General MacArthur wades ashore in the 24th Infantry Division sector, 20 October 1944. (National Archives)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

1st Cavalry Division troops advance inland through swampy terrain. (National Archives)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Infantrymen cautiously move toward an enemy machine gun position. (National Archives)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Japanese transport under attack. (National Archives)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Filipino volunteers carry supplies into the mountains to reach 1st Cavalry Division troops. (National Archives)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

"Liberation Ceremony" by Paul Sample (Army Art Collection)

 

 

 

Cut off from outside sources by our seizure of adjacent islands, the Japanese forces were limited in supplies particularly food. Sufficient weapons and ammunition to effect a limited offensive or a stubborn defense, however, were on hand. Also available to the enemy were machine guns mounted on numerous wrecked planes dotting the island airfields. The food problem had been partially alleviated by commandeering all available civilian stocks.

Guerrilla reports indicated that the Japanese commander, following the now familiar pattern established in the Philippines, intended to make his stand in the central mountains and that such preparations were already underway.

The mission assigned the 40th Division was to:

1. Seize and secure a beachhead in the Pandan Point-Hinigaran area of Negros Occidental.

2. Advance rapidly to the north, seize and secure Bacolod town and airfield.

3. Upon securing Bacolod town and airfield, advance and seize and secure Silay town and airfield.

4. Upon securing the Bacolod-Silay area, and accomplishing the destruction of hostile forces in proximity thereto, conduct operations to the north and east to destroy the enemy.

5. Destroy hostile forces remaining in Negros Occidental.

Y-Day was set for March 29th, H-Hour for 0800. The landing was to be made by RCT 185 in LVTs, followed by RCT 160 (less 2nd Battalion and Cannon Company). After seizing and securing the beachhead, the troops were to push rapidly northward to secure the towns of Bacolod, Talisay and Silay, as well as the adjacent airfields. The 503rd Parachute Combat Team, then on Mindoro, was to be prepared to make an air landing at a time and place to be designated by the Division Commander, at which time it would come under Division control.

Elements of the 40th Reconnaissance Troop were to land shortly after H-Hour and push reconnaissance immediately along the roads north and east to Cancilayan, Murcia, and Concepcion to locate any enemy forces or enemy movement on that flank, with a secondary mission of intercepting and delaying the

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evacuation of enemy forces toward the mountains. At the same time, one platoon of the troop was to perform similar missions in the Maao Sugar Central-La Carlota-San Enrique-Valladolid area south and east of the beachhead.

Of considerable concern was the wide unfordable Bago River, across which our forces would have to move to reach their objective. The 600-foot steel and concrete bridge spanning the river near its mouth was known to be prepared for demolition. Pill-boxes at the north end of the bridge housed controls for electrical detonation. If the bridge were destroyed, which seemed inevitable, our advance to the north would be seriously delayed and the shock of our attack mitigated. If the crossing was to be seized intact, the bridge guard and control operators would have to be completely surprised and quickly overcome. A plan to land a reinforced platoon under cover of darkness three hours prior to the assault landing to secure the crossing was therefore adopted. The mission was assigned to Company F, 185th Infantry.

SEIZURE OF THE WEST COAST

The Division embarked from Panay on March 28th, and the operation proceeded as planned. The reinforced platoon, totaling one officer and 64 men including three heavy weapons squads, a demolition squad, and radio team, landed as scheduled at Pulupandan by LCMs. Its landing was undetected.

Moving inland it observed nine Japs driving carabao carts north along the highway from the town toward the bridge. To avoid disclosing their presence by firing at the Jap party, the platoon raced silently parallel to the highway and reached the bridge first. Had the platoon opened fire before reaching the objective, the bridge guards would have been forewarned, the element of surprise lost, and the mission a failure. Upon reaching the bank of the river, the platoon opened fire on the nine, as-well as the startled bridge guard, while the demolition squad cut the control wires. All Japs were killed in the brief fight. The bridge was secured at the cost of one American life.

Twenty electrically controlled aerial bombs, ranging in size from ten 110-pounders to two of 1000 pounds, were found lashed to the bridge trusses or buried at the abutments.

