The Bambang Front--II
The 25th Division on Route 5
The 25th Division's Drive Begins
On 21 February, when the 25th and 32d Divisions began their converging attacks toward Santa Fe, it had appeared to Sixth Army and I Corps that the principal Japanese defenses on the Bambang front were located along Route 5. For this reason, I Corps had initially assigned the 32d Division broader missions than the 25th, at least in terms of terrain and objectives. I Corps had expected the 32d Division to clear the Villa Verde Trail, seize Santa Fe, and then secure Route 5 from Santa Fe south to Digdig, which is eleven miles north of San Jose as the crow flies. The 25th Division would clear Route 5 from San Jose north to Digdig; open Route 100 from Rizal (ten miles southeast of San Jose) north seventeen miles to Carranglan; and secure Route 100 from Carranglan west six miles to that road's junction with Route 5 at Digdig.1
The Terrain and the Plan
Route 5, in February 1945 a good, two-lane gravel road, runs northeast about four miles through open, flat country between San Jose and barrio Rosaldo, which elements of the 25th Division had taken on 14 February. (See Map XI.) Near Rosaldo the highway swings northward through a narrow section of the valley of the Talavera River, which changes its name to Digdig River north of barrio Digdig. Three miles north of Rosaldo, at Lumboy, the highway leaves the river and swings north-northeast about seven miles to Digdig, where it drops down a sharp slope back into the river valley. The terrain west of Route 5 between Rosaldo and Digdig is generally wooded and rises steeply from 500 feet at the highway to 1,000 feet within a quarter of a mile of the road. To the east, the ground rises just as sharply, but on this side of the highway much of the terrain is more open and many of the slopes are grassy.
Starting at a point about 500 feet above sea level at Rizal, Route 100, a narrow dirt road, winds north-northeast about ten miles through rough hills that rise to a height of 1,000 feet. The road then turns north and northwest, traversing ten miles of open, gently sloping country on its way to Carranglan. From Carranglan west to Digdig, following a course that takes it over grassy hills about
1,000 feet high, Route 100 is a good, two-lane gravel road.
The 25th Division, on 21 February 1945, had discovered two other possible routes of advance northward in its sector. The first was a narrow trail originating at Lupao, on Route 8 nine miles northwest of San Jose, and running eastward across the tough, forested terrain of the Caraballo mountains to Puncan, on Route 5 three miles south of Digdig. The second was an ill-defined trail that originated near barrio Rosaldo and ran north through the same mountains, west of Route 5, to join the first trail near Puncan. On 21 February a battalion of the 25th Division's 161st Infantry was in contact with Japanese outposts along both trails at points about two miles south and southwest of Puncan. The 27th Infantry had halted in front of a Japanese strongpoint on Route 5 near Lumboy; the 35th Infantry had troops along Route 100 not far north of Rizal.
With the extant dispositions, the methods of attack among which General Mullins, the division commander, could choose to reach Digdig were obvious.2 He could mount a power drive up Route 5 with the 27th Infantry, or he could stage wide flanking maneuvers with either or both the 35th and 161st Infantry Regiments. A frontal assault up the highway might prove quite costly, or might permit Japanese defensive forces that the 25th Division knew were located at Puncan to escape northward. West of Route 5 the terrain was such as to inhibit the logistic support of sufficient forces to achieve quick, decisive results during an attack toward Digdig. The remaining choice seemed the best to Mullins--to have the 35th Infantry mount a flanking attack via Route 100, swing on to Route 5 at Digdig, and cut off the Japanese at Puncan, falling upon them from the rear. Meantime, the 27th Infantry was to maintain pressure north along Route 5; the 161st was to strike for high ground overlooking Puncan on the west, ready to continue north over this terrain as far as Digdig.
North to Digdig
Starting north on 23 February and encountering negligible opposition, the 35th Infantry reached Carranglan on the 26th.3 One battalion then filed down a rough trail leading into Puncan from the northeast, and on 1 March secured heights overlooking the battered town. The next day, as patrols entered deserted Puncan, the rest of the regiment probed cautiously west along Route 100 from Carranglan. Much to the regiment's and division's surprise this stretch of the road also proved to be virtually undefended, and on 3 March the 35th Infantry occupied Digdig without resistance. Their attention diverted by operations of the 27th and 161st Infantry Regiments south and southwest of Puncan, the Japanese had failed to protect the left and rear of their delaying force, the Puncan Sector Defense Unit, at Puncan.
The Puncan Sector Defense Unit had employed most of its artillery and mortars
against the 161st Infantry, and had likewise sent most of its infantry against that American regiment. Nevertheless, the 161st secured the trail junction a mile southwest of Puncan on 28 February, and two days later made contact on Route 5 with the 27th Infantry, which had driven north astride the highway.
The 27th Infantry, starting north on 23 February, encountered bitter resistance, especially in the high ground abutting the west side of Route 5. It took the regiment until 27 February to clear the Lumboy area, but the next day organized resistance began to collapse throughout the Lumboy-Puncan region. By 4 March the three regiments of the 25th Division had established firm contact at Puncan.4
While the last defenses around Puncan were falling, the 161st Infantry continued north along high ground west of Route 5. Advancing against steadily diminishing resistance, the regiment's leading troops were on hills overlooking Digdig by 5 March, and on the same day made contact with elements of the 35th Infantry in the barrio. All that remained before Mullins could declare the highway secure from San Jose to Digdig was for the 35th to clean out a Japanese pocket on the east side of Route 5 between Puncan and Digdig. This task the regiment completed quickly against organized, determined, but scattered resistance.
The Japanese Reaction
During the period 21 February-5 March the 25th Division lost approximately 40 men killed and 165 wounded. Virtually wiping out the Puncan Sector Defense Unit, the division had killed some 1,250 Japanese in the same thirteen days. There are many possible explanations for this wide disparity of casualty figures. For one, the Japanese defenses were of a hasty nature, manned by a force hurriedly assembled from six or seven regular and provisional units. Moreover, the 25th Division had advanced behind exceptionally heavy aerial, artillery, and mortar support, to which captured Japanese diaries gave credit for unusual effectiveness. Then, the 35th Infantry, encircling the Puncan Sector Defense Unit, had effected a degree of demoralization among the Japanese that was normally foreign to Japanese troops holding static defensive positions. Control within the Japanese unit, not well established when the 25th Division started north, broke down quickly and completely.
Upon its organization, the Puncan Sector Defense Unit had had protection on its rear. An understrength infantry battalion was deployed along Route 100 between Carranglan and Digdig, while the 11th Independent Infantry Regiment (less one battalion) held Carranglan and the Old Spanish Trail, leading north from Carranglan to Route 5 about twelve miles northeast of Santa Fe. But the Japanese had not conducted adequate reconnaissance along Route 100 and had attached no significance to the 35th Infantry's advance up that road. The Japanese garrison in Carranglan simply withdrew to better defensive positions up the Old Spanish Trail as
the 35th Infantry approached, evidently expecting the 35th to continue north rather than swing west toward Digdig.5 Meanwhile, the infantry battalion on Route 100 between Carranglan and Digdig moved over to Route 5 to reinforce the Puncan Sector Defense Unit, permitting the 35th Infantry to reach Puncan and Digdig before the Japanese even realized the regiment had started west from Carranglan.
As late as 25 February General Konuma, commanding the Bambang Branch, 14th Area Army, felt that the Puncan Sector Defense Unit was in no danger, and he made optimistic plans for the unit to counterattack. Indeed, it was not until Konuma, on 2 March, found out that the Puncan Sector Defense Unit was done for that he halted counterattack preparations. Still the loss of Route 5 as far north as Digdig did not disturb Konuma. His attitude in this respect is demonstrated by the fact that on 3 March he directed the 10th Division, responsible for holding Route 5, to send four companies of infantry west along the Villa Verde Trail to the Salacsac Passes, where, from the Japanese point of view, the situation was far more critical than along Route 5. Manifestly, Konuma had faith that the 10th Division would be able to hold along the MLR it was building north of Digdig.
Digdig to Putlan
The unexpectedly rapid success of the 25th Division in its drive to Digdig prompted General Swift, the I Corps commander, to extend the division's zone of responsibility. On 2 March, he directed the division to push six miles northward along Route 5 from Digdig to Putlan.6 Since mopping-up operations were largely completed in the Puncan-Digdig sector by evening on 5 March, Mullins' units were ready to start for Putlan. Mullins' plan for reaching Putlan was cut from the same pattern that had produced the successful actions against Puncan and Digdig. The 161st Infantry would attack across the high ground west of Route 5, the 27th would strike along and east of the highway, and the 35th would stage another wide envelopment. This time the 35th would march north-northwest from Carranglan up the Bonga River valley, swing northwest from the headwaters of the Bonga over a fair trail leading to the eastern reaches of the Putlan River, and descend the Putlan about two miles to its juncture with the Digdig, half a mile north of barrio Putlan.7
The Japanese had left the east flank approach to Putlan even less well protected than they had the Route 100 approach to Digdig.8 As a result, the 35th Infantry's lead battalion, leaving Carranglan on 6 March, had no difficulty occupying Putlan by evening on the 8th. The next day the battalion made contact with the 27th Infantry, which had
come up Route 5 from Digdig against little opposition. Taking over from the 35th Infantry in the Putlan area, the 27th had some difficulty clearing Japanese stragglers from ravines east of Route 5 near the barrio and did not finish mopping up until 15 March.
