Chick Parsons

Guerillas in the Philippines

By Peter Parsons

Even before Pearl Harbor MacArthur, as commander of the forces defending the Philippines, considered the possibility of waging a guerrilla war. Under existing war plans his forces were expected to hold off a Japanese attack for several months before an American relief expedition could reach them. As part of his strategy for such a contingency, MacArthur established an embryo underground intelligence service among the numerous American businessmen, miners, and plantation owners on the islands and also contemplated the withdrawal of some Filipino reservists into the mountains to serve as guerrillas. These initial ideas, however, amounted to little more than tentative proposals. The U.S. Army’s lack of a doctrine for guerrilla warfare militated against such a course of action, as did MacArthur’s own overestimation of the time available before the Japanese attack and the ability of his regulars and Filipino troops to stop or at least delay the enemy on the invasion beaches. His overconfidence was shared by many American officers in the islands, one of whom boasted that he could whip the Japanese with a company of Boy Scouts.

When the Japanese invaded the Philippines in mid-December 1941, their rapid advance not only dispelled American delusions of superiority but also left little time to organize guerrilla warfare. By 23 December MacArthur’s beach defense plan lay in ruins, and his remaining forces were withdrawing into the Bataan peninsula. Cut off from Bataan, Col. John P. Horan near Baguio, Capt. Walter Cushing along the Ilocos coast, Capt. Ralph Praeger in the Cagayan Valley, and Maj. Everett Warner in Isabela Province formed guerrilla units from the broken remnants of Filipino forces in northern Luzon, and MacArthur sent Col. Claude A. Thorp to organize partisans in central Luzon. To meet the need for intelligence from behind enemy lines, Brig. Gen. Simeon de Jesus organized a network of about sixty agents who infiltrated by foot or by boat across Manila Bay and reported by radio to a central station in a Manila movie theater, which forwarded the data to MacArthur on Corregidor. Meanwhile, MacArthur directed Maj. Gen. William F. Sharp in Mindanao to intensify preparations for guerrilla warfare in the southern islands. When he made his dramatic escape to Australia in March, he hoped to retain control over his remaining units in the Philippines from his theater headquarters, forcing the Japanese to defeat each force in turn. Through this command structure he also wanted to encourage a prolonged guerrilla resistance, paving the way for his return.

The improvised arrangements for guerrilla warfare soon fell apart in the confusion of the surrender. Unaware of the reasons for MacArthur’s command structure, Marshall designated Lt. Gen. Jonathan M. Wainwright as the new commander of all U.S. forces in the Philippines. When Wainwright requested terms for the capitulation of Corregidor in May, the Japanese refused to accept his surrender unless he agreed to order all of the American troops in the Philippines to follow suit. Rationalizing that the guerrillas could do little, Wainwright submitted, sending staff officers to ensure compliance with his orders. Caught in a dilemma between surrender and insubordination, most commanders reluctantly complied, although many permitted their more recalcitrant subordinates to escape. In Mindanao Sharp, fifty-five and lacking the physical and mental stamina for active duty, had little enthusiasm for waging a guerrilla campaign, particularly against the wishes of Wainwright. Despite MacArthur’s hopes that he could keep alive the torch of resistance from the southern islands, the American commander of Mindanao and the bulk of his forces thus laid down their arms.

Those Americans who did not surrender faced a major battle to survive, let alone form a viable guerrilla movement. In addition to Japanese patrols, they had to cope with the tropical climate, disease, low morale, and lack of food, equipment, and other supplies. Col. Russell W. Volckmann noted later that the fugitives tended to fall into three categories: some gave up all hope and merely waited to die; a few resorted to stealing, cheating, and even murder to survive; others seemed to flourish, gaining in strength and determination with each successive challenge. In their wanderings they often found sanctuary at hidden camps deep in the interior, including the Fausett camp in central Luzon and the Deisher camp in the Lanao Province of Mindanao. They also received help from friendly Filipinos, who served as guides and cared for sick Americans who appeared at their doors.

