On the morning of 28 February 1945 the US Eight Army began the VICTOR operations with an assault on Palawan. General Douglas MacArthur wanted air bases on Palawan, on the Zamboanga Peninsula of Mindanao, and on the Sulu Archipelago to support a reoccupation of North Borneo. The rest of the islands—the central group of Panay, Negros, Cebu and Bohol, and southernmost Mindanao—he wanted for political considerations, to complete his return to the Philippines.

The last landings in the Philippines took place on Mindanao with the 24th Division landing on Illana Bay at Malabang on 17 April (R-day), and the 31st in the same area on 22 April.

Mindanao was huge, mountainous, primitive, and thinly populated, with a large percentage of its population the Moros that had given the U.S. Army so much trouble a generation before. It had only one city worthy of the name—Davao, at the head of Davao Gulf, which indents the southern coast.

Tasked with the liberation of Mindanao, US Eight Army CommanderLt. Gen. Robert Eichelberger had wanted to make a direct amphibious landing in Davao Gulf as the quickest way of ending the campaign, for here were located large concentrations of Japanese.

But by early spring of 1945 when the assault was planned, the Okinawa campaign was in progress and the Navy did not feel it could provide adequate protection for such an ambitious expedition.

The Resistance in Mindanao

When the Maj. Gen. William F. Sharpe surrendered to the Imperial Japanese Army on May 10, 1942 in Malaybalay, Bukidnon, many of the USAFFE soldiers melted away into the jungle fastness of Mindanao rather than surrender.

Because of its size, rugged terrain, and location farthest from the center of Japanese occupation in the Philippines, Mindanao was particularly adaptable to the easy formation of guerrilla groups.

Japanese troops held only a few main cities along its 1,400-mile coastline and paid little attention to the interior of the island. It enjoyed comparative freedom from Japanese surveillance and pressure leading to the rise of many guerrilla organizations.

The growth of the guerrilla movement on Mindanao matured earlier and with less hostile interference compared to other areas in the Philippines.

PLATE NO. 89 Mindanao Guerrilla Organizations, 31 January 1945

When Japanese patrols seldom ventured inland, small guerrilla bands quickly blossomed through the interior. The mountains, limited road nets, and primitive communication facilities initially kept these groups isolated from each other, and a certain mistrust and jealousy on the part of the guerrilla leaders prevented any initial attempts at consolidation. In addition, the vast expanse of the island, with almost three weeks required to journey from east to west, increased the obstacles in the way of operational co-ordination.

But in time, common purpose and the advantages of unification induced the various leaders to seek some means of co-operation. The smaller groups soon blended into larger ones, until in time, Colonel Wendell W. Fertig emerged as the generally accepted commander of the Mindanao guerrillas.

A former American mining engineer who fought on Bataan and sent to Mindanao to serve with General Sharp, Colonel Fertig took a group of officers and men into the hills to form the nucleus of a responsible resistance movement. By perseverance and diplomacy, Colonel Fertig gradually won the respect of the other guerrilla leaders, and by October 1942 he had built up a fairly cohesive guerrilla organization.

In November, Colonel Fertig decided that the time was ripe to notify General Headquarters of the potential of his organization and request assistance. He dispatched his two emissaries, Capt. J. A. Hamner and Captain Smith, on a trip to Australia which resulted in the subsequent contact by Commander Charles “Chick” Parsons.

With the approval of the Philippine Government-in-Exile, Colonel Fertig strove to establish a smoothly functioning civil government to parallel his military organization. Former Philippine officials were appointed as provincial governors and to other civic posts. By early 1943, conditions on Mindanao had become so stable, that President Quezon authorized the creation of the Mindanao Emergency Currency Board to issue its own monetary notes for use as a medium of exchange among guerrilla forces.

Before the swift-moving events of the war made it advisable for General MacArthur to make his first strike in the Philippines directly at Leyte, it had been planned to retake the islands by an initial invasion of Mindanao. This fact, together with a convenient geographical position which eased the problem of transportation by submarine, constituted the main reason why the Mindanao guerrillas were the first to be supplied extensively. It was a sound strategical investment.

With the assistance of SWPA, the Mindanao guerrilla organization eventually became the largest and best equipped in the Philippine Islands. By January 1945, Colonel Fertig’s command included a force of about 38,000 men.  His radio and intelligence network consisted of some seventy transmitter stations and an excellent and extensive coast-watcher system. GHQ was furnished with a constant stream of information which, within its limits of accuracy, helped considerably in the planning of operations against the Japanese in the Philippines. The guerrillas had also prepared airfields at Dipolog, Labo, Lala, and Barobo.

The Guerrilla Navy

Allied naval and aerial support were key to the growth of the 10th Military District. However, even before outside help came, the guerrillas were already making do with what they had or captured from the enemy.

One of the guerrilla units which was most active in the littoral waters, rivers and other waterways of Northern Mindanao was the 110th Infantry Regiment, charged with the area  from the Tagoloan River, Misamis Oriental to the Eastern border of the province.

