The Robalo and the Coastwatchers

Posted by Rebekah
Jul 19 2010

Well the days of R&R for the Fliers and the Redfins are drawing to a close, so we’ ll leave them to their amusements and go to the Coastwatchers and the Robalo.

The Coastwatchers, who left the Redfin and landed on Ramos Island on June 8, found more trouble than they had been prepared for.  To begin with, it was the rainy season, and they day after they landed, it POURED.  Rain, plus electronic components wrapped in non-waterproof cases equals…well, nothing I can write here.

They had to open all the containers and spread everything out all over the  campsite to dry.  It was hot and extremely humid and as anyone who has ever tried to dry clothes on the line in those conditions, or in a steamy bathroom can tell you, it takes forever.

In the meantime, the local people found them.  One of the first men who found them was a Filipino who had escaped the Japanese Prison Camp at Puerto Princesa on Palawan.  He was the first to tell them about the conditions of the prisoners there.  He also told them that the Japanese were camped too close and that it was too dangerous to remain.  In addition, according to the official report, he told them to not trust any non Christians, since they will happily report their presence for little money.

On June 23, they moved to Mantangule Island, using several kumpits they hired for the journey.  They day after they landed on Mantangule, it rained.  Again.  They had to dry out all of their equipment.  Again.

While they were doing this, Sgt. Corpus left the camp in the care of Sgt. Palacido the second in command, to head for Brooke’s Point, to make contact with the guerilla command in that area.  He also had a message for one Mr. Edwards of Brooke’s Point (He’ll show up again).  It said that his two oldest girls had been safely delivered to the USA and college.

By July 6, when the Fliers were enjoying their first days of freedom and the Redfins were one day from Darwin and the Robalo was already four days past her final transmission, the Coastwatchers finally got their equipment dry enough to contact headquarters and tell them they were fine, and where they were now located.

On July 8, Sgt. Palacido de la Cruz of the Cape Baliluyan guerillas, George Marquez (remember these two, they’ll show up again) along with the police chief of Balabac City found the Coastwatchers on Mantangule, and listened to their first radio news broadcast since the war fell.  In the Philippines, it was easy to believe the Japanese were winning, since their grip was still tight, but it was rapidly breaking elsewhere.

Two days after that, Corpus returned from Brooke’s Point with Captain Nazario Mayor of the Brooke’s Point guerillas (and he’ll reappear too) along with his guerilla contingent with many kumpits and fishing boats, to move everyone to Brooke’s Point.  They said the Japanese, while not stationed on Mantangule, patrolled nearby regularly and would probably find the Coastwatchers before the month was out.  Considering how frequently everyone else found them, they might have been right.  Mayor even said he was shocked to find they were still alive.  He had all but convinced Corpus that his men were certainly killed or captured in the week he’d been gone.

So they packed up one more time, and headed to Brooke’s Point, landing sixty-six years ago today.  But already there was a disturbing rumor that Pasqual de la Cruz started to look into.

Robalo had not returned any calls or radioed her position.  No one was alarmed yet.  Some submarines went several days between transmissions, since it could be too dangerous if they were near an enemy installment.

But on or shortly after July 3, a story started to circulate among the native peoples of Balabac City that there had been four to six submariners that washed up on the beaches of Comiran Island.  Their submarine had exploded and sank in Lumbucan Channel, south of Comiran Island.  Two had been captured, at least two more shot while escaping or shot after capture, and possibly two escaping.  The story was very muddled, some saying only four had made it to Comiran, some four captured and two executed, some all six captured with no executions, and de la Cruz was on his way to Balabac Island to check the truth of this story.

Courtesy of the family of Al Jacobson, and Mr. Jacobson's trip to the Philippines to retrace his and the possibly Robalo survivors steps, we see here the actual beach of Comiran Island. This place is so tiny it doesn't matter how closely you zoom in on Google Earth, it won't show. The only two ways through Balabac Strait is either through Natsubata Channel north of this island, or Lumbucan Channel, south of it. If the 1944 rumors de la Cruz heard are true, Robalo might be under Lumbucan Channel. But some of those rumors listed other places she went down. The proper name for this island is Comiran, despite the caption above.

It was slow going, for apparently all witnesses to this story were Japanese, who obviously were not going to verify anything to him.  He found enough corroborating information to make him think the story was likely true in essentials, and he had some details to back it up.

It took most of the end of July and the first half of August, but he managed to get two surnames of the alleged captured submariners who were being held in Balabac City: Lieutenant Tucker and Quartermaster Martin.  He kept those names to himself as well as two more pieces of information he was able to glean: the name USS Robalo, and the fact her last point of call had been Port Darwin on or around June 29.  This trip took him some time, but it would end up likely saving the lives of some, if not all of the Flier survivors.

I thought a map of the current complex movements might help. You'll be looking at a lot of this area over the next six weeks. Please remember that until the wreck of the Robalo is found, that anything that may or may not have happened to her is part detective work, and mostly speculation.

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