The drop zone of the 11th Airborne and their intended route from Tagaytay Ridge towards the southern outskirts of Manila

The Approach From the South

By evening on 3 February the Japanese defenders of Manila--and as yet the Sixth Army had little information concerning the nature of the city's defenses--were about to be squeezed between the two arms of a pincers. As the 37th Infantry and 1st Cavalry Divisions of Sixth Army were closing in from the north, the 11th Airborne Division of General Eichelberger's Eighth Army was approaching the capital from the south.


The Planning Background

Plans for the employment of the 11th Airborne Division on Luzon had undergone many changes. At one time the division, commanded by Maj. Gen. Joseph M. Swing, had been prepared to drop in the Central Plains in front of Sixth Army forces driving south from Lingayen Gulf. GHQ SWPA had abandoned this plan when, as the Lingayen target date approached, the Allied Air Forces reported it would have neither sufficient airfields nor transport planes to lift the entire division at the time its employment would be most meaningful.27 Next, MacArthur's headquarters made plans to use the division in a series of minor, diversionary operations along the southern and southwestern coasts of Luzon, ultimately narrowing the series to two RCT-sized landings on the south coast. But the employment of highly specialized troops for minor operations seemed wasteful and would tend to create almost insoluble problems of supply, command, and administration. Even two landings, one at Nasugbu on the southwest coast 45 miles from Manila and the other at Tayabas Bay, 75 miles east of Nasugbu, produced one major problem. To achieve desired results and to assure that the Japanese would not destroy the two RCT's in sequence, the landings would have to take place simultaneously.28 The Allied Naval Forces, however, could not provide sufficient escorts and fire support vessels for two simultaneous landings. If, on the other hand, the 11th Airborne Division made a single assault at Nasugbu, the Allied Naval Forces could make both fire support ships and escorts available. The Navy could solve the support problems even more easily if the airborne units landed at Nasugbu shortly after XI Corps went ashore on Luzon's west coast north of Bataan, for many of the same support vessels could participate in both operations.29

A single landing at Nasugbu promised to produce other desirable results. For one, it would tend to pin Japanese forces in southern Luzon, preventing them from redeploying northward to oppose Sixth Army's drive to Manila. For another, from presumably good beaches at Nasugbu the 11th Airborne Division could drive toward Manila, fifty-five miles distant, along an excellent road. Upon reaching the shores of Laguna de Bay, a large fresh-water lake lying southeast of Manila and separated from Manila Bay by the narrow Hagonoy Isthmus, the division could cut the main southern routes of reinforcement and withdrawal to and from the capital. Again, the Nasugbu beaches might prove an excellent place to land the 41st Infantry Division, a GHQ Reserve unit that was scheduled to move to Luzon to reinforce Sixth Army. Finally, the 11th Airborne Division could easily secure the Nasugbu beachhead against Japanese counterattack, since all the approaches to it ran through narrow passes in rugged hill country. No other landing points in southern Luzon combined the obvious advantages of Nasugbu Bay.

On 20 January, having weighed all the pros and cons, General Eichelberger recommended to General MacArthur that the 11th Airborne Division make a single landing at Nasugbu Bay. The Eighth Army's commander intended to send the division's two glider-infantry RCT's ashore in an amphibious assault and then push them inland about twenty miles along Route 17 to Tagaytay Ridge where the highway, having come east across steadily rising ground, turns sharply north and runs gradually down hill to Manila Bay. Two or three days after the landing at Nasugbu, the 11th Airborne Division's 511th Parachute Infantry would drop on Tagaytay Ridge to secure it for the foot troops and to seize nearby stretches of Route 17 before the Japanese could assemble to defend the highway. Once the entire division had assembled along Tagaytay Ridge, it would make ready to drive northward to Manila.30

While approving Eichelberger's plans for a single assault at Nasugbu, MacArthur's concept of the 11th Airborne Division's employment was by no means as ambitious, at least initially, as Eighth Army's. Instead, MacArthur directed Eichelberger to land one RCT at Nasugbu Bay in a reconnaissance-in-force to ascertain Japanese strength, deployment, and intentions in the Nasugbu-Tagaytay region. If it appeared that the Japanese had relatively weak forces at Tagaytay Ridge, then Eichelberger could assemble the entire division there and reconnoiter to the north and east to determine Japanese dispositions and to contain Japanese forces throughout southwestern Luzon--rather a far cry from mounting a drive to Manila. MacArthur set the date for the Nasugbu assault for 31 January, two days after XI Corps was to land north of Bataan.31

