Former POWs from the Cabanatuan prison camp celebrate their rescue in the town of Guimba, Luzon, Philippines.
Former POWs from the Cabanatuan prison camp celebrate their rescue in the town of Guimba, Luzon, Philippines. They were rescued by a combined force consisting of the Sixth Ranger Battalion, Philippine guerrillas, and Alamo Scouts.

Rescue at Cabanatuan

On 6 May 1942, Lieutenant General (LTG) Jonathan M. ‘Skinny’ Wainwright IV surrendered the last American forces in the Philippines to the Imperial Japanese Army. With that capitulation more than 23,000 American servicemen and women, along with 12,000 Filipino Scouts, and 21,000 soldiers of the Philippine Commonwealth Army became prisoners of war (POWs).1 To add to the misfortune, about 20,000 American citizens, many of them wives and children of the soldiers posted to the Philippines, were also detained and placed in internment camps where they were subjected to hardship for years. Tragically, of all the American prisoners in World War II, the POWs in the Philippines suffered one of the highest mortality rates at 40 percent. About 13,000 American soldiers captured in the Philippines died, and many thousands of them were shipped throughout the Japanese Empire as slave laborers.2

1 Considered by many military historians to be the greatest defeat of U.S. forces in any conflict, the chaotic conditions following the fall of the Philippines make it difficult to accurately account for all American and Allied persons that became captives of the Japanese Army. The problem of accountability was compounded by incidents such as the ‘Bataan Death March,’ and similar acts of mistreatment, as well as the later Japanese policy of relocating prisoners throughout the Japanese Empire to perform slave labor tasks in support of its war effort. Moreover, few records of the early days of the Philippine Campaign survived the war. All these factors combined to make accurate personnel accounting of prisoners and detainees difficult. In addition to the figure of 23,000 American soldiers, sailors, and Marines taken captive in the Philippines, tens of thousands of American citizens, many of them dependent wives and children of the soldiers, were also detained and subjected to the same harsh conditions as prisoners of war. The figures cited are from: Office of the Provost Marshal General, “Report on American Prisoners of War Interned by the Japanese in the Philippine Islands,” 19 November 1945, copy on Internet at: http://www.mansell.com/pow_resources/camplists/philippines/pows_in_pi-OPMG_report.html link, accessed on 27 February 2017. See also: Louis Morton, The Fall of the Philippines, The War in the Pacific (Washington, DC: GPO, 1953), 454-55, 579-83.

2 Although accurate numbers are difficult to ascertain due to lack of documentation on the part of the Japanese, there have been some studies made comparing pre-war records with wartime and post-war accounting of survivors. The cited 40 percent mortality rate comes from: William P. Skelton III, “American Ex-Prisoners of War,” Independent Study Course, Released: April 2002, Department of Veteran Affairs, Employee Education System, on Internet at: https://www.publichealth.va.gov/docs/vhi/pow.pdf link, accessed on 22 March 2017, 11. Robert E. Klein, et al, “Former American Prisoners of War (POWs),” U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, April 2005, on Internet at: www.va.gov/vetdata/docs/specialreports/powcy054-12-06jsmwrfinal2.doc link, accessed on 22 March 2017, 4.The U.S. Army alone counted 25,580 soldiers captured or interned in the Philippines. Of that number, 10,650 died while a POW. Those figures do not include U.S. Navy or Marine Corps personnel, nor civilian detainees. The same source also soberly notes that 30 percent of the captives died in their first year of captivity.

A POW in Cabanatuan Prison drew this sketch of an inmate giving water to a sick POW.
A POW in Cabanatuan Prison drew this sketch of an inmate giving water to a sick POW. (Library of Congress)

The fate of the Americans left behind in the Philippines weighed heavily on the senior leaders who escaped. General of the Army (GEN) Douglas A. MacArthur’s staff closely tracked the status of Allied POWs on the islands. Headquarters, Southwest Pacific Area (SWPA) (MacArthur’s Headquarters in Australia) asked several guerrilla units to pinpoint the locations of POWs and internees in the Philippines. They were to establish contact with them and report. This information would be used to develop rescue plans.3

3 A number of period documents highlighted the need to task guerrilla forces to gain information regarding American prisoners of war (POWs) and details on prison camps. For example, see Staff Study for the Chief of Staff, “Subject: Development of Contact with American POW in Japanese Camps,” 11 December 1943, reprinted in Charles A. Willoughby, Editor-in-Chief, Intelligence Activities in the Philippines during the Japanese Occupation, Documentary Appendices (II), Volume II, Intelligence Series (Washington, DC: GPO, 1948), 2-6.

