Four Days of Hell in May

Probably one of the most intriguing tales to come out of Bukidnon during World War II were the two battles fought in Mangima Canyon in 1942 and 1945.

In the first instance, the Mindanao Force of the United States Army Forces Far East (USAFFE) under Lt. Gen. William F. Sharp were defending Northern Mindanao against the invading Kawamura Detachment of the Imperial Japanese Army in 1942.

Barely three  years later, it was the Imperial Japanese Army’s (IJA) 30th Panther Division turn to defend the same area against the returning Allied Forces led by the 108th Regimental Combat Team of the US Army’s 40th Sunrise Division supported by guerrillas of the 109th and 110th Divisions of the 10th Military District, US Forces in the Philippines under Col. Wendell W. Fertig in 1945.

What made these two events particularly interesting besides happening at the same place exactly three years apart was that each time it took the aggressor force approximately the same time (four days) to dislodge the spirited defenders who were both considered disadvantaged in terms of manpower, logistics and air support, but held the hellish terrain from which to fight a tenacious defense.

Bukidnon Plateau. Sayre Highway at the near-junction of Agusan and Tin-ao canyons. Looking SW 22 October 1944(NARA)

Also, in both cases the strategic targets remained the same, control of the Sayre Highway (Highway No. 3) which links the north coast of Mindanao at Bugo, Cagayan, Misamis to Davao City at its southern terminus. At the time, it was the only passable (if barely) road artery linking both sides of the island which made its defense and capture strategically important.

Del Monte Landing Field, Bukidnon 1939 (NARA)

Another strategic objective of these two operations was the Del Monte airfield complex in Tankulan (present day Manolo Fortich) which was the only airfield in Mindanao capable of handling heavy bombers such as the Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress and the Consolidated B-24 Liberator. Control of this key airfield complex meant shorter transit and longer loiter times for fighter and bomber sorties to any point in Mindanao and the Visayas.

World War II comes to Northern Mindanao

The defense of Mindanao and the Visayas in 1942 rested with the Visayan- Mindanao Force, commanded by Brig. Gen. William F. Sharp, who had his headquarters at Cebu.

This force was composed almost entirely of Philippine Army troops. Of the five divisions mobilized, in the south, only three: the 61st, 81st, and 101st, remained in the area. The other two divisions, the 71st and 91st, moved to Luzon, leaving behind their last mobilized regiments, the 73d and 93d. In addition, a large number of provisional units and some Constabulary units were formed on the outbreak of the war.

The defense of Mindanao was bolstered by the transfer of two artillery regiments from Panay and Negros to Cagayan in January 1942.

Between 2 and 3 January 1942, the 61st and 81st Field Artillery Regiments were relocated by ship to Cagayan from Panay and Negros, respectively, as part of a large scale relocation of troops from the Visayas to Mindanao in order to strengthen the defenses of the latter.

The 61st transferred from the 61st Division and the 81st from the 81st Division. The 61st and 81st Field Artillery were organized and equipped as infantry, due to the lack of artillery.

On 12 January, United States Army Infantry Colonel William P. Morse was assigned commander of the Cagayan Sector of the Mindanao Force portion of the Visayan-Mindanao Force, including both regiments.

Maj. Gen. William F. Sharp and his staff 1942. Back row standing left to right:
Major Paul D. Phillips (ADC) and Capt. W. F. O’Brien (ADC). Front row, sitting left to right: Lt. Col. W. L. Robinson (G-3), Lt. Col. Robert D. Johnston (G-4), Col. John W. Thompson (C of S), General Sharp (CG), Col.  Archibald M. Mixson (D C of S), Lt. Col. Howard R. Perry, Jr. (G-1), Lt. Col. Charles I. Humber, Jr. (G-2), and Maj. Max Weil (Hq. Comdt. and P.M.)

(west-point.org)

General Sharp’s problems were similar to those faced by the USAFFE commanders on Luzon. His untrained men lacked personal and organizational equipment of all types.

There were not enough uniforms, blankets, or mosquito bars to go around, and though each man had a rifle-the Enfield ’17- not all understood its use. Moreover, many of the rifles were defective and quickly broke down.

Phil Commonwealth Pres. Quezon, checking out an M1917 (Enfield) Rifle. Many of these rifles issued to the Phil Army were defective and lacked spare parts. (Carl Mydans/LIFE Magazine)

Machine guns of .30- and .50- caliber were issued, but many of these were defective also and had to be discarded. Spare parts for all weapons were lacking and guns that ordinarily would have been easily repaired had to be abandoned. There were no antitank guns, grenades, gas masks, or steel helmets for issue, and the supply of ammunition was extremely limited.

Although the Mindanao Force was equipped with machine guns, it suffered from a woeful shortage of ammunition, and the untrained recruits had no experience firing their weapons with live rounds. (Carl Mydans/LIFE Magazine)

General Sharp’s most serious shortage was in artillery. At the start of the war he had not a single piece in his entire command and as a result organized the artillery components of his divisions as infantry.

On 12 December he received from Manila eight old 2.95-inch mountain guns, three of which were lost two weeks later at Davao. The remaining five pieces constituted Sharp’s entire artillery support throughout the campaign.

The Mindanao Force only had five 2.95 inch mountain guns of the Philippine-American War vintage to oppose the Japanese invaders.

To alleviate the shortages in clothing, spare parts for weapons, and other equipment, factories, staffed and operated by Filipinos, were established. They were able to turn out such diverse items as shoes, hand grenades, underwear, and extractors for the Enfield. Unfortunately there was no way to manufacture small-arms ammunition or artillery pieces, and these remained critical items until the end.

General Sharp’s mission, initially, was to defend the entire area south of Luzon. When organized resistance was no longer practicable, he was to split his force into small groups and conduct guerilla warfare from hidden bases in the interior of each island. Food, ammunition, fuel, and equipment, were to be moved inland, out of reach of the enemy, in preparation for such a contingency. Those supplies that could not be moved were to be destroyed.

The organization of the Visayan-Mindanao Force established early in January lasted only about one month.

On 4 February, in an effort to facilitate the delivery of supplies expected shortly from Australia, USAFFE assumed direct control of the garrisons on Panay and Mindoro, both a part of General Sharp’s command.

A month later, a week before MacArthur’s departure for Australia, the remaining Visayan garrisons were separated from General Sharp’s command which was then redesignated the Mindanao Force.

This separation of the Visayan-Mindanao Force clearly reflected MacArthur’s desire to insure the most effective defense of Mindanao, which he hoped to use as a base for his promised return to the Philippines.

Individual and unit training continued at a steady pace and was supplemented by special instruction at a school in infantry tactics in central Mindanao. The school was staffed by Philippine Scouts of the 43d Infantry.

Philippine Army troops learning how to use a water cooled Browning .30-cal. machinegun under the watchful eyes of their instructor. (Carl Mydans/LIFE Magazine)

The greatest drawback to the training program was the shortage of ammunition. The supply was so limited that its expenditure on the firing range was prohibited. Instead, the men spent long hours in simulated fire, with doubtful results.

“A few rounds fired by the soldier, “noted Colonel Hiram W. Tarkington,” would have demonstrated to him the capability of his weapon, acquainted him with its recoil, and paid dividends in steadier marksmanship.” Most of the men who fought on Mindanao never fired a live round before they went into battle.

The Cagayan Sector

In the critical Cagayan Sector, which included the northern terminus of the vital Sayre Highway connecting the island’s north coast to Davao, and the vital Del Monte Airfield (the only remaining heavy bomber airfield in USAFFE hands), General Sharp had the Mindanao Force reserve, none of which had yet been committed, and the 102d Division (PA).

This division, formed from existing and provisional units after the outbreak of war, consisted of the 61st and 81st Field Artillery, organized and equipped as infantry, and the 103d Infantry. Col. William P. Morse, the division and sector commander, believing that an attack in his sector would most likely come from the sea and have for its objective the seizure of the Sayre Highway, had posted his troops along Macajalar Bay, between the Tagoloan and Cagayan Rivers.

Pre-war photo of a beach near Barrio Gusa in the South Shore, Macajalar Bay. Looking West towards Macabalan Point.(NARA)

In order to defend against an anticipated amphibious landing at Macajalar Bay against the Sayre Highway, Morse positioned the division along its shores between the Tagoloan and Cagayan Rivers.

