Cagayan, Misamis Oriental   Sept 1944-May 1945

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

Why the apparent rural backwater that Cagayan was during the Second World War merited such attention from the rampaging US air forces prior to the imminent liberation of the Philippines is not immediately apparent.

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

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

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

The Big Picture

Towards the end of the third quarter of 944, the US armed forces were sweeping the Japanese forces in the South Pacific in a two-pronged assault led by Fleet Admiral Chester W. Nimitz, commander-in-chief, Pacific Fleet and General Douglas MacArthur, commander-in-chief, Southwest Pacific Area.

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

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

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

At the core of this two-prong advance was the island-hopping stretegy employing leapfrog hops from one island to another by coordinated air, sea, and land attacks to cut off supply lines to heavily defended Japanese bases, which could then be allowed to wither on the vine.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Strategic Position of the Philippines July 1944

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

The Mindanao Situation

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

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

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

Development and Expansion of Mindanao Air Centers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sasa Airfield Davao (Feredo Collection)

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

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

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

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

Activity on Mindanao

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Shipping and Naval Activity

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

Macabalan Wharf circa 1935. (NARA)

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

The Defense Dilemma

But the air, naval and logistics situation were mere adjuncts to the central objective of the Allied Air raids which was the destruction of Imperial Japanese Army (IJA) units defending Mindanao.

Lt. General Gyosaku Morozumi, commanding the 30th Panther Division, had just assumed de facto command of the defense of the 35th Army defending Mindanao following the departure of Gen. Sosako Suzuki to Leyte.

Lt Gen Gyosaku Morozumi, Commanding General, IJA 30th Division
(U.S. Army photo Via Paul Tillery, cropped by author)

General Morozumi 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 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 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 to 10 September 1944 which greatly hampered the movement of his troops and resulted in considerable damage to his supplies.

In the first large-scale air operation by the Allies against the Philippines, an estimated 400 carrier planes staged a devastating ten-hour offensive against southern Mindanao, concentrating their attacks on Davao, Sarangani, Cagayan and Digos.

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

Since Japanese air patrols had failed to discover the enemy task force, the attacks achieved complete surprise and inflicted widespread and severe damage to ground installations, airfields, anchorages, and lines of communication.

“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 Mitchell “Ruthless Ruth” skip-bombs Japanese Kaibokan escort ship No. 134, April 6, 1945 off the coast of Formosa. (US Air Force)

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 move 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.

In Hindsight

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Del Monte Landing Field, Bukidnon 1939

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Japanese Aircraft Wrecks, Digos Mindanao 1945

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

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

Camouflaged “dummy” planes on Japanese airfield on Okinawa, April 16, 1945.
(AP Photo/Charles Gorry)

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

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

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

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

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

Key Airfields

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

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

Del Monte Landing Field, Bukidnon (NARA)

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

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

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

Malaybalay, Bukidnon Landing Field 1936 (NARA)

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

Japanese Air Units

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

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

A Mitsubishi Ki-51 Type 99 Sonia dive-bomber, similar in size & performance to the German Stuka Ju-87 & U.S. Army Douglas A-24 Banshee (similar to the U.S. Navy SBD Dauntless). This Sonia was photographed after a raid against targets on Luzon. (warfarehistorynetwork)

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

A map of the Japanese Air Dispositions in the Philippines dated 9 September 1944 showed two airfields in Cagayan (Cagayan West or Lumbia Airfield with a 5,000 x 340 ft runway, a Japanese built pursuit field with a capacity of 20 planes) and Cagayan East at Patag which had two level strips L 2,865 x 165 and 2,952 by 159 which was lengthened by the Japanese to bomber length in 1943.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Emergency Airfield in Zamboanga (NARA)

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

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

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

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

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

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

In fact, when the 108th Regimental Combat Team of the 40th Division landed at Tin-ao, Barrio Agusan (codename: Brown Beach) on 10 May 1945, their reconnaissance report lists only 15 Japanese aircraft within the immediate vicinity. Of the 62 sorties launched by the USAAC, USN and USMC, not one encountered a single enemy aircraft, nor was any anti-aircraft fire reported by the B-25s bombing Tagoloan and Cagayan.

