From September 9, 1944 to March 10, 1945, US Army Air Force, Navy and Marine aircraft bombed Cagayan, Misamis and its immediate areas no less than sixteen times in a span of six months.

Why the apparent rural backwater that Cagayan was during the Second World War would merit such dedication from the rampaging US armed forces prior to the imminent liberation of the Philippines is not immediately clear.

Bugo Cannery and Wharf of Philippine Packing Corporation (Del Monte) Looking NNE 18 Sept 1936 (NARA)

Except for the Del Monte cannery in Barrio Bugo and plantation in Campo Uno (Camp Philipps) in Maluko (present day Manolo Fortich, Bukidnon), which was probably one of the biggest American investments in the country at the time, there was hardly any other commercially significant enterprise in Cagayan and its adjacent environs during the period.

However, it soon becomes apparent from the targets that US air forces were hitting during this period that Japanese military assets were here aplenty and the air raids were ‘softening up’ Cagayan and its immediate areas prior to the imminent invasion.

The Big Picture

About this time in 1944, the US armed forces were sweeping the Japanese forces in the South Pacific in a two-pronged assault led by Fleet Admiral Chester W. Nimitz, commander-in-chief, Pacific Fleet and General Douglas MacArthur, commander-in-chief, Southwest Pacific Area.

MacArthur and his Allied forces, including the Seventh Fleet, coordinated the southern prong from New Guinea to the Philippines.

Nimitz called the shots for the second prong, through the central Pacific, with forces of the Third and Fifth Fleets and their attendant task force groupings.

The US pursued a two-pronged offensive across the central and southwest Pacific to roll back the Japanese advance. (Image- The National WWII Museum.)

At the core of this two-prong advance was the strategy of island hopping employing leapfrog hops from one island to another by coordinated air, sea, and land attacks to cut off heavily defended Japanese bases, which could then be bombed into surrender at leisure.

To support this island-hopping strategy, the United States and the Allies assembled the most diverse and powerful armada in naval history in addition to overwhelming air forces.

Of vital importance to the island-hopping strategy was the control of the air and sea. Carrier task force groupings provided abundant air power, both for offensive and defensive operations. Carrier-based planes were integral in turning the tide against the Japanese.

Ulithi Atoll, home to the 3rd Fleet in late 1944. The land in the foreground is one of several depot islands surrounding the anchorage. (LIFE/Getty Images)

The Third Fleet was organized on June 15, 1944, under the command of Admiral William “Bull” Halsey, with the separation of South Pacific Force units from the South Pacific Area.  This separation was primarily due to the successful conclusion of the South Pacific campaign. The Third Fleet was subordinated to the Commander, Pacific Fleet, and Pacific Ocean Areas (CINCPAC).

The components of the Third Fleet constituted, and were named by CINCPAC, the Western Pacific Task Force. The Western Pacific Task Forces consisted of heavy and light support units of battleships and cruisers, screening units consisting of light cruisers and destroyers, and carrier task forces, consisting of aircraft carriers and supporting units.

Third Fleet aircraft carriers (Task Force 38) at anchor in Ulithi Atoll, 8 December 1944, during a break from operations in the Philippines area. The carriers are (from front to back) USS Wasp (CV-18), USS Yorktown (CV-10), USS Hornet (CV-12), USS Hancock (CV-19) and USS Ticonderoga (CV-14). Wasp, Yorktown, and Ticonderoga are all painted in camouflage Measure 33, Design 10a. Photographed from a USS Ticonderoga aircraft (80-G-294131).

The carrier task forces were under the command of Task Force 38 (also called Carrier Task Force 38) which was tasked to provide direct air support of ground units and short- and long-range bombing and reconnaissance operations.

The carrier-based aircraft and support vessels of Task Force 38 were able to strike Japanese aircraft, installations, and shipping in the Western Caroline Islands, Philippines, China Sea areas, and the Japanese Home Islands.

Movements of Task Force 38’s components spanned the distance from Ulithi to Cam Ranh Bay in Indochina to the northern-most Home Island of Hokkaido.

Task Force 38’s carrier task groups provided air strikes supporting operations in the Palau Islands Group (specifically Peleliu and Angaur), during the Philippines campaign (specifically Leyte, Mindanao, Mindoro, and Lingayen Gulf on Luzon), in the Okinawa campaign, and in the pre-invasion “softening-up” of the Japanese Home Islands. The actions of the carrier task forces were instrumental in the defeat and decimation of the Japanese Fleet at the Battle of Leyte Gulf.

Task Force 38 consisted of four task groups. These task groups worked in conjunction with each other and/or as fast carrier task groups.

The fast carrier task groups provided strategic support to the various operations in the Western Caroline Islands and Philippines by targeting areas of Japanese logistical and force build-up that were supposedly behind the front line of combat.

Strikes were made against targets in Indochina, Formosa, Japanese-held South China, and the Ryukyus to draw off naval and air reinforcements. This was particularly effective during the Palau Islands and Leyte operations.

Strategic Position of the Philippines July 1944

Thus, the bombings of Cagayan during the six-month period from September 9, 1944 through May 10, 1945 were covered during this active operational period of the Third Fleet that had begun with the Palau Islands operation, carried through to support of the Philippines campaign, and culminated in the destructive air strikes in the South China Sea area and Ryukyus.

