Operation Battle of the Visayan Islands

The 'Battle of the Visayan Islands' was the small campaign between the Japanese forces and the US and Filipino forces for control of the Visayan islands group (10/20 April 1942).

The Visayan islands group is one of the three primary geographical divisions of the Philippine islands group, along with Luzon and Mindanao. Located in the central part of the archipelago, it consists of several islands, primarily surrounding the Visayan Sea, although the Visayan islands group is also considered as the north-eastern extremity of the entire Sulu Sea. The group’s major islands are Panay, Negros, Cebu, Bohol, Leyte and Samar, but the region may also be deemed to include the provinces of Palawan, Romblon and Masbate whose populations identify as Visayan and whose languages are more closely related to other Visayan languages than to the major languages of Luzon.

The existing Visayan-Mindanao Force was divided on 4 March 1942. The Mindanao Force, under the command of Brigadier General William F. Sharp, comprised part of the 81st Division, the 101st Division and the 102nd Division, two regiments detached from the 61st Division, and single regiment of the 71st and 91st Divisions, plus US Army Air Forces units serving as ground troops, for a total of 25.000 men. The command was headquartered at the Del Monte airfield and was also responsible for Panay. The Visayan Force was commanded by Brigadier General Bradford H. Chynoweth and comprised parts of the 61st Division and 71st Division, two provisional infantry regiments, and two regiments detached from the 81st Division, for a total of 20,000 men. The command was responsible for the defence of Cebu, on which it was located, Panay, Negros, Leyte, Samar, and Bohol islands. None of the other Visayan islands was garrisoned. On 16 April the two forces were reconsolidated as the Visayan-Mindanao Force under Sharp’s command after Cebu had fallen.

Cebu lies between Negros island to its west and Bohol island to its east. The Tanon Strait, between 10 and 14 miles (16 and 22.5 km) wide, separates Cebu from Negros, but is only 2 miles (3.2 km) wide at its southern end. Cebu is approximately 135 miles (217 km) long on its north/south axis and 20 miles (32 km) wide across its centre, and had an area of 1,695 sq miles (4390 km˛), which makes it the ninth largest island. A road follows most of the coast with a cross-island road connecting Cebu on the centre of the eastern coast with Toledo on the western coast. A railway extended along the eastern coast from Argao through Cebu to Danao. A mountainous spine runs the island’s length, its highest point reaching 3,599 ft (1097 m).

Cebu was defended by the Philippine army’s 82nd and 83rd Regiments, the Cebu Military Police Regiment and a miscellany of other units for a total of 6,500 men under the command of Colonel Ivan C. Scudder.

On the morning of 10 April 1942 the 'Kawaguchi' Detachment, commanded by Major General Kiyotake Kawaguchi and based on the 124th Regiment of the 35th Brigade, landed at Cebu, the principal town, and Toledo on the opposite sides of the island. The Japanese landed also came ashore at as many as five other locations, but neither the Japanese nor the US records identify the locations. The Cebu Military Police Regiment was quickly driven from Cebu on the first day of the Japanese assault. The Japanese then moved from both coasts to cut the island in two on the central cross-island road. The defence collapsed on 12 April , and on 19 April the Japanese declared the island secured. Numerous small US and Filipino units had withdrawn to the mountains and were preparing for guerrilla operations with supplies they had hidden.

The island of Panay lies to the north-west of the slightly larger Negros island, from which it is separated by the Guitars Strait some 10 to 12 miles (16 to 18.5 km) wide. The Sibuyan Sea lies on the island’s northern side, the Sulu Sea to its west and south-west, and the Visayan Sea to its east. Mindoro island is to the north-west and Masbate island to the north-east. Guimaras island lies close off the south-eastern coast opposite of Iloilo, the principal city. Panay is the sixth largest island, is approximately triangular in shape measuring about 75 miles (121 km) wide and 95 miles (153 km) long, and covers 4,448 sq miles (11520 km˛). The island’s central portion is occupied by the north/south Jalauo river valley, which is flanked by mountains whose highest elevation is 6,726 ft (2050 m) in the larger western chain. A road follows the coast and a cross-island road extends up the central valley from Iloilo to Capiz on the northern side, and a railway parallels this approximate route.

Panay was defended by 7,000 men of the 61st Division (63rd, 64th and 65th Regiments) as well as some Philippine Constabulary units under the command of Colonel Albert F. Christie.

The 'Kawamura' Detachment, commanded by Major General Saburo Kawamura and based on the 41st Regiment, landed unopposed at Iloilo and Capiz, at both ends of the cross-island road, on 16 April. Two days later another small force landed at San Jose de Buenavista on the lower end of the western coast. After several engagements, the Philippine forces fell back largely intact to the mountains and were well prepared to conduct a guerrilla war, but the Japanese controlled the roads and key towns, and declared the island secure on 20 April.

The islands of Leyte and Samar were still held by a 2,500-man US and Filipino force, Negros was held by 3,000 men, and there were 1,000 men on Bohol, but the Japanese were unconcerned with these small forces, reckoning that they could be reduced at a later date should this prove necessary. All of the island defence forces were prepared for sustained guerrilla operations.