Spec Ops: Case Studies in Special Operations Warfare: Theory and Practice - William H. McRaven (1996)

Chapter 7. U.S. Ranger Raid on Cabanatuan, 30 January 1945

BACKGROUND

On 9 April 1942, Maj. Gen. Edward P. King Jr., commander of the American and Filipino forces on Bataan, surrendered to the Japanese. This marked the end of four months of fighting by the 90,000 Allied troops holding the Philippine island of Luzon. The Japanese rounded up 72,000 prisoners and began the infamous Bataan Death March, during which more than 20,000 men died from malaria or starvation or were murdered. (Of the 52,000 men who survived the Bataan Death March, approximately 9,200 were American and 42,800 were Filipino.) The survivors were marched sixty-five miles from the peninsula north to the railroad station at San Fernando. Packed one hundred men to a boxcar, the prisoners rode to Capas where they were off-loaded and continued the march to Camp O’Donnell. There they were interned for the next several months. During the stay at Camp O’Donnell another three thousand Americans died. Worse yet, however, were the conditions for the Filipino prisoners who lived in a separate compound across the nearby creek. Dr. Herbert Ott, a survivor of both O’Donnell and Cabanatuan, recalled that “there were 50,000 Filipinos across the creek from us at O’Donnell. In six months, as near as I know, 30,000 of those 50,000 passed away. I got home [from the war] with a diary and … I counted 409 dead bodies [Filipinos] carried out [in one day].”1* In September 1942, the remaining 6,500 American prisoners were transported by rail from Capas to Cabanatuan City. Five miles east of the small town was Camp Pangatian, their final destination. By December 1943, 2,650 Americans were buried in the camp’s cemetery, and by the time the Allies began their fight to retake the Philippines, less than 550 prisoners remained alive in Camp Pangatian.

On 9 January 1945, the U.S. Sixth Army under the command of Lt. Gen. Walter Krueger landed unopposed at Lingayen Gulf on the island of Luzon. The XIV Corps, which included the 37th and 40th Infantry Divisions, was positioned on the Sixth Army’s right flank and advanced along an axis parallel to Tarlac, Clark Field, and San Fernando. On the left flank was I Corps, which drove through the mountains toward the city of Baguio and eventually on toward San Jose in the north. By 26 January advanced units of the Sixth Army held a line from Guimba south to La Paz with Licab in the center. This was to be the jumping-off point for the Rangers’ raid on Cabanatuan. (Although the POW camp was officially known as Camp Pangatian it is more commonly referred to as Cabanatuan.)

For months before the Allied invasion, Krueger had been receiving reports on the inhuman treatment of Allied prisoners. He realized that as his forces moved across the island the Japanese would massacre the remaining POWs to hasten their retreat. On 27 January, intelligence provided by American and Filipino guerrillas had located Camp Pangatian just twenty-five miles from the forward edge of the battle area. Between the front lines and the camp, however, were over seven thousand Japanese troops, most positioned in the immediate vicinity of Cabanatuan City.

The Sixth Army intelligence officer, Col. Horton White, recommended to Krueger that the newly formed 6th Ranger Battalion be assigned the mission of rescuing the POWs. The plan to reach the POW camp was as follows: “The Rangers would move to Guimba, about seventy-five miles east of base camp, on 28 January and pick up an eighty-man guerrilla force and native guides at a nearby guerrilla camp. They would then march on a route chosen by local civilians and rendezvous with the Alamo Scouts and a second eighty-man guerrilla force at Balincarin, about five miles northeast of the objective, on 29 January. They would complete their plans there and, unless the situation had changed, conduct the operation that night.”2

The Rangers were commanded by Lt. Col. Henry A. Mucci, a West Point graduate. Mucci chose Capt. Robert W. Prince, commander of Company C, and 1st Lt. John F. Murphy, Company F, 2d Platoon, to lead his operational forces. Additionally, two Sixth Army reconnaissance teams (called Alamo Scouts) headed by 1st Lt. Thomas Rounsaville were assigned to support the mission. The two Filipino guerrilla forces, which were recognized units of the U.S. Army and provided both logistic and combat support, were commanded by Capt. Juan Pajota and Capt. Eduardo Joson respectively.

PANGATIAN POW CAMP—CABANATUAN

The POW site at Camp Pangatian lay five miles east of Cabanatuan City and less than a mile west of the small town of Cabu. Mountains rose in the north and southwest, leaving Cabanatuan nestled in the center of a valley that began at Lingayen Gulf and ended at Manila Bay. Surrounding the camp were rice paddies and elephant grass fed by water from the Platero River on the north and the Cabu River on the east. A main road lay just outside the gate of the camp and connected Cabanatuan City with Baler Bay in the north. This road was the primary transportation route for Japanese troops.

The camp itself had once been a U.S. Department of Agriculture station and later a Filipino army training center. Now it was a death camp where the inhumane treatment of prisoners rivaled the Nazi “work camps,” but “the Germans were civilized compared to the Japanese.”3 In the book Cabanatuan: The Japanese Death Camp by Vince Taylor, John McCarty, a survivor of the Bataan Death March and two POW camps—O’Donnell and Cabanatuan—describes the treatment of seven prisoners caught trying to escape. “They beat them awful. Then they tied them to posts … They tied them with wire. They left them out there without any cover, clothes torn off. They put two by fours back of their knees and tied up their ankles to their necks and left them in the hot sun without water. Swarms of big black flies and insects crawled all over them … They must have kept them there for forty-eight hours, then they moved them to the cemetery and had them dig their own graves … and then they shot them all.”4

This was a frequent occurrence at Cabanatuan. Those who did survive lived a life of pain. Dr. Ott stated:

A daily routine was getting up before [dawn] … there were work details that would go to the farm or go to the woods. I was fortunate to be in charge of slaughtering the water buffalos. Occasionally you would get one or two of these for 10,000 people. We were down to as low as 800 calories a day and you had to work on it. It took 1200 calories to maintain you, so a lot of people just worked to death. A scratch would become infected and you would get gangrene. With all the vitamin deficiencies the corners of your mouth would be sore, the backs of your feet and insteps would ache. I’ve seen men’s scrotums the size of your head; so swelled up from beri-beri.5

By January 1945, over 3,000 men had died in Cabanatuan. Saving the remaining 512 would require swift action on the part of the Rangers, and obtaining detailed information on the exact layout of the facility was essential. Fortunately for the Americans, one of the guerrilla leaders, Captain Pajota, had once been stationed at the camp while undergoing training as part of the United States Armed Forces in the Far East (USAFFE).

The entire camp was approximately six hundred by eight hundred yards and was enclosed by three barbed wire fences, eight feet high and situated about four feet apart. Four-story wooden guard towers were positioned at even intervals outside the fences. Inside the camp additional barbed wire fences were erected to isolate specific areas, including the entire east section of the camp where the POWs were held.*

The main gate on the north end was an eight-foot-high fence padlocked and guarded by three twelve-foot-high guard towers and one pillbox. The towers were manned by a single guard with another guard at the gate and four heavily armed men in the pillbox. The gate opened onto a dirt road that divided the camp down the middle. To the east were the POWs. They were housed in eight sixty-foot-long thatched-roof barracks. The barracks were originally designed to accommodate 40 troops, but the Japanese had placed 120 prisoners in each building. At the south end of the POW compound were the Japanese guard barracks. These were also protected by a barbed wire fence to prevent POWs from entering the area.

The west side of the camp contained messing and berthing facilities for transient Japanese troops and storage buildings for trucks and tanks. At the time of the raid there were 150 Imperial soldiers from the Kinpeidan Battalion housed in the southwest end of the camp as well as the normal complement of 73 guards. (The guards were a mixture of Japanese, Korean, and Formosan.)

The real threat to the raid force, however, was the Japanese units positioned at both Cabanatuan City and Cabu. At Cabu was the Dokuho 359 Battalion under the command of Tomeo Oyabu. Oyabu’s forces numbered over eight hundred men and included six to eight tanks and several artillery pieces. The day prior to the raid, Oyabu had been ordered to rest overnight at Cabu. When the Kinpeidan unit departed Camp Pangatian the following morning, Dokuho 359 Battalion was to move into Cabanatuan City to reinforce the Imperial Army.

Cabanatuan City was the temporary headquarters of the Imperial Army’s Command Naotake and harbored over seven thousand troops. Naotake had been ordered to defend Cabanatuan City against the advancing Allied forces and was equipped with a division-level supply of tanks and artillery. All three of the Japanese units, the Dokuho Battalion, the Naotake Command, and the transient Kinpeidan Unit, would have to be engaged or delayed in order for the Rangers to have any success rescuing the POWs.

THE 6TH RANGER BATTALION

The 6th Ranger Battalion, which was assigned the mission of rescuing the POWs at Cabanatuan, was originally formed as the 98th Field Artillery Battalion. Activated in January 1941 at Fort Lewis, Washington, the 98th was sent to New Guinea in 1943 but spent most of the time conducting training while the war was going on around them. By April 1944, the 98th had moved to Port Moresby on the southeast end of the island and joined with Lt. Gen. Walter Krueger’s Sixth Army.

Krueger was in the process of reorganizing the Sixth Army for the invasion of the Philippines. He had heard about the success of Lt. Col. William O. Darby’s newly formed Ranger units in Europe and decided to turn the 98th Field Artillery into the 6th Ranger Battalion. The transition would not be an easy one. Most of the men in the 98th were not infantry trained, and Krueger knew that in order for the Rangers to be a success the men would have to undergo intensive training at the hands of an experienced infantry officer. To this end Krueger chose Lt. Col. Henry Mucci. Mucci was chosen because of both his experience and the fact that he was not from the Sixth Army. Tough decisions would have to be made, probably at the expense of several careers, and Krueger believed an outsider would bring no personal baggage to the decision-making process.

