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And A Few Marines-Marines in the Liberation of the ... A Few Marines...A • •. And a Few Marines: Marines in the Liberation of the Philippines by Captain John C. Chapin, USMCR (Ret)

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  • ... ANDAFEW MARINES:MARINES IN THE LIBERATION

    OF THE PHILIPPINES

    MARINES IN

    WORLD Wu IICOMMEMORATIVE SERIES

    B\' CAPTAIN JOHN C. CHAPINU.S. MARINE CORPS RESERVE (RET)

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    MARINES iN THE LIBERATION OF PHILIPPINES (SFT)

    Change the distribution PCN read 190003 14300"vice 190003145000.

    DISTRIBUTION: PCN 19000314380

    PCN 19000314380

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    . And a Few Marines:Marines in the Liberationof the Philippinesby Captain John C. Chapin, USMCR (Ret)

    t was apparently aninsignificant eventwhen a few Marineplanes flew into amuddy airfield at

    Tacloban on the island of Leytein the Philippines on 3 December1944. All around them were theelements of the massive U.S. Armyinvasion which had begun on 20October. Seven infantry divisionsand six Army Air Force (AAF) airgroups dominated the islandscene. It was the start of a majorcampaign in which Marine avia-tion would play a major role

    The first Marine planes to arrivethat day were 12 Grumman F6FHellcat night fighters of VMF(N)-541, nicknamed the "Bateye"squadron. They had flown the 602miles from their base on Peleliu inthe Palau Islands. A few hours

    On the Cover: A Marine combat artistin Manila while the battle there stillraged, Sgt Paul Arlt described this washdrawing: "Sharply outlined against ris-ing clouds of smoke, the gutted steel andconcrete shell of the nine-story GreatEastern Hotel is one of the countlessbuildings destroyed by retreating Japs.Down on the rubble-strewn street, aPhilippine citizen glances apprehensivelyover his shoulder as Marine dive bombersof the 1st Marine Aircraft Wing sweepoverhead. Seconds later, these planesdropped 20 tons of high explosives onenemy ships in the harbor, knocking outlap antiaircraft batteries

    later 66 Chance-Vought F4U Cor-sair Marine fighters roared in tojoin them at the crowded strip,after a series of island-hoppingstops on their 1,957-mile trip fromEmirau in the Bismarck Archi-pelago. These Corsairs were theadvance guard of the 85 planescoming from VMF-115, -211, -218,and -313 of Marine Aircraft Group(MAG) 12 in the Solomon Islands.They would serve as part of the308th Bombardment Wing of theFifth Army Air Force under MajorGeneral Ennis C. Whitehead,USA. The same day they arrived,six night fighters of the "Bateye"squadron were already back in theair for their first mission, flyingcover for a torpedo boat. It was asmall beginning of bigger thingsto come.

    Planning for the Philippines

    The deployment of Marineplanes to the Philippines was anevent which seemed unlikely ear-her. General Douglas MacArthur,Commander, Southwest PacificArea, had been deeply committedpersonally to the recapture of thePhilippines ever since his speedydeparture from there in 1942 withthe ringing promise, "I shallreturn." On 12 March 1944, theJoint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) issued adirective setting the southernmostisland of Mindanao as the firstAmerican objective in thePhilippines. This prompted MajorGeneral Ralph J. Mitchell, com-manding general of the 1st MarineAircraft Wing (MAW) in thenorthern Solomon Islands, to fly to

    At left: Unsung heroes of the air warwere the ground crews, who ensured thateach squadron would have a high opera-tional rate of its aircraft. Capt Elton A.Barnum Collection

    With its built-in radar, the Grumman F6F(N) Hellcat nightfighter was directedtowards lucrative enemy targets during nighttime missions in the liberation of thePhilippines. These Hellcats are shown over Leyte.

    Department of Defense Photo (USMC) A700605

  • :1

    Australia in May, and again inAugust, to meet with GeneralMacArthur and his air chief,Lieutenant General George C.Kenney, and strenuously urge theuse of Marine aviation in theimpending campaign. His reasonswere compelling: Japanese airpower was by now almost whollyeliminated in the northernSolomons and his squadrons werebattle-hardened from 22 monthsof almost continuous air opera-tions. General Mitchell hit a stonewall: This was to be an all-Armyoperation.

    Then a new factor emerged inthe strategic planning. Subse-quent air strikes on 12 Septemberby Admiral William F. Halsey'sThird Fleet fast carrier force,scourging the island of Leyte (inthe central Philippines), revealedthat Japanese defenses there weremuch weaker than expected.

    Department of Defense Photo (USMC) A41 2617

    The fabulous Vought F4LI Corsair, the Marines' aircraft of choice in the Pacific War,gave Leatherneck pilots a victorious edge over their Japanese opponents. As a versatilefighter-bomber, it could carry bombs to 1,000 pounds (as shown here) and providedboth close and long-range air support.