Activated early in November, 1942, it was composed mostly of various guerrilla bands which sprung  up in  Eastern Misamis Oriental during early September 1942, and had its own “navy”.

The guerrilla flagship Athena is an example of a Barco Dos Velas, a fast two-masted sailboat used by Visayan merchants to trade with Mindanao. Athena is shown here on a rendezvous with the US Navy submarine Narwhal on November 15, 1943 off Butuan Bay. (MacArthur Memorial)

Its guerrilla navy consisted of several coastal vessels, including bancas, motorized Barcos Dos Velas, and captured Japanese launches used to transport supplies delivered by submarines from Australia to guerrilla units around Mindanao.

The boats of the guerrilla “navy” were armed with machine guns salvaged off downed American and Japanese aircraft, home-made cannon, and even mortars. Later, some used 20 mm cannons supplied by the U.S. Navy. One vessel was even ‘armored’ using large, circular saws taken from abandoned sawmills. 

Some of the actions these vessels participated in were heroic to the extreme, like when one small vessel deliberately engaged in a running battle with a large Japanese steamer, and in another, a sailing ship armed with 20 mm cannon, fought off Japanese aircraft and actually shot one down, perhaps establishing a record for being the only sailing ship to shoot down an airplane—a Japanese medium bomber.

The Philippine Regional Section

But help from the allies were not long in coming. The second phase of guerrilla development in the Philippines began in June 1943 with the activities of the Philippine Regional Section. This new section, formed from the original Philippine Sub-Section of AM and given semi-autonomous status, was organized in late May, under Col. Courtney Whitney, to handle the increasing problems inherent in the rapid development of events and the growing availability of supply facilities.

The assistance and co-ordination of guerrilla operations was continued on an enlarged scale, and efforts were intensified to push on from the bases established on Mindanao and Panay into the islands to the north. Additional parties were prepared for the Visayas, and plans were laid for the penetration of Luzon via Mindoro and Samar.

To aid this program, facilities for the transportation of supplies under the general direction of Commander Parsons were augmented by the acquisition of cargo-carrying submarines from the U.S. Navy under what came to be known as the “SpyRon (Spy Squadron) Operations”.

Chick Parsons

The man mainly responsible for the SpyRon operations was U.S. Naval Commander Charles Parsons, Jr.

 Better known by his nickname “Chick”, Parsons first came to Manila when he was five years old but later moved the U.S. with his uncle, before stowing away to the Philippines in the early 1920s at the age of 19.

CDR Charles “Chick” Parsons.

As recounted by his son Peter in his published memoirs, Chick had traveled throughout the islands extensively as a private secretary to Governor General Leonard Wood in the early 1920s; worked with the telephone company; the La Insular Tobacco company; a lumber yard near Zamboanga; and in 1931 became manager of Luzon Stevedoring. While in this capacity he began working with both the Mitsui and the Mitsubishi companies, sending them molasses. In 1932 he joined the US Navy Reserve, and was attached to submarines.

Because of his company’s mining interests, he had actually become president of a Japanese company. Some of his best friends before the war were Japanese.

When World War II broke out, he and his family managed to return to the USA under a diplomatic exchange, ostensibly as the acting honorary consul of Panama, then a neutral country.

However, Chick volunteered to return to the Philippines  to organize secret submarine missions in support of the Philippine Guerrilla movement. His extensive knowledge of the country and his network of local contacts enabled him to communicate effectively with the guerrilla units.

By September of 1942 he was called to serve in General MacArthur’s GHQ in Brisbane as the person to establish and maintain contact with the resistance movement in the Philippines.

After the information he carried back had been coordinated with the plans and activities of the Philippine Regional Section, Commander Parsons set out a second time, in October, to expand the contacts made on his previous trip.

He again remained on Mindanao for several months, helping Colonel Fertig to consolidate his control and to increase the efficiency and value of his organization.

Chick initially worked out of the Allied Intelligence Bureau (AIB), and later moved to the Philippine Regional Section, but his own inner group which he commanded was known as “SPYRON” and was a very independent bunch of characters. Parsons’ Navy boss was Capt. Arthur McCollum.

“Chick” worked in Heindorff House at 171 Queen Street, and lived in Lennon’s Hotel in George Street in Brisbane. Capt. McCollum reported to Admiral James Fife. While this was his official chain of command, Parsons also reported to Courtney Whitney, Lt. Gen. Richard Sutherland and General Douglas MacArthur .

Commander Chick Parsons with General Douglas MacArthur.

Parsons joined MacArthur in January 1943. He convinced the Navy that if they lent MacArthur “Special Mission” submarines, the guerrillas would establish coast watcher radio stations throughout the islands which would supply numerous targets for their submarines. 

To that purpose Parsons “borrowed” from the Navy 20 boats, called Special Mission submarines; Parsons’ small group within the larger Philippine Regional Section was called SpyRon (for Spy Squadron).

