Bessang Pass History
For us Filipinos, bravery and heroism is already a part of our DNA. We have heroes in the name of Lapu-Lapu, Dr. Jose Rizal, Apolinario Mabini etc. they were the ones in the books and tales but sometimes some heroes were just a mantle of the past, those heroes who fought across the clouds, heroes who fought a rubber match against life and death and heroes whose sacrifices were dismembered by history. But let me share you a story, a story that was dear to us, as story that makes as who we are today, the story known as the battle for the clouds.
The victory in Bessang Pass is considered as one of the greatest victories in Philippine history. The battle was fought against the Filipino warriors (guerrillas) with the United States Army Forces in the Philippines, North Luzon (USAFIP, NL) a force of over 20 000 officers and men under the overall command of Colonel Russell W. Volckman, the known veteran of Battle of Bataan against the Japanese Imperial Forces that belonged to the Tora or Tiger Division “Tiger of Malaya” of Lt. Gen. Yosiharu Ozaki under the overall command of General Tomotuki Yamashita. It was the second week of February 1945 when the Filipinos stormed and commenced the Battle of Bessang.
The battle lasted for months. The highway itself was made of gravel that turned out to be muddy and slushy during rainy season. With its high altitude, it has only one kind of weather: cold, wet, murky, and somehow rainy. Aside from its hellacious and trekking situation, logs and rocks fell down the slopes within the vicinity of namely; Namandiraan, Nalidaoan, Libo-Libo, Namogucan, and Buccual that causes landslides that blocked the road that even obliterated some of its portion.
In the downstream of fighting, at 8:00 in the morning in the keen observation of the peeking sun through the crags, a whizzing American planes and explosion of the enemy’s attack have been pellucidly heard and after few hours of bombardment, a smoggy, thick, heavy, and dark smoke aroused in the sky that made it so vague, a zero visibility to dodge sneak attacks. A war made screen for combatants to launch surprise attacks and stronger defense in clashing.
Leeches sucked blood of the dead bodies of both friend and foe numerously scatted in the woods along Bessang. Malaria struck the men as well as diarrhea and dysentery ravaged the stamina of the guerrillas.
The one and only guerilla regiment, the 121st Infantry battled an undeniably formidable and combative enemy. The first objective in clearing the road to Cervantes was the capture of Japanese-held at Suyo. It was the 3rd battalion of the 121st Infantry who sieged the garrison at Bitalag then afterwards attacked the Suyo that yielded three days of fighting. Surely the men got Mt. Tapao, Butac, and Kimposa that popped the loom in targeting Bessang.
But the exigencies of war intervened. The 3rd battalion was suddenly ordered to pull out and reinforce the 121st Infantry’s 1st battalion which was in the midst of huge and brutal struggles over San Fernando, La Union. The 6th US Army critically needed the facilities of the port thus the Filipinos had to do such hazardous operation in eradicating the Japanese defenders.
The company “L” led by Lt. Emilio N. Narcise hit the pass. He and his men embraced the threat of the portentous darkness along the way. He was then alerted by the radio to keep off the Bessang Pass as an air strike would shortly be taking place. Hence, he led his array straightway to the town of Cervantes, by merely passing the pass.
On February 10, in the midst of arrival into the town, two platoons of the company “L” engrossed the Japanese for 38 hours near Bessang. The guerrillas finished off 50 Japanese while losing one. Ten days later, they attacked and captured the Japanese garrison at Cervantes and burnt 60 Japanese in to a total crisp. The Filipinos spent 4 days to complete the sheer sweep of the antagonists where they washed an accounted of 166 Japanese KIA’s while mislaying two men.
The town was guarded and left with one platoon as other men took Lower Magoon, and Mt. Mauting captured on March 7. It was nearly a glorious victory when the Japanese fell upon Cervantes far away from the town proximity, overran it, and then aggressively reinforce their troops at Bessang Pass. Filipinos at Lower Magoon and Mt. Mauting were unable to ward off the enemy thus abandoned their positions. But the undaunted Narcise’s men hit their nerves and counterattacked Cervantes.
On March 13, they recaptured the town after a 5-hour fight. A week later, the 11th and 66th Infantry arrived to reinforce the Nacise’s Company “L” – L for “last company standing”. They merged and formed a Provisional Battalion.
While the guerrillas consolidated their forced in Cervantes, the enemy positioned at the outskirts of the town with employed mountain artillery and mortar to bombard the Filipinos. Before Narcise be able to know it, the Japanese 73rd Infantry Regiment of the Tora (Tiger) Division commanded by Lt. Gen. Yoshiharu Ozaki thundered them with full prowess.
Soon, they were driven out of Cervantes once again. The fight at Cervantes and Bessang had become a tug-of-war.
