Rescue at Cabanatuan
Dr. Michael J. King
Editor's note: This article once appeared on the website of the U.S. Army Ranger Association without attribution. Through the courtesy of Anthony D. King, we now know that the item is actually part of a document called "Leavenworth Papers No. 11, Rangers: Selected Combat Operations in World War II" by Dr. Michael J. King, U.S Army Command and General Staff College. The entire document can be seen at www.cgsc.army.mil/carl/download/csipubs/king.pdf
The rescue of 511 American and Allied prisoners from a Japanese POW compound near Cabanatuan in the Philippines by elements of the 6th Ranger Battalion, reinforced by Alamo Scouts and Filipino guerrillas, was the most complex operation that Rangers conducted during World War II. It was also one of the most successful.
The 6th Ranger Battalion had its roots in the 98th Field Artillery Battalion. The 98th was activated at Ft. Lewis, Washington, in January 1941, and subsequently served in New Guinea. In April 1944, it was at Port Moresby as part of Sixth Army. Unknown to the 98th's men, events had already transpired that would lead to the unit's redesignation and reorganization.
In late 1943, Lieutenant General Walter Krueger, who had recently become commanding general of Sixth Army, created an elite force that he named the Alamo Scouts. The scouts were loosely patterned after the Navy's frogmen and conducted reconnaissance and other special missions behind enemy lines in teams usually composed of one officer and six enlisted men. They were extremely successful and within nine months won nineteen Silver Stars, eighteen Bronze Stars, and four Soldier's Medals without suffering any losses. Krueger was so favorably impressed with the scouts' effectiveness that he decided to create a bigger force to do on a large scale what the scouts had done on a small one. The new unit would be created from the 98th Field Artillery Battalions.
Krueger selected Lieutenant Colonel Henry A. Mucci, an aggressive 1936 West Point graduate, to lead the soontobeformed battalion. Mucci arrived in Port Moresby to assume command of the 98th in April 1944, and on 25 September, the unit was redesignated the 6th Ranger Infantry Battalion. In the interim, Mucci put the men through a strenuous training program very similar to that which Darby's Rangers had undergone. He also encouraged all men who did not want to be Rangers to transfer to other units so the battalion would be manned exclusively by volunteers.
The 6th Ranger Battalion was introduced to combat in the Philippines, where it successfully conducted several important operations. It landed on the islands of Dinagat, Guiuan, and Homonhan on 17 October 1944, three days before the main American invasion, and destroyed radio facilities and other Japanese positions guarding the entrance to Leyte Gulf Some minor security missions followed and on 10 January 1945, the day after Sixth Army landed on Luzon, the Rangers also landed, but only to spend most of the next two weeks as Krueger's headquarters guard.
Initial Japanese resistance on Luzon was relatively weak, and Sixth Army made very good headway during its drive eastward from Lingayen Gulf. Major General Oscar W. Griswold's XIV Corps, which included the 37th and 40th Infantry Divisions and formed Sixth Army's right, drove toward Tarlac, Clark Field, and San Fernando. Major General Innis P. Swift's I Corps, which included the 6th and 43d Infantry Divisions and formed Sixth Army's left, pushed northward into the mountains toward Baguio. After being reinforced by the 25th Infantry Division, I Corps continued to drive eastward through the Cabaruan Hills toward San Jose.
At about daybreak on 26 January, advance reconnaissance units of the 6th Infantry Division occupied Guimba and, within hours, established outposts nine miles farther to the east along the Licab River. They also took La Paz, farther to the south, thus establishing a solid front that was more than eighteen miles wide and had Licab at its center.
As Sixth Army entered central Luzon, Krueger began planning the liberation of American and Allied prisoners held in a compound at Pangatian, five miles east of Cabanatuan. Krueger had first learned of the existence of the camp when he landed on Lingayen Gulf and was met by a number of American officers who had remained in the Philippines since 1942 leading Filipino guerrillas against the Japanese. Army Major Robert Lapham, who had been conducting guerrilla operations in the northern part of Nueva Ecija province where the compound was located, was one of these officers. As Sixth Army entered Nueva Ecija province, Filipino runners constantly kept him informed of the situation at the camp.
