January 7, 2019

The Rescue of White War Refugees from Calatagan, Batangas by US Army Engineers in 1945

Spanish evacuees from Manila welcome American soldiers.  Image source:  United States National Archives.  Colorized courtesy of Algorithmia.
Spanish evacuees from Manila welcome American soldiers.  Image source:  United States National Archives.  Colorized courtesy of Algorithmia.
[In this article: World War II Batangas, Calatagan Batangas, Nasugbu Batangas, 592 US Army Engineering Regiment, war stories, civilian refugees World War II]
On the 30th of January 1945, the United States’ Eighth Army landed on the beaches of Nasugbu with the aim of blocking the southern retreat of Japanese Imperial Army troops from Manila and also subsequently liberate southern Luzon, including Batangas, from Japanese occupation. Most of the troops in this group were from the 11th Airborne Division, the exploits of which are serialized in Batangas History1.

One of the units that would be attached to the 11th Airborne was the 592nd Regiment2, one of amphibious forces formed by the United States in World War II with engineering capabilities but subsequently disbanded after the war in 1946. The regiment left Mindoro on the 3rd of February, four days after the landing at Nasugbu, and arrived the following day at barrio Wawa of the same town3.

Upon arrival, the regiment bivouacked near the Wawa River estuary where there was good anchorage. Its soldiers were initially tasks with unloading FS boats4 of their cargo for use by troops engaged against retreating Japanese troops. When not preoccupied unloading freight and supplies, they engaged in their “chief pastime” of capturing Japanese Q-Boats. Presumably, these were the “Sea Quake” class of Japanese suicide boats used in desperation as part of the Imperial Army’s “Special Attacks Unit5.”

READ:US Army Surprises Japanese at Palico, Nasugbu in 1945, Bluff Its Way up to Tagaytay.”
On Valentine’s day, the Japanese staged what was intended to be a sneak attack using Q Boats on Nasugbu. However, Lt. Kenneth R. MacKaig, commander of the regiment’s Company C, had anticipated that they would resort to something like this and had log booms – temporary floating barriers6 – made to protect the shore area.

Because the Q boats were made with plywood, attacking at speed presumably they were thwarted by the booms and became fodder for Company C, who managed to capture seven of these boats. Some were still in good shape, so the American soldiers promptly made a sport of Q Boat racing on the waters off Nasugbu.

But among the company’s more remarkable experiences while bivouacked at Nasugbu was the rescue from the town of Calatagan of white war refugees who had fled from Manila to escape persecution by the Japanese. On the 20th of February, MacKaig was approached by a Spanish landowner from the area requesting the rescue of these refugees.

Japanese troops scouring Calatagan, the landowner told the lieutenant, “had orders to kill all white people on sight and that already the search was on.” Attempts by American troops and Filipino guerrillas to reach the town by land, he added, were turned back by Japanese roadblocks. Thus, the only way to stage a rescue was by sea.



Five days later, the regiment sent a convoy of boats to stage the rescue. One Filipino courier had been sent ahead to Calatagan the day before to give instructions to the refugees. The courier was told to impress upon the refugees the utmost need for secrecy. If the plan remained undiscovered, they were to wave a large American flag at the shore to tell the American troops that the rescue could be staged. They were told to stay close to each other and to keep other civilians away so that the Americans could fire freely if necessary.
Members of the 592nd Regiment while still in Australia.  Image source:  "Put 'Em Across" via Ralph Denlinger  Downloaded from Australia@War.
Members of the 592nd Regiment while still in Australia.  Image source:  "Put 'Em Across" via Ralph Denlinger  Downloaded from Australia@War.
The convoy out at sea quickly saw the flag and the small group of white refugees. The book “History of The Second Engineer Special Brigade” described the rescue:
“1st Lieutenant Joseph J. Blumberg of Queens Village, New York, then maneuvered his LCM7 through the narrow reef-studded channel while the second LCM was sent out beyond the range of small arms fire to stand by as the safety boat. The picket boat moved back and forth directing all movement by radio and ready to add her fire to any critical spot. All men and officers literally held their breaths while Lt. Blumberg's LCM made the channel at dead slow speed. She was just a sitting duck with no room to maneuver in case of attack. The beach was finally made without a shot being fired, the ramp lowered, and the refugees entered the barge among scenes that will never be forgotten.”
In all, 90 people were rescued, including the wife of one of General Douglas MacArthur’s staff. They had been separated for three years. Their reunion was most poignant: “…he was standing on the catwalk near the ramp eagerly searching the crowd when he saw his wife smiling at him. For three long years they had waited for that day.”

Off the convoy went back to Nasugbu, the American soldiers amazed that there had been no firing from the erstwhile reported Japanese troops. Before leaving, they set aside a stranded Japanese lugger – a small sailing ship8 - as well as a couple of Q Boats.

But the Japs had been there, presumably positioned to ambush the rescue. What happened to them was described by the “History of The Second Engineer Special Brigade:”
“It was later discovered that the Japs did have positions on all approaches to the beachhead but had taken off when they saw the landing craft heading into shore. They had flashed the word that an assault landing was being staged and, mindful of the bombardment that accompanies most of the Yank landings, the Jap Headquarters had even moved their CP further into the hills in an effort to hide from the hated Yanks.”
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Notes and references:
1The Angels: A History of the 11th Airborne Division 1943-1946,” by Major Edward M. Flanagan Jr., published 1948 in Washington.
2Engineer Special Brigade (United States),” Wikipedia.
3 Most of the important details of this article are taken from “
History of The Second Engineer Special Brigade. United States Army, World War II,” by the United States Army Corps of Engineering, 2nd Special Brigade, published 1946 in the United States.
4 FS ships or boats were used for freight and supply. “FS-255 (U.S. Army ship),” Wikipedia.
5Shin'yō-class suicide motorboat,” Wikipedia.
6
Boom (containment),” Wikipedia.
7 LCM stood for Landing Craft Mechanized. “Landing Craft Mechanized,” Wikipedia.
8Lugger,” Wikipedia.

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