[Keywords: 187th Infantry Regiment, 158th Regimental Combat Team, Cuenca Batangas, Mount Maculot, Japanese Defenses in Mount Maculot, Malepunyo]
By the 23rd of March in 1945, the 158th Regimental Combat Team had secured most of the western side of the Province of Batangas from Nasugbu to the Calumpang Peninsula; and moved east and overcame Japanese Imperial Army defenses in the small town of Cuenca. In a book1, Major Edward M. Flanagan Jr. wrote that the 158th’s orders were “to attack and reduce the Jap position on Mt. Macolod2.”
After the seizure of Cuenca, however, the 158th was ordered to retreat back to Lemery to start preparations for a campaign at the Bicol Peninsula. Its place in Cuenca was taken over by the 187th Glider Infantry Regiment. This United States Army group was first activated in February of 1943 and assigned to the 11th Airborne Division. Its soldiers were trained to drop from the air both using parachutes and glider aircraft3.
Previous to the 158th’s withdrawal, the 187th was part of a US Army force moving south towards Batangas from the vicinity of the then–town of Tanauan. The latter, thus, inherited the task of reducing Japanese positions on Maculot. This was an unenviable task.
Flanagan explained why:
“The 187th was preparing for the bloodiest and toughest battle of its military history… The third ridge was heavily wooded, and was actually a saddle connecting Mount Macolod with Bukel Hill, a lesser eminence some five hundred yards due east of Macolod. In this area, the Japanese had constructed a formidable defensive position. They had employed impressed Filipino laborers to construct the underground positions, and had slain the laborers when the job was complete to insure secrecy. Only dummy positions were visible from the air, and the mountain bristled with artillery and automatic weapons carefully laid to cover all approaches with interlocking bands of fire.4”
At first, the 187th Infantry attacked Mt. Maculot frontally through the foot of what the Americans called the Brownie Ridge, the north–south nose of the mountain. The regiment’s headquarters had to withdraw along with its second battalion because of heavy losses incurred at the hands of the Japanese. Their position was taken over by Filipino guerrillas who were given orders to prevent the escape of Japanese soldiers.
|Filipino guerrillas in action against the Japanese in March 1945. Image source: United States National Archives.|
Meanwhile, the US Army top brass decided that closing the pincer envelopment of Batangas in Lipa was a more pressing concern so that the regiment was sent on to Lipa and the Malepunyo mountain range where the remaining Japanese defenses had been set up. Only the regiment’s 1st battalion was left at Mt. Maculot to keep fighting the Japanese until such time when Malepunyo was subdued and reinforcements could be sent.
For a better understanding of the pincer tactic that the US Army employed to envelop the Japanese Imperial Army in Batangas, READ: “How Batangas was Liberated by Allied Forces from the Japanese in 1945.”
For the next two weeks, thus, the 187th sans its 1st battalion was in active combat in the Malepunyo area liberating the barrios of Sulok (which American documents mostly referred to as Sulac), Talisay and Sapac at the foot of the range. By the 12th of April, however, the regiment was relieved by the 511th Airborne and sent back to Mt. Maculot with the order “to wipe it out.”
It had become clear to US Army generals, however, that Japanese defenses on Mt. Maculot were so well–placed that it would take more than a battalion to overcome these. Therefore, the army supplied the 187th not only with more men but, significantly, also more firepower. The 760th, 756th and 675th artillery battalions were ordered to support the regiment along with a company each of chemical mortars, medium–sized tanks and tank destroyers.
|American armor and soldiers in the Battle of Mt. Maculot, 1945. Image source: “The Angels: A History of the 11th Airborne Division 1943-1946,” by Major Edward M. Flanagan Jr., published 1948.|
Despite the firepower, advancement was slow after the 1st Battalion captured Bukel Hill. Soldiers had to move across the face of Brownie Ridge under fire from Japanese mortars and machine guns. Flanagan described the action:
“Tank destroyers were placed along the highway just west of Dita from where they could fire directly at the mouths of caves in the side of the mountain, and 155mm howitzers were towed up to the front lines where they could lay directly on the caves with armor-piercing shell. At night, howitzers and tanks were surrounded with perimeters and left as bait to encourage Banzai attacks — long ago found to be the most profitable method of attacking the Japanese. For three days, a campaign of heckling was waged against the Japs in Macolod. Every second of the day and night some type of bullet landed among the Japanese positions — a burst of machine-gun fire, a mortar round, an artillery volley — no rest for the wicked, we thought, and with some it worked, for they stood up screaming, and were shot.”
Once the army’s corps of engineers successfully filled a deep ravine to bridge a gap towards the base of the mountain – and, thus, allowing the tanks to cross over – the writing was on the wall for the Japanese. On the 20th of April, with Corps Commander General Oscar Griswold watching, the 187th finally overran Japanese defenses at Mt. Maculot.
For another take on the Battle of Mt. Maculot, READ: “The Fierce Battle for the Control of Cuenca and Mount Makulot in 1945.”
Notes and references:1 Many details of this article are taken from the book “The Angels: A History of the 11th Airborne Division 1943-1946,” by Major Edward M. Flanagan Jr., published 1948 in Washington.
2 Many American World War II documents referred to Mount Maculot/Makulot as Macolod.
3 “187th Infantry Regiment (United States),” Wikipedia.
4 Bukel Hill was likely Bukal, and from the map in Flanagan’s book, appeared to have been in the Dita–Pinagtungulan area.