As training began, Mucci made several issues clear. Rangers would not wear insignia in the field, they would not salute other officers, and they would not call officers by their rank. He once said, “I may be Colonel Mucci, but don’t dare call me that in the field. The first one who calls me ‘Colonel,’ I’ll call him ‘General’ and we’ll see who the Japs shoot first.”6

Additionally, Mucci encouraged all married men to look for reassignment elsewhere, and he recommended that those men who did not want to volunteer for the 6th Ranger Battalion be transferred to another unit.7 By the end of the first week of training, the ranks had thinned considerably, some voluntarily, some not. Eventually the battalion consisted of almost six hundred men divided into six companies, a headquarters staff, and a battalion staff. The companies were subdivided into two platoons with one officer and thirty-one enlisted men as well as a company headquarters element. The platoons were further divided into a headquarters section, two assault teams of eleven men each, and a special weapons section of six men.

The Rangers carried an array of weapons including the Browning automatic rifle (BAR), M1 carbines, Thompson submachine guns, .45-caliber pistols, bazookas, flamethrowers, and 90mm and 60mm mortars. Additionally the Ranger battalion had an integrated medical detachment, communications section, and motor pool.

Basic training for the 6th Ranger Battalion included extensive weapons firing, small-unit tactics, long marches, and amphibious warfare. Sergeant Charles H. Bosard, first sergeant of F Company, kept a diary in which he noted some of the training events. It read in part:

May 8, 1944—Having a big general inspection today—Have been firing all our weapons, going over Misery Hill, through Torture Flats, landing nets, obstacle course—ran about ten miles. We are all darn good swimmers now—250 yards with a 50 pound pack.

June 4—Working very hard—going through grenade course and bayonet course. Getting ready for amphibious training.

June 19—Getting ready to go out on a night problem … night patrol, perimeter defense, etc.8

Staff Sergeant Clifton Harris later recalled jokingly, “We always said if we went through the training we never had to worry about getting killed.”9

On 3 October 1944, the 6th Ranger Battalion got its first assignment. The Rangers would be responsible for securing several Japanese-held islands that guarded the entrance to Leyte Gulf, the site of the planned invasion. On 17 October, three days before the main landing, the Rangers went ashore on the Philippine islands of Dinagat, Suluan, and Homonhon. Staff Sergeant Harris remembered the tasking clearly. “We were to direct the main invasion fleet into Leyte Gulf. We put up searchlights and brought the convoy through the straits. It was our first mission.”10

Captain Prince’s Company C landed unopposed and saw only limited action, while the remaining companies encountered varying degrees of resistance.11* The Rangers were spread out across the three islands and had ringside seats for the ensuing Battle of Leyte Gulf. On 20 October the U.S. Sixth Army landed on the eastern shore of Leyte Gulf and Gen. Douglas MacArthur gave his famous “I have returned” speech. By the end of the month, Leyte was securely in American hands, and by the year’s end the Japanese had lost over 50,000 soldiers defending the Leyte Valley. Even with those staggering losses, the Imperial Army still had over 250,000 troops left on Luzon.

On 4 January 1945, the bulk of the Sixth Army departed Leyte and proceeded to the Lingayen Gulf. Five days later, on 9 January, the invasion of Luzon began. The Rangers did not play a significant role in the landing and for the two weeks following the landing remained idle. On 16 January, they received orders to establish a radar station on the Japanese-held island of Santiago. Captain Arthur D. “Bull” Simons, later of Son Tay fame, was tasked with the mission. Simons and a small element arrived on the island that night only to find that the Japanese had departed. Subsequently, the Rangers were ordered to provide two companies to hold the island and erect the radar station. Owing to this requirement, the 6th Rangers were without Bravo and Echo Companies when the mission to rescue the POWs was ordered.

The other unit involved in the operation was the Alamo Scouts. Activated in November 1943, the Alamo Scouts were modeled after the navy’s amphibious scouts and formed by Krueger to conduct amphibious and deep reconnaissance, small-unit raids, and demolition. Krueger, a San Antonio native, named the scouts in honor of the Battle of the Alamo. He said, “They’ll be called the Alamo Scouts. I’ve always been inspired with the story of the Alamo and those brave men who died there. Our Alamo Scouts must have the courage and qualifications of Crockett, Bowie and Travis.”12

Krueger directed his commanders in the Pacific to identify within their units men who were exceptionally fit, good swimmers, intelligent, and experts with a rifle. The men chosen were sent to New Guinea to begin scout training on Fergusson Island.

Like the participants in the rigorous Ranger course, the trainees spent four weeks conducting long jungle patrols, weapons familiarization (including Japanese weapons), communications training, land and water navigation, self-defense, and rubber-boat training. After the four weeks of this basic indoctrination they underwent two weeks of field-training exercises including joint operations with navy patrol boats, the scouts’ primary means of insertion. Part of the final two weeks incorporated a swim test. The prospective scouts were required to swim out through the surf while instructors ashore fired into the water around them. After six weeks of training the prospective scout still had one more hurdle to overcome, peer selection.

“When they wanted to determine who these teams were going to be, they had a secret ballot and the officers voted for the five or six enlisted guys they most wanted on their team, and the enlisted men all voted for the officers they wanted to go on a mission with. They [the instructors] sorted this out so that everyone was compatible,” William Nellist, a former Alamo Scout, later recalled.13

By February ten teams of seven men had been formed. One of the team members was always a Filipino. “That was a real wise move on somebody’s part,” said Nellist. “Those people [Filipinos] kept us out of more trouble. They could evaluate the Filipinos [civilians] and their reports and how much stock to put in it. They were completely invaluable to us.”14 Soon after selection, the Alamo Scouts began operations against the Japanese. Inserting by boat, submarine, parachute, or seaplane, the Alamo Scouts would go ashore for three to five days and gather intelligence on enemy activity, conduct beach reconnaissance, spot targets for air strikes, and support guerrilla activities. Within the first year, the scouts conducted sixty missions without a single loss.

Their most successful operation was in October 1944. First Lieutenants Nellist and Rounsaville, and their two teams, all of whom would later play a key role in the rescue of POWs at Cabanatuan, were inserted by patrol boats into Moari, New Guinea. This Japanese-held territory was the site of a POW camp containing thirty-two Dutch and thirty-four Javanese civilians. (According to Nellist most after-action reports indicate that only thirty-three prisoners were rescued instead of the actual number of sixty-six.) The two teams slipped ashore at night and within thirty minutes successfully liberated the civilians and killed the entire Japanese guard force.

Nellist said later, “This mission was just the opposite of the Cabanatuan mission, in that there wasn’t anything we didn’t know about that prison … There was hardly any risk of failure … we had such good information.”15

By late 1944 the Alamo Scouts had racked up an impressive record of combat action, and the men had been awarded nineteen Silver Stars, eighteen Bronze Stars, and four Soldiers’ Medals.16

LIEUTENANT COLONEL HENRY A. MUCCI—6TH RANGER BATTALION

Lieutenant Colonel Henry A. Mucci had just turned thirty-three when he reported to New Guinea as the new commander of the 6th Ranger Battalion. A 1936 graduate of the U.S. Military Academy, he had been assigned as a company commander at Fort Warren, Wyoming, attended advanced infantry training at Fort Benning, Georgia, and just prior to his arrival in New Guinea was the provost marshal of Honolulu. In his capacity as provost marshal, Mucci had undergone additional training in jungle warfare and small-unit tactics.

Small in stature and rarely without a pipe in his mouth, Mucci was nevertheless “very well built and muscular” and pushed his Rangers through a rigorous training program in which he fully participated.17

Forrest B. Johnson wrote in Hour of Redemption: “Whatever Mucci told the men to do, he also did. He seemed to be everywhere … on each twenty mile hike, in the middle of bayonet training, jogging along on the five mile runs before breakfast, crawling through the mud to participate in attacks on simulated Japanese pillboxes, firing a variety of weapons and scoring some of the highest grades.”18

Mucci was known as a born leader. He motivated his men more through inspiration than coercion, but he was also known for his quick temper when soldiers failed to react promptly to an order. With a flare for the dramatic, Mucci once challenged a sergeant to stab him during knife training. When the sergeant attempted to cut the colonel, Mucci sidestepped him and tossed him to the ground, thereby demonstrating to the Rangers the proper technique of avoiding a charging Japanese soldier. This flamboyant style was typical of Mucci. Captain Prince described him as a “great believer in the Ranger concept … a terrific officer … who had the respect of every man in the outfit.”19Others said, “He was about as rough as they came … as mean as a junkyard dog … but everybody liked him. He stood up for us. You had to be right, but he’d go to bat for you.”20

Mucci was instrumental in both the planning and the execution of the raid on the POW camp. Using basic infantry tactics, Mucci and Prince developed a plan that would incorporate simple, well-known maneuvers. This eliminated the need for the Rangers to undergo extensive rehearsals. Considering the limited time available, this was the only alternative. Mucci also used the Alamo Scouts to reconnoiter the target, and he used the guerrillas to act as a blocking force.

Mucci had the innate ability to deal with people. This proved to be a valuable skill in interacting with both the Filipino guerrillas and the communist insurgents (known as the Hukbalahaps, or Huks for short). In his first meeting with the guerrilla leader Major Pajota, Mucci went out of his way to compliment the Filipino’s tactical acumen and obvious “West Point” training. These words of praise helped to win over the guerrilla leader and ensured his support throughout the operation.

