Guerrillas vs. Japanese, Korean & BC troops in Talakag, Bukidnon
18 June 1944 – 29 June 1944
It was considered as one of the most intense battles between the guerrillas and the Imperial Japanese Army in Mindanao during World War II.
For eleven days in June 1944, guerrilla units of the 109th Division of the 10th Military District engaged Japanese, Korean troops of the Imperial Japanese Army’s 41st Infantry Regiment, 30th Panther Division, the latter bolstered by Filipino Constabulary soldiers, close air and artillery support in a running gun battle at the key Bukidnon town of Talakag.
This encounter makes it a unique study in the history in a number of ways.
For one, it involved the dominant colonial masters of the time in the United States and Japan, as well as their allies in their colonies: the Filipino Guerrillas under their American officers on one side, versus the Korean volunteer soldiers and their Japanese Officers on the other.
Two, it was one of the rare occasions of the war in Mindanao when Korean garrison troops comprised the bulk of the enemy soldiers who were in the forefront of an offensive action, when usually they were consigned to the less glamorous duties of policing POW camps and maintaining order in the occupied areas of the island, which most Japanese soldiers allegedly believed to be below their social status as esteemed warriors of the Empire. (see Annex 1: Koreans in the IJA).
Or perhaps, this just lends credence to the claim of Gil Yun-hyung, staff reporter of The Hankyoreh, (Korean: 한겨레, literally The Korean Nation or One Nation) a center-left daily newspaper in South Korea, in an 2013 article that “Many of those Korean soldiers were used as cannon fodder by the Japanese military.”
However, this was not true for this particular instance as attested by Lt. Gen. Gyokasu Morozumi, commanding general of the Imperial Japanese Army’s 30th Panther Division when asked in a post-war interrogation in Japan about the quality of the Korean volunteer soldiers under his command.
“These Koreans were especially picked troops and were excellent soldiers,” Morozumi stressed.
Three, this battle, more a series of encounters over twelve days, also featured the deployment of Filipino soldiers of the Bureau of Constabulary (better known as BCs) in significant numbers against their fellow Filipinos in an outright offensive action, in contrast to their usual police duties (see Annex II: Bureau of Constabulary).
Just what was it exactly in this little town of Bukidnon that raised the ire of the Imperial Japanese Army so much that made it one of their favorite targets?
Talakag is a landlocked municipality of Bukidnon province ringed by several bodies of water: Bayog River (west), Cagayan River (northwest), Maridugao River (south) and crisscrossed by various tributaries of the Cagayan River such as the Batang, Tikalaan, Bulanog Rivers, Kabangalasan Creek and many others(MCLUP, 2000).
In 1944, the town was enclosed by the regional capital town Cagayan and the Municipality of Baungon (north), the municipalities of Kalilangan and Pangantucan (south), Lantapan and Valencia (east) and the Lanao Province (west). It’s is about thirty five kilometers from Cagayan and about 132 kilometers from the Bukidnon capital of Malaybalay.
Although Talakag is readily accessible today, up until the 1960s, traveling, mostly done through carabao-driven carts, would take almost a day because of the winding, forested and sometimes impassable rocky roads. Talakag then was accessible from Cagayan mainly through a single-lane, carabao trail-like path.
It is this particular geographical and topographical characteristic which made Talakag a relatively safe haven of refuge for its residents and non-residents alike when it was declared as an evacuation site during the Second World War. (Montalvan, 2004).
When the Japanese occupied Cagayan in May 2, 1942, most of the residents evacuated to nearby upland municipalities. Talakag, in particular, was declared as an evacuation site (Montalvan, 2000). Many residents from Cagayan and nearby towns evacuated there. Talakagnons who studied in Malaybalay and in Cagayan were ordered to return to their respective homes. Residents then began to store food and other necessities needed in case of emergency evacuation (Golo, 2008).
Talakag itself is a place where its topography, lush forests and high agricultural lands, played a crucial part in their survival of the occupation. Talakag also became the convergence point for United States Army Forces in the Far East (USAFFE) personnel who chose not to surrender to the Japanese at Malaybalay.
A Peaceful Town
Bukidnon’s political status was Special Province up to the outbreak of the Pacific War. It was during the American colonial government that the whole of Mindanao was opened to resettlement and corporate investments. (Tawagon, 2008).
The Americans had initiated the development and cultivation of highly arable but idle agricultural lands. The principal agricultural activities were the cultivation of rice and corn, cattle ranching and pineapple growing in the 1920s.
Because of its ideal climate, Talakag became known as the agricultural hub in Northern Mindanao before the war. In 1939, Talakag produced 35,724 cavans of corn, the largest among all the towns of Bukidnon (Lao, 1985). Lao further contended that migrants were attracted so much to the economic boom of Bukidnon that they came as far away as Ilocos and from nearby Bohol.
In the 1935 census data (CMDP, 1991), Talakag had a population of around 35,000. However, population and other pertinent municipal records after 1935 were lost when the old municipal hall was burned.
Talakag was a peaceful town. Peace and order was maintained by the Philippine Constabulary and a Police force under the Office of the Mayor also assisted. Talakag-proper was described as a very alive town (Murillo, 2002). The various social and religious activities the residents engaged in were indicative of a strong social cohesion. Games and various sports were also held in the plaza complex on Sundays after the mass.
Fr. Edward James Haggerty, S.J., the famous “Guerrilla Padre” of Mindanao, relates how it was when the Jesuit priests dropped by every fourth Sunday of the month to celebrate Mass for the Talakagnons.
“The children along the road come out to wave and shout, “Pari, Pari” (“Father, Father”), but their shouts brings little joy to my heart. That one word is about all they know of our religion.
Once a year, at fiesta time, there will be one Mass in these twenty two miles between Cagayan and Talakag, and parents will bring their babies to be baptized.