In late 1944, reports of the Palawan POW Camp Massacre traveled quickly to SWPA (see article). The initial information came from the guerrillas who assisted survivors after escaping. The horrific details prompted SWPA to dispatch amphibian aircraft to recover the escapees. Once in Australia, eyewitness accounts of the mass execution caused military leaders to swear to prevent other atrocities. Thousands of other prisoners were still held by the Japanese, including the thousand or so still believed held at Cabanatuan, on Luzon Island.4

4 For more information on the Palawan Massacre and its influence on increasing the need for rescuing POWs from similar fates, see the preceding article (Michael E. Krivdo, “Catalyst for Action: The Palawan Massacre,” Veritas: Journal of Army Special Operations History (14:1) in this issue. For good secondary source accounts from the survivors’ perspective, see: Stephen L. Moore, As Good as Dead: The Daring Escape of American POWs from a Japanese Death Camp (New York: Caliber, 2016); and Bob Wilbanks, Last Man Out: Glenn McDole, USMC, Survivor of the Palawan Massacre in World War II (Jefferson, NC: McFarland & Co., Publishers, 2004).

Japanese Army soldiers force marched American prisoners to camps in the middle of Luzon during the ‘Bataan Death March.’
Japanese Army soldiers force marched American prisoners to camps in the middle of Luzon during the ‘Bataan Death March.’

This article incorporates reports and accounts from the 6th Ranger Battalion, Sixth U.S. Army, Alamo Scouts, and various guerrilla units that supported the rescue of 516 POWs from Cabanatuan. It chronologically merges these accounts into a single narrative history and concludes with an operational analysis. The reader is immersed at the tactical level to appreciate the detailed planning and coordination behind this textbook raid. One will see events as they unfold. Having the participants speak makes the history personal. Although the mission was well-executed, the article reveals weaknesses as well. The outcome of this operation influenced similar ones afterward in which more allied lives were saved.

After MacArthur’s forces landed at Lingayen Bay, Luzon, on 9 January 1945 and fought towards Cabanatuan, Major (MAJ) Robert B. Lapham, leader of the Luzon Guerrilla Armed Forces (LGAF), had renewed hope for of freeing the Cabanatuan prisoners.5 In light of what had recently happened on Palawan, a prison rescue merited reconsideration.

5 Robert Lapham and Bernard Norling, Lapham’s Raiders: Guerrillas in the Philippines, 1942-1945 (Lexington, KY: University of Kentucky Press, 1996),

BELOW: Map depicting the rough area of operations for Major Lapham’s Luzon Guerrilla Armed Forces (LGAF)
Map depicting the rough area of operations for Major Lapham’s Luzon Guerrilla Armed Forces (LGAF)

Planning the Rescue

Soon after the successful Lingayen landing, GEN MacArthur attached Lapham’s LGAF to Lieutenant General (LTG) Walter Krueger’s Sixth U.S. Army. MAJ Lapham became Krueger’s senior guerrilla advisor. He assigned his ‘squadrons’ to each of the major subordinate commands in Krueger’s Sixth Army. “I raised the question [of a rescue] again,” Lapham recalled. This time it prompted action. On 26 January, LTG Krueger listened to the guerrilla reports about the prison camp. The Sixth Army commander “assigned his G-2, Colonel [COL] Horton [V.] White, and White’s [deputy], MAJ Frank Rowale, to consider the whole venture and make appropriate plans” for a rescue.6 COL White centralized planning at the headquarters of the 6th Infantry Division, in the town of Guimba on the forward line of troops (FLOT).

6 Walter Krueger, From Down Under to Nippon: The Story of Sixth Army in World War II (Washington, DC: Combat Forces Press, 1953), 237; Lapham and Norling, Lapham’s Raiders, 172-78, quote from 178.

6th Ranger Battalion Scroll (WWII theater-made) and the 6th Army Rangers WWII Shield patch
6th Ranger Battalion Scroll and 6th Army Rangers WWII Shield patch
LTC Henry A. Mucci
LTC Henry A. Mucci

LTG Krueger assigned the rescue mission to Lieutenant Colonel (LTC) Henry A. Mucci, the commanding officer of his 6th Ranger Battalion. He directed Mucci “to furnish one reinforced company . . . from his battalion” as the central element of the raid force. The 6th Rangers had already made several successful raids, which reassured Krueger. Mucci, a short, stocky former West Point athlete, jumped at the mission and left for Guimba to join COL White.7

7 Quotes from Krueger, From Down Under to Nippon, 237; David W. Hogan, Jr., U.S. Army Special Operations in World War II (Washington, DC: Government Printing Office, 1992), 84-86.

