Before World War II, the Philippines were still a dependency of the United States, a vestige of its war with Spain. General MacArthur left with a promise to return, which he fulfilled.
How the Philippines Became a Refuge for Jews during the Holocaust
During the Holocaust, an unlikely country became a sanctuary for the persecuted Jews — the Philippines. While other countries closed their doors to refugees of Jewish descent, Philippines opened its own to an estimated number of 1,200 European Jews. However, while these Jews were able to escape the Holocaust, their stay in the Philippines afforded another trial for them — the invasion of the Japanese forces.
Between the years 1937 and 1941, about 1,200 European Jews escaped to the Philippines in a bid to be free from the fear brought about by the iron grip of the Nazis. However, as one surviving Jewish refugee in the Philippines puts it, they ran away from a heated pan to be placed right under fire. The horrors of war hounded them, this time in face of the Japanese forces who invaded and occupied the country for over two years.
Philippines: How It All Began
It was in the late 1930s when the first president of the Philippine Commonwealth, Manual L. Quezon, along with other American dignitaries which included future U.S. President Dwight D. Eisenhower and the Jewish-American brothers, the Freiders, became increasingly worried with the plight of the Jews residing in Europe.
Ursula Miodowski [the five-year-old child with her mother] and Lottie Cassel, Jewish refugees in the Philippines during the Holocaust. As Russ Hodge, who co-produced the documentary Rescue in the Philippines, pointed out, the men had a shared level of understanding about what was happening in the said continent. And so, over a game of poker, the group conceived a plan that included bringing Jews into the Philippines.
As the Philippine Commonwealth was under the supervision of the United States during those times, the country couldn’t welcome people who were in need of public assistance. So, the refuge committee of the country sought the professionals who were highly skilled like the doctors, accountants and the mechanics.
When 1938 rolled in, a flow of Jewish refugees arrived in the Philippines. There were doctors, chemists, a rabbi and even a conductor within the group. The conductor, Herbert Zipper, was a survivor of the Dachau concentration camp. Later on, he founded the Manila Symphony Orchestra which is known as the first symphony orchestra organized throughout Asia.
Philippine Commonwealth President Manuel L. Quezon initially planned for 10,000 Jews to settle in Mindanao in the southern part of the Philippines. However, the coming of the Japanese forces in the country’s shores thwarted that.
Philippines: The Jews’ Tropical Home
Lotte Cassel [now Hershfield] and her family were among the Jewish refugees who settled in the Philippines.
At the very young age of seven, she learned to avoid the benches which bore the sign No dogs or Jews allowed. She wasn’t allowed to go to a public school and lived in fear after the Nazis, along with their German shepherds, raided her home and burned all their books.
Lottie, now 84, said that even as a little child, she was so aware that the Jews like her weren’t welcome even in their very own homes.
Because of fear, her parents decided to move the whole family from Breslau, Germany -which was their hometown – to a new home, a strange place called the Philippines.
Like the Cassels, many Jews who settled in the tropical country came from Austria and Germany where antisemitism was intensifying. As they were not able to immigrate to countries like the United States or the United Kingdom, many of them fled to Sousa, Dominican Republic, Shanghai, China and Manila, the capital city of the Philippines.
Settling in the Philippines was a shock for many of these Jewish refugees. As Lottie pointed out, they did not know the language and most have not seen non-white individuals before. Added to that was the country’s climate which was far-fetched from what they had back in Austria and Germany.
Being in the tropics, the humidity was very thick and the heat was stifling. Mosquitoes also thrived everywhere.
But the younger Jewish refugees adapted easily to their new environment. Lottie recounted how she befriended their local neighbors, ate tropical fruits like guava and papaya just like her Filipino friends, swam in the bay, learned some Filipino songs and ran around in summer clothes and sandals on her feet.
She admitted that though she did not have difficulty adapting to her new surrounding, her parents had a harder time doing so. She said that they did not learn the language throughout their stay in the country and mostly kept to themselves and their group composed of other Jewish immigrants.
Furthermore, many of the refugees lived in crowded housing communities where fights were a common occurrence. As Noel Izon, the person who helmed the documentary film An Open Door: Jewish Rescue in the Philippines, stated, the life the immigrants lived in the Philippines was a far cry from what they were used to back in Europe. However, their stay within the country afforded them freedom — freedom to practice their own religion, freedom to blend in with the others and freedom to hold businesses.
Nevertheless, those idyllic days under the tropical sun of the Philippines came to a sudden end when the Japanese army brought Second World War into the shores of the country.
Philippines: The Coming of the Japs
Japanese forces started occupying the country in 1941. In a way, the Jewish refugees in the country were treated better compared to the Filipinos. Ironically, what protected them from the wrath of the Japanese army were their German passports etched with the Nazis’ swastika. Because of this, the Jews were seen as allies.
According to Ursula Miodowski, who was seven years old at the time of the Japanese occupation of the Philippines, it was only later that she realized how their German passports saved them from being interred into the Japanese army’s prison camps. In contrast, the British and the Americans were imprisoned. Filipino and American soldiers were also forced to go through the infamous 65-mile Bataan Death March which killed about 10,000 prisoners.
Not only did the Japanese army amassed crops for its own, officers also confiscated some of the homes of the residents. Soon, the local economy shrunk and food supplies became scarce. To top that, the Japanese soldiers were very brutal and hard to the people, said the surviving Jewish refugees.
When the Allies – particularly the Americans – began taking the country back from its invaders, the war between the two parties grew intense. Bombs fell from the sky everyday that families had to hide in bomb shelters without knowing where the next bomb would fall. Jewish refugee Frank Ephraim spent days shaking with a mattress over his head and crouching in a ditch to hide himself. One of Lottie’s friends died after accidentally stepping on a land mine.
When the Japs realized they were losing their hold on Manila, they launched a brutal campaign against the city and its inhabitants. Torture, rapes, bayoneting and even the beheading of civilians became widely known. These were the reasons behind Japanese General Tomoyuki Yamashita’s execution later on he wasn’t able to control his troops.
Jewish refugee Ursula said that the Japs were hell-bent in pulverizing Manila, the capital city of the Philippines. They burned and killed for that. But then, even through these horrors, Ursula stated that living in Manila was more preferable than staying in Europe and being interred into one of the Nazis’ concentration camps.
Aftermath of the Battle of Manila
And though Lottie Cassel faced both fronts of the war throughout WWII – the Nazis in Europe and the Japanese forces in the Philippines – she still expressed her gratefulness to the country for opening its doors to them immigrants. According to her, if not for the refuge offered by the country, they would have ended in some Nazi camp’s crematorium.
Philippines: The Honor
A monument was unveiled in honor of the Philippines at the Holocaust Memorial Park in Rishon Lezion, Israel way back in 2009. The said commemorative edifice, shaped like three open doors, was made out of the gratitude Israel feels for the help the country extended to the Jews during the Holocaust.
Many of the descendants of the Jewish immigrants in the Philippines have not forgotten how the place became their ancestors’ haven during the bloody war. As a matter of fact, they extended help when the country was hit by super typhoon Haiyan in November of 2013.
For Danny Pins, son of a Jewish refugee in the Philippines, it was like paying a debt to the country which, at a dire time of need, helped his family.
Bataan Death March: April 1942
The surrendered Filipinos and Americans soon were rounded up by the Japanese and forced to march some 65 miles from Mariveles, on the southern end of the Bataan Peninsula, to San Fernando. The men were divided into groups of approximately 100, and the march typically took each group around five days to complete. The exact figures are unknown, but it is believed that thousands of troops died because of the brutality of their captors, who starved and beat the marchers, and bayoneted those too weak to walk. Survivors were taken by rail from San Fernando to prisoner-of-war camps, where thousands more died from disease, mistreatment and starvation.
Axis initiative and Allied reaction
By the early part of 1939 the German dictator Adolf Hitler had become determined to invade and occupy Poland. Poland, for its part, had guarantees of French and British military support should it be attacked by Germany. Hitler intended to invade Poland anyway, but first he had to neutralize the possibility that the Soviet Union would resist the invasion of its western neighbour. Secret negotiations led on August 23–24 to the signing of the German-Soviet Nonaggression Pact in Moscow. In a secret protocol of this pact, the Germans and the Soviets agreed that Poland should be divided between them, with the western third of the country going to Germany and the eastern two-thirds being taken over by the U.S.S.R.
Having achieved this cynical agreement, the other provisions of which stupefied Europe even without divulgence of the secret protocol, Hitler thought that Germany could attack Poland with no danger of Soviet or British intervention and gave orders for the invasion to start on August 26. News of the signing, on August 25, of a formal treaty of mutual assistance between Great Britain and Poland (to supersede a previous though temporary agreement) caused him to postpone the start of hostilities for a few days. He was still determined, however, to ignore the diplomatic efforts of the western powers to restrain him. Finally, at 12:40 pm on August 31, 1939, Hitler ordered hostilities against Poland to start at 4:45 the next morning. The invasion began as ordered. In response, Great Britain and France declared war on Germany on September 3, at 11:00 am and at 5:00 pm , respectively. World War II had begun.
