“With a regiment of nearly 5,000 guerrillas at his back, Blackburn began a campaign that systematically destroyed the Japanese 14th Army within the Cagayan Valley.”
THE FIRES ON Bataan burned with a primitive fury on the evening of April 9, 1942, illuminating the white flags of surrender against the nighttime sky.
Woefully outnumbered, outgunned, and ill-equipped, the battered remnants of the American-Philippine army surrendered to the wrath of the Rising Sun. Yet among the chaos and devastation of the American defeat, U.S. Army Captain Donald D. Blackburn refused to lay down his arms.
Together with fellow captain Russell Volckmann, he escaped into the mountainous jungles of North Luzon. The two soon raised a private army of over 22,000 men against the Japanese.
The Cagayan campaign received a boost in 1944 with the arrival of the Sixth U.S. Army. A composite unit known as Task Force Baker (consisting of elements from the 6th Ranger Battalion and the 510th Engineers) rendezvoused with Blackburn’s men in June 1945 and together the two forces cleared the Japanese from Aparri, the largest enemy-held seaport on the Luzon.With a regiment of nearly 5,000 guerrillas to start with, Blackburn began a campaign that systematically destroyed the Japanese 14th Army within the Cagayan Valley. He launched his insurgency by eliminating Japanese spies in the towns along the Cagayan River. With the enemy’s “fifth column” neutralized, his growing force mounted raids on Japanese garrisons, supply depots, and fuel dumps throughout the region.
As the Pacific War drew to a close, the Sixth transferred its authority over the island to the Eighth Army. Blackburn’s Headhunters, as they became known, were given one final mission. By late summer 1945, the Japanese in North Luzon were in disarray. Desperate to make a last stand, a small Japanese force under generals Kizo Mikami and Yutaka Marauka built a defensive perimeter around the town of Mayayao. Eighth Army’s XIV Corps feared that the contingent would disrupt the U.S. 6th Division’s supply lines. Blackburn was ordered to wipe out the enemy.
From July 15 until Aug. 9, 1945, under the cover of mortar attacks and P-38 Lighting air strikes, Blackburn’s men stormed the Japanese redoubts and pacified their defenses. A few days later, he received the greatest news he’d heard in four years: Japan had surrendered; the war was over. While discussing terms of surrender with Blackburn’s headquarters, Mikami’s chief of staff produced a map of Japanese forces in the Cagayan Valley. A red circle had been drawn around the location of Blackburn’s own HQ. But if the Japanese knew where the American-Filipino army was located, why didn’t they attack it? “Too many guerrillas,” the enemy officer replied. Based on the frequency and ferocity of the guerrilla raids, Mikami estimated that Blackburn must have had at least 10,000 fighters under his command. “I never had more than two battalions (about 3,000 men total) at one time,” he revealed. The enemy officer was speechless.
Read the Remainder at Military History Now