In this atmosphere of defeat and despair guerrilla chiefs faced a major challenge to their leadership and resourcefulness. Some, including Horan and Warner, had been uncomfortable with their role and were happy to obey Wainwright’s orders to capitulate. The rest, often confused and demoralized about their status, faced the prospect of increased enemy patrols. In October 1942 the Japanese caught and executed Thorp, whose arrogance had alienated many potential supporters. Praeger, unable to care for prisoners, naively released some who subsequently led a patrol to his hiding place. Two other officers who had escaped to northern Luzon, Cols. Martin Moses and Arthur K. Noble, launched a series of hastily arranged ambushes against enemy outposts in October. While meeting some success, the raids aroused the Japanese, who flooded the area with troops and informers. For months the guerrillas found it nearly impossible to obtain food and supplies from frightened civilians. In June 1943 Japanese forces captured the two colonels and subsequently executed them. Not long afterward, an enemy unit in Isabela killed Cushing, and throughout the archipelago Japanese control seemed secure.

From the ashes of the early guerrilla organizations a new, native Filipino movement arose. Initially, many Filipinos, bitter at their apparent abandonment by the American government, had collaborated with the Japanese. One American naval lieutenant pessimistically estimated that in the spring of 1942 only about 20 percent of the Filipinos supported the Allied cause. With time, however, Filipino loyalty to the United States reasserted itself. Most Filipinos retained an attachment to Western institutions, including democracy, as well as a familial, almost mystic sense of obligation to America. This attraction to the United States found _expression in the idolization of MacArthur, whose dramatic flair, embodied in his promise to return, captured the Filipino imagination. Furthermore, Filipino faith in American promises of independence enabled the United States to draw on the rising strength of Filipino nationalism.
The brutality of the Japanese occupation policy also aided the growth of the Filipino resistance. At first the Japanese attempted to convert the Filipinos to their cause. A puppet government proclaimed its “independence,” while Japanese propaganda invoked Oriental solidarity and lectured the natives on the benefits of membership in the Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere, a Japanese-dominated trade federation. Through a network of “Neighborhood Associations” the Japanese sought to keep an eye on strangers and to make village leaders responsible for the actions of their people. Such measures enjoyed only limited success. Filipinos readily perceived that the authority of the puppet government extended only as far as the reach of the Japanese Army and police, and the puppet police force often cooperated with the resistance. More important, Japanese promises of prosperity and brotherhood contrasted sharply with the local economic depression and deplorable treatment of Filipinos by the occupation force. With time, Japanese occupation policy grew more vicious, particularly as U.S. forces drew closer. Unable to bring the guerrillas to battle, Japanese soldiers and secret police took out their frustrations on the populace, mistreating civilians, burning villages, seizing hostages, and torturing and murdering captives. By the time of the American invasion in 1944 atrocities had become widespread, and hatred of the Japanese throughout the islands was almost complete.
As Filipino sentiment hardened against the occupation, guerrilla bands formed spontaneously. Many traced their origins to vigilante groups formed by communities to preserve order in the lawless aftermath of the Japanese victory. After suppressing local bandits, they often turned their arms against the occupation forces. Some minority groups, such as the Hukbalahaps in central Luzon, sought political and social reforms in addition to freedom from the occupation. Others, led by a variety of adventurers and desperadoes, plundered civilians rather than fight the Japanese. The strength and character of each band reflected its leadership, the local strength and activities of occupation forces, and the terrain in which it operated. Scattered randomly along the coasts and interior valleys, they all faced nearly insurmountable communications and supply problems, which, in turn, exacerbated the question of command. Although in theory almost all submitted to SWPA direction, they quarreled incessantly over questions of local authority, often maintaining competing intelligence nets within each other’s jurisdiction.
In the prevailing anarchic situation many groups turned for leadership to those Americans, both military and civilian, who had somehow managed to escape capture by the Japanese. Although many Americans were perfectly content to remain in hiding for the rest of the war, others accepted such roles with alacrity. Those who did faced a major task in maintaining control and keeping a force in the field, let alone fighting the Japanese. While Americans played a major role in guerrilla movements on Cebu,Leyte, Marindaque, and in central Luzon, the two most influential American guerrilla leaders were Lt. Col. Wendell W. Fertig on Mindanao and Col. Russell W. Volckmann in northern Luzon.