The 81st Field Artillery, under the command of Lieutenant Colonel John P. Woodbridge, reinforced by a 65-man detachment composed of ground personnel-turned-infantrymen from the 30th Bombardment Squadron (that had been left at Del Monte when their squadron departed for Australia), held a four-mile sector from the Tagoloan to the Sayre Highway.

The four-mile stretch of coast line from the highway to the Cugman River was defended by the 61st Field Artillery under Col. Hiram W. Tarkington. On the left (west), extending the line to the Cagayan River, was Maj. Joseph R. Webb’s 103d Infantry.

The defenders still had few if any items of heavy equipment, but had manpower and some rifles. Soon after the assignment of sectors to the 61st and 81st Field Artillery, Major Reed Graves’ 1st Battalion, 101st Infantry reduced the 81st Field Artillery sector by taking over positions west from Tin-ao Canyon to the Little Agusan River.

Around a week later the battalion was transferred south and replaced by the 3rd Philippine Constabulary Regiment, which took over the area from the Cagayan River to Barrio Gusa. The constabulary unit was in turn relieved by the 103rd Infantry, less 2nd Battalion, around 15 February.

General Douglas MacArthur in Del Monte with Brig. Gen. Richard J. Marshall and Brig. Gen. Richard K. Sutherland sometime in March, 1942. 
(Terri Wadsworth Warne Collection, courtesy of MacArthur Memorial)

The formation of the 102nd Division from the troops of the Cagayan Sector under the command of Morse was authorized by Gen. Douglas MacArthur via USAFFE General Order No. 43 on 15 March during his brief layover in Del Monte, Bukidnon after his successful breakout by PT Boat from Corregidor.

Its 102nd Engineer Battalion was organized from personnel of the Surigao Provisional Battalion, while men from the Agusan Provisional Battalion and 2nd Provisional Battalion (Cotabato) were used to form the Headquarters Company, Service Troops and the 102nd Maintenance and Quartermaster Companies.

“I was in the middle of my architecture studies at Mapua Institute of Technology in Manila, after reverting to inactive status in the military, when I was called to active duty, “ recalls the late Col. Leonardo Hernando (ret.), then 26 years old and earlier commissioned as a 3rd Lieutenant in the Philippine Army at the School for Reserved Commission in Camp Keithley, Lanao in 1937.

Col. Leonardo Hernando (ret) was 26 years old when he was recalled to active duty as a 3rd Lieutenant with the 1st Battalion, 103rd Regiment, 102nd Division for the defense of Cagayan, Misamis in 1942.
(Hernando Family Collection)

“The war in Europe and the conflict in the Pacific in 1941 were spreading to the Philippines, I was inducted into the USAFFE [United States Army Forces Far East] and later mobilized in Zamboanga as a company commander in the 1st Battalion, 103rd Infantry Regiment,” Col. Hernando recalled in Ann Gorra Rago’s anthology “City of Gold”.

An enlisted man of the 102d Infantry Division of the Philippine Army. From Mandirigma Uniforms of the Philippines Fighting Men More photos from their FB Page MANDIRIGMA.

About 1 May, the 102nd Division numbered 4,713 men, including nineteen American officers, 67 American enlisted men (65 from the Air Corps detachment and two in the 61st Field Artillery), 268 Filipino officers, and 4,359 Filipino enlisted men.

The 103rd Infantry was the strongest with nearly 1,800 personnel, while the 61st and 81st Field Artillery numbered slightly more than 1,000. 

Japanese invasion of Mindanao

Japanese planning for operations in the south did not begin until late in the Philippine campaign. The initial 14th Army plan for the conquest of the Philippines contained only brief references to Mindanao and the Visayas, which were expected to fall quickly once Manila was taken.

During the months that followed the first landing, General Homma showed little interest in the islands south of Luzon. But even had he desired to move into that area, he would have been unable to do so. In February the campaign on Bataan had reached a stalemate.

Gen. Masaharu Homma (left), commander of the Japanese invasion, comes ashore on Luzon in December 1942. He was demoted when the fierce resistance at Bataan forced him to pause in February and call for reinforcements. Placed in charge of moving prisoners to Camp O’Donnell, Homma was convicted of war crimes for his part in the Death March and was executed in 1946. (U.S. Air Force photo)

Imperial General Headquarters, informed of Homma’s situation and worried over his slow progress, pressed for an early end to the Philippine campaign and finally, early in March, sent the needed reinforcements. With them came orders to begin operations in the south concurrently with those against Bataan and Corregidor.

It was several weeks before the troops scheduled for deployment in the south reached the Philippines. The first contingent came from Borneo and arrived at Lingayen Gulf on 1 April. It consisted of Headquarters, 35th Brigade, and the 124th Infantry, both from the 18th Division.

Led by Maj. Gen. Kiyotake Kawaguchi, the brigade commander, this force, with the addition of 14th Army supporting and service troops, was organized into a separate detachment known as the Kawaguchi Detachment.

Elements of the IJA 5th Koi Division landing in Malaya. The Kawamura Detachment was an elite component of unit composed of the 9th Infantry Brigade and 41st Infantry Regiment under Maj. Gen,. Saburo Kawamura tasked to capture the Cagayan Sector in Northern Mindanao.

Four days later elements of the 5th Division from Malaya, consisting of the headquarters  of Maj. Gen. Saburo Kawamura’s 9th Infantry Brigade and the 41st Infantry, reached Lingayen. With these troops, augmented by service and supporting troops, Homma formed the Kawamura Detachment. These two detachments, plus the Miura Detachment already at Davao, constituted the entire force assigned the conquest of the southern Philippines.

While General Sharp sought to strengthen the defenses of Mindanao, the Japanese completed their plans for the seizure of the island. The plan finally adopted provided for a coordinated attack from three directions by separate forces toward a common center, followed by a quick mop-up of the troops in the outlying portions of the island.

One of these forces, the Miura Detachment, was already on the island, on garrison duty at Davao and Digos, a short distance to the south. It was to be relieved by a battalion of the 10th Independent Garrison and then strike out from Digos toward the Sayre Highway. Its route of advance would be northwest along Route 1, which intersected the Sayre Highway about midway across the island.

The other two forces committed to the Mindanao operation, the Kawaguchi and Kawamura Detachments, would have to make amphibious assaults. Each would be relieved of responsibility for the security of the island it had occupied, embark in the waiting transports, and sail under naval escort by divergent routes to its designated target.

General Kawaguchi was to take his men ashore at Cotabato midway along the west coast, at the mouth of the Mindanao River. From Cotabato, which was joined to Route 1 by a five-mile stretch of highway, he would send part of his force east toward the Sayre Highway to meet Colonel Miura’s troops marching west. The rest of the detachment was to land at Parang, about twelve miles north of Cotabato, and push north along Route 1, past Lake Lanao, then east along the island’s north shore to join with the Kawamura Detachment

The fight for Mindanao 29 April – 9 May 1942 (Louis Morton)
The War in the Pacific – The Fall of the Philippines

Kawamura was to come ashore in northern Mindanao at the head of Macajalar Bay, the starting point of the Sayre Highway. While a small portion of his force struck out to the west to meet Kawaguchi’s men, the bulk of the detachment would march south through central Mindanao, along the Sayre Highway. Ultimately, elements of the three detachments-one marching east, another west, and the third south-would join along the Digos-Cotabato stretch of Route 1 across the narrow waist of the island.

Late in April three battalions of the 10th Independent Garrison took over garrison duty on Mindanao, Cebu, and Panay. Colonel Miura immediately moved south from Davao to Digos to prepare for his advance along Route 1, while Kawamura and Kawaguchi began to embark their troops for the coming invasion. First to sail was the Kawaguchi Detachment which left Cebu on 26 April in six transports escorted by two destroyers.

Kawamura’s departure from Panay came five days later and brought him to Macajalar Bay as Kawaguchi’s troops were fighting their way northward to greet him. Wainwright’s order to Sharp on 30 April, to hold all or as much of Mindanao as possible with the forces he had, found that commander already engaged with the enemy on two fronts.

The 1st Macajalar Bay Landing

On the afternoon of 2 May, the 102nd Division was alerted for combat after the convoy carrying the Kawamura Detachment, was spotted by a reconnaissance aircraft north of Macajalar Bay.