Battling both terrain and determined, albeit scattered, Japanese resistance, the 161st Infantry had a harder time moving north. Nevertheless, its forward elements gained high ground west of Route 5 opposite Putlan by 10 March. Two days later one company was on commanding ground west of the highway halfway to Minuli, a tiny barrio on Route 5 two miles north of Putlan. By that time Route 5 was safe for military traffic as far as Putlan. Again the 25th Division had secured an objective more rapidly than anticipated.
Objective: Balete Pass
Nothing succeeds like success, or so General Swift must have thought when, on 11 and again on 13 March, he twice more extended the 25th Division's zone of responsibility northward. First, he directed the division to secure Route 5 to barrio Kapintalan, five miles beyond Putlan. Two days later, reassessing the progress of the 32d Division along the Villa Verde Trail, Swift instructed Mullins to drive on through Balete Pass, two and a half miles north of Kapintalan and two miles south of the junction of the Villa Verde Trail and Route 5 at Santa Fe.9 Because of its own success and the concentration of the 2d Tank Division in front of the 32d Division, the 25th Division was now responsible for a large part of the area Swift had originally assigned to the 32d. So far the 25th had not encountered the type of opposition or terrain facing the 32d. The Puncan Sector Defense Unit had collapsed rather rapidly, and the 85th Division had met no significant resistance between Puncan and Putlan. However, the I Corps directive for the seizure of Balete Pass was to precipitate a battle that would demonstrate to the 25th Division that the 10th Division could fight as well as the 2d Tank Division.
Plans and Obstacles
Initially, General Mullins laid plans to execute two separate attacks toward Balete Pass. The 27th and 161st Infantry Regiments would strike northward astride Route 5 in what was essentially a frontal assault, but one that had certain refinements. The 161st Infantry would make the main effort, driving straight up Route 5 and along rising ground immediately west of the highway. The 27th Infantry, to execute a close-in envelopment of Balete Pass, would attack over high ground adjacent to the east side of the road. The regiment would employ as its main supply route a road that Mullins proposed to construct over the mountains about a mile east of and parallel to Route 5. The second portion of the division's attack would be another wide envelopment by the 35th Infantry. Striking north up the Old Spanish Trail from Carranglan, the 35th would seek routes by which it could outflank Balete Pass, preparing to move directly on the pass or to push on to Route 5 northeast
of Santa Fe, whichever proved feasible and necessary.10
The terrain into which the 25th Division moved in March 1945, only a degree or two less rough than that along the Villa Verde Trail, is hardly inviting, and bears superficial resemblance to that along Route 11 from Rosario to Baguio. Just as Route 11 lies in the gorge of the Bued River, so Route 5 follows the deep, sharp-sided valley of the Digdig River northward; as along the Bued, towering ridges rise abruptly from the Digdig, which has its headwaters just south of Balete Pass. But here the resemblance ends. Already 1,000 feet above sea level at Putlan, Route 5 rises to 3,000 feet at Balete Pass, dipping down north of the pass to approximately 2,500 feet at Santa Fe. Twisting northward along the noses of innumerable great and small ridges, Route 5 remains east of the Digdig--the 25th Division would not have the bridging problem that faced the 33d Division on Route 11.
Unlike the ridges along Route 11, most of the ridges along Route 5, especially those east of the highway, are heavily wooded. West of the road some of the ridges adjacent to the Digdig are grassy sloped and bare crested; north of Balete Pass Route 5 passes through densely forested territory to a point about a quarter of a mile short of Santa Fe and then hairpins down the open slopes of a steep hill. On the east side of Route 5 from Putlan to Balete Pass most of the ridges descend into the Digdig gorge from the northeast; those west of the highway come down from the northwest--the pattern is more regular than that along Route 11. West of Route 5 the ridges rise to a height of over 4,500 feet within a mile and a half of the highway; east of the road this height is reached within two miles.
About three-quarters of a mile wide at Putlan, the valley of the Digdig narrows to virtually nothing at a steep-sided gorge three and a half miles to the north. The gorge widens a bit at barrio Kapintalan, four and a half miles north of Putlan. Route 5 leaves the river about a mile and a half north of Kapintalan to twist up the last steep, forested slopes to Balete Pass. Valdez, the trail center that elements of the 32d Division employed in outflanking maneuvers against the Japanese on the Villa Verde Trail, lies about four miles west of Kapintalan--four miles of nearly impassable, densely wooded terrain of the Caraballo Mountains.
Balete Pass is a low point on a vast ridge complex that forms a watershed dividing the headwaters of streams flowing north into the Cagayan Valley from those flowing south to the Central Plains. The pass proper leads over Balete Ridge, which originates almost two miles west-northwest of Balete Pass and extends almost nine miles to the east-southeast. In the area of immediate interest to this account, the highest point of the ridge complex of which Balete Ridge forms a part is Mt. Imugan, cresting at 5,580 feet a mile and a half north of Salacsac Pass No. 1 on the Villa Verde Trail. Balete Ridge itself juts eastward off a long north-south ridge line that crosses the Villa Verde Trail at Imugan and merges into the jumbled terrain of the southern Caraballo Mountains southwest of Putlan. East of Balete Pass,
Balete Ridge continues east-southeast three and a half miles to Mt. Minami, 4,530 feet high. Here the ridge turns sharply southward for a mile and ends at forested Mt. Kabuto, 4,600 feet above sea level. East of Mts. Minami and Kabuto the slopes fall away toward the Old Spanish Trail, about three miles distant. The Old Spanish Trail in this area traverses partially wooded ground lying 2,500 to 3,000 feet up in the Caraballo Mountains.
To the 25th Division the ridges rising on both sides of Route 5 presented, with their separating ravines, difficult cross-compartments lying diagonal to the division's direction of advance. The division soon learned that the separating ravines, especially those east of Route 5, were so thickly wooded and overgrown with lush, tropical vegetation as to be practically impassable. For the most part, the division would have to seek footing along the generally razor-backed crests of the ridges. The division also quickly discovered that its maneuver possibilities would be limited because the major ridges had few lateral or subsidiary fingers along which units could undertake outflanking thrusts.
The terrain would provide the 25th Division with plenty of cover and concealment, but this was an advantage that would have to be shared with the Japanese. Indeed, one of the 25th Division's major problems would be to find the Japanese. Observation in this forested terrain was so limited that troops would often be unable to find fields of fire and would always have difficulty clearing for the fields. As on the Villa Verde Trail and on Route 11, the Japanese would have the advantages of observation along Route 5.
The 10th Division initially placed the emphasis of its defenses east of Route 5.11 In mid-March the division's easternmost defense force, the understrength 11th Independent Infantry, was deployed across the Old Spanish Trail seven or eight miles north of Carranglan. The 10th Infantry, less two battalions, held the eastern end of Balete Ridge at Mts. Minami and Kabuto. The regiment also had troops on Mt. Kanami, the high point of a ridge line leading north-northwest from Mt. Minami to Route 5 about two miles northeast of Santa Fe.
The 63d Infantry (less one battalion but with three provisional battalions attached) defended Mt. Myoko, on Balete Ridge a mile west-northwest of Mt. Minami, and Lone Tree Hill, midway between Mt. Myoko and Balete Pass. Other troops of the 63d were dug in along Myoko Ridge, which descends from the southwestern corner of Mt. Myoko about three miles to a branching of the Digdig River near Minuli. The 63d Infantry also had forces on Kapintalan Ridge, stretching southwest from Lone Tree Hill to the Digdig gorge just north of barrio Kapintalan. A battalion each from the 10th and 63d Infantry Regiments, reinforced by two provisional battalions, defended the ridges west of Route 5 north from Minuli. As of mid-March, the Japanese had perhaps 8,000 men in line on both sides of Route 5 and on the Old Spanish Trail. Some 6,000 of these troops were east of the highway, the rest west.
ROUTE 5, heading south through Balete Pass.
The 25th Division had acquired some excellent information concerning the dispositions of the 10th Division. A captured fire plan of the 10th Field Artillery Regiment gave the American unit approximate locations of Japanese field artillery pieces and attached medium and heavy mortars, and, with other captured documents, indicated the location of many Japanese infantry unit command posts. Though providing invaluable order of battle information and thereby giving the 25th Division some indication of Japanese strength, the captured documents did not offer any intelligence about the location of infantry regimental and battalion guns and infantry light mortars.12
The Plans Amended
The 35th Infantry's share in the initial phases of the drive toward Balete Pass
can be dismissed rather briefly, although the effect of the regiment's attack up the Old Spanish Trail was of considerable more significance than the 25th Division knew at the time.13 By 11 March the lead companies were seven miles up the trail from Carranglan. Stopping in front of a strong Japanese roadblock these units, on succeeding days, came under increasingly heavy artillery and mortar fire, against which American supporting artillery, firing from extreme ranges on targets in unmapped country, had difficulty delivering effective counterbattery fire. Meanwhile, 25th Division engineers working on the Old Spanish Trail reported that soil conditions were such that the trail required extensive rock fill and compacting before sections of it would support heavy military traffic. Since Mullins felt that the requisite engineer effort and time could be better applied along and closer to Route 5, he directed the 35th Infantry to cease its attack.
