Phl liberation from Japanese; Leyte Landing (Part One)

Editor’s Note: In commemoration of the 71st anniversary of the famous Leyte Landing, we will run a two-part series of the events that transpired more than seven decades ago, leading to the successful liberation of the Philippines from the Japanese occupation, and some quick facts and trivia on the historic Battle of Leyte.

The Battle of Leyte Gulf is considered as the world’s greatest battle in naval history, in the Pacific campaign during World War II. It was the amphibious invasion in the Gulf of Leyte, where American forces and Filipino guerrillas under the command of General Douglas MacArthur gallantly fought against the Imperial Japanese Army led by General Tomoyuki Yamashita, from 17 October to 26 December 1944. The operation, code named ‘King Two,’ launched the Philippines campaign of 1944–1945 for the recapture and liberation of the entire Philippine archipelago, and put to end the almost three years of Japanese occupation.

The massive sequence of battles called the Battle of Leyte Gulf, started on October 23 and ended on October 26, as the Japanese Army miscalculated the strength of the US naval and air forces, and the Filipino guerillas, who fought side by side. The Japanese tried hard to repel the invasion, but failed.

Three days before that, on October 20, 1944, General Douglas MacArthur — who led the largest US fleet of transport and warships, the U.S. Sixth Army, supported by naval and air bombardment — accompanied by Commonwealth President Sergio Osmeña and Gen. Carlos P. Romulo, landed on Palo, Leyte, to reclaim the Philippines from the Japanese.

Gen. MacArthur had made true his famous vow "I shall return." He escaped from Corregidor on March 11, 1942 for Australia, together with his wife and four-year-old son, and others on orders of President Franklin D. Roosevelt to avoid being overrun by Japanese forces.

"I shall return" was the last phrase of his statement before reporters then, saying:

"The President of the United States ordered me to break through the Japanese lines and proceed from Corregidor to Australia for the purpose, as I understand it, of organizing the American offensive against Japan, a primary objective of which is the relief of the Philippines. I came through and I shall return."

With his feet finally back on Philippine soil, and his pledge at last being fulfilled, MacArthur spoke with great emotion just moments after he waded ashore:

"I have returned. By the grace of Almighty God, our forces stand again on Philippine soil -- soil consecrated in the blood of our two peoples. We have come, dedicated and committed, to the task of destroying every vestige of enemy control over your daily lives, and of restoring, upon a foundation of indestructible strength, the liberties of your people.

"At my side is your President, Sergio Osmeña, worthy successor of that great patriot, Manuel Quezon, with members of his cabinet. The seat of your government is now therefore firmly re- established on Philippine soil.

"The hour of your redemption is here. Your patriots have demonstrated an unswerving and resolute devotion to the principles of freedom that challenges the best that is written on the pages of human history. I now call upon your supreme effort that the enemy may know from the temper of an aroused and outraged people within that he has a force there to contend with no less violent than is the force committed from without.

"Rally to me. Let the indomitable spirit of Bataan and Corregidor lead on. As the lines of battle roll forward to bring you within the zone of operations, rise and strike. Strike at every favorable opportunity. For your homes and hearths, strike! For future generations of your sons and daughters, strike! In the name of your sacred dead, strike! Let no heart be faint. Let every arm be steeled. The guidance of divine God points the way. Follow in His Name to the Holy Grail of righteous victory!"

In subsequent months, through the early months of 1945, the US military forces have made respective landings in Mindoro, Batangas and in Lingayen, Pangasinan.

As the Americans came through to liberate parts of Luzon and the Visayas, thousands of Filipino guerrillas have provided valuable support in maintaining public order and in keeping the roads and highways free of congestion.

Meanwhile, in Leyte, after the American beachheads were established, the Leyte guerrilla groups were attached directly to the Sixth Army corps and divisions — to assist in scouting, intelligence, and combat operations. With the initial US Sixth Army landings on the beaches in Tacloban and Dulag, Colonel Ruperto Kangleon's units went into action. They dynamited key bridges to block Japanese reinforcements toward the target area, harassed Japanese enemy patrols, and sabotaged Japanese supply and ammunition depots. Information on enemy troop movements and dispositions sent from guerrilla outposts to Kangleon's headquarters was dispatched immediately to the US Sixth Army.

During torrential rains and over difficult terrain, the US Army advanced across Leyte and onto Samar. On December 7, 1944, US Army units made another amphibious landing in Ormoc Bay and, after a major land and air battle, the landing force cut off all Japanese ability to reinforce and resupply their troops in Leyte. Although fierce fighting continued in Leyte for months, the US Army was always in control.

The campaign for Leyte proved the first and most decisive operation in the American re-conquest of the Philippines. Japanese losses in the campaign were heavy, with the army losing four divisions and several separate combat units, while the navy lost 26 major warships and 46 large transports and hundreds of merchantmen. The struggle also reduced Japanese land-based air capability in the Philippines by more than 50%. Some 250,000 troops still remained in Luzon, but the loss of air and naval support in Leyte narrowed Gen. Yamashita's options that he had to fight a passive defense of Luzon, the largest and most important island in the Philippines.

In effect, once the decisive battle of Leyte was lost, the Japanese gave up hope of retaining the Philippines, conceding to the Allies a critical bastion from which Japan could be easily cut off from outside sources, and from which the final assaults on the Japanese home islands could be launched.

(To be continued)

Sources:
1. MacArthur's Speeches, People and Events, American Experience, pbs.org
2. The Kahimyang Project, http://kahimyang.info/

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