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A Picture from History: Raid at Cabanatuan

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.

Douglas MacArthur lands in Leyte
Douglas MacArthur lands in Leyte

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. 

Cabanatuan Prison Hut
Cabanatuan Prison Hut

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. 

Alamo Scouts after Raiding Cabanatuan
Alamo Scouts after Raiding Cabanatuan

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. 

6th Ranger Battalion, 1944
6th Ranger Battalion, 1944

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. 

POWs in Carts
POWs in Carts

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.

Caring for POWs
Caring for POWs

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.

POWs Celebrating
POWs Celebrating

This is a new style of article for Pew Pew Tactical; if you liked it — let us know in the comments! If you didn’t enjoy it…well phooey. To catch up on previous Pictures from History, click on over to our History Category.

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7 Leave a Reply

  • Commenter Avatar
    David

    Another amazing story...thank you!!!

    January 18, 2022 5:29 pm
  • Commenter Avatar
    Jeryl L Wood

    When stationed at Clark AB in the P.I. ('75-'77), I went on a tour of the old POW Camp at Cabanatuan. It was a bit restored from these old photos, but an amazing experience, just the same. Could almost feel the presence of the dear departed souls in a hut used to house the men. They were indeed a noble part of the "Greatest Generation".

    January 17, 2022 3:18 pm
  • Commenter Avatar
    Dave Barrett

    Great story!! Keep them coming.

    January 17, 2022 7:30 am
  • Commenter Avatar
    C. Mimm

    Excellent article about the WWII POW rescue.

    January 17, 2022 7:24 am
  • Commenter Avatar
    Bob Edge

    I sure did enjoy the story. Keep them coming.

    January 16, 2022 8:47 pm
  • Commenter Avatar
    Mike G.

    Keep the stories coming. Very much appreciated.

    January 16, 2022 7:05 pm
  • Commenter Avatar
    Jim

    Love these stories!

    January 16, 2022 5:22 pm
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