11th Airborne Division (United States) - World War II - Raid At Los Baños

Raid At Los Baños

A large number of civilian prisoners had been detained by the Japanese on Luzon, mostly in internment camps scattered throughout the island. The largest of these was located on the campus of the Agricultural College of the Philippines at Los Baños, some forty miles (64 km) south-east of Manila. General Douglas MacArthur had tasked the 11th Airborne Division with rescuing the Los Baños internees on 3 February, but the division's ongoing combat operations around the Genko Line left it unable to divert any resources at that time. All that could be accomplished during February was to gather information, primarily through liaison with the guerilla groups operating in Southern Luzon and around Los Baños. Maj. Gen. Swing and his command staff were briefed daily by the officer working with the guerilla groups, Major Vanderpool. From the guerillas and a few civilians that had escaped the camp, Vanderpool established that it was surrounded by two barbed-wire fences approximately six feet tall. Several guard towers and bunkers dotted its perimeter, each containing at least two guards. Prisoners left each morning under armed guard to gather food supplies and firewood from a nearby town. Vanderpool was informed that the camp's population consisted of American civilians in three distinct groups: Protestant missionaries and their families; Roman Catholic nuns and priests; and professional workers such as doctors and engineers, and their families. The latter group included several hundred women and children. While all the inmates appeared to be in good health, many had become weak from food rationing.

On 20 February, Maj. Gen. Swing was finally able to release sufficient troops for a raid on the Los Baños camp, and a four-phase plan was devised by Major Vanderpool and the divisional staff officers. The divisional reconnaissance platoon would travel across a nearby lake and move to the outskirts of the camp, securing a large adjacent field as the drop zone for a company of paratroopers. Having landed, the paratroopers would eliminate Japanese resistance in the area, secure the camp, and prepare for its evacuation. Fifty-four amphibious Amtracs would transport two additional companies of paratroopers to the lake shore, where a beachhead would be established while the Amtracs continued to the camp to evacuate its occupants. Simultaneously, a task force consisting of a reinforced infantry battalion, two battalions of heavy artillery and a tank destroyer battalion would advance down Highway 1 towards Los Baños to interdict any Japanese attempts to interfere.

Assisted by a group of guerrillas, on the night of 21 February the divisional reconnaissance platoon made their way to the lake and collected ten canoes. Despite navigational difficulties, the platoon came ashore near Los Baños at 02:00 the following morning, and after securing the paratroopers' drop zone, concealed themselves in the jungle near the camp. During the afternoon B Company of the 1st Battalion, 511th PIR was transferred to the airfield from which they would be deployed, while the rest of the battalion rendezvoused with the Amtrac convoy. At 07:00 on the morning of 23 February, B Company took off in ten C-47 Skytrain transport aircraft, arriving over their drop zone shortly afterwards. As the first paratroopers landed, the reconnaissance platoon and the supporting guerilla fighters opened fire on the camp's defences, using Bazooka rounds to penetrate the concrete pillboxes, and then entered the camp to engage its garrison. The paratroopers soon joined the battle, and by 07:30 the Japanese guards had been overcome and the internees were being rounded up and readied for evacuation. At the lakeshore the 511th's other two companies had secured their beachhead, and the convoy of Amtracs reached the camp without incident. Priority during loading was given to the women, children and wounded; some of the able-bodied men walked alongside the Amtracs as they returned to the beach. The first evacuation convoy left the camp at approximately 10:00, with B Company, the reconnaissance platoon and the guerrillas remaining behind to provide a rearguard. By 11:30 all of the civilians had been evacuated, and at 13:00 the Amtrac convoy returned for the rearguard, with the last paratroopers leaving the beach at approximately 15:00. Meanwhile on Highway 1, the taskforce that had been deployed to protect the operation met heavy Japanese resistance and suffered several casualties, but was able to block Japanese forces that advanced on the camp, before retreating back to American lines. The raid had been a complete success, liberating 2,147 civilians.

Read more about this topic:  11th Airborne Division (United States), World War II

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