For the Japanese, who at first believed that an entire American division had started north from Carranglan, the 35th Infantry's probing action had been downright frightening. Reacting quickly, General Konuma dispatched the Takachiho Force, a two-battalion provisional regiment built on a nucleus of paratroopers, south from Bambang to reinforce the 11th Independent Infantry. By the time the Takachiho Force reached the front along the Old Spanish Trail on 20 March--the same day the 35th Infantry halted its attack--Konuma had learned that the threat there was not as great as he had thought. However, he still had such scanty information about the situation along the trail that he left the Takachiho Force there together with the 11th Independent Infantry, thus pinning down four battalions (2,500 to 3,000 men) of his best troops. His intelligence was so poor that it was not until late April that Konuma concluded that the U.S. I Corps lacked the strength to mount simultaneous strong attacks along both Route 5 and the Old Spanish Trail. Until then, he constantly feared an outflanking thrust from Carranglan, a fear that was logical in light of the earlier, successful envelopments conducted by the 35th Infantry at Puncan, Digdig, and Putlan.
Meanwhile, the attacks of the 27th and 161st Infantry Regiments along Route 5 had attained only limited success.14 From 12 through 15 March the 161st Infantry, employing only one battalion, secured high ground adjacent to the west bank of the Digdig River from Putlan north to Minuli. (Map 22) Troops also gained a foothold on Norton Ridge, running generally northwest from a branching of the Digdig half a mile up Route 5 from Minuli. The 27th Infantry, devoting much of its time to mopping-up operations in the vicinity of Putlan, cleared Route 5 to a point
To Balete Pass and Santa Fe
12 March-31 May 1945
1,000 yards north of Minuli by 15 March.
Since the 35th Infantry's attack over the Old Spanish Trail already showed clear signs of bogging down, and since the 27th and 161st Infantry Regiments had made disappointingly slow progress along Route 5, General Mullins, on the 15th, decided to revise his plans. He relegated the drive north astride Route 5 to the status of a holding attack and planned to make his main effort twin flanking thrusts east of the highway.
The 161st Infantry and a battalion of the 27th would execute the holding attack, the former continuing north along the rising, rough ground west of Route 5 and the latter clearing the highway from Minuli to Kapintalan. The bulk of the 27th Infantry was to undertake one of the flanking attacks, enveloping Balete Pass via Myoko Ridge, Mt. Myoko, and Lone Tree Hill. Once at Lone Tree Hill the regiment would strike west-northwest along Wolfhound Ridge, the name applied to that section of Balete Ridge lying between Lone Tree Hill and Balete Pass.15 The 35th Infantry, redeploying from the Old Spanish Trail, would attack on the right, or east, of the 27th. The 35th would assemble near Putlan and march eastward for three and a half miles along the valley of the Putlan River. The unit would then swing north to seize Mt. Kabuto, striking thence northwestward along Balete Ridge to gain contact with the 27th Infantry at Mt. Myoko. The 25th Division's 65th Engineer Battalion was to build combat supply roads into the mountains behind all three regiments.16
Reorientation of Effort
The 161st Infantry launched its attack west of Route 5 on 16 March, striking for Norton's Knob, the northwestern terminus of Norton Ridge. A bare-crested peak nearly 3,000 feet high, Norton's Knob lay about two and three-quarters miles northwest of Minuli and a mile southwest of Kapintalan. One battalion of the 161st, moving along wooded, concealed routes west of Norton Ridge, initiated the attack by securing the eastern slopes of Hill 4250, three-quarters of a mile west of Norton's Knob and a high point along the north-south ridge paralleling Route 5. With its left and left rear secured, the 161st then started maneuvering over densely forested slopes to advance upon Norton's Knob from the south and southeast. For days, stubborn Japanese opposition stalemated progress; poor visibility also helped to slow the attack. Visibility improved greatly after 105-mm. and 155-mm. howitzers and 4.2-inch mortars sent nearly 10,000 rounds of high explosive and white phosphorus against Norton's Knob and its approaches.
The final assault at Norton's Knob entailed a three-pronged attack from the west, south, and southeast behind extremely close support of 37-mm. antitank guns, Cannon Company M7's, and two Sherman tanks mounting 105-mm. howitzers, all laboriously brought into position along Norton Ridge. The knob fell on 28 March in the culmination of
NEUTRALIZING THE ENEMY ON CLIMB TO NORTON'S KNOB
an attack that since the 12th had cost the 161st Infantry about 40 men killed and 155 wounded. The Japanese had lost 150 killed, but managed to extricate many survivors in good order, deploying them in new positions along the next ridges and hills to the north.
The 27th Infantry, like the 161st, had some trouble gathering momentum, mainly because until 22 March it had to leave two battalions along Route 5 to secure the division's rear. On 22 March, finally, the 1st Battalion, 27th Infantry, began spreading eastward from Route 5 into high, wooded terrain up to 2,000 yards from the highway, permitting the 2d Battalion, which had already started into the hills north of Minuli, to concentrate its forces for the drive northeast up Myoko Ridge. As of 28 March the 1st Battalion was still 1,250 yards short of Kapintalan along Route 5 and rising terrain adjacent to the road. The 2d Battalion had progressed almost 3,750 yards up forested Myoko Ridge, and was on approximately the same east-west line as the 1st Battalion. The 2d Battalion had overrun one group of Japanese outposts along the ridge and, fighting onward against increasingly
strong resistance, had by 28 March gained contact with what appeared to be the 10th Division's main line of resistance. The 27th Infantry and the 25th Division had now acquired sufficient information from a variety of sources to conclude that the Japanese were going to conduct a determined defense of Myoko Ridge and that the 10th Division was rapidly reinforcing along the ridge and at Mt. Myoko.
The 35th Infantry's attempt to envelope via Mt. Kabuto started out well but did not end up as hoped. Striking up wooded, steep, trackless slopes, one battalion of the 35th bypassed the crests of Mts. Kabuto and Minami to the east and then swung around to the northwestern side of Mt. Kanami. The maps the troops had were so inadequate that the 35th Infantry could not be certain where its forward companies were, but it appears that the leading units actually reached a point near the crest of Mt. Kanami before they encountered significant opposition. Evidently striking westward along the southern slopes of Mt. Kanami, the two forward companies, by 22 March, apparently reached the northern slope of Balete Ridge about two and a half miles east of Balete Pass.
By this time the Japanese had become well aware of the 35th Infantry's threat. Accordingly, they started moving part of the Takachiho Force westward from the Old Spanish Trail to Mt. Kanami and simultaneously brought south from Bambang previously uncommitted elements of the 10th Division. With these troops the Japanese began a series of counterattacks and harassed the 35th Infantry's supply line. By 28 March the 35th was stalemated--the problems involved in protecting its supply line made it impossible for the regiment to send sufficient strength forward to Mt. Kanami to assure a continued advance. General Mullins decided once again to call off an attempted envelopment by the 35th Infantry, this time giving as his reasons:
First, that the casualties incurred in continuing the advance would be prohibitive as the terrain permitted no room whatsoever for maneuver; second, the supply problem could get out of hand should the Japanese elect to attack in force using the Putlan River Valley as a route of approach; third, a desire to keep the division front as tight as was tactically possible.17
It would appear that the third of these reasons possessed the greatest validity, for the 35th Infantry's casualties since 15 March had been appreciably less than those of the other two regiments and the terrain in its zone was not much worse than that closer to Route 5, especially in the 27th Infantry's area.18
The 25th Division's three regiments were operating across a front six miles wide, all of it in rough, densely wooded terrain. They were finding it nearly impossible to bring decisive force to bear at critical points and were unable, thinly spread as they were, to assure steady progress against increasingly strong Japanese resistance. Though finding it necessary to concentrate his forces,
Mullins could not redeploy the 27th and 161st Regiments, for to do so would open great gaps along his front. The obvious solution was to redeploy the 35th Infantry.
New estimates concerning the Japanese strength on the approaches to the pass also influenced General Mullins. When the 25th Division had started north in late February, it had estimated that no more than 4,000 Japanese would defend Route 5 and that most of these were concentrated near Santa Fe. Now, in late March, the division G-2 Section was estimating that 8,000 to 10,000 Japanese were in position to defend Route 5 and that the 10th Division main line of resistance lay south of Balete Pass.19 If this were so--and the new estimates were quite accurate--it well behooved the 25th Division to apply the principles of mass and economy of force. The division simply did not have the strength to continue operations on so wide a front.
From 13 March to the end of the month progress had not been that anticipated, but the period ended with perhaps the most important single tactical decision 25th Division planners made during the drive to Balete Pass. On 28 March General Mullins directed the 35th Infantry to move to Route 5 between the 27th and 161st Infantry Regiments. The 35th and 161st, his orders read, would join in an attack northward astride the highway while the 27th Infantry would press with the utmost vigor its attack up Myoko Ridge to envelop Balete Pass from the southeast.20 The orders set the pattern of 25th Division operations for the next two months.
