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 slopes of Mt. Isarog. When the Americans entered Naga, the Japanese had long gone; thus, the 5th Cavalry simply carried out mopping-up operations.
After more than three years of patient and faithful waiting for [Gen. Douglas] McArthur’s promise to return, the war-weary inhabitants of Naga were overwhelmed with joy upon seeing for the first time signs of its fulfillment. In the early morning of Thursday, 21 September 1944,about one hundred US planes dotted the airspace of the Bikol region. Later in the afternoon, they were informed that thoe planes were part of an advance group of the approaching liberation forces and that they dropped bombs in Legaspi that day a s a prelude tomore “softening operations” ahead. As the impressive naval fleet drew near, the frequency and intensity of devastating aerial bombings increased considerably. In October 1944, Legaspi was subjected to regular aerial bombings, almost twice a day. A few days later, these bombing sorties of the U.S. Air Force pushed to the northern portion of the Bikol peninsula. The towns of Iriga and Pili were bombed by more than 30 plaanes on October 21. Three days after, 70 planes swooped upon Pasacao and released their bombs. On the 15th of December, exactly three days from the timethe Japanese had taken over Naga, a large number of planes bombed this municipality. A guerilla reports highlighted the event:
Tuesday, December 19, 1944 – Received a report from a telegram from the Captain of Manangle (barrio of Libmanan) that on the 15th of this month the following towns are heavily bombed: Naga (High School) Ateneo; Calabanga, Magarao and Vito, Camarines Norte was also bombed for three days. Accoridng to the telegram, 4,000 Japs were killed in the town of Naga alone.
The reported Japanese casualty was, of course, exaggerated. Naga was given a respite forabout two weeks until December 30 when the American Air Force resumed its aerial operation. On this day two planes fired at Naga and dropped incendiary bombs setting a large number of houses on fire.
The American forces made their successful beachhead in October and began the bloody ground assaults on Japanese fortified territories. After having secured the major islands in the Visayas, these forces focused their efforts on the island of Masbate. After a short bombing operation undertaken by the LCI (6) of the U.S. Seventh Fleet, the 2nd Battalion of the 108th Infaantry 40th Division retook the island from the Japanese in the first week of April. The assault on Albay and Sorsogon followed immediately.
After a few days of “softening operations” from the Fifth Air Force, the Task Group 78.4 unloaded the assault force from the 158th Regimental Combat Team (RCT). The Americans who entered Sorsogon on April 6 completed their operations on the 16th of the same month. However, while the 2nd Battalion of the 158th RCT were pushing their way to the rugged terrains of Sorsogon, the other bulk of the 158th RCT were deployed in Albay. After almost a month of fierce jungle fighting, Albay finally fell into American hands on the 28th of April. The next day, the main body of the 158th turned their wrath on the Japanese defenses in the northern portion of Bikol and reached Pili on the 2nd [day] of May. It was in Pili where the 158th RCT from the Southern Philippines established contact with the 5th Cavalry which emanated from the Southern Tagalog region. The artillery unit of the 5th Cavalry was positioned at Milaor and Concepcion Grande. This unit pounced on the Japanese stronghold in Buncao which came to be known as the Japanese “Bataan.”
Interestingly, unlike other localities in the region, the honor of liberating Naga belonged to the Bikolano guerilla units. About the first months of 1945, more massive guerilla activities were noticeable in the countryside. Likewise, the different guerilla outfits undertook more vigorous assaults on Japanese garrisons and increased the frequency of their ambuscades on enemy patrols. The first clear sign that the liberation was at the very door of Naga came during the Holy Week of March 1945. Holy Monday was welcomed with heavy bombings and strafing. Similar air strikes were undertaken on Holy Wednesday. The worst came on Good Friday, 31 March 1945. Dr. Hidalgo gave a brief description of the “Bloody Friday” massacre:
The market was filled with people and planes of many categories started not only the routine bombings and strafing, but they used napalm and fire-bombings. About 300 people perished at the two-storey market place. Only the cathedral, capitol, seminary, Penafrancia shrine, and some houses north of Naga escaped destruction so that one may compare Naga tom be little Manila or Warsaw in terms of devastation… The dogs had a holiday eating the roasted flesh of the unfortunate victims, those who had no friends or relatives to dispose of their bodies.
Despite the enormous damage inflicted on Naga, these air strikes had little strategic effect on the Japanese. Hidalgo pointed out that “the Air Force acted on guerilla reports two weeks late so that they did not even kill a single enemy soldier.” Apparently the remaining Japanese soldiers in the city had anticipated such “softening operations” and sought refuge in more secured locations.