(How the Hunters lived and died rescuing POWS in Los Baņos)
By: Colonel Frank B. Quesada, USA, Ret.


The Joint Guerrilla-US Army Assault

The final plan and scenario went this way, to wit:

  1. The 45th Hunter Regimental point assault contingent with Col Ingles, will spearhead the ground assault from all directions surrounding the camp, and with the scouts of Lt. Skau making an attack at the front gate, while the whole camp is surrounded by units of the 45th Hunter regiment in strategic stations to attack the guards at a signaled hour.
  2. The 511th Paratroopers of Lt. J Ringler will jump from C-47 aircraft that will disgorge paratroopers at a paradrop zone near the camp secured by elements of the Hukbalahap [partisan] guerrillas.
  3. Evacuation of POWs will follow involving the 762nd amphibian tractors unit to ferry the POWs across Laguna de Bay.
  4. Other guerrilla units such as the Fil-American and Marking troops and the 48th Chinese Squadron will act as road blocks in the towns of Calauan, Bay and Pila to deter possible enemy troops that might try to interfere with the rescue.
  5. The Hunter 47th Regiment under Col E. de Ocampo will act as roadblock in the Calamba-Pansol area to deter possible enemy incursion that may also interfere with the rescue.
  6. The backup 11th AB pack Howitzers in Calamba area will bombard the road as possible access of the enemy towards Los Baņos. In a nutshell, all the surrounding approaches and to the main camp itself has been secured. The townspeople were briefed and asked to vacate Los Baņos by the local PQOG home-guard units.

Clockwork Raid Operation

This near-perfect assault-rescue of the Los Baņos POW camp could have overseen any single commander owing to the magnitude and complexity of the clock-work operation that did not have any benefit of previous rehearsal before the raid.

The secret of the expected success depended on the expert and precise orientation of each participating unit by their own commanders, who earlier were carefully briefed by Col Ingles, Col Guerrero and other commanders of other participants about their specific roles based on the master plan laid out by Col Henry Muller, Col Douglas Quandt and Col T Adevoso and the headquarters general staff.

The rest of the coup d'maitre [success] was left to the Almighty. We prayed and hoped that Gen Fujishige's forces, not far away, would not learn of our attack and the evacuation of the POWs. For if he did, it could frustrate or blow the whole rescue operation into a failure and a great big fiasco. A great calculated risk was assumed.

Precision Planning and Execution

The result of the whole operation proved to be what was expected by the planners under the proficiency, savoir-faire and the expected diligence of all participants in playing their respective part under the master plan. And specific time frame allowed for each unit's role. All of these secret plans were kept from the POWs, except for a few limited top officials of the POW committee, who knew of the rescue. POWs were casually asked to keep to their huts and stay away from the abusive guards.

The death-defying raid was a great success without any casualty on the part of the POWs, but with only two casualties on the part of the Hunters. Killed in action during a hand-to-hand skirmish against enemy guards were two young Hunter guerrilla combatants.

The Lethal Onslaught

By February 22nd, guerrillas were fully equipped by Maj Nicanor Liwagon and Ma Gabriel Cruz, regimental QMS officers, and fully-briefed in Pila, Laguna, about 20 kilometers from Los Baņos, the main base of nearly 10,000 combined guerrilla forces from different units operating in the area.

In Pila, was the advance penetration team of the US 6th Alamo Scouts with Lt Tom Rounsaville, Lt Bull Littlefield, Sgt Alfred Alfonso and a team of radio operators, was our communication link with Gen D. MacArthur and other nets.

The different assault groups were separately dispatched by Col Guerrero at intervals and deployed in their assigned stations around the POW camp under the cover of darkness.

Other units were dispatched early morning of the 23rd via sailboats over Laguna Lake that would reach the northern shore of Los Baņos junction going up the hill towards the UP College of Agriculture, where the POW camp was located.

In summary, all possible entries and exits around the camp were sealed before dawn of February 23rd. Remaining civilians in town were cautioned by the guerrilla home guards to remain safely in their homes during a raid or evacuate to safer areas, because the Japanese might retaliate against them as suspects of being an accomplished to the raid.

Combat Assault Units

The Hunter ground assault combat teams reached the edge of the camp with the guides of local guerrilla unit [PQOGs] under a cover of darkness. They were in strategic foxholes, adequately camouflaged, as close as possible to the barbed wire fence, that surrounded the camp. They would spend the longest night, fervently waiting for the signal to attack and storm the camp at dawn of February 23rd.

Almost motionless, half-awake, quietly waiting for the signal to attack the enemy guards, they were also awaiting for the drone of the C-47 aircraft to arrive in time that would disgorge the paratroopers at the paradrop zone nearby. Every minute detail were checked and re-checked by the planners, allowing no room left for possible mishap.

No Atheists in the Foxholes

There were no doubt at all on the minds of the guerrillas that they had the superior advantage in number and the precious element of surprise on their side.

The men hugged the earth for warmth. They prayed. There were indeed no atheists in every foxhole.

They prayed more for the salvation of the POWs, a number of them were priests, nuns, missionaries and army nurses captured in Bataan and Corregidor after the American surrender of the USAFFE.

Couldn't Wait to go into Action

The chilly morning mist awkwardly crept down from the summit of the mystic Mount Makiling, cruising lazily downward through the barbed wire fence, as the light of dawn calmly greeted all of the liberators.

Inside the camp, blurred shadows of enemy move about non-chalantly as part of their daily routine, the day's assembly for the "Radio Taisho" [their early morning calisthenics] before breakfast time. They stacked their arms, as usual never suspecting what was in store for them that fateful day.

Enemy's Weak Point

Their daily movements had been verified as a routine of the guards every morning, which was distinctly noted by the planners of the raid, based on the precise intelligence reports.

It was why the attack at dawn was chosen and considered by the planners as the most propitious time for the surprise attack. The information paid off handsomely during the execution of the rescue.

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