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    The Macajalar Bay Landing and the Liberation of Mindanao

    It’s ironic how some seven going on eight decades down the road, many Kagay-anons remain unaware that it was their compatriots, and not the Americans, who liberated Cagayan de Misamis from the Japanese on 12 May 1945.

    Before the Liberation of the town on May 12, 1945, by local guerrillas of the 10th Military District, preliminary operations were already being carried by out the 110th Infantry Regiment (Guerrilla) to clear Japanese garrison troops from the Bugo-Tagoloan areas in coordination with US Army X Corps.

    Genesis of the Macajalar Landing

    The 31st Division was already inching up Sayre Highway in central Mindanao in late April 1945, its progress delayed not only by stiffening Japanese resistance but also by the appalling road conditions and bridges destroyed by both the Japanese and the guerrillas.

    During initial operations along the highway, it was possible to move supplies via the Mindanao River (Rio Grande de Mindanao) in Landing Craft Medium (LCMs) of the 533d and then transship the materiel over land from the Fort Pikit area to the 31st Division. 

    However, the rainy season was imminent and there was every likelihood that road conditions would de teriorate further in spite of the best engineer efforts.

    Eighth Army recommended a new supply base be established on the north coast of Mindanao at or near the terminus of Sayre Highway, and troops be sent southward along the highway to link up with the 31st Division in Central Min danao, splitting the defending Japanese into two separate and isolated forces.

    Thanks mainly to the presence of the Del Monte Pineapple Plantation in Tankulan (now Manolo Fortich), the Sayre Highway was always kept in much better condition between the north coast and Dalirig than between Dalirig and towns further south like Malaybalay. 

    The Sayre Highway

    On 2 Sept. 1940, President Manual L. Quezon accompanied by High Commissioner Francis Sayre and Bukidnon Assemblyman Manuel Fortich formally opened the P1.1-million, 155-kilometer Cotabato-Bukidnon highway (which later became known as the Sayre Highway, or Highway No. 3) with a grand celebration at the Bukidnon-Cotabato border. As “the principal line of land communication between the northern and southern parts of Mindanao,” this single land, all-weather gravel road bisected Bukidnon plateau. 

    Operation Victor V-A

    General Douglas MacArthur approved the plan on 29 April and ordered the 108th RCT (Regimental Combat Team) of the 40th Division to land in the Macajalar Bay in northern Mindanao as soon as practicable after 6 May, the landing to be known as the Victor-V-A Operation in accordance with General Eichelberger’s plan for the clearance of the Sayre Highway in Bukidnon.

    The landing date was designated Q Day and was set for 10 May in an area to be known as Brown Beach at Tin-ao, Barrio Agusan, near the town of Cagayan, with H Hour at 0730.

    On 3 May, a week before the landing took place, a small group of officers made a reconnaissance of the beach area. However, since guerrillas did not hold the area selected for the landing, no reconnaissance of the proposed landing beach was possible, but the guerrillas furnished much information on enemy strength and on the condition of the beach, roads, surrounding area.

    Later, the 110th Infantry Regiment of the 110th Division,10th Military District (Guerrilla) performed a reconnaissance of the Agusan beach area and Japanese elements in the area. The group returned safely to their launch base following a skirmish with Japanese garrison troops. The following morning, they looked out into Macajalar Bay and observed the 108th RCT arriving in LVTs.

    The IJA Defense of Northern Mindanao

    Meantime, Lt. General Gyokasu Morozumi, who has assumed command of the defense of Mindanao following the departure of Gen. Sosako Suzuki to Leyte, found himself in similar dire straits as Lt. Gen. William Sharp three years earlier.

    His 30th Panther Division had about 17,500 troops, including 8,000-odd men of his own division, around 4,500 troops of attached combat and service elements, and nearly 5,000 Army Air Force personnel. Trained ground combat effective numbered roughly 5,800. 

    Morozumi divided his combat strength among five defensive units. 