3. The guerrillas were a united front.
In a way, the different guerrilla groups were united primarily that they had to fight a common enemy. However, the cause for unity ends there as these groups hated each other almost as much as they hated the Japanese. In fact, they often fought each other either for territory and influence.
The Huks, for instance, despised American-led guerrilla groups and would often engage them in battle. The Moros also clashed with Filipino and USAFFE guerrillas on a regular basis. So in actuality, the conflict in the Philippines looked less like a clear-cut duel between two people and more like a barroom brawl among drunken customers.
World War II: Mexican Air Force Helped Liberate the Philippines
Nearly a century after a bitter defeat by the United States, Mexico sent a military force to fight against the Axis powers alongside U.S. military forces in World War II. It was the first time that Mexico sent combat personnel abroad and the first time both nations battled a common threat. This unique unit was the Mexican air force, Fuerza Aerea Mexicana (FAM). Its pilots provided air support in the liberation of the Philippines and flew long-range sorties over Formosa, earning praise from Allied theater commander General Douglas MacArthur and decorations from the U.S., Mexican and Philippine governments.
In the late 1930s, as nations around the globe endured the Great Depression, political and military developments were brewing that would engulf the world in flames. U.S. and Mexican leaders knew that hemispheric defense would be a vital issue. The threat came at a difficult time, when both countries were struggling to achieve economic recovery. Relations were worsened by the nationalization of U.S. oil properties, and in Mexico there was fear of American intervention if Mexico looked unable to defend itself against an attack by the Axis powers. Relations between the nations’ militaries, however, were less strained than those between their politicians. FAM officers maintained a dialogue with U.S. Army representatives and made efforts to acquire aircraft as World War II intensified.
Like the U.S. Army Air Corps of the 1930s, the FAM was a small, underfunded arm of the Mexican army. Its missions included reconnaissance, air support, airmail and mapmaking. It had tactical units but no modern pursuit planes. Mexico had no indigenous aircraft industry therefore any planes capable of stopping an offshore attack would have to come from the United States.
On May 13, 1942, a Mexican oil tanker was torpedoed by a U-boat, killing 13 crewmen. A protest filed by the Mexican government was answered with the sinking of a second tanker. When Germany refused to indemnify Mexico, President Manuel Avila Camacho declared war on the Axis powers.
Although prompted by tragedy, Mexico’s entry into the war actually proved beneficial to the country in some ways. Mexico’s population united behind the war effort. The government received shipments of U.S. aircraft, including Douglas A-24B Banshee (Navy SBD Dauntless) dive bombers, North American B-25 Mitchells and Consolidated PBY Catalinas. While Mexican military authorities were grateful for the planes they received from the United States, any plan to send Mexican personnel to fight abroad at first appeared unrealistic, running as it did against tradition and politics. A more pressing priority was coastal defense. Additional Mexican units were activated, and coastal patrol and tanker escort missions were stepped up. They soon bore results. On July 5, 1942, Major Luis Noriega Medrano, flying a North American AT-6 Texan, bombed the German submarine U-129 in the Gulf of Mexico, damaging the vessel.
In April 1943 President Franklin D. Roosevelt met with President Avila Camacho at Monterrey to encourage Mexico to participate offensively in the war. The Mexican president was at first noncommittal, but he would soon decide that Mexico should fight aggressively alongside the Allies. On November 13, he declared that Mexico was willing to take the offensive on condition that its forces serve in a defined sector under Mexican command. The Mexican constitution mandated that the president obtain permission from the Senate, which would require public support. A former army general, President Avila Camacho knew the army was unprepared, but he also believed that a tactical air unit could be readied quickly.
To sell the idea to the public, the president ordered the FAM to stage an airshow. Near Mexico City on March 5, 1944, more than 100,000 capitalinos watched as AT-6s and A-24Bs blasted a simulated enemy base with live ordnance. The show was a stunning success, and shortly thereafter the president declared that Mexico should fight and that the FAM would lead the nation in the conflict.
A special training group was formed in Mexico City, staffed with expert specialists chosen in a competitive recruiting process. The group consisted of 300 enlisted men and officers from all branches of the military, including 38 of the best pilots. Command was assigned to Colonel Antonio Cardenas Rodriguez, known for his goodwill flights over Latin America. He had flown combat missions over North Africa with the U.S. 97th Bomb Group and was well connected with senior American officers, including U.S. Army Air Forces General Jimmy Doolittle.
Group personnel were as diverse as their specialties. Volunteers came from the Rio Grande to the Guatamalan border, from large and small towns. Ramiro Bastarrochia Gamboa came from the state of Yucatan Pedro Martines de la Concho, a mechanic, hailed from Baja California radioman Pedro Ramirez Corona was from the coastal hamlet of Colima Miguel Alcantar Torres, a paratrooper with U.S. combat experience at Casablanca, Bizerte and Sicily, received an honorable discharge from the U.S. Army to join Joaquin Ramirez Vilchis, a pilot and scion of a prominent Mexico City family, had commanded a cavalry unit in Jalisco. All were eager to serve with the elite FAM.
On July 20, 1944, at Balbuena Military Camp, the new group passed in review before the president, who told them they were headed to the United States for combat training. He reminded them that their ‘brothers from the Republic of Brazil’ were fighting in Italy and that if necessary they would go there, concluding with an invitation to all personnel ‘to petition me with whatever you may desire.’
Avila Camacho was undoubtedly surprised when, according to historian Dennis Cavagnaro, ‘a soldier in the rear ranks took two steps forward, smartly saluted and said, in a loud, clear voice, `Mi Presidente, I am Angel Cabo Bocanegra del Castillo, and, Sir, I request that a school be built in my home town of Tepoztlan, Morelos.’ Today, the school that was subsequently built still stands in that beautiful mountain village.
After the review and ceremonies, the young pilots and ground personnel bid their families farewell amid tears and singing of the traditional ‘golondrinas’ and boarded a special train. On July 26, the men arrived at Nuevo Loredo, on the Texas border. The whole town turned out to cheer the first unit in history to leave the country on a fighting mission. Newsreel cameras captured the ceremonies as the men crossed the border into Laredo and were greeted by Mexican congressmen and U.S. military and civilian authorities. There, they entrained to Randolph Army Air Base at San Antonio. Personnel were then separated by specialty and sent to various bases for training. The pilots went to Victoria, Texas, to transition to Curtiss P-40 Warhawks.
Their next posting was to Pocatello, Idaho. There, in October, pilots were reunited with ground personnel and began training as a unit. The pilots transitioned to Republic P-47D Thunderbolts with little difficulty. The mechanics took a liking to the big fighters, calling them ‘Peh-Cuas,’ short for P-47 in Spanish. A special unit, Section I, was designated to train the Mexicans and was commanded by Captain Paul Miller, a dedicated American officer who had grown up in Peru and was fluent in Spanish. Just 24, Miller had served as assistant air attache at the U.S. Embassy in Mexico. His priority was the pilots’ safety and preparation for combat. As a result, he rigorously enforced the tight discipline that he believed was necessary to the Mexican airmen’s success.
With the onset of winter, bad weather and below-zero temperatures began to limit flying and retard training. A change of station was requested by Colonel Cardenas, and on November 27 the unit left for Greenville, Texas, northeast of Dallas. There, the pilots flew an intensive schedule, incorporating ground attack, air combat, advanced acrobatics, instrument flying and navigation, and formation and high-altitude flight. Their P-47Ds were state-of-the-art aircraft. Equipped with twin turbochargers, they could top 40,000 feet, and in a dive they could approach the sound barrier. It was heady stuff for new fighter pilots, and dangerous as well.
After a rainstorm on January 23, 1945, a young second lieutenant, Cristoforo Salido Grijalva, attempted a takeoff from a muddy taxiway that he had apparently mistaken for an active runway. Warnings from the tower went unheeded. Salido hit his brakes and crashed before becoming airborne. His P-47 ended up inverted, and the young officer drowned in the mud that jammed the cockpit before the crash crew could free him. Salido’s death hit the unit hard.
Morale was further eroded by the discrimination the Mexican airmen encountered in the area. A sign over the town’s main street read ‘Greenville Welcome–The Blackest Land–The Whitest People.’ Pilots were amazed when they were refused service in a restaurant, but a more serious concern was off-base housing. An international incident was narrowly averted through hasty intervention between base officials and civic leaders. Accommodations were found for the men, and authorities circulated the word that the Mexicans were there as allies and should be treated with courtesy.
In some cases the youthful pilots’ natural exuberance led to breaches of regulations. In one notorious incident, Lieutenant Reynaldo Perez Gallardo brought his Thunderbolt in hot and low over Greenville one evening, intent on celebrating his recent marriage by giving the locals a beautiful buzz job. The big ‘Jug’ thundered down main street at over 300 miles an hour, its wingtips narrowly missing the buildings. Unknown to the lieutenant, inside a movie theater sat Captain Miller and his wife, enjoying a show. As Perez roared overhead, the vibrations reportedly’shook the building to its foundations.’ Miller was furious and summarily removed the lieutenant from flying status. The young lieutenant would later return to the unit and fly combat missions in the Philippines.
