Toward the end of 1944, Allied Forces progressively removed Japanese troops from the Pacific, sending them back to Japan. But, the loss of reach made the Japanese Army fight back, and they did not give up easily as it was.
The Japanese had brutal tactics, especially when handling their prisoners of war. In December, 139 Allied prisoners of war were shot and burned alive.
The POWs mostly came from the Corregidor battle in the Philippines and lived through the Bataan Death March. Finally, a few American troops were able to break free, and they joined the Filipino guerilla forces.
These Americans made sure others knew what was about to happen to the prisoners of war in the area, and due to their efforts, a plan was made to save the POWs.
At the end of January 1945, 500 Allied troops were prisoners in the Cabanatuan Prison Camp. The camp was one of the largest and could hold more than 5,000 prisoners.
The rescue team comprised 200 Filipino guerillas and 120 Rangers and Alamo Scouts. The force had to walk 30 miles through enemy territory to reach the POWs.
Lieutenant Colonel Henry Mucci led the group and split them into two elements. There was a 90 man assault team that would enter the camp through the main entrance, take out Japanese troops, and get the POWs.
The support group had 30 men and would take out the guard towers and be the backup firepower. To hold off any additional Japanese troops, the Filipino guerillas were split into two groups, one on the east side and the other on the west.
The group used a P-61 Black Widow aircraft to distract the guards before the raid began.
Executing The Raid
The P-61 was successful in getting the guard’s attention. Finally, the main force entered the camp, took out the guards, and got to the prisoners.
Unfortunately, the prisoners were in terrible shape. They suffered years of hard labor, little food, and harsh punishments. Stretchers and wagons were used to help those who could not walk leave the camp.
The successful raid saved 489 prisoners and 11 civilians. However, the rescue team lost four Americans, and four more were wounded.
While Cabanatuan was one of the largest raids, it was not the only one. In the following weeks, additional raids rescued POWs from other camps.