Guerrilla Submarines

After the formal surrender early in 1942, the few Americans who escaped Prisoner of War or Internment Camps hid in remote parts of the Philippine Archipelago where there was no rapid dependable means of sending to the Allies in Australia any information they might get.

Accordingly, it was decided to test the feasibility of making landings by submarine, supply small communication and coast watcher units in the Philippines.

The first attempt was made on 14 January 1943, when the Gudgeon landed 6 men and 2,000 pounds of equipment and supplies on the island of Negros.

The size of the USS Narwhal was ideal for the SpyRon missions to guerrillas in the Philippines

MacArthur sent Parsons on the USS Tambor landing a small party with about 2 tons of supplies at Labangan, Pagadian Bay in Mindanao (now a part of present-day Tukuran) on 5 March 1943. This was the second of 49 special missions (and the first to Mindanao) to supply the guerrilla movement and create coast watcher radio stations throughout the islands.

Thereafter, at about 5 week intervals, small parties of personnel with about 2 tons of stores each were landed at various points in the central and southern Philippines by special submarine missions carried out during their regular war patrols.

The cooperation of the Filipinos in the southern part of the Philippines area was extremely good and, under the direction of General Headquarters, Southwest Pacific an organization of guerrilla forces was set up along recognized military lines.

Efficient functioning of this organization was dependent to a great extent on the possibility of supplying it with a modicum of arms, ammunition, medical supplies and funds. Where the requirements of this supply, plus the expansion of the coast watcher and communications net, mounted to figures which could not be handled by submarines on war patrol, a special supply unit was organized in October, 1943.

 The NarwhalNautilusSeawolf and Stingray were assigned the primary duty of carrying out supply and evacuation missions in the Philippines Area. That these efforts were highly successful was proved by the rapid growth of an efficient net of coast watchers, weather observers and aircraft spotters.

US Submarine SpyRon Missions in support of the Guerrilla Resistance in the Philippines 1942-1945

After January 1943, a total of 18 submarines carried out 39 supply and evacuation missions in the Philippines. During these missions, 1,325 tons of supplies and equipment were landed and delivered to the guerrillas. Less than 50 tons of supplies were lost or not delivered, and it is believed that none fell into the hands of the enemy. No missions were completely unsuccessful and only three were not wholly successful. During these operations, 327 persons were landed and 466 evacuated. All this was accomplished with the loss of only one submarine, the Seawolf, in October, 1944.

After the campaign in the Philippines, the need and desirability of submarine supply in that area rapidly decreased. Aircraft and small surface vessels took over the job of getting supplies to guerrilla forces not within the immediate sphere of the operations. The special submarine supply unit was dissolved and any special missions in the Southwest Pacific Area were thereafter handled by submarines assigned to war patrols.

Transition

With the increasing American air and naval presence in the Philippines beginning January 1945, it was now possible to use surface craft to supply guerrillas. The limited cargo capacities of the submarines previously constrained the amount of material they could deliver. The Spyron submarine missions ceased when surface deliveries began.

With the creation of  Task Group 70.4  to aid Filipino Guerillas in the southern areas of the Philippines, the guerrillas finally had naval assets which were capable of delivering greater volumes of arms, ammunition and other much needed supplies, in addition to shuttling guerrillas to areas where they were needed most. It also provided them with close-in naval support to bombard enemy shore assets and targets.

LCI(L)-363 being unloaded by guerrillas of the 110th Division at Gingoog. (US Navy photo)

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, 363, and 429 (temporary) under the command of Lieutenant Albert C. Eldridge.

Organized on 24 January 1945, the Task Group was charged with the supply and support of Filipino guerrillas in Mindanao. From February 1945 to 23 May 1945, Task Group 70.4 completed thirteen missions.

Over 1,600 tons of essential supplies consisting of arms, ammunition, signal equipment, fuel, medicine, food, clothing and on occasion jeeps and trailers were delivered to guerrilla forces at Bohol, Cebu, Negros, Masbate and Mindanao.

The group also transported approximately 2,700 guerrilla troops in connection with operations against the enemy or in order to effect necessary re-dispositions. It inflicted an  undetermined number of  casualties on the enemy as a result of bombardment and captured or destroyed quantities of enemy equipment and supplies including arms, ammunition, trucks, barges, food and clothing.

More important, valuable enemy documents were captured, among which, were the Japanese plans for the defense of Mindanao. In spite of repeated bombardment of enemy positions, frequently no more than 50 yards from shore, and putting ashore landing parties with guerrilla assault troops in search of intelligence and enemy documents, no casualties were sustained by personnel of Task Group 70.4.

One of most notable of the joint guerrilla-US Navy operations was the guerrilla raid on Talisayan, Misamis Oriental, conducted to eliminate Japanese soldiers garrisoned at this key objective, again with the irrepressible Chick Parsons on board.