At year’s end, Mexico prepared for the unit’s deployment. Speaking to the senate, the president asked for the authority to send troops abroad. It was granted, and an order was issued redesignating the unit as the Mexican Expeditionary Air Force (FAEM). Rather than send the FAEM to join the Brazilian squadron in Italy, the Mexican president suggested operations in the Philippines to President Franklin D. Roosevelt. There, he said, the unit could aid ‘the liberation of a people for whom it is felt a continuity of idiom, history and traditions.’
On February 22, 1945, the new unit was given its battle flags in a formal ceremony, complete with two bands and a 21-gun salute. With the entire FAEM at attention, and officials from both countries, family members and hundreds of civilians watching, Mexican Subsecretary of War General Francisco L. Uruquizo, representing the president, presented the Mexican battle flag to Colonel Cardenas and gave a speech. He emphasized that Mexico was fighting with the Allied nations to support democracy and human rights, and reminded the pilots to represent their country with valor and honor. The airmen passed in review, manned their planes and roared into the cold, clear sky for an hour-long demonstration of combat tactics. The proceedings were broadcast live on radio in Mexico and Latin America and covered extensively in area newspapers. Newsreel footage of the event was later shown in theaters across the United States.
The pilots completed their training with air-to-air gunnery practice at Brownsville. On the afternoon of March 10, Lieutenant Javier Martinez Valle was up over the gunnery range, pursuing a target trailing from a tow plane. Flying alone into the setting sun, Martinez encountered trouble. His aircraft went out of control, and he was killed in the ensuing crash. It was thought that his P-47 must have struck the target cable or counterweight.
On March 27 the FAEM members boarded the liberty ship Fairisle at San Fransisco, joining 1,500 U.S. troops bound for the Philippines. Seasickness and fear of attack by submarines weighed on the men as the voyage wore on, and the screaming sirens of battle station drills made them edgy. But there were some lighter moments. At New Guinea, for example, the base commander invited the pilots to a party where they enjoyed iced beer and watched the new color movie Fighting Lady. Returning to Fairisle after that interlude, some of the well-lubricated airmen fell during the climb up the cargo net and had to be assisted aboard.
Underway once again, Fairisle joined a convoy. ‘The journey was made bearable by the happy spirit of the Squadron,’ wrote one man. ‘In these hot nights, the sound of the guitars was heard: `La Cancion Mixteca’ and other Mexican melodies were played while young soldiers played cards using their life jackets as cushions.’ As the ships steamed west, General Douglas MacArthur cabled President Avila Camacho: ‘The 201st Squadron … is about to join this command. I wish to express to you, Mr. President, the inspiration and pleasure this action arouses…it is personally most gratifying because of my long and intimate friendship with your great people.’
The convoy entered Manila Bay on May 1 and was received by the theater air commander, General George Kenney–representing General MacArthur–Honorary Consul Alfredo Carmelo and other officials. Shortly afterward, they left by train for their assigned airfield at Porac, near Clark Field.
Porac was hardly a paradise. The Mexicans’ new base of operations consisted of a dirt runway hacked out of the jungle, surrounded by low green hills. By night, small-arms fire could generally be heard, and by day there was the intermittent sound of artillery pounding the retreating enemy. A nearby prisoner of war camp had just been liberated, and the Mexican airmen were sobered by the ghastly sight of American and Filipino soldiers and civilians in a state of acute starvation. Filipino guerrillas were mopping up, and occasionally a Japanese soldier emerged from the jungle. There was a control tower in the center of the field, an encampment at one end where the Fifth Air Force’s 58th Fighter Group had established itself, and not much else.
The 58th Group, to which Kenney had assigned the squadron, was a seasoned veteran of the New Guinea campaign, consisting of three squadrons. The 201st was attached as a fourth, though it would operate under Mexican command and administration and occupy its own area.
On May 17, 1945, the 201st began flying combat orientation missions, with its pilots assigned to various other squadrons. Shortly thereafter, however, the so-called Aztec Eagles started flying missions as a unit. Their initial targets were buildings, vehicles, artillery and enemy concentrations in the Marikina watershed east of Manila, where the U.S. 25th Infantry Division was encountering fierce resistance.
The squadron comprised four flights of eight pilots each. Commanding flight operations was Captain Radames Gaziola Andrad, a senior pilot with 4,000 flight hours. Pilots were briefed each evening for the first mission of the next day. In the morning, they took off at about 0800. Missions were short, though they lengthened as the Japanese were pushed back. After the first mission of the day, mechanics and armorers would refuel and rearm the aircraft. The second mission would take off about 1300. In the hot afternoon the pilots would relax while mechanics repaired the aircraft, armorers removed and cleaned machine guns and specialists checked radios and instruments.
The squadron soon began flying missions led by its own officers. On June 1, a sortie was launched in which 2nd Lt. Fausto Vega Santander, the squadron’s youngest pilot, was killed. That loss came when a four-plane flight led by Lieutenant Carlos Garduno made a target run on an island off Luzon’s west coast. Vega died when his P-47, for reasons that have never been explained, suddenly rolled and crashed into the sea.
Only a few days later another pilot, Lieutenant Jose Espinosa Fuentes, died when the P-47 he was flight-testing after repairs crashed at nearby Floridablanca after takeoff. The reported cause was engine failure, but one analysis found the rudder trim-tab linkage reversed. Witnesses said the engine had been running up to the moment of impact.
Throughout June, the campaign to liberate Luzon continued as the U.S. Sixth Army fought north toward Cagayan Valley in the central highlands, where Japanese General Tomoyuki Yamashita’s Fourteenth Army was holding out. The troops advanced through rugged mountain passes above scenic valleys, sculpted with ancient rice terraces and dotted with the thatch-roofed houses of the Ifugao people. The fighting was a brutal combination of jungle and mountain warfare. Close air support proved crucial, and as the fighting moved deeper into the mountains, the 201st’s missions changed from hitting visible targets to striking hard-to-see troops and fortified positions in close proximity to friendly forces.
The new targets were generally covered with jungle and virtually invisible. Steep mountains, bad weather and anti-aircraft fire made air support missions hazardous. A controller on the ground or in a liaison aircraft would mark Japanese positions with a colored smoke shell or rocket and confirm with the squadron leader as the flights orbited the area. The leader would make a ‘dry’ pass over the target, then lead the first flight in.
The pilots dived one by one, ignoring enemy tracers and flak, dropped their ordnance and pulled up hard, nearly blacking out from G-forces as they felt the concussions of their 1,000-pounders ripping open the jungle canopy just below them. Debris was often thrown up 1,500 feet by the blasts, and the air was filled with black smoke. When a controller was unable to identify the target, or the frequent summer rainstorms closed in, the pilots had to abort and jettison their bombs in a safe zone. The controllers couldn’t always see the effects of the bombing, but where they could, they frequently noted ‘very good’ to ‘excellent’ results. Amazingly enough, no friendly casualties were attributed to the 201st.
When the Japanese presented a visible target, the Aztec Eagles quickly pounced on their prey. On June 17 on a mission to Payawan, in the central highlands, a controller with the call-sign ‘Bygone’ directed the squadron members to attack enemy concentrations 4,000 yards northeast of that town. Lieutenant Amador Samano Pia later remembered: ‘Our leader, Lieutenant Hector Espinosa Galvan, discovered an enemy convoy on one of the secondary roads, and he ordered our seven planes to attack it. We came directly toward the target, machine-gunning. I took aim at a truck right in front of me, we got closer and I fired two bursts of machine-gun fire and almost immediately flames enveloped the truck. Quickly we pulled up to avoid the explosions after dropping bombs. The enemy responded vigorously with light arms fire and damaged two of our airplanes. This mission lasted from 1330 hours to 1545 hours.’
As dangerous as close support was, a riskier assignment was in the works — very long-range (VLR) fighter sweeps across the South China Sea. The U.S. Navy, preparing to invade Japan, needed control of the sea lanes south of Kyushu, an area dominated by the island of Formosa (Taiwan), an occupied Japanese military bastion. Though enemy activity had been reduced by Fifth Air Force bombing, it was still a threat and — located almost 600 miles from the 201st’s base — at the limit of the range of its P-47s.
Early in July, the 58th Fighter Group left for Okinawa. The 201st would operate from Clark Field while it brought its P-47 inventory up to strength with new P-47D-30 models and awaited more Mexican squadrons. In the meantime, the aircraft were fitted with auxiliary wing tanks and prepared for VLR missions.
Early on July 6, eight Mexican Thunderbolts took off from Clark with a maximum load, barely clearing the runway. Hanging over the vast expanse of the Pacific as they traveled north hour after hour, with the blazing tropical sun beating down on their cramped cockpits, the pilots became drained and dehydrated. Adding to their discomfort was the tension of flying single-engine aircraft over hundreds of miles of water with only basic instruments. A small navigational error, bad weather or high fuel consumption could force them to ditch.