The compound would present an extremely difficult challenge to any prospective liberator. In addition to being behind enemy lines, it was in the mainstream of Japanese troop movements. Because of the rapid advance of American forces from the southwest, the Japanese were withdrawing toward the north and east along the Cabanatuan CityBalocSan Jose and Cabanatuan CityCabuRizal highways. They moved at night to avoid being seen by American aircraft and rested during the day in concealed areas and transit camps. The POW compound at Pangatian did double duty as a transit camp. Furthermore, Japanese tanks used the roads in the Pangatian area regularly, and there had been reports of dense Japanese troop concentrations in nearby Cabanatuan City and Cabu.
The Japanese had already evacuated many of the prisoners, and Sixth Army headquarters feared that they might move the remainder to the northeast or kill them to prevent their liberation. If these possibilities were to be averted, the Americans would first have to take the compound by surprise before their own main forces arrived in the area and then evacuate the prisoners to friendly lines before the Japanese could react. Krueger assigned this difficult mission to the 6th Ranger Battalion on the recommendation of his G2, Colonel Horton White.
The force Mucci assembled for the operation consisted of himself; Company C, commanded by Captain Robert W. Prince; 2d Platoon, Company F. commanded by First Lieutenant John F. Murphy; two teams of Alamo Scouts; and four combat photographers from the 832d Signal Service Battalion. The Alamo Scouts would be an especially valuable asset, for both teams had worked together in freeing thirtytwo Javanese civilians held by the Japanese at Moari, New Guinea, in October 1944. The mission had been a complete success; the prisoners were freed, the Japanese guards were annihilated, and no Scouts were lost. The total strength of Mucci's force was 8 officers and 120 enlisted men.
Map and ground reconnaissance would be important during both the planning and execution phases of the operation. Mucci's men used aerial photographs in their planning, and every officer and enlisted man familiarized himself with the routes, rendezvous points, and the location of the objective. The Air Corps would provide air cover and send information gained during reconnaissance to Sixth Army. Army would then send the intelligence it developed to a forward base at Guimba, from which it would be relayed to the Rangers, who would carry an SCR 694 radio for the primary purpose of receiving it.
The Alamo Scouts would also play a key role in the surveillance of the objective. Both scout teams would leave the Rangers' base camp at Calasiao on the afternoon of 27 January, march to a guerrilla headquarters at Guimba where they would be joined by native guides, and then go to Platero three miles north of the objective. They would contact local guerrillas there and keep the compound under surveillance to determine the number of Japanese troops, who the guards were, and what the guards' routines were. The scouts would then furnish that information to the Rangers when the latter arrived in the area.
The Rangers would move to Guimba, about seventyfive miles east of base camp, on 28 January and pick up an eightyman guerrilla force and native guides at a nearby guerrilla camp. They would then march on a route chosen by local civilians and rendezvous with the Alamo Scouts and a second eightyman guerrilla force at Balincarin, about five miles northeast of the objective, on 29 January. They would complete their plans there and, unless the situation had changed, conduct the operation that night.
Following Mucci's instructions, the Rangers wore soft caps and fatigue uniforms with no insignias or badges of rank. Riflemen carried their choice of M1 rifle or M1 carbine; the weapons sections carried Browning automatic rifles, and most noncommissioned officers carried a Thompson submachine gun and a .45caliber pistol. Mucci was armed with only a .45caliber pistol, but most officers carried rifles in addition to their pistols.
Each medic was armed with a pistol and either a rifle or a carbine. Each man carried a trench knife and at least two bandoleers of ammunition and two hand or rifle grenades.
With its preliminary planning complete, Mucci's force left base camp by truck convoy at 0500 on 28 January, halted at Guimba, and left with native guides at 1400 to march to a guerrilla camp near Lobong about five miles to the southeast. Guerrilla Captain Eduardo Joson, who had worked with Major Lapham before the American return to the Philippines, joined the Rangers there with eighty men. Although the civilian population was overwhelmingly friendly toward Americans, Joson feared the possibility of a clash with Communist Huk guerrillas operating in the area and took necessary precautions. He left twenty armed men to guard the camp at Lobong and sent most of his guerrillas far out to Mucci's flanks to prevent the column from being ambushed. The force then marched east.