Another Month's Progress
During the last phases of the 161st Infantry's attack at Norton's Knob, the regiment's 3d Battalion had laid some groundwork for a continuation of the attack north over the high ground west of Route 5.21 The battalion had secured a foothold on the southwestern portion of Highley Ridge, the next ridge line north of Norton Ridge. Unlike the rest of the ridge lines west of Route 5, bare-crested Highley Ridge runs southwest to northeast, extending from Hill 4250 two miles to a branching of the Digdig River half a mile north of Kapintalan. The most prominent feature along Highley Ridge is open-crested Crump Hill, located a little over a mile northeast of Hill 4250 and three-quarters of a mile north of Norton's Knob. A creek the 25th Division called the Murphree River runs through the sharp, wooded ravine separating Norton's Knob from Crump Hill.22
After 28 March the 3d Battalion, 161st Infantry, drove northeast along Highley Ridge toward Crump Hill, while other troops of the regiment attempted with limited success to work their way north to the hill from Norton's Knob. The regiment established a base of fire on Norton's Knob to support the attack and set up a fire direction center there to control the fires of a heterogeneous collection of weapons. Included were
the 2d Battalion's heavy machine guns an 81-mm. mortars, a platoon of 4.2-inch mortars, the 2d Battalion's 37-mm. antitank guns, two M7's from Cannon Company, and two medium tanks with 105-mm. howitzers. The fire direction center also controlled the employment of the 105-mm. howitzers of the 89th Field Artillery Battalion, emplaced farther south.
Although the 3d Battalion gained the crest of Crump Hill on 8 April and was ready to push on, General Mullins ordered the 161st Infantry to halt. The regiment's right flank was now dangerously exposed, for the 35th Infantry, striking north along and immediately east of Route 5, had not kept pace, and Mullins deemed it an unjustifiable risk to send the 161st Infantry farther northward. As it was, the regiment saw plenty of action while mopping up in the ground it had gained--not until 28 April did it overcome the last pockets of Japanese resistance in the Crump Hill area.
The 35th Infantry's zone extended about 500 yards west of Route 5 and 2,000 yards into the high ground east of that road.23 The regiment began moving into its new area on 29 March but until mid-April, required to protect the 25th Division's rear areas, could employ only one battalion in the attack. The battalion moved first against a 500-yard-long ridge lying 2,000 yards southeast of Kapintalan and about 1,000 yards west of positions the 27th Infantry had attained on Myoko Ridge at the end of March. Japanese patrols from bases on the short ridge were sallying forth to harass the 27th Infantry's supply lines, and until the 35th Infantry cleared that ridge neither it nor the 27th would be able to advance much farther.
By 11 April the 35th Infantry had captured the short ridge and then, with two battalions abreast, swung westward through ravines and over low ridges to Route 5 at barrio Kapintalan. Troops entered the destroyed barrio on 21 April, making Route 5 safe for military traffic that far north. As was the case in the 161st Infantry's zone, the 35th Infantry area needed a considerable amount of mopping up, and it was 28 April before the unit cleaned the last Japanese from the ridges and ravines immediately east of Route 5 between Minuli and Kapintalan.
While the left and center regiments were making slow progress up to an east-west line through Kapintalan, the 27th Infantry was having a rough time along Myoko Ridge.24 To break through the Japanese defense line that it had discovered some two miles up the ridge, the regiment directed two rifle companies to execute close-in envelopments up and down the ridge's steep slopes while a third company maintained direct frontal pressure. A single medium tank was brought up the ridge over a supply road the 65th Engineers had bulldozed along the crest. Beyond the completed section of this road the terrain was such that the tank found it difficult to get traction and continually threatened
to belly on the ridge's razorback crest.
Believing at first that the Japanese had only hasty positions on Myoko Ridge, the 27th Infantry hoped to drive forward rapidly, bypassing Japanese strongpoints in order to retain momentum and so complete the envelopment of Balete Pass before the Japanese could send more reinforcements to Mt. Myoko and Balete Ridge. In accordance with this concept, the 27th left behind a Japanese pocket dug in along a 500-yard-long, open-topped ridge--The Scar--jutting westward from the point on Myoko Ridge that the regiment had reached on 28 March. The regiment also bypassed a second strongpoint on Myoko Ridge proper about 500 yards northeast of The Scar.
After moving around the second strongpoint, the 27th encountered strong defenses at Woody Hill, a densely forested prominence almost 4,000 feet high centering three-quarters of a mile northeast of The Scar. About 500 yards long northeast to southwest, Woody Hill marked the beginning of the central mass of Mt. Myoko, a mass that extended northeastward another mile and a half from Woody Hill's crest to the junction of Myoko and Balete Ridges at Elbow Hill. Mt. Myoko itself crested at over 4,500 feet. Near the center of Woody Hill lay a forested knob designated The Pimple; 300 yards further northeast, on the northern slope of Woody Hill, was another knob, dubbed The Wart.
By 12 April, after a two weeks' struggle during which the terrain proved a more formidable enemy than the Japanese, the 27th Infantry had secured a tenuous foothold on the southern slopes of Woody Hill, marking an advance of no more than 1,000 yards northeast from the junction of The Scar and Myoko Ridge. Japanese from The Scar and the other bypassed strongpoint had helped inhibit faster progress. Harassing the 27th Infantry's supply line along Myoko Ridge, they had forced the regiment to devote much of its energies to cleaning out the two pockets, a job not completed until 12 April.
The relatively slow American advances between 30 March and 12 April gave the Japanese ample opportunity to reinforce their Myoko Ridge defenses.25 During this period the Japanese sent to the Myoko Ridge-Mt. Myoko sector four understrength infantry battalions, including two from the Old Spanish Trail. Thus, when the 27th Infantry was able to concentrate after 12 April to resume its attack, it found Japanese defenses greatly improved and defensive fires augmented by newly arrived mortars and machine guns. By the 15th of April the regiment's lead battalion had gained only 250 yards, but had secured The Pimple. This gain had depended in large measure upon tank support. Maneuvering with great difficulty along the slopes of Woody Hill, the tanks--three were now in the forward area--not only provided needed fire support to the infantry but also had a profound psychological effect upon the Japanese, who greeted with consternation the appearance of tanks in such impossible terrain. Not expecting to find tanks along Myoko Ridge, the Japanese had brought forward no antitank weapons and many Japanese, overcome by surprise as tanks
loomed up through the forest, abandoned prepared defenses and fled.
Striking on from The Pimple, the 27th Infantry seized The Wart on 16 April, and its leading battalion then drove on toward a peak that, ultimately known as 1st Battalion Objective, lay 350 yards northeast across a steep-sided, deep ravine from The Pimple. Four days and a double envelopment later, the 27th secured 1st Battalion Objective. The regiment then turned its attention to 2d Battalion Objective--a hill lying 400 yards northeast across a heavily wooded saddle from 1st Battalion Objective.
Attacks against 2d Battalion Objective had actually begun on 18 April, when the 27th Infantry had attempted an envelopment from the west. Then, the 2d Battalion had started out from the end of a 200-yard-long ridge jutting northwest from The Wart, first descending into rough ground covered by dense jungle undergrowth. Swinging northeastward under the western slopes of Myoko Ridge, the battalion was within a hundred yards of its target by evening on 21 April, but then was stopped cold by Japanese fire. Attempts to move around the flanks of the Japanese proved fruitless--the 2d Battalion could find no flanks in that jungled terrain. Meanwhile, every effort of the 1st Battalion to drive northeastward across the saddle to 2d Battalion Objective had also failed. The 27th Infantry had evidently reached an impasse.
Changing Concepts, 21-23 April
From 28 March through 21 April the 35th and 161st Infantry Regiments had advanced only three-quarters of a mile northward astride Route 5, and the 27th Infantry had gained scarcely a mile and a quarter northeast along Myoko Ridge. With his leading elements still two and a quarter miles short of Balete Pass, General Mullins, understandably, began to wonder if his attack plans would ever be successfully executed. True, resistance had been stubborn, and the difficult terrain had given all the advantages to the Japanese. On the other hand, American casualties had not been abnormally high, and the three attacking regiments claimed to have killed a total of 1,600 Japanese during the period. Their own losses were:26
Unit Killed Wounded Total 27th Infantry 65 150 215 35th Infantry 30 145 175 161st Infantry 65 185 250 Total 160 480 460
Whatever the causes for the failure to achieve decisive results, General Mullins began to consider entirely reorienting the division's effort. He contemplated relegating the 27th Infantry's enveloping maneuver to a holding attack, virtually placing the regiment in a reserve role. The main thrust, he decided, might better be an assault astride Route 5 on a front 1,500 yards wide. Here he would place emphasis on the 161st Infantry's zone west of the highway, with the 35th Infantry continuing north in a supporting drive.27
At this juncture the 27th Infantry unexpectedly altered the general dismal picture. On 17 April Col. Philip F.
Lindeman, the regimental commander, had made an aerial reconnaissance of terrain west of Myoko Ridge and Mt. Myoko and had decided that ground lying some 1,000 yards west of Mt. Myoko might provide a more favorable route of advance to Balete Ridge than did the Mt. Myoko mass itself.28 When on the morning of 21 April his regiment was still stalemated at 2d Battalion Objective, Lindeman decided upon a ground reconnaissance of some of the terrain he had observed from the air. He dispatched two six-man patrols west and northwest from The Wart and 1st Battalion Objective.29
During the course of the day Lindeman further decided that he could probably save time and effort if he sent out a reconnaissance force strong enough to seize a foothold on Balete Ridge west-northwest of Mt. Myoko. If the unit succeeded, he could quickly reinforce it, thereby outflanking the Japanese not only on 2d Battalion Objective but also on Elbow Hill, 500 yards north of 2d Battalion Objective. Opportunity might then arise for a quick dash along Balete Ridge to Balete Pass.