Amphibious in nature, the operation involved guerrilla units of the 110th Infantry Regiment, 110th Division. Task Group 70.4 coordinated the operation.

You can read more of the Guerrilla Raid on Talisayan by clicking here.

With all operations between SWPA and the Philippine guerrillas now channeled directly into the invasion planning of specific GHQ staff sections, the third phase of development was opened. During this stage, the guerrillas emerged from their hideouts to take their places in battle beside the advancing American divisions.

When General MacArthur was ready to retake the Philippine Islands, the guerrillas on Mindanao were in a position to contribute substantially to military operations. With the American invasion of the southern Philippines in early 1945, they began to strike openly against the Japanese forces occupying the island.

Guerrilla Air Support Party#3

It’s ironic that 77 years after they were first deployed in Mindanao, very little is known about the Guerrilla Air Support Party #3 unit of the US 13th (Jungle) Air Force.

Staffed by 29 personnel including 3 Filipinos, GSAP#3 went behind enemy lines to assist guerrillas in operations against the garrison troops of the 35th Imperial Japanese Army,

Led by Captain Leo L. Kellet from the 319th Fighter Control Squadron, GSAP #3 took on the most challenging mission of the five air support efforts requested by guerrilla leaders, serving behind enemy lines in Mindanao.

Staffed by members of Fighter Control and Air Liaison Squadrons with successful track records during the invasion and occupation of islands in the South Pacific, the unit included air communications and cryptography specialists, air controllers, communications specialists and radio operators. The team included base station radio crews and in-field, close-support units for the direction of air strikes on enemy targets in plain sight of their forward airfields.

On 4 March, 1945, three C-47s landed in Labo Airfield, a pre-war USAAC field built just before the war two miles from Misamis (now Ozamiz City) in Misamis Occidental. Aboard were the first seven GSAP#3 members who were greeted by wildly cheering crowds as the fulfillment of General MacArthur’s promise to “Return.”

On March 7, a 3-man advance party headed by Kellet with 1st Lt. Norman W. Garrett and Staff Sgt. Brayton L. Smith Jr., crossed over to Kolambugan, Lanao by banca then rode their jeep to Fertig’s headquarters in Bacolod.

“This is an important day for our guerrilla movement,” Fertig announced as he acknowledged the salutes of the GSAP#3 party. “We’ve been waiting for the coordination of air and ground action, and you fellows represent the link with that type of future.”

Fertig briefed them that work was already ongoing on the team’s headquarters in Camp Keithley next to Fertig’s 10th Military District headquarters, near Lake Lanao, Dansalan City in the hills south of Iligan.  He added that an adjacent pre-war airfield was being rehabilitated where cargo planes from Leyte could land to hasten the delivery of supplies.

Col. Wendell W. Fertig (center) and his general staff at Camp Keithley, Dansalan City.

Capt. James L. Jarnagin, A-3, 13th Air Force, and Major Harold Rosenquist, G-2, were the team’s designated military contacts to coordinate the air support with the guerrillas.

“Capt. Jarnagin will arrange the aircraft for the raids and deliver your supplies, and Maj. Rosenquist, who has been with our guerrilla headquarters group for a number of months, knows the Mindanao terrain; the importance of working with Christian and Moro civil leaders, and of course, has met most of the civilian officers in my command,” Fertig explained.

Rosenquist was sent by MacArthur to gain guerrilla assistance in a plan to free the US and Filipino troops and civilians being held prisoners by the Japanese in a concentration near Davao, but arrived too late when the Japanese sent the inmates in ‘hellships’ to work as forced labor in Japan, with one ship being torpedoed by a US Navy submarine off Zamboanga with great loss of lives.

Ten more GSAP#3 team members and their equipment reached Dansalan on March 10 and 11 and immediately established radio contact with 13th AF HQ on Leyte and Marine commanders to provide Marine Air Group (MAG) support for GSAP missions.

Per General Orders #1, March 1, 1934, the Flying Field at Camp Keithley, Lanao, Mindanao, P.I., was designated as “McGuire Field” in honor of 2nd Lt. Elmer L. McGuire, A.C. – Killed in plane accident January 15, 1932. (NARA)

By March 13, the short, sloped 2,700 foot airstrip adjacent to Camp Keithley (designated as “McGuire Field” in honor of 2nd Lt. Elmer L. McGuire, A.C. – Killed in plane accident January 15, 1932.) was ready for operation.

A third wave of GSAP#3 members arrived overland on March 16, following an inspection conducted by a party who landed on the first C-47 a day before cleared it for future landings, but asked that mobile tower be constructed and manned.

First Mission to Malabang

The first GSAP#3-led air attack target was Malabang, an enemy garrisoned, pivotal barrio on two coastal rivers that spilled into Illana Bay.

The Expeditionary Battalion led by Australian Maj. Rex Blow of the 108th Division under Lt. Col. Charles Hedges assigned to assault the Japanese garrison in the area reported that they already had control of the airfield since 15 March 1945.