Except for the area east of Lobong, which was heavily forested, much of the march was through open grasslands and rice paddies. The force crossed into enemy territory about a mile south of Baloc after dark, forded the Talavera River at midnight, crossed the Rizal highway at 0400 the following morning, and arrived at Balincarin at 0600. The Rangers' detailed planning, thorough map reconnaissance, and guerrilla support proved effective; in spite of the frequent lack of concealment and the sighting of Japanese tanks on major roads, the force completed the fourteenmile march from Lobong without incident.
At Balincarin, the Rangers met Lieutenants Thomas Rounsaville and William Nellist of the Alamo Scouts and learned that the scouts were still gathering information the Rangers would need for their final plans. They were soon joined by guerrilla Captain Juan Pajota, who had worked with Major Lapham and was the guerrilla area commander at Cabu, and his force of approximately 90 armed and 160 unarmed men. (See map 5 below.)
Rounsaville, Nellist, and Pajota all told of large numbers of Japanese troops in the area. The highway in front of the camp had been heavily traveled by withdrawing Japanese during the previous twentyfour hours and two to three hundred enemy were bivouacked on Cabu Creek, a mile north of the compound. Pajota's men also reported that at least one Japanese division was at Cabanatuan City less than four miles to the south. The number of Japanese in the area convinced Mucci that a delay in the operation would be prudent, and he decided to postpone the raid for twenty-four hours.
Cabanatuan Operation: routes to and from the objective, January 1945.
Although the available information did not permit Mucci to complete his plan, the Rangers and guerrillas did what they could with the information they had to assure the success of the mission. Prince and Pajota arranged to have the guerrillas provide allaround security, assemble a carabaocart train large enough to carry 200 liberated POWs, and prepare food for 650 men along the return route. The guerrillas instructed the civilians north of the Cabanatuan CityCabu highway to remain in the area but to detain outsiders who might enter it until after the prisoners were freed. The guerrillas also told them to pen all chickens and tie and muzzle all dogs 80 the animals would remain silent while Mucci's column passed through the area. Civilians in the vicinity of the objective were told to leave for the sake of their safety but to do so gradually in order not to alert the Japanese.
Mucci's force, flanked by Joson's and Pajeta's guerrillas, left Balincarin for Platero about two and onehalf miles to the south shortly after 1600. When it was about halfway to Platero, the force was joined by Alamo Scouts who updated Mucci's knowledge of the situation. The scouts verified what Rounsaville, Nellist, and Pajota had already stated but added that a new Japanese force of about division strength was heading toward Bongabon from the southwest. The news that even more Japanese were in the area confirmed the wisdom of Mucci's decision to delay the operation.
The Rangers entered Platero at dusk and were met by the town's inhabitants, who greeted them with a choral welcome and a sumptuous meal. While most of the column was resting, planning and reconnaissance continued. Mucci's officers and noncommissioned officers worked with Filipinos to convert a onestory wooden building into an emergency hospital while the Alamo Scouts and guerrillas completed their reconnaissance, verified maps and aerial photographs, and selected provisional firing positions.
The new information they gained was highly detailed and made precise final planning possible. They determined that the stockade was on the south side of the Cabanatuan CityCabu highway, measured 600 by 800 yards, and was enclosed by three barbed wire fences about four feet apart and six to eight feet high. Other less formidable barbed wire fences divided the camp into several compartments. The main entrance was barred by an eightfoothigh gate secured with a heavy lock and was guarded by one sentry who stood in a wellprotected shelter. There were also three occupied twelvefoothigh guard towers and one pillbox that was occupied by four heavily armed men. One building inside the compound was believed to contain four tanks and two trucks.
