The Quartermaster Review
Quartermaster support of operations in Luzon, Philippines
THE VILLA VERDE TRAIL
A human pack train of 1,900 Filipinos and Igorotes is today carrying rations and ammunition up the tortuous Villa Verde trail, in the mountains of northern Luzon, to the foxholes of the infantrymen of the 32nd Division.
The story of the Villa Verde trail is primarily a story of the combat engineers who carved a road out of the sides of a mountain. But when it became evident that it was going to require a major military effort to blast the Japs from their mountain positions, a heartbreaking supply job was dumped in the lap of the Quartermaster.
The fifteen-mile-long trail to the front lines is a narrow, twisting road barely wide enough for use by Army vehicles. Because of the small amount of traffic that can be routed up the mountains, the Quartermaster has been obliged to establish food dumps along the trail. How to get the supplies to the men fighting in small groups at the front posed another problem. It was decided to form human pack trains, using native labor. The Philippine Civil Affairs Unit was instructed to recruit men for this hard and dangerous work. Starting with less than 200 men, the experiment proved so successful that the carrier force was expanded to its present size.
Major W. B. Alexander is the only U. S. Army man in the labor camp. His job is to make sure that the doughboys get their beans and bullets, although he is quick to point out that the men are not on a bully-beef-and-bean diet. “The troops at the front,” declared Major Alexander, “get a varied assortment of food. The 10-in-1 ration is preferred by the majority, but the new type C ration, has also proved popular. Men going out on combat patrols like to take along the K ration because of its handy size and light weight.”
The camp commander is especially enthusiastic about his Igorote carriers. These squat. broad-faced mountain people can carry upwards of seventy-five pounds on a special packboard designed for this purpose.
There are numerous stories making the rounds concerning the physical prowess of the igorotes. One husky infantryman related how he struggled up the trail carrying only his canteen and rifle. Tired and out of breath, he paused along the side of the mountain for a rest. Glancing back, he saw an Igorote woman coming up the same route with a large box of rations under each arm. She was carrying this hundred-pound load as effortlessly as a woman back home would carry a compact.
Although many of the Igorote women have volunteered for duty as carriers, Major Alexander has generally refused to use them because of the comparatively high casualty rate. On several occasions the trains have been ambushed by Japanese patrols and the carriers killed. When this happens, Major Alexander is confronted with a real personnel problem. Because the carriers are hired on a weekly basis the are permitted to quit their job after working several days. When a train suffers casualties, hundreds of men will leave at the first opportunity, and it is be I coming increasingly difficult to recruit laborers to fill their places.
The pack trains are made up of thirty to seventy men commanded by a Filipino army officer. A pack train of fifty men is required to supply one infantry company with food, clothing, and ammunition for one day.
Lt. Col. Lawrence E. Swope, staff officer in Genera1 Walter Krueger’s 6th Army Quartermaster Section, estimates that it takes one carrier to supply three men in the line. “Every bite of food the men eat, the clothes they wear, and the ammunition they expend, has to be carried on the backs of carriers up hills which the average person couldn’t climb empty handed,” Swope said.
Another ”impossible” supply situation has been overcome, but with our supply lines growing longer and more difficult every day, the Quartermaster will be called upon to solve countless others in the near future.
The plan, as set up and executed, was to establish a bakery at QM supply points to be located as far forward as the tactical situation would permit. The first one in operation was at Rosales. Twenty days after the landing at Lingayen Gulf, bread was issued to troops of the I Corps sector. Within a few days another 6th Army QM supply point was in operation at Tarlac, to the south. A bakery commenced production, and bread was made available to the fighting men who were rushing towards Manila. By this time another unit had started operations at Dagupan, and served troops as they disembarked in that area.
The march to Manila moved faster than was anticipated, so a bakery was sent to San Fernando, Pampanga, in advance of the supply point. Ingredients were supplied from Tarlac. It was from this bakery that the first bread was sent to the Santo Tomas Interment Camp the day following the entry of the First Cavalry Division. It is interesting to note many of the internees said the one thing they had absolutely craved during their three years of confinement was bread.