CPT Robert W. Prince
CPT Robert Prince

Mucci began his preparations. He had selected Company C, commanded by CPT Robert W. Prince, as the core of his force and reinforced it with 2nd Platoon, Company F, led by Second Lieutenant (2LT) John F. Murphy. Because preliminary intelligence indicated a high probability of encountering enemy tanks or vehicles, Mucci “borrowed some bazookas and AT [antitank] grenades from the 6th Infantry Division.” With his men alerted, LTC Mucci and CPT Prince left for Guimba in the early hours of 27 January.8

8 Henry A. Mucci, “We Swore We’d Die or Do It,” Saturday Evening Post, 7 April 1945, 18; Henry A. Mucci, “Rescue at Cabanatuan,” Infantry Journal (April 1945), 15, quote from text.

CPT Juan Pajota
CPT Juan Pajota, LGAF guerrilla commander

As soon as they arrived, Mucci and Prince discovered that other elements had been attached to the raid force. LTG Krueger had directed MAJ Lapham to provide the Rangers with guerrillas familiar with the area around the POW camp. “I was able to contribute two excellent officers, [Captains (CPTs) Eduardo L.] Joson, and [Juan] Pajota, and some four hundred men to the venture,” stated Lapham. All lived within ten miles of the camp and were intimately familiar with the area. “I immediately sent a note [by runner] to [CPT] Pajota,” Lapham recalled, directing him to meet the Rangers at Balingcari (today Balangkare). Pajota’s men would bring fifty land mines that had been delivered by submarine.9 The mines would help isolate the objective against enemy reinforcements.

9 Lapham and Norling, Lapham’s Raiders, 179; Mucci, “We Swore We’d Die or Do It,” 18.

RAID FORCE Task Organization

Based on their early analysis of the mission to rescue over 500 POWs from the prison camp near Cabanatuan, the Sixth Army assigned the following elements to the raid force.

*LGAF= Luzon Guerrilla Armed Forces

  • 6th RANGER BATTALION: 124 men
  • LTC Henry A. Mucci, Raid Force Commander
  • C Company
  • CPT Robert W. Prince
  • 2nd Plat, F Company
  • LT John F. Murphy
  • Det, Combat Photo Unit F, 832nd Signal Service Bn.
  • LT John F. Lueddeke
  • ALAMO SCOUTS: 13 men
  • LT John M. ‘Jack’ Dove, Liaison Officer
  • Team NELLIST
  • LT William E. ‘Bill’ Nellist, Scout Commander
  • Team ROUNSAVILLE
  • LT Thomas J. ‘Tom’ Rounsaville
  • PHILIPPINE GUERRILLAS: 300–350 men
  • LGAF Squadron, Balingcari: 90 armed/160 bearers
  • CPT Juan Pajota
  • LGAF Squadron, Lobong: 75 men
  • CPT Eduardo L. Joson
Philippine guerrillas of CPT Pajota’s Squadron
Philippine guerrillas of CPT Pajota’s Squadron

Successful raids require detailed enemy information. The best reconnaissance unit in the theater was Krueger’s Alamo Scouts (see sidebar), who worked for the G-2. COL White selected two of his best teams to support the mission, Team NELLIST and Team ROUNSAVILLE (named for their respective leaders, First Lieutenant [1LT] William E. ‘Bill’ Nellist and 1LT Thomas J. ‘Tom’ Rounsaville). Those teams had done several small prisoner rescues in New Guinea.10 White designated Bill Nellist as the Scout lead. Another Scout would be the ‘contact officer’ (or liaison) to Mucci’s Rangers. 1LT John M. ‘Jack’ Dove, an experienced Alamo Scout team leader, had led a dozen missions behind Japanese lines. His job was to manage the flow of information to the Rangers. With the recon element mission settled, White sent the two Scout teams to Cabanatuan that same afternoon. The Scouts needed time to collect the information Mucci needed to complete his plan. Since the Rangers planned to depart Guimba on the afternoon of 28 January for a tentative attack time the afternoon of the 29th, the Scouts had only a twenty-four hour ‘head start’ to gather the information.11

