. . . AND A FEW MARINES: Marines in the Liberation of the Philippines
by Captain John C. Chapin, USMCR (Ret)
Close Support for Guerrillas
Another decision of the planning conference also
affected MAGSDAGUPAN. The AAF 308th Wing assigned the SBDs to show again
their flexibility this time in support of the growing guerrilla
operations in northern Luzon. Accordingly, an ALP team was landed 50
miles behind the Japanese lines on 22 February. There it made contact
with a most unusual man, Lieutenant Colonel Russell W. Volckmann, USA,
who was the leader of the Filipino guerrillas in northern Luzon. His
forces had no heavy arms and were stalled in their attack to capture the
important city of San Fernando. Both AAF planes and Marine SBDs were
called in to drop their 500-pound bombs on the enemy's defensive
positions, sometimes as close as 100 yards from the Filipinos. After two
days of these strikes, it was all over, and the Japanese were
There were many similar occasions where the ALP and
its radio jeep and truck found its way to seemingly inaccessible spots
to direct close air support for the guerrillas. During the period from 5
to 31 March, for example, 186 such missions were flown, and the heavy
enemy casualties could be clearly attributed to the dive bombers, since
no artillery fire was available.
Close Air Support for the Army
Together with missions supporting the guerrillas,
MAGS DAGUPAN continued its mission of close air support of the Army
divisions at one time or another working with each of the 10
fighting on Luzon. One refinement, late in February, was the use of
airborne coordinators to receive tar get information and instructions
from the ALP, and then make a marking run over the objective when the
SBDs arrived for their dive bombing runs.
There were other marking techniques, e.g., white
phosphorous shells. An example was a strike against cave positions on 23
February, when 18 planes from VMSB-142 were called in to bomb some
Japanese dug into a hillside, from where neither artillery nor mortar
fire had been able to dislodge them. First Lieutenant W. E. Dickey, Jr.,
described the SBD strike that hit the enemy positions:
The air-ground jeep called for Captain Austin Wiggins
to dive singly at a given target, marked by white phosphorous mortar
shells. He went down and thereafter we went in, one plane at a time,
each plane having personal control by the jeep on the ground. He would
tell us, "Now the next plane drop your bomb 50 feet west of the last
one," or "100 feet south," etc., until all 18,000 pounds of bombs had
been placed exactly where he wanted them.
All the time we were in the attack the [air
controller in the] jeep was very elated and would tell us after each
bomb hit "Man, that was right in their laps."
In the end the Army infantry was able to move forward
against no opposition.
Marine combat artist in Manila while the battle there still raged, Sgt
Paul Arlt described this wash drawing: "Sharply outlined against rising
clouds of smoke, the gutted steel and concrete shell of the nine-story
Great Eastern Hotel is one of the countless buildings destroyed by
retreating Japs. Down on the rubble-strewn street, a Philippine citizen
glances apprehensively over his shoulder as Marine dive bombers of the
1st Marine Aircraft Wing sweep overhead. Seconds later, these planes
dropped 20 tons of high explosives on enemy ships in the harbor,
knocking out lap antiaircraft batteries set up on the hulks."
As Luzon duty drew to a close, the Marine flyers
could look at their exploits with some pride. One ground observer, for
instance, had reported after a dive bombing strike on 21 February,
"Bodies, guns, papers blown all over the place. Kisses from commanding
officer of adjacent ground units."
A more formal evaluation came from Major General
Edwin D. Patrick, the once skeptical commander of the 6th Infantry
. . . Particularly noteworthy have been the
skillfully coordinated and accurate air strikes of the SBDs of the MAGD
based at Mangaldan Field. In one strike made on 28 February against Mt.
Mataba, these Marine pilots dive-bombed a pinpointed target located
between two friendly forces with accuracy comparable to that obtained by
field artillery. The courage, patience, and willingness displayed by
these men deserve high praise.
This kind of punishing performance by the SBDs
naturally caused the Japanese to try to strike back against them. They
resorted to an ingenious ruse. On 2 March an enemy bomber, flying very
high, appeared over the Marine field at Mangaldan, causing great
consternation amongst those on the ground. Searchlights sought the
plane; every antiaircraft gun opened up; the troops poured out to watch.
Suddenly, roaring in at 300 feet, came two bombers, scattering
antipersonnel and 500-pound bombs on the unsuspecting men and their
planes. This attack resulted in four dead and 78 wounded, but it was
only a limited blow, for operations continued as usual.
Army 37th Infantry Division troops move up Highway 5 on Luzon after a
Marine dive bomber attack on enemy hill positions. Department of Defense
Photo (USMC) A700603
Despite such episodes, for the 45 days preceding
their departure, the SBDs had averaged 159 sorties a day, running up a
total of 49.7 percent of the individual sorties by Luzon aircraft with
only 13 per cent of the planes. (It should be noted that many of the AAF
missions were time-consuming and long-range ones, quite different from
the continuous requests from infantry units which directed Marine
missions to close-by tar gets.)
This high level of operations took place in spite of
various handicaps: limited radio capacity and limited range for the
obsolete SBDs; no extra auxiliary fuel tanks for dropping napalm bombs
(which burst into flame when ignited by contact); and although it
is hard to believe that after 50 years of American military presence in
the Philippines they had totally inadequate maps.
Marine Aircraft Wing Commander, MajGen Ralph I. Mitchell, confers with a
Filipino guerrilla lieutenant in northern Luzon in February 1945.
Defense Photo (USMC) 112060
The combined figures for MAG 24 and -32 for Luzon
operations showed 8,842 combat missions and 19,167 bombs dropped.
Lieutenant General Walter Krueger, USA, commander of the Sixth Army, had
this to say:
. . . Commanders have repeatedly expressed their
admiration for the pin-point precision, the willingness and enthusiastic
desire of pilots to fly missions from dawn to dusk and the extremely
close liaison with the ground forces which characterized the operations
of the Marine fighter groups.
Krueger's citation went on to note the "constant
visits" of commanders and pilots to front line units in order observe
targets and to gain an understanding of the ground soldiers' problems,
the care which Marine commanders and pilots took to insure the "maximum"
number of hits, and the "continuous, devoted work" of ground crews in
maintaining an unusually high average of operational planes.
F6F Hellcat night fighter represented a new and very successful weapon
for the Marine Corps. Department of Defense Photo (USMC) 92399