Reprinted From Yank Far
Far East report April 1945
The Pass on Bataans's Highway 7 could
be defended until hell froze, our intelligence
said. But the 38th division and the 34th Infantry broke the Jap defenses in 14 days.
By Sgt, Charles Pearson - Yank Staff Correspondent
With The XI CORPS ON BATAAN---In 1933 an American Officer was sent from the garrison at Manila to the Naval Base at Olongapo on Subic Bay with the mission to draw up defense plans for the area along Highway 7 leading into Manila. When he reached Olongapo he made an ijnspection of the road to Dinalupihan. Between these two towns the highway ran throjugh Zig Zag pass six mikes of twisting winding road, hairpin turns and blind angle approaches. On either side were steep slopes covered with banboo and dense forests. The officer returned to Manila that no specific defense plan was necessary. A small force taking advantage of natural defenses could hold Zig Zag Pass against any size force until hell froze over.
The officer was a Major then , In 1945 he had become a Major General. Gen. Charles P. Hall, commanding the 8th Army's XI. Corps and his worry this time was not the defence of Zig Zag Pass. His job was to attack and take it. The XI Corps comprising the 38th Division and the 34th Regimental Combat team had successfully landed at San Antonio on the west coast of Luzon. The 38th had taken the lead, dashed up Highway 7 to the town of Subic without opposition. The next day they ran into a short fight at Olongapo Pantheistie Cemetery after which they moved into the town.
From there, the 152nd Infantry of the 38th went through them heading for Zig Zag Pass. Zig Zag Pass, which Gen. Hall had said could be held forever, was defended according to inteligence reports by 5,000 Japs. They'd had two years to build and they were dug deep into the hills, were well stocked with food and ammo. The jungle had grown over their positions hiding them except from a few feet away. Altogether the Japs probably shared the opinion Gen, Hall had expressed 12 years earlier.
For the 152nd this was their first combat. Their landing had been easy; The 20 miles to Olongapo had been only small fighting against infrequent parties of not-too-determined Japs. Maybe they were a bit over-confident.
The doughboys crossed the Santa Rita River and the point moved cautiously and slowly forward. Far ahead the road entered a defile where the Japs had been carrying on logging operations. Patrols were fanned out on both sides of the road, moving through the heavy undergrowth. They saw nothing. Everyone was at ease. The Japs had apparently fled.
The feeling Didn't last for long. A shell landed in the road and, as it exploded, a small cluster of soldiers were swept down by the fragments. Shells began to land in a steady stream. Mortar rounds landed up and down the road.
Machine guns were cutting down soldiers seeking cover, and men who thought they had found it were beng hit by snipers. In the heavy thicket on both sides of the road, men were being shot in areas that had been combed by the forward scouts, And no one saw a Jap.
The infantry, no longer over-confident, dug in for the night. The ground was hard and full of stones. But by 1800 they were bedded down for their first night in the mouth of Zig Zag Pass.
Throughout the night the Japs threw in harassing fire from mortars and mountain guns. Several times in several places they infiltrated, calling out names they had heard the previous afternoon. They stood off outside the perimeter and rattled clumps of bamboo. If they drew fire, they smothered the force with grenades. The light of morning was never more welcome than to the men of the 152nd.
At 0830 after a K-ration breakfast, they pushed off down the road towards the Horseshoe. They were heavily supported by artillery whose accurate fire was being directed by L-4 pilots patiently circling round and round over Jap positions. The infantry had the support of tanks, but in the narrow defile they had trouble maneuvering, and in only a few places could they leave the road. On the road they were sitting ducks for Jap tank-destroyer guns. T-5 Russell V. Ramee, signal Corps photographer from New York City, managed to run off 200 feet of movie film on the only tank which did get into position to knock out a pillbox.
While progress inched slowly along the road, the 149th Regiment, Kentucky Reserves who had originally been headed by Daniel Boone, went off through the forests on the north flank to cut around the Japs, reach Dinalupihan and then attack. They were led by bow-and-arrow armed pygmy Negrito scouts. By late afternoon the force on the road had nearly reached the horseshoe. They dug in for the night and this time men inside the perimeter unloaded their weapons. The order was to use nothing but knives on the Japs who infiltrated.
The next day the fighting increased in bitterness and the whole days gain was just a matter of yards. The regiment skirting the north flank was out of contact.
That night again no one had nuch sleep. Mortars and mountain guns sporadically plastered the area. The soldiers were learning about combat the hard way. They were nervous and jittery but they held their position until morning when the 34th moved through them.