10 Kenneth Finlayson, “Alamo Scouts Diary,” Veritas, The Journal of Army Special Operations History (4:3), 1-17.

11 Larry Alexander, Shadows in the Jungle: The Alamo Scouts Behind Japanese Lines in World War II (New York, NY: NAL Caliber, 2009), 234-35, quotes from 234. According to Alexander’s account, LT Rounsaville had been designated mission commander the last time Teams ROUNSAVILLE and NELLIST were paired up. As a result, it was LT Nellist’s time to assume that responsibility. The Alamo Scouts often rotated duties as a way of ‘spreading the load’ across their ranks. The two Alamo Scout teams planned to depart at 1900 hours on 27 January. That would put them in the objective area 24 hours prior to the Rangers arrival, giving them time to collect the information requested by LTC Mucci so he could complete his plans.

One final addition to the raid force was a four-man detachment from Combat Photo Unit F, 832nd Signal Service Battalion. They were to document the historic rescue. Led by 1LT John F. Lueddeke, the detachment was to take photographs and ‘motion picture’ footage, where practical.12 Within the SWPA, significant events were captured on film to show the American public how the war was going. GEN MacArthur’s landing at Leyte Island several months earlier epitomized that strategy. It was rehearsed and filmed several times, then widely distributed at home and abroad. Sixth Army and SWPA staff officers hoped to capitalize on the raid’s success.

12 Document, “List of Participants,” undated, copy in USASOC History Office Classified Files, Fort Bragg, NC, 7.

During the planning, LTC Mucci and CPT Prince voiced several concerns. All reports indicated that there were significant numbers of Japanese forces near the camp capable of reinforcing the Cabanatuan garrison. Exact numbers were uncertain, but estimates ranged from 500 to 7,000. The Rangers wanted air support but were concerned about operational security (OPSEC). “The success of this mission depends on surprise and a large amount of luck,” Mucci pointed out. He needed “luck that enemy traffic along the highway in front of the camp will be light,” that “the final half-mile approach to the camp over largely open terrain can be crossed without discovery,” and that “no one will tip off the Japs that an attack [is] pending.”13

13 George Pames, “The Great Cabanatuan Raid,” Air Classics (Sept-Oct 1984), 23. The high estimate of enemy troops in the vicinity of the camp comes from Krueger, From Down Under to Nippon, 238.

COL White promised that “There’ll be NO security leaks. I’ll guarantee that.” He continued, “No one – absolutely no one, except those of us right here – knows what’s coming off.” COL White stipulated that, “only those taking part will be briefed, and only at the last possible moment.” The Sixth Army G-2 emphasized: “The Navy has no need to know, and the Air Force will be kept in the dark unless you initiate a call for emergency air cover during the last stages of withdrawal.”14

14 Pames, “The Great Cabanatuan Raid,” 23.

“Whenever American planes flew near the camp the Japanese became upset and nervous keeping their eyes on the sky for several minutes after the planes had passed by.”19
— CPT Juan Pajota, Philippine guerrilla commander

19 Pames, “The Great Cabanatuan Raid,” 24.

The mention of the word ‘dark’ triggered a thought. “That,” said Mucci, “is another point that bothers me. I’m all for doing the clean-up business under cover of darkness, but we’re going to need at least fifteen minutes of last daylight to see what we’re doing at the most crucial time - when we move in on the camp and round up all the poor bastards we’re going in after.” That is why Mucci set the time of attack for 1945 hours, fifteen minutes before dark. But, he noted, even that timing had a weakness; “how we’re going to infiltrate the area around the POW camp - even if it’s twilight - when the approach has about as much cover as a billiard table?”15

15 Pames, “The Great Cabanatuan Raid,” 23-24; Mucci, “Rescue at Cabanatuan,” 18. Krueger, From Down Under to Nippon,” 238. Pames cites 2015 hours as the designated time to begin firing at the Japanese garrison guarding the POWs. Krueger and Mucci both cite 1945 hours as the time the attack began, based on their experiences and written records.