Lt. Rex Blow (second from left) commanded the 108th Division Expeditionary Battalion tasked with seizing Titcomb Field (Malabang, Lanao) with an unidentified US Army Air Force personnel most probably from GSAP #3; Col. Charles W. Hedges, commander of the 108th Division; and Col. Wendell Fertig, commander of the 10th Military District. (Australian War Memorial)

Known only to the guerrillas as the Malabang Garrison Troops, the Japanese were reported to be a mixture of small groups of reinforcements and replacements from Cotabato with a few Filipino Bureau of Constabulary (BC) troops.

The initial air strike, with Marine Air Group (MAG) planes directed by GSAP #3-supplied target grid coordinates, was staged on March 24 with eight F4U Corsairs bombing strong points and the warehouse area.

Stinson L-5 being refueled at Valencia Airstrip, Mindanao, Bukidnon. May 12, 1945. (J. Tewell)

Following the first Malabang raid, the GSAP#3 communications section improvised the installation of special radio equipment in the unit’s Stinson L-5 (a Piper Cub-type, light observation plane used for artillery spotting and liaison) which permitted air-to-ground, and air-to-air links among the attacking MAG and 13th Air Force planes, the L-5 and guerrilla and GSAP#3 target area ground units.

A second raid on Malabang was carried out on April  7-9 with bombing and strafing missions with the guerrillas in control of the main 7,400-foot runway on the airfield, permitting the L-5 to land for pre-raid briefings.

Guerrilla ground positions were marked with multi-color flags and panels to prevent the air strikes from hitting friendly ground troops. Communications between attacking aircraft also prevented a possible conflict between an imminent US Navy bombardment of the Malabang sector and a landing by US Marines and GSAP#3 air strikes resulting in the delay of the Marine invasion until the guerrilla-GSAP #3 operation was carried out.

After the conclusion of the three day mission and two-day mopping up operation, surviving enemy troops fled south toward the Parang-Cotabato sector, with guerrillas inflicting further casualties.

Filipino guerrillas at Titcomb Field, Malabang, Lanao, welcome the MAG PBJ pilots who assisted them in clearing the Japanese garrison under the direction of GSAP #3. (Department of Defense Photo (USMC) 117638

Major Blow praised the effectiveness of the coordinated close air support. “All targets indicated prior to operation were bombed and inspection revealed that most were found hit and destroyed.” He stressed that “accurate bombing was an inspiration to my ground troops.”

The final Malabang mission report submitted by the guerrilla G-2 indicated over 600 enemy casualties, with an additional 200 Japanese fleeing toward the Parang Area by banca or on foot. The GSAP #3 air strikes involved a total of 93 aircraft, including 24 PBJs, 49 SBDs and 20 F4Us.

Hits and Misses

In the weeks that followed the withdrawal of the Japanese from Malabang, the GSAP #3 team directed sixteen bombing and strafing missions against troop concentrations, a submarine base, and hidden aircraft. The air strikes involved 13th Air Force and MAG planes triggered by guerrilla reports from the Cagayan, Iligan, Parang-Cotabato and other sectors of Mindanao.

Most of the  guerrilla reports of Japanese activity received by the GSAP #3 communications center from guerrilla field commanders were in most instances handled by Capt. Trembley, 1st Lt. Hines or the base station crew.

Following target evaluation, grid coordinates were determined and landmarks noted. Strike requests were encoded and sent to the appropriate air units.

The mid-April targets included troop strongholds in Lumopog, Samalang, Midsayap, Kabacan, and Pagalungan; an enemy supply ferry being unloaded on the Mindanao River; in addition to the truck convoy handling the off-loaded shipment; a submarine pen found at Bolton’s wharf along Davao River, where supplies were also being landed; and well-concealed Japanese aircraft, camouflaged and hidden under trees at Del Monte. There were hundreds of Japanese casualties in the airfield raid when an adjacent minefield blew up.

Besides directing air raids, GSAP #3 was also instrumental in the rescue of downed pilots and providing a safe haven for damaged aircraft landing on McGuire Field.

Three Sectors

To assist guerrillas in recapturing three areas recently regained by the Japanese, Captain Kellet identified three priority sectors for assistance: Dipolog, in the northern Zamboanga province area; Bukidnon province and adjacent coastal barrios in the proximity of Cagayan (the area often mentioned by the 13th Air Force as a “possible US invasion point”),  and east of the Cotabato-Parang area, where the Japanese were consolidating their surviving ground troops following the Malabang withdrawal and the arrival of US troops on the Ilana Bay coast.

All these sectors were considered important to Japanese defense of the island, with Dipolog and Talakag (in Bukidnon), recently being reoccupied after forcing back guerrilla  units to the hills.

By 1945, bands of Filipino guerrillas had seized control of key areas in Mindanao. They controlled over half a dozen airstrips where Army transport aircraft, escorted by Marine F4U Corsairs, often landed with necessary supplies.