The troops on beach defense were immediately alerted, and that night, after the convoy had entered the bay, the demolition plan was put into effect.

Shortly after, about 0100 of May 3rd, the Japanese troops numbering about 4,000 men began coming ashore at both extremities of the line, at Cagayan and at the mouth of the Tagoloan River. Supported by fire from two destroyers offshore, the Japanese by dawn had secured a firm hold of the beach line between the Tagoloan and the Sayre Highway.

“The Japanese forces landed in great number in the vicinity of Bugo and proceeded toward town,” recalls Col. Hernando.

Beach No. 11 at the South Shore of Macajalar Bay where the Kawamura Detachment first carved out a beachhead between Tagoloan and the Sayre Highway on May 3, 1942. (NARA)

By dawn, the Japanese firmly held the shoreline between Tagoloan and the Sayre Highway. Although Webb was unable to prevent the Cagayan landing, he launched a two-company counterattack against the beachhead.

Those of Kawamura’s men who came ashore in the vicinity of Cagayan met a warm reception. Unable to prevent the enemy from landing, Major Webb attacked the beachhead with two companies. So successful was the attack that only the withdrawal of the 61st Field Artillery on his right prevented him, Webb believed, from driving the enemy back into the sea. With his right flank exposed, Webb was forced to break off the engagement and pull his men back.

In response to the Japanese landing, Sharp moved his reserves, which were the 2.95-inch gun detachment of Major Paul D. Phillips, the 62nd Infantry of Lieutenant Colonel Allen Thayer, and the 93rd Infantry of Major John C. Goldtrap, forward.

Pending the arrival of the two regiments, Phillips’ detachment was to take up a position behind a deep crater on the Sayre Highway and block any Japanese attempt to advance south. When it was joined later in the day by the 62d and 93d Infantry Sharp would have a strong line, supported by artillery, in the path of the Japanese.

Major Phillips’ detachment had hardly set up its guns when, at 0730, it came under fire from the Japanese advancing along the Sayre Highway.

In the initial attack the detachment was forced back about 700 yards. Fortunately, the Japanese failed to press their advantage and Phillips was able to organize another holding position at his new location. He was joined here early in the afternoon by advance elements of the 93d Infantry; the rest of that regiment when it reached the area prepared a second position a short distance to the south. The 62d Infantry, whose assembly area was farther south on the Sayre Highway, failed to join the other two units that day.

To General Sharp “events seemed to be moving satisfactorily.” Although the enemy controlled the beaches and the northern terminus of the Sayre Highway, his own troops had disengaged without loss and were in position along a secondary line of defense.

Already part of his reserves were blocking the highway and other troops were moving up to their support. So optimistic was the general that he set his staff to work on a plan to counterattack north along the highway next morning.

The optimism at force headquarters was quickly dissipated when reports of Japanese progress during the day began to come in. The enemy, it was learned, had pushed back the 61st and 81st Field Artillery. The 103d Infantry had resisted more stoutly but was also falling back and in danger of being outflanked.

General Sharp’s hopes for a counterattack were dealt the final blow when, at 1600, Colonel Morse ordered a general withdrawal to defensive positions astride the Sayre Highway, about six miles south of the beach. The move was to be made that night under cover of darkness.

“We soon abandoned our beach defenses and withdrew to the hills of Kiliog, Bukidnon,” noted Col. Hernando.

Before this plan could be put into effect it was changed by General Sharp, who, after a conference with Morse, Woodbridge, and Webb, decided to establish his next line even farther south than the line already selected.

The Mindanao Force established their Main Line of Resistance  parallel to Mangima Canyon, east of Tankulan, and the Mangima River. (NARA)

The position selected paralleled the Mangima Canyon, a formidable natural barrier east of the town of Tankulan, and the Mangima River. At Tankulan the Sayre Highway splits, one branch continuing south then east, the other east then south. Before the two join, eight air miles east of Tankulan, they form a rough circle bisected from north to south by the Mangima Canyon and River.

East of the junction of the canyon and the upper road lies the town of Dalirig; to the south the river cuts across the lower road before Puntian. Possession of these two towns would enable the defenders to block all movement down the Sayre Highway to central Mindanao.

At 2300, 3 May, General Sharp issued orders for the withdrawal to the Mangima line. The right (north) half of the line, the Dalirig Sector, was to be held by the 102d Division which had been reorganized and now consisted of the 62d Infantry, the 81st Field Artillery, the 2.95-inch gun detachment, and Companies C and E of the 43rd Infantry (Philippine Scouts), under Morse’s command from force reserve.

The former commander of the Mindanao Force Reserve, Colonel William F. Dalton, took command of the Puntian Sector on the lower (southern road) with the 61st Field Artillery and the 93rd Infantry. Separated by the Japanese advance, the 103rd Infantry was made independent, tasked with defending the Cagayan River valley. The Third Battalion, 103rd Infantry Regiment under Maj. Robert V. Bowler withdrew to Talakag.
 

In the Dalirig Sector, Lt. Col. Allen Thayer’s 62d Infantry, closely supported by the 2.95-inch gun detachment, occupied the main line of resistance along the east wall of Mangima Canyon. Companies C and E, 43d Infantry (Philippine Scouts), Colonel Morse’s reserve, were stationed in Dalirig, and in a draw 500 yards behind the town were the 200 men of the 81st Field Artillery, which had had a strength of 1,000 when the Japanese landed. Colonel Dalton, with two regiments, used the lull in battle similarly to dig in before Puntian.

All units reached their designated positions by the morning of 4 May, taking advantage of a lull in the Japanese advance to organize the line for the rest of that day and the next. The remainder of that day as well as the next, during which time the Japanese limited themselves to aerial reconnaissance and bombardment, was spent in organizing the line. 

The 1st Battle of Mangima Canyon

The division’s 62nd Infantry held the main line of resistance along the east wall of Mangima Canyon, closely supported by the 2.95-inch gun detachment, while the reserve, Companies C and E of the 43rd Infantry (PS), was stationed in Dalirig poblacion. The remnants of the 81st Field Artillery, reduced to 200 men, were stationed in a draw 500 yards behind the town.

On the morning of 6 May the Kawamura Detachment resumed its attack. Their approach toward Tankulan was reported by patrols of the 62d Infantry which for the past two days had moved freely in and around the town.

During the morning advance elements of the Kawamura Detachment passed through Tankulan and began to advance along the upper road toward Dalirig. Late that afternoon the Japanese moved into Tankulan in force and began to register their artillery on Dalirig.

Japanese troops firing a 75-mm. gun Type 41 (1908), normally found in an infantry regimental cannon company (bottom). Called a mountain (infantry) gun, it was light and easily handled, and was very steady in action. When used as a regimental cannon company weapon it was issued on the basis of four per regiment.

There was little action the next day. Japanese artillery, well out of range of Major Phillips’ 2.95-inch guns, dropped their shells accurately into the 62d Infantry line while their aircraft bombed and strafed gun positions and troops. The left battalion suffered most from the bombardment and Colonel Thayer finally had to send in his reserve battalion to bolster the line.

On 08 May the Japanese attacked the Third Battalion, 103rd Infantry defending Talakag so effectively only ninety of Bowler’s men managed to escape. This opened a dangerous backdoor “into the very heart of Bukidnon.”
 

In the Puntian Sector the Japanese were content to keep Colonel Dalton’s troops in place by artillery fire. The bombardment continued with  armored car incursions and dive bomber sorties until 19:00 of the same day when Kawamura attacked Sharp’s main line of resistance across the Sayre Highway at Mangima Canyon, successfully infiltrating the division’s lines, sowing disorder.

Until the night of 8-9 May, Dalton had been able to maintain contact with the 62d Infantry on his right (north) but during the confusion which marked the fighting that night he lost contact.

In the chaos two platoons “mysteriously received orders to withdraw” and retreated, but were quickly stopped as no such orders had actually been issued. Before they could return to the front they came under attack from a small force of Japanese infiltrators, after which other Filipino troops commenced firing, although they could not distinguish between friend and foe in the night, inducing further panic on the line. The firing was only halted after Thayer’s personal intervention.

After holding through the night, the 62d Infantry held on as long as possible but by morning the tired and disorganized Filipinos had been pushed off the main line of resistance and were falling back on Dalirig.