The Mindanao Situation

A G-2 Estimate of the Japanese Situation in Mindanao and Sulu sometime April 1944 reported the usual patrol activity on the Zamboanga-Misamis Occidental area with slightly decreased strength north coast.

Scattered raids were reported in Lanao and indications of increasing Japanese strength in Cagayan, Misamis Oriental, such as the construction of a fighter field at Lumbia, south of Cagayan and the closure of Cagayan pier to Filipinos. The Bukidnon Sayre Highway was open with some traffic to Davao while airfield improvements were reported at Tankulan (Del Monte), Malaybalay and Valencia in Bukidnon.

At least 10 airfields were reported in Davao with at least 5 in operational condition. A sharp increase of shipping in Sarangani Bay, Cotabato was noted and another airfield reported under construction at Sanga-Sanga Island in Tawi-Tawi.

For a more comprehensive report on Japanese preparations for the expected Allied invasion, click here.

Development and Expansion of Mindanao Air Centers

Recent intelligence had revealed continued development and expansion of air bases in Mindanao by the enemy. A strategic air study map “Mindanao Air Centers”, reveals this development as consisting of three air centers:  Cagayan, Davao and Basilan Strait.

“The strategic and tactical location of these air centers is sound. The Cagayan-Davao centers are suitably placed on supporting airdromes along his principal air line of communication to both the Netherlands East Indies (Indonesia) and the SouthWest Pacific Area (SWPA).”

Sasa Airfield (upper part near Samal Island) and Matina Airfield (lower right) davaocitybybattad.blogspot

“Further, these two air centers, and particularly Davao, provide the necessary air bases to support the maintenance of Palau as a forward air center for western Carolinas and New Guinea defense, affording maintenance and repair facilities, as well as air reserves, within approximately five flying hours of Palau, yet offering a high degree of security from Allied air attack.”

“The Basilan Strait air center is effectively placed to protect enemy shipping following the main Manila-Davao shipping lane through Basilan Strait.”

“The three centers provide good land-based aircraft defensive coverage of his fleet elements operating in the Celebes Sea and Davao Gulf.”

“The total number of operational airdromes now known to exist on Mindanao is 15. Ten are under construction, 6 more reported to be planned in the Davao area.”

Sasa Airfield Davao (Feredo Collection)

“The principal airdrome is Sasa Field, serving Davao, with some 50 bombers estimated as currently operating there from.”

“The other three operational Davao airdromes are presently being used as fighter fields with further expansion probably being rushed following our Palau strike. The aircraft dispersal capacity of Mindanao airdromes, both operational and now under construction is estimated at 700 aircraft.”

“Assuming completion of some 15 additional fields within the next three months, approximately 750 additional aircraft could be added to this figure for a total dispersal capacity of 1,450 aircraft.”

The report concludes that with the proven vulnerability of Palau, conjoined with probably enemy apprehension of a further extension of allied counter air force activity against western New Guinea, the Japanese were expected to accelerate their present program for development and expansion of the Mindanao air facilities, particularly within the Davao and Cagayan air centers.

Activity on Mindanao

Meantime, air patrols were reported circling low recently over the central Agusan valley area, when they have previously flown high over the area on direct flights to or from Davao.

Some troops were reported to have left Cebu recently, earmarked for activity in the Agusan. These, according to late reports, arrived at Cagayan 14 April.

Warships were also reported to have also been shelling towns along the east coast of Surigao where guerrilla forces exist, and patrols have come ashore for short periods.

Guerrillas being issued rifles in Gingoog, Misamis Oriental. (NARA)

Taken together, the above reports suggested possible further activity against the guerrillas in the valley. On the other hand, one report indicated that the raiding group in northern Agusan was to be returned to Cagayan for use against guerrillas in northern Bukidnon, and that replacements were on the way to garrison northern Agusan. These replacements were believed to be the same troops recently arrived in Cagayan from Cebu.

The most significant ground report from a tactical point of view was the opening and keeping open of the Sayre Highway from Cagayan through Kabacan to Davao.

Sayre Highway, the main link from Misamis Oriental starting at Puerto, Cagayan to Bukidnon. Circa 1930s (US Army)

The long and high bridges on the road had not been replaced except by ferries, and at best the road was not suitable for sufficient traffic to be of great value for some time. The road had not been extensively used but the failure of the guerrillas to maintain their road blocks in the face of this limited activity was considered important.

Shipping and Naval Activity

Sporadic shelling, usually of some guerrilla occupied coastal town, had taken place the east and north coast.

The Japanese were the first to cement the pier, according to PPA. This photo was taken during the war. Shared by Nono Montalvan

The pier at Cagayan, Misamis Oriental had been closed to Filipinos this month. The full significance of this move was not known, but may well be that the Japanese desired greater security regarding their activities in this area during the next few months, and equally likely that they know they no longer trusted the Filipinos.

In Hindsight

However, these intelligence reports are best appreciated with the perfect perspective of hindsight.

According to Tony Feredo of the Pacific Air War History Associates (PAWHA), post-war reports from the Japanese and US sides note it is to be expected that the reality on the ground almost always varies with the view from the air and guerrilla reports (which are furtive at best by their very nature).

