Raid at Ormoc: an alamo scout mission during WWLL.
6 November 1944
Peering out into the darkness with its onboard radar, the boat made almost entirely of engine, wood, and aluminum glided through enemy waters. The darkness helped conceal the shape of the PT (patrol torpedo) boat and its special cargo. Suddenly the radar picked up a Japanese destroyer sitting directly in the boat's path. The alarm was raised, and everyone moved to their battle stations. A map check solved the problem; it was a large rock well above the water line. Realizing their mistake, the skipper ordered the torpedo men to stand down but maintained battle stations as they continued on. The PT boat rounded the northern tip of Leyte Island and glided into Carigara Bay. The skipper muffled the exhaust on the three large Packard engines in order to reduce their noise signature. Finding the insertion area near Abijao, they turned toward the shoreline. Suddenly there was a blinking light from shore: dot dash dot, dot, dash dot dot (RED in Morse code), according to Larry Alexander in his book Shadows in the Jungle. Slowly and cautiously, the PT boat turned towards the light with all weapons at the ready, anticipating a possible Japanese ambush. As they pulled closer, they started to make out lights and then buildings and people. 1LT Robert S. Sumner, leader of the Sumner Team, turned to PFC Edward Renhols and said, "Flash scouts ashore," according to Alexander. The longest Alamo Scout mission in World War II had begun.
The guerillas realized the Americans had arrived and cheered; they then established a security perimeter. The scouts sprung into action. This was not their first amphibious infiltration in the middle of the night onto an enemy-controlled island. They inflated a rubber boat, but unlike previous times they had two tons of weapons and ammunition with them.
Sumner and part of his team rowed to shore where he was unceremoniously lifted out of the raft by the guerrillas and carried to shore. There, he met MAJ Jose Nazareno, commander of the 2/96 Infantry Regiment, a Philippine guerrilla unit. They discussed the equipment and how to get it to shore. Nazareno then ordered some of the guerrillas to assist with unloading the weapons and ammo using a type of local canoe called a barato. Then he presented a gift to Sumner: two captured Japanese soldiers to be brought back for interrogation.
In the process of moving the equipment, the PT boat came about beam to shore. This sudden move threw several people into the water including SGT Lawrence Coleman, whose hand was cut to the bone by one of the boat's screws. After examining the wound, Sumner was forced to order him to stay with the PT boat and return to base, scrubbing him from the mission. This casualty brought the Sumner team down to six Alamo Scouts and a three-man Filipino radio team.
After 45 nervous minutes exposed in the water, the team and their guerilla allies moved to the village of Abijao, where the scouts were welcomed like royalty. Surprisingly, more than 600 people crowded the streets celebrating the return of Americans. An extremely noisy party ensued in the middle of a Japanese-controlled island. To maintain security, the guerillas established an early warning (EW) system on all roads and trails leading to the village.
That night they slept in a local house whose owner told them how happy he was to see them after what the Japanese had done to them. Three hours later a sudden reveille was sounded using a cavalry bugle. After eating a large breakfast of local cuisine, the team issued out the weapons and ammo they had brought. Two companies of guerrillas were armed, but this did nothing for their lack of clothing and supplemental gear. On the march to Matag Ob Barrio, they were assisted by a company of guerrillas and a group of local militia called the Volunteer Guards (VG). The VG were a paramilitary-type organization drawn from the local villages; their size depended on the size of the village. They were the manual labor arm and casualty replacement for the main line guerrilla units. With the VG in place, they began the march to Matag Ob at 0800. Along the way, they were greeted by natives and showered with questions and gifts of chickens and eggs.
The Sumner team's route passed by San Isidro. Sumner ordered CPL Robert Schermerhorn and PFC Paul Jones to establish a radio relay station to pass information to higher headquarter. The remaining four scouts continued the mission with the second radio. Upon reaching Matag Ob, the team was treated to another party. The guerrilla's EW system was again emplaced to detect any Japanese threats. During the festivities, Sumner and Nazareno held a meeting and made a list of supplies to be air dropped to the guerrillas. A message was sent to request enough weapons, ammunition, web gear, and clothing to outfit 200 men. The supplies are to be dropped near the village of Mas-in.
