September 3, 2018

Stories about the Liberation of Batangas City from Japanese Occupation

The 158th Regimental Combat Team advancing towards Batangas town.  Image source:  United States National Archives.  Colorized courtesy of Algorithmia.
The 158th Regimental Combat Team advancing towards Batangas town.  Image source:  United States National Archives.  Colorized courtesy of Algorithmia.
[Topics in this article: Batangas City Batangas, World War II in Batangas, Liberation of Batangas, Nasugbu landing 1945, PT boats Batangas, US Army Sub-base R, Batangas airfield, Lipa airstrip]
From the so-called “historical data” of Batangas City1 – documents required by the national government in 1951 of Department of Education districts around the country to reconstruct local histories because of destruction caused by World War II – we get these otherwise forgotten stories set in the then-town of Batangas at around the time of the liberation of the province from Japanese occupation.

As has been stated in other articles with content based on these so-called historical data, the information culled from these documents cannot be taken at face value. Often, the documents contained transcriptions of people’s memories and often wanted for more details. Sometimes, the information is also difficult to corroborate with credible sources.

Fortuitously, these liberation stories set in the town of Batangas are easy to verify, albeit there is the inevitable historical gaffe here and there.
“On November 25, 1944, a squadron of U.S. Army fighter planes made their first appearance in the skies of Batangas. The people were alarmed by the strange airplane sounds at about 10:00 a.m. Then followed the explosion of bombs faintly heard by the townsfolk.

The Lipa airstrip was being pounded. After ten minutes’ pounding of the airport, the sound became more audible and finally deafening. The planes soared above the skies of Batangas and circled around. Before they could finish the circle, they banked and dived one after another raining death and destruction on the Batangas Airport.

The Japanese anti-aircraft (guns) barked and retaliated but all the planes left unscathed. The planes reappeared the following week and came in regularly thereafter until the airstrip was totally destroyed.”
The planes probably belonged to the 5th and 7th Air Forces of the United States Army Air Forces, which had been tasked with neutralizing “Japanese airfields from Manila south on Luzon.” This was at a time when the Americans were seeking to move troops from Leyte to San Jose in Southwestern Mindoro in preparation for landings in Lingayen and Nasugbu early the following year2. The Americans were also seeking to build an air base in San Jose from which planes could take off “to provide air cover for convoys moving towards Lingayen Gulf” and also support land operations in Luzon. All these were going on in December of 1944, so chances are that the date given in the “historical data” was erroneous.
Photo of the Batangas airdrome under attack by American planes in 1945.  Image source:  United States National Archives.  Colorized courtesy of Algorithmia.
Photo of the Batangas airdrome under attack by American planes in 1945.  Image source:  United States National Archives.  Colorized courtesy of Algorithmia.
That said, there was indeed an airfield used by the Philippine Army Air Corps3 that had been taken over by the Japanese soon after its occupation of the country in 1942. They also built an airfield in Lipa – which would become present-day Fernando Air Base. Flying from one to the other would have taken a matter of minutes, so the description of the attacks on both bases seem very credible.
“In December of the same year, the town (Batangas) was hammered by P.T. gunboats4. The civilians fled in panic, but were very happy (about the PT boat attacks, presumably on Japanese ships) for it was a sure sign that the liberators (i.e. the US Army) will very soon arrive. About the middle part of January, 1945, clouds of bombers and fighters appeared in the skies south of Batangas. They were escorting U.S. transport ships loaded with U.S. soldiers which made their successful landing in Nasugbu, Batangas.”
P.T. boats were high-speed motorized torpedo boats of the United States Navy which were used to neutralize EMBs – for explosive motor boat – used by the Japanese for suicide missions. Batangas Bay was one of four points in Luzon where the Japanese Navy concentrated these boats in anticipation of the American invasion5. Because the US Navy had successfully broken Japanese codes, it also sought out and destroyed these EMBs before “they could be committed to action6.”
An American WWII PT Boat.  Image source:  United States National Archives.  Colorized courtesy of Algorithmia.
An American WWII PT Boat.  Image source:  United States National Archives.  Colorized courtesy of Algorithmia.