While extracting from Cabanatuan, Mucci received news that the Huks were waiting in a nearby barrio and refusing to allow the Filipino guerrillas who were supporting the Rangers to pass. Mucci, gauging the situation, sent back a forceful reply: “Lieutenant, go back and tell those Huks that we all are coming through. If they offer any resistance whatsoever … if even a dog snaps at one of my men, I’ll call in artillery and level the village.”21

Unbeknownst to the Huks, Mucci was without radio communication and had no means of calling in either artillery or air support. It was a bluff that worked, and Mucci, his men, the Filipinos, and the POWs passed through the Huk-held village unmolested.

THE RAID ON CABANATUAN

On 27 January, Mucci was summoned from his base camp near Calasio to the Sixth Army Headquarters in Dagupan. There he met the Sixth Army intelligence officer, Col. Horton White; the American guerrilla leader, Maj. Robert Lapham; and the three Alamo Scout officers, Lts. John Dove, William Nellist, and Thomas Rounsaville. White laid out the basic plan for the rescue of the POWs and then informed Mucci of the enemy situation in the area. The operation report said:

Due to the rapid advance of American forces to the southwest, remnants of the enemy forces were with-drawing [sic] north and east along HIGHWAY #5 running through CABANATUAN-BALOC to SAN JOSE. Due to our air activity enemy troop movement was made during the night. During the day troops rested in concealed areas or transit camps. PANGATIAN was one of these transit rest camps. Heavy concentration of enemy troops were reported at RISAL and CABANATUAN while reports indicated 800 Japs at CABU with tanks. The road nets in this area were used regularly for enemy tank movement of which heavy concentrations were numerous.22

The Rangers, White explained, would have to travel by foot the twenty miles from Guimba to the camp, liberate the prisoners, and return to Allied lines. The details of the mission were left entirely up to Mucci, but he was warned that security surrounding the operations must be tight. The assistant G2 cautioned, “One tip to the Japs … and … you’ll find nothing but dead American prisoners when you arrive at the camp.”23

Mucci spent the remainder of the meeting reviewing the intelligence provided by G2. It was clearly not sufficient to carry out an operation of this magnitude. The Alamo Scouts would have to conduct a detailed reconnaissance of the POW camp and report back to Mucci before the Rangers could make their assault. (The Alamo Scouts worked directly for the G2 section of the Sixth Army. Contrary to other reports, the unit was never attached to MacArthur.) Additionally, Mucci needed Lieutenant Dove to act as a liaison between the Rangers and the Filipino guerrillas. The guerrillas would be coordinating transportation of the POWs and acting as a blocking force, both of which were vital to the success of the mission. Finally, Mucci requested air cover for the return march to Allied lines. White had foreseen this requirement and tasked the Black Widow Night Fighter Squadron to provide one P-61 to act as support. Satisfied that all the headquarters-level coordination was complete, Mucci returned to his base camp.

Upon his return, Mucci summoned his officers together. He had decided upon his force mix. It would include all of Company C, commanded by Captain Prince, and 2d Platoon, Company F, commanded by First Lieutenant Murphy. Additionally, a communications element, medical detachment, and combat camera crew would be included in the list of participants. The total strength of the Ranger rescue unit was 8 officers and 120 enlisted men. Mucci assembled the troops and told them about the mission. “We have been given a tough but rewarding assignment. We’re going to hit a Jap POW stockade and free a few hundred of our boys the Nips have held for almost three years … They are what’s left of our troops who held out on Bataan and Corregidor … and if we don’t free them now, you can bet they’ll be killed by the Japs before our front reaches their area.”24

After further elaborating on the condition of the POWs and their possible reaction to the Rangers, Mucci continued with the basic plan: “Before daybreak we’ll be trucked about seventy-five miles northwest [sic] of here to a town called Guimba. Near there, we’ll meet the first guerrilla army who will serve as our escort … and, from there we walk through Jap country, all the way … no sleep … then we attack and walk back!”25

At the conclusion of the briefing the troops began to assemble their equipment in preparation for the following morning’s departure. Later, at 1900 that evening, the two Alamo Scout teams, guided by Filipino guerrillas, departed their base camp and began the twenty-four-mile walk to Platero. At Platero, which was the closest barrio to the POW camp, the local Filipinos would provide a final brief on the enemy’s disposition. From this information the Alamo Scouts would devise their reconnaissance plan and then move into position to observe the camp. Mucci had directed the scouts to return to Balincarin, which was just northwest of Platero, by the morning of the twenty-ninth to give the Rangers a detailed account of the situation.

At 0500 on 28 January 1945, the Rangers left their camp by truck and proceeded, as planned, to the guerrilla headquarters at Guimba, arriving at 0715.26 At Guimba, Mucci met Major Lapham and was introduced to the Filipino guides who would lead them to Capt. Edwardo Joson’s guerrilla headquarters at Lobong and then onto Capt. Juan Pajota’s base at Balincarin. The next few hours were spent planning, organizing, and distributing the rations, water, ammunition, and bazookas.* At 1400 the Rangers departed Guimba and headed east for two miles and then south for a mile until they intersected the Licab River. After fording the river, they marched for another mile until they reached Lobong. Upon arriving at Lobong, Mucci was introduced to Captain Joson. “There his eighty men [Joson’s guerrillas] were attached to our own force and the entire outfit started east, crossing the national highway into enemy territory about three miles south of Baloc. We forded the Talavera River at 2400 and crossed the Rizal Road at 0400, January 29, all without incident.”27

At 0600 the Rangers neared the small village of Balincarin. Waiting for Mucci were the two Alamo Scout officers, Lieutenants Rounsaville and Nellist. The scouts had not had the opportunity to reconnoiter the POW camp yet, but they had some good information from the local guerrillas concerning the terrain and the enemy situation. The ground around the camp was flat and open, although there was a ravine that might allow the Rangers to get close to the highway without being compromised. Unfortunately, the Japanese had been traveling the Cabanatuan Highway nonstop for the past twenty-four hours, apparently reinforcing the Imperial Army at Cabanatuan, which Pajota’s guerrillas estimated at division size. The Alamo Scouts had also been told there were two to three hundred Japanese (later determined to be almost eight hundred) camped along the bank of the Cabu River. The lack of cover and concealment around the POW camp had prevented the scouts from gathering the needed information on the physical layout of the facility. Nellist has tried several times to set the record straight on the scouts’ role but to no avail. In his words,

Fig. 7–1. Rangers’ Route to and from the Prisoner of War Camp at Cabanatuan. From Combat Studies Institute, Fort Leavenworth, Kansas

The scouts didn’t get beans done, except interrogate guerrillas until the morning that we were going to attack. This Filipino, Vacular, and I put on Filipino clothes and walked up to [a nipa hut across from] the prison camp … I had an aerial photo … When I wanted to know something, Vacular was talking out the back of this thing [nipa hut] with other Filipinos. They got out and produced people who had been in there … as forced labor. Everything I wanted to know they seemed to be able to produce somebody that could tell us … The rest of my team and Rounsaville’s team were waiting back in the high grass … There is no way they could get up there [to the POW camp] without being seen … This thing about the scouts going clear around the camp is a bunch of bullshit. We didn’t have time to do that. To make it worse we were exhausted when we got there.28

As Mucci continued to discuss the situation with the scout officers, a small contingent of Filipino guerrillas arrived at their location. Leading the group was Captain Pajota. After being introduced to Mucci and the others, Pajota was asked to review the plan and was told that the Rangers intended to attack that night. Pajota responded, “Sir! Are you committing suicide!?… You must know, already, the enemy situation from your Alamo Scouts. My own scouts have been reporting to me every hour. Another Jap unit is approaching Cabu Bridge from the north … Battalion size … There are hundreds of Japs in the camp … and tanks. And, maybe five hundred POWs. Only a few POWs can walk. They must be carried if you are going to take them out.”29

Although irritated by Pajota’s comments, Mucci continued to listen, knowing that Pajota was more familiar with the area than any other man. Realizing the difficulty in transporting the POWs, Pajota was organizing a team of carabao (water buffalo) carts to move the POWs from the north side of the Pampanga River back to Allied lines. Pajota’s guerrilla force numbered 90 armed and 160 unarmed men. After settling their differences, Mucci and Pajota agreed that the armed guerrillas would hold the Cabu Bridge, preventing any reinforcement from the Dokuho Battalion, while the unarmed men would help carry the POWs, drive the carabao carts, and act as runners and litter bearers.* Captain Prince had requested “that all around security in depth … be established and maintained by guerrilla troops; that all civilians in the area north of the CABANATUAN-CABU road remain there and any persons entering this area will be held and not permitted to leave until [the] mission was accomplished; that all chickens be penned and all dogs be tied and muzzled.”30† Additionally, the civilians along the route would be co-opted to provide food and water for 650 men. At the completion of their initial meeting the Rangers moved into Barrio Balincarin and began final preparations for the raid.

For most of the day Prince, who had been assigned to plan the mission, studied the terrain and general layout of the camp. All the officers and NCOs received a copy of the sketch of the camp so they could begin their respective planning and rehearsals. Details concerning Japanese positions would be filled in by reports from the Alamo Scouts, but not until just before departing Platero. Still under the impression that the operation would commence that night, Prince radioed back to Guimba asking for air cover to begin at 1900.

