The 6th Ranger Battalion and Cabanatuan

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The 6th Ranger Battalion.

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Former Cabanatuan POWs celebrate after successful raid on prison camp.

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For larger-scale special operations, particularly amphibious raids and diversions, Sixth Army, at MacArthur’s direction, formed the 6th Ranger Battalion in January 1944. Elite Marine Raider formations, which conducted raids and spearheaded amphibious landings in the South Pacific, may well have inspired the creation of the unit, but Sixth Army based its organization on that of the Rangers in Europe. To form the unit, Krueger converted the 98th Field Artillery Battalion, a pack outfit which had been idle since its arrival in the theater in January 1943. The artillerymen, restless from their long inactivity, were given the choice of Ranger duty or the replacement depot; most elected to stay, and volunteers from the depots soon filled out the unit. To command the battalion, Krueger chose Lt. Col. Henry A. Mucci, a 33-year-old West Pointer and former provost marshal of Honolulu. Short and stocky, with a trim mustache, piercing eyes, and a personal magnetism undiminished by a receding hairline and professorial pipe, the new commander demonstrated that he could more than keep up with his troops in the rigorous training program that followed.

Although the new Rangers may well have been impatient for action, they still faced over nine months of training before combat. In a sparse camp among the hills near Port Moresby, New Guinea, Mucci whipped his new charges into shape with a series of five-mile runs before breakfast, twenty-mile hikes, and races up a rather aptly named “Misery Knoll.” Games, swimming, mass exercises, and an obstacle course completed the conditioning regimen. The Rangers also received instruction in weapons, communications, patrolling, scouting, and night operations. In June they moved to Finschhafen for unit and amphibious training, stressing night landings and the use of rubber boats. By the time of the battalion’s official activation in September 1944 it was fully ready to participate in MacArthur’s return to the Philippines.

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Following Sixth Army’s unopposed landing on Luzon on 9 January 1945, American forces raided the Japanese prison camp at Cabanatuan. The attack marked the high point of cooperation between Rangers, guerrillas, Alamo Scouts, and conventional American combat units. Ever since Lapham had notified Sixth Army of the camp’s existence soon after the landing on Luzon, Krueger and his staff had been concerned about the situation of the prisoners there. When Sixth Army’s spearheads were within twenty-four miles of the camp, Krueger’s intelligence chief, Col. Horton White, called in Mucci and three scout team leaders and assigned to them the mission of freeing the prisoners. After the scouts went ahead to reconnoiter the position, a reinforced company of 107 Rangers infiltrated Japanese lines near Guimba in the early afternoon of 28 January. Guided by the guerrillas, the Rangers hiked through forests and open grasslands, narrowly avoiding a Japanese tank on the national highway by following a ravine that ran under the road. At Balincarin on the twenty-ninth, 1st Lt. Thomas Rounsaville and 1st Lt. William Nellist of the scouts notified Mucci of heavy traffic around the compound, causing the Ranger chief to postpone the raid until the evening of the thirtieth. While the Rangers rested at the village of Platero, the scouts conducted further reconnaissance from a nipa hut across the road from the camp.

The skillful reconnaissance and careful planning paid off in a swift, well-executed attack. In the early evening of the thirtieth the Rangers began their approach march, crawling across the last mile of open rice fields to take up a position on two sides of the camp. While one platoon, on signal, eliminated the guards in the rear and on one side of the stockade, another broke through the main gate to rake the garrison’s quarters with automatic fire, and a third broke into the prisoners’ section and liberated the astonished captives, most of whom had to be carried to freedom. Within half an hour the Rangers had destroyed the installation, killing about 200 Japanese guards and rescuing over 500 prisoners at the cost of two dead and seven seriously wounded. Covered by the guerrillas, who stopped an enemy relief effort northeast of the camp, the column of Rangers and liberated prisoners finally reached friendly lines by the following morning. The feat was celebrated equally by MacArthur’s soldiers, Allied correspondents, and the American public, for the raid had touched an emotional nerve among Americans concerned about the fate of the defenders of Bataan and Corregidor.

For the rest of the war the 6th Ranger Battalion performed a variety of necessary, if unspectacular, military odd jobs in Luzon. Operating in groups of platoon, company, or task force size, they conducted long-range reconnaissance and a few raids, mopped up bypassed pockets of resistance, and served as a headquarters guard. In their operations behind enemy lines they often received aid from partisans and friendly natives. Near Baguio in March two companies worked with Volckmann’s guerrillas in a reconnaissance of enemy rear areas, and in June Company B and some of Blackburn’s guerrillas, as part of a task force, seized the port of Aparri and a nearby airfield, clearing the way for the landing of the 11th Airborne Division. Under the watchful eye of Krueger and Col. Clyde D. Eddleman, Sixth Army operations chief, the Rangers never performed line infantry missions, but their concept of proper Ranger tasks was so broad as to defy definition.

Following Cabanatuan, the Alamo Scouts continued their collaboration with the guerrillas. In February Lieutenant Nellist’s team landed on the Legaspi peninsula, south of Manila, to obtain information on beaches and enemy movements in the area. Taking command of the guerrillas in the Sorsogon region, Nellist and his scouts organized and equipped the partisans, who harassed the Japanese until the landing of the 158th Regimental Combat Team in early April. Two other scout teams deployed to Tayabas Province in March to establish radio stations and observe the retreat of Japanese units attempting to escape from southern Luzon before the advance of the 1st Cavalry Division cut the island in two. Both teams called in numerous air strikes on the withdrawing enemy and his supply dumps in the region. To the north Lieutenant Rounsaville’s team reconnoitered the Hagan area, called in air strikes on Japanese positions, and helped to complete the roadwatcher network of the partisans after arriving at a guerrilla airfield in mid-April.

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One thought on “The 6th Ranger Battalion and Cabanatuan

  1. Pingback: (Review) Ghost Soldiers: The Forgotten Epic Story of World War II’s Most Dramatic Mission by Hampton Sides | Impressions In Ink

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