Operation Victor II

'Victor II' was the US and Filipino reconquest of Cebu island, Bohol island and the Negros Oriental south-eastern part of Negros island in the Visayan islands group of the Philippine archipelago by Major General William H. Arnold’s Americal Division of Lieutenant General Robert L. Eichelberger’s 8th Army (26 March/20 April 1945).

Cebu is the ninth largest of the Philippine islands, with a length of 135 miles (217 km) and width of about 20 miles (32 km), and an area of 1,909 sq miles (4944 km˛). In 1941 the island had a road around most of its coast and a railway along the east coast. Another road crossed the island from Cebu City to Toledo in the west. The island has a central mountain chain reaching to a maximum height of 3,599 ft (1097 m). Having been created by the Spanish in 1565, Cebu City is the oldest port in the Philippines islands group, was the Spanish capital of the Philippines until 1571, and was still the commercial heart of the southern part of the Philippine islands group in 1941.

The town had an airstrip (Lahug), was the headquarters of Major General William F. Sharp’s Visayan-Mindanao Force and was garrisoned by the 82nd Infantry and 83rd Infantry of Brigadier General Guy O. Fort’s Filipino 81st Division on the outbreak of war. More than 10 million rounds of ammunition were at the docks awaiting distribution. Another airstrip was located at Bogo at the northern end of the island.

At the time of the 'M' (ii) invasion of the Philippine islands by the Japanese in December 1941, Cebu was defended by the Filipino 82nd and 83rd Infantry, the Cebu Military Police Regiment, and miscellaneous units totalling 6,500 troops under Colonel Ivan C. Scudder. On the morning of 10 April 1942 Major General Kiyotake Kawaguchi’s 'Kawaguchi' Detachment (based on the 124th Regiment of the 18th Division's 35th Brigade) landed at Cebu City and Toledo on opposite sides of the island, and at another five places. The Military Police Regiment was driven from Cebu City on the first day, and the Japanese then moved from both coasts to cut the island in two on the line of the central road across the island. The defence collapsed on 12 April, and on 19 April the Japanese declared the island secured. Numerous small units had withdrawn to the mountains, however, and were preparing for guerrilla operations with supplies they had hidden.

At the time of 'Victor II', Cebu island was the most strongly defended island in the Visayan islands group with a garrison of 14,500 including 1,700 civilians, concentrated primarily in and around Cebu City in the centre of the eastern coast. Many of the Japanese personnel were service and support troops, however, as Cebu had become the main supply base supporting the defence of Leyte by Lieutenant General Sosaku Suzuki’s 35th Army and then this formation’s attempted evacuation to Samar island. The most capable headquarters on Cebu island, to which the battered headquarters of the 35th Army had been evacuated, was that of Lieutenant General Shinpei Fukue’s 102nd Division, but this formation comprised only Major General Takeo Majome’s 78th Brigade headquarters and the 173rd Independent Battalion. The rest of the division was either detached to garrison other islands or had been lost on Leyte. However, the various service elements and large numbers of transport and shipping units on the island were reorganised as combat units.

Rear Admiral Kaku Harada’s 33rd Special Base Force and its 36th Guard Force were also included in the strength. Some 1,700 troops held a position in the northern part of Cebu under Lieutenant General Tadasu Kataoka, commander of the 1st Division, whose headquarters had arrived for onward passage to Leyte island. These elements of the 1st Division were designated as the 1st, 49th and 57th Regiments, but were each less than a battalion in size. The stronghold of the 102nd Division was prepared near Guadeloupe in the foothills to the north-west of Cebu City. Of the 14,500 troops available to the Japanese on Cebu island, about 2,000 under Majome’s command were contained in the northern part of the island by about 8,500 Filipino guerrillas under the command of Lieutenant Colonel James Cushing. Only about one-third of the Japanese forces in Cebu was fit for combat, with an extensive network of formidable defensive positions around the Cebu City.