MAJ Rowale, COL White’s assistant, offered a suggestion. CPT Pajota had noticed that when U.S. aircraft overflew the prison that the captors became transfixed and watched the sky even after the planes had passed. Rowale proposed that, “We might arrange for something like that to distract the guards at the camp while you rush that last short distance right up to the stockade.” The idea was well received.16

16 Pames, “The Great Cabanatuan Raid,” 24.

LTC Mucci agreed, but he still had OPSEC concerns. “Bringing in the Air Force would violate the security blackout, which could be worse. And we’re talking about time getting command approval, the briefings, coordination, and the usual inter-service [issues],” Mucci pointed out. MAJ Rowale proposed bypassing the normal process to “lay this [directly] on the 547th.”17 The 547th Night Fighter Squadron operated out of an expeditionary runway on the Lingayen landing beaches, a short drive from the Sixth Army headquarters. He could drive to the squadron, brief the pilots and aircrew in person, and emphasize OPSEC.

17 Pames, “The Great Cabanatuan Raid,” 24.

MAJ Rowale’s proposal had the added advantage of providing Mucci’s men with support from adept night-fighting pilots. COL White agreed to coordinate the mission personally with the 547th Night Fighter Squadron. As a bonus, the unusual shape and size of the aircraft (see sidebar on the P-61 ‘Black Widow’ aircraft) would distract Japanese attention while the Rangers crawled into their assault positions.18

18 Pames, “The Great Cabanatuan Raid,” 24.

LTC Henry A. Mucci and CPT Robert W. Prince
LTC Henry A. Mucci and CPT Robert W. Prince, 6th Ranger Battalion, review a map after the successful Cabanatuan POW Camp rescue.

With all his concerns satisfied, Mucci confidently agreed to begin the assault at 1945 hours. With all decisions made, the planners left, and the assault leaders went to prepare their units. LT Dove, the Scout liaison officer, would accompany the two teams until the passage of lines was complete, then join the Rangers. COL White and MAJ Rowale went to the 547th Night Fighter Squadron. MAJ Lapham radioed link-up instructions to his guerrillas.20

20 Krueger, From Down Under to Nippon, 237-38; Lapham and Norling, Lapham’s Raiders, 179; Mucci, “We Swore We’d Die or Do It,” 18; Pames, “The Great Cabanatuan Raid,” 24; Alexander, Shadows in the Jungle, 234-35.

Back with his Rangers, LTC Mucci told “all the men who were going on this expedition that we would all go to church. When I got there, I made a little speech in which I asked every man to swear he would die fighting rather than let any harm come to the prisoners of war under our care. I did that because I believe[d] in it: Everybody on the mission took that oath,” Mucci stated.21

21 Mucci, “We Swore We’d Die or Do It,” 18.

The Rangers would travel light for speed and mobility. The raiders had to march 22-24 miles from Guimba to Balingcari in one night to stay on the schedule. The Rangers wore soft caps and left their packs behind. They carried little food or water, planning to acquire both from the Filipino natives whose villages they would be traveling through. The guerrillas would assist in this. “About all we did carry was arms, ammunition, and some cigarettes and candy to give to the prisoners when we got to them.” In addition to the bazookas and anti-tank grenades they got from the 6th Division, the Rangers were armed with their standard M1 Garand rifles, M1 Carbines, and M1911 pistols. For heavier firepower they carried .30-06 M1919 Browning Automatic Rifles (BARs) and .45 cal. M1928A1 Thompson submachineguns. Extra ammunition for the BARs and Thompsons was spread throughout the formation.22

22 Mucci, “We Swore We’d Die or Do It,” 18-19; Pames, “The Great Cabanatuan Raid,” 13.

Drawing of the SCR-694 radio
Drawing of the various components making the SCR-694 radio functional

In the field the Rangers would rely on the use of guerrilla runners for internal communications. To talk with Sixth Army headquarters and allied aircraft, Mucci’s men carried two ‘long-range’ SCR-694 radio sets (see sketch below). The SCR-694 could transmit voice communication 15 miles and 30 miles with continuous wave (CW/ Morse code). It took five Rangers to carry the various components, hand-crank generator, antennas, and ancillary equipment for the 192-pound SCR-694 sets. The two radio sets gave LTC Mucci the ability to establish a relay site near Guimba just for that purpose.23

23 War Department, Radio Set SCR-694-C, Technical Manual (TM) 11-230C, 15 August 1944 (Washington, DC: Government Publishing Office [GPO]), 1; Gordon L. Rottman, The Cabanatuan Prison Raid: The Philippines, 1945 (New York, NY: Osprey Press, 2009), 29.