Two-C-47-Douglas-R4D-Skytrain-on-the-tarmac-of-Dipolog-field-in-1945-as-its-squadron-of-fighter-bombers-were-away-for-bombing-and-air-support-missions.

One of these was the Dipolog airfield. Not far from the town, in a clearing right next to the water’s edge (Sulu Sea), lay a narrow grass-surfaced airstrip with importance out of proportion to the relatively small facility it afforded.

Allied Air Force planes taking supplies to the Mindanao Guerrillas had been using the field since late 1944; the field had also been the site of many emergency landings by American aircraft.

(For a firsthand look at the Dipolog Airfield “Rescue Station” here’s archival film footage from the 1945 Army Air Force Weekly Digest #69 Philippine Operations, 1945 72572 you can view by clicking here go to 00.10.21:20-00.13.12:14 Rescue Station)

During January and February, Marine pilots from Leyte and Samar had landed many times at the airstrip on supply missions, or simply seeking haven for their planes when weathered away from their bases.

But because of increasing pressure from Japanese forces in the area, the guerrillas were finding it increasingly difficult to hold Dipolog.

The Thirteenth Air Force therefore decided to send a squadron from Marine Air Group 12 to Dipolog to supplement the air support that could be provided from other available bases.

To strengthen the guerrilla garrison at Dipolog during the critical support period, two reinforced companies of the 21st Infantry Brigade , 24th Infantry Division, were brought in by air to Dipolog Field on 08 March 1945 to provide additional protection for 16 F4U Corsairs of Marine Air Group 12 on 08 March (two days before Zamboanga’s J-Day) and then to provide blocking forces in the north for the invasion force that landed on Zamboanga on 10 March.

 Dipolog Airfield was occupied by minimum personnel necessary to stage one fighter squadron from 08 March through 22. A temporary flight control center was also set up there from 06 March until such time as the fighter control center could be established at Zamboanga.

Counterattack

But the Japanese were not about to give up Dipolog Airfield without a fight given its strategic role in providing air cover to the Zamboanga and Sulu operations, and protecting the logistics lifeline from the Visayas.

About 150 Japanese troops armed with two knee mortars, a light machine gun, two automatic rifles, and over a hundred rifles, had advanced within 16 kilometers of Dipolog on March 27.These were well-seasoned troops that had been moved into the area from Zamboanga about five weeks earlier.

The 108th Expeditionary Battalion with five officers and 78 men were dispatched from Iligan on April 6, 1945 to reinforce the 107th Infantry Regiment, 105th Division, and the Headquarters Company Service Troops of the 105th Division to prevent the enemy from retaking Dipolog.

At noon of 11 April 1945, Lt. Alviola of the 107th Infantry, with his .50-cal. Machine gun arrived. He then supported the advance to Barren Hill supposed to be the second line of defense of the Japs. The 2nd Platoon, under a former Philippine Constabulary noncom was between the first and 3rd Platoon.

The fight lasted for about one and a half hours. The area was taken and line maintained until 13 April, 1945.

On the same date, Capt. Kellet and Staff  Sgt. Felter made a reconnaissance flight in the Dipolog area and observed the Japanese troops emplaced on two flat-top hills at an elevation of over 2,500 feet. They requested nine SBDs from MAGZAM headquarters in Zamboanga for an air strike the following morning.

A dependable performer for the Marine Corps all through the early years of World War II, the Douglas SBD Dauntless dive bombers of MAG-32 played a key role in the Battle for Dipolog.
(Department of Defense Photo (USMC) 62393

On 14 April 1945, nine SBDs bombed and strafed the enemy. Assaults were then made at the Bushy Hill nearby, where Japs established their line of defense.

Following the air strike, Major Donald Wills who commanded the guerrilla units, radioed that “many of the bombs made direct hits.” He added that “mass graves plus unburied bodies, counted after the enemy withdrew, indicated over two hundred killed.”

Guerrilla troops reoccupied the barrio after a second air strike two days later. With the airfield also in guerrilla control, a third attack, designed to destroy the fleeing Japanese units, was cancelled when the enemy couldn’t be located.

In the assessment of the 10th Military District written in the American Guerrillas of Mindanao (AGOM) account of the  History of the Mindanao Guerrillas: “The operation in Dipolog was a success. The enemy was not able to proceed to the town proper, thus was unable to occupy the airstrip, two kilometers north of the town. The combined troops of the 107th Infantry Regiment, 10th Headquarters Company Service Troops, and the 108th Expeditionary Battalion, not only proved good fighters, but also proved to be disciplined soldiers.”

Talakag and Bukidnon

Intelligence reports revealed that Japanese troops were moving from Talakag and Northern Bukidnon into the Bugo-Tagoloan sector in Cagayan were many enemy camps were set up. These quickly became the target of GSAP #3 directed air strikes.