On Mindanao Fertig used geography and a relatively early contact with MacArthur’s headquarters in Australia to build the largest guerrilla organization in the Philippines. Although Mindanao’s large area, rugged terrain, and limited road net made centralized command difficult, these factors also hampered punitive operations and tended to confine the small Japanese garrison to a few coastal cities and towns. Leadership was also essential, and in Fertig the movement found a chief with the magnetism, political skills, and flexibility necessary to survive and grow. A former mining engineer and Army Reserve officer, lanky, red-bearded, somewhat aloof Coloradan possessed courage, a sense of mission, and a keen sensitivity to the Filipino point of view. From the beginning he recognized the need for the Filipinos to provide the foundation of the movement without outside coercion. After the surrender he had remained in the interior of Lanao Province while rival groups formed around the island. In September 1942 Capt. Luis Morgan, a former police officer who had become a guerrilla chieftain, offered the command of his forces to Fertig on condition that he become chief of staff with command in the field. Fertig accepted and established his base in the province of Misamis Occidental.

Once in command Fertig displayed an instinct for consolidating and expanding his control over the movement. After sending Morgan on a liaison mission to neighboring guerrilla commanders, Fertig negotiated an alliance with Morgan’s Moslem rivals, the fierce Moros of Lanao, and with the Catholic Church. Taking the rank of brigadier general to impress the Filipinos, he recruited and trained a force that even included an engineer corps, a commando school, and a makeshift navy. He installed a civilian government, drafted labor, and built a communications network. While consolidating his own organization, he also contacted other guerrilla leaders on Mindanao and nearby islands and, through persuasion and his assumed rank, brought many under his authority. Fertig frequently clashed with other equally ambitious chiefs, particularly Macario Peralta on Panay, but his leverage was greatly strengthened by the establishment of radio communication with the Southwest Pacific Theater in February 1943 and by MacArthur’s subsequent recognition of him as the military commander on Mindanao. As he received and distributed supplies, his authority expanded, and he divided Mindanao into geographic divisions, each under an American chief. By May Fertig’s army and government were operating openly to such an extent that life in the province had returned to prewar normality, except for the presence of fully uniformed guerrillas in the streets of Misamis City and on the waters of Panguil Bay.

Faced with an open challenge to their authority, the Japanese attacked in June, landing troops at several points along the Misamis coast and advancing from Panguil toward Pagadian Bay in an attempt to cut off Misamis Occidental from the rest of Mindanao. Although Fertig had laid plans for his troops to give ground and use hit-and-run raids against the Japanese flanks and rear, his forces quickly broke and ran in the face of the enemy onslaught. Fertig himself fled to Lanao Province, where he found refuge with the Moros and began rebuilding his guerrilla force. He maintained his support among the opportunistic Moro tribes in part through distribution of a Life magazine article in which King Ibn Saud of Saudi Arabia allied Islam with the United States. While with the Moros, Fertig had a final showdown with his chief of staff. Jealous of Fertig’s power and prestige in the movement, Morgan had been acting increasingly mutinous since the Japanese attack on Misamis. Fertig finally removed him from the picture by sending him on a seemingly prestigious mission to Australia.
The American guerrilla leader had little chance to savor his victory. For over a year he repeatedly moved his headquarters, always managing to stay ahead of Japanese patrols. From Lanao he moved east to the Agusan Valley, established a base, and supervised the distribution of material from Australia to guerrillas on Mindanao and the surrounding islands. Seeking to cut off the flow of supplies, the Japanese launched an offensive up the Agusan in December. The guerrillas lacked the arms, ammunition, and training to do more than delay the Japanese, and Fertig moved his headquarters farther upstream. By April 1944 Japanese reinforcements were pouring into Mindanao, and enemy commanders were laying plans to wipe out the guerrillas before the anticipated U.S. invasion of the island. Cut off from supplies and forced into the barren highlands of Bukidnon Province, Fertig and his followers faced extinction. When American bombers began their raids on Mindanao in August, however, the Japanese withdrew from the interior and concentrated on preparation of beach defenses, permitting the guerrillas to regain control of most of the island.