Movement to the Objective

Though they were given very little ‘prep time,’ the Alamo Scouts relied on experience and their standard operating procedures (SOPs). LTs Rounsaville and Nellist issued final orders before personally inspecting their men and equipment. In addition to the Scouts’ weapons (a mix of M1 Garand rifles, M1 Carbines, and M1928A1 Thompson submachineguns), LT Nellist had each Scout “carry extra ammo bandoliers, a .45 caliber automatic [pistol] with spare clips, a trench knife, and three hand grenades.” The two teams boarded two-and-a-half ton trucks to get to the front line. Before crossing the lines, the men ate a quick meal of black beans and rice and napped until 2100 hours.24

24 Alexander, Shadows in the Jungle, 235; Zedric, Silent Warriors, 188.

Private First Class (PFC) Galen C. Kittleson (Team NELLIST) and two Philippine guerrillas took point for the Scouts 24-mile night movement. They moved in file through the underbrush, tall grass, and rice paddies “under a starry night lit by a half moon.” Nine miles into the movement, Kittleson signaled for a halt. LT Nellist moved forward and Kittleson whispered to him, “Lotta’ #!@? up ahead the way it sounds.” The distant sounds of Japanese tanks and vehicles moving along the Rizal Road was obvious. Kittleson and the two guerrillas confirmed their suspicions. Japanese vehicles and troops were moving to the northeast along the hard-packed dirt road. Though three Japanese tanks were guarding a thirty-foot bridge spanning a ravine, Kittleson was confident that he could lead the patrol undetected down a watery ditch under the bridge. Nellist approved. Clear of the danger area the Scouts picked up the pace. Four hours later, and two-thirds of the way to Cabanatuan, the Scouts faced another danger area – the Rizal Road. With the Japanese vehicle traffic more spread out, the Scouts could sprint across in groups of three-to-four men in the traffic gaps. Afterwards, 1LT Nellist increased the pace. Just at daylight, the Scouts reached Balingcari, CPT Pajota’s headquarters.25 Together, the Americans and Filipino leaders prepared for the difficult work ahead, reconnoitering the POW camp.

25 Alexander, Shadows in the Jungle, 234-38, quotes from 234 and 35, respectively. PFC Kittleson remained in the Army after the war. He leveraged his experiences in Alamo Scouts to a long and very successful career in Special Forces that extended past the Vietnam War. When he retired as a Command Sergeant Major (CSM) in 1978, he was the one Special Forces soldier to have served in four POW rescue operations in two different wars (WWII and Vietnam). CSM (Ret.) Kittleson died in 2006 and was inducted as a Special Forces Distinguished Member of the regiment (DMOR) in 2009. See: Document, “Distinguished Member of the Special Forces Regiment, Command Sergeant Galen C. Kittleson, Inducted 9 July 2009,” on Internet at: http://www.soc.mil/SWCS/RegimentalHonors/_pdf/sf_kittleson.pdf link, accessed 12 November 2017.

CABANATUAN RAID TIMELINE

Select date:


27 JAN 1945

  • 0630 Guimba - Planning begins
    (6th Rangers, Alamo Scouts, G-2 & Lapham)
  • 1200 Planning session ends, units prep for mission
  • 1400 Alamo Scouts move to departure point outside Guimba
  • 1800 Alamo Scouts depart friendly lines.

28 JAN 1945

  • Dawn Alamo Scouts arrive Balingcari, meet CPT Pajota’s guerrillas, begin recon
  • 0500 Rangers move to Guimba departure point
  • 1400 Rangers depart Guimba for Lobong, cross line of departure (LD)
  • 1800 Rangers link up with CPT Joson’s guerrilla unit (near Lobong)
  • 1830 Rangers/Joson depart for Balingcari
  • 2400 Rangers/Joson cross Talavera River

29 JAN 1945

  • 0400 Rangers/Joson cross Rizal Road
  • 0600 Rangers/Joson arrive Balingcari, link up with CPT Pajota’s guerrillas
  • 1600 Rangers/guerrillas depart for Plateros, meet with Alamo Scouts
  • 1800 Postpone attack 24 hours. New time on target: 1945 hours, 30 January