Already the 2.95-inch gun detachment had pulled out, leaving the Companies C and E of the 43rd Infantry, Philippine Scouts as the last organized resistance in the sector.

The two companies of the 43rd Infantry, Philippine Scouts, were the best armed and trained USAFFE troops of the Mindanao Force holding the Mangima Line. (Carl Mydans/LIFE Magazine)

In an effort to relieve the pressure on Thayer’s regiment he launched his own attack the next morning. Though the attack was successful it failed to achieve its purpose, for the disorganized 62d Infantry was already in full retreat.

At about 1130 of the 9th, as the 62d Infantry began to withdraw through Dalirig, Kawamura’s men entered the town from three sides and struck the retreating Filipinos.

A BAR Man from C Co of the 43d Infantry Regiment, Philippine Scouts. From Mandirigma, Uniforms of the Philippines Fighting Men 1935-1945. More photos from their FB Page MANDIRIGMA.

Already disorganized, the troops of the 62d Infantry scattered in all directions. The two Scout companies in the town, under the leadership of Maj. Allen L. Peck, made a brave stand but finally withdrew just before their positions were encircled.

The escape route of the fleeing troops lay over flat, open country, devoid of cover. Pursued by small-arms and artillery fire and strafed by low-flying aircraft, the retreating units lost all semblance of organization. Each man sought whatever protection he could find, discarding his equipment when it impeded his progress.

By the end of the 9 May the Dalirig Sector forces no longer existed, except for the 150 men of the 2.5-inch gun detachment, holding positions five miles to the east of the town.

Along the southern branch of the highway Colonel Dalton and his two regiments still held firm at Puntian. But already Kawamura was sending additional troops to this sector and increasing the pressure against the Puntian force. Whether Dalton would be able to hold was doubtful, but even if he did his position was untenable. The enemy could sweep around his north flank from the direction of Dalirig or take him from the rear by continuing along the upper road to its junction with the lower road, then turning back toward Puntian. There was no way out.

Whatever consolation General Sharp derived from the fact that the Puntian force was still intact was tempered by the bitter realization that the Mangima line had been breached and the bulk of his force destroyed.

“North front in full retreat,” he radioed General MacArthur. “Enemy comes through right flank. Nothing further can be done. May sign off any time now.” Except for the resistance of scattered units, the Japanese campaign in Mindanao was over.

Mindanao Surrendered

 Sharp surrendered his command on 10 May 1942 in Malaybalay, following the Fall of Corregidor, having ordered the 102nd Division units in the Dalirig Sector at 21:30 on 9 May to surrender at daybreak. 

Including the 103rd Infantry, the division surrendered sixteen American officers and four enlisted men, as well as eighty Filipino officers and 622 enlisted men. The remainder were listed as missing in action.

Three American officers, seven Filipino officers, and 166 Filipino enlisted men from the 62nd Infantry surrendered, while only the two American officers of the two 43rd Infantry companies surrendered.

The surrendered personnel of the division were sent to the former 101st Division camp (Camp Casisang) at Malaybalay, along with the other surrendered personnel of the Mindanao Force.

American prisoners of war celebrated American Independence Day in Camp Casisang prison camp at Malaybalay, against Japanese regulations, 4 Jul 1942  (NARA)

The 102nd Division personnel who remained unsurrendered simply disappeared into the hills of Mindanao; many later fought in the Philippine resistance against Japan.

“Our unit under Major Joseph Webb, commander of the 103rd Infantry Regiment disbanded in Tagitik, Bukidnon near Imbatug. Some of my fellow soldiers opted to return to Zamboanga while I chose to stay in Imbatug,” Col. Hernando recalled.

He later joined the guerrillas of the 10th Military District, United States Forces in the Philippines (USFIP), under Col. Wendel F. Fertig, the recognized guerrilla leader of Mindanao guerrillas by Gen. MacArthur.

109th Division Station List as of 30 April 1945 (NARA)

Hernando joined the 109th Infantry Regiment under Major Fidencio Laplap, where he was designated  the Regimental Intelligence Officer (S-2) together with Lt. Jesus Yamut (S-1) as the Operations Officer.  The 109th Division Station List dated 30 April 1945 shows that by this time, Hernando had already been promoted to 1st Lieutenant while still holding the same position as S-2.

The Turn of the Tide

Three years later, the fortunes of the war in the Pacific had reversed and Allied forces under Admiral Chester Nimitz and General Douglas MacArthur were island hopping towards Japan in a two-pronged offensive across the Pacific.

Two of the greatest naval battles in history sealed Japan’s doom. In the Battle of the Philippine Sea, the Imperial Japanese Navy’s Mobile Fleet under Vice Admiral Jisaburō Ozawa, supplemented by an additional 500 land-based aircraft faced off against the US Fifth Fleet under the command of Admiral Raymond A. Spruance, which had 15 fleet carriers and 956 aircraft.

Battle of the Philippine Sea 19 June 1944

The clash was the largest carrier battle in history. On 19 June, a series of Japanese carrier air strikes were shattered by strong American defenses, later dubbed the Great Marianas Turkey Shoot.

The Japanese had spent the better part of a year reconstituting their carrier air groups, and the Americans had destroyed 90% of it in two days. The Japanese had only enough pilots left to form the air group for one of their light carriers. The Mobile Fleet returned home with only 35 aircraft of the 430 with which it had begun the battle. The battle ended in a total Japanese defeat and resulted in the virtual end of their carrier force.

Four months later, the two armadas faced off again in The Battle of Leyte Gulf, dubbed the greatest naval engagement in history. The IJN deployed four carriers, nine battleships, 14 heavy cruisers, seven light cruisers, and 35 destroyers in three separate task forces in a desperate final bid to defeat the US Navy and annihilate MacArthur’s forces landing at Leyte.

Battle of Leyte Gulf (TIME.com)

The Battle of Leyte Gulf, arguably the largest naval battle in history, was the largest naval battle of World War II. For the Japanese the defeat at Leyte Gulf was catastrophic, the Imperial Japanese Navy had suffered its greatest ever loss of ships and men in combat. The inevitable liberation of the Philippines also meant that the home islands would be virtually cut off from the vital resources from Japan’s occupied territories in Southeast Asia.

On 20 October 1944 the US Sixth Army, supported by naval and air bombardment, landed on the favorable eastern shore of Leyte, north of Mindanao. The US Sixth Army continued its advance from the east, while the Japanese rushed reinforcements to the Ormoc Bay area on the western side of the island.

The US reinforced the Sixth Army successfully, but the US Fifth Air Force devastated Japanese attempts to resupply. In torrential rains and over difficult terrain, the US advance continued across Leyte and the neighboring island of Samar to the north. On 7 December US Army units landed at Ormoc Bay and, after a major land and air battle, cut off the Japanese ability to reinforce and supply Leyte. Although fierce fighting continued on Leyte for months, the US Army was in control.

General Douglas MacArthur lands in the Philippines at Lingayen Gulf on Luzon, January 9, 1945 (Carl Mydans, National Museum of American History)

After retaking Mindoro, On 9 January 1945 General Krueger‘s Sixth Army landed its first units on the south shore of Lingayen Gulf on the western coast of Luzon.  In all, ten US divisions and five independent regiments battled on Luzon, making it the largest campaign of the Pacific War, involving more troops than the United States had used in North Africa, Italy, or southern France.

Monument to the 201 Squadron and the Mexican Expeditionary Air Force that took part in the liberation of the Philippines in 1945. (Sotocesaretti, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons)

Forces included the Mexican Escuadrón 201 fighter-squadron as part of the Fuerza Aérea Expedicionaria Mexicana (FAEM—”Mexican Expeditionary Air Force”), with the squadron attached to the 58th Fighter Group of the United States Army Air Forces that flew tactical support missions. Of the 250,000 Japanese troops defending Luzon, 80 percent died.

The Victor operations followed with the retaking of Palawan, Panay, Cebu, Negros until the US Eight Army finally landed in the Mindanao mainland on Zamboanga and Parang, Cotabato in the final phase dubbed Victor V. 

The IJA Defense of Northern Mindanao

Meantime, Lt. General Gyokasu Morozumi, who has assumed command of the defense of Mindanao following the departure of Gen. Sosako Suzuki to Leyte, found himself in similar dire straits as Lt. Gen. William Sharp three years earlier.

