Bamboo Fleet 1942

Bamboo Fleet 1942

Joined: March 4th, 2009, 8:27 pm

March 4th, 2009, 9:21 pm #1

On March 10th 1942, is the anniversery of the demise of the "Bamboo Fleet" in the Sulu Sea. Originally, I started collecting the shipping losses in the Philippines in 1941 and 1942. I shelved the project about 10 years ago until I came into some information from the US Maritime Commission. By all accounts, you will not find anything in the US Army Archives. Indeed, there is a huge void from January 1942 to April 1942 in the Visayas.
I am not a US Army researcher, My main interest is Axis Shipping and Japanese Naval Operations. While the USMC filled in a goodly amount of holes, there is still some areas that are in question. With the help of two distinguished researchers (Peter Cundall and Ted Hajduk) a more clearer picture unfolds.

January 2nd Manila fell, and shortly afterwards the Bamboo Fleet was organized. It was loosely organized by volunteers to bring in critical food stuffs, medical supplies. Yet, only 10% of this reached Bataan. The From the Jaspanese side, Aso maru and Kiso maru patrolled from Manila Bay to Mindoro Strait, Busho maru and Keiko maru patrolled from Davao to Jolo and Kuma and Kiji patrolled the Sulu Sea in addition to their other duties. For all intents and purposes, the Japanese had effected a very tight blockade. The only way in was by air from Australia to Del Monte on Mindanao, then transshipped to Cebu, then a night passage to or near Batangas, a short layover, then a run into Corregidor. It's bad enough to dodge Kiji or Kuma, but then those two gunboats were something else, and lets not forget the air patrols from Toko Kokutai (Legaspi and Davao Detachments) and the 31st Kokutai based at Cavite. Then on occasion, the seaplanes from Sanuki maru. In the month of January, the following vessels were sunk or seized
1/14 = Santa Terrista 30/222 to the 2 gunboats Aso and Kiso maru's near Batangas
1/29 = Leyte 79/854 to aircraft from 32nd Kokutai between Panay and Cebu

Then in February:
2/10 = Mindanao 18/5,236 a tanker turned freighter sunk 50 miles NNW of Mindoro Strait by 2 aircraft from Toko Kokutai
2/16 = Emilia 31/278 sunk off Cebu by aircraft from Sanuki maru
2/28 = Mayon 30/3,371 sunk at Naspit by aircraft from 32nd KokutaI

On February 26th, both Kuma and Kiji were to be involved in the Zamboagna Seizure, and on the way south, they encountered Compagnia de Filipinas 90/784 near Batangas. the coaster was seized and escorted to Manila. On March 1st, Kuma and Kiji bombarded Cebu, sinking 2 coasters as one scuttled. They were Lepus 06/1,936, Regulus 1,173 and Legazpi 37/1,179 scuttled. The casualties wer over 325, including women and children. Kiji and Kuma continued south to Davao and participated in the planned seizure of Zamboanga. Kuma left later that day for Subic, but Kiji lingered until the 9th of March. That evening, Kuma left and in an unequalled firefight, sunk 12 ships off Cebu in the Sulu Sea. The USMC lists the casulaties as unknown. This incident broke the back of the Bamboo Fleet, and sealed the fate of those on Bataan and Corregidor. Yet, you will find nothing of this anywhere in the US Army Archives. There is a very brief mention in Volume 21 of the Senshi sosho.
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Nelson Lawry
Nelson Lawry

March 5th, 2009, 1:11 am #2

Alan,

A lot of what you seek may be found or confirmed in Charles Dana Gibson, with Kay Gibson, OVER SEAS: U.S. ARMY MARITIME OPERATIONS 1898 THROUGH THE FALL OF THE PHILIPPINES (Camden, ME: Ensign Press, 2002), a large and essential book for a lot of things, given the army's purposeful destruction of the deck logs of the USATs that plied the oceans in the years before WWII and during the war. Some of these vessels were noted particularly for their service in the Pacific, during which they called routinely at Manila. As with virtually all books, there are errors in it.

Nelson
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Joined: March 4th, 2009, 8:27 pm

March 5th, 2009, 3:06 am #3

Yes, I'm aware of this book, however, it sheds no more light on the subject that any other publications. This isn't something that comes off the wall, I've been on it constantly since my return from Japan last June. Had I known of it before hand, I could've found an avenue from the Japanese perspective, such as War Dairies from Kuma and Kiji at the History Branch in Tokyo.