    2

    MARIANA

    ISLANDS

    Bougaznvi1Ie

    SOLOMON ISLANDS' Guadalcanal

    CHINA

    Southwest Pacific Area

    .QBONIN ISLANDS

    VOLCANO ISLANDS

    PHILIPPINES

    CAROLINA ISLANDS

    0..:. MARSHALL ISLANDS

    GILBERTISLANDS

    ELLICE ISLANDS

    NEW HEBRIDES

  • Accordingly, the JCS issued a newdirective on 15 September 1944,setting Leyte as the target for a 20October landing. With this objec-tive a considerable distance awayfrom the Marines' Solomonsquadrons, the outlook for theirinvolvement in the Philippinescampaign seemed not to be in thecards.

    On 20 October, four Army divi-sions made landings on the eastcoast of Leyte. Following them inon the next day (21 October) wasnot an element of Marine aviationbut the Marine V AmphibiousCorps (VAC) Artillery. This anom-aly occurred because the normalheavy artillery of the Army's XXIVCorps had been detached to sup-port the Marine assault in theMariana Islands. Once there, theywere not available in time for theLeyte landings, and so the Ma-rines' big guns had been sent fromPearl Harbor to support the Armyinfantry in the Philippines. Thus,Brigadier General Thomas E.Bourke led ashore the 1,500 Ma-rines of the 11th 155mm GunBattalion, the 5th 155mm How-itzer Battalion, and the CorpsArtillery Headquarters Battalion.

    Moving quickly into action, thecannoneers initially fired in sup-port of the Army's XXIV Corpsfrom positions near the beach-head.

    Manning one of the weapons inBattery B of the 11th 155mm GunBattalion were PFCs FrankPinciotti, Shelby Heimback, and

    3

    Walter Dangerfield. As Danger-field remembered, after they land-ed and emplaced their gun, thethree of them decided that "it wastime [for the Marines] to havesome recognition." Pinciotti cameup with the idea of painting "Bythe grace of God and the help ofthe Marines, MacArthur hasreturned to the Philippines" onthe cover of a wooden ammuni-tion box and hanging it over thebarrel of their Long Tom. "Soonone of our officers ordered us totake it down, as MacArthur wouldcome around to inspect." Appar-ently other Marines saw the signbefore it came down and accord-ing to reports, before long, itappeared elsewhere in the islands.It has also been reported thatGeneral MacArthur saw one of thesigns and wanted the perpetratoror perpetrators found out andpunished. But this perhaps is anapocryphal story.

    During the critical naval Battleof Leyte Gulf (23-26 October),

    Major General Ralph J. MitchellDistinguished Flying Cross.

    In 1939 he was Director ofAviation at Marine CorpsI-ieadquarters. After the war, heretired in 1948 as a lieutenant gen-eral, and he died in 1970.

    s Commanding General,1st Marine Aircraft Wing,Mitchell was the original

    motivating force behind the assign-ment of Marine aviation to thePhilippines. Headquarters dutyforced him to remain inBougainville, with only occasionalvisits to his subordinates at thescene of action. He was in charge ofthe 1st MAW from April 1943 toJune 1945.

    Both the Army and the Navyawarded him a DistinguishedService Medal, and he was alsoawarded a Legion of Merit.

    Born in 1889, commissioned in1915 after graduating from the U.S.Naval Academy, Mitchell took anearly interest in flying. He earnedhis Naval Aviator wings in 1921,and served with a Marinesquadron in Nicaragua in 1929-30.While there he was awarded the

    BY THE GRACE OF GOD

    & THE HELP OF THE MARINES

    MACARTHUR HAS RETURNED

    TO THE PHILIPPINES

  • Problems on Leyte

    base, and the Americans the otherpart. Meanwhile, the Cub planescontinued to operate on the strip.Finally, the evening of 10 Decem-ber, additional troops cleared outthe Japanese.

    That dramatic episode conclud-ed the action by the V AmphibiousCorps Artillery on Leyte. It wasrelieved on the following daywhen the Army's XXIV CorpsArtillery arrived from Saipan.

    The Marine artillery battalionsleft for Guam on 13 December,with an Army commendation fortheir "splendid performance" infire support missions for the Armyinfantry divisions.

    there was concern for a Japanesenaval attack to the rear of theMarine artillerymen. The threatended when the enemy fleet wasdriven off. As the infantry divi-sions fought their way inland, theMarine artillery made a series ofdisplacements to keep pace withthe forward movement. Eachmove was greatly hindered by theheavy rains in November whichturned the primitive roads intomuddy swamps.

    Because of the nature of the ter-rain, visual observation for fireadjustment was frequently impos-sible, but the 12 L-4 (Cub) liaison

    planes available to the Marineartillerymen proved invaluable forspotting results. On the night of 6-7 December, the Bun airfieldwhere these planes were basedwas first bombed and thenassaulted by a force of enemyparatroopers who had beendropped to join up with localJapanese infiltrators. Their com-bined force of 350-450 men wasmet by 30 men of the CorpsArtillery Air Section, who fortu-nately were soon joined by otherMarine and Army personnel at theairstrip. A stalemate ensued, withthe enemy holding one part of t