Robert Ross Smith



By the last week of January, Sixth Army had completed the first phase of the Luzon Campaign. I Corps controlled the Routes 3-11 junction and positions from which to attack toward San Jose; XIV Corps was pushing the Kembu Group back from Clark Field. (See Map - Sixth Army's Advance.) The army had secured its base area, carefully provided against the threat of counterattack from the north and east, and projected strength into position to protect XIV Corps' rear and lines of communication. General Krueger thus felt free to devote more attention to the capture of the Manila-Manila Bay area, the most important single strategic objective of the campaign. On 26 January he had tackled the very practical problem of actually getting troops into the city of Manila. On that date he had directed XIV Corps to send forces south as far as the Pampanga River, twenty-five miles below Clark Field and about an equal distance north of Manila.1


XIV Corps' Drive South


Moving Out

XIV Corps' objective along the Pampanga River was the Route 3 and Manila Railroad crossing at Calumpit, a flat land defile through which passed the only highway and rail connections providing direct access to Manila from the western side of the Central Plains. To the northeast of Calumpit lies the formidable Candaba Swamp, passable only to light vehicles even in dry weather; to the south and west are virtually impassable swamplands, fish ponds, and marshy river deltas forming the northern shore of Manila Bay. Although the Japanese had destroyed the bridges at Calumpit,2 XIV Corps had to secure the crossing sites before the Japanese took advantage of the natural defense opportunities afforded by the deep, unfordable Pampanga to block the western approach to Manila. XIV Corps intelligence on 26 January estimated that the Japanese had few if any defenses along Route 3 at least as far south as Calumpit. If this were so, the corps might be able to secure the defile before the Japanese could change their minds about its defense.

On 27 January the 37th Reconnaissance Troop and the 148th Infantry, 37th Division, started south from Clark Field toward Calumpit, their first objective the Route 3 and railroad bridges over the San Fernando River at San Fernando, thirteen miles below Clark Field at the junction of Route 3 with Route 7 to Bataan. With Filipino guerrillas' aid, the 37th Division's units secured both bridges intact on 28 January.3 By afternoon on the 30th, after a minor skirmish or two with small groups of Japanese along Route 3 south from San Fernando, 37th Division patrols were within a mile of Calumpit and the Pampanga River.4

When on the afternoon of 30 January General MacArthur made a personal reconnaissance south along Route 3 from San Fernando, the pace of the advance impressed him as being much too leisurely, and upon his return northward he informed General Krueger that the 37th Division units moving on Calumpit had demonstrated "a noticeable lack of drive and aggressive initiative. . . ."5 There was no question that the advance south from San Fernando was slow, deliberate, and cautious, but this was by design on the part of Generals Griswold and Beightler. With only the 148th Infantry and the 37th Reconnaissance Troop available for the advance south from Clark Field, the corps and division commanders were unwilling to go too far too fast, for they had little information on Japanese deployment south of the Pampanga. Moreover, they knew that the Calumpit bridges were out and that no new crossing could be constructed on the 30th. Griswold, accordingly, had directed Beightler not to push his infantry far south of the Pampanga until supporting tanks and artillery could also cross.6

Be that as it may, the impact of MacArthur's impressions went to XIV Corps, whence Griswold passed it on to Beightler, and so on down to the 148th Infantry, which immediately began preparations to move across the Pampanga.7 MacArthur's reactions also undoubtedly had considerable influence in prompting Krueger, late on the 30th, to direct XIV Corps to speed its drive toward Manila, orders issued simultaneously with those directing I Corps to seize San Jose.8 After securing crossings over the Pampanga, Krueger's orders read, XIV Corps would hurry its right southeast another six miles from Calumpit to Malolos. On the left the 1st Cavalry Division, now attached to XIV Corps and assembling west of Cabanatuan, would start south along Route 5 in concert with the 37th Division's renewed drive down Route 3.9 Krueger expected the two divisions to establish contact at Plaridel, where, seven miles east of Calumpit, Route 5 crossed the Angat River. (Map - The Approach to Manila)

Krueger's new orders limited the XIV Corps advance to the Malolos-Plaridel line. Although he anticipated that the I Corps attack against San Jose would be well along by 1 February--the day the 1st Cavalry Division was to start south from Cabanatuan--Krueger was as yet unwilling to discount the possibility of Japanese counterattack from the San Jose area. He also had reason to believe that elements of the 2d Tank Division had not yet moved north through Cabanatuan and might be in position to fall upon the flank of the 1st Cavalry Division. Moreover, as the 1st Cavalry Division approached Plaridel, its left would become exposed to counterattack from elements of the Shimbu Group, a danger that Krueger believed would increase as the cavalry division moved south beyond Plaridel. In brief, Krueger was unwilling to launch an all-out drive to Manila until he had more information on the nature and extent of the potential threats to the XIV Corps left.10 That no threats actually existed made no difference--Krueger was basing his plans upon his estimates of Japanese capabilities.

On 31 January, as the 148th Infantry crossed the Pampanga, Beightler relieved the 145th Infantry at Clark Field and started it south along Route 3. Without waiting for the 145th to catch up, the 148th sped rapidly down Route 3 through an area becoming more and more densely populated. The regiment secured Malolos against minor opposition on 1 February and on the next day sent patrols south another eleven miles to Marilao, found void of Japanese. On the same day one battalion worked east from Calumpit toward Plaridel along the south bank of the Quingua and Angat Rivers. At Plaridel one of Shimbu Group's many provisional infantry battalions, about 500 men strong, in a short but bitter stand held up the 148th's battalion until noon. Then the American unit marched on through Plaridel and about 1700 established contact with elements of the 1st Cavalry Division near destroyed bridges that had once taken Route 5 and the Manila Railroad across the unfordable Angat.11