Lt. Gen. Gyokasu Morozumi, commander IJA 35th Army defending Mindanao

General Morozumi, commanding the 30th Division, had about 17,500 troops under his control. His strength included 8,000-odd men of his own division, around 4,500 troops of attached combat and service elements, and nearly 5,000 Army Air Force personnel. Trained ground combat effectives numbered roughly 5,800.

Considering the Air Force troops more of a hindrance than a help–he lacked arms to employ them profitably even in a defensive role–Morozumi kept in his lines only one battalion of Air Force engineers, which he turned into a provisional infantry outfit. Most of the rest of the air units early moved into the mountains east of the Sayre Highway to seek their own salvation.

 Japanese Dispositions on Mindanao, 16 April 1945, Plate No. 134, Reports of General MacArthur, Japanese Operations in the Southwest Pacific Area,
Vol. II-Part II

Morozumi divided his combat strength among five defensive units.

The 24th Division, in its drive from Illana Bay to Kabacan, had virtually destroyed the Western Sector Unit, built upon the 100th Division’s 166th IIB. 

Responsibility for the defense of Sayre Highway from Kabacan north to Kibawe rested with the 2,500-man Southern Sector Unit, which included a battalion of regular infantry, the equivalent of a battalion of engineers, and miscellaneous groups.

The next 85 miles of highway, from Kibawe north to Maluko, was held by the Central Sector Unit–5,500 troops including an infantry regiment less one battalion, a reinforced artillery battalion, and service units.

Near Malabalay, over 40 air miles north of Kibawe, were headquarters and division troops of the 30th Division, another 1,000 men in all.

The Northern Sector Unit defended the shores of Macajalar Bay, on Mindanao’s north-central coast 30 air miles northwest of Malabalay, and Sayre Highway from the bay southeast 25 miles to Maluko. With around 4,500 men, the Northern Sector Unit included the 30th Division’s reconnaissance regiment, a regular infantry battalion, miscellaneous combat and service units, and the provisional infantry battalion Morozumi had formed from Air Force engineers. 

From the deployment of his Central and Northern Sector Units–well over half his strength–it seems obvious that Morozumi was more concerned with the possibility of an attack from Macajalar Bay than with an American drive north from Kibawe.

Far northeast, at Butuan Bay, was the 2,200-man Eastern Sector Unit, built around one regular infantry battalion. Morozumi had intended to bring the unit westward to Sayre Highway, but before the end of April he decided that the force could not reach central Mindanao in time to be of use in the defense of the highway–guerrillas had blocked the roads and destroyed all bridges the unit had to use.

Having already laid plans for the 30th Division to retreat east from Sayre Highway, Morozumi directed the Eastern Sector Unit to move up the Agusan River from Butuan Bay to collect food and prepare the southern reaches of the river’s broad valley as the last-stand area for the main body of the 30th Division.

“From early April, guerrilla activities had increased greatly in the Cagayan-Agusan area. This forecast the probability that an American landing in this area should be expected any time,” Gen. Morozumi said in a post-war interrogation.  “The Dalirig Security Guard Unit was consequently alerted and our defenses strengthened as much as possible. All that could be done now was to await the landing.”

B-24 Liberators after bombing Licanan Airfield
(Photo Credit USAAF, 13th AF, 494th BG  February 19, 1945)

Adding to the manpower and logistics shortages facing Morozumi at the time was the intensified Allied air attacks on Mindanao beginning 09 September 1944 which greatly hampered the movement of his troops and resulted in considerable damage to his supplies.

“The 77th Regiment, 74th Regiment, and Division Headquarters were transported by boats from the eastern coast to Cagayan because difficult terrain made land transportation impossible,” General Morozumi admitted in a post-war interrogation. “During this movement, we were bombed and strafed in the vicinity of Surigao and Camiguin Island, and suffered heavy casualties. This occurred on September 9th, 1944.”

B-25 Mitchells Heading for Raid on Rabaul 1944 (worldwarphotos.info)

Mrozumi said his force lost 5 or 6 ships out of 15, and a bout 400 men out of 10,000. The movement was ordered by the 35th Army Headquarters in preparation for reinforcing Leyte but was changed when a landing at Davao became imminent and he was ordered to mov south.

Although he chose to move troops south to Davao by night to avoid the Allied air attacks, Morozumi said they still lost 1,000 men to malaria and about 500 horses to starvation.

The 2nd Landing at Macajalar Bay

Late in April, it became apparent that the Japanese were planning to consolidate for a final stand in the hills northwest of Davao. General Eichelberger therefore decided to land a regimental combat team at the rear of the enemy in the Macajalar Bay area of northern Mindanao. This force would then drive down the Sayre Highway to meet the 31st Division advancing from the south.

Central Mindanao Operation April-June 1945

As the 31st Division was fighting up the Sayre Highway, General Eichelberger ordered the 108th Regimental Combat Team, 40th Division, to land at Macajalar Bay on 10 May 1945, and open the Sayre Highway from the north.

This landing, which was known as the Victor-V-A Operation was made in accordance with General Eichelberger’s plan for the clearance of the Sayre highway.

The Macajalar Bay landing force rounding Camiguin Island on 10 May 1945 (US Army Photo 174-5)

The force had been staged on Leyte by Eight Army and was directly under army control until juncture with the 31st Division was made, when it was released to the X Corps and attached to the 31s Division.

To soften up the north coast prior to the landing, B-24s bombed the area around Maluko and Dalirig on 09 May 1945.

The following day at  at 0734 HRS 16 B-25s bombed and strafed Tagoloan. Each carried 12 100-pound bombs and crews reported 90% of the bombs on the target. Another sixteen B-25s hit Cagayan in the same manner with 90% of their bombs on target, starting small fires.

North American B-25C-5 Mitchell bombers in flight formation 42-53400

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.

US Navy Douglas SBD-5 Dauntless, by Ron Cole (Ron Cole & Cole’s Aircraft Aviation Art)

They were supported by 16 SBD Patrol Bombers which dive bombed targets in the Sayre Highway to prevent Japanese reinforcements from coming to the aid of their beleaguered comrades on the beach head, while Marine F4U Corsairs flew combat air patrol over the area, being relieved by U.S. Army Air Force P-61 Black Widow night fighters from Moret Field in Zamboanga early evening. A lone PBY Catalina also flew over the area to pick up downed aviators but no enemy aircraft appeared to contest the landing.

At least 65 sorties were carried out by various aircraft, and no hostile anti-aircraft fire nor aircraft were reported to have been encountered by all sorties.

Two Consolidated B-24 Liberators in flight. The B-24 proved more suitable for long, over-water missions of the Pacific Theatre than the B-17 Flying Fortress. (warfarehistorynetwork)

At 0830 on 10 May (Q-Day), the 108th Regimental Combat Team (40th Division) made an unopposed landing and secured a beachhead northeast of Agusan near Bugo in the Macajalar Bay Area.

Curt Ittner of Company A, 1st  Battalion, relates how it was landing at Brown Beach in a letter later published in 1st Lt. George R. Lemon’s memoirs:

“We soon found that this new operation was to make a beachhead landing on Northern Mindanao and to contact forces with the 24th and 31st divisions.”

“Only the 108th Infantry Regiment participated in the beachhead landing and the 1st Battalion, in which ‘A’ company, was to be the assault wave; 2nd and 3rd Battalions were in reserve.”

Units of the 108th RCT, 40th Division moving ashore in LVTs (Alligators) at undisclosed date and location. (NARA)

“The morning of the invasion we were all pretty tense as we didn’t know whether we would meet any opposition on the beach or not. Our battalion loaded into the alligators (amphibious tanks) on board the LST (landing ship tank) which carried us off the coast of Mindanao. The ramps were lowered on the LST about  1,000 yards from the beach.”

“The alligators drove right out into the water and formed a skirmish line of about 40 or 50 craft. We headed in towards the beach under a terrific naval bombardment. The smoke from these guns was so thick that we were unable to see the beach. The alligators hit the beach and as luck would have it we met no opposition.”

“We built a defensive perimeter around our beach and supply after supply was moved ashore. The 2nd and 3rd Battalions continued to advance while the 1st held the beach.”