At 1800 on the twenty-ninth the Rangers departed Balincarin for the short two-and-one-half-mile march to Platero. There Mucci received an updated situation brief on the POW camp and surrounding area from the local guerrillas. The news was all bad. A Japanese unit had moved into the POW camp, and now there were reportedly 500 enemy soldiers within the confines of the barbed wire. (Later the number was determined to be approximately 225.) On the main road leading to Cabanatuan City was a division of troops, tanks, and heavy equipment. In the city itself there were an estimated seven thousand Japanese soldiers. To make matters worse, the scouts had still been unable to thoroughly reconnoiter the POW camp. After getting the report, Mucci made the decision to delay the raid until the following night. A message was subsequently sent back to Krueger’s headquarters informing the general of Mucci’s decision. The air support was delayed accordingly.

The delay allowed the scouts further time to recon the camp and provided the Rangers extra planning time. Additionally, in anticipation of wounded soldiers and weakened POWs, the Ranger medical officer, Dr. James Fisher, and the local Filipino physician converted the barrio schoolhouse into an emergency hospital.31 The added time also allowed the Rangers an opportunity to get some rest. They had been up and moving for the past sixty hours. During the Rangers’ short stay in Barrio Platero, Pajota’s guerrillas provided perimeter security while the towns people fed and cared for the American soldiers.* The following afternoon at 1500, the report from Nellist arrived at Mucci’s location. Nellist recalled that he “sent a message back with an aerial photo and [his] other piece of paper with the corresponding numbers … On each one [he] wrote everything about it.”32 Nellist’s report was extremely detailed and provided Mucci all the information he needed. “The decision was made to attack at dusk. The men were completely briefed on the action to take place and each man was assigned a job and thoroughly instructed as to all duties related to it. The element of surprise was stressed as being of primary importance to the success of the mission; all were cautioned to spare no effort to secure the same.”33

The plan was as follows. Just prior to dusk, at 1830, a P-61 from the Black Widow Squadron would circle the camp drawing attention away from the Rangers as they attempted to maneuver into position. Second Platoon, Company F, would circle around to the south of the camp and, when in position (approximately 1930), initiate the raid by firing upon the Japanese guard barracks at the rear of the POW compound. (The POW compound was an isolated area within the Japanese camp and held not only the POWs but the guard force as well.) The platoon would isolate the guards, preventing them from reinforcing the section of the POW compound containing the prisoners. Additionally, a six-man squad from 2d Platoon was given the responsibility of destroying a pillbox in the northwest corner of the camp.

As the raid was initiated, 1st Platoon, Company C, which was located to the north, across the highway from the main gate, would assault the camp. The 1st Platoon was divided into two assault sections and a weapons section. The 1st Assault Section would force the front gate and kill the guards at the entrance, in the towers, and at the pillbox. The 2d Assault Section would move across the highway and take up positions outside the fence, providing covering fire for the 1st Section as it moved into the camp. The Weapons Section, equipped with bazookas, would follow the 1st Section through the main gate and pass through their lines, destroying the building containing the tanks. As the Weapons Section entered the compound, the 2d Section would shift fire and then take up security to prevent Japanese from escaping.

Second Platoon, Company C, also located outside the main gate, would follow the 1st Platoon into the camp and proceed to the northeast corner where the POWs were located. After breaking through the entrance to the POW compound, one assault section would proceed toward the rear of the POW compound and engage the guard barracks, preventing any Japanese from reinforcing. A second assault section would position itself on the right flank of the POW compound to prevent a counterattack from the Japanese soldiers on the west side of the camp. The Weapons Section would be held in reserve within the POW compound to escort POWs if needed. The remainder of the platoon’s personnel would search the POW barracks and direct or escort the prisoners out to the main gate.

While the Rangers were liberating the POWs, the guerrillas were to provide blocking forces along the highway to prevent reinforcement from either Cabu or Cabanatuan. Captain Joson’s guerrilla unit was to set up to the southwest, just eight hundred yards from the main gate. Attached to the guerrillas was a six-man bazooka team from 2d Platoon, Company F. Captain Pajota’s guerrillas were to set up a roadblock at the Cabu Creek, three hundred yards northeast of the gate, and cut the telephone lines that connected the camp with other Imperial Japanese units.34

When all the POWs were clear of the camp, Captain Prince would initiate the Rangers’ withdrawal by firing a red signal flare. The guerrillas were to remain at their roadblocks until the entire column of Rangers and POWs were a mile from the camp. At that time Captain Prince would fire a second red signal flare, and the guerrillas would withdraw, forming a flank and rear guard for the Rangers. What was unknown to Mucci and Prince at the time of the planning was that Captain Pajota had already positioned two hundred armed guerrillas a quarter mile north of the Cabu Bridge. Captain Pajota, who had learned to work closely with the Americans while maintaining a certain autonomy, was planning to use these Filipinos as a reserve element for both himself and Captain Joson. When Captain Prince’s second red flare was fired, Pajota would lure the Japanese away from the Rangers’ line of march. In order for this maneuver to be successful, Pajota knew he needed more men than Mucci had authorized.35

At 1700 on the thirtieth, all units departed Platero. Guided by Pajota’s scouts, the column, which numbered almost 375 men, moved southwest through the tall elephant grass and bamboo groves to the Pampanga River. Once at the river, the column divided into its three main tactical groups. Pajota’s guerrillas headed upstream and then southwest to their position outside Cabu. Joson moved downstream to his position southeast of the camp, and Mucci and his Rangers crossed midstream to intersect the main gate. For the next three-quarters of a mile the Rangers were able to move without crawling owing to the high grass and falling darkness, which continued to conceal their position.

By 1800 the column was a mile from the river. They had broken through the tall grass and could see the guard towers less than a mile from their position. It was getting dark, but before them lay only rice paddies with no trees or bushes for concealment. Prince ordered 2d Platoon, Company F, to break off and begin heading east. Intelligence from the Alamo Scouts and overhead photography had identified a creek bed that ran underneath the highway and along the east side of the camp. Second Platoon, Company F, would negotiate the creek bed and be in position to initiate the attack at 1930.

After walking a few hundred more yards, Mucci ordered the Rangers to crawl the remaining mile to the highway. “Movement had to be very slow and cautious because the ground was so open.”36 At 1840, a P-61, appropriately named Hard to Get, circled the camp, diverting the Japanese’s attention away from both Company C approaching from the highway and 2d Platoon, Company F, crawling along the creek east of the camp. Nellist, who had remained in the nipa hut across from the POW camp, saw the P-61 as it made its runs. It “just about ripped the shingles off that damn prison camp. He came by several times and really buzzed it.”37 The diversion was helpful and “by 1925 Company C was all set, in position twenty yards from the front gate, concealed by both darkness and a small ditch.”38

Second Platoon, Company F, had crossed under the highway at approximately 1830 and had dropped off SSgt. Cleat Norton and a small element midway along the creek bed. This element was tasked with assaulting the guard towers on the east side of the compound. Norton later recalled, “Just as I got underneath that tower a bell went off inside the POW compound. I’m telling the truth, you could feel the hair go right up on the top of your head. Nearly pushed your hat right off … It nearly scared the daylights out of us.”39*

As planned, 2d Platoon, Company F, was in position at the southeast end of the camp at 1930; however, the platoon leader, Lt. John Murphy, spent a few extra minutes to ensure all his troops were ready. At exactly 1945 Murphy opened fire on the guard barracks.

Within seconds all the Japanese in the guard towers and pillboxes around the camp came under fire. An element of 2d Platoon, located in the creek bed to the east of the camp, opened fire on the Japanese positions at the southeast end. Once the guards in the outer positions were killed, the element focused its attention on the guard barracks, which were also under attack by Lieutenant Murphy’s element. “All guard towers, guard shacks, and pillboxes were neutralized within thirty seconds after Murphy fired the first shot.”40 When it was clear that there was no more Japanese resistance at the rear of the camp, 2d Platoon, Company F, retraced its tracks back up the creek bed and out to the main road.

Fig. 7–2. The Cabanatuan Operation: Actions at the Objective, January 1945.

At the north end of the camp, elements of Company C had also killed Japanese guards located in the towers, pillboxes, and concrete shelters that paralleled the north fence. Staff Sergeant Theodore R. Richardson, who had been assigned the task of opening the front gate, quickly crossed the highway and charged the front gate, trying to smash the lock with the butt of his tommy gun. When this failed he pulled out his .45-caliber pistol and started to shoot the lock. Two Japanese guards suddenly appeared and fired at Richardson, knocking the pistol from his hand. Private First Class Leland A. Provencher, who was accompanying Richardson, killed one of the guards while Richardson fired his tommy gun and killed the other. Although it was his first real action, Provencher didn’t hesitate. “We were so well coached and so well drilled that everything just fell in line instinctively.”41 Richardson recovered his .45-caliber and shot the lock, allowing the gate to open.

Seeing the gate open, the 1st Assault Element from Company C, 1st Platoon, under the command of Lt. William J. O’Connell, jumped from the ditch on the north side of the highway and stormed toward the camp. Immediately behind the 1st Element was the Weapons Section. As the 1st Element and Weapons Section moved, the 2d Assault Element, which was just a few yards down the road, charged the fence line and began firing into the camp. As the two initial elements entered the main gate, the 2d Assault Element ceased firing and took up security positions as assigned.

