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Mark Twain wrote that �to a man with a hammer, everything looks like a nail.� In the context of the Negros Operation in 1945, Gen. Robert Eichelberger was the man, and the 503d Parachute Regimental Combat Team was the hammer.

 Curiously, it was the absence, not the presence of hostile Japanese forces on the north coast of Negros Occidental, Philippine Islands, which changed the very nature of the intended mission for the 503d PRCT .  

 The  rationale of the AIRBORNE concept was developing in importance as a weapon that could confront enemy forces by means of initiating unexpected, sharp and violent attacks.  Some of its developments had been of the 'trial and error' nature.  Bur even though lightly armed and equipped, and without armor or heavy artillery, the paratroopers were essentially the �first response team� of the infantry � specially trained to be inserted, on short notice into any situation or circumstance, so as to best exploit a combination of the elements of surprise, force and fighting technique.  The �AIRBORNE� doctrine,  still under development at that time, was that the air mobile infantry would envelop and seize a target, and engage the enemy with its limited resources until the more conventional, more heavily equipped and better supported forces could relieve them.

 Intended to be dropped into Negros to seize airfields and clear an enemy force from the northwest part of Negros, thereby to protect the left flank of the 185th RCT, they were instead utilized as a conventional infantry in a protracted uphill slog along a designated route of attack � a process which would not just grind into absolute destruction what remained on Negros of the once proud Imperial Japanese Army of the Philippines, but which would blunt the 503rd itself as a top of the line, elite airborne fighting force.

 That the 503d PRCT would be spent on what was essentially a �mopping up� campaign in a backwoods area of no strategic value,  would become perhaps, the greatest misuse of a paratroop unit during WWII.  It was akin to using a Cadillac as a delivery van.


            EIGHTH ARMY


The absence of hostile forces on the north coast confirmed the earlier indications that the Japanese were concentrating their troops in the hills of the interior.

As the two regimental combat teams of the 40th Division neared the Japanese Main line, where last-ditch resistance was expected, the 503d Parachute Regimental Combat Team, which had travelled by air to Panay and then to NEGROS by water in order to join the 40th Division, was committed. (The paratroopers had been alerted previously for a drop on the Alicante Airfield in northern Negros, but the withdrawal of the Japanese from that area obviated the plan.) 

By 9 April our forces were situated -- three regimental combat teams abreast -- on a line running generally from a point 3,000 yards east of Pilar to a point 1,000 yards north of Calaptan with the 503d covering the north flank, the 160th on the south flank, and the 185th in the center. All elements were subjected to occasional machine gun and mortar fire from the enemy located to the east.

The Attack on the Main Japanese Defensive Line.

From this formation, the coordinated attack to crack the Japanese main line was launched on the morning of 9 April. Preceded by air strikes and intensive artillery preparations, the division pushed forward over cultivated foothills that were under observation from the enemy held ranges to the east.

Resistance increased with every yard of advance, confirming the intelligence estimate that we were now battling against the Japanese main defenses. The enemy supplemented his arsenal of automatic weapons in this area with machine guns salvaged from wrecked aircraft and fired from improvised ground mounts. Anti-aircraft guns were commonly used against our personnel.

By 15 April the division held a five-mile front one mile west of Negritos. The enemy positions in the range ahead were subjected to heavy air strikes, and on 17-18 April the division began an advance against strong opposition all along the front.

Repeated air strikes were made as our troops climbed ahead. As each enemy strong point was located by our riflemen, it was subjected to a heavy shelling by mortars, tanks, and artillery; then the infantry wou1d close in for the kill. At night our artillery�s interdicting and harassing fire prevented the Japanese from reorganizing as they were driven back.

The defenders fought vigorously and with determination, exploiting advantageous positions to the fullest. Because the Japanese postponed their withdrawal from each successive strong point to the last moment, they were forced to pull back hurriedly and were consequently compelled to abandon much heavy equipment.

As the Japanese were driven back from their well-prepared strong points, their defense deteriorated rapidly. Resistance decreased as the enemy sought to reach a rendezvous area to the southeast in which to regroup his remaining forces.

Results of Operations in NEGROS OCCIDENTAL to 9 May.

In his letter to Lieutenant General Eichelberger dated 9 May 1945, the Commanding General of the 40th Division described the progress of operations on Negros Occidental as follows:

The mission of the 40th Division in the NEGROS Operation as prescribed in Field Order No. 27, Headquarters Eighth Army, 24 March 1945, has been accomplished to the following extent: The BACOLOD-SILAY towns and airfields have been secured and the entire coastal plain on NEGROS OCCIDENTAL freed of the enemy; civil government has been restored to the limit practicable..,

He further reported that the enemy losses to 9 May were 2,558 counted dead, and 5,100 (estimated) sick and wounded.

The Japanese defensive positions extending in depth from BACOLOD-TALISAY-SILAY to the LANTAWAN and PATIG area had been captured and the occupants routed. Hundreds of tons of rations, ammunition, and fuel had been captured, destroyed, or found destroyed. Material captured included more than 200 vehicles, largely destroyed, considerable medical supplies and radio equipment, and the following weapons:

252 light, heavy, and aircraft type machine guns.

89 mortars, mostly knee mortars.

44 20mm and 25mm guns.

23 artillery pieces, ranging from 27mm to 3-inch naval guns.

As the division reached its objective at the and of April, it became evident that the Japanese were withdrawing to the southeast to reorganize in the Hill 3355 sector. To meet this maneuver, the 503d Regimental Combat Team (leaving one battalion to protect the northern flank) was shifted southward to the division's right flank. Here it was given the mission of driving northeast to cut the Japanese supply and evacuation route, while the 185th and 160th Regimental Teams attacked from the north and west respectively.

This phase of the operation, which began 15 May, required our troops to fight uphill through heavy rain forest and steep mountains. Temperatures dropped as the Americans penetrated higher and higher into the ranges, and it was necessary to issue field jackets to the troops because of the cold.

Enemy organization appeared to be disintegrating, and resistance was less determined. But this breakdown in organization was offset to some extent by the better defensive terrain in which the Japanese were now operating. Hiding in the hills, they were able to set up well-camouflaged ambushes at the top of steep ridges, or around sharp turns on the trail. To dig the enemy out, our troops were compelled to assault over difficult terrain, often involving steep climbs.

The enemy evacuation route was cut on 26 May by the juncture of the 503d and 185th Regimental Combat Teams in the area southeast of Hill 4055, while elements of the 503d cleared Hill 3355. The 160th Infantry overran Hill 3155, and from these positions extensive combat patrolling by the division broke up remaining enemy groups. With approximately 7,500 enemy dead or accounted for during the operation, considerable numbers of Japanese remained scattered in the hills. But their disorganization, combined with shortages of food, munitions and other supplies, made them incapable of any sustained offensive operations. On 4 June, the Philippine Army Forces of the 7th Military District, under the control of American Forces, took over the pursuit of the remaining Japanese.


When the Victor-1 Operation was officially closed on 20 June, 7,525 Japanese had been killed and 263 had been captured. American casualties were 381 dead, 1,063 wounded.


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