Then God drops out of their lives, and the only glimpse they have of religion is once a month when the priest goes hurrying by in the old Ford.”
The Pacific War
When the Pacific War broke out in December 8, 1941 (December 7, 1941, Hawaiian time), the news was received with mixed reactions by the people of Talakag. Some felt a sense of dread and panic, hysteria and fear, while others all but dismissed the news as something mundane.
Part of the residents’ placid reaction to the news of the war was the geographic distance. According to one eyewitness: “Layo rana ang Pearl Harbor Dili lage maabot sa Pilipinas and gyera..”(Murillo, 2002) (Pearl Harbor is far. War will never come to the Philippines.)
The war became real for them when these residents were made to prepare hideouts and foxholes by the USAFFE and even more when the Japanese started air strafing northern Mindanao. Blackout orders were also issued to avoid being strafed by enemy planes.
Reyes (1984) said that the arrival of Occupation troops in Northern Mindanao was preceded by heavy bombings. Del Monte had received the heaviest and most persistent bombing since it had become the only large airfield after Clark and Nichols Field. Cagayan, Bugo, Malaybalay and Misamis were also bombed. Given the relative proximity of these places, Talakag was not spared.
The Empire comes to Talakag
When the Japanese occupied Cagayan on May 2, 1942, they consequently went up to Talakag accompanied by a strong infantry and air support. However, they went down immediately to the coast according to Kohler (n.d). Since guerilla bands were not yet active at this point, the Japanese army then planned the re-organization of the municipality.
The Japanese formally occupied Talakag in March, 1943 (Golo, 2008). They established a government and appointed Marcelino Lagamon as the mayor. The appointed Alipio Urbina mayor (or “presidente” as they were known before the war), who went into hiding and a certain Mr. Taga refused the position (Kohler). It should be noted that the Japanese Military Administration recognized the indispensable role of the local officials in the process of political integration (JOP, Folder No. 41).
The provisionary government stayed only within the vicinity of the Poblacion. It seemed that they never had the chance to evacuate or hide for fear that the Japanese would kill or harm them for neglecting their responsibilities. The incumbent municipal officials went into hiding, and found the time and effort to check on their constituents (Kohler, n.d.).
When the incumbent officials evacuated, the local Japanese Military Commander was forced to look for other persons “willing” to accept the positions. The Japanese army did not stay long enough to enforce whatever policies they needed to do for occupation. They only came up to Talakag every two weeks and when they did, the people left the town-proper and evacuated to the forests.
This was because it was difficult for the Japanese to travel to Talakag. They often had to pass through Malaybalay, Miarayon or Guimbalaron because of the presence of guerrillas along the more accessible Macahambus road.
In fact, whenever the Japanese came to Talakag, they rode in heavily defended conveys with planes providing close air support and strafing of random targets.
The Japanese were initially friendly, and took great pains to be friendly with the Talakagnons, especially through their children. In their absence, the Japanese-organized police known as the BC (Bureau of Constabulary) (Lao, 1985) maintained peace and order with the dispensary (Talakag Health Center) used as the Police station.
Deveza observed that cattle rustling was minimized due to the presence of the police force. The rustlers were mostly Moro bandits. Kohler wrote that in a meeting in Miarayon, provincial police encouraged the people to cooperate with the new government in Talakag. They even tried to collect firearms and announced a cedula tax of 50 centavos a month or be fined ten pesos.
The Japanese also wanted to get one third of their crops, livestock and poultry for the Imperial Army’s food supply. All in all, though, the BC helped maintain peace and order in the municipality as well as in the entire Bukidnon province.
When the Japanese-sponsored Philippine Republic was inaugurated on October 14, 1943 with the two days preceding declared special public holidays, its impact was not felt in the far flung provinces. Thus, Talakag residents continued to evacuate whenever the Japanese visited the community, then returned to the town after they departed.
From what Mrs. Pabilona remembered of her parents’ remembrances of the war, “sige ug bakwit, kada nay buto-dagan” (we kept evacuating, every time we heard shots, we ran). They were very afraid of the Japanese, especially those that conducted foot patrols.
Although most residents had never seen a Japanese, their reputation for cruelty and ruthlessness seemed to have preceded them, thus civilians would flee their homes and run to the hills as soon as they heard that the Japanese were approaching (Alexander, 1945).
As Murillo (2002) recalled in her autobiography during the early part of the war: “Then the Japs began to raid in and out of town places, oftentimes we would be awakened by friends that the Japs were on their way to us. Then we would run and go to the deepest forest. It was a terrifying time for all of us. We were hungry most of the time; we had nothing to eat but bananas and plant roots, there was no rice or corn.” (Murillo)
Aside from the fact there were orders coming from the guerrillas to evacuate, fear of what the Japanese might do to them in case they were captured also spurred residents to flee to the forests.
Bowler leads the guerrillas
As related by Cpl. Jesus B. Ilogon, Jr, in his unpublished manuscript “Memoirs of the Guerrillas: The Barefoot Army”, sometime in October, 1942, bakwits (internally displaced persons) from Cagayan pleaded with Maj. Robert V. Bowler to lead a guerrilla force to protect them two roving bands of self-proclaimed guerrillas who were preying on the defenseless bakwits.
Bowler was an American officer who chose not to surrender to the enemy but instead stayed in Wanguilan, a sitio near Talakag. Along with Fr. Haggerty, Bowler was asked by the town’s leaders to protect them against the brigands and the Japanese.
Up to 29 Oct 1942, Talakag was governed by Japanese puppet Filipino officials and was frequently visited by Japanese officers and soldiers as well as Japanese civilians. The Cagayan—Talakag road was at that time still passable by motor vehicles.