Although only seventy three Japanese were on guard at the stockade, about one hundred and fifty additional troops had entered the compound at 1100, apparently to rest. The large Japanese force that had been at the stockade the day before had left early on the morning of the 30th, and traffic on the nearby highway was light. The nearest outside threat to the success of the mission was a force of about eight hundred Japanese with tanks and trucks at Cabu. The prisoners were housed in buildings in the northwest corner of the compound, and activity in the camp appeared to be normal.
With the reconnaissance complete and conditions favorable, Mucci confirmed his decision to attack at dusk. The men were thoroughly briefed, and each man was assigned a mission and instructed on his responsibilities. Mucci considered surprise essential and told his men to make every effort to gain it. The plan was logical and provided for the methodical accomplishment of the mission.
Captain Jason's guerrillas were to establish a roadblock on the main highway and 800 yards southwest of the compound to stop any Japanese who might come out of Cabanatuan City. A sixman bazooka team under Staff Sergeant James O. White of 2d Platoon, Company F. would give the guerrillas antitank protection. Captain Pajota's guerrillas were to establish a roadblock at the highway bridge over Cabu Creek 300 yards northeast of the compound and stop any Japanese who might come out of Cabu. The guerrillas were also to cut the phone lines linking the camp to the outside just prior to the attack.
On Pajota's recommendation, an American airplane would buzz the compound just prior to the attack. The guerrillas had noted that the camp guards kept their eyes skyward when American aircraft were in the area, and Pajota believed that a welltimed overflight would distract Japanese from the Rangers as they crept forward.
The 2d Platoon, Company F, was to eliminate the guards at the rear entrance of the stockade and prevent Japanese from moving into the area of the compound occupied by the prisoners. Six men from the platoon were also detailed to destroy the pillbox at the northeast corner of the stockade.
The 1st Platoon, Company C, led by First Lieutenant William J. O'Connell, was to force the front gate of the compound open and kill Japanese in several known locations. In particular, 1st Section, led by Staff Sergeant Preston N. Jensen, was to attack across the highway, kill the guards at the gate and in nearby guardhouses, and gain entrance to the compound. The 2d Section, led by Sergeant Homer E. Britzius, was to cross the highway to the right of 1st Section and support 1st Section's action by firing at enemy positions through the fence. Weapons Section, led by Staff Sergeant Manton P. Stewart, was to follow 1st Section through the gate and then move to the right of 1st Section and advance to destroy with bazooka fire the building housing the tanks and trucks. The 2d Section wee to lift its fire as Weapons Section went in, and then pass through the gate and move to the right edge of the stockade to prevent Japanese from escaping.
The 2d Platoon, Company C, led by First Lieutenant Melville H. Schmidt, was to follow 1st Platoon into the compound, open the prisoners' section of the camp, and begin evacuating them while providing its own close fire support. In particular, 1st Section, led by Staff Sergeant Clifton Harris, was to enter the compound after 1st Platoon, force the entrance to the prisoners' enclosure, and fire on the pillbox under attack by 2d Platoon, Company F. The 2d Section, led by Staff Sergeant William R. Butler, was to follow let Section in and then go to the right flank of the prisoners' enclosure to prevent Japanese from entering it. Weapons Section, led by Staff Sergeant August T. Stern, Jr., was to remain in reserve at the beginning of the attack and then direct the prisoners through the main gate and start them on the march north.
When all prisoners were clear of the compound and on their way to friendly lines, Captain Prince was to signal the Rangers to withdraw by firing a red flare from the rear of the column. When the column was at least a mile from the camp, Prince would signal the guerrillas manning the roadblocks to withdraw by firing a second flare. After withdrawing, the guerrillas would provide rear and flank security for the column.
The Alamo Scouts kept the stockade under continuous surveillance immediately prior to the attack. Civilian runners maintained communication between the scouts and the main body at Platero and carried periodic intelligence reports to Mucci, who was thus kept informed of the situation at the objective.