In accordance with this plan a reinforced platoon of Company G, 27th Infantry struck northwest from the vicinity of 2d Battalion Objective at 0800 on 22 April. Taking a different route from those followed by the two smaller patrols--which had found only poor terrain and many signs of Japanese counterreconnaissance--the reinforced platoon escaped detection and late in the afternoon was on the southern slope of Balete Ridge at a point about half a mile northwest of 2d Battalion Objective. Colonel Lindeman immediately made plans to send the rest of Company G over the platoon's route to Balete Ridge.30
Thus, at the very moment the 27th Infantry had become stalemated, the regiment had discovered a gap in the Japanese defensive line and a new route of advance toward Balete Pass. If the regiment could send a strong force to Balete Ridge, bypassing Mt. Myoko, 2d Battalion Objective, and Elbow Hill, it could regain its lost momentum. Accordingly, on 23 April the rest of the 2d Battalion, 27th Infantry, started out after Company G with orders to drive west-northwest along Balete Ridge as far as Lone Tree Hill, a mile and a quarter beyond Elbow Hill. Another battalion would continue the attack at the Mt. Myoko mass with the aim of opening a ridge-crest supply line that would avoid the extremely rough ground over which the 2d Battalion had to pass on its way to Balete Ridge. Meanwhile, the 161st Infantry would continue its attack northward on the west side of Route 5 and would endeavor to envelope Balete Pass from the west. The 35th Infantry was to place the emphasis of its attack on a drive up Kapintalan Ridge, ascending northeastward from barrio Kapintalan to Lone Tree Hill. With this attack of the 35th, General Mullins hoped to
open a shorter supply route to the 27th Infantry than the roundabout Myoko Ridge route.31
The Envelopment of Balete Pass
Resuming the Attack
The 27th Infantry pressed forward enthusiastically, and on 25 April the 2d Battalion, having encountered negligible resistance, was atop Lone Tree Hill.32 The Japanese, preoccupied with the situation at Mt. Myoko, had left Balete Ridge wide open between Elbow and Lone Tree Hills.
By 27 April the 2d Battalion had advanced half a mile beyond Lone Tree Hill, and its forwardmost elements were only three-quarters of a mile short of Balete Pass. Here, however, the battalion had to halt. Japanese resistance was growing stronger; there were signs that a counterattack was brewing; and the battalion's supply situation was becoming difficult--the Japanese at Mt. Myoko still prevented the rest of the regiment from opening a relatively easy Myoko Ridge-Balete Ridge supply route. Carrying parties were taking twelve hours to reach the 2d Battalion via the bypass west of Elbow Hill, and adverse weather conditions were inhibiting aerial supply operations.
Additional strength arrived at Lone Tree Hill beginning on 28 April when the 3d Battalion, 27th Infantry, started moving up, leaving a battalion of the 35th Infantry at Mt. Myoko (the 1st Battalion, 27th Infantry, guarded supply routes). Unfortunately, this movement complicated supply problems, for neither Myoko nor Kapintalan Ridge was yet open for supply movements. Therefore, the 2d Battalion, 27th Infantry, started a drive southwest from Lone Tree Hill along Kapintalan Ridge to help troops of the 35th Infantry, already driving up the ridge from Route 5, to speed the opening of a new supply route.
The 35th Infantry had started up Kapintalan Ridge on 23 April, and four days later its leading troops reached a knob about midway between Route 5 and Lone Tree Hill.33 During the course of the advance the 35th Infantry had learned that Kapintalan Ridge was a major Japanese stronghold from which the Japanese could seriously delay the opening of a supply route to the 27th Infantry on Balete Ridge. Moreover, the Japanese were also able to make it difficult for the 35th Infantry to clear Route 5 north from barrio Kapintalan, since from Kapintalan Ridge the Japanese controlled the highway for a mile and a half south of Balete Pass.
During the week following 27 April a battalion of the 35th Infantry secured Route 5 for three-quarters of a mile north of Kapintalan, but on Kapintalan Ridge the regiment made painfully slow progress. By 4 May troops had gained only 350 yards of new ground northeast
from the midway knob, while elements of the 27th Infantry had advanced only 500 yards southwest along the ridge from Lone Tree Hill. On the 4th the two regiments were still 800 yards apart on Kapintalan Ridge and, since other units had made no appreciable progress at Mt. Myoko, the 27th Infantry's supply situation along Balete Ridge was still precarious.
While the 27th and 35th Infantry Regiments were struggling to secure Kapintalan Ridge, the 161st Infantry had initiated its drive to envelop Balete Pass on the west.34 The 161st's initial objective was Kenbu Ridge, the southeastern nose of which fell to the Digdig River gorge about a mile north of Kapintalan and a mile and a half south of Balete Pass. Stretching northwestward a mile and a quarter, Kenbu Ridge joined the long north-south ridge, paralleling Route 5, half a mile south of Poulton Hill, the peak of which marked the western end of Balete Ridge. Between the 161st Infantry and Kenbu Ridge lay Northwest or Banzai Ridge, descending from Hill 4625 on the north-south ridge.
To protect the regimental left against counterattack from the north-south ridge line, elements of the 2d Battalion, 161st Infantry, struggled up Northwest Ridge to positions near Hill 4625. The rest of the battalion, together with all the 1st Battalion, then attacked generally north toward Kenbu Ridge from Crump Hill on Highley Ridge, which the 161st Infantry had secured by 28 April. On the morning of 4 May the 1st Battalion grabbed the southeastern nose of Kenbu Ridge, while the 2d Battalion pushed troops on to the ridge a half a mile to the northwest. Although the Japanese controlled the intervening gap, it appeared that with another day's effort the 161st would clear all Kenbu Ridge. Then the regiment could press rapidly on to steep-sloped, partially wooded Haruna Ridge, the name given that section of Balete Ridge between Balete Pass and Poulton Hill. Indeed, by the morning of 4 May troops all across the 25th Division's front were poised for a final drive on Balete Pass, awaiting only a solution to the 27th Infantry's supply problem before jumping off.
Planning the Final Drive
Events now began to move with bewildering rapidity.35 To Sixth Army and I Corps a breakthrough at Balete Pass seemed as imminent as it did to the 25th Division, but Krueger and Swift knew that if the breakthrough were to be exploited, fresh troops would be needed on the Bambang front.
As of 4 May conditions within the 25th Division were somewhat better than those so seriously affecting the 32d Division's operations along the Villa Verde Trail. When the 25th Division had reached Luzon, it had been out of action for nearly fifteen months. Thoroughly rested, completed re-equipped,
rebuilt, and up to strength, the division's only morale problems in January 1945 were those stemming from inaction. During its operations on Luzon to 21 February, the division had incurred about 1,000 battle casualties, but when it had started up Route 5 it had already received some replacements and had suffered no impairment to its morale.
Nevertheless, the 25th Division's operations from 21 February to 4 May had been both costly and tiring. During that period the division had lost approximately 480 men killed and 1,415 wounded--the 32d Division took 650 killed and 1,500 wounded during the same ten weeks. As was the case within the 32d Division, sickness and disease were also beginning to sap the combat strength of the 25th's three infantry regiments, although it appears that the 25th Division's nonbattle casualty rate was not quite two-thirds that of the 32d.36 Whatever the case, the 25th Division was not, after over two months' attack, in condition to exploit a breakthrough at Balete Pass.
The recent collapse of Japanese defenses at Baguio provided Sixth Army and I Corps with an opportunity to start sending at least relatively fresh troops to the Bambang front. Accordingly, on 2 May the 148th Infantry of the 37th Division began pulling into the 25th Division's area from Baguio. This reinforcement to the 25th Division, together with the 32d Division's current slow progress at Salacsac Pass No. 1, prompted I Corps to extend the 25th Division's zone of responsibility once again. General Swift directed Mullins to strike north through Balete Pass to seize Santa Fe, secure Route 5 to Santa Fe, clear the Villa Verde Trail for a mile west of the village, and clean off the high ground for two miles east of Santa Fe.
General Mullins found in the arrival of the 148th Infantry an opportunity to realign and concentrate his forces for the final drive through Balete Pass. He directed the 148th Infantry to secure the 25th Division's rear and take over the task of clearing the last Japanese from the Mt. Myoko massif. Simultaneously, he ordered the 27th and 161st Infantry Regiments to concentrate all their troops (except those required to clear Kenbu and Kapintalan Ridges) for an attack to envelop Balete Pass from the east and the west, making the pass proper the 27th Infantry's objective. He instructed the 35th Infantry to employ one battalion along Kapintalan Ridge and use the rest of its strength to secure Route 5 north to Balete Pass. All three regiments were to be prepared to strike quickly toward Santa Fe once the pass was captured.
Mullins was calling for a renewed, accelerated effort from the tiring troops of his division, one regiment of which still had a delicate supply situation. Insofar as the 27th Infantry was concerned, Mullins was taking a calculated risk. Until that regiment and the 35th Infantry could open the Kapintalan Ridge supply line, the 27th Infantry would have to depend upon intermittent airdrops--the weather was becoming steadily
more inclement with the approach of the rainy season--or on hand-carry over the tortuous bypass around Mt. Myoko.