Inside the camp, the 1st Assault Element moved down the center road and broke to their right (west). The Japanese in the officers’ and enlisted men’s quarters were now aroused and returning fire. The Rangers quickly subdued the Japanese with grenades and fire from their BARs and tommy guns. The Weapons Section passed through the 1st Assault Element and ran three hundred yards down the center road into position to engage the tank shed. As Sgt. Manton Stewart, the designated bazooka man, dropped into position, he could clearly see two trucks loaded with Japanese troops beginning to emerge from the shed. Stewart aimed his rocket launcher at the shed, received a ready command from his loader, and squeezed the trigger. The 88mm rocket ripped through the thin-skinned building, sending shrapnel flying everywhere and creating secondary explosions that rocked the surrounding area. Stewart received another slap on the shoulder from his loader and squeezed again. The shed exploded, and the Japanese in one of the trucks were quickly engulfed in flames. Those enemy soldiers who managed to escape the fire were cut down by Rangers who flanked Stewart on both sides. Stewart received a third and final ready from his loader and fired once again, this time taking aim on the second truck. The rocket hit the front end of the vehicle, destroying it instantly. The remaining enemy soldiers were killed as they scrambled for cover.

As the assault elements of 1st Platoon, Company C, reached their positions and began to engage the enemy, 2d Platoon, Company C, moved in immediately behind them. The three elements of 2d Platoon, Company C (1st and 2d Assault and the Weapons Section), ran down the center road, and after shooting the lock off the gate, broke into the POW compound. The 1st Assault Element moved toward the POW huts while the 2d Assault Element sprinted toward the south end of the prisoners’ section to set up a blocking force. During the planning phase, specific fields of fire had been designated to prevent the various elements from being hit by friendly fire.* The Weapons Section, which was being held in reserve, waited at the entrance to the POW compound, eventually being called upon to assist in evacuating the prisoners.

Inside their nipa huts frightened American prisoners were hiding under beds, in latrines, wherever they could. They were certain that the Japanese had come to kill them. Soon, however, the prisoners heard the Rangers shouting, “We’re Americans,” and yelling instructions for all POWs to assemble at the main gate. Although many prisoners quickly emerged from the huts, some POWs had to be coaxed out and, in several cases, the prisoners were forcibly escorted to the gate for their own safety. Those who couldn’t walk were carried. During the evacuation, one Ranger encountered a POW who said he was dying and told the Ranger to leave him and save the others. The Ranger gently picked the man up and placed him on his back. Unfortunately, before the two men reached the main gate the POW died of apparent heart failure. It was the first casualty of the raid.

As the POWs began to evacuate, Prince had the task of personally checking each nipa hut to ensure there was no one remaining. “It was kind of spooky. Each nipa hut had a fire burning in a sandbox. I looked in but couldn’t see very well. I yelled, ‘Is there anyone else left in there?’ and then I entered to double-check.”42 At one point Prince encountered the senior POW, Colonel Duckworth, who was trying to assert himself during this state of mass confusion. Duckworth was directing all the POWs to remain where they were until he could figure out exactly what was going on. Prince approached the colonel and asked, “Who are you?” Duckworth fired back, “I’m Colonel Duckworth!” To which Prince responded, “Well, Colonel, get your ass out of here! I’ll apologize tomorrow!”43

All over the compound similar episodes were taking place. Staff Sergeant Harris still remembers one episode vividly. It was his job to help clear the POWs from inside the nipa huts. “You couldn’t see at all. It was dark inside and it stank. Some of the foulest odors you ever smelled in your life. I almost killed one of the prisoners when he jumped on my back.”44

Prisoners who had witnessed death on a daily basis, who had only dreamed of freedom, were now in the process of being liberated. For many it was an emotionally overwhelming situation, and it required the Rangers to handle each case differently. Mucci described it as follows: “Getting those prisoners out was quite a job. Some were dazed. Some couldn’t believe it was true. Some tried to take their belongings, and we had to tell them they had to leave their stuff behind, as there was a tough march ahead. One old United States Marine who had been a prisoner all that time wrapped his arms around the neck of one of the Rangers and kissed him. All he could say was ‘Oh boy! Oh, boy! Oh, boy.’ ”45

As the POWs began to flood out of the camp, the Rangers directed or assisted them across the highway and back toward the Pampanga River, where carabao carts were waiting to take them to Allied lines. Mucci, who had remained outside the camp to direct his forces, continued to oversee the evacuation and ensure all the POWs were cared for properly. During the raid, a Japanese soldier had managed to escape the confines of the camp and set up a light mortar on the southern corner of the compound, behind the guard barracks. From this position he began to lob rounds in the direction of the front gate. Three rounds fell in the vicinity of the Rangers, wounding several including the command surgeon Dr. James Fisher.

To the east of the compound, members of 2d Platoon, Company F, were retreating up the creek bed and across the highway as directed. They began to take heavy fire from the compound, and several members dove for a ravine on the north side of the highway. Corporal Roy Sweezy, the BAR man for the platoon, was struck in the back by two rounds and died almost instantly. He was the first and only Ranger killed during the raid.

At approximately 2015, Prince, having inspected all the nipa huts, fired the withdrawal flare. Unknown to Prince or anyone else, however, “one dysentery-weakened British civilian prisoner had hidden in the latrine at the sound of the first shots and never came out. He would be discovered near the camp after midnight by Filipino guerrillas and rescued.”46

Outside the camp another battle was raging as the guerrilla force under Captain Pajota was holding off the Japanese at the Cabu Bridge. Alamo Scout Bill Nellist later remembered, “This unit that was across the Cabu River was just exhausted. They weren’t dug in. They were lying on the ground. The guerrillas just raked the hell out of them.”47

Pajota caught the Japanese completely by surprise and inflicted heavy casualties within the first few seconds. The Japanese who were not caught in the initial cross fire began to charge across the creek bed in an effort to break the ambush. Pajota had planned for this eventuality and positioned his men accordingly. Additionally, to ensure the Japanese could not bring reinforcements across the Cabu Bridge, Pajota had blown the bridge with a time bomb. Although not completely destroyed by the demolition, the bridge could not support the weight of the Japanese tanks, which were being held in reserve by Commander Oyabu. Even after suffering more than a hundred casualties in the first five minutes, Oyabu continued to order his troops to attack.

At one point several trucks laden with heavy weapons and Japanese troops started for the bridge, hoping to cross on what remained of the structure. As they approached the creek, Pajota’s men fired at the trucks with bazookas. Those Japanese who survived the onslaught of the 88mm rockets were killed as they jumped from the vehicles. This fight raged until 2200, and Pajota was forced to disregard Prince’s second withdrawal flare until he could ensure that the Japanese would not pursue the retreating column of Rangers and POWs. When Pajota finally broke contact, his guerrillas had killed over three hundred Japanese while suffering only nine casualties, none seriously injured. (Initial reports indicated that twenty-three Filipinos were missing in action, but eventually these men were found and the numbers revised to reflect only nine wounded men.)

The column of POWs and Rangers that departed the Cabanatuan area stretched for over a mile. By the time the small army reached Plateros, there were over twenty-five carabao carts with more being assembled at each barrio. Mucci reported afterward:

The column halted in Plateros [sic] to reorganize, give water and food to the men, and gather more carts. Cots were set up in the schoolhouse by Doctor Layug, local guerrilla doctor, who treated the sick and wounded. The ex-POW’s [sic] able to walk were dispatched in groups guarded by Rangers to the next Barrio, Baligcarin [Balincarin], as fast as they could be organized. The first group left Plateros at 2100 hours the 30th. Captain Prince brought the last elements of the column into Plateros protected by the rear guard of 115 men [who] were moved from Plateros to Balincarin in 25 carabao carts.48*

Upon reaching Balincarin, the Rangers and POWs halted again. An additional fifteen carabao carts were added to the growing column. The wounded medical officer, Captain Fisher, was left in Balincarin with a small contingent of Rangers. A light plane had been requested to medevac him to a field hospital. Unfortunately, no plane arrived and Fisher died in Balincarin. The column departed Balincarin at 2400 for the next small village, Matoas Na Kahey.

As the Rangers marched along the trails toward the Allied lines, P-61s from the 547th Night Fighter Squadron flew air cover, ensuring that the retreating column would not be intercepted by Japanese. Although few Rangers ever saw the P-61s (other than Hard to Get), the Black Widows “destroyed a total of twelve Japanese trucks, one tank and hundreds of foot troops trapped in those vehicles or around camps fires near the roads.”49

Upon arriving at Matoas Na Kahey, the soldiers and ex-POWs were provided food, water, medical support, and an additional eleven carabao carts. This brought the total of carts to fifty-one and created a column over a mile and one-half long. The length of the column presented a considerable problem for the next phase of the mission, crossing the Rizal Highway. The highway was a main Japanese thoroughfare, and the column would have to travel down the road for almost a mile before crossing.

Mucci ordered 1st Lt. William O’Connell to establish roadblocks on both the north and south end of the highway and to report back when the men were in position. Accompanied by two squads of Rangers, a bazooka team, and some of the Filipino guerrillas, O’Connell set up a blocking force four hundred yards to the north and another three thousand yards to the south. Additionally, Rangers on ponies rode two miles north and two miles south of the crossing to provide added warning time. This would protect both right and left flanks during the crossing. The column began the crossing at 0331 and completed it at 0430. Mucci later recalled, “It was the longest hour I’ve ever sweated out in all my life.”50

At 0530 the column arrived at a small barrio, rested for a short while, and then continued the march. By 0800 they had reached the village of Sibul. Mucci received word that the Allied lines had advanced to the Talavera River, which was only a few miles from Sibul. Radio communications were established with Guimba, and Mucci requested that trucks, ambulances, and food be available upon the column’s arrival at the front lines. The villagers provided Mucci another twenty carts and at 0900 the march continued.

