The Seizure of Tagaytay Ridge

The 11th Airborne Division, less the 511th Parachute Infantry, staged on the shores of Leyte Gulf, whence the Task Group 78.2 convoy departed for Nasugbu Bay during the afternoon of 27 January.37 The voyage to the objective area was uneventful. After destroyers conducted a short preliminary bombardment, assault troops of the 1st Battalion, 188th Glider Infantry, aboard LCP(R)'s (Landing Craft, Personnel, Ramp), launched from APD's, beached about 0815. While some troops moved off to secure the flanks of the beachhead, the main body of the 188th Infantry drove inland through the town of Nasugbu and started southeastward along gravel roads toward the Palico River and the entrance to the section of Route 17 that led to Tagaytay Ridge. The Japanese had opposed the landing lightly and ineffectively with rifle, machine gun, and mortar fire from positions on hills north and south of the beach.38

By 1115 General Eichelberger was satisfied that the initial landing, conducted as a reconnaissance-in-force, had been successful beyond expectation. He thereupon directed the rest of the 11th Airborne Division--still less the parachute regiment--to land.39 All combat troops of the first day's convoy were ashore by 1230, by which time artillery had started inland and the 187th Infantry, sending its 2d Battalion toward the Palico River, had relieved rear elements of the 188th.

The 188th Infantry's first important objective was a Palico River bridge carrying the shortest and best route to Tagaytay Ridge over a gorge 250 feet wide and 85 feet deep. Lying five miles inland, the Palico bridge could hold the 11th Airborne Division's heaviest loads. If the division could not seize the bridge intact, it would have to ford a river south of Nasugbu and work its way along poor roads to Route 17 east of the Palico crossing, a time-consuming process that would require considerable engineer effort and slow supply movements.

But the action went well with the 188th Infantry on 31 January.40 The 1st Battalion ran down an open hill west of the bridge, dashed across the span, and surprised a small group of Japanese on the east bank. Apparently stunned by the sudden, unexpected appearance of American forces, the Japanese failed to explode prepared demolitions. By 1500 the entire 188th Infantry and the attached 2d Battalion, 187th Infantry, were across the Palico and at the junction of Route 17 with the main road from Nasugbu, now five miles to the west.

Hoping to continue achieving tactical surprise and planning to have troops on Tagaytay Ridge before dark on 1 February, Eichelberger directed the 11th Airborne Division to advance inland with all possible speed. He thought that the entire division, including the 511th Infantry, could assemble on Tagaytay Ridge on the 2d, and in anticipation asked the Fifth Air Force to drop the parachutists on the 2d instead of the 3d as originally planned. He also requested GHQ SWPA to ship the entire 19th Infantry, 24th Division, to Nasugbu from Mindoro to protect the 11th Airborne Division's line of communications to Tagaytay Ridge and release all the airborne unit for the advance toward Manila. The Fifth Air Force replied affirmatively, but General MacArthur agreed only to make another battalion of the 19th Infantry available in addition to the one that was already under Eichelberger's control and loading for Luzon.41

At 1800 on 31 January the 188th Infantry's advance elements halted four miles along Route 17 beyond the Palico bridge. The regiment resumed the advance at 0100 on 1 February, heading for the defile west of Tagaytay Ridge. As the lead troops approached the defile at first light, Japanese machine gun and rifle fire stopped them; when dawn broke, Japanese artillery emplaced on high ground to the left front of the 188th Infantry forced the regiment's point to withdraw slightly.

Ground and air reconnaissance disclosed that the Japanese defenses were centered on the bare, steep, southern and eastern slopes of Mt. Cariliao, north of the highway, and along the open and more rugged northern slopes of Mt. Batulao, south of the road. Raising its broken, scrub-grown crest over 2,100 feet above sea level and 1,300 feet above the Route 17 defile, Mt. Cariliao provided the Japanese with excellent defensive terrain, while the rough slopes of Mt. Batulao, almost 2,700 feet high, afforded almost innumerable hideaways. To the 11th Airborne Division, approaching along ground that gave little concealment in patches of scrub growth, the key to the Japanese defenses appeared to be Mt. Aiming, a sharp, bare height of some 1,180 feet off the southeastern slopes of Mt. Cariliao. Picking its way through what cover and concealment it could find, including a sharp gorge on the north side of Route 17, Company A of the 188th Infantry secured a foothold on the southern slopes of Mt. Aiming about noon on 1 February. The remainder of the 1st Battalion followed quickly, and in the face of Japanese machine gun and mortar fire, rapidly cleared all Mt. Aiming. This achievement split the Japanese defenses at the defile and helped reduce the volume of point-blank machine gun and rifle fire that had held up the division, which now made preparations to continue the advance on 2 February with one battalion along Route 17 and another overrunning Japanese defenses on the northern slopes of Mt. Batulao.