In accordance with Japanese tactical thinking at this stage of the war, Suzuki had established his main defence line about 2.5 miles (4 km) inland, at the base of the foothills rising from the coastal plain. During the five months following the US 'King II' landings on Leyte island, Suzuki had heavily fortified this line with pillboxes and cave positions. His troops also improvised large numbers of mines from 60-mm mortar bombs. These were placed both offshore as anti-boat mines and along the roads leading into Cebu City. At the urging of Majome, commanding the Cebu garrison, Suzuki departed from tactical doctrine to the extent of setting up anti-tank ditches, sharpened bamboo stakes, and other obstacles among the mines and offering more than a mere token resistance on the beaches.

Captain Albert T. Sprague’s 8th Amphibious Group (TG78.2 with the US Coast Guard cutter Spencer as its flagship) had, as its transport group, four troop-carrying destroyer conversions, 20 tank landing ships, 11 medium landing ships, 15 infantry landing craft, nine support infantry landing craft and two patrol craft. The minesweeping group comprised eight motor minesweepers, escort was provided by the destroyers Flusser, Shaw, Conyngham, Smith and Drayton (Destroyer Squadron 5), and fire support was undertaken by Rear Admiral Russell S. Berkey’s TG74.3 with the light cruisers Phoenix, Boise and Australian Hobart, and destroyers Fletcher, Nicholas, Taylor, Jenkins and Abbot (Destroyer Squadron 21). Air support was provided by Major General Paul B. Wurtsmith’s 13th AAF.

After a one-hour preliminary bombardment by the 6-in (152-mm) guns of the warships of Berkey’s Cruiser Division 15, the 14,000 men of Arnold’s Americal Division landed its 132nd and 182nd Infantry on the eastern and western ends of Talisay Beach, some 4 miles (6.4 km) to the west of Cebu City, on 26 March and discovered the beaches to be heavily mined. This was the first time such weapons had been used in the Philippine islands campaign, and the mines knocked out 10 of the first 15 LVTs to come ashore. The following waves of landing craft and LVTs stacked up behind the first and so created a major and comparatively easy target, which the Japanese nonetheless failed to exploit with their artillery and mortars. Some two hours later, the situation eased as troops cautiously picked their way through the dense minefield, and pontoons were later used to circumvent the mine barriers.

The Americal Division fought its way into a devastated Cebu City on 27 March, and on the following day took Lahug airfield some 2 miles (3.2 km) to the north-east of Cebu City. By this time the Americal Division was being confronted by two heavily defended Japanese positions in the outpost line, and took one of these on the same day. The 182nd Infantry continued its attack on the following day, when the Japanese detonated an ammunition dump on the second hill, one company of the 182nd Infantry losing 50 men killed or wounded in the explosion.

In the succeeding days, savage resistance continued in the Japanese lines around the city, and as the Americal Division assaulted a succession of individual positions with tank/infantry teams supported by the fire support of 7th Fleet destroyers, the Japanese slowly gave ground as the units of the 102nd Division and various naval elements began to fall back to the north in an attempt to join forces with the part of the 1st Division in that part of the island.

On 13 April, in accordance with a plan which had been created some time previously to envelop the Japanese right flank, Arnold sent his returning regiment, the 164th Infantry, in a night march some 25 miles (40 km) to the west to emerge well behind the Japanese line. When all three regiments (182nd and 132nd Infantry in front and 164th Infantry from the rear) attacked simultaneously, the Japanese were forced to withdraw.

Given the weight of air and artillery support which the Americans were able to deploy against his forces, Manjome appreciated that his total strength faced annihilation and ordered a retreat into the island’s mountainous northern reaches on 16 April. The US pursuit operation began on 20 April and, together with Cushing’s Filipino guerrillas, the Americans killed any Japanese who turned to fight. Some 8,500 Japanese troops remained holed up in northern Cebu until the end of the war.

On 10 April Suzuki had left the island in an attempt to reach Mindanao and the main strength of his 35th Army tasked with the defence of the southern part of the Philippine islands group. The five small craft were spotted and bombed by US aircraft on 19 April, and Suzuki was killed. His staff reached Cagayan in northern Mindanao, and Lieutenant General Gyosaku Morozumi assumed command of the 35th Army on Mindanao.