As additional troops were pouring onto the Island, another bakery was established at San Fabian, which was shaping up as the main supply base until ships could be sent directly into Manila Bay. By this time more and more men had shifted to the Manila area, and a bakery unit from New Guinea was sent, immediately upon arrival, to Quezon City in the northern suburbs of the Big City. Other divisions were skirting the city and coming up from the south, so it was deemed advisable to have an issue point south in order to keep crosstown traffic to a minimum. Paranaque was selected, and the remaining part of the unit from Dagupan was moved, and issued bread the following day. Concurrently with these operations the XI Corps was functioning on Bataan in the Subic Bay area. From the bakery in Olongapo bread was sent to Corregidor, affectionately referred to as “the Rock” by daily LCM. At Clark Field, Air Force units were supplied from San Fernando.
When the XIV Corps shifted and became Batangas bound, a bakery was located at Calamba. Here, for the first time, enforced blackout was in effect, which meant that the bakers could not work after dark.
All of the bakery units but one were seasoned outfits which had operated in New Guinea. They knew what it was to set up in areas that were ankle-deep in mud. On Luzon it was generally possible to pick out a former warehouse or a market center, and, in one instance, a cock-fight arena, for the bakery installations. Wells or established water systems were already going, which made quick set-ups possible.
The procedure has been to have the bakery officer make a preliminary reconnaissance of the location and then send a detail of men to direct the work of Filipinos in order to have the area ready for the unit to move in and get into operation with a minimum of delay. In all cases it has worked exceedingly well.
Because of the well-established road-nets on Luzon. the distribution of bread was not the problem that it had been in past operations. However, in several instances where there were isolated units, bread was airdropped by parachute.
GI SALVAGE FORCES
A few hours after infantrymen cleared the enemy from hillside caves west of Clark Field on Luzon, a 6th Army salvage truck nosed tentatively into one of the caves. A little later it backed out, loaded with Jap artillery shells.
Eighteen hours after the first load had been pulled, the same shells were lashing back at the enemy from our own cannons.
Two Quartermaster Corps salvage collecting companies, working wherever General Walter Krueger’s 6th Army troops slug it out with the enemy, do an exciting job of making the battlefield a supplementary supply base for the Army. Turning Jap equipment against the Jap and rescuing our own is their specialty.
GI salvage forces on Luzon, directed by Brig. Gen. Charles R. Lehner, Quartermaster General of the 6th Army, and Lt. Col. Lawrence E. Swope, Salvage Section administrative officer, have often supplied our troops with an extra punch when they most need it. They have fully armed and equipped Filipino guerrilla units with captured and salvaged materials.
Beginning at the battlefront, salvage is scouted out and collected by five combat platoons selected from the Quartermaster 236th and 678th Salvage Collecting Companies. Assigned to various units, they comb the front lines for leftovers. They work under fire, and take the same chances and risks as infantrymen.
Behind them, other platoons manage collection points and rear echelon salvage dumps where all the lost-and-found of battle is hauled, classified, then repaired or scrapped. Together the teams pick up everything and find a place for all of it. Large volumes of important and sometimes curious items pass through their hands. Among the thousands of tons of material captured from the Jap they found the priceless haul of 100 tons of ingot tin and three wash machines. Some 22,000-ton stocks of iron and 123 tons of pure zinc were found. Thousands of small arms, grenades, mortars, machine-guns, and much light artillery lost by the Japs were funneled to our guerrilla units.
At Dau, enough enemy heavy artillery shells were captured and put back into action within twenty-four hours to service a couple of fast-firing batteries.