Upon orders of Maj. Bowler, Lt Waldo McVickers with eight armed men took Talakag by surprise on 29 Oct 1942 and captured the Talakag police station without firing a shot, forcing the surrender of the Japanese police and eleven puppet officials.
The policemen joined the uprising and turned over forty of their rifles. Over a hundred rifles previously buried beneath the church were dug up and distributed.
Immediate1y thereafter, a conference was held in Talakag, presided over by Bowler, McVickers, Benito T. Hidalgo, William F. McLaughlin, Nicolas Denosta, Albino Noble, Cirilo Rivera, Amado Santiago, Ricardo Rodriguez, all made Captains later attended the meeting.
Plans for effective campaigns against the enemy; mustering of men into the guerrilla fold;
collection of more arms and ammunition; feeding of the troops; and establishment of the civil government were among the matters discussed.
On 30 Oct 1942, Bowler raised the American and Filipino flags over Talakag in front of the school. A patrol under McVickers was immediately sent to destroy the ferry-boat at Ugiaban, Talakag which heretofore had been unused by the Japanese. All along the highway from Talakag to Lumbia, outposts were established.
Bowler had previously been trying to consolidate the guerilla forces in Misamis Oriental, Bukidnon and Cotabato. These units later formed the core of the 109th Division that was activated on March 14, 1943 along with the creation of the 10th Military District, United States Forces in the Philippines (USFIP). The division was assigned the sector covering Bukidnon, part of Misamis Oriental, and initially, also Cotabato.” (Baclagon, 1952)
Upon assuming command of the 109th Division, Bowler established his headquarters at Wanguilan, a sitio near Talakag, and took the following staff officers: Chief of Staff – Maj. Manuel Jaldon (transferred to Zamboanga and replaced by Maj. James R. Grinstead), Lt. Norberto Gasendo (G1); Lt. Primitivo Quiem (G2); Maj. Onofre H. Hipe (G3), and Lt. Cirilo Rivera (G4). (Baclagon, 1952)
Through the “bamboo telegraph” (the Philippine grapevine), the news spread like wildfire and hundreds of recruits including unsurrendered Americans, many of whom were former soldiers who eluded capture or escaped from the Japanese, trekked to Talakag to join the unit.
Despite being located relatively close to Talakag, the location of109th Division headquarters at Sitio Wanguilan, was never disclosed to the visiting Japanese forces, as attested by Gaite’s respondents. They felt that the presence of the headquarters and some American officers gave them a sense of security every time they returned from evacuation.
According to Velez (2009), a key study respondent, some of the indigenous peoples in Talakag also joined the guerilla effort primarily for protection since they were going to be issued weapons. Some of them also served as guides and aides to guerilla leaders.
The 109th Division (Guerrilla)
The 109th Division garrisoned that portion of Misamis Oriental West of the Tagoloan River, and the province of Bukidnon. It consisted of the 109th, 111th, 112th and 117th Infantry Regiments. Pangayawan, Alubijid to Tagoloan, Misamis Oriental and the entire province of Bukidnon was the 109th Division’s area of responsibility.
Guerrilla bands covering the Bukidnon-Cagayan de Misamis area led by famous guerrillas like Lt. Colonel Khalid Salipada Pendatun, Maj. Manuel Jaldon, Major Frank McGee, and Lt. William McLaughlin formed the cadre of the division.
Major Jaldon with Lt. Akas P. Silliek had his group at Himaya, El Salvador, Cagayan. A Sgt. Marcelino Maagad and a Pvt. Marcelo Wabe who had their own outfit at Malanag, Barran and Iponan later joined him. This affiliation formed what became the 109th Infantry Regiment, one of three regiments of the 109th Division.
Lt. Col. James Grinstead, AUS, assumed command of the 109th Division on January 1944 when Bowler was appointed Commanding Officer of the “A” Corps.
Col. Grinstead was between 50 to 55 years old and was a retired PC officer of many years’ service in the Philippines. He was living on his plantation in Cotabato when the war started. He reported to the District Headquarters in February 1943 and was asked to return to Cotabato to organize guerillas. He was later made CO of the 109th Regiment, then Chief of Staff 109th Division before taking command.
Among his key officers were Maj. Crispino M. de Castro, PA (Chief of Staff), Maj. Fidencio M. Laplap, (CO, 109th Regiment with 63 officers and 1,005 enlisted men with headquarters in El Salvador, Misamis Oriental); Capt. J.S. Cruz (CO, 111th Regiment with 86 officers and 1,144 enlisted men with headquarters in Imbatug, Baungon, Bukidnon); Capt. William MacLaughlin (CO, 112th Regiment with 36 officers and 626 enlisted men with headquarters near Sumilao, Bukidnon) and Maj. Waldo McVickers (CO, 117th Regiment with 41 officers and 534 enlisted men with headquarters near Mailag). Division Headquarters included 101 officers and 678 enlisted men.
Thus, the 109th Division at the time had a full complement of 327 officers and 3,987 enlisted personnel.
One thing to note between these two documents is that while total division strength is placed between 3,000-4,000 personnel, the SWPA Intelligence Section report notes only about over half or 1,600 firearms were available for the whole division as of 15 February 1944 which may have affected how it responded to the Japanese attack on their headquarters, not to mention the always present constraint on ammunition.
Within this area lay the seaport of Cagayan, considered the second most important in Mindanao, the Del Monte airfield complex in Tankulan (now Manolo Fortich) in Bukidnon and the pursuit fields in Patag and Lumbia, Cagayan, which were frequently used by the Imperial Japanese Army and Navy Air Forces (IJAAF/IJNAF).
Also within Cagayan was the key terminus of the strategic Sayre Highway (formerly Route 3) that terminated in Barrio Bugo and extended 192 kilometers to Kabacan, Cotabato traversing the provinces of Misamis Oriental, Bukidnon and Cotabato.