Over Formosa, the Mexicans encountered no challengers. The Aztec Eagles owned the air. The sweep was completed successfully, and all pilots managed to return safely to Clark except Lieutenant Perez, who put down at Lingayen, out of fuel. After over seven hours in the air, in full survival gear, the men had to be helped from their cockpits. Each downed several ounces of hard liquor before debriefing, to break the tension.
More sweeps were flown in July. The Mexican pilots also practiced combat tactics and ferried new P-47s from Biak Island, New Guinea, to Clark — as well as flying war-weary Jugs to Biak for disposal. It was the height of the typhoon season by that time, and the weather conditions proved both unpredictable and treacherous.
On July 16, Lieutenant Espinosa Galvan, flying in foul weather, ran out of gas just short of Biak and was forced to ditch. His plane sank, and he apparently did not get out. Three days later two pilots — Captain Pablo Rivas Martinez and wingman Lieutenant Guillermo Garcia Ramos — flew into a thunderstorm and became separated. Garcia bailed out over a Japanese-held island and was saved in a dramatic rescue by an Australian Consolidated PBY crew. Rivas was never found. On July 21, Lieutenant Mario Lopez Portillo took off from Biak with an American pilot. They made it to Luzon before hitting stormy weather. Flying on instruments, they made a navigational error and crashed into a mountain.
On August 8 the Aztec Eagles returned to Formosa on a bombing mission led by Lieutenant Amadeo Castro Almaza. Crossing the sea at altitude, they dropped to the water near the island to evade enemy radar. Each pilot had his hands full, balancing a 1,000-pound bomb under the right wing with the near-empty external fuel tank under the left. Over the target, a cluster of buildings near the port of Karenko, they attacked. As Lieutenant Castro dropped his bomb, his P-47 lurched violently, due to the sudden loss of equilibrium, slamming him around the cockpit. Recovering, the shaken lieutenant radioed his companions to warn them. Their mission completed, the pilots landed at alternate airfields.
Two days later, the squadron flew its final mission, escorting a U.S. Navy convoy bound for Okinawa. Intelligence had concerns that Japanese suicide planes based on Formosa might attack the ships. The 201st provided air cover in shifts for a 12-hour period until they were relieved by USAAF Northrop P-61 Black Widows at dusk.
On the night of August 26, the men were watching a movie when Captain Gaziola suddenly ordered the film stopped. He announced that Fifth Air Force headquarters had received a message that an atom bomb had been dropped and Japan had surrendered. Later the report was verified, and the men celebrated with the traditional ‘grito’ shout of joy.
Fifty-eight years have passed since the FAEM came home from the war in the Philippines. Its men paraded victoriously into Mexico City’s national square on a sunny day in November 1945, presented their battle flag and heard President Avila Camacho, speaking to the crowd and to the nation by radio. His voice echoing over a sea of cheering people, the president said: ‘General, chiefs, officers and troops of the Expeditionary Air Force, I receive with emotion the Flag that the country has conferred…as a symbol of her and those ideas of humanity for which we fight in a common cause. … You return with glory, having complied brilliantly with your duty and, in these moments, in this historic Plaza, you receive the gratitude of our people.’
The young pilots who flew and fought with their Yankee counterparts are now gray-haired grandfathers, enjoying retirement. The P-47s with bright Mexican tricolor markings and U.S. star-and-bar insignia they flew so proudly have long ago been scrapped. The battle flag they carried rests in a place of honor in the National History Museum.
Five of those pilots became FAM generals others went on to distinguished careers in aviation, business and academia. In reminiscing about their WWII experiences, they often mention the satisfaction they feel in having represented their country to help defeat a global threat. Above all, however, when they get together today they remember their fallen comrades. The FAEM helped end Mexican isolationism. It paved the way for important accords between Mexico and the United States and demonstrated that Mexico was capable of mounting an expeditionary force in a successful partnership, achieving good results at reasonable cost. It also helped modernize the FAM.
Significant as these accomplishments are, perhaps the unit’s most meaningful legacy is the improved understanding and cooperation it fostered between the American and Mexican peoples and the national and cultural pride the Aztec Eagles brought to their country. Those have proved to be enduring benefits.
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Philippines in the Second World War - History
This focus on Southeast Asia during World War II occurs within the context of an introductory interdisciplinary college course on Southeast Asia at Northern Illinois University. The discipline, the lens being used to focus on Southeast Asia is the discipline of history. Historians use sequence and chronology as primary organizing principles. Historians are interested in how things change over time, in how social institutions, political power arrangements, economic realities are different from one point in time to another. Historians look for cause and effect. When did World War II begin and end for Southeast Asia? How was Southeast Asia different after World War II? What caused these changes? How important were the internal forces for change? Or were the people of Southeast Asia merely reacting to pressures from outside of Southeast Asia?
Assignment: In preparation for this lecture the required reading is Milton Osbornes "The Second World War in Southeast Asia, Southeast Asia: An Introductory History. Chapter 9, second edition, Sydney, 1983.
- Southeast Asia on the brink of World War II [See map: "Extent of European and American Interest in Southeast Asia on the Brink of World War II" on handout.]
- Extent and nature of Western [European and American influence (17 th century to early 20 th century)].
- Reasons for the Wests declining interest and involvement in the Southeast Asian colonies.
- Rising nationalistic, independence, anti-colonial movements, and European reactions.
- Status of overseas Chinese and of Chinese-Southeast Asians.
- Increased/rising Japanese interest in Southeast Asia.
- Why Southeast Asia is drawn into the War?
- When does World War II begin for Southeast Asia? [See Time Line on Handout]
- Japan did not have to use military force to conquer Southeast Asia. There were many reasons that Japan appealed to Southeast Asians.
- Japan advanced policies and propaganda to win over Southeast Asia.
- Southeast Asians reactions and responses to the Japanese.
- Japan controlled Southeast Asia in surprisingly quick time (less than six months).
- Popular favor shifted away from Japan as the U.S. entered the Pacific Theatre of the war with more intention and military power.
- Southeast Asian NATIONALISTS asserted own independent identity.
- Burma - BIA
- Vietnam - Viet Minh
- Philippines - MacArthur
- Malaya and Singapore - Chinese vehemently anti-Japan
- Indonesia - Sareket Islam
- Thailand - Dual Diplomacy
- Primary changes were political international alignments and politics relative to Southeast Asia change
- Increased assimilation of Chinese
- Southeast Asian nationalists ascending.
- [see map on handout]Extent of European and American (= Western) influence:
- Review Western colonies:
- U.S. - Philippines - independence had been promised.
- French - "Indochina" (5 states)
- British - Burma, Malaya, Singapore
- Dutch - "Dutch East Indies" (Indonesia . Java)
- Variations in the extent and nature of the economic, political, and cultural influence
- Variations in progress toward independence.
- Thailand managed to remain the only nation not colonized. Thailand parlayed its fortuitous geographic location into a buffer state status playing the British off against the French. Thailand did, however, have to give up some of its outlying vassal states and did succumb to British penetration of its economy.
- All of Southeast Asia had been of interest to the Western imperialists. Thailand alone was able to resist colonization, but even Thailand felt the encroaching pressure from the French to its east and Britain from the north and south. On the eve of the war, Japan could appeal to Thailand promising to help it regain territories which had been reluctantly ceded to the French along the Mekong River, to the British in the Shan states and to the British on the Malay Peninsula.
"Pan Thai" map marking the widest extension of Thai suzerainty in the 19 th Century. A significant aspect of Phibun Songkhrams "nationalism" was the identification of the Thai nation with all Thai or Tai peoples, including the Lao and the Shan and reaching even to the Black Tai in Vietnam and the Tai in Sipsongphanna in southern China.
- They were preoccupied with "home" problems, the worldwide depression, German threat
- The colonies were not the financial success hoped
- The colonies needed too much investment in infrastructure, in education, and in political (police, military, bureaucracies) control
- There was a general increase in anti-imperialism sentiments at home sympathy in Europe and U.S. for national self-determination of all peoples (spirit of Versailles) was on the rise.
- "Core" areas lower Burma, North Vietnam (Hue, Tonkin), and Java Sareket Islam
- "Rebels" identified/arrested by colonial powers
- (Review previous "Crossroads" lecture on nationalism in Southeast Asia.)
- They had been brought to Southeast Asia by Europeans to solve labor shortage Southeast Asia relatively under-populated compared to China.
- Contract workers paid passage by working, almost all male, young.
- "Sojourner" mentality, intended to return home, sent money home.
- Worked as laborers on docks, in rice mills, on rubber plantations, in tin mines.
- Many of those who stayed became middlemen, had linking jobs, enabling products to be exported (mills, factories, storage, sales, banking, accounting).
- Rise of Chinese-Southeast Asian cohorts in coastal enclaves result of intermarriage of Chinese men with indigenous women evolved to the great cities of Southeast Asia.
- Southeast Asian cities are Chinese cities in character, purpose, population.
- Assimilation/separatism dependent largely on attitudes and policies in each country.
- There were some who questioned where the Chinese and Chinese-Southeast Asians loyalties lay.
- Overseas Chinese were entrepreneurial, adventuresome, capitalistic did not fit into new (communist) China.
