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  • With the anniversary of General Douglas MacArthur's death (January 26, 1880 – April, 5, 1964) approaching, I thought I would share a fascinating, yet abbreviated history of Mac and my grandfather's 11th Airborne Division which was a favorite "secret weapon" for The Napoleon of Luzon in World War II (a full review of MacArthur's relationship with The Angels can be found in my book, "When Angels Fall: From Toccoa to Tokyo, The 511th Parachute Infantry Regiment in World War II" - Amazon $14.95). The Angels were associated with or touched by several of the war's most historic moments, including some that would thrill military historians and enthusiasts around the world.

    A Meeting of the Generals - May 1944

    As the 11th Airborne Division sailed for Dobodura, New Guinea in May of 1944, their commanding general Major General Joseph May Swing was was headed for Australia to meet with General MacArthur. Swing was widely recognized as one of America's most qualified airborne commanders having been artillery commander for the 82nd Infantry Division when it was converted to the 82nd Airborne Division where Swing quickly became a disciple of airborne tactics. 

    After forming the new 11th Airborne Division at Camp Mackall, North Carolina in November of 1942, Swing had flown to North Africa to advise his old Westpoint roommate General Dwigh D. Eisenhower on the airborne operations in Sicily. After returning home General Swing chaired the famous Swing Board at Camp Mackall which published the training circular which became known as “Employment of Airborne and Troop Carrier Forces” which General Douglas MacArthur certainly received and studied. After Swing's 11th Airborne Division performed so admirably during the test known as The Knollwood Maneuvers in December of 1943 the War Department changed its tune regarding the future of airborne divisions, another victory that MacArthur surely noticed about the 11th Airborne as he himself was more than happy to stick it to Washington. 

    While I have been unable to uncover any requests made by MacArthur to have General Swing's division sent to his theater, I imagine it was with some satisfaction that he received word that the 11th Airborne Division was being sent his way. To that end, in May of 1943 General Swing headed for 77-79 York Street in Syndey, Australia to meet with General MacArthur and his staff for several days of briefings to learn what role his beloved division would play in the Pacific. For now, the Angels would undergo several months of theater training on New Guinea, though the fresh division would remain in reserve for ongoing operations around Hollandia to the island's north.

    After that the Angels would mostly likely be used heavily during the invasion of Luzon (with a bloody and grueling stop on Leyte first).

    Eager to lead his division into combat, General Swing told his men, "Think, eat and dream of war. We’re fighting a desperate enemy." 

  • NOTICE TO ALL INTERNEES:
    (Originally posted on May 8, 1945 at the Santo Tomas Internment Camp, Manila, Luzon)

     

    This afternoon the Commandant of the Camp issued the following statement to the Executive Committee:

    I am authorized by the Director-General of the Japanese Military Administration in the Philippines to make a statement regarding the change of location of enemy civilian's internment camp.

    As all of you are well aware, released enemy nationals in the city of Manila are more than 2,000. Most of them, being unemployed, are in extreme difficulties in their living, and the number of applicants for internment is daily increasing. It is, however, to be pointed out that the present accommodations available in the Santo Tomas Internment Camp is not sufficient to have all of them interned there, and particularly so from sanitary point of view.

    In consideration of these facts, the Military Authorities here have come to a decision, to change the location of the internment camp to a more spacious place where more permanent accommodations can be provided so that you will continue to live there until the time when you will repatriate to your respective countries or peace will be restored.

    The new site is in Los Baños, Laguna, an ideal health resort noted for its hot springs, where new buildings will be erected for your housing and where you will enjoy fresh air and find easy access to fresh meat and vegetables, part of which you may be able to cultivate yourselves.

    In carrying out the above plan, the first group of about 800 men to be selected from the present internees, which will constitute the core for the new camp, will be dispatched to Los Baños by trains on the 14th of the month. For this first group, the premises of the Agriculture College including its large track field will be available.

    It is to be emphasized that this change of location is entirely based upon the humanitarian consideration of your own welfare, and that fairness to the treatment to be accorded to internees shall always be maintained.

    In this connection, you are cautioned not to make and careless utterances which will distort the true intention of the Military Administration regarding the present plan, as they are sure that the new camp will promise a better and healthier life to all the enemy civilians in this country

    Finally the authorities hope that the Executive Committee and all internees will render full cooperation in carrying out the above program.

  • The Battle for Luzon's Mount Bijang (also Bijiang), located about 40 miles south-east of Manila is one of those obscure combat engagements that the world has passed over simply because World War II was full of tens of thousands of such operations on land, the seas and in the air.

    As any military historian (or even casual student) can tell you, these battles were often fought by men, frequently young men, who found deep wells of courage in the heat of battle in a mixture of adrenaline, duty, will, and an unrelenting desire to do their best for their buddies.

    The Battle for Mt. Bijang is the story of one understrength parachute company in their fight to take and retain what their company commander called, "an insignificant piece of real estate" against an estimated 300 Japanese defenders. I have heard from the paratroopers who were there, including that company commander, and from my own grandfather, 1LT Andrew Carrico III who was serving as Company Executive Officer at the time and was wounded so badly that some in D Company thought he was killed. The Battle for Mt. Bijang was one of those "small-unit operations" that displays the effects of superb leadership, skilled NCOs, determined frontline fighters and one unit's unwillingness to let each other down.

