In conjunction with our last article about the Great Raid at Cabanatuan last year, we decided that it would be great to have a comprehensive historical read to commemorate the most successful POW rescue mission in U.S. military history.

Last January 30, Filipino and U.S. Armed Forces veterans remembered the moment where a historic brotherhood was born.

On January 30, 1945, United States Army Rangers, 6th Ranger Battalion, the Alamo Scouts, and Filipino Guerrillas banded together to liberate more than 500 allied prisoners of war (POW) in Cabanatuan, Nueva Ecija, Philippines.

This comes after the Bataan Death March, a deadly and inhumane march where 80,000 American and Filipino troops and civilians were forced to walk 112km from Mariveles, Bataan to Camp O’Donnell, with only 54,000 making it through the grueling torture.

Planning The Historic Raid

Former Cabanatuan POWs celebrate after successful raid on prison camp (Wikipedia). Source:
Former Cabanatuan POWs celebrate after a successful raid on prison camp. (U.S. Army/Wikipedia)

Starving to liberate their brothers, the Americans and Filipinos troops led by Major Robert Lapham (United States Army Forces in the Far East or USAFFE) and Filipino Guerilla Leader Captain Juan Pajota hatched a plan to raid the Cabanatuan prisoner camp. A suggestion was made by Lieutenant Colonel Bernard Anderson where they would raid the camp, and the Filipino Guerrillas would escort the POWs to Debut Bay. American forces would then evacuate U.S. personnel through 30 submarines.

However, upon presentation to General Douglas MacArthur, who arrived earlier in 1944, he later rejected the mission proposal as it posed too much of a threat for allied forces. He feared that the malnourished and fragile state of the POWs would make them too difficult to move and he feared the Japanese would kill them all at the first sign of a rescue. Moreover, 30 submarines were not available during the raid, especially with the planned retaking of Luzon and Manila.

Lapham, eager to see the mission through, discussed further planning with Lieutenant General Walter Krueger and his intelligence chief, Col. Horton White, at the Sixth Army headquarters. Upon arrival, he immediately proposed that they rescue the 500 prisoners of war located in Cabanatuan as they had intelligence that the Japanese would execute all of them as the army unit expected to be withdrawn to join the fighting. Krueger then approved the rescue mission, provided that the troops would execute the plan on January 29, 1945, as they would need backup from the I Corps. White recruited the 6th Ranger Battalion headed by Lt. Col. Henry Mucci to lead the raid with Captain Robert Prince and the Alamo scouts providing reconnaissance.

Once they were all assembled, they hatched the plan wherein 14 scouts would survey the camp before the main American forces comprised of 121 rangers surrounding the camp. Around 200 Filipino Guerrillas would provide support for the American troops as they were experts of the terrain.