After the struggle when Narcise and his men indeed needed help, the 1st Battalion moved first followed by the 2nd and the 3rd Battalions. Which such forces, they had one objective: to recapture Cervantes and win Bessang.
On March 29, on the high grounds guarding the pass, they made a contact with the enemy. The Filipinos was checked by the Japanese on Yubo Ridge and were able to overcome them on March 31.
On April 2, the patrol of the 1st Battalion infiltrated hostile positions east of Bessang an effected junction with the Provisional Battalion. The bulk of the Infantry had linked up once again with the intrepid Company L.
In the next two days, it continued the slow advance along the Highway No. 4 in the resistance of sweeping enemies in the tunnels and pillboxes.
April 5 was a day that proved to be difficult for the guerrillas. The Japanese surprised the men of the 2nd Battalion. The sunrise together with a massive artillery bombardment added to the Filipinos’ surprise. Great explosion brought out an obnoxious smell rained down from Mt. Buccual and pummelled the Filipinos.
Relentlessly, stronger attacks followed them from the Upper Cadsu and the Tagpo Ridges. They were pinned down and trapped. They looked for a way out. Fortunately, the guerrillas found an exit – the Butac River. They worked their way through the ravines and precipices to get down to the river with only two pieces of artillery they got. To save the situation, the 3rd Battalion reinforced armed with mortar and mountain guns and succeeded in driving away the Japanese in Yubo Ridge.
On April 11, the Japanese shelled Butac wherein the 121st stashed ammunition, guns, and clothing went belching in fire. With such losses, the guerrillas attacked the enemy at Lamagan, where they had been subsisting mainly on camote. The Japanese in Lamagan were wiped out on April 21.
The Filipino soldiers retook Lower Cadsu and nearby hills on April 29. The struggle continued in its seesaw fight. No end was in sight for the gruesome battle. Ozaki sent one more battalion of his 76th Infantry and recaptured Butac and slayed Filipino forces in Bessang.
Mortal danger sided the Filipinos when they failed to intercept the Japanese in Butac and the town of Cervantes.
On May 17, the 1st Battalion crept the legion of Japanese at Nalidaoan who clawed and roared back like trapped jungle animals. They came into running battle up and down the hills. Filipinos got butchered and retreated at Lamagan Ridge.
As the month of May about to end, An American staff officer of the US Army I Corps arrived to the Volckmann’s headquarters. Brought with him a deadline set by the Corps commander that Bessang had to be captured on June 15. In his significant decision, Volckmann threw into battle the numbers and the fighting reliability of Arnold’s 15th Infantry and Molintas 66th Infantry.
In the days of leading to June 10, the Filipino warriors hacked their way to the verge of its prize. Strategic places fell to their hands a midst famine and incessant combat: Lamagan, Yubo. Lower Cadsu, and more. Lt. Ambrosio Pena, a survivor of Bessang delineated the June 10 battlefield as a “sizzling inferno”.
After 24 hours battle in Bessang, 172 enemies lay dead. The Filipinos had to bury the corpses before the occupation of the former Japanese positions. The next day, the 121st Infantry penetrated Buccual Ridge.
On June 13, two days before the given deadline, the guerrillas exploited to rout them at Hill 99-W and to capture numbers of their various weapons and supplies. When they eyed shadows of Japanese garrison streaming out of Bessang, the American guns immediately fired at them. From the night of June 13, wee hours of June 14, artillery pounded and fired and launched the peak of Buccual which was said “the backbone of the Bessang defenses”.
When the said backbone wrecked and the ray of the sun enters within the treetops and cleared the heavy and thick smoke of the bloody battle, it was the time for history to reign over.
At 7:00 Am of June 14, Companies K and L of the 121st Infantry launched “one of the most dramatic assaults” in the Battle of Bessang Pass. Ceasing the fire of the murderous war was given on its highest peaks, victoriously waving flags and shirts. The Filipinos had won triumphantly the merciless Battle for the Clouds, the bloodshed Battle of Bessang Pass.
On June 15, the guerrillas touched down the town of Cervantes. They finished the outnumbered remaining Japanese forces and drove across Abra River.
With the great forged an alliance of the Filipino soldiers with the capture of Cervantes for the third time and the seizure of Bessang Pass, they flung open the backdoor to Yamashita’s defenses signaling that the battle has ended and they have won. And on this day that the cavalry ended with pride, tears, and honor.
The History tells us about special things, special people and special moment. And for us Cervantenians, It is special when President Ferdinand Marcos inaugurated this monument/shrine for him being here on that special day makes us realize that this moment today can be shared not just in Ilocos Sur but throughout the whole country. Thank You for being here and long live the great heroes of war. Always remember “People come and go but heroes stay immortal.