May 12, 1945 is cited in history as the liberation from the Japanese Empire during World War II of what was then known as Cagayan de Misamis.
Unfortunately, for all the 70-odd years that Cagayan de Oro City (as Cagayan was henceforth known after it became a chartered city on June 15, 1950) has enjoyed its freedom from oppression, this occasion has never been recognized nor celebrated by the local government.
According to the account documented in “The History of the Mindanao Guerrillas” shared with us by the late president of the American Guerrillas of Mindanao (AGOM) Virginia Hansen Holmes, Cagayan, Misamis was wrested from the Japanese by Filipino guerrillas under the 10th Military District, US Forces in the Philippines (USFIP).
However, weeks before this happened, preliminary operations were already being carried out at the Bugo-Tagoloan areas in coordination with US Army X Corps.
Prelude to Liberation: The Tagoloan-Bugo Operations
Late in April, when it became apparent that the Japanese were planning to make a final stand in the hills northwest of Davao. Lt. Gen. Richard L. Eichelberger, commanding general, 8th Army, decided to land a regimental combat team at the rear of the enemy in the Macajalar Bay area of northern Mindanao.
This force would then drive down the Sayre Highway to meet the 31st Division advancing from the south. The 108th Regimental Combat Team of the 40th Division from Leyte was selected for the operation.
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 under Maj. Rosauro Dongallo to undertake the mission.
From 27 April 1945 till the eve of the Macajalar Bay landing on 09 May 1945, 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 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).
The close coordination between the guerrillas and the invasion force is further illustrated by the visit of guerrilla officers on 10 May 1945 aboard the Ingham at 0928 Hrs to discuss the situation ashore, departing at 0942. (For a real time look at the USS Ingham at Macajalar Bay click here 00.02.41.22-00.03.22:10)
Later the same day, two LCIs shuttled guerrillas from Villanueva and Gingoog to Brown Beach, and again on 12 May ferrying more guerrillas from Gingoog, Balingasag and Baraboo to secure the beach head.
The Americans return
At 0830 on 10 May (Q-Day), the 108th Regimental Combat Team (40th Division) commanded by Col. Maurice D. Stratta , made an unopposed landing and found the beachhead at Tin-ao, northeast of Agusan near Bugo in the Macajalar Bay Area already secured by the guerrillas.
This landing, which was known as the Victor-V-A Operation was made in accordance with General Eichelberger’s plan for the clearance of the Sayre Highway in Bukidnon.
The force had been staged on Leyte by Eight Army and was directly under army control until juncture with the 31st Division was made, when it was released to the X Corps and attached to the 31s Division.
It marked the first time American forces landed in Cagayan at exactly the same date three years earlier when the USAFFE Vis-Min Forces under Maj. Gen. William F. Sharp surrendered to the Japanese in Malaybalay, Bukidnon.
Earlier, at least 65 sorties were carried out by various US aircraft, mostly 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.
(For a more detailed report on the Macajalar Bay Landing click here)
Two days later on 14 May 1945, another US unit, the 3rd Battalion (reinforced) of the 16rth Infantry (American Division), landed at Barangay Agusan, Cagayan from Cebu and was placed in combat team reserve.
Although the History of the Mindanao Guerrillas mentions how there were still isolated pockets of about 300 Japanese troops west of the Cagayan River just before the US forces landed in Tin-ao on 10 May 1945, declassified records show there were actually about 650 well-entrenched Japanese soldiers scattered in various military installations and garrisons all over the town.
Thus, the defenders and the attackers were about evenly matched with the Filipino guerrillas numbering about 900 enlisted men and 40 officers reinforced by some machine guns and mortars.
The three regiments of all-Filipino guerrillas involved in the general offensive included three battalions of the 109th Regiment, 109th Division, with headquarters in Talakag, Bukidnon, charged with the frontal attack.
These were led by Capt. Andres Bacal, 1st Battalion; Capt. Alberto Chaves, 2nd Battalion; and Capt. Marcelino Maagad, 3rd Battalion.
Three battalions from 111th Regiment, 109th Division covered the right flank. These were led by Capt. Purito Rubio, 1st Battalion; Capt. Felix Arcaña, 2nd Battalion; and Capt. Ramon Onahon, 3rd Battalion.
Capt. Leopold Blanco was the Commanding Officer of 120th regiment, 108th Division based in Iligan, which supported the left flank with 300 enlisted men.
Major Pedro Aquino was the Liaison Officer between the 108th and 109th Divisions, while Capt. Eugenio S. Vaquero, G-3, of 108th Division served as supervisor of the operation and representative of the Division Headquarters.
The History of the Mindanao Guerrillas relates how the battle started with the Dipnoan-Cagayan Operation on 9 May 1945.
The Dipnoan-Cagayan Operation
In coordination with the plans of the American Forces, the guerrilla troops launched a general attack on these isolated Jap pockets to drive the enemy from this area, occupy Cagayan proper, and afford protection to the right flank of the beachhead established by the American forces in the Bugo-Agusan area.
Units participating in the operation were the 109th Infantry Regiment, composed of 39 officers and 350 enlisted men, and 120th Infantry Regiment, 108th Division, composed of one officer and 350 enlisted men. The 111th Infantry Regiment, 109th Division joined the operation on 10 May 1945. The attack began 9 May 1945 as planned and ended 12 May 1945.
The guerrillas started attacking Dipnoan at 0906 Hrs on the morning of May 9, 1945. They encountered slight resistance except at Iponan bridge where some 100 Japanese soldiers, possibly coming from Carmen or Calinogan, arrived around 10:00 in the morning and vigorously opposed the advance.