- Southeast Asia was the natural hinterland to supply food and fuels to the developing industrial economy of Japan.
- Some quite highly developed Japanese economic outposts plantations, e.g., in Davao on the southeast coast of Mindanao in the Philippines.
- Some examples minor cultural expansion (but this was so limited that during World War II, Japanese and Southeast Asians generally used English to communicate).
Time Line of World War II in Southeast Asia
1930s Worldwide economic depression
Japan into China
Germany into eastern and western Europe
Rising Southeast Asian nationalism
Decreasing Western interest in Asian colonies
1940 MacArthur pleads for aid to fortify the Philippines
Japanese cultural and economic expansion
June fall of France (to Hitlers advance)
1941 Japan into French Indochina
December 7 Pearl Harbor
Japan moves on Manila, Thai coast, Singapore, Indonesia on the same day
1942 Japan and Burma Independence Army into Burma
Japan defeats United Kingdom at Singapore
Philippines show greatest resistance to Japan
Japan welcomed in Indonesia
Japan and Thailand Alliance
1944 Southeast Asian Resistance Groups increase and are more public with their anti-Japan activities
1945 August A bombs
September-December Europeans attempt return
- Japan was attractive to some Southeast Asians because:
- Japan was a "success story" rapid development, 1904 Russo-Japanese war, control of China
- Rise of Japan debunked myth of European superiority
- Japan represented an alternative mode of development (state capitalism)
- An alternative place to get education, technology, capital
- A refuge for anti-imperialist and anti-colonial nationalistic Southeast Asians. Japan welcomed nationalist leaders whom the colonial governments had forced into exile.
- Calls for racial solidarity = ASIA for the ASIATICS (racist)
- Education programs in Japan and in Southeast Asia often on religious/cultural themes
- Brothers-kinship terms ( with elder/younger status always noted in Asian languages)
- Promising independence (giving refuge to "rebels," emptying colonial jails of dissidents in Indonesia, Vietnam, Burma in 1942
- Recognizing local leaders, language, flag
- Promising economic benefits = GREATER EAST ASIA CO-PROSPERITY SPHERE (an East Asian merchantilist system with Japan as the "mother" country, the industrialized center. Southeast Asia would provide raw materials for Japanese industries and food for the Japanese people. Southeast Asia would eventually become a market for Japanese manufactured products).
- Anti-colonial/anti-imperialist propaganda (see political cartoons, posters)
The following two cartoons are reprinted from John W. Dower, War Without Mercy: Race and Power in the Pacific War. Pantheon, New York, 1986, p.196 and p.200.
a. "People of the Southern Region" appeared in Osaka Puck in December 1942 as part of a "before-and-after" sequence depicting Asia under Western domination and after Japanese liberation. It reveals many of the ways the Japanese signified their superiority vis-a-vis other Asians. Here, the familiar purifying sun (labeled "Co-Prosperity Sphere") beams down on Indonesia, driving out the Dutch, while the Japanese hand clasps the native's as that of an unmistakable patriarch--indeed, literally as the hand of God (a conceit Western illustrators also used). The Japanese hand is far lighter in color than the dark-skinned native's and a jacket cuff is in evidence, whereas the "southern person," obviously a manual laborer, is half-naked and implicitly half-civilized. Not only is his inferior "proper place" as a race, nation, and culture absolutely clear, but so also is his subordinate role in the division of labor within the Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere.
- The next three examples are copies of posters among those collected by a Thai official from Phibuns group who worked with the Japanese in Thailand during World War II, Sang Pattanothai (Khwamnuk nai Krong Khang/Reflections in Prison, Bangkok, 1956).
- Review Western colonies:
- SOUTHEAST ASIANS REACTIONS/RESPONSES TO JAPAN
- In less than six months, Japan (to its surprise) controlled Southeast Asia. Japanese was welcomed in some places by cheering crowds.
- Early positive reactions and welcome to Japan often faded as Japan was unable to fulfill its promises. In general in the early part of the war, while Japan was unchallenged and still able to promise Southeast Asians their independence and an increased share of the economic development, the Southeast Asians went along with Japan. By late 1943 and early 1944 the U.S. finally had the European problem under control and had built enough ships and plans to mount a two-ocean navy and a global air force. The U.S. entered the Pacific Theatre in earnest. It became increasingly clear that Japan was over-extended. It was running out of funds, personnel replacements, and fuel. Most Japanese troops in Southeast Asia were living off the land with infrequent or no deliveries of supplies or war materiel from home. Many Southeast Asians shifted back to neutral or pro-West positions as it became clear that Japan would lose the war (late 1942, early 1943).
- Southeast Asian nationalists took advantage of the vacuum (a combination of the loosening grip of Japan and the failure of the Westerners to return to Asia). They stepped up to leadership roles.
- BURMA Burma Independence Army (BIA) founded by Burmese in exile in Japan. BIA grew from 30 heroes (including Aung San, father of contemporary Burma leader Aung San Suu Kyi) to 1,000 to 10,000 "patriots" who accompanied the Japanese invaders in early 1942. Japan granted Burma independence August 1943, but it was independence in name only. Japan was really overextended. Labor shortages and failure of Japan to resupply soldiers required Japan to use POWs ("Bridge on the River Kwai") and to use conscripted Burmese labor. Burmese nationalists realized that Japan could not deliver on its promises. By 1944 there was a growing anti-Japanese movement, the Anti-Fascist Peoples Freedom League. The AFPFL, first very anti-Japanese, later became the Independence Movement against the British (British granted independence January 1948).
- VIETNAM (French Indochina) under Vichy France (collaborated with German conquerors) from June 1940 Vietnamese knew Vichy French were puppets of Germans. Viet Minh had resisted the French earlier. During World War II Viet Minh were the resistance against Japanese. The communists and Ho Chi Minh were strongest element in the Viet Minh, the nationalist group. Very little nationalism in Laos and Cambodia (French had used Vietnamese to govern Laos and Cambodia). U.S.-OSS assistance to Viet Minh, "Flirtation" with Ho Chi Minh in 1944 and 1945 but U.S. later aided French against Viet Minh.
- PHILIPPINES longest armed resistance to Japanese U.S. and Filipinos fought together against Japanese for six months.
- General MacArthur and Philippines had begged U.S. to send support in 1940 and 1941, Death March, U.S. and Filipino army forced out of Philippines. "I shall return," General MacArthur said and he did.
- "Collaborationist" = Filipinos who cooperated with Japan.
- Bitter memories of Japanese barbarism remain with Filipinos even 50 years later.
- U.S. had been trying to disengage, to "decolonize" before war independence had been promised.
- Malays unarmed no contest for Japanese
- The Japanese were very anti-Chinese, and vice versa Chinese in Malaya very opposed to Japan
- Comparatively little development of nationalist movement on Malay Peninsula. Chinese, Indians, and Malays were quite distinct communities rather than in a nationalistic union.
- Dutch humiliated by Japanese naval war
- Cheering welcome to the Japanese in Java as arriving Japanese released Hatta, Sukarno, et al. National heroes from Dutch prisons in Indonesia
- When it was clear that independence more symbolic than real, outbreaks against Japan began to increase.
- Nationalists used the World War II period to organize and develop. They were ready to fight Dutch when they tried to return (Review growth of Sareket Islam from previous lecture).
The war in Asia ended earlier than the British, Dutch, and French had thought it would. The Americans had forced Japans surrender in early August 1945 with the use of the Atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The Allies had planned to re-enter their Southeast Asian colonies sometime between September and November of 1945. The British, casting Thailand as an enemy-occupied nation, had intended to "liberate" Thailand from the Japanese in September or October. Instead , when the Japanese in Thailand surrendered their weapons and returned property they had expropriated, the Thai government now in the hands of the Seri Thai backed by the U.S.-OSS Free Thai were the only authorities on-site to receive the surrender.
- Decline in Western political interest and power. "Sun setting on the empire. "
- Myth of European (Western) superiority debunked/exposed.
- ** Rise of Southeast Asian nationalist, independence movements.
- "Rising sun," rise in Japanese political and economic interest and influence in Southeast Asia. (This continues even though Japan "loses the war," it earns the peace.)
- "Consciousness" and status of overseas Chinese changes Chinese gradually become more assimilated into Southeast Asian societies.
- Increased U.S. interest in Southeast Asia (U.S. = "accidental" heir to empires of Europeans. U.S. buys and sells directly with Southeast Asia rather than through British middle men. U.S. sees Southeast Asia as an arena of the Cold War).
** Most important. Many Southeast Asian nationalists saw the shifting power structures, the chaos, and crisis of rule during World War II as a time of opportunity. They took advantage of the Europeans absence to build up their independence movements. They seized the opportunity to advance their causes. They demonstrated their leadership competencies.
How the American Women Codebreakers of WWII Helped Win the War
It was a woman code breaker who, in 1945, became the first American to learn that World War II had officially ended.
The Army and Navy's code breakers had avidly followed messages leading up to that fateful day. Nazi Germany had already surrendered to the Allies, and tantalizing hints from the Japanese suggested that this bloody chapter of history might soon come to an end. But when U.S. Army intelligence intercepted the Japanese transmission to the neutral Swiss agreeing to an unconditional surrender, the task fell to Virginia D. Aderholt to decipher and translate it.