As it prepared for its final attack, the 25th Division had reason to believe that the last Japanese defenses in front of Balete Pass were about to crack--an estimate with which the Japanese would have agreed. By 4 May the 10th Division knew it could not hold out much longer.37 Since early March the division's defenses across Route 5 had been strengthened by two battalions of the 10th Infantry, seven provisional infantry battalions, and the bulk of three of the four battalions once stationed along the Old Spanish Trail. Now no more reinforcements were available, for General Yamashita (who had reached the Bambang front from Baguio in late April) had decided to hold out uncommitted units in the Bambang-Bagabag regions against emergencies that might arise after the impending fall of Balete Pass.
In all, the Japanese had committed perhaps 12,000 troops to the defense of Route 5 and the Old Spanish Trail. Probably no more than 3,000 Japanese were still in position in the Balete Pass area on 4 May. Such was the state of communications within the 10th Division that the division commander had lost almost all control over the unit, though he apparently still retained reasonably tight control over another 3,000 troops in the Santa Fe area and along the Old Spanish Trail.
Denouement at Balete Pass
During the final attack toward Balete Pass operations to secure the Kapintalan Ridge supply route to the 27th Infantry, deemed so vital on 4 May, proved relatively unimportant, for by the time the 25th Division had opened the supply line, the need for it had virtually passed. Suffice it to say that it took elements of the 27th and 35th Infantry Regiments until 11 May to overcome the last organized resistance along Kapintalan Ridge, and the two units did not finish mopping up until the 13th.38 The chronology and significance of 148th Infantry operations at Mt. Myoko were quite similar. There, organized resistance collapsed on 10 May, and the 148th finished mopping up two days later. On the 13th the 3d Battalion of the 148th Infantry began relieving 27th Infantry troops along Balete Ridge between Mt. Myoko and Lone Tree Hill.39
While part of Mullins' force was bringing these peripheral actions to a successful conclusion, the drive to Balete Pass had continued unabated. The first step of the last attack took place on the afternoon of 4 May when a combat
patrol of Company L, 161st Infantry, started due north from the southeastern end of Kenbu Ridge.40 Ascending a partially wooded north-south ridge lying roughly 500 yards west of Route 5, the patrol encountered little opposition and soon found itself safely on Haruna Ridge not more than 500 yards west of Balete Pass. During the late afternoon and the next morning the rest of the 3d Battalion, 161st, moved up to Haruna Ridge and, while patrolling in all directions, held against a series of minor counterattacks. The battalion might have been able to seize Balete Pass proper on 5 May, but made no attempt to do so because the pass still lay within the 27th Infantry's zone and because artillery and mortar fire supporting the latter regiment's attack made it impossible for the 161st's 3d Battalion to move eastward.
The 27th Infantry's attack toward the pass began on 5 May with the 3d Battalion striking west-northwest from Lone Tree Hill along Wolfhound Ridge. Small groups of Japanese defended fanatically from minor strongpoints at various knolls and knobs, and on 5 May the 27th's battalion had made only 350 yards before Japanese fire from a well-organized strongpoint stopped it. Two days and 75 dead Japanese later the strongpoint fell.
On 8 May Company I, 27th Infantry, struck southwest from this strongpoint along a bare-crested ridge that descended to Route 5 at a point approximately 650 yards south of Balete Pass. By mid-afternoon the company, encountering scattered but stubborn resistance, was over halfway down the ridge. At the same time Company A, 27th Infantry, came up along Route 5, deployed in the 161st Infantry's zone near the southeastern nose of Kenbu Ridge, and started up the last reaches of the Digdig River gorge, here only 50 to 75 yards west of Route 5. The company intended to push to within 500 yards of Balete Pass, establish contact with Company I on the ridge east of the highway, and patrol to feel out Japanese strongpoints at the pass. Company L would take up the attack along Wolfhound Ridge directly toward the pass, while Company I holding on its ridge, would patrol toward Route 5.
During the morning of 9 May a Company I patrol reached Route 5 at Balete Pass, finding no Japanese, and late that afternoon the patrol gained contact with elements of Company A coming up to the pass from the south. Meanwhile, other troops of Company A made contact with the 3d Battalion, 161st Infantry, on Haruna Ridge. On the 10th Companies A and L, 27th Infantry, co-operated to clear the last Japanese from Wolfhound Ridge just east of the pass. To all intents and purposes the 27th Infantry had secured the objective for which the 25th Division had been striving since late February. All that remained before General Mullins could declare Balete Pass secure was for the 35th Infantry to complete the job of clearing Route 5 from Kapintalan north to the pass.
The 35th Infantry encountered a considerable amount of determined although scattered resistance from isolated Japanese strongpoints along the east side of Route 5, but on 10 May established
contact with 27th Infantry patrols from Wolfhound Ridge. The 35th finished mopping up on the 13th, and on the same day General Mullins reported to General Swift that Route 5 was open from San Jose through Balete Pass.
The drive north to Balete Pass from 21 February through 13 May had cost the 25th Division's three regiments nearly 2,200 battle casualties, distributed as follows:41
Regiment Killed Wounded Total 27th 225 560 785 35th 150 525 675 161st 170 565 735 Total 545 1,650 2,195
In addition the 148th Infantry, fighting under 25th Division control since 5 May, lost about 20 men killed and 95 wounded during the period 5-13 May.
While the 25th Division was able to realign its forces and push on toward Santa Fe, the fall of Balete Pass marked the end of the 10th Division as an effective combat unit. Since 21 February that division had lost almost 7,000 men killed. Its control and communications had broken down completely, it had lost contact with the Bambang Branch, 14th Area Army, its supplies were virtually exhausted, and almost every piece of division artillery had been captured or destroyed. A few isolated units might continue resistance, but as a whole the 10th Division was reduced to remnant status.
Santa Fe and the Villa Verde Trail
Psychologically, to the battle-weary troops of the 25th Division, the Luzon Campaign must have seemed complete with the seizure of Balete Pass.42 But with the division's mission enlarged by I Corps on 2 May, Balete Pass had actually become but one more spot on the terrain during the long struggle up Route 5. The 25th Division's finale would not come until the division had seized the junction of Route 5 and the Villa Verde Trail at Santa Fe. As long as Santa Fe remained in Japanese hands, just so long could the 2d Tank Division continue its fight on the Villa Verde Trail--even the shattered remnants of the 10th Division might be reorganized into something resembling an effective combat unit if Yamashita changed his mind and decided to send reinforcements south through Santa Fe from Bambang. Finally, Santa Fe was in a very real sense the gateway to the upper Cagayan Valley.
On the day that General Mullins declared Route 5 secure through Balete Pass, the 25th Division started northward in accordance with plans laid before the pass fell. The 27th Infantry, on the right, or east, struck north and northeast from Wolfhound Ridge to clear the Sawmill River valley, leading north to the valley of the Santa Fe River at Route 5 a mile northeast of Santa Fe. Left open, the Sawmill River valley would provide the 10th Division's remnants a route of withdrawal toward Bambang, or, alternatively, give Yamashita a belated opportunity to reinforce that division.
From 14 through 22 May, operating for the most part in heavily forested, rough terrain, the 27th Infantry fought to destroy fanatically resisting Japanese groups blocking the western approaches to the Sawmill Valley. This job finished, the 3d Battalion spread out over the valley's southern reaches, and the 1st Battalion swung north to clean out the valley to Route 5, tasks accomplished by 24 May. The 1st Battalion then wheeled east against Kanami Ridge, which, ending at Route 5 two and a half miles north of Santa Fe, had become a Japanese secondary route of access to both Balete Ridge and the Old Spanish Trail. The 27th Infantry found considerable scattered resistance along the ridge, but by the end of May had secured sufficient terrain to assure the safety of Santa Fe against counterattack from the east.43
On the 25th Division's left the 161st Infantry had to reduce a strong Japanese pocket on Mt. Haruna, a peak on Haruna Ridge half a mile west of Balete Pass, before advancing on northward. The 161st overran the last resistance on forested Mt. Haruna during 22 May, and on the 24th two battalions began descending the northern slopes of Haruna Ridge toward the Villa Verde Trail. The units found the rough, forested ground defended only by a few small groups of Japanese, and on 27 May the 1st Battalion reached the Villa Verde Trail at a point a mile and three-quarters west of Santa Fe. On the same day the 3d Battalion hit the trail half a mile west of Santa Fe and immediately dispatched patrols eastward to make contact with the 35th Infantry, which had been driving north from Balete Pass.44
Many small groups of Japanese that were holed up in caves along both sides of Route 5 north from Balete Pass had rendered difficult the 35th Infantry's task of clearing the highway from the pass to Santa Fe. In a series of patrol actions two battalions cleared most of the regimental zone by 26 May, and on the next day the 1st Battalion descended the last, bare-sloped hill into Santa Fe. That day the battalion made contact with the 161st Infantry to the west and the 27th Infantry to the east.
During the push to Santa Fe, I Corps had again extended the 25th Division's area of responsibility. Since the 32d Division was still stalled at Salacsac Pass No. 1 General Swift, on 23 May, had directed the 25th to swing west to clear the Villa Verde Trail as far as Imugan and to secure the dominating terrain up to a mile north of the trail between Santa Fe and Imugan. To help seize this new ground, Swift attached the 32d Division's 126th Infantry to the 25th Division, sending the regiment by truck to Balete Pass on 24 May.
