THE PHILIPPINES was the grave of the "Dai Nippon Teikoku" or the Empire of Japan, and its army, during the Second World War.
Although the United States smashed the Imperial Japanese armed forces in bloody conventional battles during the final 10 months of the war in the Philippines, it was the “Filipino Nation-in-Arms” that dug Japan’s grave month-by-month during the barbaric Japanese occupation: first by relentless intelligence gathering and, from 20 October 1944, by sustained nationwide attacks on the Imperial Japanese Army and the sabotage of its supply lines.
It was fitting that Filipino guerillas armed mostly with "bolos" (or "sundang" in Bisaya) exterminated the last remnants of the Japanese enemy during the no-quarter fighting in North Luzon. In the end, the murderous Japanese were reduced to cowardly animals fleeing from a vengeful people they had brutalized for three years.
The eventual annihilation of the Japanese Fourteenth Area Army from 1944 to 1945 would not have prospered as quickly as it did without Filipino guerilla "bolomen" leading the way and fighting alongside their American allies.
|Conquerors of Japan.|
Filipino guerillas were so successful in keeping the Japanese confined to a few cities and towns that the Japanese controlled only 12 of the 48 provinces by the time the Americans invaded Leyte on 20 October 1944. Practically all of Mindanao was guerilla controlled, as were most of the major islands in the Visayas, including Cebu, Panay and Negros.
Manila, the capital city, was surrounded by over a dozen large guerilla groups such as the USAFIP-NL (United States Army Forces in the Philippines-North Luzon), the Hukbalahap (Hukbo ng Bayan Laban sa Hapon), Hunters (ROTC) and the Marking Guerillas with over 50,000 men among them.
In all, over 250,000 guerillas fought the Japanese. They were supported by most of the 17 million Filipinos who lived through the terror of the Japanese occupation. Thousands of guerillas lost their lives fighting for their Motherland, many brutally tortured and slaughtered in the most gruesome manner.
Over one million Filipino civilians, guerillas and soldiers died as a result of Japanese action. Most were civilians murdered in cold blood.
|Heroic image of the Filipino fighting man in World War II.|
Effective nationwide resistance
For the Filipino Nation-in-Arms, the years between the surrender of the U.S. forces in the Philippines on 6 May 1942 until the American invasion of Leyte on 20 October 1944 were marked by its effective national resistance to the Japanese invader.
During the first year of the resistance, the collection and transmission of useful intelligence to Allied headquarters in Australia was the most important contribution Filipino guerrillas made to the Allied cause. Combat operations were confined to pinprick harassment, ambush and sabotage operations to prevent massive Japanese reprisals against the hapless civilian population.
Starting in Luzon, Filipino resistance would eventually enjoy its greatest successes in Mindanao and the Visayas prior to 1945.
As a result of guerilla actions, American attacks in the Visayas and Mindanao following the Leyte landings were mostly walkovers: Filipino guerillas in many cases had defeated the Japanese garrisons in their areas, leaving the Americans with the easy task of destroying a disorganized enemy fearful of guerilla attacks and reprisals.
The organized guerrillas in Mindanao were the largest and best equipped in the Philippines, numbering close to 40,000 men by January 1945. During American attacks on Mindanao, guerillas seized the key Japanese airfield at Dipolog, capital of Zamboanga del Norte and defended it until U.S. Army units entered the battle.
|Bolo-wielding guerillas guard Japanese prisoners.|
In Cebu, guerilla attacks on Japanese supply lines and troops contributed greatly to the relatively light resistance faced by the invading Americal Division. Denied safety in eastern and northern Cebu because these were guerilla controlled, the beaten Japanese were pursued into the mountains by guerillas and wiped-out with the aid of the Americans.
Maj. Gen. Charles Willoughby, intelligence officer of Gen. Douglas MacArthur, Supreme Commander of the Southwest Pacific Theater of Operations, said Cebuano guerillas had long enjoyed the reputation of having killed more Japanese than in any other area.
In Bacolod, Negros Occidental, guerillas guided troops of the U.S. 40th Infantry Division in hunting down and killing Japanese hidden in dense jungle. The neutralization of practically the entire Japanese garrison on Bohol by guerillas made the American landing a walkover: no Japanese contested the landing.
