Battle of Bessang Pass
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|Battle of Bessang Pass|
| United States
|| Empire of Japan
|Commanders and leaders|
| Capt. Walter Cushing
Capt. William Peryam
Lt. Col. Manuel Enriquez
Maj. George Barnett
|15th Infantry Regiment, Philippine Commonwealth Army (USAFIP-NL)
66th Infantry Regiment, Philippine Commonwealth Army (USAFIP-NL)
121st Infantry Regiment, Philippine Commonwealth Army (USAFIP-NL)
~ 94,800 Filipino troops
|Japanese 14th Area Army
~ 8,700 Japanese troops
|Casualties and losses|
Bessang Pass was the last stronghold of the Japanese imperial forces under Gen. Tomoyuki Yamashita, known as the “Tiger of Malaya” and conqueror of Singapore. It was part of the triangular defense of General Yamashita in the north, namely the Balete Pass, Villaverde Trail and Bessang Pass, guarding the Ifugao-Benguet-Vizcaya borders.
Its fall on the hands of the United States Armed Forces in the Philippines (USAFP-NL) on June 14, 1945 paved the way to the entrapment of Yamashita’s forces in the Cordillera until the general’s surrender in September 1945.
The USAFP-NL was composed of five infantry regiments and a field artillery battalion of 20,000 officers who were all Filipinos except for five American officers. The latter included Col. Russell Volckman, its commanding officer. The troops bore the brunt of the fighting, sustaining over 2,000 casualties, including 600 men killed.
The units of the USAFP-NL that fought at the battle were the 121st, 15th, 66th and the Provisional Infantry Regiments. During the three long years of Japanese occupation, almost all of the forces of this command served as guerillas. Most of them also fought in Bataan and Corregidor. For them, this battle was a payback for all the dishonor they suffered during the surrender of the Philippines and for the atrocities the Japanese inflicted on them.
They faced the crack 73rd Tora (Tiger) Division, the 79th Brigade, and the 357th Battalion led by Lt. General Yoshibaru Osaki. The Japanese forces fortified the hills and the ridges to stop any American offensive on their way to Baguio City and the Cordillera stronghold of Yamashita.
The Japanese forces withdrew from Manila and other areas of Luzon after sacking and destroying Manila with a pogrom of atrocities. The stay-behind-force of Japanese marines and Korean conscripts massacred more than 300,000 residents of south Manila and destroyed the city. Manila became the most devastated city after Warsaw, gaining the moniker “The Warsaw of Asia.”
The initial fighting started in February 1945 around the town of Cervantes. At the same time, the 121st Infantry was driving out the Japanese in Tagudin, Ilocos Sur on the western lowlands of the Pass, the other guerilla forces were clearing Ilocos Norte, the rest of Ilocos and Abra around the Tangadan area. By March, the harder part of the battle commenced.
After liberating San Fernando, La Union, on March 29, the USAFP-NL forces started the all-out assault for Bessang Pass. Their advance was steady, gradual and costly. Without air support at first, they attacked persistently armed only with rifles, submachine guns and their sheer guts until the first week of April when air and artillery support became available.
On June 14, the units of 121st launched a final assault on Buccual Ridge and planted a symbolic flag made from a dirty green face towel.
The battle was the crowning glory of the battle exploits of the all-Filipino USAFP-NL forces. The battle lasted four months, with protracted, fierce, relentless and bloody hand to hand combat with a suicidal enemy.