Posts Tagged ‘Palawan Island’

Guerilla Headquarters

Where was Flier 66 years ago today? | Posted by Rebekah
Aug 21 2010

The waters north of Bugsuk Island are riddled with reefs and shallow places.  The charts clearly mark more places that are “exposed at low tide” and “passable at high tide” and “passible by shallow-bottomed boats” than they do the actual path through.

Sula LaHud, who the Fliers quickly re-named “Sailor” in respect for his amazing talents, knew the way, and darkness or treacherous waters were nothing to him, this was his home after all.  He was a Moro Trader, and according to what I can find, a Moro is a general term for a Muslim resident from (mostly) southern Palawan Island.  They apparently do not call themselves Moro, though they will recognize that you are referring to them if you use it (they don’t consider it an insult), and from what little I can find, they have never been united under any one leadership, or political entity.  I guess it’s like being from Michigan, and being called a Troll.  We don’t call ourselves that, but if someone does, we know two things: 1,) They are also Michganders and 2.) They are from the Upper Penninsula.  (People from Lower Peninsula in Michigan are Trolls cause we live under the (Mackinaw) Bridge, get it?)  But we don’t call ourselves that and we certainly aren’t united politically that way (The Troll Party of Michigan.  We believe in eating anyone who crosses our bridge.   Hey, where did everyone go?)

Oh dear, I really am sleep deprived.

Anyway, this man was apparently well known to everyone as one of the best traders and navigators in the area, and Al and the other Fliers marveled at how easily he slipped his boat through the waves, even though, just before sunset, they could see corals just inches below the waters on either side of the boat, but the boat would slide past them quickly with only a few words passing between Sailor and his two young helpers.

Taken from my book, "Surviving the Flier", and based on a map originally drawn by survivor Al Jacobson, this shows the path from the morning they were taken into the care of guerillas to landing at Brooke's Point. Note the really twisted path the boat had to take from the northern tip of Bugsuk Island to the southern tip of Palawan. If you saw this on Google Earth overhead (which I can't access on this computer right now) you would see this path corresponds to the only dark blue (deep water) path from Bugsuk to Baliluyan.

They landed without incident at Cape Baliluyan at 3 am that morning, and the guerillas were waiting for them.  They ran down to the beach, unloaded everyone and everything from Sailor’s kumpit, dragged it under cover and got everyone to the shelter as quickly as they could.

These men, the Fliers quickly learned, were mostly college students or graduates, or even teachers before the war, but now they fought against the Japanese stranglehold on the island.  They did this so well on the southern half of Palawan that they nicknamed it “Free Palawan”.  The Japanese knew they were there, and though they strongly held the northern half of Palawan (where the POW camp was) and Balabac Island, they tended to steer clear of this area so long as the guerillas weren’t too obvious about what they were up to.

There had been almost no news in this area since the fall of Manila in 1942, and these men were desperate for news of the outside world and hung on to every word the men could tell them about the defeat of the Japanese in Guadalcanal, the Bismark Sea, the Coral Sea, the Marianas, even as near as the Philippine Sea.  All news was censored and highly classified here, and these men knew none of what had happened and were jubulient to learn that, despite appearances here, the Japanese hold was weakening.

The next morning, after breakfast, the head of these Guerillas, Seargent Pasqual De la Cruz, gave them a gift.  All the guerillas donated every spare bit of clothing they had so the Fliers could walk around in something other than their boxers and t-shirts.  Again, these men had no new clothing in four years, and they didn’t know how soon they might get more, so this was an incredibly generous gift.  Each Flier man found a pair of pants that would fit him, and Al was one of the few who found a shirt that fit (though he said it was so tight it would not button across his chest).

Then de la Cruz started to question the Fliers, asking their names, ranks, serials, boat’s name, how long at sea.  There wasn’t much Captain Crowley was permitted to tell him, even though he was an Ally.  One never knew if he would be captured and tortured in the next few days or weeks after all.  But during this time, everyone discovered something no one suspected up until now:  De la Cruz had sent his men to find submariners from a boat he heard rumors of sinking OVER A MONTH BEFORE.  Sarmiento and the Bugsuk Battalion was looking for sailors that had escaped another submarine, not Flier.

De La Cruz, away from the other Fliers, gave Captain Crowley news saying he had spent the better part of the last two weeks on Balabac Island chasing down rumors of captured navy men.  He didn’t know the name of the boat, though he was certain it was a submarine, but he did hear two names: Tucker and Martin, and that they had been captured while the others with them had been killed (depending on who he interviewed, either they were killed trying to escape or killed in cold blood after their capture.  There were also rumors of two more men, but he didn’t get their names).  He also told Crowley that the submarine these two had been on had been in Darwin Australia on or around June 28.  If Crowley got back to the Allied territory, he was supposed to pass that information on.

After a dinner of, yup, more rice, and a special treat of thinly slicked and cured carabao meat (Jacobson said despite being so thin either the meat was so tough or their jaws were so weak they could barely chew it) it was time to go.  Sarmiento decided to go back to Bugsuk to keep an eye out for more survivors and resume his duties.

The Fliers were on schedule to get to Brooke’s Point, the Coastwatcher’s place, the following morning.

But there ended up being a snag.  Shortly after leaving Cape Baliluyan, Sailor’s boat came across a Japanese patrol boat.  With twelve people on such a little craft (eight Fliers, Sailor and his two boys plus de la Cruz who came to give a report to Brooke’s Point) the Filipinos knew that there was no way the Japanese patrol would think this was a fishing boat if they spotted it.  Sailor pulled his craft closer to shore, where he had to maneuver more delicately through the corals, and had the boys drop the sail to make their craft harder to see.

The patrol boat took its sweet time, plodding slowly down the coast of Palawan, and by the time Sailor thought it was safe enough to raise the sail, the wind had died.  De la Cruz, the boys, and Sailor took turns rowing through the sea, but they just couldn’t make enough progress.

In the end, Sailor decided that since they weren’t going to make Brooke’s Point before the first aerial patrols the next morning, it was better to stop for the night.  Sailor knew of a family that lived nearby, and so they landed at Rio Tuba, a tiny two-hut village three miles up the Tuba River.  The men were quickly ushered into one of the houses, where they fell asleep.

The Robalo and the Coastwatchers

Where was Flier 66 years ago today? | 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.