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Raid at Los Baños

The next operation that the division was involved in concerned the liberation of a large number of civilian prisoners detained by the Japanese on Luzon. The majority of these prisoners were located in internment camps scattered throughout Luzon, the largest being at Los Baños. The Los Baños camp was located on the campus of the Agricultural College of the Philippines, some forty miles (64 km) south-east of Manila. When American forces had first landed on Luzon, General Douglas MacArthur had become concerned with the plight of the interned civilians and had assigned the duty of rescuing the civilians held at Los Baños to the division on 3 February, but heavy Japanese resistance and the division encountering the Genko Line meant that it was unable to devote any resources to raiding the camp at the time. All that could be done during February was to gather as much information about the internment camp as the division could get, primarily through liaising with the guerilla groups which operated in Southern Luzon and in the area around Los Baños. As information about the camp was received and analyzed, Maj. Gen. Swing and his command staff were briefed daily by the liaison officer working with the guerilla groups, Major Vanderpool.

As Vanderpool liaised with the guerrillas, and several civilians who were able to escape from the camp, he was able to learn that the camp was surrounded by two barbed-wire fences approximately six feet tall, and several guard towers and bunkers guarded the perimeter, each containing at least two guards. Prisoners left each morning under armed guard to gather food supplies and firewood from a nearby town. After several days, Vanderpool managed to learn about the civilian population of the camp, finding that the population consisted of American civilians in three distinct groups. The first consisted of Protestant missionaries and their families, the second of Roman Catholic nuns and priests, and the third was composed of professional workers, such as doctors and engineers, and their families, including several hundred women and children. All appeared to be in good health, although many had become weak from food rationing. On 20 February, Maj. Gen. Swing decided he had sufficient troops to mount a raid on Los Baños, and a four-phase plan was devised by Major Vanderpool and the divisional staff officers. First, the divisional reconnaissance platoon would travel across a nearby lake and move to the outskirts of the camp, securing a large adjacent field. Second, the field would act as a drop zone for a company of paratroopers. They would then eliminate Japanese resistance and organize an evacuation of the internees. Third, fifty-four amphibious Amtracs would transport two companies of paratroopers to the lake shore. The paratroopers would secure a beachhead while a convoy of Amtracs and a guard detachment continued to the camp to evacuate the internees and the company of paratroopers holding the camp. Fourth, a task force consisting of a reinforced infantry battalion, two battalions of heavy artillery and a tank destroyer battalion would travel down Highway 1, the highway that led to Los Baños, to thwart any Japanese attempt to recapture the internees.

The operation began on the night of 21 February, when the divisional reconnaissance platoon made their way to the shore of the lake and collected ten canoes, assisted by a group of guerrillas. Despite navigational difficulties, the platoon landed near Los Baños at 02:00 on the morning of 22 February and hid in the jungle near the camp after securing the field to be used by the paratroopers. During the afternoon, B Company of the 1st Battalion of the 511th Parachute Infantry Regiment was transferred to the airfield from which the company would be deployed, while the rest of the battalion rendezvoused with the Amtracs which would transport them to the camp. Then, at 07:00 on the morning of 23 February, B Company took off in ten C-47 Dakota transport aircraft; shortly after the aircraft arrived over the Drop Zone which the reconnaissance platoon had cleared previously, and the airborne troops deployed from the C-47s and landed on the field. As the first paratroopers landed in the field, the reconnaissance platoon and its supporting guerilla group opened fire on the guard towers and pillboxes which surrounded the internment camp, used Bazooka rounds to penetrate the concrete pillboxes, then entered the camp and engaged the rest of the Japanese garrison. The paratroopers soon entered the battle, and by 07:30 the Japanese guards had been eliminated and the internees were being rounded up and readied for evacuation. During this time the Amtracs had landed the two other companies of the 511th, who had secured a beachhead, and a convoy of Amtracs soon reached the camp without incident. The internees were loaded onto the Amtracs, priority being given to the women, children and wounded, with some of the able-bodied men walking alongside the Amtracs as they returned to the beach. The first convoy of Amtracs left at approximately 10:00, with B Company, the reconnaissance platoon and the guerrillas being used as a rearguard. By 11:30 all of the civilians had been evacuated, and by 13:00 the Amtrac convoy returned for the rearguard, with the last paratroopers leaving the beach at approximately 15:00. The taskforce that had been deployed to protect the airborne troops as they rescued the internees met heavy Japanese resistance, but despite suffering several casualties was able to block Japanese forces advancing on the camp during the evacuation process, before retreating back to American lines. The evacuation had been a complete success, and some 2,147 civilian prisoners had been liberated by the airborne troops during the operation.