Head of one of the Army's language units, Aderholt was a master at the cipher the Japanese used to transmit the message—teams crowded around her as she worked. After the Swiss confirmed Japanese intent, the statement was hurried into the hands of President Harry S. Truman. And on the warm summer evening of August 14, 1945, he made a much-anticipated announcement: World War II was finally over.
Throngs of Americans took to the streets to celebrate, cheering, dancing, crying, tossing newspaper confetti into the air. Since that day, many of the men and women who helped hasten its arrival have been celebrated in books, movies and documentaries. But Aderholt is among a group that has largely gone unnoticed for their wartime achievements.
She is just one in upwards of 10,000 American women codebreakers who worked behind the scenes of WWII, keeping up with the conveyor belt of wartime communications and intercepts. These women continually broke the ever-changing and increasingly complex systems used by the Axis Powers to shroud their messages in secrecy, providing vital intelligence to the U.S. Army and Navy that allowed them to not only keep many American troops out of harm's way but ensure the country emerged from war victorious.
The information they provided allowed the Allied forces to sink enemy supply ships, gun down the plane of Isoroku Yamamoto, the architect of Pearl Harbor, and even help orchestrate the invasion of Normandy. During the later years of war, the intelligence community was supplying more information on the location of enemy ships than American servicemen could keep up with.
"The recruitment of these American women—and the fact that women were behind some of the most significant individual code-breaking triumphs of the war—was one of the best-kept secrets of the conflict," writes Liza Mundy in her new book Code Girls, which finally gives due to the courageous women who worked in the wartime intelligence community.
Some of these women went on to hold high-ranking positions—several even outranking their military husbands. Yet to this day, many of their families and friends never knew the instrumental role they played in protecting American lives.
The Navy women worked in three shifts a day constructing the many gears and gadgets that make up the Bombes—the machines used to decrypt the German Enigma cipher. A separate unit of women were tasked with the challenging job of running the finicky machines. (National Security Agency) The Army had an African-American codebreaking unit, but little is known about these women. Led by William Coffee, shown here in the middle of the image, the group remained strictly segregated from the rest of the codebreaking efforts. They were tasked with monitoring enciphered communications of companies and banks to track business interactions of Axis powers. (National Security Agency) A former private school for women, Arlington Hall housed the Army codebreaking operations during WWII through most of the Cold War. (National Security Agency) Adolf Hiitler shakes the hand of Baron Hiroshi Oshima, a Japanese diplomat and Imperial Army General. Oshima commonly used the Purple cipher to transmit detailed reports, including many comprehensive Nazi plans. By cracking Purple, the U.S. gained insight into many of the Axis strategies, which was instrumental in the Allies' preparation for the invasion of Normandy. (National Security Agency)
Mundy happened upon the story while her husband was reading Robert Louis Benson and Michael Warner's book on the Venona project, a U.S. code-breaking unit focused on Russian intelligence during WWII and the Cold War. One particular detail of Venona surprised Mundy: the project was mostly women.
Curiosity piqued, she began digging into the topic, heading to the National Cryptologic Museum and the National Archives. "I didn't realize at that point that the Russian codebreaking women were just a tiny part of a much larger story," she says. "I thought I would spend a week in the archives. Instead, I spent months."
Mundy, a New York Times bestselling author and journalist with bylines in The Atlantic, The Washington Post and elsewhere, dug through thousands of boxes of records, scouring countless rosters, memos and other paper ephemera. She filed declassification reviews, which turned up even more materials. "It turned out that there was a wonderful record out there, it just had to be pieced together," she says.
Mundy even tracked down and interviewed 20 of the codebreakers themselves, but for some it required a bit of cajoling. During the war, it was continually drilled into them that "loose lips sink ships," she says. And to this day, the women took their vows of secrecy seriously—never expecting to receive public credit for their achievements. Though many of the men's tales have leaked out over the years, "the women kept mum and sat tight," she says.
"I would have to say to them, 'Look, here are all these books that have been written about it,'" Mundy recalls. "The NSA says it's okay to talk the NSA would like you to talk," she would tell them. Eventually they opened up, and stories flooded out.
Code Girls: The Untold Story of the American Women Code Breakers of World War II
A strict vow of secrecy nearly erased their efforts from history now, through dazzling research and interviews with surviving code girls, bestselling author Liza Mundy brings to life this riveting and vital story of American courage, service, and scientific accomplishment.
Before the attack on Pearl Harbor, which propelled America's entrance into the war, Army and Navy intelligence employed a couple hundred people. The intelligence field was in its infancy. The CIA didn’t yet exist and the forerunner of what would later become the NSA had just been established. W ith war on the horizon, federal agencies were already working to recruit potential codebreakers and intelligence officers, but men were also needed for the armed forces, prepping for war. So as the agencies located suitable candidates, the men would be “gobbled up by the active militaries," Mundy says.
Many men also weren't interested in the job. At the time there was little prestige in the work the battlefield was where heroes were born. Those who worked behind the scenes could say little about their accomplishments. And the work was seen as secretarial in some ways, Mundy notes.
It wasn't until after Pearl Harbor that the real push to grow the ranks of intelligence began. In the weeks leading up to this fateful day, there was a sense of impending danger, but exactly where and when that assault would take place remained a mystery. Just days before the attack, the Japanese changed up part of their coding system. The codebreakers scrambled to crack the new intercepts—but it was too late.
Why the U.S. was caught by surprise would be hashed and rehashed over the years—from conspiracy theories to congressional hearings. But the loss emphasized the growing need for enemy intelligence. And with an increasing number of men being shipped out overseas, the government turned to an abundant resource that, due to sexist stereotypes of the day, were assumed to excel at such "boring" tasks as code breaking: women.
The Army and Navy plucked up potential recruits from across the country, many of whom were or planned to become school teachers—one of the few viable careers for educated women at the time. Sworn to secrecy, these women left their loved ones under the pretense of doing secretarial work.
Unlike the men, women code breakers initially signed onto the Army and Navy as civilians. It wasn’t until 1942 that they could officially join with many lingering inequities in pay, rank and benefits. Despite these injustices, they began arriving in Washington D.C. by the busload, and the city's population seemed to swell overnight. Exactly how many of these women contributed to wartime intelligence remains unknown but there were at least 10,000 women codebreakers that served—and "surely more," Mundy adds.
America wasn’t the only country tapping into its women during WWII. Thousands of British women worked at Bletchley Park, the famous home of England’s codebreaking unit. They served a number of roles, including operators of the complex code-breaking computers known as the Bombe machines, which deciphered the German Enigma intercepts. While the American codebreakers did assist the Allies in Europe, the majority of their work focused on the Pacific theater.
Just as women were hired to act as "computers" in astronomy to complete the rote, repetitive work, "the same was true with codebreaking," says Mundy. And though it was repetitive, the job was far from easy. There were endless numbers of code and cipher systems—often layered to provide maximum confusion.
Codebreaking entails days of starting at strings of nonsensical combinations of letters, seeking patterns in the alphabetical chaos. "With codes, you have to be prepared to work for months—for years—and fail," Mundy writes.
Over the years, the teams learned tricks to crack into the messages, like looking for the coded refrain "begin message here," which sometimes marked the start of a scrambled message. The key was to discover these "points of entry," which the code breakers could then tug at, unraveling the rest of the message like a sweater.
Many of the women excelled at the work, some showing greater persistence than the men on the teams. One particular triumph was that of junior cryptanalytic clerk Genevieve Grotjan, who was hired at age 27 by William Friedman—famed cryptanalyst who was married to the equally brilliant cryptanalyst pioneer Elizabeth Friedman.
Always a stellar student, Grotjan graduated summa cum laude from her hometown University of Buffalo in 1939. Upon graduation she hoped to go on to teach college math—but couldn’t find a university willing to hire a woman. Grotjan began working for the government calculating pensions but her scores from her math exams (required for pay raises) caught Friedman’s eye, Mundy writes.
Friedman's team was working to break the Japanese diplomatic cryptography machine dubbed Purple. When Grotjan joined on, they had already been working on it for months, forming hypothesis after hypothesis to no avail. The British had already abandoned the seemingly impossible task.
The men on the team had years or even decades of experience with codebreaking, Mundy notes. But on the afternoon of September 20, 1940 it was Grotjan who had the flash of insight that led to the break of the Purple machine. "She's a shining example of how important it was that Friedman was willing to hire women," says Mundy. "Inspiration can come from many different quarters."
The ability to read this diplomatic code allowed Allied forces to continually take the pulse of the war, giving them insight into conversations between governments collaborating with the Japanese throughout Europe.
But the work was not all smooth sailing. Shoved in crowded office buildings in the heat of the summer, the job was physically demanding. "Everybody was sweating, their dresses were plastered to their arms," Mundy says. It was also emotionally draining. "They were very aware that if they made a mistake somebody might die.”
