"NEGROS WAS NO PLAYGROUND"
_________________

Lou Aiken

 

 

NEGROS WAS NO PLAYGROUND
"B" Co. in Negros

Louis G. Aiken

 

Hill 3355 was the mountaintop area where a so-called "water-hole" was located. It was  also an escape route for the Japanese moving east from the lowland areas into the mountains. There were roving contingents of Japanese who had heavily engaged the 503rd further north in the TOKAIDO ROAD phase of the fighting. 

Hill 3355 was a bit of terrain which consisted of a number of offshoots or razor back ridges.  These ridges were thin but sufficiently wide for trails and provided damn good defensive positions for a dug-in enemy.  Prior to a company move a "B" Co. patrol was sent part way up the trails leading to the higher ground.  The patrol was hit by enemy fire and in at least one instance by either Japanese mountain mortars or by Japanese artillery fire.

Several days later "B" Co. moved up into the higher ground followed by "A" Co.  Approximately 3/4 of the way up to what they thought was their destination the company encountered a few rounds of enemy fire.  The company moved further up to what they thought was the top, settled in, put up a perimeter defense and awaited further orders.  The following day the company perimeter received some enemy fire from small arms. Several days later there was word of the location of a "watering hole" to the company's left flank and down one of the ridges.  There were definite signs that where "B" Co. was sitting on Hill 3355 (if it really was Hill 3355) they were on a well used trail and that the trail could either split and go down to the lowlands or turn left and go higher up into the mountains.  A patrol of perhaps 15 men were assigned the task of finding and bringing back some water from the watering hole. 1

     The patrol was moving into an area from which enemy fire had been coming the previous day so the patrol moved with extreme caution.  No problems were encountered as the patrol moved along the trail.  Then a small shack was spotted just off the trail.   While the shack was being "checked out," voices were heard coming from the trail below, and the voices were speaking Japanese.  The lead Jap was walking head down, weapon on his shoulder, and using a walking stick to help him with his climb.  The patrol took an ambush position, and the first two Japanese never knew what hit them, and the rest fell off the trail on both sides as they desperately sought cover as they rolled and tumbled down the hill scattering supplies and leaving a few trails of blood. 

    The hill was steep, and there was plenty of cover once they got further down the side of the ridge.  For the patrol to have gone down after them would have been stupid because the size of the enemy group was not known. 

    The "B" Co. patrol found the water hole on the opposite side of the ridge below the small shack, checked it out, filled their canteens and the extra canteens, made a radio report to "B" Co., and re­ceived orders to return to the CP.  That may have been a mistake.  The Japs knew about the water hole also, and they had been bloodied at or near it, which also let them know that the trail wasn't open up ahead; the Americans were there.

    When another "B" Co. patrol went back to the same water hole on a canteen filling mission several days later,  they found that the Japanese had returned to the water hole, had dug-in bunkers and controlled the water hole in force.  This time they controlled the razor back ridge, water and all.  "B" Co. had it once but pulled back.  "C" Co. moved up and their CO was briefed and told the situation as well as could be told.  No one knew just how well the Japs were dug in or what weapons they had or how many men they had.

     However, it was quite apparent that a frontal assault was suicide, and you couldn't flank them due to the steep sides of the ridge.  If you did succeed in by-passing them and hitting them from the rear, the ridge was narrow and such a move would only amount to the same as a rear frontal assault when the Japs turned around on the narrow ridge.  The Japs controlled that portion of the ridge - as "C" Co. found out. 

    After a couple of days of incurring casualties,  the obvious thing to do was to throw white smoke grenades to mark the location, move to a safer position and call in the artillery. And that was what was done. 

    A narrow ridge was hard to hit effectively with artillery fire and the artillery was not very successful in displacing the well dug-in Japanese.  The Japs held on.  Then 4.2 mor­tars were called in, and the high angle boys did a superb job on the Japanese positions.  "C" Co. walked in after it was all over.  They counted 33 dead enemy scattered among the 8 or 9 machine gun positions. 2

    No one would have predicted that almost 6,000 Japanese (well fed and well armed) would come out onto the surrender fields.  Opinions have been forthcoming that had the Japanese commander known how thinly the 503rd forces were stretched that he could have retaken Negros.  I don't agree with that because their strength and their survival depended on not providing us with targets.  He knew that he had to wait for Japanese reinforcements in strength.  The Japanese, in my opinion, fought a brilliant defensive campaign on Negros.