The “middle of January” stated in the document was somewhat erroneous. The convoy that made the trip from Leyte to Mindoro and thence to Nasugbu left on 27 January 1945. It was led by the command ship USS Spencer and consisted of 4 destroyers, 32 LCIs (landing craft infantry), 8 LSMs (landing craft personnel) and 6 LCTs (land craft tanks). The actual landing on the beachheads at Nasugbu was on 31 January7.
“On March 8 and 9, 1945, the Japanese applied the scorched earth measure to this town (Batangas) knowing pretty well that the American soldiers would be due any minute. In the evening of March 10, 1945, the Americans who were at Bolbok, Batangas incessantly shelled the town until the following day. They entered the town in the morning of March 11 but the Japanese offered only a very slight resistance.”
The “scorched earth” is a “military strategy that aims to destroy anything that might be useful to the enemy while it is advancing through or withdrawing from a location8.” The Japanese, as they withdrew, likely torched houses and other facilities that the Americans could have made use of, something that they did in the then-town of Lipa as well before they withdrew to Mount Malepunyo. 11 March was, indeed, when Batangas was “secured” by the 158th Regimental Combat Team according to a US Army document; and resistance was also light because the heavier Japanese defenses were set up at the Calumpang Peninsula9.
“Soldiers’ camps sprung (up) like mushrooms; ships docked in Batangas Bay (i.e. the pier); tools, equipment, food supplies and clothing were unloaded and brought to the depot. Batangas finally became a base called Sub-Base ‘R.’ Schools were opened in June 1946, financed by the PECAU for 3 months. Slowly and gradually, the normal life was restored with the reconstruction and rehabilitation of buildings that were remnants of the war.”
Tents sprung up at Sub-base R in Batangas.  Image source:  United States National Archives.  Colorized courtesy of Algorithmia.
Tents sprung up at Sub-base R in Batangas.  Image source:  United States National Archives.  Colorized courtesy of Algorithmia.
Indeed, Batangas was quickly transformed into one of the US Army’s so-called “letter bases,” which were “major area commands” and logistics centers. As Sub-base R, Batangas was under the umbrella of Base M in San Fernando, Pampanga10. Numerous pictures taken by the US Army’s Signal Corps are filed away at the United States National Archives. Unfortunately, Batangas History is unable to find any Internet documents about PECAU other than a vague reference to it having been part of the US Army. The acronym probably stood for an organization within the army that took charge of reconstruction and rehabilitation after the war.

The following two articles provide pictures and information about Base R in Batangas in 1945 and the immediate post-war years:
More about Base R, an American Logistics Base in Batangas City in WWII

US Army Signal Corps Pictures while in Batangas City Post-World War II
Notes and references:
1History and Cultural Life of the Poblacion Batangas City,” online at the National Library of the Philippines Digital Collections. History and Cultural Life of the Poblacion Batangas City
2US Army in World War II, The War in the Pacific, Triumph in the Philippines” by Robert Ross Smith, published in 1993 by the Office of the Chief of Military History, Department of the Army, Washington D.C.
3 The Philippine Army Air Corps was the forerunner of the Philippine Air Force. “Philippine Army Air Corps,” Wikipedia.
4 PT Boats were motorized torpedo boats of the United States Navy in World War II. “Wikipedia.”
5Explosive Motorboats based in the Philippines 1944-1945,” by Bob Hackett and Sander Kingsepp, online at CombinedFleet.com.
6Suicide Squads: The Men and Machines of World War II Special Operations,” by Richard O’Neill, published 1981.
7The Angels: A History of the 11th Airborne Division 1943-1946",” by Major Edward M. Flanagan Jr., published 1948 in Washington.
8Scorched earth,” Wikipedia.
9List of Towns Liberated by the US Army from 17 October 1944 to 11 August 1945,” created 1945 by the Office of the AC/S for Intelligence, G2, United States Army Philippines-Ryukyus Command.
10US Army Letter Bases,” online at Pacific Wrecks.

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