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The Battle of Mindoro fought between U.S. and Japanesemarker forces at Mindoromarker Island in the northern Philippines from 13 to 16 December 1944, to establish a strong base of operations for the main invasion of Luzonmarker Island, was part of the penultimate campaign for the liberation of the archipelago.

Background

Before the invasion of Luzon was to get underway, General Douglas MacArthur needed a base of operations closer to the northern island than Leytemarker. Mindoromarker became a logical choice for this strategy. Just south of Luzon, and about half the size of the state of New Jerseymarker, the island is covered by mountains, with a few narrow plains along its coast. Almost daily rains and high humidity, caused by clouds moving up from the south trapped by the high peaks made it a breeding ground for malaria and other tropical diseases. Furthermore, Japanese defenses on the island were minimal.

The unsatisfactory condition of airfields recently constructed at Leyte were deemed unreliable, so the potential of more aircraft landing sites at Mindoro to support the Luzon operation appealed more to MacArthur. Taking it, however, proved a daunting task. Amphibious landings on its northeastern part were best but were vulnerable to what was left of Japanese air power on Luzon, so this was ruled out. The town of San Josemarker on its southwest corner, though nearer to Mangarin Baymarker, Mindoro's best deepwater port, was the spot chosen by his planners.

The U.S. Sixth Army under Lieutenant General Walter Krueger was assigned to seize Mindoro. Krueger, in turn, gave the task to Major General Roscoe B. Woodruff's 24th Infantry Division, with the 19th Infantry and the separate 503rd Parachute Regimental Combat Team of Lieutenant Colonel George M. Jones, nicknamed "The Warden" , to spearhead the assault.

The main threat for the amphibious assault vessels and supporting warships came from land-based Japanese kamikaze aircraft. The Japanese had begun the deadly practice as a desperate measure during the final stages of the Leyte campaignmarker and perfected it by December 1944.

On 13 December 1944, two days before the scheduled assault on the island, kamikazes struck at the naval task force ferrying the invading troops. The light cruiser was hit by a kamikaze, killing over 130 men and wounding another 190. Brigadier General William C. Dunkel, the commander of the landing force was among the injured. Other kamikaze attacks damaged two tank landing ships (LSTs, for Landing Ship, Tank) and disabled several other ships.

Earlier, U.S. Army and Navy aviation stepped up an unprecedented campaign to eliminate the kamikaze threat in the first weeks of December, claiming to have destroyed more than 700 Japanese planes in the air and on the ground, but to no avail.

Battle

On 15 December, the invasion of Mindoro began. The clear weather allowed the full use of American air and naval power, including six escort carriers, three battleships, six cruisers and many other support warships against light Japanese resistance. The paratroopers of the 503rd Parachute Regimental Combat Team came ashore in Mangarin Bay with the landing forces, being unable to make the jump because of inadequate airstrip facilities at Leyte. Destroyers provided fire support for the troop landings and anti-aircraft protection for the ships in the transport area. Two LSTs were struck by kamikazes, abandoned and sunk.

In one heroic action, under the command of Commander Walter M. Foster went alongside the burning (which was loaded with aviation fuel and ordnance) to rescue crewmembers. Several explosions aboard LST-738 caused damage to Moale as she pulled away. Some pieces of shrapnel were two feet square and they put four holes in Moale s hull. Gunner's Mate Ed Marsh reported that a one-gallon jar of Vaseline from the LST's cargo splattered on one barrel of his twin 40 mm Bofors AA gun, providing unwelcome lubrication. Moale suffered one casualty and thirteen wounded. In addition, Moale also rescued 88 survivors.

The 1,000 defending Japanese, along with some 200 survivors from ships sunk off Mindoro en route to Leyte were outnumbered and outgunned. Some 300 enemy troops manning an air raid warning station at the island's northern end managed to put up a stiff fight against a company of the 503rd but except for mopping up, the island was secure within 48 hours.

Aftermath

The defending Japanese forces on Mindoro suffered some 200 killed and 375 wounded. The 24th Infantry Division lost 18 men and had 81 wounded. By the end of the first day, Army engineers were at work preparing airfields for the invasion of Luzon. Two were completed in thirteen days. Together, the airfields allowed U.S. aircraft to provide closer direct support for the planned Luzon beachhead, striking kamikaze airfields, before the deadly enemy planes could take off, and enabled interdiction flights on Japanese shipping between northern and southern Luzon and Formosamarker.

See also



References

  • World War II in the Pacific: An Encyclopedia (Military History of the United States) by S. Sandler (2000) Routledge ISBN 0-8153-1883-9


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