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On January 30, 1945, members of the U.S. Military special forces and Filipino guerrilla warriors pulled off the most stunning and successful prison camp bust in recorded history. These brave soldiers rescued over 500 POWs and dealt a heavy blow to the Japanese army left in the Philippines. If that weren’t enough, they did it with only two casualties!
The soldiers involved in the Cabanatuan operation came from several separate locations and groups.
The first group was the Alamo Scouts. This was a group of highly trained, highly capable special forces, who were expert at reconnaissance and scouting work. At this point in the war, the Alamo Scouts had an impressive record of tough assignments that they had successfully accomplished – and they had never lost a man. There were 13 Alamo Scouts involved in the operation.
The second group of soldiers involved in the Cabanatuan raid were U.S. Army Rangers. The Rangers were a newly created group of special forces, created by Gen. Walter Krueger for behind lines operations, hit and run operations, and pretty much any operation that required a larger force of special ops soldiers. The Rangers were the bulk of the U.S. forces.
The third group of soldiers that participated in the raid were Filipino guerrillas, mainly under the command of Juan Capt. Pajota. The Filipino guerrillas had been fighting a highly effective under cover war against the Japanese for years, but now they came out from cover to help the invading Americans retake the islands. Hundreds of these guerrillas participated in this operation.
The Alamo Scouts went in first, and spent hours and hours night and day scouting out the area. When the Rangers and guerrillas arrived, the news was not good – a large body of Japanese soldiers were traveling along the highway right next to the POW camp. Col. Mucci, the brilliant commander of the Rangers, postponed the raid until the following day. The soldiers retreated into the local village, where they were greeted with joy by the Filipinos.
The next day, all was ready for the attack. The soldiers waited until evening, at which time they crept up to right outside the walls of the prison compound. At 1945, or 7:45 PM, the Rangers and Alamo scouts opened up on the camp with all of the small arms they had – rifles, carbines, hand grenades, Thompson sub-machine guns, and Browning Automatic Rifles. A few seconds later, they charged into the camp and a bazooka gunner destroyed the tanks and trucks in the camp.
In less than a minute, the Japanese resistance was effectively destroyed. The only serious casualties were one man dead and another mortally wounded. The Rangers now began to evacuate the POWS, who were generally confused and surprised by their sudden turn of events.
While the Rangers and Alamo Scouts were thus engaged, the Filipino guerrillas were far from idle. They had set up a road block at the bridge just a little ways up the main road from the camp. As soon as the Rangers attacked the camp, the guerrillas blew up the bridge over the river and began firing on the battalion of Japanese soldiers on the other side of the river.
The guerrillas attack was highly effective – they had setup their machine guns, soldiers, and bazookas to give them a powerful interlocking field of fire over the river. Wave after wave of Japanese soldiers charged, only to be mowed down by the guns of the Filipinos. When was all said and done, the guerrillas had killed or wounded somewhere between 500 and 1,000 Japanese soldiers, without losing a single man themselves!
After they finished destroying the Japanese unit, the guerrillas fell back and provided a cover for the retreating group of Rangers, POWs, and Alamo Scouts. The entire company reached the advancing 6th Army without mishap, ending what remains to this day the most successful prison camp break in history.