Passing through the 161st Infantry, the 1st Battalion of the 126th struck north across the Villa Verde Trail; the 3d Battalion drove north on the 1st's right; the 2d Battalion patrolled the high ground west of Route 5 and north of the Villa Verde Trail in the vicinity of Santa Fe. The 126th Infantry met only light and scattered resistance during its operations, and by 29 May had cleared almost all the terrain for which
ROUTE 5, winding south from Santa Fe.
it was responsible. On the same day the regiment made contact with troops of the 32d Division near Imugan.
If any single event can be said to have marked the end of the campaign to open the Santa Fe approach to the Cagayan Valley, it was this 29 May contact between the forces under 25th and 32d Division control. Two days earlier General Mullins had reported to I Corps that Route 5 was secure all the way to Santa Fe. On the 31st, after the 126th Infantry had mopped up, he declared the Villa Verde Trail secure from Santa Fe to Imugan. The converging attack on Santa Fe was over.
With the completion of the drive to Santa Fe, the operations of Sixth Army in northern Luzon were about to pass to a new stage. The time was ripe to exploit the breakthrough that had resulted from the virtual destruction of the 2d Tank Division and the 10th Division and to drive rapidly north into the Cagayan Valley. Sixth Army and I Corps
had already laid plans for such an attack. For the Japanese, the final collapse of the last defenses at Balete Pass, Imugan, and Santa Fe was perhaps not of as great immediate significance as was the seizure of those places to Sixth Army, for the 14th Area Army, on or about 24 May, had already directed the remnants of its two divisions to withdraw to Bambang. But that's another story--and one that in no way detracts from the success the 25th and 32d Divisions had achieved in driving the Japanese out of their defenses on the approaches to the Bambang anchor of Yamashita's defensive triangle.
There can be no doubt that the 25th Division, as events turned out, had played the decisive role in the converging drive to Santa Fe, but it must also be made clear that the 32d Division, pinning the 2d Tank Division to the defense of the Villa Verde Trail, had in large measure made the 25th Division's success possible. The Japanese had, indeed, been forced to send fresh troops to Salacsac Pass No. 1 to hold back the 32d Division even as troops of the 25th Division were climbing the last slope to Balete Pass.
For the cost to the infantry forces engaged in the converging attack toward Santa Fe from 21 February through 31 May, see Table 8. The 2d Tank Division and the 10th Division (including attachments) lost at least 13,500 men killed, of whom the 32d Division dispatched about 5,750 in the Villa Verde Trail sector and the 25th Division 7,750 in the Route 5 zone.45 The Japanese losses in killed alone amounted to nearly two-thirds of the 20,750 or more troops the Bambang Branch, 14th Area Army, had committed to the Route 5 and Villa Verde Trail battles.
In assessing the conduct of the drive toward Santa Fe, one could question whether operations might have turned out better if, from the initiation of the offensive on 21 February, either the 25th or 32d Divisions had been committed on the Old Spanish Trail and the other division concentrated along Route 5. Much of the terrain along the Old Spanish Trail north from Carranglan is less formidable than that in the Villa Verde Trail sector--I Corps might have achieved decisive results on the Old Spanish Trail more quickly and at less cost against a Japanese force equal in strength to that defending the Villa Verde Trail.
However, when the offensive began in late February, both Sixth Army and I Corps had believed it necessary to maintain a continuous line across the corps front from the west coast of Luzon east at least as far as San Jose. Moreover, plans had then called for the 32d Division to devote part of its energies to an attack toward Baguio up the river valleys between the Villa Verde Trail and Route 11. To have redeployed the 32d Division eastward would have left a huge gap in the I Corps center, a gap inviting Japanese counteraction. Then, when the 33d Division spread eastward in early April to take over the river valleys on the 32d Division's left, it would have been uneconomical to have redeployed the 32d Division. In any case, had the 32d moved over to the Old Spanish Trail in April, it would
U.S. INFANTRY CASUALTIES IN ATTACK TOWARD SANTA FE
21 FEBRUARY-31 MAY 1945
Regiment Killed Wounded Total
32d Division 126th 195 460 655 127th 350 750 1,100 128th 280 950 1,230 Subtotal 825 2,160 2,985 25th Division 27th 275 685 960 35th 175 605 780 161st 200 630 830 148th 25 140 165 126th 10 30 40 Subtotal 685 2,090 2,775 Grand total 1,510 4,250 5,760
Source: Derived from sources cited previously in this chapter and in Chapter XXVI. Broken down another way, the figures show that infantry units of the 32d Division lost a total of 3,025 men--835 killed and 2,190 wounded; the 25th Division, proper, had a total of 2,570 casualties--650 killed and 1,920 wounded.
have had to leave at least a regiment behind to block the Villa Verde Trail and contain the Japanese there. In that event, the division might not have had sufficient strength to achieve decisive results on the Old Spanish Trail. Finally, the maps available to Sixth Army and I Corps in late February were so inadequate and inaccurate that planners at the two headquarters could not have found any advantage for the Old Spanish Trail over the Villa Verde Trail.
In the end, as in the beginning, the only real solution to the problem facing I Corps would have been at least one more infantry division. As a result of General MacArthur's directives of early February, Sixth Army could make no more strength available to I Corps. To army and corps, therefore, the plans under which the campaign was conducted seemed those best calculated to assure safety against Japanese counterattack while at the same time giving promise of steady progress toward Santa Fe.
There are also a few obvious comments that can be made about the Japanese conduct of the defense. The 10th Division, for instance, apparently did an inordinately poor job of reconnaissance, as is exemplified by the fact that it left strong forces along the Old Spanish Trail for nearly a month after the threat there had passed, a month during which the need for additional strength was acute along Route 5. Furthermore, the division seems to have been preoccupied with its defenses on the east side of Route 5, and long had insufficient strength west of the highway. The division was also so concerned with the defense of the obvious approaches to Balete
Ridge that it failed to make adequate provision for the defense of the ridge proper. Finally, the 10th Division made no real effort to seize clear opportunities for counterattack. It could have employed the forces immobilized along the Old Spanish Trail to strike either through the Putlan Valley or against the flank of 25th Division units at Mt. Myoko.46 One can also question whether the Japanese made the most effective use of their opportunities for concentration and economy of force. They answered I Corps' two-division drive by dividing and spreading their forces fairly thin at the crucial time and over the critical terrain. The outcome might have been delayed had the 2d Tank and 10th Divisions concentrated along a shorter, tighter line.
The field of military operations is--either fortunately or unfortunately--full of possibilities for such interesting speculations, but if one thing is certain it is that at the end of May neither General Krueger nor General Yamashita were indulging in thoughts of what might have been. On the one hand the Sixth Army commander was busy preparing to exploit the breakthrough at Balete Pass. On the other, the 14th Area Army commander was frantically trying to ready new defenses in front of Bambang. Yamashita viewed with dismay the fact that the 2d Tank and 10th Divisions had collapsed, leaving open the road to the Bambang anchor of his defensive triangle. A month earlier the Baguio apex of the triangle had fallen, and now the only force still holding at one of the three original apexes was the 19th Division in the Bontoc region. Colonel Volckmann's USAFIP(NL) had been attacking toward this area since March, and at the end of May the USAFIP(NL) was poised for a breakthrough.
1. I Corps FO 12, 21 Feb 45; see also above, ch. XXVI.
2. The remainder of this subsection is based mainly on: 25th Div Rpt Luzon, pp. 35-44; 25th Div FO's 13 and 14, 21 and 27 Feb 45.
3. This subsection is based generally on: 25th Div Rpt Luzon, pp. 39-44; 37th Inf Rpt Luzon, pp. 10-19: 35th Inf Rpt Luzon, pp. 20-27; 161st Inf Rpt Luzon, Battle of Puncan West Sector, pp. 1-16; 161st Inf S-3 Rpts, 21 Feb-5 Mar 45.
4. For heroic actions on 24 February, during the attack against Lumboy, S. Sgt. Raymond H. Cooley of Company B, 27th Infantry, was awarded the Medal of Honor.
5. Additional information on the Japanese in this section is from: SWPA Hist Series, II, 478-80; 14th Area Army Opns on Luzon, pp 99-110; Konuma Statement, States, II, 300-14; Tsuchiya Statement, States, IV, 402-03.
6. I Corps FO 12-1, 2 Mar 45.
7. 25th Div FO 15, 5 Mar 45.
8. The remainder of this subsection is based on: 25th Div Rpt. Luzon, pp. 44-47; 27th Inf Rpt Luzon, p. 20; 27th Inf Unit Rpts, 2-20 Mar 45; 35th Inf Rpt Luzon, pp. 28-30; 35th Inf S-3 Opns Rpts, 5-11 Mar 45; 161st Inf Rpt Luzon, Pursuit and Approach March Puncan to Minuli, pt. I, pp. 1-3; ibid., pt. II, pp. 4-5; 161st Inf S-3 Opns Rpts, 5-15 Mar 45.
9. I Corps FO's 12-3 and 12-4, 11 and 13 Mar 45.
10. 25th Div FO 16, 11 Mar 45, and Change No. 1 thereto, 14 Mar 45; 25th Div FO 17, 15 Mar 45.
11. Japanese material in this subsection is from: 25th Div Rpt Luzon, pp. 49-50; 161st Inf Rpt Luzon, Battle for Balete Pass, pt. I, General Situation, pp. 2-4; Tsuchiya Statement, States, IV, 403-05; SWPA Hist Series, II, 478-80.
12. 25th Div Rpt Luzon, pp. 49, 115-16, 122.