When enemy weapons and equipment are captured, Salvage gives our Enemy Equipment Intelligence Service teams first look. These team, the professional souvenir hunters of the Army-are attached to advance combat units and have the highest priority on all captured material. They search for samples rather than quantity. What they select is sent to the War Department for analysis and study. Captured weapons, documents, radio and fire-control equipment, may give us new ideas for improving our material or developing counter-weapons. Analysis of the type and quantity of the material helps give us an idea of trends in enemy ordnance as well as giving us a picture of the condition of enemy resources.
When Intelligence teams have taken what they want, the commanding general of the capturing unit has next priority. But he may only requisition what material he needs to aid and further his immediate combat operation. Hoarding salvage material is a Quartermaster taboo.
What is left is evacuated from collection points to established 6th Army dumps as well as to base dumps.
The only surplus or non-essential material not routed to these county-size dumps are certain foodstuffs and medicines earmarked for distribution among the Filipino civilians. They are turned over to PCAU (Philippine Civilian Authority), which handles distribution.
Many of the salvage dumps are gigantic, literally blanketing acres of rolling field with the odds and ends of battle. Their warehouses give the effect of small, orderly villages.
When the raw “junk” comes in it is examined by salvage inspectors. Then crews of Filipino civilians, employed by the Army and under the supervision of Salvage Collecting Company personnel, sort the material into three classes: (1) immediately serviceable, (2) repairable, (3) scrap.
If our own and enemy equipment needs no repair it is immediately returned to supply channels and drawn upon by the entire 6th Army. Our cannons fire Jap shells just as well as American shells, if they fit. Our gasoline runs a Jap truck without balking. Even the sixty-five Japanese sewing-machines captured on Luzon do a neat job repairing a warehouse full of damaged clothing and web equipment.
During the first weeks of fighting on Luzon thousands of Japanese machine-shop tools, grinders, drill-presses, lathes, and dies were captured in excellent condition. The greatest part has been put to work already. So also with the 52,000 construction tools, 7,000 gallons of paint, the generators, radio equipment, glass, searchlights, pipe, bolts, and nuts we captured from the enemy.
Material which can be put to use after repair is generally reconditioned by the service units of the outfit drawing the equipment. But certain items of equipment such as business machines, some ordnance, and clothes, are fixed by skilled technicians at the dump.
Scrap material that can ‘t be repaired still serves the Army. Usable parts are stripped or cannibalized, assorted, and reissued as spare parts. Many a tank and truck part has lived three or four lives on the Southwest Pacific battlefronts.
Other scrap material that has given its best years to the war effort can squeeze out a little more when the American soldier’s ingenuity is applied. Tire carcasses beyond repair serve as dockside buffers for harbor craft. Soldiers have melted the wax from the ration cartons to make candles, with the aid of a broken shoestring.
Because everything has an ultimate use overseas, very little scrap is returned Stateside. Brass shell casings are probably the principal salvage reprocessed at home. Yet nothing is wasted if it can be helped. Dunnage lumber and packing crates make file boxes, excellent flooring, and small buildings.
The damaged gasoline drum, despite being punctured or smashed, has been more widely used than any other single item shipped to our forces. On Saipan it made a single-lane highway through impassable mud. It has served as overhead cover for air-raid shelters, airfield revetments, washtubs, showers, pontoons for foot-bridges, and floats to support submarine nets.
The big dumps are as neat and departmentalized as an FBI file. There are car lots, truck lots, warehouses for ordnance and clothing. Even the clothing warehouse has a section set aside for one of the most curious supply requests of the war: a standing order from the War Department for 5,000 complete Japanese uniforms, in perfect condition, to be sent to the States.
Salvage streams in and out of the dumps constantly. Once it is processed and sorted in the dump it is ready for the hunters-representatives from various Army supply units who call in almost daily.
The salvage staff at dump headquarters could probably memorize a mail-order catalogue with no trouble. During a single morning a few dozen supply officers and non-coms from field units may drop in, searching for anything from a piston ring to a machine-gun firing pin. Without having to consult the daily inventory lists which are kept, the staff seems able to quote exactly how much of anything they have on band, its condition, who has priority on it, and how deep in its particular pile you’ll have to dig to find it.