Within two hours the column was intercepted by an advanced reconnaissance patrol of the Sixth Army. The ambulances and vehicles, which were only a few minutes behind the patrol, evacuated the prisoners and wounded. Soon thereafter the Rangers returned to their base camp near Calasiao, their mission complete. The Ranger logbook of 31 January 1945 reported the following:

Co “C” and 2d Platoon Co “F” returned to Ranger Area. Mission completed. Casualties: Capt. Fisher and Corporal Sweezy killed in action; Pvt Peters, Jack wounded. Enemy casualties estimated at 250 by Rangers and 300 by Guerillas [sic] forces. 510 prisoners released from Japanese prison.51*

For their bravery at Cabanatuan, Colonel Mucci and Captain Prince received the Distinguished Service Cross, all other officers and selected enlisted received the Silver Star, and all the remaining enlisted received the Bronze Star. The Filipino guerrillas were all awarded the Bronze Star.

ANALYSIS

Critique

The raid on the Cabanatuan POW camp departs somewhat from my definition of a special operation. Contrary to the stated definition, the 6th Ranger Battalion was neither specially trained nor specially equipped for this specific operation. To make matters more confusing from an analytical viewpoint, at no time during the preparation phase did the Rangers conduct a rehearsal, something that was so essential to the success of previous cases. And yet the mission was clearly special in nature, with the need to rescue the prisoners constituting a political imperative as well as a matter of military honor. This deviation from the model shows how the other principles can sometimes compensate for a missing block in the special operations model. The Cabanatuan mission was extremely simple with a very limited objective and good intelligence. Owing to the no-notice nature of the operation, security had to be tight, but only for a short time frame. Surprise was complete, speed on target was under thirty minutes, and above all each man had a sense of commitment to the mission that overshadowed self-preservation. Lastly, the success of the raid depended as much on the benevolent frictions of war as on relative superiority and the correct application of the principles of special operations. This, as Clausewitz would say, is the difference between theoretical war and war as it really is—a fact that we should never lose sight of.*

Was the objective worth the risk? In wartime as in peacetime, the taking and holding of hostages or prisoners are direct affronts to the nation’s esteem and, if the prisoners are soldiers, to the military’s honor. It is, therefore, generally viewed as essential to rescue prisoners regardless of the possible outcome. This maxim not withstanding, the chances of a successful outcome were good provided the Rangers reached the POW camp undetected. The only real threat prior to reaching the camp was crossing the Rizal Highway. Apart from the main roads, the Filipinos owned the countryside, and the Rangers’ safety and security were relatively assured. Consequently, rescuing the prisoners was worth the risk.

Was the plan developed to achieve maximum superiority over the enemy and minimize the risk to the assault force? The 375 Rangers and guerrillas were woefully outnumbered. There were over eight thousand Japanese within a five-mile radius of the compound, and the 128 Rangers were outnumbered two to one at the POW camp. This, however, does not reflect the whole story. The division of Japanese troops at Cabanatuan City was not concerned with the escape of 512 prisoners. They were too busy trying to survive the onslaught of the American Sixth Army. The Allied lines were moving forward every day, and the Japanese knew their time was getting short. Even had the Imperial Force at Cabanatuan City received word of the Rangers’ attack, it is unlikely they would have siphoned off many troops to give chase. The defense of the city was paramount.

The Dokuho Battalion at Cabu is another story. The close proximity of these troops combined with their superior firepower could have derailed the entire escape effort. The planners, Prince and Pajota, seemed well aware of this potential and were adequately prepared. Once the column had retreated into the brush, the likelihood of Japanese intervention lessened considerably; nevertheless, had the Japanese pursued, the two P-61s would probably have been sufficient to thwart any serious counterattack.

Was the mission executed according to plan? What unforeseen circumstances affected the outcome? The mission was executed according to plan if one excludes Mucci’s twenty-four-hour delay to allow the Japanese troops to move out of the POW camp. Considering the rapidness with which it was planned and executed, this is an impressive achievement. The results of this mission speak for themselves: 512 prisoners were rescued with only two Rangers killed.

What modifications to the plan could have improved the outcome? It is doubtful that any modification to the plan could have improved this outcome.

Relative Superiority

As Figure 7-3 shows, the Rangers’ point of vulnerability occurred approximately one hour prior to attacking the POW camp. It was 1800 when Mucci and his men broke out from the tall grass and spotted the guard towers one mile away. After traveling a few hundred yards, Mucci ordered his men to crawl the rest of the way to the highway. It was at this point (1825) that the column of Rangers became vulnerable to detection. The line showing the probability of mission completion does not angle sharply upward; had the Rangers been spotted at any time prior to getting in position, their chance of successfully rescuing the prisoners would have been marginal. After one hour, however, all the Rangers were in position to attack. Although Lieutenant Murphy elected to wait until 1945, the Rangers had gained relative superiority at 1925. At this point, their probability of mission completion jumped dramatically even though no shots had been fired.

Once the attack began, the Rangers quickly dominated the guard force and Kinpeidan Battalion. But as the 511 POWs began to leave the camp and attached themselves to the Ranger column, the degree of relative superiority dropped. The advantage the Rangers had in mobility and self-protection was now diluted by the large number of wounded and unprotected POWs. Within thirty minutes the Rangers and POWs were out of the camp and moving inland. The Rangers were able to sustain relative superiority by marching through the countryside and using the guerrillas and P-61s to support their escape.

Fig. 7–3. Relative Superiority Graph for the Raid on Cabanatuan

When the Rangers and POWs reached the Rizal Highway, their area of vulnerability increased dramatically, almost to the point of being unable to sustain relative superiority. Had the Japanese, either inadvertently or by design, intercepted the column of carabao carts and walking wounded, it would have been disastrous. Mucci stated later that the one-hour trek across the exposed Rizal Highway had been the longest in his life. Mucci might have felt less tense during the crossing if he had arranged for additional Ranger companies (of which there were several back at the base camp) to meet the column and provide flank fire support. Another alternative was to ensure the P-61s were in direct support of the column as opposed to looking for targets of opportunity. Once the column crossed the Rizal Highway, mission success was almost assured, and sustaining relative superiority became only a matter of continuing in the right direction.

The Principles of Special Operations

Simplicity. Refering to the need for simplicity, William Nellist, the Alamo Scout in charge of reconnoitering the POW camp, said, “If too many people have something to do with the plan, they can delay the thing and complicate it until it won’t work.”52

The operation order for the raid on Cabanatuan was one page long and directed Mucci to proceed from Guimba to the camp at Cabanatuan, rescue the prisoners, and return to Allied lines. The tactics for conducting this mission were left entirely up to Mucci, who subsequently directed Captain Prince to develop the plan. The plan, if not the implementation, was simple. There were no insertion vehicles to break down, no complicated equipment to rely on, no external forces to coordinate (the guerrillas were attached directly to Mucci, and the P-61s operated independently), and the actions at the objective were literally straightforward—down the road in the middle of the camp.* Each assault element had one objective. There was no attempt, and indeed no time, to develop or brief multiple objectives for the elements. By limiting each element to a single mission it reduced the possibility of confusion, but of course, also increased the possibility of a task not being completed if an element were incapacitated. In reality, though, none of the tasks required special training, with the possible exception of destroying the tank shed which was done by the bazooka element. Therefore had any single element not been able to complete its assigned mission, another element could easily have substituted for it.

The availability of good intelligence was cited as a primary reason for mission success by each individual I interviewed, and this is supported by documentation. The intelligence provided by the guerrillas, as well as the annotated aerial photo produced by the Alamo Scouts, allowed Prince to develop plans that avoided or eliminated Japanese defenses. For example, the creek bed on the east side of the camp provided an easy access for 2d Platoon, Company F, to reach the rear of the compound. Had this creek bed not been identified through good intelligence, 2d Platoon would have had to enter through the main gate and dash to the guard barracks. It was eight hundred yards from the main gate to the guard barracks, and it would have taken at least three minutes for the Rangers to run that far. In that time the Japanese could probably have mounted at least a limited response. Second Platoon’s other option was to crawl the entire distance from the highway to the rear area. Considering the close proximity of the camp and the time involved in a dead slow move, this was a dubious prospect at best.

Intelligence also simplified the plan by allowing each Ranger to know exactly where the enemy was located. The Rangers not only knew how many Japanese soldiers there were in the camp, but where they were berthed, how high above the floor they slept, which way the gate opened, and where the tanks were housed. This allowed Prince to tailor each man’s load. The Rangers carried only what they needed to eliminate the known threat. Most of the men marched from Guimba with only their rifle (M1, BAR, or tommy gun), a pistol, two bandoliers of ammunition, one canteen of water, and one ration. Only the bazooka men had a heavier load. The availability of good intelligence simplified the plan and allowed rapid execution of the mission without any surprises.

Normally innovation is viewed as simplifying a plan by providing the attacking unit a technological force multiplier. In this case the only advanced technology used was a pair of night binoculars employed by the P-61 Hard to Get. These first-generation night-vision devices allowed the pilots to identify the Rangers as they crawled into position as well as to see blacked-out Japanese vehicles traveling the main roads. These binoculars, however, were hardly instrumental in the success of the mission. The biggest problem facing the Rangers was how to transport over five hundred prisoners from the camp to Allied lines. Granted the solution was not high-tech, the use of carabao carts to move the POWs was nonetheless innovative. Innovation can often be as simple as a UDT lead line, the klepper canoe, or a Swiss combat bicycle; but as with the carabao cart, it is often essential to the success of the mission.