Mucci, his Rangers, and their Filipino and American attachments left Platero for the objective at 1700 on 30 January. The entire force under Mucci's command numbered nearly 375. Only a radio crew, which was to maintain communication between the Rangers and higher headquarters, had been left behind in Platero where several armed villagers provided security. Unknown to Mucci, Pajota had already sent an additional 400 guerrillas ahead. Pajota had not told the Americans about these men or about their four watercooled .30caliber machine guns because he wanted to use them as he thought best without having to discuss the matter with Mucci. Half the men, Squadrons 200 and 202, were to form a reserve near Joson's roadblock. The other half, Squadrons 201A and 204, were to position themselves near Manacnac on the enemy side of Cabu Creek. This latter group was to attack the Japanese from behind if they threatened to cross the Cabu before the Rangers had completed their mission.
On the first leg of its march to the objective, the column advanced along a wellconcealed, narrow dirt trail that cut through tall grass and bamboo. After marching a half mile, the force reached the Pampanga River and split into three elements. Pajota and Joson led their men across the river and headed toward their blocking positions, while Mucci led the main body across the river and toward the compound. Although Mucci's aerial photograph showed only short grass, rice paddies, and shallow ponds covering the two miles between the river and the objective, high grass covered almost half the distance and gave the Rangers concealment to within about a mile of the compound. It was 1800 and twilight when Mucci's force reached the far side of the grassy area. Stretching before them to the south for more than a mile lay a treeless, shrub-less plain of rice paddies and ponds. Only a single nipa hut a mile ahead broke the flatness of the horizon.
The 2d Platoon, Company F, which was to kill the guards at the rear of the stockade, split off from the main body and headed east under its platoon leader, First Lieutenant John F. Murphy. After marching about a half mile, it dropped down into a stream bed that it would follow to the east fence of the compound.
The 1st and 2d Platoons of Company C, led by Company Commander Prince, continued forward another 500 yards before they saw the stockade's guard towers on the horizon. Assuming that if they could see the Japanese, the Japanese could see them, the Rangers dropped to the ground and began crawling toward the compound. It was a mile away, and the Rangers would have to crawl for seventyfive minutes to reach it.
While the Rangers were closing on the objective, the guerrillas were preparing their roadblocks. Pajota's force, strengthened by the men and machine guns he had not told Mucci about, covered the highway, the bridge over Cabu Creek, and other likely rivercrossing sites. The extra men proved useful for it was the dry season, the creek was low, and the Japanese would probably be able to cross the Cabu in many places. Happily for Pajota, the Japanese had not posted guards at the Cabu, and the Filipinos were able to prepare their positions in relative security. Some of the guerrillas crossed to the far side of the creek to lie in ambush while others planted a time bomb under the far end of the bridge. The time bomb, which was one of several delivered by an American submarine, was set to detonate between 1940 and 1950 hours. Mucci had scheduled the attack on the compound to begin shortly after 1930, and Pajota set the bomb with the hope of destroying Japanese who might try to cross the bridge to aid the compound's garrison.
At 1840, threequarters of an hour before the attack was to begin, a single P61 Black Widow from the 547th Night Fighter Squadron approached the objective area as planned. It flew over the bridge and prison compound twice at an altitude of 200 feet, scaring and distracting the Japanese before it left to search for enemy troops who might be on the roads leading to the compound.
Twentyfive minutes after the P61 left, Prince, the 1st and 2d Platoons of Company C, the combat photographers, medics, several guerrillas, and Alamo Scouts completed their milelong crawl and arrived at a drainage ditch across the highway from the main gate of the stockade. There, they were in position to attack.
While Prince's element waited in its assault positions, First Lieutenant John F. Murphy and 2d Platoon, Company F. crept under the highway through a large culvert and advanced toward the back of the compound through a fivefootdeep ditch that ran parallel to and fifty yards outside the compound's east fence. As the Rangers passed the guard tower at the northeast corner of the compound, a sentry in the tower raised his rifle and looked toward the ditch as though alerted to the Americans' presence but soon lowered his weapon, apparently convinced that nothing was there. The Rangers then continued forward undetected, positioning men opposite the guard towers and pillboxes they were to bring under fire. Murphy and the last Rangers to go into position arrived near the rear gate at 1925.