In my humble opinion, MacArthur had a unique way of distancing himself from unfavorable comments, actions and general conduct. The one area he could not control, was the US Maritime Commission, and the Lloyds War Loss book, which comfirms the losses of these vessels, secondly, the Minister of Affairs in Manila sent me a kind letter, but added nothing new. Thirdly, the US Army Historical Section politely told me, "If it's not there, it didn't happen." What kind of message does this send???? What does the United States Army need to hide, when Lloyds and the USMC confirm these losses?? Is MacArthur's image that valuable??

Allan
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Nelson
Nelson

March 5th, 2009, 5:49 am #4

I think ol' Mac managed to bury a lot of things that happened during his command of USAFFE on Luzon. Wasn't it Hap Arnold who said something like, "We probably never will learn what happened out there", referring to the disastrous and disgraceful loss of the Far East Air Forces' bomber force on the ground, when apparently someone did not have the fortitude to send them north to Formosa to bomb Japanese targets there. Certainly the Japanese expected to get hit. I don't think it is a matter of protecting MarArthur's image so much as is the army no longer has access to those documents, and those who would have known postwar are either long retired or even more likely dead. I have been trying to find a report done on the role of American field artillery on Java written by the senior officer there, but no one has even heard of it (though it has been cited in a relevant book). It was a war that ended more than 60 years ago, and those with that kind of detailed expertise on a largely forgotten campaign are slim in number.

Nelson
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Nelson
Nelson

March 5th, 2009, 12:30 pm #5

Allan,

Have reread your two postings and must admit I am still puzzled on what precisely it is that you're looking for. Since my second posting, I have made a cursory search and lots of books (including the Gibsons' OVER SEAS and Edmonds's THEY FOUGHT WITH WHAT THEY HAD) as well as sundry websites do make reference to the general failure of resupplying Fort Mills on Corregidor by water. Only three sizable vessels made it to Philippine waters from Australia (DONA NATI, COAST FARMER, and ANHUI) and two other blockade runners were lost north of Darwin on 19 Feb 1942 (DON ESTEBAN and FLORENCE D.). As you have written, it was an entirely different kettle of fish to move those supplies that did successfully arrive at Mindanao or Cebu on to Manila Bay, with the failure rate large and the supplies making to the Corregidor garrison meager. Certainly that reality is well known, due to the effectiveness of the tight IJN blockade. But there were successes: the Gibson book includes photos of both ELCANO and and LEGAZPI, which did complete supply runs to The Rock before their luck ran out on subsequent trips (or at least so in the case of LEGAZPI, which was sunk on her third trip). All of this is freely admitted and no secret in any of it. We can question MacArthur's motivations in many things, but the loss of these coasters and inter-island steamers trying to bring supplies to Corregidor was clearly beyond his control. If what you're seeking ('tis not clear to me) is a complete list of ships' names that suffered loss, that is a tougher nut to crack, but one thing I do remember is that a number of boxes of the most essential records were transshipped from Corregidor to stateside and apparently may be found today at the National Archives. I have never seen them and cannot attest to their contents, or even to their existence, but if they are at NARA, they may offer some additional answers.

Nelson
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Joined: March 4th, 2009, 8:27 pm

March 5th, 2009, 3:39 pm #6

Hello Nelson,
Well now, I do have a complete list of ships that were lost in the resupply and also the ships involved in the resupply. That problem was finally solved over Super Bowl weekend.

No ship on the list made it more than 3 times, Mindanao being one, but her luck ran out, yeah, then there was Legazpi which was headed out on her third trip. What I'm looking for is this;
1 - There is no mention of the disaster on March 10th
2 - A total of 28 coasters were sunk from January 14th to April 10th and only 5 made it to Corregidor, but that figure is misleading. The total of trips made or attempted were 52 and only 9 made it and that's counting Legazpi's two and Mindanao's three. After February 15th to April 10th, only 4 made it to Corregidor. That is what I call a very poor return. The subs did better than that. Theodore Roscoe has a complete listing of submarines that made supply runs into Corregidor, but that is not my interest here.
3 - An Hui's trip to Cebu was unloaded, but according to an interview, none of those supplies reached Corregidor. Three small coasters tried the trip on March 16th and all three were either sunk or captured by Kiji. The rest of the supplies were either blown up or used locally.
4 - What is puzzling is it would be nice to know or at least know what really went on. Research is all about the process of elimination and finding facts that relate to the subject. But when there is so much void, it is near to impossible to piece ships, time slots together. DAR's from Kiji would be real benefical, at least from the Japanese side, but I don't have those, as I rely with my counterparts in Japan for them when available.

The interview, was with Felipe Alvarez who resides now in Renton Washington. He is in 80's, but he remembers much on March 1st, the bombardment which killed his father. They lived across the strait on Panay. To him, it wasn't a pleasent subject to talk about. As I was soon to learn, Filipinos do not discuss freely about the war, and the reasons should be obvious. It is from this interview that I could piece some of these trips together, the rest I rely on USMC's document along with Lloyds and try to make some sense of it.