    The Northern Sector Unit defended the shores of Macajalar Bay, on Mindanao's north-central coast 30 air miles northwest of Malabalay, and Sayre Highway from the bay southeast 25 miles to Maluko. With around 4,500 men, the Northern Sector Unit included the 30th Division's reconnaissance regiment, a regular infantry battalion, miscellaneous combat and service units, and the provisional infantry battalion Morozumi had formed from Air Force engineers. 

    Responsibility for the defense of Sayre Highway from Kabacan north to Kibawe rested with the 2,500-man Southern Sector Unit, which included a battalion of regular infantry, the equivalent of a battalion of engineers, and miscellaneous groups. 

    The next 85 miles of highway, from Kibawe north to Maluko, was held by the Central Sector Unit–5,500 troops including an infantry regiment less one battalion, a reinforced artillery battalion, and service units. 

    Near Malabalay, over 40 air miles north of Kibawe, were headquarters and division troops of the 30th Division, another 1,000 men in all. 

    Far northeast, at Butuan Bay, was the 2,200-man Eastern Sector Unit, built around one regular infantry battalion. 

    Having already laid plans for the 30th Division to retreat east from Sayre Highway, Morozumi directed the Eastern Sector Unit to move up the Agusan River from Butuan Bay to collect food and prepare the southern reaches of the river's broad valley as the last-stand area for the main body of the 30th Division.

    Assessing the Defense

    Actually, there were only half or 4,500 Japanese troops defending the Macajalar Bay area, including miscellaneous combat and service units, and the provisional infantry battalion Morozumi had formed from Air Force engineers.

    It seemed the Americans were not yet aware of the change in the Japanese defense tactics which Morozumi said was discussed in a Manila conference on July 1944. Seeing how their defenses beachside were always subject to naval and air bombardments, they instead chose to deploy their forces in an arc-defense about 10 kilometers from the anticipated American landing, so they would suffer far fewer casualties in the initial phase of the operations and be in a much stronger position to engage the advancing forces.

    Ground reinforcements by the Japs were impossible because of the transfer of a large number of infantry to Leyte and continual harassment by organized guerrillas and American air force units.

    Adding to the manpower and logistics shortages facing Morozumi at the time was the intensified Allied air attacks on Mindanao beginning 09 September 1944 which greatly hampered the movement of his troops and resulted in considerable damage to his supplies.

    The mission assigned to the 108th RCT was to destroy all enemy encountered in the zone of advance; conduct operations west and south along the Sayre Highway to affect a junction with friendly forces advancing from the south; and seize Del Monte Airfield.

    The 108th, without rest after successfully terminating its operations on Leyte and Masbate, assembled and combat loaded at Ormoc on 08 May, the same day Nazi Germany surrendered unconditionally to Allied forces. 

    Guerrillas Clear the Way

    The Americans found the beachhead at Tin-ao, northeast of Agusan near Bugo in the Macajalar Bay Area already secured by the guerrillas.

    From 27 April 1945 till the eve of the Macajalar Bay landing, guerrillas of the 110th Infantry Regiment, 110th Division fought a see-saw battle with Japanese garrison troops in Tagoloan and Bugo, with air support from American B-24 Liberators and B-25 Mitchell bombers.

    Later, LCIs (L) 9 and 10 of Task Group 70.4 under the command of Lieutenant Albert C. Eldridge. shuttled guerrillas from Villanueva and Gingoog to Brown Beach, and again on May 12, ferrying more guerrillas from Gingoog, Balingasag, Baraboo to secure the beachhead.

    Task Group 70.4  was created to aid Filipino Guerrillas in the southern areas of the Philippines. As originally constituted, the Task Group consisted of Landing Craft, Support (Large) LCS (L) 9 and 10, and Landing Craft Infantry (Large) LCI (L) s 361 and 363. 

