It’s ironic how some seven going on eight decades down the road, many Kagay-anons remain unaware that it was their own compatriots who liberated Cagayan, Misamis from the Japanese on 12 May 1945 and not the Americans.

So while we still enjoy a modicum of attention following the recent 75thAnniversary of Cagayan’s Liberation (albeit a muted one at that) let’s take a look back at how things were unfolding at that time and how come guerrillas, rather than American soldiers, liberated the town from the Imperial Japanese Army (IJA).

It’s important that the Macajalar Landing be understood in the context of the entire strategy to liberate the entire island of Mindanao, (and not merely Cagayan), which practically fell into the hands of the guerrillas due to a confluence of planned events.

Before the Liberation of Cagayan, Misamis on May 12, 1945 by local guerrillas of the 10th Military District, preliminary operations were already being carried by out the 110th Infantry Regiment (Guerrilla) to clear Japanese garrison troops from the Bugo-Tagoloan areas in coordination with US Army X Corps.

Genesis of the Macajalar Landing

The 31st Division was already inching up Sayre Highway in central Mindanao late April 1945, its progress delayed not only by stiffening Japanese resistance, but also by the appalling road conditions and bridges destroyed by both the Japanese and the guerrillas.

The 124th RCT HQ Co & Medical Detachment jerry rig a makeshift bridge across the Muleta River with 55 gallon oil drums filled with rock, 75mm artillery shells and planks. (George Lemons)

Despite its nomenclature, Sayre highway in 1945 was almost impassable for long stretches, and in some places disappeared altogether. Lt. Gen. Richard L. Eichelberger, commanding general, 8th Army, described it as “something of a fraud.”

During initial operations along the highway, it was possible to move supplies via the Mindanao River (Rio Grande de Mindanao) in Landing Craft Medium (LCMs) of the 533d and then transship the materiel over­land from the Fort Pikit area to the 31st Division.

US landing craft carries troops of Company I, 34th Infantry Regiment, 24th Infantry Division up the Mindanao river for the assault on Fort Pikit, Mindanao, 30 April 1945

However, the rainy season was imminent and there was every likelihood that road conditions would de­teriorate further in spite of the best engineer efforts.

Under these circumstances Eighth Army recommended that a new supply base be established on the north coast of Mindanao at or near the terminus of Sayre Highway, and that troops be sent southward along the highway to link up with the 31st Division in Central Min­danao, splitting the defending Japanese into two separate and isolated forces.

This decision was based on the Americans pre-war experience with this vital road link thanks in a large part to the presence of the Del Monte Pineapple Plantation in Tankulan (now Manolo Fortich). From the start, the Sayre Highway was always kept in much better condition between the north coast and Dalirig than between Dalirig and towns further south like Malaybalay.

Philippine Commonwealth President Manuel Quezon, and James McNeil Crawford, PPC (Del Monte) 2nd President, visits the Philippine Packing Cannery at Bugo, Cagayan during the 1930s.

The difference was due to Philippine Packing Corporation (PPC), a subsidiary of Del Monte Corporation. With Bukidnon Assemblyman Manuel Fortich acting as key lobbyist, PPC built the country’s largest pineapple plantation and its trucks rumbled from there to the coastal canning plant at Barangay Bugo in Cagayan day and night.

The Sayre Highway

In 2 Sept. 1940, President Quezon accompanied by High Commissioner Francis Sayre and Fortich formally opened theP1.1-million, 155-kilometer Cotabato-Bukidnon highway (which later became known as the Sayre Highway) with a grand celebration at the Bukidnon-Cotabato border. As “the principal line of land communication between the northern and southern parts of Mindanao,” this single land, all-weather gravel road bisected Bukidnon plateau.

1940 Bukidnon Sayre Highway Inauguration

All along it settlements offered travelers and residents new stores and services. Buses of the Mindanao Bus Company and Filipino Express carried passengers from Cagayan all the way to Maramag. They careened along the open plateau sections, billowing dusts and blaring their horns, and more gingerly negotiated the hairpin curves and steep grades of deep canyons gouged from the plateau by swift rivers crossed by a narrow bridges.

At times the road’s grade was 7 percent; at other times it ran along canyon rims with sheer drops to the raging rivers hundreds of feet below.

North of Dalirig and Impasug-ong, it passed the spectacular 340-foot Alalum waterfall before rising 2,600 feet at Impalutao and then gently descended to Malaybalay.