“One thing you need to keep in mind was that the Japanese Army and Navy air force operated in separate terms and although “joint” air operations were conducted, still they were independent of one another.” 

“This was also why each had separate airfields and this has something to do with logistics, maintenance and accessibility. The one thing that is common usage by both is fuel (aviation gas).  There were some exceptions that the army and navy shared some airfields due to one reason or another.”

“As early as Feb-March 44, the Japanese had anticipated that the US will make a hard push to both the Central and SWPA areas.  This was due to the increase of the US carrier raids and the island hopping of MacArthur. 

Sta. Ana District and Davao Port below during the 1930s. (NARA)

The Japanese Navy Air Force (IJNAF) had always used Mindanao as its staging areas using Davao (Sasa and Sta. Ana Harbor) as its main base of operations.  The Navy surface command held their exercises and long range gunnery practices at Tawi-Tawi though most of their capital ships were in Brunei and Singapore.” 

“Air units decimated on both the IJNAF and Army Air Force (IJAAF) in the coming months retreated to Mindanao.  US intelligence also anticipated this and initiated the reconnaissance by the use of the Filipino guerrilla forces.  This was done in the entire Philippines and the basis for the listing of the airfields is based on the pre-war landing fields built and those included as “possible landing fields”. 

“The pre-war airfields are documented properly by the Army Air Corps and US Naval Intelligence just before the outbreak of the war and were still being reported per district just before the surrender in 1942.” 

Thus, the airfields mentioned mostly were based on pre-war and the list is incomplete based on the diagram or map provided in the intelligence report.  Some are mentioned one airfield with two different names (Like Dadiangas and Buayan) is the same with confusing measurements on the airfield. 

Following are the main airfields the Japanese actually used and were priority targets by the US:

IJNAF : Sasa (Davao No. 1); Matina (Davao No. 2); Sta. Ana Harbor (Sea Plane); Digos (shared with IJAAF); Padada (shared with IJAAF); Sanga-Sanga (Tawi-Tawi); Rajah Buayan (Buayan)/Dadiangas; Zamboanga (2 airfields: San Roque & Wolf) and Dipolog.

Del Monte Landing Field, Bukidnon 1939

 IJAAF: The Del Monte A/F complex; Maramag; Valencia; Lumbia; Patag (Cagayan); Daliao (Shared with IJNAF); Libby; Licanan (Lasang) – Bunawan; and Malabang.

“The IJNAF in Mindanao tended to utilize airfield locations that had close proximities to the shorelines primarily for logistics, whereas the army preferred inland locations since they relied on the highways for their logistics.”

So what were the reasons for the development of the Mindanao air centers?

“The Japanese (as well as the US) considered Mindanao to be the stepping stone for the re-conquest of the Philippines.  By April of 1944, the IJNAF gradually reassembled air units from the southern fronts to the Davao area.  Surviving aircraft and pilots from decimated units were later absorbed into existing air groups (such was the case of the 201st Kokutai which received several aircraft from these units and later became the main fighter group).” 

“The 1st and the 2nd Air Fleet were sent to the Philippines.  The 1st Air Fleet had its main base at Davao but dispersed its units to assigned IJNAF airfields around Mindanao.  The 2nd Air Fleet had its main base in Luzon.”

The IJAAF followed suit by transferring air units to the Philippines by June 1944.  They chose to use Negros Island as their main base of operation (4th Air Army) but also deployed several air units to the previously mentioned army airfields in Mindanao.

The Japanese were expecting a US invasion from November 1944 to January 1945 but the US opted to land at Leyte in October 1944.  One major factor for the change was the capture of the “Koga Papers” by Cebuano guerrillas led by Lt. Col. James M. Cushing in March 1944.

LEFT  Japanese Fleet Admiral Mineichi Koga (1885–1944) The-Z-Plan-of-Admiral-Mineichi-Koga RIGHT Title page of ATIS-translated copy of Z Plan (Records of GHQ, Far East Command, Supreme Commander Allied Powers, & United Nations Command, RG 554).

Named after Admiral Mineichi Koga, these papers contained vital battle plans and defensive strategies of the Japanese Navy codenamed the “Z Plan”, information on the overall strength of the Japanese fleet and naval air units, and most importantly that the Japanese had already deduced MacArthur’s initial plans to invade the Philippines through Mindanao.

These papers came into the possession of the Filipino guerrillas when the seaplane of Admiral Koga, which was en route to Davao, crashed into the coast San Fernando, Cebu, killing Koga and many others. After Koga’s body and many surviving Japanese were washed ashore, the guerrillas found them and captured 12 high-ranking officers including Chief of Staff of the Combined Fleet Vice Admiral Shigeru Fukodome.

The papers were inside a briefcase which was fished out of the sea by Cebuano fishermen before being handed over to the guerrillas. Unknown to the Japanese, Cushing managed to send the documents by submarine to Allied headquarters in Australia. The discovery of the papers allowed MacArthur to move his invasion from Mindanao to Leyte and also aided the Allies in the Battle of the Philippine Sea.

“Nonetheless, the Mindanao airfields had to be neutralized so the USN and USAAF made every effort to render these airfields useless and to destroy as many enemy aircraft.”