On May 9, 1945, the GSAP #3 ground team made a daring reconnaissance of the planned invasion area of the 108th Regimental Combat Team (10th RCT) scheduled the following day. They hitched a ride aboard an LCI of Task Group 70.4 from Iligan to Gingoog, headquarters of the 110th Division under Lt. Col. Paul H. Marshall.

GSAP No. 3 Pre-Invasion Field Team. (Official GSAP #3 Photograph)

Driving with no headlights the group threaded their way from Portulin to Salay, eventually reaching Balingasag where the jeep was nearly swept away crossing the Balatukan River. When they reached Villanueva, they identified targets for MAGZAM and 13th Air Force planes in Tagoloan and Malaiba,  forcing the Japanese garrison troops to withdraw to Alae, Bukidnon.

Maj. Harold Rosenquist’s G-2 report to 10th MD Headquarters said the air strikes scored direct hits on the Malaiba Tunnel and supply tunnel, with all GSAP directed targets in Tagoloan destroyed. “Overall bombing and pre-invasion strafing excellent.”

Upon reaching Gingoog the team was informed of the successful invasion of the Cagayan sector on May 10, 1945 by the US 108th RCT and the 110th Division guerrillas.

The special GSAP #3 field team reached Iligan in late afternoon on May 19, 1945, ending the mission.

South from Malabang

Meanwhile, GSAP #3 was conducting recce flights from Malabang with the unit’s second, recently-arrived L-5, piloted by Staff Sgt. George W. Henderson to pinpoint targets for MAGZAM air strikes on retreating Japanese targets inland of the Parang-Cotabato sector.

US Marine Chance-Vought F4U-1D Corsair of the Tenth Army’s Tactical Air Force (TAF) engaged in ground attack with 5-inch rockets. (National Archvies)

In coordination with guerrillas and GSAP #3 controllers, the L-5 directed SBDs and F4Us stikes on Japanese columns retreating inland toward Kabacan and other interior barrios on the Mindanao River where many died from malaria, starvation and ambushes  by Moros seeking their weapons.

Three successful missions

The three planned GSAP support missions during April-May 1945 were called “totally successful, with the major pre-determined goals of driving the  Japanese occupation forces from three sectors had been attained. Most other air support objectives, it was noted, had been met, with targets destroyed or damaged, guerrillas able to occupy all of the coastal barrios.

Agusan-Surigao

On May 21st, guerrillas requested the first bombing and strafing attack in the Surigao-Agusan area where many of the enemy had retreated.

Six F4U Corsairs attacked a large Japanese force encamped the periphery of Santa Fe, inflicting heavy losses. The enemy columns withdrew towards the Agusan River, where eight F4Us again inflicted heavy losses in the vicinity of Guadalupe.  This was followed by another strike by eight F4Us armed with rockets on the rapidly fleeing enemy columns in the barrios of Nuevo Trabajo and Santa Ines on June 3, where advancing guerrillas reported finding “numerous mass graves” following the  attack.

North American PBJ medium bombers (AKA the B-25 Mitchell) of the USMC VMB-611 in Moret Field, Zamboanga, Mindanao. Although a late arrival, the squadron made a major contribution in the Mindanano campaign. (marinewarriors.com)

On June 14, twelve F4Us and PBJs, directed by Captain Kellet from the L-5, hit San Luis. The following day, GSAP #3 crews and guerrillas directed rocket attacks by PBJs in the San Luis-Baylo sectors, causing the enemy to abandon positions on both sides of the Agusan River.

Final Report

The surrender of the Empire of Japan was announced by Japanese Emperor Hirohito on 15 August and formally signed on 2 September 1945, bringing the hostilities of World War II to a close.

Eight days after the Japanese surrender, only Captain Kellet and Staff Sgt. Smith remained at the GSAP #3 headquarters in Camp Keithley. The rest of the team flew out on a C-47 the following day.

In its final report to the 13th Air Force, GSAP #3 listed its involvement in over forty air strikes for close support missions, and in addition, over a hundred more missions on reconnaissance, supply drops, air crew rescues and other related missions.

The air strikes caused an estimated 3,500 to 4,000 enemy casualties, and caused them to evacuate from forty to fifty towns and barrios.

After a farewell dinner with Tenth Military District Officers still remaining at Camp Keithley, Captain Kellet and Staff Sgt. Smith, departed on a C-47 and submitted their final report to Major General P.B. Wurtsmith, commanding the 13th Air Force, the following day.

Colonel Fertig stated in a related report that the GSAP #3 unit “had made a tremendous contribution to the overall success of the guerrilla movement during the pre-invasion period.

 In analyzing the GSAP #3 role in the guerrilla effort,  he further noted that “before two of the three invasions by US troops, the Japanese had been driven out of their coastal strongholds by the bombing and strafing attacks directed by Captain Kellet and his men.”

