filipino guerillas

Captain Nieves Fernandez shows an American soldier how she used her bolo knife to silently kill Japanese soldiers during occupation, 1944.

 Captain Nieves Fernandez, the only known Filipino female guerilla leader and formerly a school teacher, shows US Army Pvt. Andrew Lupiba how she used her long knife to silently kill Japanese soldiers during the Japanese occupation of Leyte Island. 

Image taken by Stanley Troutman, 7 November 1944, Mabuhay Las Piñas, Leyte Island, Philippines. Captain Nieves Fernandez was the only known Filipino female guerrilla leader. Working with guerrillas south of Tacloban, Miss Fernandez rounded up native men to resist the Japanese. She commanded 110 native who killed more than 200 Japanese with knifes and shotguns made from sections of gas pipe.

 The Japanese offered 10.000 pesos for her head. She was wounded once. There is a bullet scar on her right forearm.

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The Richardson Guerilla Shotgun,

Illif D. Richardson was certainly an interesting figure during World War II.  A radio expert and PT Boat crewman with the rank of ensign, Richardson was stationed in the Philippines when the Japanese attacked and invaded the islands.  When the Japanese took over the country, he fled into the jungles and became a guerilla fighter, joining the Philippine Resistance.  With his radio skills, Richardson was able to set up a secret communication network between all of the various Filipino resistance groups, and for three years he was responsible for coordinating the operations of the Philippine Resistance. In 1944 Gen. Douglas MacArthur awarded him for his exploits by assigning him to US Army Intelligence and awarding him the rank of Major. Interestingly, Richardson was the only US serviceman to hold officers commissions in both the US Army and US Navy simultaneously.

While working with the Filipino Resistance, Richardson took special interest in the homemade firearms produced and used by many Filipino people.  Often simple people with access to few resources, they were able to cobble together crude but working firearms built from scrap metal and cast away parts.  Such home gunsmithing had been a tradition in the Philippines dating back to when they revolted against the Spanish in the late 19th century, and continued during the Spanish American War and Philippine American War. Home gunsmithing is still common today. One of the most common firearm designs was the slamfire shotgun.   A single shot shotgun, it had a very curious action. The barrel consisted of two tubes, an inner tube shrouded by a larger out tube. To load the user would remove the outer tube and insert a shotgun shell into it. The inner tube was mounted with a fixed firing pin, and the user would then replace the outer tube. Finally, the user would slam the outer barrel back, banging the cartridge primer against the firing pin which discharged the shell. It was a very crude system, and not a very effective combat weapon, but the Filipinos were able to successfully ambush enemy soldiers with them, thus acquiring rifles, machine guns, and grenades.

When Richardson returned to the United States, he instantly became famous, writing his memoirs and touring the country. To cash in on his fame, Richardson attempted to go into the firearms business by making replicas of the slamfire shotguns that were used by Filipino fighters.  The Richardson Guerilla gun was also a slamfire shotgun, chambered in 12 gauge.  While it appears that it had a trigger, its actually a safety mechanism so that any bump or jolt does not cause the primer to make contact with the firing pin, causing an accidental discharge.  The trigger connected to a lever which held the barrel in place, so the use would have to hold the trigger, unlocking the barrel so that it could be “slam fired”.  The Richardson shotgun was cheap to produce, and was meant to simulate the crudeness of the Filipino design.  Even the stock was crudely cut and poorly finished.  The Richardson Guerilla gun was a commercial flop, and few wear produced.  While it was an interesting novelty, in the end it was a piece of junk, based on the designs of desperate people who threw away their slamfire guns when they acquired something better. 

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On this day seventy years ago began  one of the most gruesomeand tragic battles that befell the Philippines. It was not because the battle was not won. It was. But it was won at a great price.

A mere two generations ago, one would hear from the elderly a Manila that was shining free city of the Orient. Many people have called it by various names. Manila the Pearl of the Orient—reminiscent of that line that Rizal wrote on his Mi Ultimo Adios. Manila, the Queen of the Pacific, as was so named by an early American documentary on the City of Manila.

A photo of the pre-war Manila

The city was probably one of the best cities in Asia at the time. When the Imperial Japanese forces conquered the city on January 2, 1942, they exclaimed that it was indeed more advanced than any city they had in their homeland. No one could attest that Manila, situated perfectly on one of the best harbors in the world, with one of the best entrepots on that side of the Pacific, was a true cosmopolitan city, and the unchallenged capital of the country.

It had been three years since Japan had occupied the country. The city in its paled glory had been languishing in food supplies, as the price of rice and other commodities skyrocketed to new heights due to extreme inflation.

The struggling Japanese Empire, still resolute in holding onto its illusion of a Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere despite the fact that the Allied forces have made a foothold in Leyte since October 1944, was prepared to sacrifice its soldiers die—lest the Americans make Manila a base of operations to launch an invasion of the Japanese homeland.

At around this time, civilians all over the city wonder at the curious structures that the Japanese have set up on all the street corners and intersections of Manila. Unknown to the civilians, these structures, pillboxes and minefields, are hidden alcoves were Imperial Japanese soldiers would shoot from a slit opening of these boxes to kill anything on sight.

At daybreak, smoke rose up from the burning warehouses at the Manila North Harbor, torched by the Japanese, as the Allied forces, both coming from the north (from Lingayen) and the south (from Nasugbu, Batangas) encountered fierce Japanese resistance in Novaliches and Cavite respectively. 

As the city impatiently awaited the coming of the liberation forces, it was the Filipino guerilla Manuel Colayco who led the Allied northern forces to the University of Santo Tomas. The oldest Western-style university in Asia have been used by the Japanese as an American internment camp where 1,500 malnourished American prisoners-of-war are encamped. Since the electricity had been turned off by the Japanese due to American air raids, the campus was in pitch black darkness.

 At around 7:30 to 8:00 pm shots were fired near the gates of UST. Grenades were thrown. The Allied troops finally reached UST at around that time (AVH Hartendorp say it was at 8:40 pm).

The hero, Manuel Colayco, however didn’t make it. A Japanese sniper shot him to his death, but he died a hero. The fighting stretched all the way to Far Eastern University, a stonesthrow away from Bilibid Prison, another POW camp. FEU was heavily fortified by the Imperial Japanese forces, but it could not be helped.

The liberation forces finally arrive in the city and no one, not even the despotic Imperial Japanese soldiers could stop it. 

It seemed that the city would be freed in a couple of days. But the worst is yet to come.

Commemorating the 70th anniversary of the Battle of Manila 1945, the gruelling battle for the liberation of the city that lasted from February 3 to March 3, 1945.