Encircling the City

 

The 11th Airborne Division's Situation

When the 11th Airborne Division had halted on 4 February at the Route 1 bridge over the Parañaque River, three miles south of the Manila city limits, the major force opposing it was the Southern Force's 3d Naval Battalion, reinforced by a company of the 1st Naval Battalion and artillery units of varying armament.29 In many ways the 3d Naval Battalion positions were the strongest in the Manila area, having the virtue of being long established. Reinforced concrete pillboxes abounded at street intersections in the suburban area south of the city limits, many of them covered with dirt long enough to have natural camouflage; others were carefully concealed in clumps of trees. Northeast of Parañaque, Nichols Field--used by the Japanese Naval Air Service and defended by part of the 3d Naval Battalion--literally bristled with antiaircraft defenses. Most of the gun positions were as well camouflaged as the generally flat terrain permitted, and the emplacements, useful in themselves as fortifications, were supplemented by scattered bunkers and pillboxes housing machine gunners and supporting riflemen.

As of 4 February the Japanese had few troops at Nielson Field, two miles north-northeast of Nichols Field, but the 4th Naval Battalion and heavy weapons attachments held Fort McKinley, two miles east of Nielson. Other Japanese troops manned a group of antiaircraft gun positions about midway between the Army post and Nichols Field, guns that could and did support the 3d Naval Battalion.

On the morning of 5 February the 11th Airborne Division's 511th Parachute Infantry forced a crossing of the Parañaque and started north along Route 1 over a quarter-mile-wide strip of land lying between the river, on the east, and Manila Bay, on the west.30 During the next two days the regiment fought its way 2,000 yards northward house by house and pillbox by pillbox. Supported only by light artillery--and not much of that--the 511th depended heavily upon flame throwers, demolitions, and 60-mm. mortars in its advance. In the two days it lost 6 men killed and 35 wounded, and killed about 200 Japanese.31

On the 6th the 511th Infantry halted to wait for the 188th Infantry (with the 1st Battalion, 187th Infantry, attached) to come north from Tagaytay Ridge and launch an attack toward Nichols Field, whence Japanese artillery fire had been falling on the 511th's right. The division planned to send the 188th Infantry against the airfield from the south and southeast, while one battalion of the 511th would attack from the west across the Parañaque River. In preparation for the effort, the reinforced 188th Infantry moved up to a line of departure about a mile and a half southeast of Nichols Field under cover of darkness during the night of 6-7 February.

 

The Attack on Nichols Field

The 188th Infantry attack on 7 February was almost completely abortive in the face of concentrated artillery, mortar, and machine gun fire from the Japanese defenses on and around the air field.32 On the west the 511th Infantry managed to get its right across the north-south stretch of the Parañaque to positions near the southwest corner of Nichols Field, but there it stopped. During the next two days the 511th Infantry secured a narrow strip of land between the Parañaque River and the airfield's western runway and overran some defenses at the northwest corner of the field. The 188th Infantry made contact with the 511th at the southwest corner but could gain little ground on the south and southeast. On the 10th, its last day under Eighth Army control, the division consolidated its gains and established a solid line from the northwest corner around to the southwest corner of the field, eliminating the last Japanese resistance on the western side. Meanwhile, elements of the 511th Infantry had continued up Route 1 nearly a mile beyond Nichols Field's northwest corner.

Four days' effort had effected little reduction in the amount of Japanese fire originating from the Nichols Field defenses. Support fires of Mindoro-based A-20's and the division's light artillery (75-mm. pack howitzers and the short 105-mm. howitzers) had not destroyed enough Japanese weapons to permit the infantry to advance without taking unduly heavy casualties. In fact, the volume of fire from Japanese naval guns of various types was still so great that one infantry company commander requested: "Tell Halsey to stop looking for the Jap Fleet. It's dug in on Nichols Field."33 The 11th Airborne obviously needed heavier artillery support.

For some days the division's situation had been a bit anomalous, especially in regard to co-ordination of its artillery with that of XIV Corps to the north. Sixth Army had directed XIV Corps not only to seize Manila but also to drive south to an objective line running from Cavite northeast across the Hagonoy Isthmus to Tagig on Laguna de Bay.34 The 11th Airborne Division had crossed this line as early as 6 February, and every step it took northward toward Manila increased the danger that XIV Corps Artillery might inadvertently shoot it up.