The Far East Command would have been better served had they been more forthcoming, but alas, they were not. Napoleon commented "What is History, but a fable agreed upon." and I'm inclined to agree that someone decided to omit the disaster for the sake of History.

In summation, this has been a very trying experience for me, because it's so out of my field.

Allan
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Tom Womack
Tom Womack

March 6th, 2009, 2:03 pm #7

Hi Allan...

Welcome back...it's been a while since we've heard from you! Just a quick question on who was in charge of the Bamboo Fleet. Was it an Army operation (i.e. MacArthur) or was it a Navy operation (i.e. Hart)?

I just finished reading Tommy Hart's biography (A Different Kind of Victory) and he had some less than kind words to say about his "old family friend" Douglas. At one point, Hart goes so far as to question Big Mac's sanity and grasp on reality.

In return, the general consistently put down both Hart personally and the Navy (such as by telling Hart to get a "real fleet" and then he would taken seriously) at every opportunity. He also loudly blamed Hart for the USN's failure to resupply the Philippines; this charge apparently littered many a MacArthur telegram to high-level officials in Washington.

Hart says that such efforts to resupply the PI through the Japanese blockade were futile. With this in mind I'm just wondering if the Bamboo Fleet was his creation or if it was born out MacArthur's frustration with the USN not being able to supply him.

Tom
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Joined: March 4th, 2009, 8:27 pm

March 7th, 2009, 1:01 pm #8

Hi Tommy,
The "Bamboo Fleet" was strictly US Army. They didn't even consult Admiral Rockwell.

On Tommy Hart, what can I say, he was a pure gentleman, but he was Navy all the way. I forget the guys name, but when Hart released Florence D. and Don Isidro from Surabaya on February 15th he said that 'they weren't going to make it' and he was right.

On MacArthur, the more I find, the worse it gets. I really don't want to make this personal, but I gotta say, he wasn't worth his salt. In all the publications on this subject of the Bamboo Fleet, there are just bits and pieces, but the slaughter on March 10th galls me. He trump up those coasters that made it and don't mention those that didn't or tried and didn't.

BTW, contact me off-line, I need to talk to you.

Cheers, Allan
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Tom Womack
Tom Womack

March 7th, 2009, 3:52 pm #9

I agree with you that there's a lot more about MacArthur that will come out as the years go by. In my humble and very non-medical opinion, he was a first-class SOB and a passive-aggressive megalomaniac.

Although supreme commander of the Philippines military, MacArthur and President Manuel Quezon apparently did not get along very well. Hart's biographer surmised that the only reason Big Mac stayed on the job was to collect his rather substantial paycheck. He also suspected that the reason why MacArthur jumped so quickly at the chance to rejoin the US Army was because he knew that he was probably going to eventually be fired.

I also agree that Tommy Hart was a first-class gentleman and definitely Navy all the way. But although a fine officer, he was the product of a peace-time USN and was clearly not suited for front-line command in a war-zone. By his own admission, Hart was burnt out and ready to retire at the time of Pearl Harbor. He made constant references to his age (he was only 64 in 1941) and referred to himself as an "old man." These types of comments and his overall pessimistic (realistic?) attitude certainly didn't endear him to his Dutch or British allies.

In all honesty, I think Washington recognized Hart's short-comings and made a conscious decision to keep him in the Far East. They needed a "throw away" commander for a "throw away" fleet; i.e. they knew early on that the Asiatic Fleet would likely have to be sacrificed (thus no pre-war reinforcements) and needed a commander who could also be sacrificed. That...or they thought so highly of Hart that they could he could succeed with little or no support from home. I doubt the latter because Washington consistently left Hart without clear-cut direction on prewar policy and consistently tied his hands.

Either way, working with an ego-maniac like MacArthur certainly didn't help Hart or his cause.
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Joined: May 4th, 2009, 12:40 am

June 6th, 2010, 1:51 am #10

what the effects would be, had the US Navy utilized its V-Class of extra large submarines to run the Japanese blockade of the Philippines and deliver supplies to Bataan and Corregidor. Had the USS Argonaut, Narwhal, Nautilus, Bass, Bonita, Barracuda, Dolphin, Cuttlefish and Cachalot been used to transfer badly needed food, medicine and munitions supplies to the embattled troops on Bataan from bases at Cebu, Mindanao and Darwin, Australia, how much longer could they have held out, tying the Japanese down in trying to take the key island of the Philippines, Luzon? Each forenamed US submarine had the ability to carry, without torpedoes, well over a hundred tons of supplies on a single run and could have substantially aided and relieved the Filippino-American forces on Bataan.
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