving numerous reconnaissance missions and transportation of guerrilla units as well as much harbor work, including lighterage.
These varied assignments for the 542d EBSR continued until mid-June, when detachments of the 533d F.BSR arrived from Parang to take over port operations at Brown Beach. Combat Team II functioned briefly under control of the 533d, but by early July all elements had rejoined the main bodv of the 542d EBSR at Cebu City.
Macajalar Bay becomes a major base
The 533d Moves In. The 533d EBSR s move from the Parang area to Macajalar Bay was dictated largely by the fact that the condition of the Sayre Highway in central Mindanao made the supply of 31st Division combat units an operation of the utmost difficulty, whereas the condition of the same highway southward from Macajalar Bay was incomparably better.
On 23 May advance patrols of the 31st Division had made contact with patrols of the 108th RCT near Impalutao, about 30 miles southeast of Macajalar Bay, and the Sayre Highway was finally cleared.
Japanese forces retired into the mountains of eastern Mindanao but were followed by the merged U. S. forces.
Since it was evident that Parang was unsuitable as a major supply base and that Macajalar Bay, much closer to the scene of operations, was far more preferable, decision was made to close Parang and to enlarge Brown Beach, Macajalar Bay, to the proportions of a major base. Shipping therefore was diverted from Parang to Macajalar Bay.
The 533d EBSR’s river force began a toilsome task of backloading supplies in the Pikit Kabakan area and transporting them downriver to Parang, and transfer of 533d elements to Macajalar Bay was started.
First to move were boat battalion headquarters. Company A, and Company E, traveling by boat via Zamboanga. Regimental headquarters moved up on 19 June, traveling overland, and established its command post at Bugo, close to Brown Beach.
Shore battalion headquarters and Company C remained at Parang, aided by Company D and a detachment of Company C, 543d EBSR, until 11 June when the Company C detachment departed to rejoin its regiment at Zamboanga.
Parang became a dying port, with elements of the 533d F.BSR departing piecemeal from time to time. Shore operations at Macajalar Bay by the 533d lasted only about a month, orders being received on 11 June for the regimental headquarters and shore battalion to move to Leyte, preparatory to movement to Oahu, Territory of Hawaii, for staging for the operation against Japan. Boat battalion elements of the 533d remained on Mindanao for operations in the areas of Davao Gulf, Parang, and northern Mindanao.”
The Japanese had retired into the hill country several days prior to the operation. Troops moved inland rapidly, secured high ground near the village of Agusan and began pushing down Sayre Highway.
Two days after the Macajalar Bay landing, guerrillas liberated Cagayan on 12 May 1945, as the 108th Regt went straight up the Sayre Highway for its link-up with the 31st Division. (Take a first hand look of the 108th RCT fighting the Japanese at Mangima Canyon, Bukidnon here from 1:04-2:16 video with sound)
The 108th Regimental Combat Team and the 155th Regimental Combat Team of the 31st Division linked up just outside Impalutao, Bukidnon on 23 May 1945. The juncture of the two forces marked the end of Japanese resistance along the Sayre Highway.
While the Liberation of Cagayan may be considered a minor engagement in the context of the main American strategy for the liberation of the entire Mindanao, that should not detract from the valor and sacrifice of our guerrillas who were up to the task of not only securing the flank of the 108th RCT to ensure it attained its strategic objective to complete the capture of Sayre Highway from its northern terminus, but also liberate Cagayan from the yoke of the Imperial Japanese Army which had snared their countrymen for the last three years. (Compiled by Mike Baños)
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Online post and references available here at https://www.facebook.com/notes/mike-banos/the-macajalar-bay-landing-and-the-liberation-of-mindanao/3275073032526493/