Because Murphy's element had the greatest distance to go to reach its assault positions and would arrive there after the rest of the force was in place, Mucci chose him to give the signal to begin the attack. Murphy's Rangers were in position and ready to attack at 1930, but Murphy wanted to be certain that they were completely prepared and their positions were secure. He thus sent several men to retrace the route the platoon had followed while getting in place, inspect the squad positions, and check nearby buildings to ensure that they were not occupied. These precautions delayed the attack fifteen minutes, but Murphy would be sure that his men were ready.
The moonlight was bright, and the Rangers were able to select their targets while waiting for Murphy's signal. Some aimed at the red glow of cigarettes they saw in the shadows, while others aimed at men relaxing in their underwear inside stilllit barracks. The 150 enemy who were passing the night in the compound and were supposed to leave the following morning were a headquarters unit. The seventythree guards were a polyglot assortment of Japanese, Koreans, and Formosans. They were not a match for the welltrained and highly motivated Rangers.
At 1945, Murphy aimed his M1 rifle at an open window in the nearest barrack and fired. His shot was the signal to begin the attack. Superior leadership, training, combat intelligence, and planning prevailed in the brief encounter that followed. (See map 6 below.)
When Murphy gave the signal to start the attack, Company F began throwing hand grenades and firing carbines, rifles, automatic weapons, and rifle grenades into the compound from outside the east fence. The Rangers concentrated their fire on pillboxes, guard towers, and Japanese who were unfortunate enough to be exposed.
Company C, which had been in position opposite the front of the compound, also began firing on Murphy's signal. The men gave special attention to a waisthigh concrete shelter and guard tower at the main entrance and to a nearby guard shack. A lone enemy soldier who was standing guard in the shelter when the attack began became the initial target of much of the company, and Staff Sergeant James V. Mellican saw the upper half of the man disintegrate in the Rangers' concentrated fire. All guard towers, guard shacks, and pillboxes were neutralized within thirty seconds after Murphy fired the first shot.
The Rangers then stormed the compound. Staff Sergeant Theodore R. Richardson of Company C charged across the highway to the compound's main gate and shattered the lock with a shot from his .45caliber pistol. Two Japanese who tried to prevent the Americans from entering were killed by Richardson and Private First Class Leland A. Provencher.
With the gate open, Staff Sergeant Preston N. Jensen and 1st Section, 1st Platoon, rushed into the camp. To Jensen's right, Sergeant Homer E. Britzius and 2d Section dashed across the highway and gave 1st Section covering fire through the fence. Staff Sergeant Manton P. Stewart's Weapon Section followed 1st Section through the gate and ran 300 yards to the central part of the camp where it destroyed two trucks and a corrugated-metal tank shed with bazooka fire. The assault was proceeding as planned and no American casualties had yet been suffered.
While the Rangers were attacking the compound, Pajota was fighting his own battle at the bridge. When the Filipinos heard Company F's opening shots, they began firing on a Japanese battalion in bivouac less than 300 yards beyond Cabu Creek. The stunned Japanese counterattacked the Filipinos repeatedly in piecemeal fashion, suffering heavy casualties, but were unable to gain ground. Pajota's time bomb blew a gap in the bridge, and his four machine guns killed many Japanese who tried to jump to the Filipino's side of the bridge or cross the creek where it was shallow. Bazookamen with Pajota also put two Japanese tanks and one truck out of action.
Several minutes after the raid began, Private First Class Leland A. Provencher of 1st Platoon, Company C, liberated the first POW. He was an American generator operator who was temporarily away from his fellow captives. The rest of the prisoners would be freed by 2d Platoon, Company C, led by First Lieutenant Melville Schmidt.
The 2d Platoon, Company C, performed its mission smoothly and as planned. The platoon's 2d Section, led by Staff Sergeant William Butler, charged up the compound's central road and joined 1st Platoon in firing to the right and rear into the Japaneseoccupied southwest area of the stockade. The 1st Section, led by Staff Sergeant Clifton Harris, stopped short of 2d Section and turned left to the prisoners' area of the compound, which it entered after shooting the gate's lock off.
