The Panay Guerrillas/USS Narwhal Debacle By Peter Parsons
In mid-1944 the resistance against the Japanese occupation of the Philippines was in full swing, equipped and armed through the efforts of twenty submarines that had been “borrowed” from the US Navy by General Douglas MacArthur in order to fulfill “special missions” to the islands. These boats brought to the guerrillas a wide assortment of arms and ammunition as well as radio equipment and medicines and the occasional handful of trained commandos. There was usually included in these drops a variety of propaganda material. Nothing was lost to Japanese interdiction, and nearly all missions were accomplished with grace, gratitude and goodwill being exhibited on both sides of the exchange. Submarines would wait offshore until a pre-arranged signal would be made at the landing site. Often this was a series of fires, or a set of disks mounted on a bamboo pole. Sometimes a morse code indicator could be transmitted by occulting a fire with a blanket or sheet and then letting it be seen again–nothing more complex than a few dashes or dots in these cases. Typically the guerrillas would appear at the sub’s sides with bancas, batels (fairly large sailing bancas), or bamboo rafts to offload the precious cargo. The lucky ones who got to board the craft were often treated to a cup of real coffee, a Coke, a ham sandwich. At least once a guerrilla or two would stowaway aboard the submarine. This happened at Tawi Tawi during a delivery to Jordan Hamner. Upon leaving, Skipper Frank Latta discovered “two unauthorized” passengers aboard. They had been waiting for the return of the bancas when the sudden appearance of a Japanese destroyer caused an unexpectedly rapid departure. These two got a free trip to Australia. Submarines would occasionally stop and hail a banca out in the middle of the Visayan sea and pass goodies to the Filipino crew. One such encounter was described in the Narwhal’s 9th War Patrol, again under Cmdr. Latta: “Passing in an aura of good fellowship, cigarettes were tossed to them and they became boon companions.” It was not always thus, however, and not all the unloadings went smoothly. One particular incident caused grave concerns amongst the officials at General MacArthur’s GHQ and among the other submarines as well. It was an unloading gone sour in which Filipinos were bodily thrown overboard and a good deal of the cargo lost. It engendered the bitterest and most sarcastic response from any guerrilla leader in the Philippines ever written to General MacArthur.
On June 10, 1944 the Narwhal left Port Darwin starting her 11th War Patrol, now under the command of Lt. Cmdr. J.C. Titus. At Bula, Ceram Island, the boat wreaked havoc upon the Japanese garrison there, demolishing several gasoline tanks and a gun emplacement. Her next stop was off Lipata Point, Panay, in the Philippines, where a representive of Col. Macario Peralta (founder and commander of the 6th Military District) came aboard after the proper security signal was given. This officer apparently was Major Cirilo B. Garcia, who boarded the sub at about 6 P.M., June 20. Kenneth Hanson, an American civilian evacuee on the Narwhal, said that Major Garcia left after an hour and was “not seen again.” Lieutenants Crespo [could be 1st Lt. Toribio Crespo] and Amis (sic) [could be 2nd Lt. Irineo Ames] were left in charge of the unloading, according to eyewitness Pfc. Nathan W. Talbot, also an evacuee on board. The skipper, Titus, noted that the conditions looked ideal, water very calm, no wind and a “short run for the boats.” Of some concern was the proximity of Japanese—at Culasi 3.5 miles south of Narwhal, and at Pandan, 13 miles north. In the War Patrol report it is noted however that “the boatmen refused to load [their boats] to capacity, and when about 15% loaded, they started to complain about
having a load and…would shove off.” Arguing with them was of no avail and eventually one sailor was placed in each boat to make sure they were loaded to capacity. Supplies were even unboxed and loaded loose in order to save space. The two guerrillas in charge of the procedure had no control over the boatmen, who did “not seem very anxious to receive the cargo.” According to Hanson, the guerrilla officers “were so busy trying to get cigarettes and clothes that they did not have time to supervise the job.” He also wrote that “when the small boats reached the sub, they were filled with sightseers who were left on…deck, while the sailboats, about half loaded, returned to shore.” Pfc. Talbot reports that there were definitely hard feelings and hot words between the skipper and the Filipinos that night. But he also corroborates