Compared to those on Mindanao, the guerrillas of northern Luzon enjoyed little communication with MacArthur’s headquarters, but they also benefited from favorable terrain, resourceful leadership, and popular support. The cool, healthful climate, pine-covered mountains, few roads, and self-sufficient native villages of the region proved conducive to guerrilla operations. Like Fertig, Volckmann, an energetic, personable West Pointer and former instructor of the Philippine Army’s 11th Infantry Regiment, displayed political skills essential for success. In retrospect, his achievements seem all the more impressive since, like other American officers, he had never been exposed to the techniques and policies of guerrilla warfare. Accompanied by Capt. Donald D. Blackburn, Volckmann had escaped from Bataan and joined the guerrilla movement of Colonels Moses and Noble in northern Luzon. Following the abortive uprising in the fall of 1942, Volckmann and Blackburn had hidden among friendly natives in Ifugao Province, where they assembled a band of renegade Filipino soldiers and gradually reestablished contact with other groups.

After the capture of Moses and Noble in June 1943, Volckmann assumed command of the movement in northern Luzon and soon demonstrated that he had learned much from their mistakes. In accordance with orders from MacArthur’s headquarters, he concentrated on the development of an organization and intelligence net, avoiding major clashes with the Japanese. To gain public confidence and support, he brought rival tribes and factions together through personal diplomacy and instituted a crackdown against bandits who were looting and plundering the natives. Faced with an extensive Japanese network of spies and informers, he and his subordinates also launched a ruthless counterespionage campaign to eliminate the collaborators. Guerrilla agents infiltrated the Neighborhood Associations and the constabulary to identify the informers. Within six months those not executed had fled to the protection of Japanese garrisons. Once it became safe to support the guerrillas, Volckmann noted that “the so-called ‘fence-sitters’ began toppling in the right direction.”
Having ensured popular support, Volckmann and his officers could develop the guerrilla organization, which they kept separate from the intelligence net. Dividing northern Luzon into seven districts, he placed each under a commander who was responsible for maintaining popular support and for organizing a unit along the lines of a Philippine Army regiment. For his officer corps he relied heavily on escaped American and Filipino officers on American miners from the region. Keeping their units in camps at a safe distance from the villages to maintain discipline, these officers trained their recruits in ambushes, demolitions, and night operations. Although they obeyed the SWPA directive against large-scale clashes, they periodically conducted a series of small ambushes to capture supplies and to build confidence among the troops. With time, the guerrilla fighting organization became quite elaborate, including engineer and hospital units and even artillery. However, Volckmann usually kept heavier weapons from his units to preserve their mobility. The guerrillas also developed a communications network of courier stations and even built a series of airstrips for future liaison with U.S. forces.

Volckmann tried but failed to extend his organization into central Luzon. Here the guerrilla movement continued to be plagued by internecine rivalries that prevented it from achieving its full potential. In central Luzon the guerrillas had to cope with more open terrain, a more extensive road network, and a much larger Japanese presence than was the case in northern Luzon and Mindanao. Consequently, they kept their activities at a low level, concentrating on sabotage and intelligence when they were not battling one another. After Thorp’s capture, Col. Hugh Straughan attempted to unite the various groups but was betrayed by jealous rivals and captured in August 1943. In Tayabas and Bulacan provinces Capt. Bernard Anderson and 1st Lt. Edwin Ramsey built a large organization that stressed psychological operations, intelligence, and sabotage. To the north Capt. Robert Lapham, a dashing young cavalry officer who had led the remnants of Thorp’s forces in Nueva Ecija and Pangasinan provinces, rejected Volckmann’s attempts to extend the authority of the northern Luzon command over his area.