In 1944, the largest concentration of guerillas aiding the Americans was found on Leyte. Led by 3,000 Filipino guerillas, the U.S. Sixth Army quickly destroyed the Imperial Japanese Army (IJA) 16th Infantry Division, one of the divisions that conquered Bataan in April 1942.
Guerillas isolated the invasion beaches from Japanese reinforcements further inland by destroying bridges, attacking supply depots and convoys and ambushing Japanese troops headed for the front. With the invasion secure, the Leyte guerrillas were attached to U.S. Sixth Army divisions and engaged in scouting, intelligence and combat operations.
The destruction of four Japanese infantry divisions on Leyte with their 50,000 men cost the Americans 16,000 casualties (3,500 dead) when the campaign ended on 31 December 1944. Guerilla losses are undetermined but would have numbered into the hundreds considering the vicious fighting involved.
One fact remains clear, however: American losses would have been greater and their progress much slower without our guerillas.
Five days after the Leyte landings, MacArthur spoke highly of Filipino guerillas:
“As our forces of liberation roll forward, the splendid aid we are receiving from the guerilla units cause me at this time to pay public tribute to those great patriots both Filipino and American who had led and supported the resistance movement in the Philippines since the dark days of 1942.”
He said “. . . these inadequately armed patriots have fought the enemy for more than two years,” and that the resistance movement was crucial to the successful American campaign in the Philippines by clearing possible landing sites and providing intelligence reports on Japanese troop deployment.
|Filipino Muslim guerillas in Sulu. Filipino Muslims were never conquered by the Japanese.|
The Rising Sun extinguished
Their defeat in Leyte made it clear to the Japanese that the war in the Philippines was lost.
Despite this realization, the surviving Japanese trapped in Luzon fought on. With the U.S. landings at Lingayen Gulf in Pangasinan on 9 January 1945, the survivors of the doomed Fourteenth Area Army defending Luzon consigned themselves to a battle without quarter among a vengeful people on which they had inflicted the most unspeakable atrocities.
The Japanese defenders of North Luzon consisted of some 152,000 men in the Shobu Group, the largest of three combat groups defending Luzon and the Bicol Region. But because the Americans committed just three divisions (about 60,000) men at any one time against the Shobu Group, heavy fighting was undertaken by Filipino guerillas, especially those belonging to the "Guerilla Division," as the USAFIP-NL was better known.
The Filipino fighting men in this division began the final battle for North Luzon without air, armor or artillery support from the Americans, but ferociously attacked the Japanese driven by an insatiable desire for revenge.
The end of the Fourteenth Area Army was long in coming but pitifully few Japanese survived to see it.
|The bones of Japanese soldiers killed during the vicious battles for North Luzon.|
Of the 260,000 Japanese that fought the Filipino-Americans in North and South Luzon, only 9,000 were left alive at the unconditional Japanese surrender on 2 September 1945.
The rest were corpses rotting under the Philippine sun.
The Rising Sun had been extinguished by the Filipino Nation-in-Arms.
Great guerilla victory
The heroic Battle of Bessang Pass is hailed as the greatest Filipino combat victory in World War II. The Japanese defeat in this four-month long battle at the hands of the all-Filipino Guerilla Division led to the final encirclement of the surviving Japanese forces in North Luzon, and their subsequent surrender by Gen. Tomoyuki Yamashita in September.
The Guerilla Division consisted of five infantry regiments and a field artillery battalion. It had a strength of 20,000 officers and men, almost all of whom had fought at Bataan or in guerilla actions. Its commanding officer was an American, one of only five non-Filipinos in the unit.
The Guerilla Division took 2,000 casualties (600 dead) at the Battle of Bessang Pass but had inflicted 19,000 casualties (2,500 dead) on the Japanese when they destroyed the Japanese division and other units defending the pass. The division killed over 50,000 Japanese during the North Luzon campaign. Some 5,000 men of the Guerilla Division became casualties, not including an untold number of “bolomen.”
|Bessang Pass in Ilocos Sur, site of a great Filipino victory against the Japanese.|
When fighting ended in the Philippines on 15 August, Filipino guerillas and American infantry had eliminated most of the 380,000 men of the Imperial Japanese Army during the entire Philippine campaign. The Americans lost over 10,000 dead.
The fall of Luzon sealed the inevitable defeat of Imperial Japan.