The main lending three hours later was unopposed. RCT 185, landing battalions in column moved immediately across the secured bridge, passed through Bago town against minor opposition, and moved rapidly to the north. Slight contacts


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were made at several small bridges which had also been mined, but all crossings were secured intact. The first serious enemy resistance was not met until the Magsungay River, 1500 yards south of Bacolod, was reached at 1500. There intense small arms and some 90mm mortar fire was received before the enemy was routed from pillboxes and the crossing secured. It was subsequently determined that the Brigade Headquarters at Bacolod had no knowledge of our landing until our advance elements had reached that point. By dark on Y-Day, the Lupit River bridge at the south edge of Bacolod had also been crossed after flanking the defending enemy pocket.

That night the enemy attempted the first of a series of infiltration attacks on the principal bridges under our control. The Bago bridge guard was fired on by a small party in an unsuccessful attempt to recapture or destroy the crossing. Similar attacks made by small demolition parties continued during the first few weeks at various points on our line of communication, but were repulsed with most of the enemy involved killed.

With our forces at the outskirts of Bacolod prepared to launch an attack in the morning, the hostile garrison evacuated under cover of darkness, leaving only a token force to make our entry as costly as possible. Before leaving, the principal business district was set afire and several ammunition dumps destroyed. The town was secured by noon the following day after eliminating the snipers who had been left behind. Seventy-five enemy dead were counted. Forward elements continued advancing north beyond the town, and by the end of the day had reached  within 500 yards of Talisay without further contact.

To the south, the Reconnaissance troop was carrying out its mission. No contacts developed along the roads in the San Enrique-La Carlota-Pontevedra sector, but civilians reported enemy groups totaling about 200-300 were making their way cross-country through swamps toward the northeast. On T-plus-1, other elements of the Troop, operating in the Alimodian area northwest of Maao Sugar Central, intercepted approximately 125 of that number concealed in a bamboo thicket. Deploying armored cars on three sides of the thicket, the Troop opened fire. A heavy fire fight ensued, until with air support the Troop all but annihilated the enemy force. One hundred fourteen enemy dead were counted, and five Filipino collaborators were captured.

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The following day a platoon from the Reconnaissance Troop reached Murcia and found it recently evacuated, while approximately 6000 yards east of Bacolod the I & R Platoon of the 185th Infantry observed an estimated 100 enemy moving east along the road toward Granada. The group was believed to be the tail end of a larger force moving to Concepcion.A platoon from the Reconnaissance Troop, moving down the same road the following day, met resistance from entrenched enemy at Concepcion. Contact was maintained until the end of the day, when the decision was reached to send one battalion of the 160th Infantry to that area the following morning. During the night the enemy withdrew farther east, and only small contacts were made by the battalion.

What had been anticipated was now evident. The main enemy force did not intend to defend the coastal area, but rather was accelerating the movement of supplies and personnel to the hills surrounding Negritos. Accordingly, the 185th Infantry moved as rapidly as possible to overtake the retreating units. Moving inland from the Bacolod-Talisay area, it quickly secured the Silay airfield area, and the Imbang River bridge, thus reducing the enemy's evacuation routes to those farther north, of which three were most notable. The first and most important was the road leading generally from northeast of Silay along the south bank of the Malago River to Negritos, thence southeast to the Patog area. The Japs had expended considerable labor on the mountain terminus of this road, extending and improving it to their purpose. The second route was southeast from Victorias and north of the Malaga Valley. The third, used by troops evacuating from the Fabrica and northeast coast areas, ran south from Manapla through the barrios of Santa Isabela and San Isidro. Both these latter routes also led into the Negritos area.

At the same time it was occupying the Silay airfield-area, the 185th moved against the town of Talisay. The practically isolated garrison defended bitterly against our attacks from the south and east, and put up heavy fire from all types of weapons up to and including mm mortars. However, the town was taken on April 2nd and on April 3rd, the sixth day of the campaign, lightly defended Silay fell to our possession.