The guerrilla movement on Cebu also had to overcome major obstacles. Long, narrow, and almost completely deforested, Cebu hardly furnished an ideal environment for guerrilla operations; even in peacetime the island imported food for its large population. Nevertheless, by mid-1942, a movement had emerged under Lt. Col. James Cushing, a former mining engineer, and Harry Fenton, an ex-radio announcer with a burning hatred for the Japanese. The two agreed to a joint command under which Fenton handled administration and Cushing commanded in the field. By mid-1943, however, Fenton’s paranoia and indiscriminate executions of suspected collaborators had turned the public against him and in favor of the more charismatic Cushing. While Cushing was visiting Negros in September 1943, his subordinates mutinied and executed Fenton. When Cushing returned, he suppressed the mutiny and rebuilt the organization, despite a lack of food and Japanese punitive operations. By April 1944 he had assembled a force of about 5,000 men and developed an effective intelligence network. He also demonstrated a sensitivity to the population, releasing a captured Japanese admiral rather than expose the natives to the reprisals of search parties.

While the guerrillas struggled to survive and build their organizations, their constant appeals for help had been reaching SWPA headquarters, 3,500 miles to the south in Australia. In July 1942 SWPA technicians picked up a weak signal from the remnants of Warner’s force in northern Luzon. During the autumn further radio signals from Praeger in northern Luzon and Peralta on Panay confirmed the existence of an incipient guerrilla movement. According to Col. Courtney Whitney, MacArthur’s confidant, “Probably no message ever gave MacArthur more of an uplift.” Obsessed with his “second homeland,” the SWPA chief closely followed developments and personally interviewed American refugees who began to arrive in the autumn of 1942. In October Capts. William L. Osborne and Damon J. Cause, who had escaped from Corregidor, arrived off northern Australia in a small fishing boat. Two months later 1st Lt. Frank H. Young, an emissary from Thorp, and Capr. Charles M. Smith of Fertig’s organization brought information on the guerrillas in central Luzon and Mindanao. Thus, by early 1943, MacArthur’s headquarters knew that a movement existed but possessed little information on the leading personalities and Japanese counterguerrilla methods.

In late 1942 and early 1943 MacArthur’s theater command dispatched liaison parties into the Philippines to establish direct contact with the guerrillas and to obtain more information about their organization. Most of these activities were supervised by the Allied Intelligence Bureau, which was established under the SWPA intelligence section to collect information through clandestine operations in enemy territory. In December 1942 Capt. Jesus A. Villamor, a Filipino pilot with a distinguished record in the early days of the war, landed from a submarine on Negros with instructions to organize an intelligence net throughout the islands. As a national hero, Villamor could not appear publicly without recognition, but from a secret retreat he created a network that extended through Luzon and the Visayas. Meanwhile, Lt. Cmdr. Charles “Chick” Parsons landed in Mindanao in March 1943 to contact Fertig and evaluate his organization. On the same trip he installed a coastwatcher station on Leyte and helped unify the guerrillas on that island under Col. Ruperto Kangleon. Other SWPA emissaries established radio stations in Mindanao, and one even traveled to Manila to reach the underground there.

Having established liaison with the guerrillas, MacArthur’s headquarters now had to decide how to use them. As a command structure for the movement, the theater used the old Philippine Army districts, each under a guerrilla chief who had demonstrated his authority in the district, as well as the sincerity and resources for effective operations against the Japanese. In March 1943 theater headquarters further directed that the guerrillas “lie low” and concentrate on organization and intelligence. While this order seemed sensible at the time, it created problems for guerrilla commanders who found it hard to remain idle in the face of popular demand for action against the brutal occupation. In part, the directive reflected continuing uncertainty over the eventual role of the movement. Col. Charles Willoughby, MacArthur’s domineering intelligence chief, discounted the value of the guerrillas except as providers of information. On the other hand, Whitney, a former Manila lawyer and the new director of the Philippine Regional Section (PRS) within the intelligence staff, argued for an expanded supply program and more aggressive exploitation of the guerrilla potential. More often than not, Whitney’s view prevailed, largely due to MacArthur’s emotional commitment to the guerrillas. Indeed, through Whitney’s influence with MacArthur, the section achieved an almost autonomous status.
Under Whitney’s leadership the Philippine Regional Section acquired and trained personnel to penetrate the islands, expanded intelligence nets, and arranged for the shipment of supplies to the guerrillas. From Filipino regiments stationed in the United States Whitney selected about 400 men, who received training in communications, intelligence, and sabotage and formed parties to penetrate the Philippines. Many helped man the network of 134 radio stations that the section established throughout the islands by October 1944. The section also tried to complete SWPA’s intelligence network in the Philippines. Perhaps because of American reluctance to trust a Filipino-run network, Whitney’s agency neglected the Villamor operation in favor of American-run nets, using personnel from Australian bases. In November 1943 the section dispatched Smith to Samar and Maj. Lawrence H. Phillips to Mindoro to install radio stations and intelligence nets. A Japanese patrol killed Phillips, but in July 1944 Lt. Cmdr. George Rowe reestablished the station on Mindoro.