In the capital itself, travelers marveled at 3 kilometers of asphalt paving, and the roadway south through Mailag, Valencia and Maramag rewarded them with relatively level terrain and sweeping vistas when compared with the much more harrowing northern approach.

Operation Victor V-A

General MacArthur approved the plan on 29 April and ordered the 108th RCT (Regimental Combat Team) of the 40th Division to land in the Macajalar Bay in northern Min­danao as soon as soon as practicable after 6 May, the landing to be known as the Victor-V-A Operation in accordance with General Eichelberger’s plan for the clearance of the Sayre Highway in Bukidnon.

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

The 108th RCT was at Ormoc, Leyte, at the time Eighth Army’s field order (issued 2 May 1945) was received. The field order specified Ormoc as the staging area and required the 542d EBSR (Engineer Boat and Shore Regiment), then largely concentrated at Cebu City, to provide amphibian engineer support for the 108th RCT.

Eight Army Final Operations on Mindanao, 6 May-11 August 1945 PLATE NO. 101 (history.army.mil)

The commanding officer, 542d EBSR, created a unit designated Combat Team II for the operation. Combat Team II consisted of Company E of the shore battalion, a platoon of Company B of the boat battalion, a detachment of regimental head­quarters, detachments from the headquarters companies of both the boat battalion and the shore battalion, and Company B (less 1 platoon), 262d Medical Battalion—a total of about 425 men. The group was under command of Lt Col E. L. Edwards.

The landing date was designated Q Day and was set for 10 May in an area to be known as Brown Beach at Tin-ao, Barrio Agusan, near the town of Cagayan, with H Hour at 0730.

On 3 May, a week before the landing took place, a small group of officers, including Captain Harley M. Chatterton Jr., 542d Intelligence Officer of Brattleboro, Vermont, Major Lane, S-2 of the 108th RCT, and Captain Mortimer A. Clift, Brigade S-2, made a reconnaissance of the beach area.

This party left Tanauan airstrip, Leyte, early the morning of the third of May and landed on Macajalar Bay, northern Mindanao, near the barrio of Villaneuva, a few miles from the beach selected for the actual landing.

Aerial photo dated 22 October 1944 of designated Beach No, 9 in Villanueva, Misamis Oriental looking East showing road to Claveria running through a small valley. This is the present site of the PHIVIDEC Industrial Estate. (NARA)

Here contact was made with the local guerrillas but, contrary to expectations, it was found they did not hold the area near Bugo, selected for the landing. No reconnaissance of the proposed landing beach was therefore possible; however, the guerillas furnished much information on enemy strength and on the condition of the beach, roads and surrounding area.

Later, the X Corps authorized the 10th Military District (Guerrilla) to perform a reconnaissance of the Agusan beach area and attack Japanese elements in the area. This mission was assigned to the 110th Infantry Regiment of the 110th Division.

Major Harold Rosenquist, the division intelligence officer, was in charge of the mission. The intelligence collection element, which included Rudy and Hank Hansen (brothers of “Guerrilla Daughter” Virginia Hansen Holmes, author of the eponymously named memoir) would carry out beach reconnaissance of the proposed beach head.

Bugo Cannery and Wharf of Philippine Packing Corporation Looking NNE 18 Sept 1936

A U.S. Navy LST transported the guerrillas to the beach near the Del Monte pineapple cannery in Bugo on 09 May. Using two small Navy launches, the group split into two elements: Major Rosenquist would do depth soundings offshore while the other boat with Rudy and Hank under Major Robert Spielman of the 114th Infantry Regiment, would land on the beach and provide cover for Rosenquist’s boat.

However, a guerrilla on Rosenquist’s boat was wounded when fired upon by a concealed Japanese machine gun. Their boat moved further offshore while the shore based group of Spielman located the sniper position on a platform suspended between two coconut trees. Four Japanese were killed while a guerrilla was wounded and treated by Hank Hansen.

The group returned safely to their launch base. The following morning the reconnaissance group looked out into Macajalar Bay and observed the 108th RCT arriving in LVTs.

Staging at Ormoc

Meanwhile, at Cebu City on 03 May, all elements of Combat Team II except Company B personnel and a small detachment of the 262d Medical Battalion were loaded aboard 2 LSTs for movement to the Ormoc staging area.

The LSTs transported on davits 3 LCVPs of Com­pany B, but all other craft of Company B re­mained at Cebu, the plan being for the engineer boat convoy to join the main assault convoy near the objective area on Q Day.

Shore party ele­ments arrived at Ipil, in the Ormoc area, on 4 May and established camp. The next 2 days were spent in planning for the operation.