The Sayre Highway extends southward through central Mindanao for about 161 kilometers (100 mi), linking the northern and southern arms of Route 1 (Digos–Butuan Highway). Japanese and American planners both considered control of the Sayre Highway as crucial to the total control of Mindanao.
From the latter part of May 1944 until the opening of the Leyte invasion, Japanese troop strengths, dispositions, and transportation, were under constant surveillance by the guerrillas.
The guerrillas also kidnapped many influential Filipinos who had been collaborating with the Japanese, and disseminated propaganda to the inhabitants causing much confusion and discord.
No attacks were made against Japanese installations nor did the guerrillas destroy roads or attempt to disrupt communications. They did, however, attack survivors of a sunken transport ship off the cost of Camiguin Island who managed to reach the coast of Balingasag as well as stragglers who wandered outside of the defense lines.
With the start of the Leyte invasion on 20 October 1944, the guerrillas on Camiguin Island and along the coast of Mindanao became more active, and arms, ammunition and medical supplies brought in by American submarines.
The guerrillas constructed an emergency landing field in Talakag where American airplanes frequently landed during March 1945 in order to unload guerrilla supplies. The IJA 30th Division sent out a detachment to capture and destroy the airfield, forcing the guerrillas to withdraw from the area.
The IJA 35th Army
At the time of the Battle for Talakag, the IJA 35th Army under General Sosaku Suzuki, had about 43,000 Japanese troops stationed in Mindanao.
The Japanese 35th Army was raised on July 26, 1944 in the Japanese-occupied Philippines in anticipation of Allied attempts to invade and retake Mindanao and the Visayan islands in central and southern Philippines. It was under the overall command of the Japanese Fourteenth Area Army.
Initially intended as a garrison force to withstand a long-term war of attrition, as the war situation on the Pacific front grew increasingly desperate for Japan, the Imperial General Headquarters ordered the bulk of the IJA 35th Army to Leyte as reinforcement to Japanese forces in the Battle of Leyte to fight against the combined American and Philippine Commonwealth troops.
However, at the time of the Talakag operation, the Japanese troops garrisoned in Mindanao consisted of the following units:
The 100th Infantry Division and the 32d Naval Base Force were concentrated around prepared defenses north of Davao. The 74th Infantry Regiment and the 2d Air Division were at Malaybalay, Bukidnon in the center of the island.
The 30th Infantry Division , considered Suzuki’s best unit, held the area between Malaybalay and Cagayan in the central region and northern coast, while the 54th Independent Mixed Brigade remained on the Zamboanga Peninsula.
The IJA 30th Panther Division
The 30th Panther (or Leopard, in other reports) Division was organized at Heijo, Chosen, in March, 1943. All the troops of the command at the time of its activation came from regiments which were transferred to the newly formed unit from other divisions.
The 74th Regiment previously served with the 19th Tiger Division, and the 77th Regiment was formerly of the 20th Morning Division. Both 19th Division and the 20th Division were raised as a garrison force for Korea. These troops had not seen action for several years and their espirit de corps was high.
The 41st had previously been under the 5th Koi (Carp) Division and had extensive combat experience in China, Malaya and New Guinea. With its combat experience and record in China, the 5th Division was considered one of the best units in the Imperial Japanese Army. It participated in the Battle of Malaya and paved the way for the capture of Singapore on 22 January 1942.
At the Battle of Slim River in the Battle of Malaya, the 41st Infantry Regiment, supported by tanks, swept through sixteen miles of British defenses, shattering the exhausted11th Indian Division and inflicting an estimated 3,000 casualties.
The 4,160-man strong Kawamura Detachment (comprising an elite part of the 41st Infantry Regiment of the 5th Division) landed on Panay island on 16–18 April 1942, resulting in a force of 7,000 U.S.-Filipino combatants retreating from the coast on 20 April 1942.
The Kawamura Detachment then proceeded to land on the north coast of Mindanao on 3 May 1942, and forced the surrender of the USAFFE Visayan-Mindanao Force under Maj. Gen. William F. Sharp on 10 May 1942.
After participating in the New Guinea Campaign, the 41st Regiment was returned to Japan where it underwent a complete reorganization. Thereafter it was ordered to Korea where it joined the 30th Division. Its combat experience in the South Pacific had acquainted it with American tactics and tropical warfare.
Other regiments in the division were the 30th Engineers, the 20th Artillery Regiment, the 30th Reconnaissance Regiment, and the 30th Transportation Regiment. The men in these regiments came essentially from Kyushu and northeastern Honshu. About 10% of the personnel in each unit were Korean volunteers.
By April 1944 Japanese reinforcements were pouring into Mindanao, and enemy commanders were laying plans to wipe out the guerrillas before the anticipated U.S. invasion of the island.
On May 25, 1944, the 41st Infantry Regiment landed at Cagayan, while the other regiments landed at Surigao. The general mission of the division under the command of Lt. Gen. Gyokasu Morozumi was guarding and defending Surigao and Agusan, and the easter part of the Misamis province.
When Suzuki was ordered to Leyte in October, 1944, Morozumi assumed command of the defense of Mindanao, and was officially confirmed as commander of the IJA 35th Army on April 1945 after Suzuki was killed in action.
The IJA 41st Infantry Regiment
The attack on the 109th Division headquarters at Talakag was carried out by the IJA 30th Division’s 41st Infantry Regiment that was headquartered in Impalutao, Impasug-ong in Bukidnon.
Specifically, the units assigned to the battle area at this time were the 30th Reconnaissance Regiment and 2nd Battalion of the 41st Infantry Regiment.