A guerrilla force most probably the 1st and 2d battalions of the 110th Infantry Regiment secured Brown Beach for the 108th RCT for the Macajalar Bay landing on 10 May 1945. (NARA)

The regiment, commanded by Col. Maurice D. Stratta, moved ashore at Macajalar Bay unopposed making contact almost immediately with the 1st and 2nd battalions of the 110th Infantry Regiment (guerrilla) of the 110th Division which had earlier secured the beachhead at Tin-ao, Barrio Agusan code-named “Brown Beach” and immediately headed south up the Sayre Highway.

Click here and go to 00:23-06:04 to see actual archival film footage of 108th Regt Landings at Macajalar Bay, Tin-ao, Agusan, Cagayan, Misamis Oriental on 10 May 1945 ; followed by Lt Gen Eichelberger and Rear Adm Struble Inspecting 108th Regt landing and moves inland (U.S. Signal Corps, AFCF [A-297] NARA)

Leading elements of the 108th Infantry quickly secured the high ground 4,700 yards south of Agusan on the Sayre Highway and the 1st Battalion reached a point three miles northeast of Alae. It met only light and scattered resistance, and found that many excellent defensive positions along the road had been abandoned. There were 20 enemy casualties on 10 May.

May 11, 1945 -William Rutt & T/5 Elijah Mills of the 2nd Engineer Special Brigade 108th Regimental Combat Team disarm an unexploded rocket near Macajalar Bay (NARA)

“The next day (11 May), not having had anything to eat for a day, we were loaded on trucks and taken about six miles inland where we finally abandoned same (trucks) and took off on foot. Now we had gone two days without food and were getting hungry,” Ittner recalls.

While there was no enemy opposition as the regiment secured Alae and moved on to the high ground two miles west of the Del Monte Airfield, Japanese infiltrators penetrated the battalion perimeter.

May 12, 1945. T/4 Howard Oakes and-S/Sgt. Marvin Johnson of the 108th Regiment, 115th Medical Detachment, 40th Division, dig in for the night near Macajalar Bay (NARA)

“That same night we dug in right next to a great river valley on the high bluff that surrounded it. During the night we had our first contact with the Japs on Mindanao. It was an infiltration into our perimeter,” Ittner said.

“Here again I was fortunate as the infiltration was made through ‘D’ company on the other side of the perimeter. That night two men were bayoneted from the back in their holes, a third was bayoneted through the arm but managed to kill the Jap with his carbine, and about four more were wounded from hand grenade shrapnel,” he added.

Guerrillas from the 109th Division captured Cagayan on 12 May, flushed out an estimated 300 Japanese and drew them to the east. They reported that the entire north coast of Mindanao was clear of Japanese. At this time it was learned that the enemy to the south was burning supplies and destroying bridges on the Sayre Highway.

May 12, 1945. S/Sgt.Ennis Davis (left) and Pvt. Glann Kaylor of the 108th Regiment, 40th Division, place a new sign at post of a new location near Del Monte airstrip.  (NARA)

The 3rd Battalion secured Del Monte Airfield on 12 May  despite enemy artillery and automatic weapons fire, and the 1st Battalion met light resistance as it advanced north on the highway to a point 2,300 years northeast of Tankulan. The brief respite allowed the hungry soldiers to have their first meal in three days.

“The next morning I went back to Regimental headquarters as ambulance guard for the wounded. There I was given my first hot meal in three days and boy, I was hungry. I was given plenty of cigarettes which I took back to the fellows on the front who had been out for days. I smoked quite a bit myself as the rest, because we were always under such a nervous tension and it helped to calm our nerves,” Ittner remembers.

Purple Heart Canyon

Advancing inland, the 108th RCT encountered no significant resistance until 13 May, when, eighteen miles inland, it came upon strong Japanese defenses where Sayre Highway zigzags up and down the steep slopes of the Mangima River canyon. Here Morozumi had posted a delaying force of about 1,250 men supported by a few pieces of light artillery.

The zigzag road portion of the Sayre Highway in Mangima Canyon, Tankulan, where Morozumi posted his delaying force. (NARA)

“That same day, a patrol was sent out to scout this river valley which was a huge canyon, later given the name ‘Purple Heart’ Canyon. This patrol moved out with tanks. My B.A.R. (Browning Automatic Rifle) man volunteered to go,” Ittner recalls.

Patrols from the 1st and 3rd Battalions ran into heavy fire at the entrance to the canyon. The 1st Battalion CP received 31 rounds of 90mm mortar fire. This was the first determined resistance encountered by the 108th on Mindanao.

It was going to develop into one of the most difficult operations in the Philippines.

“When this force got a short way down the road which led into the canyon, the Japs opened fire with artillery, mortar fire and machine guns. That morning casualties poured out by the dozens. My B.A.R. man got hit in the tail by three machine gun bullets and three pieces of shrapnel all at the same time. After the patrol withdrew with what little they had left, I was made B.A.R. man,” Ittner said.

A Type 92 70mm (2.75-inch) battalion gun is drawn by its crew to a new firing position on Bataan, Philippines 1942 (Imperial Japanese Army via flickr)

“That evening the Japs began to shell our side of the perimeter with 77’s. I guess we all dug our holes about two feet deep. The next day the 2nd Battalion who was set up to our rear advanced down the valley and were forced to withdraw.”

The enemy defenses covered both flanks of the entrance to the canyon, and patrols reconnoitering the area discovered that the canyon itself was strongly defended.

Weapons of every caliber, from small arms to field artillery, were strategically emplaced and well camouflaged, commanding every approach with registered fire. Many barbed wire installations with mines attached had been set up. Air force base personnel, left behind to cover the evacuation of the main Japanese forces to the east, manned these defenses and 90mm antiaircraft artillery, and placed heavy fire on our personnel.

Japanese Type 10 120mm dual purpose gun in Zamboanga City during the 1970s. This was a common artillery piece often repurposed from sunk warships and used to great effect as anti-aircraft and land-based artillery by the Japanese army in the Philippines. (ZamboangedeAntes)

The canyon terrain itself already presented the Americans with a formidable obstacle, just like it did to the soldiers of the Kawamura Detachment three years earlier. Coupled with the intricate defenses of the Japanese defenders made it a formidable natural fortress.

“10 miles inland there was a huge canyon running parallel to the beach that was a natural defensive position, so the Japs slowly pulled back to this position, called the Mangima Canyon,” wrote Charles Edwin Dyer of Company I, 3rd Battalion, 108th RCT, in his post war memoirs.

“This was the logical place to make a determined stand. There was a deep, fast flowing river at the bottom of the canyon and the bridge across it had been blown up. Patrols were sent down the canyon wall in several places and all encountered fire from the other side.”

Photo grab of Mangima Canyon by Kyle Jennerman, Becoming Filipino.
(Explore-the-Grand-Canyon-of-the-Philippines-Project-LUPAD)

“Part of the canyon was vertical and solid rock and it protruded out some, offering us some protection. Bullets kept hitting this rock and I remember thinking how much this was like a John Wayne movie, because those ricochets really did sound like the ones in the movies. The sides were pretty steep in places and it was difficult to move around the rocks and ground cover. None of the companies were able to find a crossing place and they all took casualties, so this became known as Purple Heart Canyon.

Besides the unforgiving terrain and fanatical Japanese resistance, the troops also had to cope with the hellish fighting conditions and climate.

“Did anyone ever weigh all the stuff we had to carry on our back all day? Let’s see, in our back pack we had a shelter half, a poncho, 1-3 days rations, extra socks and underwear, toilet articles, a heavy entrenching shovel and my air panel,” Dyer recalls. “On the cartridge belt we had 10 M1 clips (80 rounds), bayonet and scabbard, large jungle First Aid kit, two canteens full of water and two bandoleers of M1 clips around our neck to load BAR magazines with. It must have been 50 lbs. or more, depending how many rations we had, plus the helmet, and I weighed 125 lbs.”

Lugging all that hardware through the canyon under fire from the Japanese was bad enough. The climate at the time ensured everyone from both sides of the conflict enjoyed it to the full.

“Learning to live in the heat of the day, the chill of the night and the constant rain was really a challenge. Just staying in good health was a problem, there were so many dangers. Malaria, dysentery, yellow jaundice were daily problems. Any small break in the skin that would normally heal in a few days would take weeks to heal. A skin ailment we called jungle rot was a bother, especially in the crotch area. This was caused by the heat, sweat and being so dirty from sleeping on the ground,” Dyer wrote.