On 7 May the shore party began loading aboard LSM’s and LST’s.

The main convoy consisting of 10 LCMs, 7 LSTs, 7 LCIs transporting 30 LVTs for taking ashore troops in the initial waves, carrying the 108th RCT and the shore elements of the 542d together with Company B, 262d Medical Battalion, staged from Ormoc on 9 May under aerial and naval protection.

At Cebu City the Company B convoy also headed out on 9 May. It consisted of 14 cargo LCMs transport­ing shore party equipment, one LCM maintenance boat carrying a small detachment of the 1459th Engineer Maintenance Company, one LCM flak, and one LCM rocket of the support platoon, one LCM fuel boat, and one picket boat.

The fearsome Landing Craft Medium (Rocket) mounted a 5 inch 38 cal. gun aft, 2x40mm Bofors forward, 3x single 20mm Oerlikon cannons aft, & 105 multirail rocket launchers firing over 4000 yards (warthunder.com)

Two Navy PT boats provided protection. This convoy headed directly for Macajalar Bay, made contact with the main convoy the same afternoon off Bohol Island, and both con­voys arrived off the objective area at 0630. A tropical rain­storm during the night failed to slow the convoy, and there was no interference by the Japanese.

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 Panther 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 effectively 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 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. 

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.

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 needed to mobilize.

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.”

Assessing the Defense

The 108th History reported that “indications were that this would be another tough operation. There were an estimated 8,500 enemy troops in the Macajalar Bay area and along the Sayre Highway, the most important tactical route on Mindanao.”

Actually there were only half or 4,500 Japanese troops defending the Macajalar Bay area, including miscellaneous combat and service units, and the provisional infantry battalion Morozumi had formed from Air Force engineers.

Among the artillery used by the Japanese to defend the north coast were two 2.95-inch mountain guns captured from the Americans 3 years earlier which dated back to the
Philippine-American War.

In the 108th’s assessment, “the terrain favored the defender. Surprise at the chosen beach area (between Bugo and Agusan) would be impossible. The Japs had mobile 75mm and 81mm guns dispersed along the beach, and their artillery could be moved forward. Commanding terrain immediately overlooked the landing beach.”

However, at this time it seemed the Americans were not yet aware of the change the Japanese defense tactics which Morozumi said was discussed in a Manila conference on July 1944.

“Up to this time, the main defense positions on the various Pacific islands had been situated close to the beach. Although the first elements of the enemy assault waves may have been temporarily repulsed, the naval poundings and air bombardment always resulted in our defeat.”

“We observed that the Americans method of gaining a beachhead was to make the point of landing the center from which troops radiated to establish an arc of defense with a radius of about 8-10 kilometers, beyond this distance naval fire could not adequately support the landing. Within this area the Americans would unload supplies with great ease and construct airstrips.”

US Marines landing on Saipan, Mariana Islands, 15 Jun 1944
(United States Marine Corps Frederick R. Findtner Collection)

“It was then decided that if our forces should occupy an arc-defense about 10 kilometers from the anticipated point of an American landing, with minimum forces in the beach area to act as reconnaissance units, that we would suffer far less casualties in the initial phase of the operations and be in a much stronger position to engage the advancing forces.”

The 108th anticipated even more resistance once it got past the beach and began advancing on the Sayre Highway.

“Once we got past the beach, our advance down the Sayre Highway might even be more difficult. The regiment would have to pass through commanding terrain, a channelized approach, narrow cuts. The highway had blind hairpin curves and side steeped canyons until it reached an elevation of 2, 750 feet about three miles from the coast. The road had ideal possibilities for mines, ambushes, registered fire, and road blocks.”

On the other hand, the advantages on the 108th side of the combat ledger were:

Ground reinforcements by the Japs were impossible because  of the transfer of a large number of infantry to Leyte and continual harassing by organized guerrillas and our air force units.

Modified American B-25 Mitchell bomber flying over Japanese anti-aircraft gun emplacements during a strafing run after a bombing mission. The Japanese 35th Army in Mindanao suffered heavy losses to strafing and bombings by Allied aircraft.
(Photo by Time Life Pictures. US Air Force. The LIFE Picture Collection via Getty Images)

Morozumi confirmed that it was decided during the July 1944 Cebu conference the 30th Division would act as  reserve and in case of an invasion of Leyte, Cebú or Davao, it would be immediately transported. When the Leyte invasion of Gen. MacArthur started on 20 October 1944, four battalions of the 30th Division were transported to Leyte on 20 and 26 October 1944.