    "B" Co. continued with the rest of the 1st Bn. to advance further up Hill 3355.  Some attacks on ridges were supported by artillery fire. The fighting on these razor-backs  was repetitive.  Patrols went out and if contact was made with the enemy then fire fights resulted.  Some of the movement was by company supporting another company.  And then, finally, the second phase of the fighting was over.  It seems that the Japs had just melted away.  The 1st Bn. was moved into locations, as was the rest of the regiment, which guarded bridges, ammo dumps, supply dumps, and communities from Pulupandan on the southwest coast of Negros to Fabrica on the northern coast. 3

    One day "B" Co. was called on to take a motorized patrol from Bacolod City on the western coast of Negros to San Carlos, located about 90 miles directly across the island on the eastern coast of Negros.  The patrol consisted of three or four ton trucks, a reinforced platoon and heavy radio equipment.  The trip was quite scenic, mountain gardens, valleys, etc.  All went well until the convoy encountered a very large wooden bridge, no railings, just planking for vehicle wheel movement and a few holes.  The bridge was built on pilings and was very well bridged from the center to the bottom of the gully over which it passed. The bridge was about 100 feet in length, and the gully was about 75-100 feet in depth.  After a test run of the first vehicle the other vehicles were moved across without incident.  The bridge proved to be quite sturdy and was later reinforced, and used regularly by the ration and mail trucks arriving regularly in San Carlos. The patrol arrived in San Carlos late in the day, set up a CP in a school building, set-up a radio and put out security patrols to determine if there were any Japs in the area. 

    The Filipinos assured us that the Japanese had all vanished to the mountains, and it appeared that this was indeed the case.  Louis believes that this happened early in June 1945.  The primary patrol sent out smaller patrols in several different directions and encountered no Japanese, just found areas where they had been.  The detail returned to Bacolod area approximately a week later, and then the entire company moved to the San Carlos area and evidently the entire 1st Bn, moved into or around the area. "B" Co. moved out past the town on a river from which a number of patrols were later conducted.  Contact with the enemy was only on a "now and then" basis. 

    Then came the dropping of the atomic bombs. As far as Louis was concerned, the bomb drops were rumors and didn't have a damn thing to do with any war on Negros.  So patrolling con­tinued, but then everything stopped, and it was all over.

    The Japanese began to surrender all over the island of Negros, and "B" Co. had approximately 500-600 located in a pasture area with 2 or 3 strands of barbed wire around the area.  And it was over and they were as glad as we were.

    "B" Co. had 4 different CO's on Negros and one of them, Lt. Fred Goetz, was CO three times.  The CO position changed hands six times for "B" Co. from April through early July 1945.  The CO's were:

 

           1.

              Wirt Cates

           KIA

2.

Fred Goetz

 

3.

McCall

KIA

4.

Fred Goetz

 

5.

Magnus Smith

Rotated

6.

Fred Goetz

 

 

" I've thought about the situation and believe that people, old officers, etc. were being replaced, young and inexperienced officers assumed command, the units were scattered from hell to breakfast, everybody was understrength, reports were not properly maintained, and generally nobody, so it seems, actually knew what the hell was going on on Negros. You ask me where the 1st Bn. was - hell, we didn't know ourselves. Just put one foot in front of the other, day-by-day and if a Jap jumped up - shoot him! Only answer I can give you." 

        

 Louis Aiken

FOOTNOTES (by John D. Reynolds)

Footnote #1: I want to inject some of my own personal recollections at this point.  Water was a precious commodity. I recall that one of the many things I was not made aware of in basic training was the possible need for carrying two canteens.  For those infantry soldiers fighting in the 503rd, two canteens were standard equipment.  It didn't take you long to learn that you emptied one first and at that point in time you became extremely conscious of the need to get it refilled before you found yourself with two empty canteens.    As I look back on it, I can't believe some of the water I drank.  Thank God for Halazone tablets!  So, I can easily understand what the "watering hole patrol" was all about.  <BACK> 

Footnote 2: This related episode at the water hole typifies the di­rection in which future fighting on Negros would take place.  The 503rd forces had been depleted to the point where they could not afford to engage the Japs in assaults on dug-in positions, especially strong-points containing multiple pill boxes with interlocking covering fire. Once contacts of strong points were made those contacts were broken and artillery and mortar fire were called in on the Jap strong points.

However, the Japanese learned also.  They learned not to establish these kinds of defensive positions because they knew only too well what would happen and what the results would be because of the tactics now being applied against them.  

The fighting in this second phase on Negros, in my opinion, probably had a lot to do with the type of cam­paign that was waged in the fourth and final phase of the Negros mission, beginning about 9 July 1945 and lasting until hostilities ceased.  In this phase the Japanese were hard to find.  They kept clear of most American patrols and seemed to melt away into the vast reaches of the high mountainous terrain which dominated the north central part of the island.  There were a lot of places they could conceal themselves.  <BACK>

 

Footnote #3:   This time period has been called "Phase III" of the Negros mission.  It lasted for approximately 28 days, starting on 10 June 1945 and ending on 8 July 1945.  The regiment was stretched for some~~0 miles along the coast.  Sometime during the latter part of this phase the action which Louis Aiken speaks of next takes place.  <BACK>

 

 

   

 

 

 

 

         

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