13. Information on the 35th Infantry's attack and the Japanese reaction is from: 25th Div Rpt Luzon, pp. 27-28; 35th Inf Rpt Luzon, pp. 31-32; 35th Inf S-3 Opns Rpts, 6-25 Mar 45; Konuma Statement, States, II, 309-14.
14. Tactical information in the rest of this subsection and in the next is from: 25th Div Rpt Luzon, pp. 51-54; 25th Div G-3 Opns Rpts, 11-28 Mar 45; 27th Inf Rpt Luzon, pp. 20-22; 27th Inf Unit Rpts, 11-30 Mar 45; 35th Inf Rpt Luzon, pp. 33-36; 35th Inf S-3 Opns Rpts, 12-29 Mar 45; 161st Inf Rpt Luzon, Battle for Balete Pass, pt. II, pp. 1-2; ibid., pt. III, Opns for Norton's Knob, pp. 1-3; 161st Inf S-3 Opns Rpts, 12-31 Mar 45.
15. The name Wolfhound Ridge derived from the 27th Infantry's nickname. The Wolfhounds. The names for Mts. Myoko, Kanami, Minami, and Kabuto and associated ridges were Japanese in origin.
16. 25th Div Rpt Luzon, pp. 53-54, 58-59, 169-70; 35th Inf Rpt Luzon. p. 33; 25th Div FO 17, 15 Mar 45.
17. 25th Div Rpt Luzon, p. 53.
18. Casualties for the period 16-31 March were:
Regiment Killed Wounded Total 27th 50 160 210 35th 25 40 65 161st 35 145 180 Total 110 345 455
The figures derive from all relevant regimental sources. The division G-3 Section listed the casualties for the same period as 125 killed and 290 wounded.
19. 25th Div G-2 Per Rpts, 21 Feb-31 Mar 45, passim, 35th Inf Jnl Files, 21 Feb-31 Mar 45.
20. 25th Div FO 18, 28 Mar 45.
21. Information on 161st Infantry operations in this subsection is from: 25th Div Rpt Luzon, pp. 55-58, 64; 161st Inf Rpt Luzon, Battle for Balete Pass, pt. II, Commentary, pp. 2-3; ibid., pt. IV, 2d Bn Engagements on Highley Ridge, pp. 1-2; ibid., pt. V, 1st Bn Engagement for Balete Pass, p. 1; ibid., pt. VII, 3d Bn Attack Highley Ridge, pp. 1-4; 161st Inf S-3 Opns Rpts, 28 Mar-21 Apr 45.
22. The names Norton, Crump, Highley, and Murphree derive from members of the 161st Infantry.
23. Information on 35th Infantry operations is from: 25th Div Rpt Luzon, pp. 55-57; 35th Inf Rpt Luzon, pp. 36-41; 35th Inf Opns Rpts, 29 Mar-23 Apr 45; 35th Inf Strength and Casualty Rpts, 29 Mar-23 Apr 45.
24. Information on 27th Infantry action is from: 25th Div Rpt Luzon, pp. 59-61; 25th Div G-3 Opns Rpts, 30 Mar-22 Apr 45; 27th Inf Rpt Luzon, pp. 22-25; 27th Inf Unit Rpts, 30 Mar-22 Apr 45.
25. Additional information on the Japanese is from: 25th Div G-2 Per Rpts, 30 Mar-21 Apr 45; Tsuchiya Statement, States, IV, 402-05.
26. The sources for these figures are the regimental records cited in the previous subsection. The claimed figure of Japanese killed is manifestly exaggerated.
27. 25th Div Opns Plan B, 21 Apr 45, 25th Div FO File.
28. 27th Inf Unit Rpt 21, 17 Apr 45.
29. Rad, CO 27th Inf to G-2 25th Div, 0945 21 Apr 45, and Tele Msg, S-3 27th Inf to CO 27th Inf, 1415 21 Apr 45, both in 27th Inf Jnl File, 21 Apr 45.
30. Tele Msg, S-2 2d Bn to S-2 27th Inf, 0850 22 Apr; Tele Msg, CO 2d Bn to CO 27th Inf, 1620 22 Apr; Tele Msg, CO 27th Inf to CO 2d Bn, 1815 22 Apr; Rads, CO 27th Inf to CG 25th Div, 1825 and 1830 22 Apr; 2d Bn 27th Inf Unit Rpt, 1200 21 Apr-1200 22 Apr 45. All in 27th Inf Jnl File, 22 Apr 45.
31. 25th Div Rpt Luzon, pp. 61-64; 25th Div G-3 Opns Rpts, 23-24 Apr 45; 27th Inf Rpt Luzon, pp. 25-27; 35th Inf Rpt Luzon, p. 41; Tele Msg, CO 2d Bn to S-3 27th Inf (Movement Orders, 2d Bn), 1830 22 Apr, and Tele Msg, CO 2d Bn to CO 27th Inf (2d Bn Plan for 23 Apr), 2100 22 Apr 45, both in 27th Inf Jnl File, 22 Apr 45.
32. Material on 27th Infantry operations in this subsection is from: 25th Div Rpt Luzon, pp. 62-63; 27th Inf Rpt Luzon, pp. 25-28; 27th Inf Unit Rpts, 23 Apr-4 May 45.
33. Information on 35th Infantry operations is from: 25th Div Rpt Luzon, pp. 63-64; 35th Inf Rpt Luzon, pp. 41-47; 35th Inf S-3 Opns Rpts, 22 Apr-5 May 45.
34. Material on 161st Infantry operations in this subsection is from: 25th Div Rpt Luzon, pp. 64-65; 161st Inf S-3 Opns Rpts, 23 Apr-5 May 45: 161st Inf Rpt Luzon, Battle for Balete Pass, pt. II, Commentary, pp. 3-4; ibid., pt. IV, 2d Bn Engagement Highley Ridge, p. 2; ibid., pt. V, 1st Bn Engagement Balete Pass, pp. 2-3.
35. Planning material in this subsection is from: I Corps Rpt Luzon, pp. 81-84; I Corps FO 16, 2 May 45; 25th Div Rpt Luzon, pp. 65-66; 25th Div FO 19, 3 May 45.
36. The only directly comparative figures available show that as of 4 May the 35th Infantry, 25th Division, had 2,450 effectives--750 men understrength. On the same day the 126th and 127th Infantry Regiments of the 32d Division had 1,875 and 2,175 effectives, respectively.
37. Japanese information in this subsection is from: SWPA Hist Series, II, 480-82; Tsuchiya Statement, States, IV, 402-05; Japanese Studies in WW II, No. 8, 14th Area Army Opns on Luzon, pp. 127-28, 130-34.
38. Information on operations of the 27th and 35th Regiments in this subsection is from: 25th Div Rpt Luzon, p. 66; 27th Inf Rpt Luzon, pp. 28-30; 27th Inf Unit Rpts, 5-14 May 45; 35th Inf Rpt Luzon, pp. 43-44; 35th Inf S-3 Per Rpts, 4-14 May 45.
39. Information on the 148th Infantry in this subsection is from: 148th Inf Rpt Luzon, pt. II, Northern Luzon, pp. 3-4; 148th Inf S-3 Per Rpts, 5-14 May 45.
On 8 May, during a Japanese counterattack on a newly won position in the Mt. Myoko region, Pfc. Anthony L. Krotiak of Company I, 148th Infantry, at the cost of his life, threw himself upon a Japanese hand grenade, thereby saving four fellow soldiers from serious wounds or possible death. For this heroic action, Private Krotiak was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor.
40. Information on 161st Infantry action in this subsection is from: 25th Div Rpt Luzon, pp. 66, 79; 161st Inf S-3 Opns Rpts, 4-14 May 45; 161st Inf Rpt, Luzon, Battle for Balete Pass, pt. IV, 2d Bn Engagement Highley Ridge, pp. 2-3; ibid., pt. V, 1st Bn Engagement Balete Pass, pp. 3-4; ibid., pt. VI, Opns for Balete Pass, pp. 1-2.
41. The figures are based upon all relevant divisional regimental sources cited previously in this chapter, sources that are, as usual, irreconcilable.
42. General sources for this section include: I Corps Rpt Luzon, pp. 87-95; I Corps FO's 16 and 17, 2 and 19 May 45; 25th Div Rpt Luzon, pp. 71-77, 82; 25th Div G-3 Opns Rpts, 13 May-1 Jun 45; 25th Div FO's 19 and 20, 3 and 11 May 45.
43. 27th Inf Rpt Luzon, pp. 31-32; 27th Inf Unit Rpts 12-31 May 45.
44. 161st Inf S-3 Opns Rpts, 13-30 May 45; 161st Inf Rpt Luzon, Battle for Balete Pass, pt. V, 1st Bn Engagement Balete Pass, pp. 3-5; ibid., pt. VI, Opns for Balete Pass, pp. 2-3.
45. The figures for Japanese killed are based upon a study of all relevant Japanese and U.S. Army sources. The 32d Division claimed it killed 7,675 Japanese and the 25th Division claimed approximately 9,150, a total of 16,825.
46. In SWPA Historical Series, II, 480, and in Tsuchiya Statement, in Statements, IV, 402-05, there are indications that the 10th Division did make some effort to mount a counterattack in mid-April. The 25th Division, during this period, remarked only increased Japanese patrolling activity along the Putlan River valley.