However, the 108th was more optimistic in assessing the expected air and armor opposition.

“Any resistance in the air was unlikely since there had been only 11 Jap planes reported on the entire island. Tank support for the defenders was improbable. There were only two companies of tanks in Mindanao”.

Morozumi admitted in a post-war interrogation his command actually did not have any tanks but only four armored cars which however, were only used to tow artillery and transport troops but did not engage in combat.

Japanese armored cars which proved effective during the Kawamura Detachment’s assault on Mangima Canyon in March 1942 failed to see any action in defending Mindanao against the invading Americans in March 1945 and were merely used to tow artillery and transport troops.

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.”

SBD-5 Dauntless of the VB-16 on USS Lexington (CV-16), September 1943. It was fighters, dive bombers and torpedo planes from the Lex which attacked Japanese transports moving the 5th Panther Division Headquarters, 74th & 77th Regiments in the vicinity of Surigao and Camiguin Island on September 9, 1944, sinking 5-6 of the 15-vessel convoy. (worldwarphotos)

Morozumi said his force lost 5 or 6 ships out of 15, and about 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.

Visayan Attack Group Task Force 78.4

The Visayan Attack Group Task Force 78.3 was a 40 ship-strong flotilla under Rear Adm. Arthur D. Struble with the USCGC Ingham (Cmdr. K.O.A. Zittel) as flag and guide. On 09 May 1945, the Macajalar Bay Attack Unit (Task Unit 78.3.4) was formed and departed for Mindanao.

U.S.C.G.C. INGHAM, the flag and guide ship of the Macajalar Bay  invasion force, shown here at the U.S. Navy Yard, South Carolina on 11 October 1944 (US Navy)

It consisted of five warships including Ingham, three destroyers (USS Frazier, Meade, Abbot) and one destroyer escort (USS Brazier), 7 LSTs, 10 LCMs, 7 LCIs, and USS LCI (L) 612 (Lt. Kaufman) as Control Unit. Inshore fire support was provided by 4 LCS (L)s under Lt. Sendree, with four minesweepers (YMS) and 2 Navy PT Boats.

An augmentation force of 27 US Army (AUS) ships consisting of 1 PCE E (R), 7 FS, 18 LCMs, and 1 picket boat accompanied the USN flotilla.

The mission assigned to the 108th RCT was to (1) defeat and destroy all enemy encountered in the zone of advance; 2) conduct operations west and south along the Sayre Highway and effect a junction with friendly forces advancing from the south; and 3) seize the Del Monte Airfield.

The regiment was under control of the 8th AAC until completion of landing, whereupon control passed to the Commanding General, 8th Army.

The 108th, without rest after successfully terminating its operations on Leyte and Masbate, was completely assembled and combat loaded at Ormoc on 08 May. The tense atmosphere was not appreciably relieved by the announcement on that day that Nazi Germany had surrendered unconditionally to Allied forces. 

Guerrillas Clear the Way

The Americans found the beachhead at Tin-ao, northeast of Agusan near Bugo in the Macajalar Bay Area already secured by the guerrillas.

The close coordination between the guerrillas and the invasion force is illustrated by the official chronology of this operation which details how Col. Wendell W. Fertig, commanding officer of the 10th Military District, was authorized by Maj. Gen. Franklin C. Sibert, commanding officer of the X Corps, to eliminate the Japanese forces at the Bugo-Tagoloan area. Fertig ordered the 1st Battalion (Bn), 110th Infantry Regiment, 110th Division to undertake the mission.

From 27 April 1945 till the eve of the Macajalar Bay landing, guerrillas of the 110th Infantry Regiment, 110th Division fought a see-saw battle with Japanese garrison troops in Tagoloan and Bugo, with air support from American B-24 Liberators and B-25 Mitchell bombers.

A guerrilla force moves down a road near Macajalar Bay on 11 May 1945, most probably from the 1st & 2nd Bn, 110th Infantry Regiment, 110th Division. (NARA)

On 09 May 1945 guerrilla patrols made a three-pronged attack on the Japanese in Bugo to establish the beach head but Japanese reinforcements which arrived by truck from Alae, Bukidnon, forced the guerrillas to withdraw to Baluarte.

Later on the same day, all guerrillas were ordered to withdraw further north of the Tagoloan River to avoid the scheduled air and naval bombardment of the area scheduled the following day to clear the way for the American landing at Tin-ao, Barangay Agusan.

The close coordination between the guerrillas and the invasion force is further illustrated by the visit of guerrilla officers aboard the Ingham at 0928 on 10 May to discuss the situation ashore, departing at 0942.