that there were enough boats to have handled the job had they been properly supervised; and that there were “so many people that it was necessary to leave them on the deck of the sub so as to have room for the cargo [in the bancas and batels].” Sometime early in the morning before 0330 hours, Cmdr. Titus assigned two Filipino men to each drum of gasoline and indicated that they should swim the drums ashore. Hearing this, the two guerrilla officers left on the first available banca without taking “even one case of ammunition.” At this point, some “30% of the cargo remained on deck plus the gasoline drums.” Fourteen evacuees were on board and military passengers had been sent ashore. The War Report goes on: “By 0335 the last boat had been loaded to capacity, about 15 tons, over the strenuous objection of the ‘Patron.’ Most of the shore party was put in the boat but about 20 men would not go willingly. After pushing a dozen or so overboard, the rest got the news and jumped, leaving all equipment behind…” In the War Report there is an interesting entry here: “…much to the joy of the Narwhal crew.” I believe this to be an extremely sarcastic commentary on the proceedings, later to be matched by the caustic message of Peralta to MacArthur himself. This is perhaps the low point of relations between the USN special mission submarines and the Filipino guerrillas. Nothing like this was noted in any of the other 48 missions. Shortly before 0400 Titus ordered the remaining gasoline drums and carbine boxes jettisoned as the Narwhal started moving out of the bay. Both of the evacuees who were queried on this incident said that about 30 tons of cargo were lost; the war report writer said it was 15 tons lost. Hanson says that the skipper “had his men throw those who were not able to get in the boats overboard.” Pfc. Talbot adds that “Members of the crew said that some of the Filipinos in the water were hit by the boxes of supplies.” The story does not end there as the Narwhal, always ready for a fight, and possibly a bit hostile after this unpleasantness, met two Japanese vessels shortly after setting forth. She got off a torpedo shot at one (and sunk it according to the two evacuee witnesses); and then had to outrun the other one.
On July 11, 1944, General MacArthur received the following radio, #377 from Col. Peralta:
“Please inform sub captain I thank him for the kindness, courtesy displayed my half-starved rather forward officers. Value of such cannot be estimated as they help allay possible hard feelings on their part and is excellent proof of American generosity and sympathy. What those men will say around counts more that one ton of printed promises.” [This last, a not-too-veiled reference to the “I shall Return—MacArthur” slogan that was printed on the propaganda material sent in.]
SJC [Maj. General Stephen J. Chamberlain], chief of operations, G-3 SWPA GHQ, commented (PSD Action sheet #286, July 14, 1944) on Peralta’s message with this:
“Only through a knowledge of background is it possible to understand the heights of sarcasm which PERALTA has reached in the attached message. Due to the slovenly arrangements made for the discharge of the last shipment of supplies to the 6th M.D. [Panay], dawn began to break with the vessel still swarming with guerrillas and deck piled with cargo. The captain’s [Titus’s] patience was exhausted. Culminating a series of unfortunate incidents between the captain and guerrilla officers during the night the captain had his decks cleared of both cargo and guerrillas, many of the latter being forced to swim to shore. The sub captain’s impatience, while possibly understandable, cannot be justified. The matter has been informally brought to the attention of Naval authorities who will take corrective action.”
General Charles A. Willoughby, of the General’s staff and close personal advisor to him, summarized the event and includes the following two concluding paragraphs:
“Peralta’s attitude, from his message and other evacuee reports, appears to be generally obstreperous. He is young, resourceful, competent and able. His organization on Panay has seemed to be good. His intelligence coverage of his own and other areas is of greater value than that of other MD commanders and in the past his attitude has been tolerated for this reason.
“His hostility towards Americans has been confirmed by numerous reliable evacuees from Panay. Since Peralta’s sources are valuable no action is recommended at this time, though future deliveries of supplies by navy might be affected by these adverse reports. However, commanders of forces reentering the Philippines should be advised of Peralta’s attitude, for appropriate action.”