The Koga Papers
The greatest intelligence victory achieved by our guerillas, on the other hand, was their capture of the “Koga Papers” in Cebu.
The Koga Papers, named after Admiral Mineichi Koga, commander of the Imperial Japanese Navy, detailed the secret defensive plans and instructions of the combined Japanese fleets, and gave complete information on the strength and dispositions of the Japanese fleet and its naval air units.
Koga succeeded Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto, Commander-in-Chief of the Imperial Japanese Navy Combined Fleet and architect of the attack on Pearl Harbor. Yamamoto was killed on 18 April 1943 when U.S. fighters shot down the bomber in which he was a passenger that was en route to Bougainville in the Solomon Islands.
Traveling to Davao from Palau Island (800 km east of the Philippines) on 31 March 1944, the seaplane carrying Koga strayed off course and crashed into the sea off the coast of Barangay Sangat, San Fernando, Cebu. Koga was killed in the crash and the 12 survivors, including Vice Admiral Shigeru Fukodome, Chief of Staff of the Combined Fleet, captured by Cebuano guerillas. Koga’s body, which was brought to shore by the survivors, was left unburied and was later eaten by dogs.
|Cebuano guerillas: Cebu was a key center of effective guerilla resistance.|
The papers were then sent by submarine to MacArthur in Australia. The Americans discovered the top secret papers were part of the “Sho” or “Z Plan” of the Japanese naval and air forces in the Pacific.
The papers revealed that poorly defended Leyte was the weak link in Japan’s defenses. As a result of this intelligence coup, MacArthur decided to invade Leyte in October instead of Sarangani Bay in Cotabato in December as originally planned.
Without doubt, this great Filipino intelligence feat led to the speedier liberation of the Philippines, thereby saving many more Filipino and American lives.
It will be useful to know what kind of a man the average Filipino guerilla was that helped defeat the Imperial Japanese Army. The Filipino guerilla was normally a civilian with no military training when he decided to take up arms against the Japanese enemy.
He fought the Japanese barefooted: guerillas rarely wore combat boots or footwear of any kind, and war era photos prove this. Since they went into battle unshod, guerillas were also referred to as “Barefoot Warriors.”
The guerilla was mostly a rural Filipino. Many were proficient in the use of the “bolo” (also called the Filipino machete) or knives such as the famous “balisong,” otherwise known as the Batangas knife or butterfly knife.
Bolos were weapons used throughout the Philippines to cut bamboo and sugarcane or to hack through foliage. Hence, many guerillas were adept at wielding bladed weapons. Others were expert at Filipino boxing, which is called "panantukan" ("suntukan") in Tagalog or "pangamot" in Bisaya.
Most guerillas fought the Japanese armed with bolos and bamboo spears since only one in five guerillas was armed with a rifle. The traditions of "Kali" or "Arnis" or "Eskrima," now called Filipino Martial Arts or FMA, were strong among Filipino males during the war.
Because of their penchant for hacking Japanese to death, Filipino guerillas earned the fearful name, “Bolomen.” The Japanese, quite literally, died by the sword in combat against bolomen.
|Extreme close quarter combat: Filipinos sharpen their bolo fighting skills.|
And it was with their razor sharp bolos that many Filipino guerillas took revenge on the hated Japanese in the bloody, dying days of Japan’s defeated empire.
The destruction of the entire Imperial Japanese Army in the Philippines was the greatest victory for the Filipino Nation-in-Arms. Of the 380,000 Japanese who vainly resisted the Filipino-American forces from October 1944 to September 1945, close to 340,000 were killed.
It was the largest death toll suffered by the Imperial Japanese Army during World War II in a single campaign.
Only the 480,000 Japanese killed in China during the Second Sino-Japanese War from 1937 to 1945 resulted in more Japanese deaths. But the Second Sino-Japanese War that began in 1937 is a unique war separate from World War II and another war unto itself. World War II began on 1 September 1939 with Nazi Germany's invasion of Poland.
Only in the Philippines were this many Japanese soldiers killed, making our country the world's largest single graveyard of Japanese racism and militarism in World War II.
A massive bronze statue honoring all Filipino Guerillas that fought against the brutal Empire of Japan in World War II stands proudly at the hallowed island of Corregidor, the Holy Shrine to Filipino Heroism.