World War II was rapidly drawing to a close. However, the threat still loomed — particularly to American POWs in Japanese concentration camps.
In October 1944, Douglas MacArthur fulfilled his long-awaited promise to the Philippines, returning to the island to wage war against invaders.
To the Japanese, such news was distressing. Orders were circulated throughout the islands for all POWs to be executed before they could be rescued by Allied forces.
On December 14, approximately 150 American POWs were sprayed with gasoline before being lit on fire. The same fate awaited other prisoners of war unless something happened quickly.
Time was of the essence.
PRC Eugene Nielsen was a captured POW.
Miraculously, he escaped his camp and regrouped with Allied forces. He then informed them of the imminent danger upon 500 POWs at the nearby camp of Cabanatuan.
The U.S. Army 6th Ranger Battalion and Alamo Scouts were set to the task.
Over the course of three days, a plan hatched. Though the camp at Cabanatuan sat 30 miles behind enemy lines, the Alamo Scouts thoroughly reconnoitered the area.
They turned over the intel to the Rangers, who concocted a plan of action.
Complicating the situation…Cabanatuan was a well-established regular rally point for thousands of Japanese soldiers. The raid to rescue the men needed to be timed perfectly for success.
Intelligence reports indicated that 73 guards would be standing watch at any one time at the facility. A further 150 Japanese troops were bivouacked during this time.
The Rangers knew they needed backup if the plan were to work. So, they enlisted the men of the Philippines Resistance.
On January 30, 1945, they set out.
Two bands of Phillipino forces were used to block off the southwest and northeast approaches to the camp and sever nearby phone lines.
The Rangers and Alamo Scouts were to then enter the camp simultaneously from both the front and rear.
As the Americans reached the concentration camp, they spent the last mile belly crawling through tall grass for over an hour to avoid detection from nearby guard towers.
Opening fire at the same time, the Rangers and Scouts eliminated the Japanese within 30 minutes of the first shot.
Only two Rangers were killed in the fray — one of which died from friendly fire.
With the mission an outstanding success, the next problem was getting the POWs — weak from starvation, slave labor, lack of sleep, disease, and regular beatings — back home to safety.
The Rangers coordinated with locals to use 25 pre-positioned, water buffalo-drawn carts to carry the men home.
Also, the locals supplied the ex-POWs with food and water along the route. By the time the men reached safety, a grand total of 51 carts were used to carry the men.
By the end of the day, 511 POWs were rescued.
If you’re interested in reading more of this amazing raid, may I recommend checking out Ghost Soldiers: The Epic Account of WW2’s Greatest Rescue Mission.
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