    Battle Background

    On February 3, 1945, the 511th Parachute Infantry Regiment dropped on Luzon's Tagaytay Ridge just south of Manila, then pushed north up into the city. Grandpa's D Company, the same unit that fought the Battle for Mt. Bijang, was selected to spearhead the 11th Airborne Division's drive into Manila and Grandpa explained, "Here we are, a little old airborne division with its 8,000 men attacking Manila from the South and the 1st Calvary Division with its 20,000 men attacking from the North and (my) 1st Platoon, D Company out in front of everybody! Quite an Experience."

    He then chuckled and said, "My squad leaders all asked, 'Why do we get all the dirty jobs?!'"

    The Battle for Manila would prove to be bloody for Major-General Joseph May Swing's understrength 11th Airborne Division, including D Company which would be the first Angels to encounter the enemy at Imus, just outside Manila proper (a story for another day!). In 1949, COL Edward H. "Slugger" Lahti, CO of the 511th PIR, explained that the regiment's 2nd Battalion (which included D Company) had landed on Tagaytay Ridge on February 3, 1945 with 502 men. By February 10, one week later, the battalion was down to just 187 effective officers and enlisted men.

    On February 10, the battle-worn men of D Company were given a break from the lines and twenty-three-year-old Captain Stephen Edward "Rusty" Cavanaugh selected an assembly point for D Company several hundred yards to the rear near the Parañaque Bridge where they could clean up and get a hot meal. As his troopers moved back, the fatigued captain grew frustrated with what appeared to be a delay in assembly. Nerves frayed from a week of combat (during which he slept very little), Cavanaugh chewed out his new 1SGT Paul R. Farnsworth for the men’s sluggishness.

    With a pained look in his eyes, Farnsworth quietly replied, “Sir, that’s all there is.” Everyone else was gone.

  • Los Banos Raid Internees at Bilibid PrisonNote: This timeline is an attempt to cover the major aspects of this historic operation by date/time. It willnot cover every facet or key player of the raid in detail for to do so would require (and has) an entire book. If you would like to read the full story of this mission, you may do so in my book,“When Angels Fall: From Toccoa to Tokyo, the 511th Parachute Infantry Regiment in World War II”

    I would like to give a special thank-you to Col. Edward H. Lahti who was CO of the 511th Parachute Infantry Regiment at the time of the raid and whose papers I am in possession of.

    An equally large thank-you is due to retired Brigadier-General Henry “Hank” Muller who was so integral to the raid’s success and in helping compile this timeline of the operation. He truly is “an officer and a gentleman”.

    Finally, I must thank my friend Robert Wheeler who was a young child when the Angels rescued his family from Los Baños. His insights into the raid have proven invaluable.

    To any outlets, historians, re-enactors, etc. who use the information in this timeline, please list myself as author and creditwww.511pir.com – Jeremy C. Holm

  • “I doubt that any airborne unit in the world will ever be able to rival the Los Baños prison raid. It is the textbook airborne operation for all ages and all armies.” ― General Colin Powell, former chairman, U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff

     

    75 years ago two incredible events occurred thousands of miles across the vast Pacific Ocean. The first took place at around noon six United States Marines raised a second, larger American flag atop Mount Suribachi, a moment that was captured in an iconic photograph by Associated Press (AP) photographer Joe Rosenthal. When AP Photograph Editor John Bodkin received the photo on Guam he exclaimed "Here's one for all time!" and immediately transmitted the image to the AP headquarters in New York City. It became one of the most recognized images from the war, indeed in American history.

    The prominence of Rosenthal's photo in the press overshadowed, then and now, the accomplishment of another group of fighting men who risked it all to to rescue over 2,100 men, women and children from behind enemy lines over 1,500 miles southwest of Iwo Jima. Theirs was the second incredible event that took place on February 23, 1945 and it is as inspiring as it is impressive.  

    When Imperial Japanese forces invaded the Philippines in December of 1941 it began a brutal occupation of the archipelago that lasted until 1945 and the Filipino people suffered tremendously at the hands of the invaders during those years. An estimated 500,000 Filipinos were killed before the occupation was broken by Allied forces, with the cooperation of local guerrilla groups, in September of 1945. 

    511th parachute infantry regiment on New GuineaOne of the main forces battling for the liberation of Luzon in early 1945 was America's 11th Airborne Division, a unique fighting force that landed a portion of their TOE amphibiously at Nasugbu on January 31 and then the remainder on Tagaytay Ridge just south of Manila on February 3. Known as The Angels, the 11th Airborne fought up through southern Manila, breaking through the famous Genko Line, and went on to liberate Nichols Field, Fort William Mckinley, Intramuros, Cavite and several other "battlefields" in vicious engagements and close-quarters fighting that have received far too little attention from historians and both the American and Filipino peoples as a whole (which is one of the main reasons I wrote my highly-acclaimed book, "When Angels Fall: The 511th Parachute Infantry Regiment in World War II - Amazon $14.95). 

    In the midst of all the heavy fighting, the Angels were given another mission, or at least a directive, from General Douglas MacArthur himself who was growing increasingly concerned about the welfare of tens of thousands of POWs and interned civilians on Luzon. With the U.S. Sixth Army pushing southward from the Lingayen Gulf and Eighth Army (i.e the 11th Airborne Division) pressing north from Nasugbu, and after the massacre of 150 Allied POWs on Palawan, the consensus was that the Japanese appeared more ready to kill their prisoners than allow them to be rescued (a fear that was later confirmed with a discovered order from Japan’s Vice-minister of war LTG Kyoji Tominaga).  

    In his autobiographical book Reminiscences MacArthur noted: “I hoped to proceed as rapidly as possible, especially as time was an element connected with the release of our prisoners.… I knew that many of these half-starved and ill-treated people would die unless we rescued them promptly.”