“Although it rained a lot, sometimes we would go days at a time without running across enough water to bathe in. We barely could keep enough water for drinking. The first 2 weeks on Mindanao were the worst, and we got so dirty and smelly and our fatigues were torn and tattered.”

364527 Machines Guns of the Heavy Weapons Companies 1st Bn, 108th RCT fire on Hill No. 2 on the Mangima Valley Area 15 May 1945 (US Signal Corps)

Although Morozumi probably did not know it, he had stationed his delaying groupment at the same point a USAFFE force had chosen to hold just three years earlier when the Kawamura Detachment foreshadowed the 108th RCTs operation and landed at Macajalar Bay to drive south along Sayre Highway. 

In May 1942 the predominantly Filipino Mindanao force of the USAFFE had held at the Mangima Canyon area for four days, and coincidentally in the same month in 1945, history replayed itself. From 13–18 May the 108th fought tenacious Japanese defenders at the Mangima River canyon, which became known as Purple Heart Canyon due to the number of casualties the Americans incurred in trying to take it.

Ittner recalls the intense gunfire which made it almost impossible for them to move from one place to another.

“The day after that the 1st Battalion, ‘A’ company in the lead, again advanced down the canyon, without tanks this time, in hopes that we wouldn’t draw fire from Jap artillery and mortars. We were the first company to go down and stay, but we sure paid for it.”

Sniper fire from well emplaced Japanese made it extremely difficult to move wounded casualties from the area. (worldwarhistory.com)

“Our radio man was killed by a sniper, our company runner was badly wounded. Our squad was short two men who were shell shocked from the artillery fire we had received back at our positions before we moved out; three altogether with my B.A.R. man were wounded.”

“That night our company dug in on a knoll in the canyon against the protest of our officers. The order came from Regiment Headquarters and had to be carried out. The reason they did not like the idea was because we had no commanding ground as we were surrounded by the huge, sheer banks of the canyon wall.”

“The Japs had likely positions dug in this wall. While we dug in two men in our company were hit. Having no way to evacuate them, they died later that night. I dug my hole deep even though I dug through a lot of rock.”

 On 14 May the 3rd Battalion launched an attack down he Sayre Highway against heavy opposition. If anything, it seemed the hail of gunfire coming from the Japanese intensified even more.

“The next morning everyone kept low in their holes. A detail was picked to get water. They were to make a scramble over on the side of this knoll opposite the enemy where they would get water that was carried up so far by the Filipinos. Six men were picked,” Ittner recalls.

Japanese Soldiers Firing A Machine Gun Type 92 (1932) 7.7-mm. heavy machine gun, gas-operated and air-cooled. This was the standard Japanese heavy machine gun.

“All of them jumped out of their holes to make this dash for cover and all six were hit by Japanese machine gun cross fire. The Japs had us pinned down. No one was able to raise from his hole without being hit.”

“After being pinned down for an hour, we called upon the 4.2 mortars who laid down a smoke barrage between our position and that of the Japs. We got ourselves and our casualties to a safe spot where the casualties were finally evacuated.”

“This made our squad one man shorter; our second scout was hit through the arm when he went to get water. He’s now in the states less one arm.”

“We moved around in the valley again. A patrol was being sent down to the river. Myself and about four others covered this patrol as it made its way. A sniper cut loose and clipped a twig in half about two feet over my head. I hit the ground and crawled into a covered spot.”

“The next shot got our first scout through the leg. He is also back in the states with a stiff leg. The ammo carrier who was in my B.A.R. team was later hit by shrapnel and now he’s back in the states.”

Meanwhile, the 2nd Battalion crossed Mangima Canyon east of Tankulan with little opposition. Pillboxes along the line of attack had to be destroyed, thereby slowing down the advance.  

After an airstrike on the morning of May 15th, the Second and Third Battalions launched an attack with the 3rd Battalion coming under intense heavy mortar, artillery and rifle fire, and ran into a wired mine field with  machine guns covering the mine field.

Click here and go to 0:56-2:15 to view actual archival film footage of the 108th RCT fighting at the Mangima Canyon, machinegun covering the withdrawal of US troops, medics transporting wounded personnel under fire, and US Sherman tank attacking a bunker. (Pacific, Activities in the Philippines, Army Pictorial Service via HistoryFlicks4U)

Ittner’s account of action for the day graphically illustrates how Mangima Canyon earned its Purple Heart moniker as evidenced of how a few day’s action had decimated many of the regiment’s platoons.

“An air attack in the valley caused the Japs to withdraw. We killed only about seven. When we finally did make a crossing out of the canyon and were well on the other side there were only four left in our squad, including myself.”

“The platoon which was about thirty-four strong was now only sixteen strong. The 1st platoon was seventeen strong. It was necessary to put the two together to make one incomplete platoon. Our company had seventy-nine casualties in all; five killed and the rest wounded.”

The 3rd Battalion continued the attack on 16 May against the Japanese strongholds at the river crossing, but during the day it was relieved by the 1st Battalion which continued to press the attack. Leading elements of the 2nd Battalion reached the high ground 2,700 yards east of Tankulan after crossing the Mangima River south of the highway.

“A company of engineers was ordered to destroy all bridges along the Sayre Highway, lying between Dalirig and Impalutao. After the Del Monte airdrome was occupied, the Dalirig defenses were assaulted on the 16th. Throughout our positions were subjected to heavy aerial bombardment,” Morozumi noted.

The attack continued on the 16th by the 1st Battalion supported by tanks crossed the Mangima river against heavy fire. The covering fire drove the Japs into their caves, allowing the assault teams to destroy many positions and Japs. 

The 108th History recounts how the covering fire drove the Japanese into their caves, allowing the assault platoons to move up to the entrances and destroy about 25 of the enemy and six positions, using bazookas, grenades, and rifles. Continuing their advance the 2nd Battalion advanced 800 yards and occupied high ground commanding the southern mouth of the canyon, while the  3rd battalion moved east against light resistance to a position 1,000 yards east of Dalirig.

The following sketch written by Richard Ruppert of the 1st Platoon of A Company coming under machine gun fire on the north side of the blown up bridge on a knoll on the west side of the road on the morning of May 16th provides a graphic description of the intensity of the gunfire coming from the Japanese defenders.

“The 1st Platoon under Lt. Oyler is situated on a knoll on the north of the blown bridge, on the west side of the road. A Company spent the night in the canyon.”

“That night A Company Commander had refused to allow the Platoon Leaders to remove their wounded out of the canyon. In the face of Court Martial for insubordination, Lt. Oyler, Lt. Lemons and Lt. Sucher removed their wounded and the Company commander was replaced the next day by Lt. Van Wie from C Co.”

“Lt. Smith and Edgar Doughty, a jeep driver had decided to bring in food and water to A Company before they pushed Off across the river. This would be the last time food from the kitchens would get to the 108th until they got to Malaybalay after the 24th of May. They would have to get along on airdrops and K-Rations.”

“Doughty had stopped the jeep on the west side of the road in front of the knolls. Lt. Smith had gotten into the trailer and was handing out canisters of food and water to the men who were carrying the food to the rest Of A Company.”  

“After most of the food had been unloaded. the Japs opened up with machine gun fire on the jeep from the east side of the canyon. Little Doughty made a great leap, landed in the driver’s seat of the jeep and started the engine in one movement. Lt. Smith was still standing in the trailer.”

“Doughty, leaning over the side of the jeep took off in a tight U-turn across the rutted road. Smitty made a dive into the trailer as the jeep and trailer turned and bounced at the same time. After turning north the jeep and trailer headed out of the canyon The troops hit the ground until the firing ceased but no one got hit.”

Hang on Sir Drawing by Richard Rupert

“Everyone (including the Japs) had witnessed a jeep airborne in a U-turn that no other army jeep had ever made and a 1st Lieutenant make a head first dive into a flying trailer.”

“A Company had seen an event that should have been in the Olympics or in vaudeville and everyone had a good hearty laugh. Some, including Lew Oyler still laugh every time they recall the jeep trailer event that morning in Purple Heart Canyon on the romantic island of Mindanao.”

