Saturday, 20 February 2016

World of Tanks History Section: Battle for the Philippines

The phrase "I'll be back" gained popularity many years before the Terminator movie hit theatres. In 1942, it was spoken by Douglas MacArthur, the commander of the Philippine defenses, after breaking through to Australia on a torpedo boat. He and his forces did not hold back the Japanese and were forced to retreat. On October 20th, 1944, he walked off a landing ship onto the Philippine island of Leyte, shoulder to shoulder with his soldiers. Slowly but surely, island after island, the Japanese invaders were squeezed out of the archipelago.

On January 9th, 1945, American forces landed in Luzon, the main island. The prelude to the battle for the capital, Manila, has begun.

Tanks in Luzon, Japanese View

Yoshiharu Iwanaka's 2nd Tank Division was ready to meed the Americans in the Philippines. It contained about 200 tanks, mostly Type 97 Chi-Ha and Shinhoto Chi-Ha, but also a few light Type 95 Ha-Go and obsolete Type 89s. In October of 1944, the division lost two tank companies (about 30 vehicles) which were sent to Leyte to defend against the American invasion.

The commander of the Japanese defenses of the Philippines, Tomoyuki Yamashita, understood that defending against the American invasion is an unrealistic task. However, he planned on lasting as long as possible to allow the main forces to retreat into the mountains, where dealing with them would be much more difficult.

On January 16th, Yamashita ordered the 7th Tank Regiment to attack the American foothold. The order was supposed to be carried out by a tank company and a motorized infantry battalion. Moving out at night, they were caught in an anti-tank gun ambush and suffered serious losses. In the morning, the Americans attacked themselves, targeting the main forces of the Japanese regiment, quartered in a small city called Urdaneta. In this battle, only one Japanese tank platoon had any luck, taking up favourable positions and knocking out two Shermans before they were knocked out in return. The other Japanese tankers had no such luck; their 47 mm shells could only penetrate a Sherman in the sides and rear.

The remainder of the 7th Regiment (34 tanks out of 60 authorized) retreated to San Manuel. The Americans were not in a hurry to attack them. Instead, they spent five days grinding Japanese defenses into dust with bombs and artillery. The Shermans only attacked on the dawn of January 26th. One by one, they shot up the Japanese tanks from a safe distance. By the evening, the regiment shrank to 7 tanks, the crews of which carried out the Japanese tradition in an unescapable situation and launched a suicide attack.

Unlike them, the commander of the Japanese 10th Tank Regiment had a much more "European" idea, ordering his crews to abandon their tanks and fight their way back to their main force on foot.

The 6th Tank Regiment, located in the southern part of Luzon on the day of the landing, moved out north and quartered themselves in the town of Munoz. The tankers defended against their first attack on January 27th. American infantry fell back once they encountered resistance, but aircraft started their hunt for Japanese tanks. The second attack, this time with the use of Shermans, started on January 30th. As a result, the city was completely surrounded and the Japanese regiment had only 20 tanks left. The order to retreat was only given a week later. At night, the surviving Japanese soldiers fought their way out through a storm of American fire, with only one in five making it out alive.

In this battle, the Japanese faced C Company from the 44th Tank Battalion. The "Tank News" newspaper of the 6th Army called it "the hottest tank on tank battle in the Pacific". American soldier had to not only shoot, but fight hand to hand. In the morning, the Americans discovered 10 knocked out tanks in front of their positions, one light tank, a couple of trucks, an all terrain vehicle, and 245 dead Japanese soldiers. C Company got off with one killed, 11 wounded, and 2 damaged tanks.

The last tank battle in Luzon happened in April of 1945. The attacking Americans were nearing the HQ of the 14th Japanese Army in Baguio. At that point, General Yamashita only had three medium and two light tanks left from the 5th Company of the 10th Regiment. Since they had no chance of dealing with the Americans in open battle, Yamashita ordered a suicide attack, attaching explosives to the front armour of one medium and one light tank. According to Japanese records, they managed to burn up two Shermans in that fight, and crews of knocked out Japanese tanks left their vehicles and rushed at the enemy, swinging their swords.