Thus, before a week had passed, all primary objectives on the west coast were secured. The Division stood in control of the most important section of the west coast, Silay to Pulupandan, and the area south of Pulupandan was in the hands of the guerrillas. Inland, guerrillas were in control of the plains area south of Murcia. The only enemy remaining in these occupied areas were small groups of stragglers attempting to reach the main force. Although portions of the capital city, Bacolod, had been burned, its principal utilities had been 

 

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saved and were being put into operation by our service troops. The towns of Talisay and Silay had been secured with a minimum of damage to civilian life and property. Known enemy casualties for the first six days were 382 killed and eight captured.

RECONNAISSANCE OF THE NORTH AND EAST COASTS

Following the securing of Silay airfield, the 40th Reconnaissance Troop initiated reconnaissance east toward the enemy base at Guimbalaon. Upon completion of that mission the reconnaissance of the north coast was undertaken. Following a route through Saravia and the airfields of Alicante and Malago, they found the area completely evacuated by the enemy. Fording the Malago River near the destroyed bridge, the troop moved on to Fabrica through Manapla, finding several bridges mined but only one destroyed. Guerrillas and civilians stated the Japs had been hurriedly moving southwest for the past week or more, skirting the Mount Silay foothills to rendezvous with Bacolod forces in the Patog area. The Troop reached the Insular sawmill just west of Fabrica on the 6th of April. As the bridge over the Himugaan River was destroyed and there was no ford, they were unable to continue westward until the attached engineers could construct a ferry crossing. Meanwhile, the Troop contacted one of the mill superintendents and made a hasty survey of the sawmill area. Approximately eighty percent of the mill had been destroyed by burning, but much machinery and cut lumber were found undamaged. Engineers set to work to salvage as much of the equipment and materials as possible and to place the mill in operating condition.

Moving its command poet to the sawmill area, the troop continued patrols to the west and provided security for the engineer detachment working at the mill. Reports were frequently received from guerrillas and civilians that some Jape were still evacuating toward the mountains, but no contacts were made. These same sources also stated that occasional groups of enemy stragglers from Cebu were landing on Negros and on the small islands just off the north east and east coasts.

On April 12th, the necessary materials arrived and a ferry was established across the Himugaan. The troop immediately extended its reconnaissance on around the coast finding some bridges destroyed, but crossing the streams by various expedients. San Carlos, on the east coast, was reached on the 13th, and the Escalante area to the north was thoroughly searched but no contact was made.

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On the 16th, one platoon reconnoitered east to west over the trans-island road running from Pinckawan to Pontevedra, finding it maintained in good condition by civilians and guerrillas. The following day other elements reached Tanjay, twelve miles north of the Negros Oriental capital, Dumaguete. Neither of these patrols made any enemy contact.

The troop's next mission was to obtain information regarding the enemy garrison at Dumaguete, which would be of value to the elements of the Americal Division, scheduled to make a landing at that point on April 26th. The troop's movement southward, limited by Eighth Army order to barrio Looc, there contacted guerrilla leaders and secured the information, which was relayed to the Americal Division. Remaining in position until the landing, which was unopposed, the patrol contacted the commander of the assault force and placed itself at his disposal for such reconnaissance missions as he might desire. Its mission complete, the patrol returned to Fabrica. During the remainder of the Negros operation the troop maintained patrols along the north coast and conducted several dismounted reconnaissance missions on the flanks of the enemy defensive positions near Patog.

ROAD TO BANANA RIDGE

As mentioned previously, the original plan had called for an air landing by the 503rd Parachute Combat Team on order from the Commanding General. Alicante airfield had been tentatively selected as the target, with the mission of seizing the airfields, clearing the enemy from the northwest part of Negros, and protecting the left flank of the 185th. When the enemy's evacuation of this area had been confirmed the plan was changed. The regiment, less one battalion, landed by water at Pandan Point on April 8th, and moved into line on the division left flank astride the Silay-Manzanares road in position to advance abreast of the 185th Infantry.

The road along which the regiment was to fight its way in the succeeding weeks followed the crest of a long, narrow steep-sided ridge. As the advance progressed the road was found to be extensively mined. Aerial bombs obviously buried in haste were found at frequent intervals. Fortunately, the inexpert installation made detection simple and they were easily removed. Enemy defensive positions along the crest, consisting of pillboxes connected to personnel caves deep in the adjacent ravines, were difficult to destroy until the road had been widened and improved to permit tanks to move forward. Tank traps, constructed by cutting about a ten-foot section of the


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road to a depth of eight feet were encountered at several points. Roofed with saplings and covered with a layer of earth to give the appearance of a continuous road, they were immediately discovered when crossed by foot patrols. They presented no problem other than the inconvenience of moving material forward to bridge the narrow gap. The rugged terrain on either side of the road, with its precipitous slopes, enemy-infested, jungle-filled draws, and numerous fingerlike, divergent ridges, was combed by patrols as the advance progressed.