The need for training and ammo was highlighted following several short but sharp skirmishes with Japanese patrols. "The guerrillas use as much ammo as a unit twice their size," noted a representative of the Alamo Scouts Association. A large amount of ammunition was used, and the Japanese now knew the Americans were on the island.
Once at Mas-in, the guerrillas hacked out and marked a drop zone (DZ). Three C-47s arrived at 1400. The planes dropped 36 bundles loaded with weapons, ammunition, coffee, cigarettes, and even Stars and Stripes and Life magazines. They quickly cleared the DZ and moved to a more secure area. They then spent a couple days in the Mas-in area. Sumner established a human intelligence network to report on Japanese activity. The team then split again with CPL William Blaise left to man the radio and maintain contact with the first element.
Sumner and the others moved to an observation point at Puerto Bello. From there they observed enemy activity around Ormoc. There were some concerns about 'Makapilis' or Filipinos who collaborated with the Japanese. However, the guerrillas maintained a constant watch on those suspected of collaborating. The team spent a couple of weeks using a house on stilts as its command post (CP). As the naval and air battles ensued off Leyte Island, the guerrillas brought captured Japanese seaman and airmen to the team for questioning.
After a couple of weeks, the Japanese decided they had to eliminate that problem in their backyard. Using a combined amphibious and land pincer movement, they attempted to encircle the team and its guerrilla support. However, the guerrilla EW system warned Sumner that he had enemy units on two sides at about a mile away. The team packed up and started moving to Mount Naguang where there was a more defensible position. A radio signal was sent to Sixth Army telling them they would be out of contact for several days and that another air drop would be needed when they stop. Then the sight was broken down, and they escaped and evaded the Japanese trap.
By the time the team evaded the Japanese, they were critically low on ammo, only having enough for one more short firefight. On 18 November another air drop was conducted. Sumner also used this opportunity to help repay the locals. He requested items that threw the supply system into a clamor: sewing needles. The locals had been without sewing needles since 1943. They had sewing machines, but the ability to produce clothes had come to a standstill without the needles. The sewing needles were dutifully obtained by the scout's unconventional supply system. Sumner made a gift of the needles and silk parachutes to the locals. Then, resupplied, the team and their guerrilla counterparts continued to evade Japanese patrols.
A near disaster struck when the team's radio became inoperable, and they were unable to contact Sixth Army. They halted near Valencia as the team weighed their options. Then the answer, quite literally, fell into their laps. A disoriented fighter plane passed over and parachuted out a radio with extra tubes. Even stranger, it was a Japanese airplane and radio. To further add to the unpredictable fortunes of war, the radio was fixed a few days later with yet another mis-dropped radio.
As the guerrillas gathered intelligence, the Japanese were not the only ones found. The team also liberated five downed U.S. airman who were found living it up with the natives. They sent them with a guerrilla detachment back to San Isidro so they could continue their war efforts. Then the team set up a new CP on mount Naguang in a village called Cagdaat. The new CP had a separate radio room, a newly cleared DZ, and even a spring fed pool nearby.
As the team continued gathering intelligence and relaying it to Sixth Army HQ, reports started coming in about a camouflaged warehouse complex next to Ormoc. Air strikes were called in but failed to hit the warehouses with their stores of ammunition and food. Then, the Alamo Scouts once again proved their direct action capabilities.
Sumner met with Nazareno and discussed planning for the raid. Another airdrop was necessary; this time explosives and equipment were needed to conduct a raid on the warehouses. They decided to bring in the best guerrillas to form a company-size force of men for the sensitive mission. The guerrilla force had a lot of former Philippine scouts in its ranks; these men formed the back bone of the raid force. The men were set up in a similar fashion to the U.S. units with a company consisting of three platoons with three squads each. Each squad consisted of nine men, one of which carried some form of automatic weapon. Due to a lack of heavy weapons, there was no weapons platoon. However, they did bring a captured Japanese 82mm mortar with parachute flares. The scouts conducted a detailed reconnaissance of the warehouse complex while the guerrillas gathered their men. By the time the guerrillas arrived, the scouts had a detailed layout of the complex and figured out the guard scheduling and manning. After a couple days of training and rehearsals, they were ready.