What little enemy resistance still remained twelve minutes after the attack began dwindled to a few scattered shots, and the Rangers began leading the first POWs from the compound. Unfortunately, during this phase of the operation, the Rangers suffered their first casualties when a Japanese light mortar fired three rounds toward the front gate and wounded six men. Alamo Scout Rounsaville and battalion surgeon Captain James C. Fisher were among the casualties. Fisher would die before he reached friendly lines.
The Japanese continued to attack Pajota's positions during the evacuation of the compound but remained unable to gain ground or inflict casualties on the Filipinos. Joson's roadblock, in contrast, was not attacked. Any likelihood that it would be attacked ended shortly after 2000 when one of the P61s assigned to provide air cover for the operation strafed and destroyed a Japanese convoy that was heading from San Jose toward Cabanatuan City and the roadblock.
Cabanatuan Operation: Actions at the Objective, January 1945.
At 2015, a half hour into the raid, Prince completed his second search of the POW's area of the compound to ensure that no prisoners were being left behind. When he was satisfied that the area was cleared, he fired one red flare into the sky to begin the withdrawal. Unknown to Prince or anyone else, however, one dysenteryweakened British civilian prisoner had hidden in the latrine at the sound of the first shots and never came out. He would be discovered near the camp after midnight by Filipino guerrillas and rescued. Tragically, one POW had died of an apparent heart attack while being helped out of the compound.
Six men from Company F were the last Americans to withdraw from the objective, and as they did so, the Japanese brought them under fire. The six were trotting along the outside of the compound fence toward the highway when they began receiving scattered rifle shots. Some of the Rangers fired back, while others dashed through the moonlight toward the drainage ditch they had come through during their approach. When Corporal Roy Sweezy turned to fire his M1 at the Japanese, he was shot through the chest with an automatic weapon and died several minutes later. He and the fatally wounded Captain Fisher were the only Rangers to die in the operation.
Most of the Rangers and liberated POWs were at or approaching the Pampanga River by 2030, fortyfive minutes after the raid began. All men except those who were at the roadblocks or on other security missions were across the river by 2045, and Prince fired the flare to signal Joson and Pajota to withdraw. Joson withdrew immediately, sending half his men to provide security around Platero, the first barrio Mucci's column would pass through on its march to friendly lines. The other half of Joson's men would provide flank security for the column when it left Platero. Pajota was unable to withdraw when Prince gave the signal because his men were still battling the Japanese on Cabu Creek. Pajota's fight continued until shortly after 2200 when the exhausted Japanese ended their attack. His guerrillas had virtually destroyed a Japanese battalion without suffering any fatalities or serious wounds. They then withdrew by marching around the battlefield in a southeasterly direction and established themselves as a rear guard on the Pampanga to protect Mucci's column from pursuit.
As successful as the infiltration and raid had been, the Rangers' mission would not be fully accomplished until they safely brought the liberated POWs to friendly lines. All means were taken to assure their safe deliverance. carabao carts that had been requisitioned from local civilians were awaiting the POWs on the south bank of the Pampanga River. The column's first stop was in Platero, where it reorganized and ate. There, guerrilla doctor Carlos Layug treated the sick and wounded. Food and water were provided by local people, and the hospitality and concern the Filipinos displayed in Platero would be shown again by other civilians in other barrios during the remainder of the return march. Those exPOWs who were able to walk went under Ranger escort to Balincarin as soon as they could be assembled. The first of them left Platero at 2100.
When the column reached Balincarin, it received more food and water from local people, as well as fifteen carabao carts to add to the twentyfive it already had. Captain Fisher was left in Balincarin with thirteen Alamo Scouts and Rangers and some guerrillas, and a light aircraft was requested to evacuate them. The aircraft would never arrive, and Fisher would die about the time the main column reached friendly lines.
The column left for the next barrio, Matoas Na Kahey, at midnight and arrived there at 0200 the following morning, 31 January. The civilians at Matoas Na Kahey gave additional food and water to the column and provided it with eleven more carabao carts. When the column left at 0230, it had fiftyone carts and was a mile and a half long.