On 18 May the 1st Battalion eliminated the last enemy pocket at the Sayre Highway crossing and continued east on the highway, occupying Dalirig the following day. At the same time, the 2nd and 3rd Battalions advanced abreast, astride the highway, reaching a position one mile east of Dalirig.

They patrolled along the Mangima River and mopped up scattered enemy pockets, and on 20 May advanced into Maluko without resistance.

Although a stand by the Japanese had been expected there, the village had been hurriedly evacuated by the enemy just prior to the unit’s arrival. By the end of the day, all battalions of the regiment were in Maluko area making preparations to continue east and south on the highway.

During this advance the 3rd Battalion, 164th Infantry, took over the security of the line of communications and assisted in mopping up.

Col. Toshio Hanazi, commanding the defenses, sent out raiding parties which slowed down the American ground assault. The attackers were lured into fire pockets within the barriers and engaged in bitter hand to hand combat whenever they came into familiar terrain.

Battery A, 164th Field Artillery Battalion had displaced from Del Monte to the rim of the canyon after an effective bombardment on Maluko and so severely damaged the enemy it influenced their evacuation and abandonment of the town.

“Their bombardment, however, was so effective that at least half of our positions were destroyed,” Morozumi remarked.  “An attack against our left flank brought the hopelessness of our position into critical focus when it became apparent that our avenue of retreat was now threatened.”

At this time, Morozumi ordered that:

“The Dalirig Unit shall avoid a decisive battle and shall seek an opportune moment to withdraw from the position. Movement shall be in the area west of the highway and shall be  directed towards Silae.”

The withdrawal took place on May 18th. On June 1st, the reconnaissance unit at Dalirig withdrew to a point just north of Dalwangan.

Reduction of this strong point was completed on the same day, and the remaining Japanese troops were overcome within the next few days.

Following this action the 108th Infantry–its rear protected by the 3d Battalion of the 23rd Infantry Americal Division’s 164th Infantry, which landed on Macajalar Bay on 14 May–continued south to its rendezvous with the 31st Division.

Soldiers from the 108th RCT, 40th ID arrive at Malaybalay, Bukidnon, Mindanao, Philippines, May 26, 1945. ( California State Military History Museum)

On 21 May the 108th RCT moved south on the Sayre Highway without opposition and on 23 May leading elements of the 1st Battalion made contact with the 155th RCT of the  31st Division near Impalutao, completing the operation in 13 days.”

The linkup between the two units which took place about 1400 on 23 May just outside Impalutao twelve miles northwest of Malaybalay, opening another supply route.

Supply problems slowed the 108th Infantry’s advance to some degree, but Sayre Highway was in so much better shape from Macajalar Bay south to Malaybalay than it was from Kabacan north that Eighth Army immediately changed the 31st Division’s supply route to one originating at Macajalar Bay.

Honor Roll of the Men of the 108th RCT who gave their all in  Northern Mindanao,
P.I. World War II 1945

Its share in the task of clearing Sayre Highway cost the 31st Division approximately 90 men killed and 250 wounded, while the 108th Infantry, 40th Division, lost roughly 15 men killed and 100 wounded. (Non-combat casualties from battle fatigue, sickness, and heat exhaustion were probably heavier.)

The troops then moved east to combat more Japanese resistance. After six weeks of enduring thick jungle, heavy rains, knee-deep mud, and tall, razor-sharp grass—not to mention Japanese resistance—the 108th rejoined the 40th Division on Panay. The 108th RCT lost 45 killed and 148 wounded in its campaign in Northern Mindanao.

Together, the two units killed almost 1,000 Japanese during their operations along the highway, and captured 25 more.

The 108th Infantry’s juncture with Hanna’s 155th Infantry meant total American control of the Sayre Highway and the end of organized Japanese resistance in Mindanao.

Japanese Surrender Mindanao

On 08 September 1945 the Japanese 35th Army signed the terms of unconditional surrender at Camp Impalambong, Malaybalay, Bukidnon.

Lt. Gen. Gyokasu Morozumi signs the surrender document before 31st Infantry Dixie Division  CG BGen Joseph C. Hutchinson Sept. 8, 1945, Camp Impalambong, Malaybalay, Bukidnon.
(courtesy of Mrs. Marion Hess, [widow of Fredrick W. Hess, Jr.] as President of the  124th Infantry Regiment Association & posted by The History Crier, a publication of IndianaMilitary.org)

Morozumi as acting commanding general of the IJA 35th Army and commanding general of the 30th Panther Division, surrendered to Brig. Gen. Joseph C. Hutchinson, commanding general of the 31st Infantry Division (AUS).

To get a closer look at Mangima Canyon in Bukidnon, you can enjoy Becoming Filipino’s video of “The Grand Canyon of the Philippines” by Kyle Jennerman by clicking here.

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Bibliography

·         Morton, Louis (1953). United States Army in World War II, The War in the Pacific: The Fall of the Philippines. Washington, D.C.: Center of Military History, United States Army.  This article incorporates text from this source, which is in the public domain.

·         Balis,Michael Anthony. The American Influence on the Mindanao Resistance during the Second World War. M.A.Thesis, Old Dominion University, 1990, pages 12-13

·         Schmidt, Major Larry S. (1982). American Involvement in the Filipino Resistance Movement on Mindanao During the Japanese Occupation, 1942–1945. Fort Leavenworth, Kansas: U.S. Army Command and General Staff College.

·         Smith, Robert Ross. The Collapse of 30th Division Resistance, U.S. Army in World War II, The War in the Pacific, Triumph in the Philippines, Washington, D.C.: Center of Military History, United States Army.  This article incorporates text from this source, which is in the public domain.

·         Chapter XVIII, Morton, Louis, The Fall of the Philippines, United States Army in World War II, The War in the Pacific, Center Of Military History United States Army, Washington, D.C., Library of Congress Catalog Card Number: 53-63678, First Printed 1953 – CMH Pub 5-2, pages 499-518

·         Report of the Commanding General Eight Army on the Mindanao Operation (Victor V)

·         Reports of General MacArthur, The Campaigns of MacArthur in the Pacific, Volume 1, Prepared by his General Staff, Library of Congress Catalog Card Number: 66-60005

·         Dyer, Charles Edwin. Now the Way I Remember It. San Antonio, c. 1995 p. 26, 32,33,34,35,36,37,38, 40

  • Hurdle, Judy Lemons. George R. Lemons 1920-2005 How He Spent His Dash Mustang to Leatherneck Soldier Cowboy to Eagle Panther to Brave Cardinal Fan. Copyright September 14, 2016 Bath, Illinois Mason County

·         Staff Study of Japanese Operations in Mindanao Island, Special Staff U.S. Army Historical Division, (Historical Manuscript File) File No. 8-5 SS-8, Acc Np. 786/2-8, 10th I&H Service, Eight Army (courtesy of Dr. Ricardo T. Jose) ©1946

·        108th History, January through June 1945 (BY 1ST Lt. Glen L. Collins, 1st Lt. Donald Sheldon, 2nd Lt. Vernon J.  Fisher, Historians)

·         Y’Blood, William T. (1981). Red Sun Setting: The Battle of the Philippine Sea. Annapolis, Maryland: Naval Institute Press. ISBN 1-59114-994-0.

·         Morison, S. E. U.S. Navy in World War Two.

·         ^ Y’Blood 1981, p. 212.

Unpublished sources

·         Sese, Alfredo C. (1947). Notes on the Philippine Army, 1941–1942. – Compiled from official documents by the History Section, G-2, Headquarters, Philippine Army

·         Sharp, William F. (1946). Historical Report, Visayan-Mindanao Force, Defense of the Philippines, 1 September 1941-10 May 1942. (Annex XI, Report of Operations of USAFFE and USFIP in the Philippine Islands, 1941-1942)

o    Braddock, William H. (1946). “Report of the Force Surgeon, Visayas-Mindanao Force, USAFFE and USFIP”. Historical Report, Visayan-Mindanao Force, Defense of the Philippines, 1 September 1941-10 May 1942.

o    Morse, William P. (1942). “Record of Action and Events, Headquarters 102nd Division”. Historical Report, Visayan-Mindanao Force, Defense of the Philippines, 1 September 1941-10 May 1942.

·         Tarkington, Hiram W. There Were Others. – Unpublished memoirs of the 61st Field Artillery commander

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