Japanese Aircraft Wrecks, Digos Mindanao 1945

Although the US was very effective in neutralizing the Mindanao airfields, Feredo cautions the history student to be aware of a few caveats: 

1) The Japanese were masters of camouflage and placed several dummy (including wrecked and unserviceable) aircraft in their airfields.  To simulate a hit they even placed a few precious fuel drums so that attacking US aircraft were made to believe they scored an actual hit.

2)  Aircraft Identification.  US aircraft identification on Japanese aircraft was not perfect.  A number of the aircraft identified shot down or bombed were of the wrong types.   

Identification chart of WWII Japanese airplanes as displayed on the USS Massachusetts (BB-59). (Ekem)

3)  A number of airfields hit sometimes did not contain any planes (even in revetments).  This can be attributed to faulty intelligence. 

 A report by the Technical Air Intelligence Unit (TAIU) on captured Japanese aircraft in the Philippines in July 1945 lists only four (4) airfields with actual Japanese aircraft found (unserviceable or wrecks). 

These Matina are (Davao No 2), Daliao, Padada and Zamboanga.  Of course there were other airfields like Dipolog and Licanan which have photographic evidence of captured Japanese aircraft but are not listed.

Key Airfields

Foremost among the targets the US airmen were eyeing during this period were the Del Monte Airfield Complex in Tankulan, Maluko (present day Dicklum, Manolo Fortich, Bukidnon).

There were eight airfields comprising the Del Monte group, within a radius of 15 air miles of Del Monte No. 1. Three of the fields were not operational when the Japanese captured them in 1942, two being used for cold storage of planes (#5 Palais, #6 Tigiptip) and the third an old golf course abandoned as unsuitable (#2).

Del Monte airfield in the early 30s. Note the biplanes on the foreground.
– shared by Elpidio Paras

The other five airfields were classed among the best in Mindanao with Del Monte Nos. 1, 7 and 8 among the best in the group. The three were grouped together on parallel plains and connected by a common road. A later G-2 intelligence report indicated all airfields were in operational condition as of March-April 1944.

Patag Airfield and Camp Evangelista, Cagayan as of 11 October 1944 (NARA)

Also prime targets of the American bombing raids were the two airfields in Cagayan: Lumbia Airfield, a Japanese constructed pursuit field with a capacity of 20 planes, and CagayanEast (Cagayan/Patag Airfield), both utilized as fighter fields.

Malaybalay, Bukidnon Landing Field 1936 (NARA)

Not the least were smaller auxiliary/dispersal airfields at Malaybalay, Valencia, Maramag, Impasug-ong, Dalwangan, and Kibawe, also in Bukidnon.

Japanese Air Units

大日本帝國陸軍航空部隊 Dainippon Teikoku Rikugun Kōkūbutai

Japanese Air Units deployed to these airfields were primarily elements of the 6th Air Brigade under the 2nd Air Division, 4th Air Army with main headquarters in Luzon. 

A Mitsubishi Ki-51 Type 99 Sonia dive-bomber, similar in size & performance to the German Stuka Ju-87 & U.S. Army Douglas A-24 Banshee (similar to the U.S. Navy SBD Dauntless) at the Indonesian Air Force Museum, Yogyakarta, Indonesia (Davidelit Photo) 

Take a first hand look at the Ki-51 Sonia in action from this archival Japanese film footage (note: audio commentary is in Nihongo) You can also check out this longer film if you want to see more.

The 65th and 66th Hiko Sentais (air regiment) were deployed on a rotation basis and patrolled Palawan and Cagayan/Northern Mindanao. Each Sentai usually had 27-34 Mitsubishi Ki-51 (Army designation “Type 99 Assault Plane“; Allied nickname “Sonia“) light bomber/dive bomber usually utilized in the ground attack role and noted for its ability to operate from rough airfields. 

A map of the Japanese Air Dispositions in the Philippines dated 9 September 1944 showed two airfields in Cagayan (Cagayan West or Lumbia Airfield with a 5,000 x 340 ft runway, a Japanese built pursuit field with a capacity of 20 planes) and Cagayan South at Patag which had two level strips L 2865 x 165 and 2952 by 159 which was lengthened by the Japanese to bomber length in 1943.

Japanese Air Dispositions in the Philippines 9 Sept 1944

A sampling of excerpts from some radio messages sent to GHQ SWPA indicate that Lumbia appeared be the more active of the two airfields.

23 March 1944: Flights of 6 to 9 bombers from Patag Airfield patrolling Macajalar Bay for the last 3 days.

23 October 1944: “Five Zeke (Zero) fighters passed night at Lumbia Misamis Oriental Field, went South next day, came from North. Habitual for Nip planes to land at dusk at Lumbia and take off early next morning.”

Japanese War Memorial to the  12th Hikoh-Daitai at Lumbia Airport, Cagayan de Oro City

9 February 1945: “Remaining five pursuits at Lumbia now located in coco groves just East of Talakag-Cagayan Road at Km. 8. This is along East Boundary Lumbia Airfield.”

12 February 1945: “Four enemy planes warmed up at Lumbia today. They are hidden in dense woods 1,500 meters at 15 degrees from Municipal Building Lumbia.”