The most dangerous leg of the return march lay slightly beyond Matoas Na Kahey where the column would cross the Rizal highway. The risk of crossing an insecure highway in enemy territory with a long, slow column of weakened exPOWs was compounded by the fact that difficult terrain on the opposite side of the highway would not permit the column to cross directly over. Instead, it would have to enter the highway and march one mile south before crossing. Because of the length of the column, as much as twothirds of it would be on the highway during the movement.
Discovery by the Japanese would be disastrous. It could not be avoided if the column was on the road at an inopportune time, but discovery could be prevented through proper security. This was provided by First Lieutenant William J. O'Connell's 1st Platoon, Company C. One section of the platoon, armed with a bazooka and antitank grenades, established a roadblock 400 yards northeast of where the column was to enter the road. A second section established another roadblock 3,000 yards to the south. Luckily, no Japanese used the road during the crossing. The column took an hour to clear the highway and did so by 0430 without being discovered. The men halted in a small barrio at 0530 and resumed their march toward friendly lines after a short rest.
The Rangers had been unable to make radio contact with the forward base at Guimba since before the raid began and had not yet informed Sixth Army of their success. They made several more attempts to contact Guimba at about dawn but failed, and at 0800, they arrived at the small town of Sibul. Local people once again provided the column with food and water and with an additional twenty carabao carts. While the column was resting, the base at Guimba succeeded in establishing radio contact. Mucci requested that trucks and ambulances be prepared to meet the column, which resumed its march shortly after 0900.
At about 1100, Technician 5 Patrick Marquis, who was on the point and several hundred yards in advance of the column, was halted by a Sixth Army reconnaissance patrol. The trucks and ambulances Mucci had asked for were only a short distance to the patrol's rear, and an hour later, the former POWs were at the 92d Evacuation Hospital in Guimba. With that, the Rangers' mission was accomplished.
The Cabanatuan prison camp raid was an overwhelming tactical success. At a cost of two Rangers killed, the 6th Ranger Battalion (), reinforced by Alamo Scouts and Filipino guerrillas, liberated 511 American and Allied POWs and killed or wounded an estimated 523 Japanese. Their success was both recognized and rewarded. General Douglas A. MacArthur, who said that the raid was "magnificent and reflect[ed] extraordinary credit to all concerned," awarded the Distinguished Service Cross to Mucci, the Silver Star to all American officers, and the Bronze Star to all American enlisted men who participated in the operation. All Filipino officers and enlisted men were awarded the Bronze Star.
The operation was immediately singled out for special comment in the Sixth Army weekly G2 report, which described it as "an almost perfect example of prior reconnaissance and planning..." It was further held up as demonstrating "what patrols can accomplish in enemy territory by following the basic principles of scouting and patrolling, sneaking and peeping, [the] use of concealment, reconnaissance of routes from photographs and maps prior to the actual operation, ...and the coordination of all arms in the accomplishment of a mission."
All of the principles and techniques that the weekly G2 report pointed out were important because they contributed to the Rangers' undetected approach to the objective, their gaining complete surprise over the Japanese, the smooth assault on the compound, and their successful liberation of the prisoners. Of equal, if not greater, importance was the one indispensable element that the report did not mention an aggressively friendly civilian population. The Filipinos conducted reconnaissance, surveillance, and security missions in support of the operation, chose the routes to and from the objective, fought Japanese in the objective area, provided transportation to friendly lines for the sick and wounded, and provided food and water for all. The success of the mission would have been unlikely without Filipino friendship and support, and impossible had the Filipinos sympathized with the Japanese.
The 6th Ranger Battalion did not take part in major combat operations after Cabanatuan. Their activities in the Philippines were limited to providing security for Sixth Army headquarters, conducting reconnaissance patrols, searching for Japanese stragglers, and eliminating small pockets of enemy resistance. In one such encounter, the Rangers annihilated seventeen saberbearing Japanese officers who had taken shelter in a bunker to avoid Filipino guerrillas. The battalion's records show only one Ranger killed in action, one dead of wounds, and three wounded in all of the operations that followed Cabanatuan. None of these losses were suffered in the incident involving the Japanese officers.
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