On 11 April, well before the fighting in Cebu had fully subsided, the Americal Division went to action elsewhere, as Bohol island and the Negros Oriental south-eastern part of Negros island became the division’s next targets.

Lying to the east of southern Cebu, and possessing an area of 1,861 sq miles (4821 km˛) within a coast 162 miles (261 km) long, Bohol is the tenth largest island of the Philippines archipelgo. The main island is surrounded by about 75 smaller islands, the largest of which are Panglao island, facing Tagbilaran in the south-west, and Lapinig island in the north-east. Bohol’s terrain is essentially rolling and hilly, and about half the island is covered in limestone. Near the island’s outer areas are low mountain ranges, and the interior is a large plateau with irregular landforms.

Bohol island was held by just 330 men of the 174th Independent Battalion of the 78th Brigade, itself located in the south-eastern part of Negros. There were no Japanese airfields on Bohol island.

On 11 April one battalion of the 164th Infantry landed on Tagbilaran City on Bohol’s west coast and, with the aid of Filipino guerrilla forces, drove inland, located the Japanese defenders and ended all organised resistance by the end of the month at a cost of only seven men killed and 14 wounded. By the end of the first week in May, the Japanese had lost 105 men killed and 15 taken prisoner, the rest of the Japanese taking refuge in the island’s interior, where they were harried by disease, starvation and Filipino guerrillas backed by a detachment of the 21st Reconnaissance Troop of the 3/164th Infantry. Only 50 Japanese survived to surrender at the end of the war.

On 26 April, the rest of the 164th Infantry landed at Sibulan, some 5 miles (8 km) to the north of Dumaguete in the south-eastern Negros Oriental region of Negros island, and linked with a reconnaissance troop of Major General Rapp Brush’s 40th Division.

The Japanese defence of this part of the island was organisationally and administratively separate from that of Negros Occidental, and comprised about 1,300 men of the understrength 174th Independent Battalion, air service personnel and some 150 naval personnel. This force was led by Lieutenant Colonel Satoshi Oie, who was subordinate to the 78th Brigade of the 102nd Division on Cebu island. The Japanese were dug in among the foothills to the west of Dumaguete, and initially repulsed attacks by the US infantry and their Filipino guerrilla allies. On 6 May the Allied attack was resumed, and on 28 May the Americans and Filipinos had overrun the main part of the Japanese stronghold area, a final strongpoint being cleared between 7 and 12 June before Negros Oriental was declared secure two days later. Six days later still, mopping-up operations were made the responsibility of the Filipino guerrillas as the 164h Infantry was moved out by sea after suffering losses of 35 killed and 180 wounded. By this time the Japanese had lost 530 men killed and 15 taken prisoner, and at the end of the war 880 Japanese surrendered.

In overall terms the Visayan islands campaign cost the 8th Army only modest casualties. The 40th Division on Panay and the north-eastern part of Negros suffered 390 killed and 1,025 wounded, while the Japanese lost 4,080 killed and another 3,300 dead of disease and/or starvation. The Americal Division on Cebu and Bohol suffered 417 killed and 1,700 wounded, while in overall terms the Japanese lost 5,750 men killed and 500 wounded. About 17,500 Japanese surrendered at the end of the war. Though some Japanese units had survived deep in the mountains, Eichelberger’s formations had clearly liberated the entire Visaya islands group.

On 1 April Captain McGee’s TG78.4 of the 7th Amphibious Force, with three troop-carrying destroyer conversions, five tank landing ships, nine infantry landing craft and four medium landing ships, supported by TU78.4.1 with the destroyers Bailey and Bancroft and the destroyer escorts Day and Holt, landed Brigadier General Hanford MacNider’s 158th Regimental Combat Team at Legazpi in southern Luzon. On 2 April a battalion landing team of the 163rd Regimental Combat Team was landed in the Sulu archipelago by another group of the 7th Amphibious Force.