Security. The assistant G2 warned Mucci that if one Japanese found out about the raid there would be no Americans left alive when the Rangers reached the camp. In the book Cabanatuan: Japanese Death Camp, John McCarty, a former Cabanatuan POW, relates the story of another POW who was interned on Palawan Island. When the American ships began to close on Palawan, the Japanese herded over two hundred prisoners into a cave, ostensibly to protect them from shelling. Once inside the cave, the Japanese doused the prisoners with fuel and then ignited them with hand grenades. Those who survived were machine-gunned. This POW had managed to jump off a cliff and escape, but not before being shot five times.53 The concern that the Cabanatuan POWs would be annihilated was real. This was the Japanese practice. Security had to be tight.

The advantage of conducting a no-notice operation is that security does not have to be maintained for very long. Mucci received his orders on 27 January and departed the following morning for Balincarin. During the interim period the Rangers never left their base camp, and once they were briefed, they avoided contact even with the other Ranger companies. The Rangers conducted no rehearsals, so there was no opportunity for bystanders to observe and possibly leak information.

The main concern was that communist Huk guerrillas or Japanese sympathizers might inform the guards at the camp. While he was observing the camp, William Nellist spied a young Filipino girl talking to the guards at the main gate. He said, “I just knew that she was telling them that these American soldiers were on the way … I thought the whole thing was going down the drain right there … It scared the hell out of me.”54 Fortunately for the Rangers, whatever the girl told the guards did not compromise the raid.

There were two factors working in the Rangers’ favor. First the Allies were clearly moving rapidly to control Luzon, and those few Filipinos that had supported the Japanese were taking to the hills to hide. Secondly, most of the Filipinos vehemently hated the Japanese and would never have considered compromising the American raid. For these two reasons, the Rangers were able to plan and execute a highly visible behind-the-lines operation without fear of compromise. Their column of over 375 men including the Filipino guerrillas marched twenty-five miles through numerous barrios. By the time they reached the outskirts of the POW camp, the entire Filipino countryside from Guimba to Platero was aware of their presence. Security was important, but Mucci and Prince had to weigh the need for food, water, medical assistance, carabao carts, and guerrilla forces against the requirement to keep the mission top secret. In the end security seemed to have been appropriate and did not unduly impede the preparation or execution.

Repetition. What makes the raid on Cabanatuan so interesting is the overwhelming success of the operation despite the lack of rehearsals. It is easy to understand how a modern-day counterterrorist force, like GSG-9 at Mogadishu, can be successful without a full-dress rehearsal prior to the mission. They train daily on similar targets, and familiarity is born of this repetition. The Rangers, however, had never rehearsed any mission even vaguely similar to the POW rescue. For readers of this case, it is dangerous to generalize about special operations based on the success of this mission. When one peels back the husk of Ranger folklore, success depended as much on luck—that is, on not encountering any Japanese while extracting—as it did on the bravery of the men and proper execution of the plan. And although it is often better to be lucky than well prepared, it is best to be both.

Surprise. Considering the large number of forces within the vicinity of the POW camp, it is amazing that the Rangers were able to achieve surprise. There were four separate elements that had to get into position before the raid could commence: the two guerrilla units, Company C, and 2d Platoon, Company F. Of these four elements only Joson’s guerrillas were not in immediate danger of being sighted. The other elements were all sizeable, from platoon to company strength, and maneuvered to within a hundred yards or less of the Japanese guards.

How did the Rangers achieve this advantage? First, the Japanese did not expect the Americans to attempt such a rescue so early in the Luzon offensive. The Allied lines were still several days away, and seven thousand Imperial soldiers were based at Cabanatuan City. The guards, who were a combination of Japanese, Koreans, and Formosans, were in a relaxed state of readiness and content with the knowledge that the Kinpeidan Battalion was in camp and the Dokuho 359 Battalion was a mile down the road.

The terrain and weather also favored the Rangers. The night of the raid there was low cloud cover that concealed a full moon. The darkness allowed the Rangers to move, albeit in most cases crawl, into position without undue fear of detection. The creek bed along the east side of the camp was approximately four feet deep and 2d Platoon, Company F, easily maneuvered to their assigned places. Additionally, there was a ditch on the north side of the Cabanatuan Highway, which allowed Company C to remain unobserved.

All of this notwithstanding, it was the unexpected nature of the raid that allowed the Rangers to gain the element of surprise. Had the Japanese suspected or even halfheartedly prepared for the possibility of an attack, they could easily have prevented the Rangers from gaining surprise. For example, a searchlight making periodic sweeps, a guard placed on the Cabu Bridge, paid sympathizers in the adjoining barrio, or a small Japanese element patrolling the main highway—any of these measures could have seriously jeopardized the raid. As it was, the boldness of the idea and the swiftness with which the plan was executed unquestionably caught the Japanese by surprise, and this element of surprise was the deciding factor in the success of the engagement. The success of the overall mission, however, was equally dependent on other principles.

Speed. Speed during the engagement at the POW camp was important, but owing to good fortune and a well-devised blocking force at the Cabu Bridge, the Rangers had a small cushion of time that could have been extended beyond the amount used.

Captain Prince anticipated that the release of the hostages would take approximately one hour; however, he felt that the Rangers really “needed to be in and out in 30 minutes.”55 If they remained at the camp much longer than thirty minutes, he thought that the chance of being engaged by a superior Japanese force was high. What could not be known ahead of time was the physical condition of the POWs and their ability to move quickly. Fortunately for the Rangers, the POWs had managed to kill a carabao several days before the raid, and although the meat was divided up among the five hundred, most were in the best physical condition they had been in for several years. Nevertheless, there was genuine concern that in the case of any delay beyond thirty minutes, reinforcements from Cabanatuan City could be on the scene. Consequently, Mucci had positioned Captain Joson’s guerrilla force along the Cabanatuan Highway to delay the Japanese arrival at the camp. But because the Japanese were more concerned about defending Cabanatuan City, the Imperial soldiers never attempted to reinforce the beleaguered POW camp.

The other concern, of course, was the Japanese at the Cabu Bridge and how long the guerrillas could delay their arrival at the camp. As it turned out, the plan for ambushing the Japanese at Cabu was well thought out and well implemented; and although the battle raged beyond the proposed withdrawal time, the guerrillas appear always to have had the upper hand.

Although accounts vary as to the exact time on target, most Rangers agree that the raid took between twenty and thirty minutes, with the preponderance of Japanese soldiers being subdued or eliminated within the first twelve minutes.56 Based on the actual events, the actions at the objective probably could have been extended a few minutes more. However, because the Japanese at Cabanatuan City could have been mobilized to counterattack, the thirty minutes on target was the maximum allowable time.

The return to Allied lines, although not measured in minutes, did have a sense of urgency that caused Mucci to push the column all night, allowing them to rest only briefly to reorganize and obtain more carabao carts. Mucci clearly understood his precarious position and wanted to minimize the time spent behind enemy lines.

Purpose. Cleat Norton summed up the need for the principle of purpose in combat when he stated, “The idea of releasing these prisoners motivated the guys to no uncertain terms. They were ready to go for anything! We had a chance to get these prisoners out of there and if there was any way possible we were going to do it.”57

Purpose is often an overlooked principle because it is a difficult concept to quantify. The soldiers involved in the operation must both understand the purpose or aim of the mission and have a personal commitment to see it succeed. Understanding the purpose keeps the individual focused on the objective and prevents effort being expended unnecessarily. Having a personal commitment, or purpose in the philosophical sense of the word, motivates a man beyond what inspired leadership can accomplish. If a special operation is going to succeed against overwhelming odds, the individual, and to a larger degree the unit, has to have a purpose for fighting that goes beyond mere survival.

In this case the stated purpose was simple: release the prisoners and return them to Allied lines. Each Ranger knew that regardless of whatever else transpired during the engagement at the POW camp, it was their mission to rescue the prisoners. There was no detailed plan delineating which squad would search and clear which nipa hut, there were no assigned escorts for the prisoners, no one mustered the POWs as they departed the camp; the plan was simple and the purpose well understood. It was an all-hands effort that did not need a lot of explanation.

The second aspect of purpose is the sense of personal commitment. In his book Hour of Redemption, Forrest Johnson relates the story of how Mucci required each Ranger to go to church and pray. Mucci later wrote an article for the Saturday Evening Post entitled “We Swore We’d Die or Do It.” He begins the article by saying, “This is the story of how a small group of American soldiers swore an oath that they would die in battle rather than let any harm befall 512 prisoners of war.”58

This idea of personal commitment is frequently downplayed by today’s professional forces who must “answer the call” regardless of the objective. Even a finely honed force, if not committed to the purpose of the mission, will falter at the crucial moment. The raid on Cabanatuan demonstrates how understanding the purpose of the mission and being committed to fulfilling that purpose are essential to success in special operations.

Notes

1. Dr. Herbert Ott, interview by author, tape recording, Monterey, Calif., 14 January 1993.

2. Michael J. King, “Rangers: Selected Combat Operations in World War II,” Leavenworth Papers, June 1985, Combat Studies Institute, Fort Leavenworth, Kans., 57.

3. Ott, interview.

4. Vince Taylor, Cabanatuan: The Japanese Death Camp (Waco, Texas: Texian Press, 1987), 81.

5. Ott, interview.

6. Forrest B. Johnson, Hour of Redemption: The Ranger Raid on Cabanatuan (New York: Manor Books, 1978), 131.

7. Subject letter, “Historical Data,” from Capt. Arthur D. Simons, CO, B Company, 6th Ranger Battalion, to the Adjutant General, 7 February 1945, SF-INBN 72-37, roll 6, frames 24–28, Fort Leavenworth, Kans.