Terrible Swift Sword

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

SBD-5 Dauntless of the VB-16 aboard the USS Lexington (CV-16), September 1943. SBDs scout dive bombers and F6F Wildcat fighters were the American planes which attacked Japanese targets in Mindanao, including Cagayan de Misamis, on 09 September 1945. (worldwarphotos)

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

“It  has been a happy day!”

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

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

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

March 26, 1949 Philippine Free Press page 9

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

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

The Blue Ghost

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

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

USS Lexington (CV-16)

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

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

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

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

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

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

In the Damage Assessment Reports of fliers from the USS Lexington filed on 09 September 1944, they reported the following: two Nakajima B6N Tenzan  “Jills”carrier-borne torpedo bombers and 17 single engine planes destroyed on the ground at Lumbia airfield; one Topsy Mitsubishi Ki-57  and one Tabby Shōwa L2D transport planes destroyed on the ground at Cagayan (Patag) Airfield, five Nick Kawasaki Ki-45 Toryu twin-engine fighters and Dinah Mitsubishi Ki-46 reconnaissance planes of the Imperial Japanese Army destroyed on the ground at Del Monte airfield; one steam roller and one truck destroyed on the ground at Maramag airfield; two army trucks destroyed at Cagayan; 10 large barracks plus several other buildings destroyed at Valencia Airfield; four sampans and two other sea vessels sunk or probably sunk and damaged in Cagayan Harbor.

On 10 September there were further air attacks, as well as a cruiser-destroyer raid off Eastern Mindanao coast, which caught and annihilated a convoy of 32 small freighters.


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Two Consolidated B-24 Liberators in flight. It was the preferred heavy bomber in the Pacific Theatre over the B-17 Flying Fortress because of its heavier bomb load and its longer range was suitable for long, over-water missions. (warfarehistorynetwork)

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

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

Apparently, the Japanese troops weren’t above using the Red Cross to camouflage vital installations and supplies, but considering too the penchant of the Japanese to bait seemingly attractive targets with oil barrels which exploded with a huge fireball when bombed and strafed leaves us uncertain as to who got the last laugh in that exchange.

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

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

Detail of Cagayan Wharf circa 1935. (NARA)

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

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

Lumbia Airfield and Barrio. Vertical Mosaic. 22 August 1944 (NARA)

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

The next day, B-24s again hit Dumaguete, Matina in Davao and Cagayan airfields in Misamis.

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

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

The Victor Operations

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

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

Gen. Douglas MacArthur, left, enjoying his fames corncob pipe, meets Lt. Gen. Robert L. Eichelberger, commanding General Eighth Army, right, after General MacArthur’s arrival Aug. 28, 1945 at Atsugi Airport near Tokyo.

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

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

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

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

This was followed by the penultimate bombing raids 0n 09 May 1945 by B-24s of the area around Maluko and Dalirig, Bulidnon, preparatory to the Allied landing in Macajalar Bay on 10 May 1945.

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

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

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

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



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

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

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

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

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

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

7. USAAF Chronology, Combat Chronology of the US Army Air Forces, October 1944, in directory pub/wwii/usaf; and ( in pub/history/military/airforce/wwii_chronology

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

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

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

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

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

Published by International Research Pub Corp, 2006

ISBN 10: 0913511056 / ISBN 13: 9780913511053


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

14. Hickey Ken’s Men, p. 175

15. Guerrilla Intelligence Activities, Part II.

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

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

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




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


  History, Headquarters USAF 1982


  Office of Air Force History, Headquarters USAF, 1973


  1. in directory pub/wwii/usaf

  2. ( in pub/history/military/airforce/



19. History of the Mindanao Guerrillas, by the American Guerrillas of Mindanao (AGOM), page 68,86

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

21. U.S. Navy at War, Second Official Report by Fleet Admiral Ernest J. King, CIC, United States Fleet, and Chief of Naval Operations, Covering Combat Operations March 1, 1944 to March 1, 1945. Compliments of the United States News

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