(Feature) Japs invasion of the Philippines on Dec. 8, 1941 recalled

December 8, 2015 7:51 am 

By Ben Cal

MANILA, Dec. 7 (PNA) — Seventy-four years ago on Tuesday (Dec. 8), Japanese war planes sneaked into Philippine airspace and without warning bombed Baguio City that triggered World War II in the Pacific.

Retired Brig. Gen. Arnulfo D. Bañez, then a 17-year-old Bachelor of Arts student was attending classes at the University of the Philippines (UP) in Baguio City that fateful morning of Dec. 8, 1941 when he and his classmates heard the sounds of planes.

Thinking the planes were United States aircraft that fly daily over Baguio City, they raced outside their classroom to view the planes, but suddenly their excitement turned bizarre when they saw the planes were bombing the city.

“This is war,” a terrified young Bañez murmured to himself at the time, as told this writer in an interview recalling his days as a guerrilla fighter during World War II.

Meanwhile, Brig. Gen. Resty Aguilar, acting chief of historical records of the Philippine Veterans Affairs Office (PVAO) in Camp Aguinaldo, said that PVAO records show that the Japanese planes originally planned to bomb the U.S. Clark Air Base in Pampanga where American warplanes were based, but diverted their plan because the sky over Clark was foggy and bombed Baguio City up north instead.

Nevertheless, the Japanese later came back to Clark Air Base and bombed and practically destroyed all U.S. aircraft on the ground.

But for Bañez, now 92, the Japanese invasion in the Philippines and his being a guerrilla fighter are still fresh on his mind as if it was only yesterday.

He said that as guerrilla fighters, he and his companions had sacrifice so much, such as lack of food, water and medicines but they had to persevere to defend freedom and democracy.

“As a ragtag fighting unit, the guerrillas utterly lacked weapons, ammunition, two-way radios, combat shoes and medicines. We have to take in stride the shortage of these badly needed armaments in fighting the well-equipped Japanese forces. Because we didn’t have radios, we could not communicate to other units, but we continued to fight and attack the enemy. Initially, the guerrilla forces were not highly organized that in many occasions we launched our attack with little coordination. It was a situation we have to contend with at the start. Nevertheless, we survived somehow because of our determination to defeat the enemy,” Bañez narrated.

"Despite our shortcomings, we overran several Japanese detachments in La Union, Ilocos Sur and other areas surrounding Bessang Pass,” he said.

The guerrillas were organized by provinces that speak the same dialects to avoid any communication barrier. Ilocano-speaking guerrillas grouped themselves and guerrillas coming from Central Luzon and Manila and Southern Luzon had their own groups.

“During the war, Tagalog, the Pilipino language, was not spoken in many parts of the country, but for us to understand each other we speak in English which was prevalent,” he said.

“Our strategy was to launch an attack by squad. Some were armed with guns and some had bolos and we call them bolo men. They were mostly our runners, messengers and watchers in our outposts. But some of them acquired guns from Japanese who were slain in battle. Little by little, many guerrillas had their own firearms.”

Gen. Banez said that shortly after Gen. Douglas MacArthur’s forces landed in Leyte on Oct. 20, 1944, U.S. submarines – the USS Gan 206 — sneaked into the coast of San Fernando Bay in La Union on the western side of Northern Luzon where they unloaded huge cache of weapons and ammunition for the guerrillas.

“All of us were jubilant. The arms landing boosted our firepower considerably. This also lifted our morale.”

Since the fall of Bataan on April 9, 1942, Filipino and American guerrillas in Northern Luzon had been fighting the Japanese in a guerrilla warfare though in a limited scale until the guerrillas had acquired new weapons from the Americans following the clandestine landing of a submarine off the coast of La Union towards the later part of 1944.

Like all other areas in the country, La Union was under the control of the Japanese. When the guerrilla forces had acquired new weapons, the probing attacks on La Union were intensified. Adding to the firepower was the air strikes by U.S. warplanes based aboard U.S. aircraft carriers in the China Sea. U.S. aircraft virtually ruled Philippine skies unchallenged.

In his diary, Gen. Banez wrote that American warplanes bombed and strafed Japanese positions in many parts of Northern Luzon, inflicting heavy casualties on the enemy. La Union was heavily bombed. After the air bombardment, guerrilla forces attacked Japanese positions with ferocity. But the Japanese stubbornly held their ground. The fight dragged on for several weeks.

One of the classic battles was the attack on San Fernando Bay, Poro Point where the Japanese were well entrenched, backed by three small tanks. The Japanese had occupied a strategic hill overlooking the San Fernando Bridge. The Japanese tried to blow up the bridge to cut off or at least delay the advancing guerrilla forces, but only one span of the bridge was destroyed, leaving the other intact.

“The fighting was unique in a sense that during the day, we (the guerrillas) controlled the town because the Japanese had gone in hiding in a forested area. We tried to look for them but could not locate their clandestine hiding place,” Gen. Banez, then a corporal in the guerrilla force, said.

“But as darkness fell, the Japanese with their three small tanks roamed the place and controlled the whole area. The tanks were armed with the deadly .37mm cannons each. They patrolled the whole town proper and its periphery looking for us. As soon we heard the rumblings of the tanks' engines we ran for our lives. It was scary. Some of us were not so lucky. The tanks patrolled from dusk to dawn before returning to their enclave,” Gen. Banez said.

“Every time we tried to follow the tanks to find their hideout, but we backed off because the Japanese fired their cannons. We had to be very careful not to be within the firing range of the cannons. Nevertheless, we continued to pursue with utmost caution until finally we found their clandestine hideout which was near a water reservoir uphill north of the Carlatan Bridge. It was a strategic position overlooking the bridge and adjoining areas.

