Thursday, June 15, 2017

200,000 enemy soldiers on you rear flank

I recently finished Shadows in the Jungle by Larry Alexander. From the blurb:
Determined to retake the Philippines ever since his ignominious flight from the islands in 1942, General Douglas MacArthur needed a first-rate intelligence-gathering unit. Out of thousands, only 138 men were chosen. They were the best, toughest, and fittest men the Army had to offer. They were the Alamo Scouts.

Larry Alexander follows the footsteps of the men who made up the elite reconnaissance unit that served as General MacArthur’s eyes and ears in the Pacific War. Drawing from personal interviews and testimonies from Scout veterans, Alexander weaves together the tales of the individual Scouts, who often spent weeks behind enemy lines to complete their missions. Now, more than sixty years after the war, the story of the Alamo Scouts will finally be told.
Well paced and interesting.

I came away with a realization of how much my understanding of the Pacific War has been Navy (and Marines) biased. I have read a handful of books about the Burma Theater of War, and I have significantly more than a handful on the island hopping campaign, the carrier war, and the naval battles. On the land campaign, I have only read a couple of books on the New Guinea campaign and both those were from the Australian perspective, and one on the Bougainville campaign, also from an Australian perspective.

I knew elements of the American Army campaign in New Guinea and Philippines, but that is where I am weakest and what this book really highlighted.

I was struck by this reality which I had never particularly focused on:
Although operations in New Guinea were nearing an end, so far as MacArthur and the top brass were concerned, there were still some 200,000 Japanese stranded on the big island and on the smaller isles off-shore in bypassed pockets of resistance. In several of these pockets the enemy held hostages, mostly Dutch, Melanesian, and Australian, usually serving as laborers for the emperor.
200,000 - that is an amazing number of enemy to have remaining on your rear flank.

Just as in Burma, their fighting capacity was shattered and the 200,000 would have been starving and with little shelter, clothing or arms. Still, 200,000 is 200,000.

I was broadly familiar with the Philippines campaign as well but again, the magnitude of the numbers haven't ever really registered. 530,000 Japanese soldiers defending the archipelago, of whom 430,000 died, mostly from starvation.

I knew that the Pearl of the Orient, Manila, was devastated by fighting but did not know the context. General Tomoyuki Yamashita was the Japanese general in charge of the overall campaign in the Philippines.
Yamashita was a pragmatist. With the fall of Leyte, he knew he had no hope of stopping an American landing on Luzon and little chance of defeating them once they were ashore. He had lost half of his ship-ping and thousands of men trying to reinforce Leyte. His naval force now consisted of two submarine chasers, nineteen patrol boats, ten midget subs, and 180 one-man suicide boats, mostly in the Manila Bay area. Perhaps worse, all but about two hundred planes of his air force had been shot down or destroyed on the ground, and by the time the Americans actually came ashore, that number would be reduced to a few dozen.

Luzon is 340 miles long and 130 miles across at its widest. To defend it, Yamashita had six infantry and one armored division, or about 275,000 men, to draw on, but this number was deceptive. Many of his men were not frontline caliber, including convalescing sick and wounded, and most were poorly armed and equipped. There were also about 16,000 naval personnel around Manila, mostly sailors whose ships had been sunk in Leyte Gulf in October, under the command of Adm. Sanji Iwabuchi. But interservice rivalry meant Yamashita had little authority over him.

Unable to prevent a landing. Yamashita ordered that the beaches would not be defended. Instead, he would fight a battle in-depth, making the Americans pay in blood for every yard and to deny for as long as possible the Americans' use of Luzon as an air base to strike at the Japanese homeland. To accomplish this, he broke his defending force into three math elements. His main force of about 152,000 men, called the Shobu Group, were sent into the mountainous regions to the north with orders to tie down the Americans for as long as possible. This would also allow the Japanese to control one of the island's main food-producing areas in the Cagayan Valley. Yamashita remained in command of this unit, setting up his CP in the village of Baguio, a summer mountain resort five thousand feet above sea level.

Another eighty thousand men, called the Shimbu Group, under the command of Lt. Gen. Shizuo Yokoyama, were sent to the south to hold the high ground east of Manila and thus control the city's water sup-ply. The remaining thirty thousand troops, the Kembu Group, under Maj. Gen. Rikichi Tsukada, were to hold the Caraballo Mountains and the west side of the Agno-Pampanga Valley, where the former U.S. bases of Clark Field and Fort Stotsenburg were located, and stretch south to Bataan. They were to hold as long as possible, then retreat to the Zambales mountain range and fight a delaying action. Manila was indefensible, Yamashita decided, so he ordered his men out except for a small detachment to protect supply routes and blow the highway bridges leading from the city. Iwabuchi decided other-wise and commanded his sixteen thousand sailors to hold the city, which would soon be turned into a charnel house of death and destruction.


As January dragged into February, the battle for Luzon intensified. Fighting at Manila had been especially ferocious as Adm. Sanji Iwabuchi, in defiance of General Yamashita's wishes, ordered his sixteen thousand men to stand fast and defend the city. Fighting in and around Manila lasted from February 4 to March 4, and devastated large sections of the once-exotic city, especially in the Intramuros district, the Walled City, an old Spanish fortress near the port, where many government buildings stood.

When the fighting ended, nearly all of Iwabuchi's men were dead, and so were as many as 100,000 Filipino civilians,
caught in the murderous cross fire.
That is another thing Shadows in the Jungle does a good job of, restoring perspective. We, America, lost some 115,000 dead in the Pacific in World War II. But we weren't the only ones involved of course.

The Philippines Army lost some 57,000 killed. Civilian deaths during the occupation and reconquest were close to a million.

The Dutch East Indies had some 4,000,000 civilian deaths during the Japanese occupation. China, 18,000,000. Burma, 250,000. Horrendous.

Shadows in the Jungle covers only a very small aspect of that great conflict but it does give a broader perspective.

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