The refreshed 34th plugged on and advanced a thousand yards during the day. But they were paying heavily for their gains. At the 18th Portable Hospital, loads of wounded were coming back regularly. Six doctors, who could have been exhausted rightfully, worked steadily for 48 hours. Fragmentation had caused most of the wounds and casualties had fractures, abdominal or chest wounds. Capt. Allen Tigert of Soda Springs, Idaho patched up one man who's chest had been torn open completely, exposing his heart. By the next morning the the L-4 pilots reported the 149th had reached Dinalupihan and later a patrol came back and told what had happened. The regiment had been guided by the Negritos over one of their own hunting trails, up a 10 mile incline, mainly a narrow trail on a cliffs edge. Then they found they were veering away from Dinalupihan. They backtracked to the bottom of the mountain and then started across it at another tangent. They followed a compass azimuth and broke through underbrush and bamboo all the way. For the last two days they were supplied by food trains, each consisting of 20 Filipinos and two guards, each man carried a 45-pound box of 10-in-1.
After the first couple of days the regiment was too far into the mountains to be reached by carriers. Artillery Cubs tried dropping rations, but since each could carry only a couple of cases, the men reached Dinalupihan hungry, armed with only the weapons they had carried and perhaps 50 per cent of the shoes they were wearing were unserviceable after the march.
In the meantime, over in the horseshoe, a sustained and deadly Jap attack and a steady rain of 90-mm mortars drove the the 34th back to the positions they had occupied two days earlier. The RCT had suffered heavy losses on Leyte and was composed mostly of replacements who had never seen action. The fighting in the Pass now was doing as much damage to them as the advance across Leyte.
On the sixth day of the battle the 151st, the last regiment of the 38th was commmitted and sent in to relieve the 34th, a small tired band of men trudged back.
A staff sergeant took his squad of six men, three replacements and three veterans of Leyte to their rear-area position. It was in a shaded place near a spring and a clean flowing river. "It looked too good to be true," the sargeant said to his men "and it probably won't last, but lets make the most of it while we can" and he began stripping, all around them other men were doing the same. Every kind of pressure was being exerted to break through the Jap force. A flight of P-47's flew in over the heart of the Jap entrenchment system and dropped 500-pound demolition and fire bombs. The fire bombs left great bare scars in the densely covered hills but the Japs held on, after each air strike there was an artillery barrage.
Jap snipers were all through our positions and there was no place that could have been called truly safe. Yet the wire teams moved around in small units keeping communications open. Sgt. Milton L. Harris of Williamsport, Ind., and Pfc. George S. Kochis of Hammond, Ind., were with a team of four, a grenade had wounded the other two. The next day when two battalions were cut off on a peak on the south flank, they volunteered with eight others to get a wire through to them, they did.
A B-25 was flown up to San Marceilino air strip to carry on dropping supplies to the 149th at Dinalupihan. Their position was a bit obscure from the air so one of the Cub Pilots, Lt. George Ligus of Hammond, Ind., flew as co-pilot to guide the plane. Lt. William M. Terry of Chicago strapped himself into the bombbay with a Tommy-gun sling, ten-in-one rations were stacked on boards and as they flew low over the 149th, who had laid out marking strips, Lt. Terry kicked the rations out. The next day, C-47s were brought in and mortars and machine guns with ammunition were dropped.
Even in areas that were supposed to be deloused, men ran into trouble, Jap foxholes were built like upright "Ls" that were burrowed down about six feet and then tunneled in for another four or five, Sgt. Jack Tuggles of Atlanta, Ga. with two other soldiers was dragging back a wounded lieutenant, the reached an area that had been thoroughly combed of Japs when Tuggles suddenly fell into one of these holes hidden between two roots, he caught himself with his elbows, the other two men pulled him out. They dropped grenades into the hole which killed the Jap, but a light machine gun opened up from somewhere and cut down the two men with Tuggles.
This was in the vicinity of Hill 3, a small brush covered rise, which like the hundreds of others in the area, was carefully guarded and heavily defended. Two sergeants in a desperate attempt to clean out a defense position, walked in on it firing light machine guns from the hip, one was killed and the other wounded. T/Sgt. Eldin Harrel of New Albany, Ind., picked up one of the guns and continued on. He killed seven Japs and took the position, he found 35 dead the other two sergeants had killed.
Hill 3 was taken finally by an assault led by Capt.William Todd of Laurens, SC., CO of 152's Company B., every aid man in the company had been killed or wounded when they finally captured the ground. One battalion of the 152 was sent wide around the south flank to join up with the 149 approaching from Dinalupihan, the 149 still air-supplied, was making progress. Their first resistance was from a big cave which they neutralized by taking the commanding ground opposite it, they moved on.