Battle for Manila, American View

The Americans knew that the Philippines held a large amount (for the Pacific theatre, anyway) of tanks. To be safe, American units were reinforced with not only Sherman battalions, but tank destroyed battalions armed with M10 Wolverines. It's worth noting that the Wolverines were excessive: the weak armour of Japanese tanks could be penetrated by regular Sherman guns without effort.

A Japanese report recorded how an American AP shell fully penetrated a Japanese tank and blew up in the mud 20 meters behind it. American anti-tank gunners noted that Japanese armour can be penetrated by HE shells and that this causes much more destruction inside the tank. The majority of shells used by the anti-tankers were HE, AP shells were only used in the Philippines a few times, when shooting at caves or pillboxes. The losses of the AT crews were negligible, one M10 drowned in a river, one was damaged by a mine, and another few suffered negligible damage as a result of Japanese pole mines.

One of the priority tasks for MacArthur's troops was the taking of Manila. The general expected that this would minimize the casualties among the city's civilian population and American prisoners of war that were held in the capital. In addition, the liberation of Manila was supposed to encourage the Philippinos to more actively resist the Japanese, especially since the previous few years gave them more than enough reasons for hatred.

Interestingly enough, Yamashita wanted to give up Manila as much as MacArthur wanted to take it. He considered the city a trap and its defense a waste of already diminishing resources. He may have had his way, if not for a peculiarity of Japanese warfare. The Navy always looked down on the Army, and the commander of the Manila defenses was Rear Admiral Sanji Iwabuchi, former commander of the battleship Kirishima that was sunk by the Americans in 1942. He decided to restore his honour for his lost ship and die a samurai's death. In order to do this, the city must be defended, and not abandoned on the order of some Army man.

According to some sources, Iwabuchi had about 4000 soldiers that fell behind their land units and 15,000 poorly organized sailors with no land experience at his disposal. The Rear Admiral also had a single tank, an American M3 Stuart that was captured when Manila was taken in January of 1942. These were the forces that Iwabuchi was going to use to defend the city, to the last Japanese, American, or Philippino, whichever came first.

Three tank battalions participated in the battle for Manila at first (711th, 754th, and the aforementioned 44th), as well as a tank destroyer battalion. The "flying column" of tankers from the 44th Battalion managed to carry out MacArthur's orders and penetrate the Japanese defenses, reaching the University of Santo Thomas building by February 3rd, which housed nearly 4000 prisoners of war.

Then the clearing out of the city began. This was done with the forces of the 37th Infantry Division with support of tanks from the 44th and 754th battalions. The history of the latter contains the phrase "This was a new type of fighting for tanks and infantry. Tanks were used as mobile artillery in a very limited space."

Japanese mines made a lot of trouble for the Americans. Despite all of engineers' efforts, tanks blew up on streets that were allegedly cleared of mines.

On February 7th, one of the American tankers wrote in his journal: "Manila is on fire". Houses were burning as well as tanks; the attempt of two platoons from the 44th Battalion to move forward ended tragically. The Japanese attacked the tanks with 20 mm and 125 mm naval guns, as well as grenadiers carrying mines and Molotov cocktails. Three Shermans burned up, two more were damaged. Other American units also reported suicide attacks with Molotov cocktails. Another tank received three hits from a 5 inch gun. The Sherman's armour could not withstand such a caliber and the tank was completely destroyed. 4 tankers died.

To protect the 800,000 civilians in Manila from excess deaths, MacArthur implemented harsh restrictions on American artillery and air support. This did not have the desired effect. By the end of the battle, the city lay in ruins.

On February 13th, 1945, the Americans reached the old city. Its thick stone walls were immune to 75 mm shells. One of the most resilient buildings was the police station: it cost the 754th Battalion several days and three lost tanks. Another memorable structure was the building known in Manila as the "German house". After an extensive shelling, tanks and infantry tried to get close to it, only to have one Sherman be knocked out by a mine and pelted with Molotov cocktails.

The battle for Manila ended on March 3rd, 1945. 1010 American soldiers died in the battle, and almost 5600 were wounded. The Japanese lost about 16,000 men. The Americans ended up re-capturing that one single M3 that Iwabuchi had at his disposal.

Original article available here.

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