It wasn't just intelligence on foreign ships and movements—the women were also decrypting coded communications from the American troops relaying the fate of particular vessels. "They had to live with this—with the true knowledge of what was going on in the war … and the specific knowledge of their brothers' [fates]," says Mundy. Many cracked under the pressure—both women and men.
The women also had to constantly work against public fears of their independence. As the number of military women expanded, rumors spread that they were "prostitutes in uniform," and were just there to "service the men," Mundy says. Some of the women's parents held similarly disdainful opinions about military women, not wanting their daughters to join.
Despite these indignities, the women had an influential hand in nearly every step along the path toward the Allies' victory. In the final days of war, the intelligence community was supplying information on more Japanese supply ships than the military could sink.
It wasn't a dramatic battle like Midway, but this prolonged severing of supply lines was actually what killed the most Japanese troops during the war. Some of the women regretted their role in the suffering they caused after the war’s end, Mundy writes. However, without the devoted coterie of American women school teachers reading and breaking codes day after day, the deadly battle may well have continued to drag on much longer.
Though the heroines of Code Girls were trailblazers in math, statistics and technology—fields that, to this day, are often unwelcoming to women—their careers were due, in part, to the assumption that the work was beneath the men. "It's the exact same reductive stereotyping that you see in that Google memo," says Mundy, of the note written by former Google engineer James Danmore, who argued that the underrepresentation of women in tech is the result of biology not discrimination. "You see this innate belief that men are the geniuses and women are the congenial people who do the boring work."
Mundy hopes that her book can help chip away at this damaging narrative, demonstrating how vital diversity is for problem solving. Such diversity was common during the war: women and men tackled each puzzle together.
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A FATHER'S REMINISCENCES
But it takes someone who lived through the prewar days to properly set the scene. Going through the unpublished memoirs of my father, Manuel L Quezon Jr (1926&ndash98), I found this vivid description of prewar Manila.
&ldquoImagine Manila with no high-rises, only one- or, more often, two-storey homes and some four-storey buildings, with the seven-storey Far Eastern Hotel an exception. The total population was six hundred thousand, a tenth or less of today&rsquos. There never was a water shortage and the water was completely safe, without the taste or smell of chlorine. The only power failures were in certain limited areas during a bad electrical storm . The city was clean, one of the world&rsquos cleanest, and I do not recall even seeing garbage. Crime was practically non-existent, except for an occasional theft, here and there . Even automobile accidents were rare because people drove carefully and there was courtesy of the road.
&ldquoManila was very much of a family town. Families&rsquo children were looked after by Chinese amahs (nannies) Indian guards were very common, as well as Japanese gardeners. The upper classes were from all parts of the country since the centre of government, business, etc was concentrated in Manila. The servants were mainly from the Visayas and the Ilocos, some from Bicol (Tagalogs for some reason have never been good servants) but the bulk of the population was definitely Tagalog.
&ldquoDuring my childhood there were no traffic lights. I do not know exactly when traffic lights arrived in Manila but I clearly recall that when we drove around Honolulu on our way to the States in l937 and the driver boasted to us of traffic lights, we said nothing but felt terribly superior because in Manila they were old hat.
&ldquoApart from private automobiles and the few rare taxis, transportation was by bus and streetcars owned by Meralco, and the ubiquitous humble calesa (horse-drawn carriage). Jeepneys were in the remote future.
&ldquoStreetcars ran on electricity, provided from overhead wires connected to the streetcar by thin metal rods. The only way to picture such vehicles is to see them on TV because they still function in Europe. They also existed in the United States during WWII but have all vanished. The streetcars were popular because they were safe. Buses were gasoline-driven and you knew you were in Santa Mesa because there you had buses, which also ran on electricity. Private cars were most often chauffeur-driven and the drivers were intensely loyal and stayed with their employers almost permanently. When there was a social occasion, the drivers were fed by the homeowner and whiled their time away playing dice, which was, I believe, technically illegal but the police hardly bothered the drivers.&rdquo
A TYCOON'S MEMOIRS
Another unpublished account of life in those days comes from the late industrialist, Enrique Zobel. His reminiscences add more details to what life was like in both town and country.
&ldquoWe lived on M H Del Pilar in old Ermita, which was originally called Calle Real but had been renamed in honour of the great Filipino revolutionaries in the struggle against Spain. Our house was a stately four-bedroom, three-storey villa facing Manila Bay. We lived on the same row as the McMickings, the Ynchausis and other prominent families.
&ldquoOur home was designed in the Spanish style by Andres Luna De San Pedro, the only son of the painter and patriot, Juan Luna. It had wide, highly-polished mahogany floors and heavy-carved mahogany furniture, windows and balconies with intricate Spanish grilles it had paintings, mirrors and screens, and ceiling fans. Our sheets were made of linen. One room was my parents&rsquo, one was for my aunts Consuelo and Pili and one was for me the last was reserved for guests.
&ldquoLike all big households, we had lots of servants. We had 15 maids and houseboys we had women to do the laundry and women to do the ironing. All the houseboys wore white uniforms. Servants had their own kitchen. I remember Paterno, the assistant cook for the servants!
&ldquoMy parents threw parties at home at least every 10 days. The parties never had less than 200 people. There was a band, an orchestra, the works. As children, we often watched these parties from the balcony. I could peer through the balcony grille all night. President Manuel L Quezon and his wife, Aurora, visited almost every week. He often asked my mother to put together parties for him and invite all the dignitaries. He introduced General Douglas MacArthur and his wife, Jean, to my parents, and they became very close friends.
&ldquoMost of the time we lived in Manila, but we often visited the Calatagan hacienda. At home, we spoke Spanish and in school, English but in Batangas, we spoke Tagalog.
&ldquoAt the hacienda, my father gave hunts during the Holy Week. Only top American officials were invited to the one-week hunt. For one week every year, from the town all the way down to the Farola, approximately 10,000 deer and 100 wild cattle (known locally as bakang simaron) were fair game. We only had deer during the Holy Week.&rdquo
But to understand the dynamics of society in the prewar days requires the reality every Filipino had to live with: which was, the reality of an alien sovereignty and the inevitable tensions it would bring.
In a documentary that was shown over a decade ago, the late Emmanuel Pelaez, former vice-president, recounted how, as a young student before World War II, he had been bodily thrown out of the Army-Navy Club, which was for whites only and off-limits to Filipinos. This, at a time when the country was already a Commonwealth. An ironic story when you consider how Pelaez was mocked in 1963 for making speeches denying he was a mestizo to think he felt uncomfortable about being too white and yet suffered indignities at the hands of people who certainly felt he wasn&rsquot white at all!
But the point is, treatments like this at the hands of white men helped foster nationalism. And high society found that nationalism had an impact on their social lives.
That impact was felt in terms of sensitivity over racism, the bane of all colonies. Members of the Filipino upper class were particularly touchy about racial matters. One of them, Dr Victor Buencamino (the first Filipino veterinarian), who was sent by the United States government to study in America, noted that &ldquothe little incidents of discrimination against Orientals, particularly on the West Coast, rankled long in my mind.&rdquo In fact, a few years after his stint in the US, race riots would occur in California and legislation banning marriage between Filipinos and Americans would be passed.
Other things fostered Filipino nationalism. &ldquoIn US classrooms [we] had to join other students in pledging loyalty [to the United States of America, one nation, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all]. This exercise evoked a strong wish among Filipino students to pledge loyalty to their own nation. Besides, distance and nostalgia had made [us] miss home badly,&rdquo wrote Buencamino in his memoirs.
When he returned home in 1911, Buencamino &ldquofound it totally revolting that there were too many places where we Filipinos were off limits. I recalled that even the government-operated Manila Hotel was, by practice if not by decree, an exclusive white abode for a good many years,&rdquo he added.
The Polo Club itself would figure in a &ldquonationalist&rdquo struggle when Colonel Manolo Nieto, aide-de-camp of President Quezon, applied for membership and was blackballed. The decision was condemned as &ldquoracist,&rdquo and in solidarity the Elizalde brothers who were famous polo players besides being industrialists, resigned from the Club and established another one called Los Tamaraos (the name lives on to this day in the Los Tamaraos field where wealthy children still take horseback-riding lessons in Parañaque). The irony for some was that Nieto and the Elizaldes were all mestizos.
Buencamino also wrote about William &ldquoBill&rdquo Shaw (of Shaw Boulevard fame) helping form the Wack Wack Golf Club because of the racism of his fellow Americans. &ldquoThe story went that he did not feel at home in the exclusive Manila Golf Club in Caloocan every time he brought along his Filipina wife and his mestizo child. So he aligned himself with Filipino aficionados and founded Wack Wack.&rdquo
Another &ldquoracial battleground&rdquo was the Rotary Club of Manila. It was founded in 1919 with only two of the 38 founders being Filipinos (Gabriel LaO and Gregorio Nieva). It was only in 1933 that a Filipino, Arsenio Luz, came to head it, followed by Carlos P Romulo and Buencamino himself.
What Buencamino felt to be the biggest blow to racism was the segregation in the cabarets (nightclubs where people went to dance, dine and drink).