Now, to look at the episode from the point of view of the guerrillas. We are afforded a glimpse into the event of the second visit of the Narwhal to the 6th Military District in the book, Guerilla Warfare on Panay Island in the Philippines, by Col. Gamaliel Manikan. Herein we are given very interesting background material, such as an account of a guerrilla encounter with a Japanese land force near the landing site. The guerrillas were, by then, using their new weapons, supplied during three prior submarine trips. The Japanese were nearly wiped out, the ragged remnant, about 50-60 soldiers, being carried away by a coastal vessel. This was on the day before the Narwhal’s scheduled arrival. Eighty additional Japanese troops landed at Pandan but could not rendezvous with the routed group, and they were also removed by motor launch. According to Major Garcia, the unloading of the Narwhal was being done in “full view of the enemy in Lipata.” He says, however, that he so informed skipper Frank Latta, and even pointed out the Japanese location. [But the skipper was not Latta. It was Titus.] Garcia then says that he ordered additional boats and men to speed up the work. “Due to darkness and with everybody pitching in, there was some confusion. By 5:00 a.m., (of the next day, June 21) there was still considerable cargo left on the deck. The skipper became apprehensive and warned that he may have to dump the remaining load overboard unless we could clear in 30 minutes. “We pleaded for more time, but in a little while an unidentified motor boat was sighted approaching Lipata. There were still some 35 assorted boxes left on deck and 12 drums of aviation gas. These were swept overboard. “After hastily bidding the skipper goodbye, we left as he opened up on the motor boat with the sub’s deck gun [note, Narwhal carried two 6” deck guns]. The presence of some 40 evacuees whom we had loaded earlier must have added to the skipper’s worry. He chased the enemy craft without diving.” The author reports that the boat chased by the Narwhal “split wide open, like a tin of sardines, at the second shot of the deck gun, to the delirious delight and cheers of the soldiers and hundreds of people who had a ‘ringside view’ of the action.” A few notable differences of fact seem to occur here: the Narwhal war report says it was too dark to fire upon the approaching enemy vessel, and therefore used torpedoes. Time of departure was given at about 0400 hours instead of after 0500. Number of evacuees was listed as 14, rather than 40. Garcia states that the Narwhal had more load than intended since its unloading at Cebu was cut short, leaving an additional 30 tons to deliver to Panay. And of course, the skipper was Titus, not Latta. Latta had been skipper of the Narwhal on its earlier visit to Panay, on Feb. 5, 1944. Note that the first stop of the Narwhal’s in the Philippines on this trip was this one, in Panay. I make no judgment on the recollections of either the boatswain on the Narwhal nor of Major Garcia (who was a Colonel when he wrote his version some time after the events). I must say, though, that I find rather compelling the picture of hundreds of people in their ringside seats cheering as the Japanese boat opened up like a tin of sardines!!
I spoke with a Panay guerrilla Alex Hontiveros in 2000, and mentioned this incident. He merely grinned and said that “it never happened again.”
Sources: War Reports of the USS Narwhal; communications between Col. Macario Peralta and SWPA GHQ and internal comments on these, courtesy of the MacArthur Memorial in Norfolk, VA, James Zobel, archivist.
General background on the guerrilla submarine from the Chick Parsons archives in Baguio, Philippines. It was Parsons, working within the Philippine Regional Section of GHQ, who organized the 20 special mission submarines and their cargoes. He often accompanied the boats into the Philippines. It was reported that Peralta harbored a dislike of Parsons because he had backed Ruperto Kangleon’s guerrilla leadership on Leyte rather than Lt. Blas Miranda’s, Peralta’s choice. Parsons wrote a long letter to Peralta offering his cooperation and friendship; later the two were to meet on Panay during the liberation. Parsons wrote home: “I was glad he didn’t shoot me.”
Panay guerrilla background: Col. Gamaliel L. Manikan (ret.); Guerilla Warfare on Panay Island in the Philippines; Bustamante Press, Quezon City: 1977
Parsons’ son Peter produced a DVD, “Secret War in the Pacific” which is available at a good price at http://www.libros.com.ph/bookdetails.asp?bookid=1100410298.
You can read about some of Parsons’ extraordinary adventures HERE.