From 18 June 1944 to 29 June 1944, the entire 111th Infantry regiment was under enemy pressure by a force of approximately 900 Japanese and Korean garrison troops attacking from different points. This force succeeded in penetrating as far as Talakag, Bukidnon where the 109th Division had its Headquarters.
About 6:30 on June 18, 1944, the area of the 1st Battalion was shelled by two field guns, ineffectively expending thirty—two shells. The fire was directed towards Macahambus, Tagpangi, Cabula, and Maasin. The shelling later proved to be the prelude to an attack on the 111th Infantry Regiment.
Two hours later, some 150 Japanese moved out from Lumbia towards Macahambus. Guerrilla outposts at Bagalangit and other outposts to the west fired on this party but withdrew after a brief skirmish. At 11:30 AM, the fight was over with Bagalangit lost to the guerrillas. The enemy then outposted their own line and the main body bivouacked.
At the time of the attack, the 1st Battalion was deployed in depth with its rear elements as far back as Tignapoloan, thus could not be mustered fast enough to counter the enemy thrust. However, it was promptly moved forward, and on the night of 18 Jun 1944, two companies were position in the hills around Bayanga with another rifle company between Dansolihon and Monigue.
This enemy offense was at first believed to be a mere outpost action but by mid-morning, the guerrillas became convinced that it was a seriously intended drive. Consequently ‘I’ Co of the 112th Infantry Regiment stationed at Dagumba-an as Division Reserve was moved to a position of readiness between Patpat (now San Isidro) and Balubal.
During the night of 18—19 June another force of enemy infantry estimated at 250 men, proceeded from Lumbia to Batinay where they were observed by the outpost of the 109th Infantry Regiment. This movement was promptly relayed to the 111th Infantry outpost at Tagpangi who transmitted the information to the 1st Battalion Commander and then withdrew towards Monigue without engaging the enemy.
The Japanese stopped at daylight; cooked chow, and then advanced slowly towards Tagpangi. It was not until 2:00 PM that guerrilla forces encountered this group about two kilometers southeast of Tagpangi. The guerrilla forces there were the company that stationed near Dansolihon reinforced by the retreating Tagpangi outpost.
At the time of the encounter, about two-thirds of the enemy were moving along the main trail, with the other third moving cautiously along the ridges. It appeared that the enemy was baiting the guerrillas into attacking their main body and be crushed by their flank column.
The guerrillas in fact struck at the main body of the enemy but the skirmish was a hit-and-run affair. An undetermined number of casualties was inflicted on the enemy and caused some confusion. The guerrilla unit then retreated towards Monigue keeping just out of touch with the enemy in pursuit.
During the morning, 20 Jun 1944, the enemy deployed near Bayanga but did not advance. The only engagement was a skirmish between the guerrilla reconnaissance patrol and the enemy outpost.
Japanese Planes Strafe Guerrillas
About 3:00 PM four Japanese dive bombers appeared over Bayanga and strafed the area for about an hour. Although the attack did no material damage, it did affect the morale of the sadly equipped guerrillas. Faced with death from above and the threat of a flanking attack from Monigue, the entire 1st Battalion withdrew to the neighborhood of Mambuaya to establish its two companies in position there.
The enemy force from Tagpangi left Monigue to link up with the other force at Bayanga and both forces withdrew to the Bayanga Cemetery where they bivouacked for the night.
On 20 Jun 1944, about 10:00 AM, two Japanese training planes strafed Talakag. Bowler ordered the evacuation of civilians and his own rear installations. This strafing had little effect except to speed up compliance with the evacuation order.
According to Tony Feredo of the Pacific Air War History Associates (PAWHA), it was only the Imperial Japanese Army Air Force (IJAAF) that had armed training units in the Philippines.
“One training unit was in Del Monte by June of 1944, the 31st Kyoiku Hikotai (operational air training unit). They later moved to Sibulan and Tanjay airfields in Dumaguete by July, but they may have maintained a sub-unit in northern Mindanao rotating between Del Monte and Cagayan.”
Initially based in Luzon, Feredo said the air training units moved a number of their elements to Panay (San Jose Buenavista Airfield), La Carlota (Negros) and Puerto Princesa (Palawan). Some units were moved to the Dutch East Indies (Indonesia) and used Mindanao as their staging area.
Other than being operational air training units, their deployment to the Philippines also helped in garrison duties by maintaining air patrols and attacks against guerrilla elements while the major air units were preparing for the defense of the Philippines against the anticipated US invasion, he added.
Feredo said the 31st Kyoiku Hikotai had a complement of 20 aircraft, of which most were Ki-79 Mansyu but also had Ki-36 Ida, Ki-55 Ida and Ki-54 Hickory.
The Mansyū Ki-79 Trainer version was built by Manshūkoku Hikōki Seizo KK with a 510 hp Hitachi Ha.13a-I or Ha.13a-III engine. A total of 1,329 aircraft built in four sub-versions (The single seat Ki-79a (Ha.13a-I) and Ki-79c (Ha.13a-III) and the two-seat Ki-79b (Ha.13a-I) and Ki-79d (Ha.13a-III)
The Ki-79c, like the Ki-79a, was a single-seat trainer armed with a single 7.7mm (0.303 in) Type 89 machinegun, while Ki-79d, like the Ki-79b, was a two-seat trainer armed with two 7.7mm (0.3030 in) Type 89 machineguns with 500 rounds per gun or 1 x 12.7 (0.50 in) mm Ho-103 machine gun and 1 x 7.7 mm (0.303 in) Type 89 machine gun on later models They could also carry four 25 kg (55-lb) for a total of 100 kg (220 lbs.) bombs.
Both Ki-79c and Ki-79d were made of wood and steel (light alloys had become too scarce) and the engine was different (although of the same basic model).