The Sixth and Eighth Armies had both apparently made some effort to have General MacArthur establish a formal boundary south of Manila, but with no success. From the beginning GHQ SWPA had intended that the 11th Airborne Division would ultimately pass to Sixth Army control, and it appears that theater headquarters, anticipating an early contact between the 11th Airborne Division and the XIV Corps, saw no need to establish a formal boundary. Instead, GHQ SWPA only awaited the contact to make sure Sixth Army could exercise effective control when the transfer was made.

General Eichelberger had become increasingly worried as the uncertain situation persisted. GHQ SWPA made no provision for direct communication between Sixth and Eighth Armies until 7 or 8 February, and until that time each Army had learned of the others' progress principally through GHQ SWPA channels.35 When direct communication began, the 11th Airborne Division and the XIV Corps quickly co-ordinated artillery fire plans and established a limit of fire line to demark their support zones about midway between Nichols Field and the Manila city limits. Under the provisions of this plan XIV Corps Artillery fired sixteen 155-mm. and 8-inch howitzer concentrations in support of the airborne division's attack at Nichols Field before the division passed to XIV Corps control about 1300 on 10 February.36

"Welcome to the XIV Corps," Griswold radioed General Swing, simultaneously dashing whatever hopes Swing may have had to continue north into Manila in accordance with Eichelberger's earlier plans. For the time being, Griswold directed Swing, the 11th Airborne Division would continue to exert pressure against the Japanese at Nichols Field but would mount no general assault. Instead, the division would ascertain the extent and nature of the Japanese defenses at and east of the airfield and prepare to secure the Cavite naval base area, which the division had bypassed on its way north from Nasugbu. Further orders would be forthcoming once XIV Corps itself could learn more about the situation south of Manila.37

On 11 February the 511th Infantry attacked north along the bay front in its sector to Libertad Avenue, scarcely a mile short of the city limits, losing its commander, Colonel Haugen, during the day. Griswold then halted the advance lest the 511th cut across the fronts of the 5th and 8th Cavalry Regiments, now heading directly toward the bay from the northeast, and upset artillery support plans.38 Meanwhile, in a series of patrol actions, the 187th Infantry had secured the southeast corner and the southern runway of Nichols Field. Griswold authorized the 11th Airborne Division to mount a concerted attack against the field on the 12th.

The attack was preceded by artillery and mortar concentrations and by an air strike executed by Marine Corps SBD's from the Lingayen Gulf fields, support that succeeded in knocking out many Japanese artillery positions. The 2d Battalion, 187th Infantry, attacked generally east from the northwest corner of the field; the 188th Infantry and the 1st Battalion, 187th Infantry, drove in from the south and southeast. By dusk the two regiments had cleared most of the field and finished mopping up the next day. The field was, however, by no means ready to receive Allied Air Force planes. Runways and taxiways were heavily mined, the runways were pitted by air and artillery bombardments, and the field was still subjected to intermittent artillery and mortar fire from the Fort McKinley area.

With the seizure of Nichols Field, the 11th Airborne Division substantially completed its share in the battle for Manila. Since its landing at Nasugbu the division had suffered over 900 casualties. Of this number the 511th Infantry lost approximately 70 men killed and 240 wounded; the 187th and 188th Infantry Regiments had together lost about 100 men killed and 510 wounded, the vast majority in the action at Nichols Field.39 The division and its air and artillery support had killed perhaps 3,000 Japanese in the metropolitan area, destroying the 3d Naval Battalion and isolating the Abe Battalion. From then on the division's activities in the Manila area would be directed toward securing the Cavite region, destroying the Abe Battalion, and, in co-operation with the 1st Cavalry Division, assuring the severance of the Manila Naval Defense Force's routes of escape and reinforcement by clearing Fort McKinley and environs. For the latter purpose the airborne division would have to maintain close contact with the cavalry, already moving to complete the encirclement of the Japanese defenders in the city.