Other Japanese air units which had access to the air corridor in the Cagayan-Bukidnon-Misamis areas were based in Zamboanga and Davao.

Emergency Airfield in Zamboanga (NARA)

 In the Zamboanga area, elements of the 761st Kokutai were based as well as some aircraft from the 1081st Kokutai although their HQ was in Cebu.  761st Ku was armed with G4M Bettys while the 1081st employed L2D Showa “Tabby” (copy of the C-47) air transports and some G4M and G6M Bettys used for transports.  They used San Roque Airfield in Zamboanga (later renamed Moret Field) and the smaller fighter airstrip in Dipolog which was much nearer to Cagayan.

A Mitsubishi G4M1 Isshikirikko (Betty) with the 4th Chutai of the Kanoya Kokutai Imperial Japanese Navy Air Force stationed at Sasa Airfield, Davao, January 1942. Originally based in Formosa, the Kanoya Kokutai’s 4th, 5th and 6th Chutais were active over the Philippines. (Feredo Collection)

In Southern Mindanao (Davao Area), elements of the 201st Kokutai (IJNAF) armed mostly with A6M Zero fighters and fighter bombers were based at Sasa and Matina.  The 153rd Kokutai (night fighting unit) was based at Matina. These were equipped with J1N1-S Gekko night fighters and a number of A6M5 Zero night fighters as well as ordinary Zeros.

Aerial photo of WWII Barracks at Licanan Airfield, in Barangay San Isidro, Bunawan District, located near Lasang River.  Davao. San Isidro’s old name is Licanan.  
(13th AF Bombing Press Photo)

The 2nd Sentai (armed with Ki-46 Dinahs) was assigned to Licanan airfield (present day Panabo City, Davao del Norte) to assist the 1st Naval Air Fleet assigned at Sasa airfield (Davao No. 1).  The 15th Sentai (recon) sent an element to Davao and then later moved to Licanan for recon duties. It later moved back to its base at San Marcelino, Luzon before heading to Clark in October-November 1944.

 By February, 1945 Japanese air power in the Philippines had dwindled due to attrition and transfers of air elements to the southern fronts or back to the homelands.  There were a few sporadic flights from Mindanao but none as a cohesive fighting unit.

In fact, when the 108th Regimental Combat Team of the 40th Division landed on Tin-ao, Agusan (codename: Brown Beach) on 10 May 1945, their reconnaissance reported only 11 Japanese aircraft in Mindanao at the time. Of the 62 sorties launched by the USAAC, USN and USMC not one encountered a single enemy aircraft nor was any anti-aircraft fire reported by the B-25s bombing Tagoloan and Cagayan.

Terrible Swift Sword

The first recorded bombings of Cagayan by the returning US forces occurred on September 9-10, 1944 of which we are fortunate to have eyewitness/primary accounts both from eyewitnesses on the ground and from reports filed by the attacking US airmen themselves. (1&2)

Perhaps the most popular, mainly perhaps because of the status of the author and the accessibility of many students to his memoirs is Guerrilla Padre in Mindanao by Fr James Edward HaggertyS.J, Rector of Ateneo de Cagayan, then the most prestigious school at the time mostly due to the efforts of the Society of Jesus (Jesuits) which owned and operated it. 

Guerrilla Padre in Mindanao by Fr. James Edward Haggerty, S.J.

From page 218 to 222 Haggerty describes his eyewitness accounts of the day’s events in a chapter titled “The Planes are Ours”.

“It began just as I was finishing Mass-this wonderful day. A roar of planes-many planes-swept over us just before the end of Mass. I turned around and told the congregation to take cover. I unvested and stepped down into a little creek which formed a tunnel. Strangely, I felt no fear this time, although from the number of planes and the nearness of the bombings I though the Japs were beginning a really systematic clean-up of guerrillas.

 To my amazement my boys dashed breathlessly happy down the hill to our gully.

“Our planes! Our planes!” they shouted. “The Jap airfields are both on fire! The planes dived at the wharf of Cagayan! The town is on fire! Ships are exploding in the bay! ” 

Fr Edward James Haggerty S.J. was known to the Mindanao Resistance as the Guerrilla Padre. He was awarded the Philippine Legion of Honor and the Bronze Star by the US Government for his wartime services as chaplain of guerrilla groups in Mindanao. (Jesuit Archives thru Ramoncito Ocampo Cruz).

I ran up the hill, saw great black columns of smoke at the Lumbia Airfield at Kilometer Seven – then explosions at the Patag Airfield. But the planes were gone.

The boys said there had been about forty of them-not like those old Jap training planes that machine-gunned us – those were real planes!”  The hills around us each had its little group who had climbed out of their hiding places as the news swept around. Even now they were jumping up and down, and cheers came from far away on the breeze,. “They knew it was America’s day, and in delirium they shouted over to me:

“Father, Father, America has kept her promise to return.”

Two hours later another roar grew louder out of the east. Racing up the steep  hill we counted the tiny specks rushing nearer-twelve, sixteen, eighteen, more, more, the sky full of them as they circled. We caught the glint of silver wings, the dark markings on the wingtips-carrier planes-carrier planes.

