The Intrepid Guerrillas of North Luzon

By Bernard Norling. Lexington:University Press of Kentucky, 1999. 284 pp. $25.00.

Lt Col Harold E. Raugh, Jr., United States Army (Retd) reviews this book exclusively for DJ.

After the fall of Bataan (9 April 1942) and the surrender of Corregidor (6 May 1942) in the Philippines, the majority of US Army and Philippine Army soldiers serving there became prisoners of war.  Frequently, however, some commanders ordered their units to surrender, and the units as a whole, or individual officers and soldiers, refused; other commanders ordered their units to disband and disperse; and a few units, on detached missions or in isolated locations, found themselves separated from their parent units and decided to continue resistance.  In time, the disparate military elements and individuals in North Luzon were extricated from chaos and organized into a relatively effective 20,000-man guerilla force.

This interesting book focuses on the World War II activities of Troop C, 26th Cavalry Philippine Scouts, which was later expanded and became the guerrilla Cagayan-Apayao Forces (CAF) in two of the northernmost provinces of Luzon.  Shortly after the Japanese landed on Luzon in December 1941, Troop C was deployed to assist in the defence of Baguio — the summer capital of the Philippines located high in the mountains some 125 miles north of Manila — an objective of the Japanese. After a few weeks of desultory fighting there, Troop C trekked a further 125 miles north to Tuguerarao, where the Japanese had established an airfield.

Troop C, under the command of Captain Ralph Praeger, was thereafter active in hostilities against the Japanese. The 12 January 1942 raid on Tuguegarao was generally a success, although its results were greatly exaggerated to help lift sagging morale in the Philippines.  To minimize casualties and the risk of being compromised and captured, ambushes and other combat patrols were reduced in frequency and scale. Subsequently Troop members conducted reconnaissance patrols and gathered information about the enemy, sending reports twice daily to their higher headquarters. The daily operations, trials, and tribulations of Troop C soldiers and their guerrilla counterparts, until Praeger’s capture on 30 August 1943 and the disintegration of the CAF, are chronicled in rich detail.  The CAF contribution to eventual Allied victory was noteworthy and commendable.

Author Bernard Norling, professor emeritus of history at the University of Notre Dame, is no stranger to the saga of US Army guerrilla operations in the Philippines.  Norling is the co-author of three earlier books written with US Army officers who participated in Philippine guerrilla operations: Samuel Grashio and Norling, Return to Freedom (Tulsa, Oklahoma: Military Collectors’ News Press, 1983); Ray Hunt and Norling, Behind Japanese Lines (Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 1986); and Robert Lapham and Norling, Lapham’s Raiders (Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 1996).  It seems, however, that Norling’s association with Grashio, Hunt, and Lapham tainted his perspective towards other guerrilla leaders and elements, especially Colonel Russell Volckmann, eventual commander of US Army Forces in the Philippines, North Luzon (USAFPNL), who consolidated all guerrilla units under one command.

While commenting upon the quality of guerrilla-acquired intelligence, the author notes insightfully that “the same scrutiny and studied skepticism should be accorded post-war statements by guerrillas about their own wartime activities and about each other.  Rivalries among them were keen, and memories have dimmed markedly in the ensuing half century” (p. 62).  There is more than a touch of irony here, since “most of what is known about the day-to-day existence and activities of the Praeger organization comes from a single course: “Operations of Troop C, 26th Cavalry Philippine Scouts in Northern Luzon: The First Two Years,” which Jones [troop executive officer] wrote entirely from memory in 1946” (p. ix).  Norling uses this document extensively and uncritically.  Two diaries of Colonel John P. Horan (commander of Camp John Hay at Baguio), for example, one apparently written contemporaneously in 1941-1942 and the second retrospectively in 1960, are noted and assessed by Norling.  While Norling questions the veracity of Horan’s 1960 diary (pp. 36-37, 83-84), he nonetheless uses it when convenient to support his own perspectives.  The frequent use of unconfirmed single sources, occasionally at odds with the Army official histories, is equally disturbing.

The Intrepid Guerrillas of North Luzon (in spite of concerns about sources and documentation) is important and timely in that it again brings attention to the diminishing group of stalwart American soldiers who refused to surrender at Bataan or Corregidor and their intrepid Filipino allies who for years harassed and fought the Japanese invaders.  The actions and achievements of these American and Filipino guerrillas give meaning to the words “sacrifice” and “valour” while serving as an inspiration to contemporary readers.