Protecting The River Crossings
“I” Co of the 112th Inf Regt moved to the Cagayan River to protect the crossings over Kibulawan. During the morning however, a force of the enemy estimated at 250 Korean troops and 150 Filipino BCs- forced their way across the Agusan River in the neighborhood of Camp 12. This force was supported by six enemy planes.
Capt. Ramon Onahon, who led the “M” Co. of the 3rd Battalion, 111th Regiment escorted some one thousand civilian evacuees to Cagayan via Imbatug, Baungon, Bukidnon.
Sgt. Celestino Onahon, of the “I” Co., at 97 years one of the last surviving witnesses of the encounter at Imbatug, said it was the most intense fire fight he had experienced.
“We were in a defensive position and I was charged with manning our .50-cal. machine gun,” recalls Onahon, who now serves as a pastor in his church in Manolo Fortich (formerly Tankulan).
“We have been fighting for three days and I was the first to open fire since the .50-cal. had a greater range than our rifles. Our companions only had an average of seventeen rounds for each man, so when our ammunition was running low, we ran!”
After a considerable skirmish “M” Co., 111th Inf Regt which was attacking, was forced to withdraw and moved southward in the direction of Tigbao. The remainder of the 3rd Battalion reinforced by a platoon from the 112th Inf Regt concentrated in the area to protect against any drive in the direction of Mampayag.
After the skirmish, the enemy group divided the part pursuing “M” Co and one group moving towards Libona. The first group spent the night in a concrete starch factory at Camp 8.
At dawn, 21 June 1944, elements of the 3rd Battalion attacked this last unit in an indecisive engagement. The remainder of the battalion moved forward to protect against a drive to the south. The enemy, however, continued to patrol Camp 12 area, Libona, Santa Fe and Camp B, and no other engagement took place in this area during the day.
The 1st Battalion had lost contact with about 150 of the enemy, later reported to have crossed the river near Cabula and proceeding southward along the east bank of the Cagayan River.
At this time, the 2nd Battalion concentrated near Imbatug and had no force in position to interrupt this advance.
The battalion did however, send troops towards Langawon but they arrived too late to be of service. This enemy force recrossed the Cagayan River near the mouth of the Taguiti River coming in at the rear of the Guerrilla Mambuaya position.
At the time, an enemy advance was made from Bayanga. The 1st Battalion, caught between forces, withdrew and took position with two companies at Dansolihon but with the other company still in the vicinity of Monigue.
Immediately after this, the enemy force proceeded to Uguiaban and attempted to cross the river at that point. One machine gun of “D” Co of the 111th Infantry Regiment which in position there, repulsed this thrust and forced the enemy withdrew, who made no further attempt to cross that night. This was the last appearance of the 1st Battalion in this action.
Important supplies and communications were being sent from the coast to the Tignapoloan are and the battalion was left to protect the trail. It was not attacked again by ground troops and a combat patrol that operated along the road between Bayanga and Ugiaban encountered no enemy troops.
At 7:00PM, 109th Div Commander, Lt-Col James Grinstead, ordered his headquarters and the town of Talakag burned. He then took the few rifles that were in this area and some of his staff and joined “I” Co and the 112th Infantry Regiment in actual combat. This company had taken up a position at Balanon.
On the morning 22 June 1944, the enemy at Ugiaban began desultory firing from mortar and machine guns which continued up to about 2:30 PM. Under cover of this, they succeeded in infiltering a sizeable group between Uguiaban and Kibulayan, and by 2:30 o’clock this force endangered the guerillas advance position at Balaon.
In addition, another enemy force had crossed the river and were in position for a frontal attack. The guerrilla forces then fell back to a second position slightly north of Balubal and reinforcements were sent to it.
By the time this movement was completed, the enemy attacked in full force and after an hour of intense fighting the guerrilla forces were forced out of position.
Grindstead’s plans of operation was predicated on the use of veteran troops, but actually most of his troops were not. They held their position till the fighting was next thing to hand to hand combat, but they were shaken badly enough to make it impracticable to occupy a third position south of Balubal. The engagement was ordered broken off and troops retired to Malinao.
While this was going on, the 3rd Battalion made another attack on the enemy at Camp 8 but they were also forced to withdraw. The enemy spent the night in the neighborhood of Libona.
The Fifth Day
On 22 June 1944, this enemy force moved forward towards Patpat (present day San Isidro) south of Imbatug. About 8 AM, they came upon the outpost line of the 2nd Battalion somewhat unexpectedly and a brief skirmish followed. The 2nd Battalion at that time vas concentrated somewhat behind this position and it was withdrawn to a previous selected fallback position while attempting serious defense of the Bubunawan River crossing.
This move appeared to have been an error and resulted in a slackening of morale which significantly reduced the efficiency of the battalion. The enemy then patrolled this area rather intensively burning the Battalion Headquarters at Patpat and the Regimental Headquarters at Salimbalan. Part of the enemy force spent the night in Imbatug which they entered without opposition while part was near Patpat.
On the Talakag front, a patrol of “I” Co, 112th Infantry Regiment, contacted the advance guard of the enemy just as they were proceeding through Balubal. In this engagement it appeared that both forces were too surprised to fire and the guerrilla force promptly withdrew to Malinao. After this, the enemy rested until air support arrived.
Death from the Air
Considering its proximity to Talakag, the Japanese close support aircraft were most probably elements of the Imperial Japanese Army Air Force (IJAAF) based at the Del Monte in Tankulan, and the two airfields in Cagayan: Lumbia Airfield, a Japanese constructed pursuit field with a capacity of 20 planes, and CagayanEast (Cagayan/Patag Airfield), which were both utilized as fighter fields.