They dived from all directions, and as the thick smoke rolled up they flashed in  and out of it – one of the most beautiful sights, it seemed, I had ever seen. A little off to the right, I knew, was the college, and  the big gymnasium that the students themselves had helped to build. It was our pride; the only one outside of Manila.  From that direction the smoke was thicker, and I felt not even a pang of regret-it was the Japanese stronghold.

TBF Avenger aircrews undergo advanced formation flying training (photo Life Inc.)

Three hours later planes returned for another pounding. Now the whole horizon is filled with  billows of smoke.   For hours explosion after explosion has continued.  Just now, fourteen hours after the first attack, the sky above Cagayan is aglow and a  heavy black pall hangs over the area for  miles. Occasionally still an explosion like a  bursting shell roars out, and the flames leap high again.

It  has been a happy day!”

The American Guerrillas of Mindanao (AGOM) in its unpublished manuscript “History of the Mindanao Guerrillas” (a copy of which was provided to us by the late AGOM President Virginia Hansen Holmes), reported witnessing the flights of American planes coming over Col. Fertig’s new headquarters on the Agusan River Valley.

“On 9 Sept 1944, a large formation of planes flew directly over the encampment. Some arguments arose as to whether they were American or Jap planes. Some claimed having caught glimpses of stars on the wings. Others were pessimistic having been schooled for three years in seeing always a red ball on the planes.”

“But a couple of hours later, messages began pouring in from stations all over Mindanao. Friendly planes! One station reported the actual  bombing practically play by play, of the town of Cagayan, capital of Misamis Oriental. From then on, American planes were continuously flying in large groups over the camp.”

March 26, 1949 Philippine Free Press page 9

From page 9 of the March 26, 1949 issue of the Philippine Free Press, Jose A. Bautista wrote this account from his story about Ang Katarungan, the oldest newspaper in Mindanao entitled “Born 1903-Still Going Strong:”

“Then came the war on December 8, 1941, and in 1942 the Japs looted the press, and when the American bombers blasted the enemy headquarters on September 9-10, 1944, all was again wiped out.”

The Blue Ghost

The aircraft that Haggerty and Bautista were referring to were the fighter, bomber and torpedo planes of the USS Lexington operating from the far-away Caroline islands in New Guinea.

Lexington arrived in the Carolines on 7 September for three days of strikes against Yap and Ulithi, then began attacks on Mindanao, the Visayas, the Manila area, and shipping along the west coast of Luzon, preparing for the coming assault on Leyte.

USS Lexington (CV-16)

USS Lexington (CV-16) was an Essex-class aircraft carrier with an overall length of 872 feet and a length along the waterline of 820 feet. It had hangar deck capacity for 103 aircraft. 

During World War II, the Japanese reported the Lexington sunk no less than four times! Yet, each time she returned to fight again, leading the propagandist Tokyo Rose to nickname her “The Blue Ghost.”

Lexington’s first air group (AG-16), consisted of 89 aircraft that included 32 F6f-3 Hellcat fighters (VF-16), 35 SBD-5 Dauntless dive-bombers (VB-16)  and 18 TBF-1 Avenger torpedo bombers (VT-16). 

The deck of the USS Lexington (CV-16) hums as she recovers her air group.
(kanukexplorer via pinterest)

An air group in those days consisted of three squadrons made up of fighters, dive bombers and torpedo bombers. There were approximately twenty pilots each in the dive bomber and torpedo bomber squadrons, and sixty pilots in the fighter squadron. In air group 16 the fighter pilots flew the new Grumman F6F Hellcat; the dive bomber pilots flew the Douglas SBD Dauntless and the torpedo bombers flew the new Grumman TBF Avenger.

USS Lexington Damage Assessment Report-D Minus 6 Day -9 September 1944 (NARA)

In the Damage Assessment Reports of fliers from the USS Lexington filed on 09 September 1944, they reported the following: two Nakajima B6N Tenzan  “Jills”carrier-borne torpedo bombers destroyed on the ground at Lumbia airfield; one Topsy Mitsubishi Ki-57  and one Tabby Shōwa L2D transport planes destroyed on the ground at Cagayan (Patag) Airfield, five Nick Kawasaki Ki-45 Toryu twin-engine fighters and Dinah Mitsubishi Ki-46 reconnaissance planes of the Imperial Japanese Army destroyed on the ground at Del Monte airfield; one steam roller and one truck destroyed on the ground at Maramag airfield; two army trucks destroyed at Cagayan; 10 large barracks plus several other buildings destroyed at Valencia Airfield; four sampans and two other sea vessels sunk or probably sunk and damaged in Cagayan Harbor.

FEAF/SoWesPac

From October 16, 1944 to May 10, 1944 Cagayan and its immediate areas were again attacked by no less than fourteen bombing missions by various elements of the Far East Air Force, SouthWest Pacific Area (FEAF, SoWesPac)

On October 16, 1944 P-38 Lightning fighter-bombers struck facilities and shipping at Cagayan Harbor, airfields and trucks at Cagayan. (3)

Five days later, seven B-24 Liberators destroyed the Ateneo de Cagayan, the Macabalan Wharf (Cagayan pier), St. Augustine Church and the Bishop’s House and Convent (4).