LCS(L) 10 stands by as LCI(L) 363 of Task Group 70.4 unloads rice with the help of Filipino guerrillas at Gingoog, Misamis Oriental on 20 May 1945. These are the same vessels which earlier shuttled guerrillas from Gingoog, Balingasag and Baraboo on 10 May 1945 to assist the 108th RCT clear the Agusan beachhead of Japanese defenders.  (NARA)

Later the same day, LCIs (L) 9 and 10 of Task Group 70.4 under the command of Lieutenant Albert C. Eldridge. shuttled guerrillas from Villanueva and Gingoog to Brown Beach, and again on May 12, ferrying more guerrillas from Gingoog, Balingasag and Baraboo to secure the beach head.

Task Group 70.4  was created to aid Filipino Guerillas in the southern areas of the Philippines. As originally constituted, the Task Group consisted of Landing Craft, Support (Large) LCS (L) 9 and 10, and Landing Craft Infantry (Large) LCI (L) s 361 and 363.

Close Air Support & Cover

If the previous strafing and bombing sorties of the 13th Air Force and the Marine Aircraft Groups, Zamboanga (MAGSZAM) were awe spiring, they didn’t compare with the daylong air bombardment of the Tagoloan and Cagayan areas on 10 May 1945.

A North American B-25 makes a bomb run on a Japanese destroyer escort off Formosa in April 1945. (US Air Force)

At least 65 sorties were carried out by various aircraft, the most by 16 B-25 Mitchell medium bombers which strafed and bombed Tagoloan with another 16 hitting Cagayan starting at 0730 Hrs. Each B-25 carried 12 100-lb. bombs and both missions reported 90% of bombs on target with no antiaircraft fire reported. These units belonged to the 42nd Bombardment Group under Col. Paul F. Helmick operating from Puerto Princesa, Palawan.

They were supported by 16 SBD Patrol Bombers which dive bombed targets in the Sayre Highway to prevent Japanese reinforcements from coming to the aid of their beleaguered comrades in the beach head, while Marine F4U Corsairs flew combat air patrol over the area, being relieved by P-61 Black Widow night fighters of the 419th Night Fighter Squadron based in Moret Field, Zamboanga, early evening. A lone PBY Catalina of the 2d Emergency Squadron also flew over the area to pick up downed aviators but no enemy aircraft appeared to contest the landing.

Landing at Tin-ao, Agusan

The combined force arrived off Tin-ao, Barrio Agusan, Macajalar Bay, at dawn on 10 May 1945 (Q-Day). A line of departure was established 3,000 yards off Brown Beach, the designated beach head.

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

Planes bombed the flanks, while destroyers laid a barrage of 5-inch shells directly upon the beach at 0730 with Ingham directing operations.

Following the naval shelling, the 78.3.46 Inshore Support Unit consisting of LCS (L) 30, 42, 79 and 80 under Lt. Sendree lay down a close covering fire on the beaches starting at 0810, followed by a rocket barrage at 0825, before receiving orders to lift gunfire by 0827 to allow the first wave of the LVTs to land.

H-Hour was set back one hour when a torpedo was fired ineffectively by an enemy submarine, but at 0830, Landing Ships, Tanks (LSTs) began discharging the 1st Battalion of the 108th RCT aboard Tracked Landing Vehicles (LVT Buffaloes) for the first and second waves, the first wave hitting the beach with no opposition at 0830 and the second landing four minutes later.

The 108th History reported the Battalion Landing Team (BLT) consisted of the First Battalion (Reinforced), with Companies A & B in the assault. The landing, made in three waves of 10 vehicles each, was surprisingly unopposed and a perimeter was soon set up around a beachhead 500 yards in depth.

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.”

The Second Battalion, reinforced, landed as the second BLT directly from landing craft at 0915, with Company E leading. The Second Battalion passed through the beachhead perimeter, set up a road block at the junction of Sayre Highway (Highway No. 3) and the coastal road (Highway No. 1), and advanced up the Sayre Highway approximately 3,000 yards against light opposition.

Infantrymen coming off LCM of Co. B, 542 EBSR. coxswained by Sgt. Frank J. Koenig in wave 4 at Macajalar Bay, Barrio Agusan, Cagayan, Misamis Oriental on 10 May 1945 landed the two millionth passenger carried in 2 ESB boats.
(Photo from Put ‘em Across- A History of the 542d ESBR 1942-1945)

The first of LCMs landed in the fourth wave fifteen minutes later. Two LCM’s of Company B, 542d EBSR, went ashore in wave 4 at 0845, landing 2 bulldozers of the shore bat­talion. Shore party headquarters personnel landed from LSM’s of the same wave.