According to Feredo, the Japanese were anticipating that the US would make a hard push in both the Central (under Nimitz) and SouthWest Pacific (SWPA, under MacArthur) areas as US carrier raids were stepping up to clear the way for the island hopping of MacArthur.
The IJAAF were 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 army airfields in Mindanao in anticipation of an expected US invasion from November 1944 to January 1945.
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.
The Sonia dive bombers were most probably the type utilized against the guerrillas. It was similar in size and performance to the German Stuka Ju-87 and the US Army Douglas A-24 Banshee (similar to the US Navy SBD Dauntless patrol dive bomber).
About 10:00 AM, three dive bombers strafed and bombed the Tignapoloan area of the 1st Battalion, Talakag around the 111th Infantry Regiment, and Imbatug.
Under cover of these attacks the enemy force at Balubal proceeded to Talakag along the main highway and entered the town about 11:30 AM. Heavy flanking detachments came through Malinao and along the Kalawaig River. During the afternoon, four dive bombers repeated the bombing and strafing all over the area and the following morning two others did the same. No more planes came after that.
The enemy at Imbatug patrolled throughout the area between 23 and 25 June 1944. On this date the BCs were withdrawn to Cagayan while the Japanese troops advanced via Dangol and entered Talakag on the afternoon of 27 Jun 1944.
During this period several small groups of the 2nd Battalion, 111th Infantry Regiment engaged the Japs in numerous skirmishes. These inflicted some casualties on the enemy but were not material enough to affect the enemy operations.
Changing Battle Lines
The Regimental Commander had ordered the 3rd Battalion to take over the area of the 2nd Battalion and a large part of the battalion had moved in but did not arrive until 26 Jun 1944 when it was too late to stop the Japanese force.
However, both battalions were combined and took positions along the Tumala-ong River facing south and covered the crossings. This was done with the plan of reengaging the enemy when returning to Cagayan.
An enemy patrol sent on 27 June 1944 to Cagayan, was driven back to Talakag, and on 29 Jun 1944, a minor engagement was fought against the retreating enemy in the vicinity of Lingating. In this case the enemy was so much superior that this action was merely another hit-and-run guerrilla skirmish. In the meantime, the force at Talakag patrolled the area intensively until joined by the other group on 27 June 1944.
On the 28 Jun 1944, the whole enemy force retired towards Cagayan and re-entered Cagayan on the afternoon of 29 Jun 1944. In Talakag there was not much resistance to these patrols. Those along the Cagayan River were so strong that the various guerrilla attempts to trap them had to be abandoned.
The unit around the Kalawaig River was forced to cross that river and did not again enter the action. Grinstead and some of his staff left the Malinao-Maigtang area on the night of 26 June 1944 and by that time the majority of “I” Co had been re-assembled along the Cagayan River near Dagmbaan.
29 Jun 1944, this company was moved back into position at Balubal and the guerrilla MP Detachment reoccupied their old position at Talakag. Immediately after the skirmish on 29 Jun 1944, the 2nd and 3rd Battalions resumed their original positions while the 1st Battalion moved back to Mambuaya and assumed its original position there.
The enemy troops were mostly Koreans under Japanese officers. Approximately 100 operated through the area of the 1st Battalion. About 150 of these were engaged at Ugiaban but by the time the force entered Talakag it had increased to approximately 500. The force which operated through the 2nd and 3rd Battalions was about 250 Japanese and 150 BCs.
Estimated number of Japs killed was fourteen and thirteen wounded, at least two of these killed being officers. Since the termination of the fight however, eight bodies Japanese soldiers were seen floating in the Cagayan River near Cagayan. These must have been lost during the activity along the Cagayan and Bubunawan Rivers.
In spite of the great amount of ammunition expended by the enemy, the number of casualties inflicted on the guerrilla forces was only three men killed and one officer and two men wounded.
The casualty list for this action recovered so far from the Philippine Archives Collection of the Philippine Veterans Affairs Office (PVAO) revealed the following names: Pvt. Alacoke Balcos, M Co, 111th Inf (KIA 19 June 1944), Pfc Resurrecion Llagano, E Co, 112th Inf (WIA 19 June 1944), Pvt. Antonio Gener, L Co, 111th Inf (KIA 21 June 1944), Pfc. Teodoro Cabanieros, L Co, 111th Inf (KIA 21 June 1944); Cpl. Antonio Ofera, F Co, 111th Inf (MIA 21 June 1944), and Pvt. Gaudenico Bation, MP Co, 111th Inf (KIA 21 June 1944).
Throughout the entire engagement, the guerrillas were as usual short of ammunition to make a reasonably decent fight. At the beginning, the 3rd Battalion of the 111th Infantry Regiment had only seventeen rounds of rifle ammunition for each rifle, with other battalions only somewhat better. Only in “I” Co, 112th Infantry Regiment was there a reasonable quantity of ammunition -about seventy rounds per man.
Eleven months after this battle, American liberation forces bolstered by Filipino guerrillas occupied Malaybalay on May 21, 1945 and on May 25 marked the formal liberation of the entire Bukidnon province from the Japanese invaders. The Talakagnons held a victory parade when Talakag was declared safe thereafter.
Annex 1 : Koreans in the IJA
During World War II, American soldiers and Filipino guerillas frequently encountered Korean soldiers within the ranks of the Imperial Japanese Army. Most notably was in the Battle of Tarawa, which was considered at that time as one of the bloodiest battles in U.S. military history.
A fifth of the Japanese garrison during this battle consisted of Korean laborers who were trained in combat roles. Like their Japanese counterparts, many of them were killed. In Prisoners of the Japanese, author Gaven Daws wrote how the Japanese in Tinian killed 5,000 Korean laborers believing they could not be trusted to fight along the IJA against the Americans.