The shell of the heavily bombed St. Augustine Cathedral at the end of World War II.
(Photo from the Fr. Miguel Bernad’s Collection)

Fr. Haggerty’s account of the October 21, 1944 air raid wasn’t as cherry and ebullient as his first one.

“The next day, October 21st, we saw for the first time flights of Liberators. Explosion after explosion came up the wind to us. As we trotted down the road to home other flights were circling overhead. Those Liberators wrecked the town of Cagayan and its wharves. When the day was over the old transit showed our college in ruins, the century-old cathedral gone, and the lovely house of the Bishop a heap of concrete.

What remained of the Ateneo de Cagayan after the American bombings of 21 October 1944 
(Photo from Xavier University Museo de Oro).

I wrote simply in my diary: “One group of seven Liberators destroyed in fifteen minutes our material labor of fifteen years.  What is now left to show we gave her the best years of our life, unless we look into the souls of our people.”

Besides Cagayan, the B-24s also bombed the port city of Parapare in South Sulawesi, Indonesia while B-25s and fighter bombers hit Misamis and blasted trucks in Kibawe, Bukidnon.

A mission report filed by elements of the 22nd Bomb Group to which the B-24s belonged said “On October 21st, the government school at Cagayan [sic], doing double duty on the north coast of Mindanao, was destroyed by a wing strike.”  

The following day, October 22nd, another bombing run was conducted by 12 B-24 Liberators of the 43rd Bomb Group on Cagayan. (5)

The mission report succinctly reported how “Due to extensive mechanical problems, only 12 of 18 planes sent by the 43rd made it to Cagayan, but they recorded an excellent bombing run, with seven administrative buildings destroyed in the attack. Among the target buildings was one with a red cross on the roof, which did not deter the bombing crews. One 64th Squadron airman recalled it blew up “like an oil explosion.” 

Apparently, the Japanese troops weren’t above using the Red Cross to camouflage their vital installations and supplies but forgot patriotic Filipinos would get the word about the subterfuge to the grapevine and the American fliers.

Just four days later, B-25 Mitchell fighter-bombers hit Iligan while P-38 Lightnings hit vehicles in the Davao area. (6)

November 1st is All Saints Day in the Philippines where practically all families visit their dear departed in cemeteries all over the islands. However, that didn’t deter four B-24 Liberators from hitting their secondary targets at Del Monte in Bukidnon after extensive clouds obscured their primary targets in Cebu. (7)

Detail of Cagayan Wharf circa 1935. (NARA)

On November 7thP-38s and B-25s hit Del Monte Airfield and targets of opportunity in Macajalar Bay, Mindanao. (8)

Two weeks later, 43rd Bomb Group B-24s bombed Matina and Lumbia Airfields on Tuesday 21 November, 1944. (9)

Lumbia Airfield and Barrio. Vertical Mosaic. 22 August 1944

Ten days after, 43rd BG B-24s again hit the Cagayan A/F complex on Friday 1 December 1944.

The next day, B-24s again hit Dumaguete, Matina in Davao and Cagayan airfields in Misamis on December 2nd. (10 & 11)

Four days later, B-25s, with P-47s support, hit Cagayan, Jagcol, and Del Monte Airfields on December 6th. (12)

After another four days, P-38s hit port facilities at Misamis on Sunday 10 December 1944. (13)         

The Victor Operations

Two uneasy months with no air raids followed but the Japanese defenders were right in being apprehensive to fear it might just be the calm before the storm since the US Forces were focused on preparations for the Victor II, III and IV operations to free Cebu, Palawan and Zamboanga.

On Friday Feb 2, 1945, B-25s attacked Japanese pillboxes in Cagayan. (14)

General Douglas MacArthur with Lt-Gen. Robert Eichelberger, CG Eight Army, AUS (NARA)

On 10 March 1945, the U.S. Eighth Army—under Lieutenant General Robert L. Eichelberger—was formally ordered by General Douglas MacArthur to clear the rest of Mindanao, with the start of Operation VICTOR V, with expectations that the campaign would take four months.

On the same day Eichelberger’s forces were ordered to invade Mindanao, remnants of Major General Jens A. Doe‘s 41st Infantry Division carried out Operation VICTOR IV, the seizure of Zamboanga, the large peninsula that extended to the southwest, concurrent with the recapture of Palawan, dubbed Operation VICTOR III.

Seizure of Zamboanga and the Sulu Archipelago, 10 March-20 June 1945 (Plate No. 97)

By the end of March Zamboanga Peninsula was secured, and the Sulu Archipelago followed some two weeks later. The final phase of the invasion of Mindanao dubbed Victor V proceeded with the April 17 landings at Parang, Cotabato (present day Maguindanao) and with this the bombings of Cagayan were renewed on 19 April 1945 with B-24s bombing personnel areas in Kabacan, Cagayan and along Davao road.

