Rescue at Cabanatuan

Rescue at Cabanatuan
Dr. Michael J. King

General Background

The rescue of 511 American and Allied prisoners from a Japanese POW compound near Cabanatuan in the Philippines by elements of the 6th Ranger Battalion, reinforced by Alamo Scouts and Filipino guerrillas, was the most complex operation that Rangers conducted during World War II. It was also one of the most successful.

The 6th Ranger Battalion had its roots in the 98th Field Artillery Battalion. The 98th was activated at Ft. Lewis, Washington, in January 1941, and subsequently served in New Guinea. In April 1944, it was at Port Moresby as part of Sixth Army. Unknown to the 98th's men, events had already transpired that would lead to the unit's redesignation and reorganization.

In late 1943, Lieutenant General Walter Krueger, who had recently become commanding general of Sixth Army, created an elite force that he named the Alamo Scouts. The scouts were loosely patterned after the Navy's frogmen and conducted reconnaissance and other special missions behind enemy lines in teams usually composed of one officer and six enlisted men. They were extremely successful and within nine months won nineteen Silver Stars, eighteen Bronze Stars, and four Soldier's Medals without suffering any losses. Krueger was so favorably impressed with the scouts' effectiveness that he decided to create a bigger force to do on a large scale what the scouts had done on a small one. The new unit would be created from the 98th Field Artillery Battalions.

Krueger selected Lieutenant Colonel Henry A. Mucci, an aggressive 1936 West Point graduate, to lead the soon­to­be­formed battalion. Mucci arrived in Port Moresby to assume command of the 98th in April 1944, and on 25 September, the unit was redesignated the 6th Ranger Infantry Battalion. In the interim, Mucci put the men through a strenuous training program very similar to that which Darby's Rangers had undergone. He also encouraged all men who did not want to be Rangers to transfer to other units so the battalion would be manned exclusively by volunteers.

The 6th Ranger Battalion was introduced to combat in the Philippines, where it successfully conducted several important operations. It landed on the islands of Dinagat, Guiuan, and Homonhan on 17 October 1944, three days before the main American invasion, and destroyed radio facilities and other Japanese positions guarding the entrance to Leyte Gulf Some minor security missions followed and on 10 January 1945, the day after Sixth Army landed on Luzon, the Rangers also landed, but only to spend most of the next two weeks as Krueger's headquarters guard.

Initial Japanese resistance on Luzon was relatively weak, and Sixth Army made very good headway during its drive eastward from Lingayen Gulf. Major General Oscar W. Griswold's XIV Corps, which included the 37th and 40th Infantry Divisions and formed Sixth Army's right, drove toward Tarlac, Clark Field, and San Fernando. Major General Innis P. Swift's I Corps, which included the 6th and 43d Infantry Divisions and formed Sixth Army's left, pushed northward into the mountains toward Baguio. After being reinforced by the 25th Infantry Division, I Corps continued to drive eastward through the Cabaruan Hills toward San Jose.

At about daybreak on 26 January, advance reconnaissance units of the 6th Infantry Division occupied Guimba and, within hours, established outposts nine miles farther to the east along the Licab River. They also took La Paz, farther to the south, thus establishing a solid front that was more than eighteen miles wide and had Licab at its center


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