Although the Japanese colonial government of Korea announced on 09 May 1942 that Korean men would be drafted in the military, it wasn’t until December 1944 when this was enforced.
|Korean military participation until 1943|
This was most probably because prior to that date, enlistment in the Imperial Japanese Army by ethnic Koreans was voluntary, and highly competitive. From a 14% acceptance rate in 1938, it dropped to a 2% acceptance rate in 1943 although the raw number of applicants increased from 2,946 to 303,294 in just five years.
In 1944, Japan started the conscription of Koreans into its armed forces. All Korean males were drafted to either join the Imperial Japanese Army, as of April 1944, or work in the military industrial sector, as of September 1944.
Before 1944, 18,000 Koreans passed the examination for induction into the army. Koreans provided workers to mines and construction sites around Japan. The number of conscripted Koreans reached its peak in 1944 in preparation for war. From 1944, about 200,000 Korean males were inducted into the army. By the end of World War II, 110,000 Korean conscripts served with the Japanese armed forces.
Officer cadets had been joining the Japanese Army since before the annexation by attending the Imperial Japanese Army Academy. Enlisted Soldier recruitment began as early as 1938, when the Japanese Kwantung Army in Manchuria began accepting pro-Japanese Korean volunteers into the army of Manchukuo, and formed the Gando Special Force.
Koreans in this unit specialized in counter-insurgency operations against communist guerillas in the region of Jiandao. The size of the unit grew considerably at an annual rate of 700 men, and included such notable Koreans as General Paik Sun-Yup, who served in the Korean War. Historian Philip Jowett noted that during the Japanese occupation of Manchuria, the Gando Special Force “earned a reputation for brutality and was reported to have laid waste to large areas which came under its rule.”
After the war, 148 Koreans were convicted of Class B and C Japanese war crimes, 23 of whom were sentenced to death (compared to 920 Japanese who were sentenced to death), including Korean prison guards who were particularly notorious for their brutality during the war. The figure was considered relatively high considering how ethnic Koreans only constituted a small percentage of the Japanese military.
Judge Bert Röling, who represented the Netherlands at the International Military Tribunal for the Far East, noted that “many of the commanders and guards in POW camps were Koreans – the Japanese apparently did not trust them as soldiers – and it is said that they were sometimes far more cruel than the Japanese.”
In his memoirs, Colonel Eugene C. Jacobs wrote that during the Bataan Death March, “the Korean guards were the most abusive. The Japs didn’t trust them in battle, so used them as service troops; the Koreans were anxious to get blood on their bayonets; and then they thought they were veterans.”
Korean guards were sent to the remote jungles of Burma, where Lt. Col. William A. (Bill) Henderson wrote from his own experience that some of the guards overseeing the construction of the Burma Railway “were moronic and at times almost bestial in their treatment of prisoners”.
This applied particularly to Korean private soldiers, conscripted only for guard and sentry duties in many parts of the Japanese empire. Regrettably, they were appointed as guards for the prisoners throughout the camps of Burma and Siam.”
The late Prof. Lydia N. Yu Jose of the Ateneo de Manila University’s Department of Political Science sought to get to the bottom of alleged atrocities of Korean soldiers in the IJA in “The Koreans in Second World War Philippines: Rumour and History.”
In her abstract, Yu Jose wrote: ‘Mas malupit ang mga Koreano kaysa mga Hapon‘ is a rumor about Koreans in Second World War Philippines that has persisted to this day. A comparative, quantitative statement, it is roughly translated as ‘The Koreans committed more atrocities than the Japanese in Second World War Philippines’.
“This is a half-true memory: true, there were Koreans in the Philippines; false, they could not have committed more atrocities than the Japanese because there were very few of them, as archival evidence discussed in this article proves. If only the Koreans and their role in the war were properly discussed in Philippine textbooks, this rumor would not have persisted to this day.”
Despite a thorough search for eyewitnesses, documents and other references, she did not find sufficient proof to support the widely held-belief, outside of the trials of some ethnic Korean officers which however were mostly confined to atrocities against POWs under their command.
The highest-ranking Korean to be prosecuted for war crimes after the war was Lieutenant General Hong Sa-ik, who was in command of all the Japanese prisoner-of-war camps in the Philippines.
Even in the case of Lance Corporal Kenyo Ohara (Chui Wong-yon) who was with the 30th Division, 77th Regiment under Mikami Kое, one of the 12 accused in killing six non-combatant Filipinos near Langasian, La Paz, Surigao del Sur, on or about 16 September 1945, Yu Jose found him to be acting only upon orders of his Japanese superiors, and insufficient proof of Korean brutality against Filipinos.
Bureau of Constabulary
During the Japanese occupation, the puppet government appointed by the Imperial Japanese forces organized their version of the Philippine Constabulary known as the Bureau of Constabulary (better known as the BC); it was later renamed to match the pre-war Constabulary with the creation of the Second Philippine Republic.
A handful of former PC officers and men were rounded up and forced to work with this outfit, notably former PC Chief Brigadier General Guillermo Francisco, who was earlier appointed by President Manuel L. Quezon to head the PC.
With the threat that their loved ones would be harmed; majority of the men who escaped managed to find their way into the hills where they joined the resistance movement until liberation came in 1944.
According to Robert Lapham, an American officer who had headed to the jungles to become a guerrilla commander, Francisco had been “de-Americanized” by the Japanese after the surrender of Bataan, after which, they “half trusted him to do their will”.
Francisco and his men pursued “bandits and cut-throats, which was good in itself and which allowed them to look good to their Japanese overlords, but it was known among many of his officers and some outsiders as well, that he and most of his men were just waiting for an opportune time to change sides.”
It is a fact that much of the stigma that haunted the PC was the result of the establishment by the Japanese of the BC. Many had the wrong impression that the occupation Constabulary was the same force as that of the pre-war organization.
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