30 JAN 1945

  • 0930 Alamo Scouts/guerrillas reconnoiter camp and area
  • 1500 Alamo Scouts/guerrillas return to Plateros with information
  • 1700 Rangers move to Plateros and on to assembly area 1 mile from camp
  • 1800 Rangers move to attack positions
  • 1925 Attackers in position, ready for assault
  • 1935 Aerobatics of P-61 ‘Black Widow’ aircraft draws the attention of Japanese
  • 1945 ASSAULT OF CAMP BEGINS
  • 2015 CPT Prince fires 2nd flare to signal withdrawal from the camp
  • 2030 Column arrives at Plateros, pick up 25 carts
  • 2100 Raid Force departs Plateros for Balingcari
  • 2400 Raid Force departs Balingcari for Matasna Kahoy with 40 carts (picked up 15)

31 JAN 1945

  • 0200 Raid Force arrives Matasna Kahoy, picks up 11 more carts (51 total)
  • 0230 Raid Force departs Matasna Kahoy for General Luna barrio/Rizal Road
  • 0430 Last man clears Rizal Road, column continues to Sibul
  • 0800 Raid Force arrives at Sibul, pick up 20 more carabao carts (71 total)
  • 1100 Trucks and ambulances meet column, transport POWs to Guimba
  • 1300 END OF MISSION

After a short rest and meal, the two Scout teams left for the village of Plateros. It was along the banks of the Pampanga River, a sizeable waterway that meandered through the district about a mile north of the POW camp. The Scouts, who had plenty of experience working with guerrillas, paired up with them. With the guerrillas as guides, the combined two-to-four-man teams split up for an initial reconnaissance of the camp and surrounding area. When each team had checked their designated area, they all rejoined to compare notes. They estimated that less than 200 soldiers were stationed in the camp. However, the lead elements of a Japanese division were marching along the road that fronted the prison. It appeared the enemy was withdrawing by echelons to the mountains northeast of Cabu. The presence of sporadic Japanese units marching past the camp’s front hindered the collection of information.26

26 Zedric, Silent Warriors, 188-89. Like the Rangers, the Alamo Scouts traveled light and planned on subsisting off the villagers as a way to lighten their individual load. Fortunately for them they were well-taken care of by the largely sympathetic, supportive Filipino populace. In other regions, this approach might not have proved as dependable, perhaps even leading to mission failure.

While the Scouts and guerrillas dealt with enemy movement through the camp area, LTC Mucci and CPT Prince continued to prepare for the operation. At 0500 on 28 January, MAJ Lapham gave LTC Mucci the latest intelligence. There were four enemy tanks in or around the camp and large numbers of Japanese moving northeast along the Cabanatuan to Cabu road. This information meant that the Japanese were withdrawing to the mountains of northeast Luzon to establish a new defensive line. Mucci and Prince then led the Rangers to their ‘jump off’ point outside of Guimba. After a late breakfast they rested until early afternoon.27

27 Mucci, “We Swore We’d Die or Do It,” 18.

At 1400 hours the Rangers did a passage of lines and made for Balingcari, twenty miles to the east. The Ranger file was guided by Scout LT Dove and two Filipino guerrillas. “Once we left Guimba, we were in [Japanese] territory,” Mucci said. “There were several rivers and ravines to cross before I got into CPT Joson’s territory.” They linked up with Joson at Lobong, a barrio (village) about two miles north of the town of Santo Domingo. There, the seventy-five men of the 213th Squadron joined the Rangers.28

28 Mucci, “We Swore We’d Die or Do It,” 18.

The group quickly reorganized their march order and departed. “Under cover of darkness, we went northeast . . . avoiding all barrios until we [were] 500 yards from the first highway,” Mucci said. Scouting parties found a suitable crossing.” “While we hid near [the road] in ditches and rice paddies, we saw ten enemy tanks go by heading north.” As soon as they passed, “we got across the highway fast” despite an interruption by six Japanese trucks filled with troops.29

29 Mucci, “We Swore We’d Die or Do It,” 18.

At midnight, the Rangers forded the Talavera River, a sizeable obstacle. Then, they double-timed for a mile to make up time but slowed down to sneak by a Japanese tank at an intersection. They reached the Rizal Road at 0400 hours, their point element reported sporadic, light enemy traffic. “We edged up to the road, crawling,” and between gaps in the vehicle traffic, the Rangers rushed across. Mucci double-timed them for “another mile” to get back on schedule. Mucci reported “by 0600 . . . we reached Balingcari where we bivouacked.” There, the Rangers met CPT Pajota and his force of 250 guerrillas (90 armed, and 160 unarmed men).30

30 Mucci, “We Swore We’d Die or Do It,” 18, first quote; Mucci, “Rescue at Cabanatuan,” 15, second quote.

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