To the 2d ESB the Macajalar Bay landing on 10 May 1945 was note­worthy since an LCM of the 542d landed the two millionth soldier to be transported by brigade craft in SWPA opera­tions on Q Day at Brown Beach. It was the 2nd Engineering Special Brigade’s 82d combat landing in support of operations that had taken the Amphibian Engineers from Nassau Bay in British New Guinea, by way of Finschhafen, Saidor, Tanahmerah Bay and Wake Island in Dutch New Guinea, Biak Island in the Schouten group, to the goal of the Philippines.

It marked the first time American forces landed in Cagayan at exactly the same date three years earlier that the USAFFE Vis-Min Forces under Maj. Gen. William F. Sharp surrendered to the Japanese in Malaybalay, Bukidnon.

Their bulldozers immediately set to work hauling vehicles up the soft beach.

The soft sandy texture of the beach proved to be somewhat of an obstacle, but this was overcome by the use of pierced steel planking (Marston matting) to form tracks up the beach and by much hauling by our bulldozers, which was hampered by a lack of towing chains.

However the entire convoy was successfully unloaded before nightfall of the first day and a strong perimeter was set up by shore personnel reinforced by some of the LVTS.

First amphibian engineers ashore on Q Day were reconnaissance personnel and demolition squads aboard LVTs of wave 3. They found no mines in the beachhead area.

They found the beach to be about 1,000 yards long and 20 yards deep, composed of deep, soft sand and with a relatively steep offshore approach which permitted the 3 LSMs of wave 4, 6 LCIs of wave 5, and 7 LSMs and one LCI of wave 6 to drop ramps directly upon the beach. LCMs and LSTs remained offshore on call.

The entire area was sheltered, with no underwater ob­stacles—an almost perfect landing beach. The only drawback was the soft sand, which caused vehicles to bog down as they moved off the land­ing craft. Dozers were available, however, to tow them to the hard ground back of the beach, and pierced steel planking and matting were available later to construct exit routes.

At 0908 Medium Landing Ships (LSM) began beaching and unloading.

LSTs were called in at 1045, going ashore high up on the beach. The shore party had constructed high earthen ramps in front of each ship and paved these ramps with steel planking, so that when the ramps were dropped vehicles rolled off easily and moved down the earthen ramps with no dif­ficulty. Two of the LSIs were entirely mobile-loaded, one of them being fully off-loaded and off the beach by 1200.

During the morning most of the LCM’s of Combat Tram 11 also went ashore, landing much shore party equipment as well as personnel.

The Third Battalion (Reinforced), landed as the third BLT at 1030 and followed in close support of the Second. Battery A, 164th Field Artillery Battalion, landed at H-plus-15. The entire battery was ashore by H-plus-45 and immediately took up positions for providing artillery support.

At 1200 Col. Stratta assumed command from the Naval Task Force Commander Rear Adm. Arthur D. Struble.

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)

Many defensive positions were found along the Sayre Highway, but at the end of Q-Day none had been occupied. Twenty Japanese were killed scattered through the valley, and these were found to be service troops. Many more enemy troops and motor transports were reported withdrawing north of Alae, and the column was bombed and strafed by supporting planes. Enemy troops were also sighted in the vicinity of Mangima Canyon. Eight mines were extracted by engineers from the highway, about two miles southeast of Bugo.

Securing the Beach Head

With the precision of long practice the amphibian engineers devel­oped the beachhead in routine fashion, establish­ing dumps near a lateral road inland and setting up beach defenses, their own combat equipment supplemented by LVT’s armed with machine­guns and posted at strategic points along the perimeter.

Eight LCMs guarded water ap­proaches on cither flank. Off-loading of LSTs continued throughout the afternoon.

Late in the day three “Design 381” Freight & Supply (FS) vessels of the Army Transportation Corps manned by Coast Guard crews arrived from Ormoc: FS-270 (Lt.JG O.T. Fretz, Jr.), FS-275 (Lt. H.L. Sutcliffe, USCGR), and FS-390 (Lt. G.E. Oliver, USCGR). Off­loading by lighterage, principally LCMs, was initiated since there were no docks or usable jet­ties.

