Mariveles harbor seemed to be well defended against surprise attack by the Naval forces clustered around it and the Army had stabilized a front about twenty miles further north, on the other side of Mariveles mountain -- but what about the seacoast between? Most of it was very rugged, and backed up by thick jungle, but the one road which provided the only line of communication to the front lines passed quite close to the sea at many points. Commander Francis Bridget, who had been left in charge of the remnants of Naval aviation in the Philippines, did not think that this tenuous life line was adequately defended by the Army against a sudden landing on the coast.
Frank was never one to sit back and criticize when action was needed. He had under his own command about a hundred and fifty aviation men, mostly ground crews, who had been left without work when their planes were destroyed. He sold the proposition to other Naval organizations in Bataan, and collected a hundred and thirty men from the Canopus, about eighty from the Ammunition Depot detail, a hundred or so Marines, and a few refugees from the ill-fated Cavite Navy Yard. These heterogeneous groups Bridged formed into the "Naval Battalion", with "Hap" Goodall, of the Canopus, as second in command. Tom Bowers of the Ammunition detail and a few Marine and aviation officers were the company commanders.
Equipment was a serious problem. The Marines were, of course, ready for field duty, but the others were sailors, and the Navy doesn't provide much equipment for land operations at the best, to say nothing of the fact that several of these groups had been separated from their normal supplies by unforeseen circumstances. However rifles and ammunition of some sort were finally begged, borrowed or stolen for most of the men. Their white uniforms were dyed to what was supposed to be khaki color, but which turned out to be a sickly mustard yellow. Only about one canteen could be found for every three men, but the great American tin can was pressed into service to make up the deficiency. This had the advantage that the contents could be heated over a fire in case of need, provided care was exercised not to melt out the solder.
Training was next essential. Perhaps two-thirds of the sailors knew which end of the rifle should be presented to the enemy, and had even practiced on a target range, but field training was practically a closed book to them. The experience Marines were spread thinly throughout each company, in the hope that through perception and example, their qualities would be assimilated by the rest.
Thus equipped, mostly with boundless enthusiasm and determination, the motley array sallied forth one day late in January for a preliminary hike to the coast to harden them up. At the base of Mt. Pucot near the sea they met an agitated group of soldiers who had just been chased by the Japs from their signal station on the mountain top. Apparently a landing had been made on nearby Longoskawan Point the night before, just as Bridget feared, and the invaders were working their way inland toward the vital communication road.
Here was "field training" with a vengeance for our budding infantrymen. Figuratively thumbing their manuals, they hastily deployed in accordance with the best traditions of the book, and advanced in line of skirmishers. Contact was established as might be expected, and the maneuver described as "The Assault" in the next chapter, drove in the advance patrols of the surprised Nipponese.
The strength of the main forces next encountered convinced our boys that they had a "bear by the tail", and since the book failed to provide the proper procedure in such a contingency, they threw it away. Five days of what was probably the weirdest jungle fighting in the annals of warfare ensued, with all accepted principles violated, and no holds barred. Adjacent units were unable to maintain a contact with each other during the night, so, or course, the Japs took advantage of their famous infiltration tactics. However, this did not have the expected results, because our boys, not having been indoctrinated into the ancient Army principle that it is fatal to be outflanked, simply held their ground and sent back detachments to clear out the annoying intruders behind their lines.
Another essential item which had somehow been overlooked in the plans was the service of supply. In the excitement, nobody thought much about that until nature began to assert itself as night came on, and the boys began to get hungry and tired. A hurry call was sent back to the Canopus to "send up plenty of everything", and trucks were rushed to the new front to the new front with food, ammunition, blankets, and stretchers for the wounded. For days, all other work was dropped, and all hands were pressed into service to make sure the fighting men lacked nothing that would help.
The Jap landing party was made up of picked men, larger and stronger than the average, and well equipped for jungle fighting. Had they made a determined assault, they could undoubtedly have wiped out completely our whole ragged battalion. But they knew the business of war, and were sure our front lines must be backed up by powerful reserves somewhere. If they could only find out where these reserves were located, they would know where to make their drive. The big push was held up while their scouts frantically searched for the elusive reserve forces. How could they guess that the crazy Americans were so ignorant of the art of war as to blithely ignore the necessity for reserves? Sixty more Marines with trench mortars were brought over from Corregidor to counteract the advantage the Japs had enjoyed with similar weapons, but they were also used in the front lines, and could hardly be called reserves.
A diary later found on the body of a Japanese officer testified to the complete bewilderment describing the strange conduct of the "new type of suicide squads, which thrashed about in the jungle, wearing bright colored uniforms, and making plenty of noise. Whenever these apparitions reached an open space, they would attempt to draw the Japanese fire by sitting down, talking loudly, and lighting cigarettes."
Bataan may well have been saved from a premature fall by the reckless bravado of those sailors, because if the Japs had succeeded in cutting off supplies to the western Army front, a general retreat from those prepared positions might have been necessary. The lives lost in that timely effort could hardly have been sacrificed in a better cause.
On the fifth day, the 57th regiment of Filipino Scouts arrived to relieve the Naval Battalion. These Scouts were the cream of the crop, having served under American officers as part of the regular Army ever since the Philippines were taken over. The Scouts were intensely proud of their service, and high indeed were the qualifications of any Filipino who could pass their entrance requirements. The Scouts could, and did, outdo the best of the Japs in jungle fighting. The officers swore that their men could smell a Jap sniper in the trees, and cited numerous cases where Scouts stalking through the pitch-dark jungles at night would suddenly fire a shot upward into the trees, bringing down a sniper. Any Scout who used more than a single shot to bring down his enemy had to face caustic comments from his mates.
You may be sure that each tired sailor, when he felt a tap on his shoulder and the welcome words "I'll take over now, Joe" before his Scout relief melted silently into the jungle, knew that his job was in competent hands, and the battle was as good as won. After three days of the deadly marksmanship of the Scouts, and shattering blasts of huge mortar shells thrown into their main positions by Corregidor's guns, the battered and disorganized remnants of the powerful landing force had all been pushed over the cliffs which lined the seacoast, leaving hundreds of dead behind.
- - -Chapter VII - ->