The Philippines And The 21 Freedom Submarines

For many Filipinos, the stories of the Second World War are often told and oft ten repeated tales of Japanese brutality and Filipino and American gallantry in the face of unspeakable odds.  Many people have heard of the Bataan Death March, Gen. MacArthur’s famous “I shall return” promise, the Japanese-sponsored Philippine Republic and the fierce guerilla resistance.

The valor of Governor Ablan is one of the more dramatic highlights of the guerilla war in northern Philippines. Another little-known sidelight is the role of 21 freedom submarines in sustaining the Rag-Tag resistance for three years. 
The 21 submarines were the boats granted by the US Navy to General Douglas MacArthur to bring in much-needed arms and ordnance including medicines, and food to the Resistance.

The boats who made the run to the islands were the USS: Bowfin, Cero Narwhal, Angler, Crevalle, Harder, Redfin, Nautilus, Seawolf, Gar, Blackfin, Gunnel, Hake, Ray, Gudgeon, Grayling, Argonaut, Tambor, Trout, Harder, and the Stingray. These submarines, operating out of the mini-department, “SPYRON” within Gen. MacArthurs’s GHQ, became known as “Special Mission Submarines.”

The submarines were also bringing in especially US Army-trained Filipino commandos as well as weathermen and advisors. One Ilocano, Lt. Jose V. Valera, known as “Capt Joe” to the locals, was shipped back by the USS Stingray, SS-186, together with a bunch of 14 Filipino commandos which he led, were to be inserted in northern Luzon. Two other Filipino commando teams, headed by Lt. Bartolome C. Cabanbang to the Visayas, and a certain Lt. Enrique L. Torres, Jr. to Mindanao, were also dispatched on separate boats. The Allied Intelligence Bureau ensured that Fil-Am military personnel and commandos shipped to a certain area were from that region and spoke the dialect fluently.

On their return trips to Australia, the submarines would also take out from the various islands refugees who had been hiding from the Japanese Forces. Thus, besides serving to advance military objectives, the submarines also had a humanitarian role.

There is scarcely an island in the entire Philippine Archipelago that was not scouted by these brave boats. Luzon was graced with several landings on the east coast, as well as important rendezvous on the west coast, in Zambales as well as in Ilocos Norte and Ilocos Sur. On these latter trips, the boats would unload tons of supplies, radios and codes, commandos, as well as spies.

Thus, even before Gen. MacArthur’s famous landing on Leyte on October 20, 1944, he was very much in control of events in the Philippines, thousand of miles away from his base in Australia. Yet the exploits of the 21 boats are, sad to say, still submerge in the annals of history. 

But to say that the war was won solely by MacArthur would be to take away credit from the guerillas, the coast watchers, and the bolomen, who fought a valiant war against the formidable Japanese military forces while awaiting MacArthur’s return.  The Japanese invaders were repelled first by the guerillas and then by the liberating American soldiers who finished the war.

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