A Design 381 (Vessel, Supply, Diesel, Steel, 177) FP-343 (FP later designated FS) photographed in 1944. Naval Historical and Heritage Command (Photo # NH 74691) Right after World War II, the former FS ships of the US military dominated the Philippine shipping industry. FS means “Freight and Supply”. Their earlier designation was “FP”. The FS series is one of the many types of transport-supply ships used by the US armed forces in World War II. Click here to read the full story from the Philippine Ship Spotters’ Society.

By 1900 the seventh and last LST was fully off-loaded, the beachhead was never under enemy fire, and in fact the 40th Division troops advancing inland met only light and ineffectual resistance, killing 17 Japanese during the day.

After Q Day the operations of Combat Team If at Brown Beach were normal and without unusual incident.

Shipping was off-loaded al­most entirely by LCM and LCVP lighterage. Relatively few Filipinos were available for labor assignments at the beachhead, and the shore party was assisted for a few days by the 3d Bat­talion, reinforced, 164th Infantry (Americal Division), which arrived from Cebu as the 40th Division’s reserve.

Filipinos help unload Co. B 542d ESBR LCMs at Macajalar Bay 10 May 1945.
(Photo from Put ‘em Across- A History of the 542d ESBR 1942-1945)

When the 3d Battalion went into combat, local labor had become sufficiently plentiful for recruitment of a force of about 150. Blackout orders permitted off-loading only dur­ing daylight hours, and the daily rate therefore was somewhat low, averaging 518 tons. That, however, was adequate.

In addition to beach operations, Combat Team II was assigned vari­ous construction jobs, including road building, a POW stockade, and reconstruction of 2 bridges.

Also, the amphibian engineers were made re­sponsible for the maintenance of 10 miles of the Sayre Highway extending southward from the beach.

Boat operations during late May, June, and early July were routine, involving numerous reconnaissance missions and transportation of guerrilla units as well as much harbor work, in­cluding lighterage.

These varied assignments for the 542d EBSR continued until mid-June, when detachments of the 533d F.BSR arrived from Parang to take over port operations at Brown Beach. Combat Team II functioned briefly under control of the 533d, but by early July all elements had rejoined the main body of the 542d EBSR at Cebu City.

Macajalar Bay becomes a major base

The 533d Moves In. The 533d EBSR s move from the Parang area to Macajalar Bay was dictated largely by the fact that the condition of the Sayre Highway in central Mindanao made the supply of 31st Division combat units an operation of the utmost difficulty, whereas the condition of the same highway southward from Macajalar Bay was incomparably better.

On 23 May advance patrols of the 31st Division had made contact with patrols of the 108th RCT near Impalutao, about 30 miles southeast of Macajalar Bay, and the Sayre Highway was finally cleared.

Japanese forces retired into the mountains of eastern Mindanao but were fol­lowed by the merged U. S. forces.

Since it was evident that Parang was unsuitable as a major supply base and that Macajalar Bay, much closer to the scene of operations, was far more preferable, it was decided to close Parang and to enlarge Brown Beach, Macajalar Bay, to the proportions of a major base. Shipping therefore was diverted from Parang to Maca­jalar Bay.

The 533d EBSR’s river force began a toilsome task of backloading supplies in the Pikit Kabacan area and transporting them downriver to Parang, and transfer of 533d ele­ments to Macajalar Bay was started.

First to move were boat battalion headquarters. Com­pany A, and Company E, traveling by boat via Zamboanga. Regimental headquarters moved up on 19 June, traveling overland, and estab­lished its command post at Bugo, close to Brown Beach.

Shore battalion headquarters and Com­pany C remained at Parang, aided by Company D and a detachment of Company C, 543d EBSR, until 11 June when the Company C de­tachment departed to rejoin its regiment at Zamboanga.

Parang became a dying port, with elements of the 533d EBSR departing piecemeal from time to time. Shore operations at Maca­jalar Bay by the 533d lasted only about a month, orders being received on 11 June for the regi­mental headquarters and shore battalion to move to Leyte, preparatory to movement to Oahu, Territory of Hawaii, for staging for the operation against Japan. Boat battalion ele­ments of the 533d remained on Mindanao for operations in the areas of Davao Gulf, Parang, and northern Mindanao.

The Japanese had retired into the hill country several days prior to the operation. Troops moved inland rapidly, secured high ground near the village of Agusan and began pushing down Sayre Highway.

Two days after the Macajalar Bay landing, guerrillas liberated Cagayan on 12 May 1945, as the 108th Regt went straight up the Sayre Highway for its link-up with the 31st Division.

