Operations North of the Pasig


Clearing the City North of the River

Plans for securing the water and electric installations were far from the minds of the men of the 2d Squadron, 8th Cavalry, as they moved into Manila on the evening of 3 February.4 Their immediate mission was to free the civilian internees at Santo Tomas University; further planning would have to wait until the cavalrymen could ascertain what the morrow would bring.



Upon their arrival at Santo Tomas, the advance elements of the 8th Cavalry,5 a medium of the 44th Tank Battalion serving as a battering ram, broke through the gates of the campus wall. Inside, the Japanese Army guards--most of them Formosans--put up little fight and within a few minutes some 3,500 internees were liberated amid scenes of pathos and joy none of the participating American troops will ever forget. But in another building away from the internees' main quarters some sixty Japanese under Lt. Col. Toshio Hayashi, the camp commander, held as hostages another 275 internees, mostly women and children. Hayashi demanded a guarantee for safe conduct from the ground for himself and his men before he would release the internees. General Chase, who had come into the university campus about an hour after the 8th Cavalry entered, had to accept the Japanese conditions.6

While the release of the internees was in progress, elements of the 8th Cavalry had received a bitter introduction to city fighting. Troop G had continued southward from Santo Tomas toward the Pasig River and, after an uneventful advance of about six blocks, came upon the intersection of Quezon Boulevard--its route of advance--and Azcarraga Street, running east and west. The great stone bulk of Old Bilibid Prison loomed up on the right; on the left rose the modern, three-story concrete buildings of Far Eastern University. The prison seemed deserted, but as the troopers came on down Quezon they were subjected to a veritable hail of machine gun and rifle fire from the university buildings and a few rounds of 47-mm. gun fire from an emplacement at the northeast corner of the intersection.

When drivers tried to turn vehicles around to beat a hasty retreat, other groups of the regiment began jamming Quezon Boulevard to the rear. Chaos was narrowly averted but the entire column, again guided by guerrillas, got safely back to Santo Tomas where, by 2330, the squadron (less Troop F) and the 2d Squadron, 5th Cavalry, had assembled. Troop F, 8th Cavalry, had moved along side streets and secured Malacaņan Palace, on the Pasig a mile southeast of the university.

The next morning General Chase learned that the Japanese had knocked out the Novaliches bridge, cutting his line of communications and delaying the arrival of reinforcements for some twenty-four hours. The force he had under his control was too small to attempt much more than local patrolling, for he had, as yet, no definite information about Japanese defenses and none about the progress of the 37th Division. His situation was rather precarious for these twenty-four hours. Had Colonel Noguchi's Northern Force counterattacked, Chase would have had to withstand a siege at Santo Tomas or abandon the internees in order to fight his way out of an encirclement. Either course would probably have led to heavy losses. But Noguchi, not expecting the Americans to arrive for another two weeks, was unprepared. He found it impossible to carry out all his assigned missions and he was unable to withdraw all his forces in accordance with plans, let alone mount any strong counterattacks.

Late on the afternoon of 4 February General Mudge directed General Chase to seize Quezon Bridge, located at the foot of Quezon Boulevard a mile south of Santo Tomas. According to the spotty information then available, this was the only crossing over the Pasig that the Japanese had not yet destroyed. Chase assigned the task to part of the 2d Squadron, 5th Cavalry. The Japanese opposed the squadron with fire from Far Eastern University again and stopped the American column at a formidable roadblock on Quezon Boulevard just south of Azcarraga Street. Here the Japanese had laid a small mine field in the pavement and had driven rows of steel rails into the roadbed. A line of truck bodies, wired together, also blocked passage. The roadblock contained four machine gun positions, and other machine guns covered it from emplacements on the grounds of Far Eastern University and from another intersection a block to the east. The 5th Cavalry's group, like the force from the 8th Cavalry the night before, had to withdraw under fire. The cavalrymen were unable to seize their objective and, during the attempt, Noguchi's troops blew the bridge.7

Note roadblock on Quezon Boulevard, left center.

