Santo Tomas Raid
of the most awe-inspiring yet historically little remembered missions of World
War II in the Pacific were the four rapid-fire prisoner of war liberation raids
has it that General MacArthur was so impressed by the Cabanatuan raid by
elements the 6th Ranger Battalion – which was still in progress at the time – that
he went immediately to Major General Mudge’s 1st Cavalry Division headquarters in Guimba.
There he ordered the formation of a ‘
oratory attributed to the general during this conference was typically
MacArthur: “Go to Manila! Go over the Japs, go around the Japs, bounce off the Japs, but go to
of this grandiose mission was practicable from where the 1st Cavalry Division sat.
Santo Tomas and
MacArthur decreed the formation of the ‘
Column, carrying only four days’ rations and the absolute minimum in arms,
ammunition and fuel, had to tread carefully for the first few miles because the
Cabanatuan prisoners were still being evacuated across its path.
Once in the clear, however, it fought its way at top speed down Highway
5, slowing for a day of heavy firefights at Cabanatuan
and Gapan. An ambush at a road
intersection during the fight at Gapan cost the life of Lieutenant Colonel Tom Ross, commander
of the third serial. This was
the serial with most of the 44th Tank Battalion assigned to it.
this fierce early fighting the Column sped south, depending totally upon the
Marine flyers for flank security. The
1st Cav moved toward Manila, pausing only to bypass blown bridges and to engage the Japanese in hit-and-run
fighting. It hit a snag however, at
had been set, the fuse was lit, and the Japanese were laying down heavy sniper
fire on the bridge to discourage all efforts to prevent its destruction.
Bypassing this particular bridge was not an option because the gorge was
deep and the river was swift. It was
here that having Pat Sutton along turned out to be a stroke of good fortune.
He, apparently protected by some sort of a providential Star Trek force
field that seemed to repel sniper bullets, ran out on the bridge and cut the
demolition fuse, enabling the Column to cross the river with dry feet.
Lieutenant Sutton also helped in clearing a path through a minefield further south on the
approach to Manila. His next running – with his
brand new Distinguished Service Cross – was for Congress where he won a
the Column crossed the river at Novaliches it moved down Quezon Boulevard
straight toward Santo Tomas Internment Camp and Malacanang
the prison camp, 3700 apprehensive civilian men, women and children were
watching the approach of the tracer-bullet fireworks in the evening sky with a
strange mixture of excitement and dread. After
three years in the “protective custody” of the Japanese Army, they were
excited that SOMETHING was happening – even if they didn’t know what it was
– but mixed in with this excitement was dread of the possibility that the
pyrotechnic display was, in truth, being caused by the bad guys headed their way
with malice in their souls. Rumors
had been rampant for some time that the Japanese intended to kill all of their
on 3 February, 1945, after a couple of wrong turns and some heavy fighting in the
mixed-up outskirts of Manila, the Santo Tomas Column picked up Captain Manuel
Colayco, a Filipino newspaperman and clandestine intelligence officer, who
guided them to the main gate of the prison camp.
At about nine in the evening, after a brief flurry of resistance by the
Japanese guards during which Captain Colayco was fatally wounded by a grenade
explosion, the 44th Tank Battalion’s M-4 Sherman “Battlin Basic”, followed
by the “Georgia Peach” knocked down the gate and the war was nearly over for
was 66 hours into its mission. With time out for the fights at
the Santo Tomas internees, their liberation was followed by a night of
delirious happiness, a standoff and hostage crisis in one of the campus
buildings, and two or three days of murderous artillery dueling.
artillery battle resulted when the few hundred men of the 1st Cav, not having
all that much Manila real estate under their control, had to set up their
artillery inside the Santo Tomas complex and begin making enough noise to
discourage thoughts of counterattack in the minds of Admiral Iwabuchi and his
twenty thousand marines defending Manila. The
good news was that no counterattack materialized; the bad news was that the
presence of American artillery in the front yard invited counterfire from the
Japanese, and the internees were in the middle.
This several day artillery duel caused the only prisoner causalities of
the Santo Tomas liberation – with the possible exception of a couple of
internees who reportedly ate themselves to death in the first day or so.
Seventeen internees and several 1st Cav troopers were killed in this
exchange of fire and many more were injured.
the shooting died down, only a couple of months of stomach aches from the
unaccustomed good food and headaches from the seemingly endless interminable
processing stood between the ex-prisoners and, for many of them, repatriation.
is an excerpt from a paper by Peter R. Wygle entitled Jeb Stuart Would Have
Loved It! that covers the four mentioned POW camps.
Pete Wygle was a civilian internee at the Santo Tomas Internment Camp, a
boy of about ten or 11 years old at the time.
He also authored the book, “Surviving a Japanese POW Camp”, served on
active duty in Korea and later in the Army National Guard retiring as a Colonel.
He was also very active in the American Ex-Prisoners of War Association.
Pete died of cancer in September 2003.