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

The 108th Regimental Combat Team and the 155th Regimental Combat Team of the 31st Division linked up just outside Impalutao, Bukidnon on 23 May 1945. The juncture of the two forces marked the end of Japanese resistance along the Sayre Highway.

While the Liberation of Cagayan may be considered a minor engagement in the context of the main American strategy for the liberation of the entire Mindanao, that should not detract from the valor and sacrifice of our guerrillas who were up to the task of not only securing the flank of the 108th RCT to ensure it attained its strategic objective to complete the capture of Sayre Highway from its northern terminus, but also liberate Cagayan from the yoke of the Imperial Japanese Army which had snared their countrymen for the last three years. (Compiled by Mike Baños)

                                                                    -30-

References:

1. History of the Mindanao Guerrillas, 10th Military District, US Forces in the Philippines (USFIP)

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

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

4. Macajalar Bay Action Report-10 May 1945, ComPhibGroupNINE Operation Plan 11-45 (NARA)

5. 108th History, January through June 1945. Collins, Glen L. 1st Lt.; Sheldon, Donald 1st Lt.; Fisher, Vernon J. 2nd Lt., Historians. Dewey, George W. T/Sgt., Editor. Pages 73-76

6Holmes, Kent; Wendell Fertig and His Guerrilla Forces in the Philippines: Fighting the Japanese Occupation 1942-1945

7. Engineers of the Southwest Pacific, 1941-1945.
Reports of operations [of the] United States Army Forces in the Far East, Southwest Pacific Area, Army Forces, Pacific. pp. 652-655

7. Put ‘em Across: A History of the 2d Engineer Special Brigade, 1942-1945: United States Army, World War II. Volume 870, Issues 1-33 of EP (Washington, D.C.) Office of History, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, 1988, pp.148

8. Chapter 12, Engineers of the Southwest Pacific: 1942-1945,

9. LCS (L) Landing Craft Support (Large)June 15, 1995,Turner Publishing, pp. 59

10. Ilogon, Cpl. Jesus B., Memoirs of the Guerrillas: The Barefoot Army (unpublished manuscript)

11. USACGC Ingham Maritime Museum , Maritime Museum and National Historical Landmark

12. Wilkinson, Stephen; How the B-25 Became the Ultimate Strafer of World War II, HistoryNet.com (This feature appeared in the May 2020 issue of Aviation History)

13. B-25J-20, War Thunder Wiki

14. Panlilio, Cai; Rosario Prosia Dongallo: A humble legacy of public service, SunStar Cagayan de Oro, 31 August 2016 (retrieved 22 May 2020)

15. Parsch, AndreasDirectory of U.S. Military Rockets and Missiles, Appendix 4: Undesignated Vehicles, 4.5 Inch BBR

16.111.ADC.4446 Digital Betacam (I copy) 108th Regt Landings at Macajalar Bay, Mindanao, P.I. 10 May 1945 (NARA).

17, June, 1945 U.S. Coast Guard Digest #2 World War II Newsreel, Philippine Campaign, Iwo Jima 52044b PF#52044b

18. US Army Soldiers in Combat in Luzon & Mindanao Battle of the Philippine Islands, World War II Footage with sound. Pacific Activities in the Philippines, Army Pictorial Service, HistoryFlicks4U

19. Allied Geographical Section, SWPA, “Central Mindanao”, Terrain Study No. 98, 1 Jan. 1945, RG 226, box 1336, folder 117136. 80, NARS

20. Lao, Mardonio M., Bukidnon Historical Perspective, 132. Central Mindanao University Publications Office, @1985. Guillermo Tabios, Jr., (personal interview by Ronald K. Edgerton, Malaybalay, 3 Aug. 1981); (Joseph Lucas to Father Willman, 4 May 1934, Jesuit Archives, 8:10, Ateneo de Manila).

21. Allied Geographical Section, op.cit., 81-83. Foreman, North H., [inspector of School Gardens & Sites], “In the Bukidnon Country,” The Philippine Craftsman1, No. 4 [Oct. 1912], 337).

22. Edgerton, Ronald K., People of the Middle Ground, A Century of Conflict and Accommodation in Central Mindanao, 1880s -1980s, @2008, Ateneo de Manila University Press, p. 162, 165. 166

23. World War II Coast Guard-Manned U.S. Army Freight and Supply Ship Histories.

24. Amory, Robert Jr., “Surf and sand, the saga of the 533d Engineer Boat and Shore Regiment and 1461st Engineer Maintenance Company, 1942-1945” (1947). World War Regimental Histories. 196. http://digicom.bpl.lib.me.us/ww_reg_his/196

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *