[In this article: Batangas Province, Batangas City Batangas, Batangas airfield, Batangas airdrome, Jesus Villamor, World War II Batangas, Filipino flying aces]
Before the Second World War, there was a landing field maintained by the American colonial government in what is now the city of Batangas. The landing field was loosely referred to as the Batangas airfield or the Batangas airdrome. By late 1941, as tensions in the Pacific heated up leading to the outbreak of war in the Far East, the Philippine Army Air Corps (PAAC), the forerunner of the present-day Philippine Air Force1, maintained facilities, including aircraft, at Batangas airfield.
The Japanese, as all readers will likely know, attacked the American naval base at Pearl Harbor in Hawaii on the 7th of December that same year. Within a matter of hours, Japanese aircraft were also raiding in the skies over the Philippines2.
By the 10th of December, the Japanese Imperial Army sent some 54 bombers3 ostensibly to destroy the Batangas airdrome. This was part of a wave of attacks from the air aimed at wiping out American air defenses in the Philippines. The initial air raids on Clark in Pampanga and the auxiliary airfield in Iba (Zambales) alone destroyed roughly half of the planes of the United States’ Far East Air Force4.
|Jesus Villamor in Washington DC with the wives of US President Franklin D. Roosevelt and President Manuel L. Quezon. Image extracted from a 1944 edition of the Philippine Magazine.|
While American losses were heavy then, there was a measure of success farther south won by, of all things, a group of Filipino fighters of the fledgling PAAC, led by Villamor, Commander of the 6th Pursuit Squadron. An article in a 1944 edition of the Philippine Magazine described what happened:
“During an attack on the airdrome at Batangas by 54 enemy bombers, Captain Villamor took off and led six pursuit planes to engage the enemy. He and his companions succeeded in driving the enemy bombers away. Villamor himself downed one of them.”
What made Villamor and company’s feat all the more remarkable was that their success was achieved flying what the author John Toland in his 1961 book called an “antiquated” aircraft, the Boeing P-26 “Peashooter” which Toland called as “practically a museum piece, with non-retractable landing gear5.” The Japanese bombers were most likely the Mitsubishi G4M bombers, which were wont to have been escorted by then-state of the art and highly maneuverable Mitsubishi A6M “Zero” fighters.
But Villamor was no ordinary pilot. Days earlier, he had saved his Peashooter at Zablan field (present day Camp Aguinaldo in Quezon City6) by taking off without warming up his plane as the Zeroes attacked the airfield. He was pursued by a Zero and could not shake it off despite a series of daring maneuvers.
Finally, he dove his Peashooter under a row of high tension wires, making the Japanese pilot think that he was about to crash. The pilot of the Zero then went on to find somebody else to pursue7.
Before the battle over Batangas airfield, Villamor initially thought that the approaching aircraft was friendly. Then he realized that they were enemy aircraft. He was initially scared, but the fact that the approaching planes were Japanese made him angry that he took off nonetheless, the rest of men right behind him.
|he "Peashooter" (above), described as "practically a museum piece." mage credit: War in Air, Defenders of the Philippines.|
In his 1951 book, author Walter D. Edmonds described what ensued:
“The Jap bombers had a covering force of Zeros but, before the latter could drive off the P—26s, Villamor had shot down one bomber and scattered the rest. Then the Zeros were on them. One of the Filipinos was wounded and took to his chute, and Lieutenant C. M. Basa was killed when seven Japanese planes ganged on his slower ship and just rode him into the ground8.”
For his heroism over Batangas airfield, Villamor was awarded with an Oak Leaf Cluster, which was to be worn with the Distinguished Service Cross, the second highest medal that is awarded to a soldier of the United States Army9. The army wrote, “By this heroic action against enormous odds, part of the attacking bombers were driven off, one enemy plane being destroyed by Captain Villamor.”
The Filipino ace was again involved in another encounter with the Japanese in February of the following year, but was a non-combatant. He was piloting a photographic plane, most likely for reconnaissance purposes, when Japanese fighter planes suddenly appeared. Villamor successfully landed his plane despite the threat from the Japanese aircraft, which his escort fighter planes then engaged in what the United States Army called “one of the most spectacular that was waged in the Philippine campaign.”
By April of 1942, no less than General Douglas MacArthur ordered Villamor, a business graduate of De la Salle College10 out of the Philippines, presumably because by then, the Japanese had become aware of his burgeoning reputation and he would have made a prized capture.
He would be ordered later to return to the Philippines gathering military intelligence which, in turn, was fed back to MacArthur in his base in Australia. After the war, he would receive from President Ramon Magsaysay the Medal of Valor, the highest military award in the Philippines for bravery. He passed away in 1971, and the Philippine Air Force Base in Pasay City formerly known as Nichols Field is in the present-day named after him11.
Notes and references:1 “Philippine Army Air Corps,” Wikipedia.
2 “Philippines Campaign (1941–42),” Wikipedia.
3 “Villamor, Filipino Ace, in Washington,” published in “Philippines Magazine,” January 1944, online at the Internet Archive.
4 “Philippines Campaign (1941–42),” Wikipedia. Ibid.
5 “But Not in Shame: The Six Months After Pearl Harbor,” by John Toland, published in 1961 in the United States.
6 “Camp Aguinaldo.” Wikipedia.
7 Toland, ibid.
8 “They Fought With What They Had The Story of the Army Air Force,” by Walter D. Edmonds, published 1951 by the Center for Air Force History in Washington D.C., online at the Internet Archive.
9 “Distinguished Service Cross, Oak Leaf Cluster,” Wikipedia.
10 “Jesús A. Villamor,” Wikipedia.
11 “Jesús A. Villamor,” Wikipedia, ibid.