The delay occasioned by the fight at the defile on 1 February dashed General Eichelberger's hopes for assembling the entire division on Tagaytay Ridge by dusk on 2 February. General MacArthur had instructed Eichelberger not to call the 511th Parachute Infantry forward until he was certain that the paratroopers could make contact with the rest of the 11th Airborne Division within twenty-four hours of their drop. Since it appeared by evening on 1 February that the division might well have to spend all day on 2 February fighting its way through the defile, Eichelberger reluctantly changed the parachute drop back to 3 February.42

Despite strong close support by Fifth Air Force planes and division artillery, the 188th Infantry could make little progress on the morning of 2 February. However, momentum picked up shortly after 1200 when troops broke through to barrio Aga, a mile and a half east of Mt. Aiming. The Japanese had hurriedly abandoned Aga, the site of the West Sector Unit's command post, and had left behind large stores of ammunition, engineer equipment, and other supplies of all sorts, including many weapons. By 1800 on the 2d the 1st Battalion, 187th Infantry, now leading the attack along Route 17, was three miles beyond Aga and only two miles short of the west end of Tagaytay Ridge. The advance halted for the night and the battalion prepared to resume its drive at 0830 on the 3d to make contact with the 511th Parachute Infantry, scheduled to start dropping on Tagaytay Ridge at 0815.

On the morning of 3 February the 188th Infantry met no resistance until after 1000, when it began rounding a bare ridge nose on the north side of a sharp bend on Route 17 at the western end of Tagaytay Ridge. Japanese troops holding another steep, bare ridge nose south of the bend then opened up with rifle, machine gun, and mortar fire that was augmented by artillery fire from emplacements north of the highway. Leaving one battalion to deal with this new opposition, the rest of the reinforced regiment pressed on up Tagaytay Ridge along Route 17 and, about 1300, at a point nearly two miles beyond the bend, made contact with men of the 511th Parachute Infantry.

Unopposed, about 1,750 troops of the 511th had begun dropping along Tagaytay Ridge just about on schedule.43 It was well that there was no opposition, for the 'troopers had landed in an inordinately scattered fashion. The drop zone selected for the 511th Infantry centered a mile and a half north-northeast of the Route 17 bend and was situated along the fairly gentle, grassy northern slopes of Tagaytay Ridge. Less than a third of the parachutists landed in the selected area.

The first echelon of the 511th Infantry, about 915 officers and men in all, had come to Tagaytay Ridge aboard 48 C-47 aircraft of the 317th Troop Carrier Group. The planes had flown north from Mindoro to approach Tagaytay Ridge from the northeast in order to avoid fire from Japanese antiaircraft weapons west of the drop zone. The first 18 planes, carrying about 345 troops, dropped over the assigned area. At this juncture, planes from succeeding flights were nearly six miles and three minutes behind the lead aircraft. About 0820 one of these later planes dumped out a couple of bundles of supplies. Taking this as a signal that they were over the proper drop zone, 'troopers of the succeeding 30 planes began jumping. Aircraft pilots, realizing they had not yet reached the proper point, attempted to halt the jumping, but the 511th's jump-masters continued sending the paratroopers out. Most of them landed almost five miles east-northeast of the assigned drop zone.

A second group of fifty-one C-47's began approaching the drop area about 1210. Some 80 men from the first 5 aircraft of this group landed in the proper place. The rest started out of their planes when they saw on the ground the collapsed chutes of the first misplaced jump. In the end, of the men jumping on 3 February only 425 landed on the assigned drop zone; the others, about 1,325 in all, made scattered landings four and one-half to six miles to the east and northeast.

The 11th Airborne Division, blaming the 317th Troop Carrier Group for the premature dropping, reported that the "true reason was the refusal of the Air Force to co-operate in a combined training program for Airborne and Air Force troops . . . ."44 While it is true that many of the 317th's pilots had no experience in parachute operations, the division's records indicate that the division had participated in a significant amount of combined training in the United States and again in New Guinea. In any event, it appears that some lack of jump discipline within the 511th Infantry contributed to the scattered, premature jumping.

Whether the jump was necessary is a question that cannot be answered categorically. Certainly, the drop was not required to secure Tagaytay Ridge--there were no Japanese there and elements of the 188th Infantry were already on the west end of the ridge before the first paratroopers were out of their planes. On the other hand, with the Allied Naval Forces short of amphibious lift and escorts to move the regiment any sooner, the 511th Infantry, coming from Mindoro by sea and then overland from Nasugbu, could not have reached Tagaytay Ridge until late on 4 February at the earliest. In such an event the 11th Airborne Division, with insufficient strength to continue toward Manila, might have been forced to wait along the ridge another day, giving the Japanese ample time to redeploy forces to defend Route 17 north of the ridge. Eichelberger hoped that the division could move in strength on Manila during 3 February and catch off balance the defenders south of the city. Whatever the case, the day or two saved by the 511th Infantry's jump would prove to make no difference, for the Japanese had already fully manned strong defenses at the southern outskirts of Manila, though Eighth Army and the 11th Airborne Division could not know this on the basis of available information.