This was followed by the penultimate bombing raids on 09 May 1945 by B-24s of the area sound Maluko and Dalirig preparatory to Allied landings in Macajalar Bay area on 10 May 1945. (15)

B-25 bombers and ships march 1944 (worldwarphotos.info)

Finally, the last bombing raid on Cagayan and its immediate areas commenced at 0734 Hrs of 10 May 1945 with 16 B-25s bombing and strafing Tagoloan. Each carried 12 100-pound bombs. 90% of the bombs were in the target. 16 additional B-25s hit Cagayan in the same manner with 90% of their bombs on target, starting small fires. (16)

Simultaneously, B-24s  hit Impasug-ong, Kalasungay and Malaybalay in Bukidnon as other B-25s in support of ground forces attacked Kibawe, also in Bukidnon.

It was to be the last bombing raids of American air forces in Cagayan. On 12 May 1945 an all-Filipino guerrilla force led by Filipino guerrilla officers from the east and west corridors of the town finally cleared Cagayan of Japanese forces.

-30-

Sources/References:

1. Air Force Combat Units of World War lI, Office of Air Force History, Headquarters USAF, 1961, ISBN-o-912799-02-1

2. Combat Squadrons of the  Air Force, World War II, Office of Air Force History, Headquarters USAF 1982

3. The Army Air Forces in World War II: Combat Chronology 1941-1945 by the Office of Air Force History, Headquarters USAF, 1973

4. McKillop, Jack. USAF (Airways and Air Communications Services) 1955-1959, Bellcore, Piscataway, New Jersey, USA jem3@cc.bellcore.com

5. Macajalar Bay Action Report 10 May 1945. File A16-3 Serial 00680 Commander Amphibious Group Nine, Fleet Post Office, San Francisco, 31 May 1945

6. Haggerty, James Edward. Guerrilla Padre in Mindanao, January 1, 1946

7. Bautista,  Jose A., Born 1903-Still Going Strong, Philippine Free Press, March 26, 1949, page 9

8. A History Of The B-24 Liberator in Over 300 Photographs, Stories And Analyisis: Including The U.S. Army Air Forces in World War II: Combat Chronology 1941 – 1945 – American Air Power in WWII by the US Department of Defense (author), Jeffrey Jones (editor).

9. Damage Assessment Report 09 September 1944, USS Lexington (CV-16).

10. The Battle of the Marianas — June 1944 Chapter 3,The Tom Bronn Story (Clyde L. (Tom) Bronn Presentation, Long Beach Rotary Club Evening Program, October 2, 1991)

11. Revenge of the Red Raiders – The Illustrated History of the 22nd Bombardment Group During World War II (Eagles over the Pacific, Volume 2) 22nd BG B-24s bombed CDO Oct 21 (map p. 314) p. 325: Walter, Don Evans, Harry Nelson, & Lawrence J Hickey, Gaylor

Published by International Research Pub Corp, 2006

ISBN 10: 0913511056 / ISBN 13: 9780913511053

URL: https://www.abebooks.com/first-edition/Revenge-Red-Raiders-Illustrated-History-22nd/9808712156/bd

12. Hickey, Ken’s Men: Oct 22, 43rd BG B-24s bombs CDO. p. 171

13. Hickey Ken’s Men, p. 175

14. Guerrilla Intelligence Activities, Part II.

15. Correspondences with Tony Feredo, Pacific Air War History Associates (PAWHA) on the Japanese air unit movements in the Philippines. Sept. 28-October 5, 2020

16. How Cebuano fishermen helped defeat the Japanese in World War II, Filipiknow. Retrieved October 5, 2020.

17. Jack McKillop, USAF (Airways and Air Communications Service), 1955-59

USAAF Chronology:  COMBAT CHRONOLOGY OF THE US ARMY AIR FORCES, DECEMBER 1944

SOURCES:

AIR FORCE COMBAT UNITS OF WORLD WAR II, Office of Air Force History,

  Headquarters USAF, 1961, ISBN 0-912799-02-1

COMBAT SQUADRONS OF THE AIR FORCE, WORLD WAR II, Office of Air Force

  History, Headquarters USAF 1982

THE ARMY AIR FORCES IN WORLD WAR II: COMBAT CHRONOLOGY, 1941-1945 by the

  Office of Air Force History, Headquarters USAF, 1973

FTP SITES

  1. ftp.rutgers.edu in directory pub/wwii/usaf

  2. byrd.mu.wvnet.edu (129.71.32.152) in pub/history/military/airforce/

     wwii_chronology

URL: http://paul.rutgers.edu/~mcgrew/wwii/usaf/html/Dec.44.html

https://ottocarter.com/thunderbolt/html/5th%20AAF,%20December,%201944.htm

18. Reports of General MacArthur : JAPANESE OPERATIONS IN THE SOUTHWEST PACIFIC AREA, VOLUME II – PART I,  Compiled from Japanese Demobilization Bureaux Records, Library of Congress Catalog Card Number: 66-60007, Facsimile Reprint, 1994, CMH Pub 13-1

19. 1st Lt. Collins, Glen L., 1st Lt. Sheldon, Donald, & 2nd Lt. Fisher, Vernon J., Mindanao Campaign, Page FO#1, HQ 108th RCT, 6 May 1945, 108th Regimental Combat Team History (January through June 1945), page 74.

20. James Edward Haggerty (1903-1963), Jesuits in Mindanao The Mission, Media Wise Communications, Inc./MUSE Books@2013 ISBN No. 978 921 94465 5 2 page 128-132.

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