By Juan Escandor Jr.
NAGA CITY---Japanese forces in Bicol, like the domino, began to fall when the American forces landed on the shores of Legazpi City which reinforced the relentless resistance of Bicolano guerillas, 71 years ago on April Fools, according to a Bicol historian in a lecture conducted in commemoration of the liberation of this city in 1945.
“Gen. Walter Krueger, the commander of the Sixth United States Army in the Southwest Pacific Area, finally set the Legazpi assault on the first day of April and assigned the 158th Regimental Combat team under Brigadier General Hanford McNider,” according to Prof. Danilo Gerona, PhD in Philippine Studies (UP) and author of several books on Bicol history.
Gen. Douglas McArthur, commander of the US Army Forces in the Far East, had landed in Leyte in October 1944, fulfilling his promise of “I Shall Return” to the Filipinos, Gerona said in the lecture last week.
Titled “Kabikolan at War: A Social History of World War II”, the lecture sponsored by socio-cultural group Sumaro Bikolnon Inc. in commemoration of the 71st Liberation of Naga City, Gerona weaved his tale of the bloody period of the war from manuscripts he obtained from various sources and military reports and chronicles he came upon at the MacArthur library.
He said the liberation forces moved through San Bernardino Strait into Albay gulf on April 1st without strong opposition from the enemy except for a few rounds of artillery fire which were quickly put out of action by the destroyer. “The forces hit the beach at about 10:00 a.m. and secured the whole Legazpi area at about 1:00 p.m. without encountering any Japanese [soldier].”
Gerona said from April until May the American forces, together with Filipino troops, moved north from Albay to the two Camarines provinces, crushing down enemy fortifications and running after the remaining Japanese forces dispersed in the forested areas in Bicol.
“But before the combined forces of American soldiers and guerillas reached Naga City (still the capital town of Camarines Sur), it was already liberated on 9 April 1945 by guerillas in the province who had overcome the Japanese forces with fierce fight,” he said.
“The battle to liberate Naga took three days from April 9 until April 12 when the Japanese finally withdrew from Naga and sought refuge in the mountains of Isarog. When the Americans arrived, Naga was already cleared of enemies,” Gerona said.
Gerona’s narrative on Naga’s liberation was corroborated by Naga’s historical writer Jose Barrameda in his book that the National Historical Institute published in 2007.
Barrameda expounded that the total victory against the Japanese forces on April 13 happened after engaging the charging guerillas in on-and-off skirmishes and street battles until they were driven out of the city.
“(A)s of the morning of 13 April 1945, at 9 o’clock in the morning, the liberation of Naga was an accomplished fact. It was fittingly celebrated with a downtown parade that same day,” wrote Barrameda in his book “In the Crucible of an Asymmetrical War In Camarines Sur 1942-1945.
Gerona said that when the war was about to end in the first quarter of 1945, the Japanese atrocities worsened against the civilians, including babies, who were bayoneted by Japanese soldiers in retaliation to their continuing defeat against the guerillas.
But Gerona said the “softening operations” of the American Air Force in the late 1944 has left wide destruction in several places in Bicol. Buildings and private residences were hit by American bombs in the cities of Naga and Legazpi and other towns in Albay and Camarines Sur. He explained that ‘softening operations’ refer to offensives to decimate and weaken the enemy forces before American landing.
“Evidently, the American pilots were misinformed about when to drop the incendiary bombs on Naga City since at the time of the bombing, people were already returning to their respective houses. In the two-floor building owned by the municipality of Naga, there were shops and there were people crowding the lower ground of the building when the Americans started dropping the bombs,” wrote Luis F. General, 1893-1970, prominent lawyer in Naga City, in his autobiography Confidencias Intimas, published by the Ateneo De Naga University Press in 2016.
Gerona said about 300 people died in the bombing of the building owned by municipality of Naga while the towns of Guinobatan and Malilipot in Albay and Pasacao, Libmanan and Pili in Camarines Sur were also bombed by the American Air Force.
“Starting October 11, 1944 it was reported that Legazpi was beginning to be subjected to aerial bombing twice a day. A few days after, the bombing pushed through the northern portion of the Bikol peninsula, Pili and Iriga were bombed by 31 planes on October 21. Three days after, at about noontime, 70 planes dropped bombs on Pasacao,” he said.
Gerona concluded that Bicol stood to be a major defense of Japanese invaders from American forces with 10,000 Japanese soldiers constructing tunnel networks and trenches in Pili town in Camarines Sur alone.
For the American forces, Albay was a major strategic target for seaborne attacks in their plan for the liberation of Bicolandia, he said. He added that Legazpi has good landing sites, protected anchorages and good land communications, he said.
He said by the month of May 1945, all the six Bicol provinces were finally liberated from the Japanese forces and the Bicolanos started to pick up the pieces of what were left of their lives devastated by three years of war.