8. Johnson, Hour of Redemption, 135.

9. Clifton R. Harris, interview by author, tape recording, Monterey, Calif., 14 January 1993.

10. Ibid.

11. Robert W. Prince, interview by author, tape recording, Monterey, Calif., 28 December 1992.

12. Johnson, Hour of Redemption, 120.

13. William Nellist, interview by author, tape recording, Monterey, Calif., 15 January 1993.

14. Ibid.

15. Ibid.

16. King, “Rangers,” 55.

17. Prince, interview.

18. Johnson, Hour of Redemption, 133.

19. Prince, interview.

20. Quotes compiled from author’s interviews with Clifton Harris, William Butler, and Cleat Norton, tape recording, January 1993.

21. Johnson, Hour of Redemption, 337.

22. Operation Report, 6th Ranger Battalion, Pangatian Prison, 27–31 January 1945, Fort Leavenworth, Kans.

23. Johnson, Hour of Redemption, 187–88. Quotes attributed to Col. Horton White and Maj. Frank Rowale respectively.

24. Johnson, Hour of Redemption, 198.

25. Ibid. Direction was actually southeast from the camp to Guimba.

26. Operation Report, 6th Ranger Battalion, 1.

27. Lt. Col. Henry A. Mucci, “Rescue at Cabanatuan,” Infantry Journal (April 1945): 15.

28. Nellist, interview.

29. Johnson, Hour of Redemption, 221.

30. Operation Report, 6th Ranger Battalion, 2.

31. King, “Rangers,” 61.

32. Nellist, interview.

33. Operation Report, 6th Ranger Battalion, 2.

34. Ibid., 3.

35. Johnson, Hour of Redemption, 255.

36. Mucci, “Rescue at Cabanatuan,” 18.

37. Nellist, interview.

38. Ibid.

39. Cleat Norton, interview by author, tape recording, Monterey, Calif., 14 January 1993.

40. King, “Rangers,” 65.

41. Leland Provencher, interview by author, tape recording, Monterey, Calif., 14 January 1993.

42. Prince, interview.

43. Johnson, Hour of Redemption, 300. This story is recounted here but is not attributed to any particular Ranger. During an interview, Mr. Prince told me about encountering the stubborn Colonel Duckworth and the incident that followed.

44. Harris, interview.

45. Henry A. Mucci, “We Swore We’d Die or Do it,” The Saturday Evening Post (7 April 1945): 110.

46. King, “Rangers,” 66.

47. Nellist, interview.

48. Operation Report, 6th Ranger Battalion, 5.

49. Johnson, Hour of Redemption, 335.

50. Mucci, “We Swore,” 112.

51. Operation Report, 6th Ranger Battalion, Log of 31 January 1945.

52. Nellist, interview.

53. Taylor, Cabanatuan, 5.

54. Nellist, interview.

55. Prince, interview.

56. King, “Rangers,” 66.

57. Norton, interview.

58. Mucci, “We Swore,” 18.

*During his stay at Cabanatuan, Dr. Ott, a veterinarian, worked in the sick ward and kept health records that indicated the number of prisoners who died of disease and the number who were killed by the Japanese.

The number in the camp actually grew to ten thousand prisoners at one point. Many of these POWs were later shipped off to other camps in Mindanao and Palawan; nevertheless by January 1945 over three thousand Americans were buried in the camp.

*The majority of the 512 POWs interned at Cabanatuan were Americans; however there were also 21 British, 3 Dutch, and 2 Norwegians.

*Mr. Prince stated that although his company had faced the Japanese prior to the raid on Cabanatuan, none of his C Company had any real combat experience.

*According to Robert Prince, the short notice tasking combined with the need to begin marching in the direction of Cabanatuan restricted planning and rehearsals to approximately six to eight hours. The plans were modified several times as new information became available.

*Pajota’s men were provided bazookas by the Rangers, and unbeknownst to Mucci the guerrillas had acquired four water-cooled .30-caliber machine guns during an earlier raid on the Japanese. Additionally, Pajota had more armed guerrillas in reserve that he “inadvertently” left off his force list.

In an interview, Mr. Prince stated that the previous day the Rangers’ arrival in Balincarin had aroused the dogs and chickens so much that he knew security would be compromised if the animals were left unattended in the area around Cabanatuan.

*Robert Prince stated that the countryside belonged to the Filipinos and at no time did the Rangers feel threatened by the possibility of a Japanese attack. At this point in the war, the Japanese restricted their movements to the highways and did not venture inland to engage the locals.

*The bell had been rung by two navy prisoners who were keeping to naval tradition and sounding bells on the half hour. In this case it was 1830.

*Several accounts of the raid show members of 2d Platoon, Company F, positioned at the south end of the camp, presumably firing into the compound to engage the guard barracks. According to recent interviews this was not the case. No member of 2d Platoon ever proceeded around the backside of the camp. This way no cross-fire situation developed between those inside and those outside the compound.

*Prince did not arrive at Platero with the remaining prisoners until 2140. Mucci, who was trying to keep the column moving toward friendly lines, had already dispatched those who were more mobile.

*The early reports indicated 510 POWs were rescued from Cabanatuan, but the number was later revised to 512, which included Edwin Rose, the British soldier who was asleep during the raid, and one other prisoner.

*Clausewitz in his book On War talks about the disconnection between war theory and real war. “Why is it,” he asks, “that the theoretical concept is not fulfilled in practice? The barrier in question is the vast array of factors, forces and conditions … No logical sequence could progress through their innumerable twists and turns as though it were a simple thread that linked the two deductions.”

*There was a radio relay back to Guimba to call for support. The relay, however, failed to work when needed. The straight road going through the middle of the camp was the path of advance for Company C’s platoons and provided the troops an easy landmark to gauge their positions.

The Albert Canal as seen in 1992. Photo by author

Cupola 24 in 1992. Photo by author

Casemate with three 75mm guns and steel observation cupola on top. Photo by author, 1992

Tunnel leading to cafeteria, infirmary, and bunk room. Photo by author, 1992

Inside turret area of casemate. Photo by author, 1992

Fifty-kilogram shaped charge. Photo by author, 1992

False cupola. Photo by author, 1992

Sergeant Helmut Wenzel (bandaged) and Otto Brautigam. Courtesy Helmut Wenzel

Main entrance #3 in 1992. Note 75mm gun emplacement. Photo by author

Glider men from Witzig’s platoon the day after the assault. Courtesy Imperial War Museum

Hitler, Lieutenant Meibner, Lieutenant Witzig, and Captain Koch. Courtesy Imperial War Museum

Alexandria harbor in 1940. Courtesy Imperial War Museum

Italian frogman wearing the Belloni aqualung and dry suit. Courtesy Royal Submarine Museum

Italian submarine Scire with manned torpedo transport chambers. Courtesy Royal Submarine Museum

Italian “pig” manned torpedo. Courtesy Royal Submarine Museum

Manned torpedo preparing to cut through antitorpedo net. Courtesy Royal Submarine Museum

Painting of manned torpedo attack. Art by A. Rapkias courtesy Imperial War Museum

Damage sustained by HMS Valiant. Courtesy Imperial War Museum

Port Saint-Nazaire, France, 1941. In the foreground is the avant port, which leads into Saint-Nazaire and Penhouet Basins. In the background is the Normandie dry dock. Courtesy Imperial War Museum

Normandie dry dock looking from the southern to the northern caisson. Photo by author, 1992

Submarine pens. Photo by author, 1992

Southern caisson of the Normandie dry dock in 1992. Photo by author

Old Mole in 1992. In March 1942 it had fortified German machine gun positions at the front and rear of the pier. Photo by author

HMS Campbeltown just hours before the ship exploded. Courtesy Imperial War Museum

The bridge leading from the Old Town area to new Saint-Nazaire in 1992. Photo by author

Otto Skorzeny. Courtesy Imperial War Museum

Mussolini with Hitler. Courtesy Imperial War Museum

Hotel Campo Imperatore in 1992. Photo by author

Looking toward L’Aquila Valley from the top of the funicular railway. Photo by author, 1992

DFS 230 glider. Courtesy Imperial War Museum

Germans and Italians wave as Mussolini and Skorzeny depart Gran Sasso. Courtesy Imperial War Museum

Hitler greets Mussolini upon the latter’s return from Rome. Courtesy Imperial War Museum

Skorzeny’s men pose at Gran Sasso after the departure of Mussolini. Courtesy Imperial War Museum

X-craft preparing to dock. Courtesy Imperial War Museum

Captain of X-craft at periscope. Courtesy Imperial War Museum

X-craft control room. Photo by author, 1992

The Tirpitz. Courtesy Imperial War Museum

X-craft side charge. Two tons of amatol. Courtesy Imperial War Museum

Position of Tirpitz, in Kaafjord. Courtesy Imperial War Museum

Lieutenants Godfrey Place, second from right, and Donald Cameron, far right with pipe. Courtesy Imperial War Museum

Ensign Godfrey Place. Courtesy Imperial War Museum

Artist’s rendering of X-craft cutting through antisubmarine net. Courtesy Imperial War Museum

Tirpitz surrounded by antitorpedo net. Courtesy Imperial War Museum

Alamo Scouts. Courtesy U.S. Army

Nipa prisoner hut at Cabanatuan. Courtesy U.S. Army

Carabao cart with liberated prisoners of war 31 January 1945 near Sibul, Luzon. Courtesy U.S. Army

Liberated prisoners of war the morning after the raid on Cabanatuan. Courtesy U.S. Army

Overhead photo of the Son Tay objective area, taken from SR-71. Note location of secondary school, lower left. Courtesy U.S. Army