The enemy seemed well equipped with small arms including both light and heavy machine guns, grenade dischargers, and mortars, plus some 20mm and 40mm guns. Characteristically, he conserved his none too plentiful ammunition supply by holding his fire until our troops were at point-blank range. From the beginning, night attacks, generally of small size, were a regular feature of the enemy's operations.

The 503rd's advance against such a defense in such a terrain could only be made at considerable cost. Nevertheless, the regiment succeeded in inflicting considerably more casualties than it suffered, and took a heavy toll of enemy arms and equipment. During the period April 17th to May 1st inclusive, 307 enemy dead were counted. Besides uncounted individual arms, numerous ma chine guns were captured and/or destroyed, and several large supply dumps including food, a critical item with the enemy, were captured.

The 1st Battalion of the 503rd, which had been held at Mindoro in Army reserve, landed on Negros and rejoined the regiment on April 24th.

As the enemy's main positions were approached and his major supply points threatened, his resistance stiffened. By May 2nd the main force of the 503rd had pushed eastward to a point approximately 3500 yards southeast of Manzanares and onto Banana Ridge, perpendicular to the axis of the advance, and last remaining high ground west of the deep gorge cut by the Malago River. Numerous minor contacts but no serious threat had developed on the left flank. On the right, contact was being maintained with the 185th Infantry. At this time, plans were laid for a coordinated attack on Patog by the 503rd, and 185th RCT's. The scheme called for the 503rd RCT to move south on Banana Ridge into the Patog area. At the same time, the 185th RCT, then at Lantawan, would advance on Patog from the east.

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The 4th and 5th of May were devoted to patrolling and to artillery fire in preparation for the attack. Heavy rains hindered air strikes and delayed construction of the supply roads necessary for the bringing forward of heavy equipment. The troops jumped off on the 6th of May. Heavy resistance was expected immediately on Banana Ridge. Many of the enemy were thought to have escaped destruction by the preparatory bombardment simply by holing up in the deep caves and stout dugouts they had prepared well down on the reverse slopes of the ridges. The defilade and the method of construction rendered them all but impervious to our bombing and shelling.

The 185th, attacking Patog from the east, met bitter resistance. As this opposition was overcome the defenders of Banana Ridge, alarmed at the prospect of being attacked simultaneously from front and flank, suddenly abandoned their well prepared positions and fled eastward across the Malago River. Patrols working in all directions from Banana Ridge made only minor contacts with isolated groups during the succeeding days. The Patog area had been freed of enemy. On May 13th, leaving the 3rd Battalion in position attached to the 185th Infantry, the regiment moved to Murcia on the right flank of the 160th Infantry.

CAPTURE OF GUIMBALAON AND LANTAWAN

Several months prior to our landing the enemy had begun transporting huge quantities of supplies from the coastal towns to the Negritos-Patog defensive area. When the threat of our landing became a reality, every effort was made to hasten the incompleted task. Trucks, carrying parties and carabao carts were feverishly moving along roads from Guimbalaon to Patog. Such a lucrative target did not pass unattended. Day and night concentrations of fighters and dive bombers attacked the columns from March 31st until Guimbalaon was taken. Daily they destroyed trucks, installations and dumps, and inflicted uncounted casualties on personnel. Covering the routes of evacuation to Negritos and Patog, they forced the enemy to limit his movements to the hours of darkness.

The barrio of Guimbalaon was known to be the rendezvous and supply point for the fleeing troops and became the first objective of the 185th Infantry as it paralleled the 503rd's advance to the hills. Indications were that the enemy planned originally to make an initial stand along the line Guimbalaon-Concepcion, but by April 1st it became apparent that he was forced to alter his intentions due to the unexpected swiftness of our advance which he had not been able to hinder.


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