By the time the 5th Cavalry squadron had returned to Santo Tomas, the situation within Manila had begun to look brighter, for the 37th Division's van units had entered the city and established contact with the cavalrymen at the university.8 Marching into Manila, the 148th Infantry advanced southward through the Tondo and Santa Cruz Districts, west of Santo Tomas.9 About 2000 on the 4th the 2d Battalion reached the northwest corner of Old Bilibid Prison, only three short blocks from the 5th Cavalry, which was just beginning its fight near the Quezon-Azcarraga intersection off the prison's southeastern corner. Busy with their fights at Far Eastern University, neither the 2d Squadron, 5th Cavalry, nor the 2d Squadron, 8th Cavalry, had attempted to get into the prison, but the 2d Battalion, 148th Infantry, broke in and discovered approximately 800 Allied and American prisoners of war and 530 civilian internees inside. Since there was no better place for them to go at the time both prisoners and internees remained in the prison, happy enough for the moment that they were in American hands once again.10 Fighting raged around Bilibid through much of the night, but the 2d Battalion, 148th Infantry, and the 2d Squadron, 5th Cavalry, did not establish contact with each other. At least the infantry knew the cavalry was in the vicinity--for the rest, the danger of shooting friendly troops kept both units channeled along single routes of advance during the night.

On 5 February, as the remainder of the 37th Division began moving rapidly into Manila, General Griswold more equitably divided the northern part of the city, giving the western half to the 37th Division and the eastern to the 1st Cavalry Division.11 That morning the 145th Infantry, 37th Division, began clearing the densely populated Tondo District along the bay front.12 By the afternoon of 6 February the battalion assigned to this task had reduced Japanese resistance to a pocket of some 200 men (and at least one 75-mm. artillery piece) holed up in the extreme northwestern corner of the district. The 145th's unit launched a final assault against the pocket on 8 February, an assault that cost the life of the battalion commander. Lt. Col. George T. Coleman. By the time the American battalion had finished mopping up on the 9th, it had suffered more casualties, and 37th Division artillery and the M7's of Cannon Company, 145th Infantry, had wrought considerable destruction to the lower class residential district and to some industrial buildings and stores.13

Further south other elements of the 145th Infantry, passing through Tondo District, reached San Nicolas and Binondo Districts along the western stretches of the Pasig River's north bank by evening on 5 February. To the left (east) the 148th Infantry had likewise continued toward the river, cleaning out machine gun nests and a few riflemen from business buildings in the eastern section of Binondo District and on eastward into Santa Cruz District.14 The regiment hoped to seize the two westernmost vehicular bridges over the Pasig--Jones and Santa Cruz Bridges--and by 1600 on the 5th was within 200 yards of them. Then, as forward patrols reported that the bridges had just been blown, a general conflagration began to drive all troops of both the 145th and the 148th Infantry Regiments back from the river.

Throughout the 5th the 37th Division's men had heard and observed Japanese demolitions in the area along and just north of the Pasig in the Binondo and San Nicolas Districts as well as in the North Port Area, on the 145th's right front. The Northern Force was firing and blowing up military stores and installations all through the area and, as these tasks were completed, was withdrawing south across the river. Insofar as XIV Corps observers could ascertain, there was no wanton destruction, and in all probability the fires resulting from the demolitions would have been confined to the North Port Area and the river banks had not an unseasonable change in the wind about 2030 driven the flames north and west.15 The 37th Division, fearing that the flames would spread into residential districts, gathered all available demolitions and started destroying frame buildings in the path of the fire. The extent of these demolitions cannot be ascertained--although it is known that the work of destruction continued for nearly twenty-four hours--and is an academic point at best since the demolitions proved largely ineffectual in stopping the spread of the flames. The conflagration ran north from the river to Azcarraga Street and across that thoroughfare into the North Port Area and Tondo District. The flames were finally brought under control late on 6 February along the general line of Azcarraga Street, but only after the wind again changed direction.

While the 37th Division was fighting the fires and clearing its sector of the city north of the river, additional elements of the 1st Cavalry Division had been coming into the metropolitan area. From 5 through 7 February the 5th and 8th Cavalry Regiments, their provisional task force organizations now dissolved, cleaned out the eastern section of the city north of the Pasig against very weak opposition. On the 7th the 37th Division took over this eastern portion of the city proper,16 while the cavalrymen continued across the city limits to clear the suburbs east to the San Juan River, which, flowing generally south, joined the Pasig at the eastern corner of Manila. The cavalrymen encountered little opposition in the area as far as the San Juan, and had cleaned out the suburbs by evening on the 7th.