&ldquoThe Sta Ana Cabaret and the Lerma nightclub had areas reserved exclusively for whites while Filipinos were secluded in a taxi dance area down the hall, fenced off from where the whites amused themselves,&rdquo he wrote. Then one day the President of the Senate, Quezon, asked Governor-General FB Harrison to &ldquospearhead a move to knock down the race barrier.&rdquo Buencamino recounted that Governor Harrison made a reservation for a small party at the Lerma cabaret. A large table was reserved for him in the middle of the dance floor in a section exclusively reserved for white VIPs. That evening the Governor-General&rsquos limousine rolled into the front door of the Lerma cabaret, followed by a smaller car. The Governor gathered his guests and their ladies and led the group to the centre of the cabaret section where only Occidentals had been permitted to tread before. There were startled looks from the all-white patrons as the mixed group walked in.
Harrison&rsquos special guests: Quezon and his cronies, Buenaventura Varona and Buencamino, and their partners. &ldquoWe had a juicy steak dinner chased by a steady flow of wine, and we danced all night, somewhat pleased inside us that we were making a little bit of history,&rdquo wrote Buencamino. Soon after, all the cabarets dropped the colour barrier.
The onset of World War II brought to an end the old, colonial Manila. As it died, the old tensions, anxieties, even resentments, continued to surface. But if there had been a colour line in prewar Manila, the war helped replace it with a more racially-tolerant society.
Bataan and Corregidor found, perhaps for the last time, Filipinos from all walks of life fighting and suffering together. The nameless conscript, the university student like Buencamino, inducted into the army because he&rsquod belonged to the ROTC, actors like Fernando Poe Sr and people of wealth and influence like Jacobo Zobel or congressmen like Benito Soliven (father of the journalist Max): all fought, all ended up in the Death March. The Japanese celebrated their victory by parading captured Americans down Dewey Boulevard, and Filipinos, instead of glorying in the Americans&rsquo shame, felt sympathy.
As Carmen Guerrero Nakpil wrote in her recently published memoirs, Myself, Elsewhere, &ldquoStrangely enough, after the war and the destruction of Ermita, bigotry faded and we all became warm and loyal friends. It had only been the diehard Ermita protocol that had kept us revising the Spanish Conquista and the Protestant Reformation and the Filipino-American War, imposing anachronistic strictures on ourselves. I recall, with embarrassment, the frissons of antipathy to Spanish and Protestants that we harbored. Their disappearance was one of the welcome consequences of the war. After facing terror and destruction together, we came to our senses and became confirmed liberals. There were no bigots in the ensuing rubble.&rdquo
A forgotten World War II horror in the Philippines is revealed in ‘Rampage’
It’s hard to imagine that a major monthlong battle from World War II — one that devastated a large city, caused more than 100,000 civilian deaths and led to both a historic war crimes trial and a Supreme Court decision — should have escaped scrutiny until now.
But history has somehow overlooked the catastrophic battle for Manila, capital of the Philippines, in the waning months of the war. Like the Rape of Nanking, or the siege of Stalingrad, the tragedy of Manila deserves far greater understanding and reflection today.
James M. Scott remedies that gap with “Rampage: MacArthur, Yamashita, and the Battle of Manila,” the first comprehensive account of one of the darkest chapters of the Pacific War. It is powerful narrative history, one almost too painful to read in places but impossible to put down.
It begins as Gen. Douglas MacArthur, the egotistical military commander of the U.S. colony in the Philippines, was caught woefully unprepared when the war began. Japanese bombers destroyed his planes on the ground and American and Philippine forces were soon overwhelmed. MacArthur famously vowed to return as he was evacuated to Australia.
Three years later, the U.S. Navy had steadily clawed its way back across the Pacific and bombers were already striking Japanese industrial centers. Most commanders saw “no need to risk American lives on a costly invasion of the Philippines” when the fall of Japan appeared imminent, Scott writes.
But MacArthur insisted, and by early 1945 his troops were closing on Manila. Americans knew it then as the “Pearl of the Orient” for its neoclassical buildings, grand boulevards and cafe society. Convinced the Japanese would abandon Manila, just as he had, MacArthur ordered up a massive victory parade to welcome himself home.
On Feb. 6, 1945, MacArthur preemptively announced the city’s liberation, claiming credit in grandiose terms. Congratulations poured in from Washington, London and elsewhere. But the 29-day battle had only just begun. MacArthur’s public relations stunt meant reporters traveling with his forces struggled to get the truth out about the unfolding horror.
The Japanese commander, Gen. Tomoyuki Yamashita, had stunned allies early in the war by seizing Malaya and Singapore, capturing a much larger British force. His orders now were to bog MacArthur’s forces down in the Philippines and give Japan time to prepare for the expected U.S. invasion. He ordered subordinates to destroy Manila’s bridges and port, and then to follow him to the mountains.
Once Yamashita withdrew, however, Rear Adm. Sanji Iwabuchi instead ordered his marines to “fight to the last man.” They methodically dynamited Manila’s business, government and religious landmarks, obliterating the city’s cultural heritage, and torched thousands of wooden homes, sparking a deadly firestorm. Worse, they cruelly tortured and killed thousands of men, women and children.
Scott, who was a 2016 Pulitzer Prize finalist for “Target Tokyo,” focuses in part on the 7,500 or so Americans and others held as prisoners of war or civilian internees in squalid conditions, and their dramatic rescue by U.S. troops. Although some of those stories are familiar, he adds a heart-rending portrayal of the brutal life they endured.
But Scott breaks new ground by mining war crimes records, after-action military reports and other primary sources for the agonizing testimony of Philippine survivors and witnesses of more than two dozen major Japanese atrocities during the battle — and the ferocious American response.
The frenzy of Japanese massacres defies imagination. Countless women were raped and tortured, their babies tossed in the air and bayoneted. Patients and doctors were stabbed at hospitals, nuns and priests hanged at churches, children tossed into pits with grenades. Marauding Japanese troops burned people alive in convents, schools and prisons. They simply buried others alive.
In one charnel house, they cut a hole in the second floor and then led scores of blindfolded civilians upstairs, made them kneel by the edge and decapitated them with swords. Elsewhere, they crammed hundreds of men into a sweltering stone dungeon, locked the iron door and let them starve to death.
A Japanese soldier’s diary relayed the horrors at Fort Santiago, an ancient citadel. “Burned 1,000 guerrillas to death tonight,” the diarist wrote on Feb. 9, one of several such entries. The mass murder was not random. Military orders later found by investigators stated that “all people on the battlefield … will be put to death.” The battlefield was the entire city.
Against them was a U.S. force unprepared for urban warfare. They fired 155-millimeter howitzers at point-blank range to dislodge the enemy and used tanks, flamethrowers and bazookas to kill the rest. They fought block by block, house by house, room by room, leveling hundreds of city blocks.
U.S. troops rescued, treated and fed tens of thousands of traumatized and wounded survivors. But amid the smoldering ruins, Scott writes, “it was hard to tell who had done more damage — the Japanese defenders or the American liberators.”
Estimates of the civilian dead range from 100,000 to 240,000. MacArthur was mostly absent, writing in his diary that he was engaged in “routine conferences” at a lush hacienda north of the city. Iwabuchi, who had presided over one of the most barbaric massacres of the war, apparently committed suicide rather than surrender, although his body was never found.
The terrible battle had a curious afterlife. Yamashita finally surrendered several weeks after the war had formally ended. U.S. prosecutors soon charged him with failing to control his troops in the deaths of 62,278 civilians, 144 slain American officers and enlisted men, and 488 raped women and children.
Yet the first war crimes trial in the Pacific proved a rushed, makeshift affair. Yamashita was not charged with participating in the atrocities, or ordering them, or even knowing about them. “The rule of evidence,” a New York Times reporter wrote at the time, “can be boiled down to two words: anything goes.”
Not surprisingly, he was found guilty and sentenced to hang. His American lawyers filed an emergency appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court. It ultimately ruled 6-2 against Yamashita, dooming him to the gallows, but is remembered mostly for the two impassioned dissents.
“Never before have we tried and convicted an enemy general for action taken during hostilities. … Much less have we condemned one for failing to take action,” Justice Wiley Rutledge wrote. Justice Frank Murphy was even more blunt. The “enemy has lost the battle but has destroyed our ideals,” he warned.
Those still fascinated by World War II will find much new to ponder in “Rampage.”
Bob Drogin, author of “Curveball: Spies, Lies and the Con Man Who Caused a War,” was the Los Angeles Times bureau chief in Manila from 1989 to 1993.
c. Puppeteer copy of a Japanese Army poster in Thailand during World War II. Seizing the anti-colonialist argument, the Japanese army encouraged the Thais to see Britain as the enemy, as the master puppeteer or manipulator of Thailand. d. Japanese soldier aggressively charging Britain. Japan promised to drive the British predatory lion out and implied that the U.S. (The Roosevelt-faced animal) would stand by and let Britain be ousted. e. John Bull being ousted. The Japanese soldier in front with the Japanese flag on his arm succeeded in getting the Thai to cooperate with him and run Britain (John Bull, here depicted as a schoolboy) off the map of Southeast Asia.