    Close Air Support & Cover

    At least 65 sorties were carried out by various aircraft, the most by 16 B-25 Mitchell medium bombers which strafed and bombed Tagoloan with another 16 hitting Cagayan starting at 0730 Hrs. Each B-25 carried 12 100-lb. bombs and both missions reported 90% of bombs on target with no antiaircraft fire reported. These units belonged to the 42nd Bombardment Group under Col. Paul F. Helmick operating from Puerto Princesa, Palawan.

    They were supported by 16 SBD Patrol Bombers which dive-bombed targets in the Sayre Highway, while Marine F4U Corsairs flew combat air patrol over the area, being relieved by P-61 Black Widow night fighters of the 419th Night Fighter Squadron based in Moret Field, Zamboanga, early evening. A lone PBY Catalina of the 2d Emergency Squadron also flew over the area to pick up downed aviators but no enemy aircraft appeared to contest the landing.

    Landing at Tin-ao, Agusan

    The combined force arrived off Tin-ao, Barrio Agusan, Macajalar Bay, at dawn on 10 May 1945 (Q-Day). A line of departure was established 3,000 yards off Brown Beach, the designated beachhead.

    Planes bombed the flanks, while destroyers laid a barrage of 5-inch shells directly upon the beach at 0730 with USCGC Ingham directing operations.

    H-Hour was set back one hour when a torpedo was fired ineffectively by an enemy submarine, but at 0830, Landing Ships, Tanks (LSTs) began discharging the 1st Battalion of the 108th RCT aboard Tracked Landing Vehicles (LVT Buffaloes) for the first and second waves, the first wave hitting the beach with no opposition at 0830 and the second landing four minutes later.

    The 108th History reported the Battalion Landing Team (BLT) consisted of the First Battalion (Reinforced), with Companies A & B in the assault. The landing, made in three waves of 10 vehicles each, was unopposed and a perimeter was soon set up around a beachhead 500 yards in depth. 

    It marked the first time American forces landed in Cagayan at exactly the same date three years earlier that the USAFFE Vis-Min Forces under Maj. Gen. William F. Sharp surrendered to the Japanese in Malaybalay, Bukidnon.

    The entire convoy was successfully unloaded before nightfall of the first day, and a strong perimeter was set up by shore personnel reinforced by some LVTS.
    During the morning most of the LCM’s of Combat Tram 11 also went ashore, landing much shore party equipment as well as personnel.

    At 1200 Col. Stratta assumed command from the Naval Task Force Commander Rear Adm. Arthur D. Struble. 

    Many defensive positions were found along the Sayre Highway, but at the end of Q-Day, none had been occupied. Twenty Japanese were killed scattered through the valley, and these were found to be service troops. Many more enemy troops and motor transports were reported withdrawing north of Alae, and the column was bombed and strafed by supporting planes. Enemy troops were also sighted in the vicinity of Mangima Canyon. 

    Securing the Beach Head

    By 1900 the seventh and last LST was fully off-loaded, the beachhead was never under enemy fire, and in fact, the 40th Division troops advancing inland met only light and ineffectual resistance, killing 17 Japanese during the day.

    Two days after the Macajalar Bay landing, guerrillas liberated Cagayan on 12 May 1945, as the 108th Regt went straight up the Sayre Highway for its link-up with the 31st Division.

    The 108th Regimental Combat Team and the 155th Regimental Combat Team of the 31st Division linked up just outside Impalutao, Bukidnon on 23 May 1945. The juncture of the two forces marked the end of organized Japanese resistance along the Sayre Highway.

    While the Liberation of Cagayan may be considered a minor engagement in the context of the main American strategy for the liberation of the entire Mindanao, that should not detract from the valor and sacrifice of our guerrillas who were up to the task of not only securing the flank of the 108th RCT to ensure it attained its strategic objective to complete the capture of Sayre Highway from its northern terminus but also liberate Cagayan from the yoke of the Imperial Japanese Army which had snared their countrymen for the last three years. (Compiled by Mike Baños)

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