Because of lack of communication with Luzon and lack of material support to networks in the southern Philippines with contacts on Luzon, MacArthur’s headquarters did not develop the vast intelligence potential of the island until late 1944. With the capture of Praeger’s radio in early 1943 the guerrillas in Luzon had lost contact with Australia. Nevertheless, remnants of the old de Jesus organization remained intact, and Villamor, Fertig, Parsons, and Peralta all established intelligence nets with extensive contacts on Luzon, including the highest levels of the puppet government. The Philippine Regional Section, however, went ahead with its own plans to establish nets through the radio stations on Mindoro and Samar.In April 1944 Smith, on Samar, sent 2d Lt. William Ball to install a radio station in the central Luzon province of Tayabas. Ball contacted guerrilla leaders in central Luzon and, through Lapham, got in touch with Volckmann in the northern part of the island. To help develop these contacts, the section dispatched specially equipped and trained parties of officers to various guerrilla leaders on the island.

One of the liaison parties dispatched to Luzon by the Philippine Regional Section included Maj. Jay D. Vanderpool. While serving in the 25th Infantry Division’s intelligence section on New Caledonia, he had responded to an SWPA request for each division to nominate an officer of field grade rank for a hazardous mission. After an intensive briefing by Whitney, Vanderpool, Capt. George Miller, and a number of experts in demolitions, communications, and meteorology boarded a submarine in October 1944 for a trip to Volckmann’s area in northern Luzon. When they encountered heavy Japanese activity off the rendezvous, their superiors in Australia diverted them to Anderson in east central Luzon. While Miller joined a large band of guerrillas under an ex-policeman who took the pseudonym of Marking, Vanderpool weathered a hazardous journey, hiding in churches and slipping past Japanese patrol boats on Laguna de Bay, to reach the ROTC Hunters, a Filipino-led guerrilla force in the region south of Manila. Perceiving his role to be more a coordinator than a commander Vanderpool arranged the flow of supplies from Australia and worked to bring the feuding guerrilla groups in the area into an alliance against the Japanese. His stature grew to such an extent that Japanese intelligence soon concluded that he was a major general.

By the time Vanderpool arrived on Luzon the supply effort had already grown to major proportions. The guerrillas had improvised skillfully, distilling alcohol for fuel, making bullets from curtain rods, and printing currency on the back of wall paper, but they desperately needed a regular source of supplies. Through his influence with MacArthur, who continued to take a personal interest in the effort, Whitney obtained carbines, ammunition, radios, medical supplies, and such propaganda items as chocolate, cigarettes, gum, pencils, and newspapers, each bearing MacArthur’s pledge, “I shall return.” To transport this material to the Philippines, Whitney turned to Lt. Cmdr. Charles “Chick” Parsons. Since running away to the Philippines at age nineteen, the colorful Parsons, an officer in the Navy Reserve, had dabbled in several different businesses and developed a large network of contacts throughout the islands. Using submarines detailed from Seventh Fleet, including two cargo-carrying monsters, his “Spy Squadron” began smuggling supplies into the island by night under the noses of Japanese patrol boats. In all, nineteen submarines delivered 1,325 tons of supplies to the guerrillas between 1943 and 1945.


Articles Authored by Peter Parsons

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