The raid company arrived in its assault position in the evening, and at 2200 they began the raid. Members of 3rd Platoon set up a support-by-fire position roughly 200 yards from the front gate. Then, 1st and 2nd Platoons snuck in and killed the guards on duty by knife. One squad was set up in front of the guard shack but was ordered not to engage unless the Japanese soldiers tried to come out; any shooting meant the scouts would have to abort the mission. The rest of the force then snuck in and placed charges of TNT on five-minute fuses around the warehouses. Once completed, Sumner gave the order, and the initiators were pulled. Sumner then ordered the guerrillas to pull out. Once outside, a quick head count was conducted, and the entire force began to retreat. The total time on target was 15 minutes.
The company was about half a kilometer away when the explosions occurred. They stopped to admire their work. Huge fires erupted; that's when they figured out all those bags of rice and boxes of ammo were piled on top of 55-gallon drums of fuel. Some of the explosions lit fires which started burning the camouflage netting. Realizing they were still too close, the group retreated. Other than some blind firing by the Japanese, there was no shooting. The guerrillas and scouts all made it back to base the next morning. Retaliation was swift; the Japanese tortured and killed civilians to get them to turn over the Americans. No one did.
Now that the ground work was laid, the 77th Infantry Division was ordered to attack the island of Leyte at Ormoc. Sumner received a heads up and moved to a position to watch the show. The scouts watched the landings and the encounter between the Japanese and American air and naval forces. The Japanese simultaneously tried to reinforce the garrison as the beach landings were occurring. A large air, land, and sea battle ensued. The Japanese received the worst of it but the Americans did not go unscathed. After a hard fought land battle, Ormoc fell to the Americans.
Sumner was then ordered to report to MG Andrew Bruce, commander of the 77th Division. Sumner brought some of the guerrilla intelligence personnel to the meeting. The scouts and guerrillas answered intelligence questions and had dinner with the general and his staff, who surprisingly did not eat as well as the scouts did on the economy. Sumner linked back up with his team. Having Americans on the island raised other problems. The Japanese were pushed into guerrilla areas, and firefights began increasing. As the 1st Cavalry landed on the island, it got so restrictive that Sumner called up 6th Army HQ and told them he was ending the mission. He then received orders to leave the radio with the guerrillas and hand them off to the 77th Division.
Sumner's team moved to friendly lines and attempted to make contact but was shot at by Soldiers of 307th Infantry Regiment. The scouts pull back to a nearby town, and Sumner decided it was time to look more like Americans. He ordered the team to clean and polish their boots, press their uniforms, cut their hair, and shave. He told his team that they would cross the line after 41 days in the bush looking like they were walking off the parade ground. The next morning that is exactly what they did. With spit-shined boots on, they made contact with the American forces and walked across the line with their heads held high.
Alamo Scouts Association; www.alamoscouts.org
Shadows in the Jungle by Larry Alexander. New York: New American Library, 2009.
Silent Warriors of World War II by Lance Q. Zedric. Ventura, CA: Pathfinder Pub of California, 1995.
CPT THOMAS W. DOHERTY
CPT Thomas Doherty is currently serving as a observer/controller at the Joint Readiness Training Center at Fort Polk, La. He was commissioned from the Arkansas National Guard Officer Candidate School and is a graduate of Campbell University. His enlisted assignments include serving with the 3rd Ranger Battalion and 7th Special Forces Group where he deployed twice each to Colombia and Afghanistan. Upon receiving his commission, he served twice as platoon leader in F Company, 51st Long Range Surveillance, which included a deployment to Iraq during the surge.