Our artillery harassing of the Japs at night had not been too successful. For a while it seemed that a lot of our shells were falling short and the men in the line would phone back for them to cut it out. It was finally discovered that none of the artillery shells was falling short but that as soon as they started firing the Japs threw 90-mm mortars on our lines. After that, artillery was poured on the Japs all night, that bottled up the Jap Mortars.
The unit skirting around the south flank met little resistance and kept moving on to meet up with the 149 on Telegraph Trail. The most trouble was still on the east end of the road, past the horseshoe, even after it had been taken, it was impossible to use tanks. One hundred fives and 155 howitzers and Long Toms tried to pulverize positions before infantry assaulted them but they were to well dug in for artillery to be effective. Every flame thrower carrier who had tried to reach a pillbox had been hit by one of the ever-present snipers. As soon as he went down, the Japs fired tracers at the fuel tank in an attempt to set the man on fire which they did in several cases
There were booby traps in the area too, Pfc. William Beasley of Litchfield, III. and a couple of wiremen sent out to repair a cut signal, line found a booby trap which would have exploded if they had picked up the line.
The force on the west end of highway 7 had been moving forward against much less opposition than was being met at the east end, but their advance was stopped by the sudden appearance of Jap tanks. Since they had walked over the mountain, they had no heavy weapons with them and bazookas could not hit the tanks because the heavy underbrush exploded the projectiles before they reached the target.
The artillery was called on to hit moving targets four miles away, the infantry withdrew several hundred yards and the shelling began, directed by Cub observation planes. The fire knocked out three tanks before nightfall, one was knocked out by a direct hit.
The fighting became closer, dirtier and more intense, the artillery was throwing shells 24 hours a day. The 11th Field Artillery, part of the 34th RCT, fired 145 100-pound shells from each of their guns over a four-hour period, in every other unit the firing was just as heavy. The air was so filled with whining projectiles that one of our L-4s was destroyed in the air from a direct hit of a 155 shell.
Whole hillsides had been denuded by the Air Force's fire bombs and the artillery's white phosphorous. There was no more night fire from the Japs and no more attempted infiltration, the constant hell of shell fragments kept them holed up.
For the most part though, objectives were taken only after bitter fighting, the Japs were firing from caves, their pillboxes mutually supported each other, mortars were down at the bottom of 20 foot holes where they had limited field of fire, but it was impossible to locate them until someone actually stumbled into the hole. Behind constant artillery and air support from P-47s and P-51s the advance continued.
The doughfeet were just as determined to take land as the Japs were to hold it. Cpl. John Shaffer of Flora, Ind., who had come overseas as a staff sergeant, had asked for a bust because he didn't like the idea of having to order men into combat, he was reduced to corporal and made chemical warfare noncom. When one of the regular flame throwers was killed he volunteered to take his place, in rapid succession he wiped out four pillboxes.
On the 11th day in Zig Zag Pass they were deep in the heart of the main Jap defense belt. A technique for taking pillboxes had been developed by that time. The key points of a defense area were attacked first, when they fell, the rest of the system quickly crumbled. Automatic fire was poured steadily into the gun ports. Two flame throwers moved out to a position where they could stand and let the full contents of the weapon pour into the forwards slits of the Jap entrenchment while the Japs where held down by the fire from the automatic weapons. As the smoke and flames died down, a man with a satchel charge, a neat little package of 20 pounds of explosive complete with igniter, ran up and tossed in the charge. Then he scrammed like hell to get out of the way before it went off. Others followed up with explosives and completely destroyed all Jap holes, caves and pill boxes so Japs could not infiltrate back into them. Engineers used an average of five tons of explosives a day. In some caves Japs were buried alive and after the entrances were collapsed you could hear the sounds of shovels scraping aginst rocks in the inside.
By the 12th day of the battle the east and west force were only 200 yards apart, but their was no sign of a general Jap collapse. They still had tanks on the west end of Highway 7. Two of our tanks that had been brought up in the east were knocked out. Some of their mortars were captured and found to be 120-mm. The area held by the Japs steadily shrunk under greater and heavier rain of shells and fire bombs. Finally on the 14th day, a patrol from the east met a patrol from the west on the southern flank.
What had started out as an easy campaign had become one of the toughest in the Philippines.
This Far East Yank report was kept by
(Sgt. Dana Frame)- 38th Cyclone Infantry Division.
152nd Infantry of the 38th Divisin, who was involved with the action in the report and would
like to hear from other veterans regarding the Luzon Campaign.