And lest we forget, the name and contributions of Commander Charles “Chick” Parsons in coordinating the guerrilla efforts on the ground with initially, the SpyRon Submarine missions, and later with Task Force 70.4, and still later, made possible the key support role played by the 13th Air Force GSAP #3 in leveraging the guerrillas of Mindanao as a force multiplier that enabled the invading US forces to judiciously employ their available personnel and resources for maximum effect, and shorten the war in Southern Philippines.

Bibliography & Works Consulted

108th Division Unit History dated 9th June 1944, Chapter IV, 108th Division Combat History from December 1942 to August 31, 1944. (PVAO Digitized Collection)

Australian War Memorial

Chapin, John C. (Captain,  USMCR, Ret). AND A FEW MARINES: Marines in the Liberation of the Philippines, Phase Three: Mindanao. 1997.History and Museums Division, Headquarters, U.S. Marine Corps

Boggs, Charles W. Jr. (Major USMC). 1951. Marine Aviation in the Philippines. Chapter IV. Southern Philippines Operations. Pages 111, 112, 117.  Historical Division, Headquarters, US Marine Corps. US Government Printing Office.

Chilvers, Colin. Sandakan Prisoner of War Camp WWII – Northwest Borneo. (Retrieved 22 April 2022)

Eisner, Peter, “Without Chick Parsons, General MacArthur May Never Have Made His Famed Return to the Philippines,” Smithsonian Magazine, September 2017. 

Gilling, Tom. Jock McLaren, Australia’s ‘cloak and dagger’ war hero, The Weekend Australian, January 30, 2021 (Retrieved April 24, 2021)

Guerrilla Submarines. west-point.org

History of the 110th Division, 10th Military District (MD) (PVAO Digitized Collection), pp. 3, 4, 5,

History of the Mindanao Guerrillas,10th Military District, United States Armed Forces in the Far East (USFIP) unpublished manuscript by the American Guerrillas of Mindanao (AGOM)

Holmes, Kent. Wendell Fertig and His Guerrilla Forces in the Philippines: 1942-1945) pp. 110

Ilogon, Jesus B., Memoirs of the Guerrillas: The Barefoot Army, pp. 47-49 (unpublished manuscript)

Ingham, Travis. 1945. Rendezvous by Submarine: The Story of Charles Parsons and the Guerrilla-Soldiers in the Philippines. Doubleday, Doran and Company. ASIN: B000W7ACKE. New edition: MacArthur’s Emissary, with new Preface by Steve Chadde, CreateSpace, 2014. ISBN 978-1495308802ISBN 1495308804

Keats, John. (1965). They Fought Alone. Pocket Books, Inc. OCLC 251563972, pp. 358-359, 375-379, 383

Mayo, Lida. CHAPTER XXII. The Philippines: The Southern Islands. The Ordnance Department: On the Beachhead and Battlefront, United States Army in World War II, The Technical Services. 1991. Center Of Military History, United States Army, Washington, D.C. Library of Congress Catalog Card Number: 67-60000. First Printed 1968-CMH Pub 10-11, pages 429, 435

Parsons, Peter. Commander Chick Parsons and the Japanese. Related narrative by Peter Parsons, Charles Parsons’ son, about his and his father’s experiences before, during, and after the war.

Philippine Regional Sectionand Spyron In Australia During Ww2ozatwar.com

Rosenquist, Harold A., Operations Report, Malabang, Lanao Province dated 28 March 1945. Archived Copy. Philippine Veterans Affairs Office. Retrieved 4 August 2022.

Schmidt, Larry. (1982). American Involvement in the Filipino Resistance on Mindanao During the Japanese Occupation, 1942–1945. (PDF). M.S. Thesis. U.S. Army Command and General Staff College. 274 pp., pp. 211-212

Smith, Brayton L., Jr., U.S. (1984). A History of G.S.A.P. #3 (Limited First Edition), US 13th Air Force, World War II, Guerrilla Support Air Party #3, On Mindanao, in the Philippines. Competitive Enterprises, Inc., Apollo Books

Summary report of thirteen missions to supply guerrilla forces on various enemy held islands in the Philippine area by units of task group 70.4 under command of Lt. Albert C. Eldridge, NavSource Online: Amphibious Photo Archive. Task Group 70.4

Wallace, Walter. Escape from hell: the Sandakan story. London, Robert Hale, 1958.

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Annex 1

From 1942 to 1945, Thirteenth Air Force staged out of tropical jungles on more than 40 remote islands including the Gilbert and Marshall Islands campaignMariana and Palau Islands campaign and the Philippines campaign (1944–45), thus earning the nickname, “The Jungle Air Force.” The command’s units participated in a total of five different operation areas and 13 campaigns.

Thirteenth Air Force along with Fifth Air Force in Australia and Seventh Air Force in Hawaii were assigned to the newly created Far East Air Forces (FEAF) on 3 August 1944. FEAF was subordinate to the U.S. Army Forces Far East and served as the headquarters of Allied Air Forces Southwest Pacific Area. By 1945, three numbered air forces—5th, 7th and 13th—were supporting operations in the Pacific.

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