The organization and missions of the forces involved in the small-scale Nasugbu landing were similar to those of previous amphibious operations undertaken within the Southwest Pacific Area. Task Group 78.2, under Rear Adm. William M. Fechteler, loaded and landed the assault troops. The task group numbered about 120 ships and landing craft of all types, its largest vessels being APD's and LST's. Fire support was provided by Task Unit 77.3.1, which consisted of a light cruiser and two destroyers. Planes of the 310th Bombardment Wing, based on Mindoro, provided air support.32

The 11th Airborne Division, which had been seasoned during the Leyte Campaign, numbered approximately 8,200 men. Its two glider-infantry regiments, the 187th and 188th, had about 1,500 men apiece (half the strength of a standard infantry regiment) and each contained two battalions of three rifle companies each. The regiments had no heavy weapons, cannon, or antitank companies. The 511th Parachute Infantry totaled about 2,000 men distributed among three battalions, each of which contained only three rifle companies. Artillery consisted of two 75-mm. pack howitzer battalions, a 105-mm. howitzer battalion armed with a short barrel howitzer that lacked the range of the 105's of a standard infantry division, and an airborne antiaircraft artillery battalion armed with 40-mm. and .50-caliber guns. Reinforcements included the Cannon Company of the 24th Division's 21st Infantry; Company C of the 532d Engineer Boat and Shore Regiment, the 2d Engineer Special Brigade; two antiaircraft automatic weapons batteries; and various service units. A Mindoro-based battalion of the 24th Division's 19th Infantry was available on call.33

The 11th Airborne Division expected to meet 7,000 Japanese in the Nasugbu-Tagaytay area, the bulk of them from the 17th and 31st Infantry Regiments, 8th Division. The airborne unit believed that about 500 Japanese defended the shores of Nasugbu Bay and that the main Japanese force, some 5,000 strong, held Route 17 at Tagaytay Ridge and a defile a few miles west of the ridge where the highway passed between the peaks of two extinct volcanoes.34

The estimates were correct in general but wrong in detail. Shimbu Group, responsible for the conduct of operations in southern Luzon, had entrusted the defense of the region south of Manila to the Fuji Force, a composite unit under Col. Masatoshi Fujishige, who also commanded the 8th Division's 17th Infantry.35

Numbering some 8,500 men, the Fuji Force was composed of the 17th Infantry, less 3d Battalion; the 3d Battalion, 31st Infantry; a battalion of mixed artillery; and combat engineers and service troops of the 8th Division. Co-operating with Colonel Fujishige (and soon to pass to his direct command) were about 5,000 troops of the 2d Surface Raiding Base Force, a Japanese Army organization made up of suicide boat units, called Surface Raiding Squadrons, and their base support units, designated Surface Raiding Base Battalions.36 The Raiding Squadrons, on paper, each contained 100 suicide boats and a like number of men; each Base Battalion numbered about 900 troops, most of them service personnel. Five or six of theRaiding Squadrons, which had lost most of their boats to Allied air and naval action before or shortly after the 11th Airborne Division's landing, ultimately became available to Colonel Fujishige, as did an equal number of the Base Battalions. Normally, the squadrons were amalgamated with their support battalions to form a single entity for ground combat operations.

With a large area and an extensive coast line to hold, Fujishige originally deployed the bulk of his troops for defense against an Allied attack from the south rather than the west. In the area of immediate interest to the 11th Airborne Division he stationed his West Sector Unit, an organization of 2,250 troops built on a nucleus of the 3d Battalion, 31st Infantry. The West Sector Unit's largest concentration--600 infantry with artillery support--held the defile just west of Tagaytay Ridge, while another 400 infantrymen defended a southwestern nose of the ridge. The West Sector Unit had only 100 troops at or near Nasugbu; the remaining men were scattered in small garrisons throughout southwestern Luzon.