“Destroying the tanks had been our obsession. That opportunity came when we captured a 37mm cannon left behind by the Japanese following a firefight. We positioned the captured cannon on the side of the road near the hideout of the tanks. Our plan was to open fire as soon as a tank popped out from their hideout. But our problem was the cannon had no steel mounting, neither a sight. We have no choice but to use it as our only anti-tank weapon. As soon as the tanks were on sight we fired, then scampered before the Japs could retaliate. We did not hit any of the tanks.”

“Before we knew it, tanks were chasing us. We scampered to different directions. This had been almost a daily routine for several weeks. It was virtually a cat-and-mouse game. But it was the only way to fight the heavily armed Japanese. The enemy, who occupied a vantage point, built pillboxes at their enclave and a tunnel from uphill connecting to the ground. The exit was in the southern part of San Fernando leading to Bacsil district.

“The fight had to be sustained. We have burned our bridges. One guerrilla officer who led the offensive was Capt. Pio Escober, commanding officer of the Company “K”, 3rd Battalion of the 121st Regiment. Capt. Escobar’s brand of leadership was very encouraging for all of us that we scored victory after victory against the Japanese who were on the retreat,” Gen. Banez said.

“I was the machine gunner of the unit. I was armed with a .30 caliber machine gun. But the machine gun had no tripod, and I had difficulty controlling it every time I fired. But it was enough for the enemy to know that we had some firepower.

“The Japanese were strategically located uphill and were well-entrenched. We have to go up to fight them. During the firefight, the Japanese just rolled their grenades at us as we were in crawling position on the slope of the mountain.”

At the height of the fighting, Banez said he got behind a rock, placed the machine gun above it and fired blindly at the direction of the Japanese. “Whether I hit them, I do not know. I could not stand and fire because that would expose me to the Japanese firepower. During the fighting we were supported by U.S. air power and artillery fire.”

“The air strikes enabled us to advance as the Japanese were in disarray that they left many of their weapons behind as they scampered to several directions. American pilots were so accurate in their bombing runs. Considering the intensity of the fighting, the Japanese were running out of bullets. U.S. pilots were virtually unchallenged. It was unlike the outbreak of the war on Dec. 8, 1941 when the Japanese destroyed almost all U.S. planes on the ground like sitting ducks at Clark Air Base in Pampanga. That horrible scenario was still fresh on my mind.

“But this time it was different. The situation was the reverse. We were winning and the Japanese being clobbered,” Gen. Banez said. “At the height of the offensive, the Americans established an air control team in the town of San Fernando whose function was to guide U.S. planes in their flying combat sorties.

“The Americans asked us (guerrillas) to track down the hiding place of the three Japanese tanks. We immediately carried out the order. Despite the present and imminent danger that we faced, we went to the town plaza to entice the Japanese to get us. It was very risky, but that was the only way to bait the Japanese. As soon as the Japanese tanks arrived at the plaza they were firing their machine guns, followed by a series of salvos from their .37mm guns. We also fired our mini cannon once before we broke out. We did not hit any of the tanks as they rumbled to get us. But we ran as fast as we could to safety,” he said.

The intermittent battle went throughout the night until the wee hours in the morning the following day. By 4 a.m. the tanks rumbled down the road’s plaza as they returned to their enclave several kilometers away north of San Fernando.

“We secretly followed them and pinpointed their location in an uphill area near the water reservoir. We reported our findings to the American air control team who thanked us profusely for the good intelligence information,” Gen. Banez said.

Early morning that day, American pilots took off from the U.S. aircraft carrier off the China Sea for a combat sortie, targeting the three Japanese tanks. “The weather was just perfect. We took our binoculars and scanned the clear blue sky, looking for the first wave of U.S. fighter bombers to appear in the horizon. A few minutes later, we heard the sound of aircraft coming from the western flank. We watched intently as the planes flew over the area. The pilots apparently were sizing up their target before they strike,” Gen. Banez said.

“As soon as they pinpointed the exact location, the first plane dropped napalm bombs, followed by another. At the blink of an eye a wide area was ablaze. So deadly was the napalm bomb that the three Japanese tanks were destroyed and the six Japanese manning the tanks, two for each tank were burned alive.

“After the smoke of battle was clear, we went to the area and discovered the charred remains of the six crew members underneath their tanks, apparently in a last ditch effort to protect them from the air strike,” he said.

The guerrillas proceeded to Poro Point where they found a half submerged Japanese’s transport ship. “We spotted a Japanese navy enlisted man all dressed in white uniform, but he was not carrying any weapon. He raised his hands in surrender.” The area was used by the Japanese as their command post throughout the war.

“From Poro Point, we proceeded inland where we saw mass graves on the roadside, but many of the corpses were not buried. Some of them were left rotting with foul odor inside rows of houses. Some of the battle casualties were women whose remains were already in the advanced state of decomposition, but their long hair were stuck in windows. It was a terrible sight,” Banez said.

The fighting in San Fernando was just one of the many battles the guerrillas had scored against the retreating Japanese while pushing their way towards their main objective — Bessang Pass.

The series of victories had bolstered the self-confidence and determination of the once ragtag guerrilla unit that had been transformed into a well-oiled fighting machine after receiving a shipment of new weapons and ammunition transported secretly by a U.S. submarine towards the end of 1944.

Thus, was the beginning of the crushing defeat of the Japanese Imperial Army in the Pacific in World War 2. (PNA)

SCS/RBC/EBP

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