Patag Airstrip Captured
The enemy resisted the fight, and planes were seen flying low strafing Patag strip. Instruction was received that the plans of the troops clearing the areas west of the Cagayan River still stood.
Around 11:00 of the same day, the 1st Battalion of the109th Regiment under Capt. Bacal captured the strip at Patag and the enemy was reported to have withdrawn to Carmen Hills.
Fighting continued at the Iponan River from early morning of 10 May 1945 till 10:00 AM. At 2:00 PM of the same day, the entire 120th Infantry Regiment was moved out West of Iponan River, per instruction of higher headquarters, leaving the three battalions of the 109th Inf Regt across the river without support from the left rear of the enemy. CO of the 109th Inf Regt was ordered to pull out his troops west of Iponan River and fighting continued.”
By this time, guerrillas of the 120th Regiment started pushing forward to areas held by the enemy in Bulua, Patag, Carmen, Bayabas and Bonbon. The fighting continued up to the next day.
The Japanese numbered 300 at the west bank of the Cagayan River, stationed at Balulang, Carmen Hill, Carmen, Patag, Bulua, and Iponan. 200 of them immediately moved east of Cagayan River. They withdrew passing Balulang, Indahag, Kili-og, Libona and proceeding to Santa Fe, Libona, Bukidnon.
On 11 May 1945, the 109th Inf Regt was ordered to push toward west side of Cagayan road. Route of approach was made at three points: 2nd Battalion from beach to highway, 3rd Battalion and Combat Co. in National Highway, and 1st Battalion from highway to Patag.
Movements started at 8:00 AM in coordination with the 120th Regt with initial point at Iponan River. At 10:00 AM, the entire Regiment was at its objective – Cagayan River. The west side of the Cagayan River bank was occupied by this Regt without opposition.
May 11, the 109th regiment met up with 111th regiment in Carmen while the 120th regiment held Kauswagan. The Japanese numbered 300 at the west bank of the Cagayan River, stationed at Balulang, Carmen Hill, Carmen, Patag, Bulua, and Iponan. 200 of them immediately moved east of Cagayan River. They withdrew passing Balulang, Indahag, Kili-og, Libona and proceeding to Santa Fe.
On morning of the 4th day, 12 May, 109th regiment was ordered to occupy Cagayan.
At 9:00 in the morning, three battalions crossed Cagayan river at three points: 2nd Battalion at Julao-Julao (present day Consolacion, present day Maharlika Bridge),
3rd Battalion at the Japanese wooden bridge (linking Yacapin street to Lirio Street in Carmen),
and the 1st Battalion at the vicinity of the steel bridge (present day Ysalina Bridge at Carmen) which was earlier destroyed by retreating USAFEE forces in 1942.
By 9:30 AM the whole town was occupied by guerrilla forces.
Defensive points in strategic areas of the town were established to prevent any Japanese counter attack.
The 2nd Battalion was stationed from Macabalan to Old Provincial Building to Ateneo; while the 1st Battalion with the Combat Co attached was charged with the area from Ateneo de Cagayan to Macasandig to the east bank of Cagayan River.
Mopping up operations were ordered and after the search, Cagayan was declared clear from enemy occupants.
The Japanese suffered 21 killed in action, one wounded, with another 80 probable casualties (killed or wounded), while one Corporal Bonifacio Jabonan from the guerrilla forces was wounded.
On 13 May Stratta’s regiment ran into strong Japanese defenses at the Mangima river canyon that loomed over the highway. Four days were required to take the enemy positions, but afterwards the regiment encountered little opposition. (Take a firsthand 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 and total American control of the Sayre Highway.
On 30 June General Eichelberger declared the eastern Mindanao operations closed, and reported to General MacArthur that organized opposition in the region had ceased. Actually, fighting against organized bodies of Japanese continued after that date, but there can be no doubt that by 30 June the main ends of the campaign had been realized.
Contrary to their training and experience, it is worthy to note the guerrilla forces were fighting a kind of warfare they were not used to. Prior to the general offensive, they were accustomed to hit-and-run guerrilla tactics. Ambuscades from well-hidden enclaves and withdrawing after delivering the maximum damage to the enemy was the norm.
The general offensive for the battle to liberate Cagayan shifted from guerrilla to conventional warfare. No longer hit and run, but frontal attacks – something they were not trained to do yet they performed exceptionally well.
They were successful in driving out the enemy, occupy Cagayan and secured the left flank of US 40th Division.
The mission was accomplished. (Compiled by Mike Baños and Raul Ilogon)
1. History of the Mindanao Guerrillas, 10th Military District, US Forces in the Philippines (USFIP) page 91, retrieved May 19, 2020
2. Report of the Commanding General Eight Army on the Mindanao Operation (Victor V)
3. Reports of General MacArthur, The Campaigns of MacArthur in the Pacific, Volume 1, Prepared by his General Staff, Library of Congress Catalog Card Number: 66-60005
4. Macajalar Bay Action Report-10 May 1945, Commander Task Group 78.3 (Cmdr. Amphibious Group Nine), File A16-3 Serial #00680 dated 31 May 1945
5. Philippines Archives Collection, Philippine Veterans Affairs Office (PVAO)
National Archives and Records Administration ( NARA )
6. Memoirs of the Guerrillas: The Barefoot Army, unpublished manuscript of Cpl Jesus B Ilogon
7. Roster of Troops, Combat Co., HQ Bn, 110th Infantry Regiment, Balingasag, Misamis Oriental as of midnight 30 August 1945. (NARA)
8. Roster of Officers, 1st Battalion, 110th Infantry Regiment, Balingasag, Misamis Oriental as of midnight 30 April 1945. (NARA)