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The Story of the Philippine and Bataan Quartermaster Depots

The Quartermaster Review
November-December 1946

THE STORY of the Philippine and Bataan Quartermaster Depots is a saga of “too little and too late” – a saga of supply when adequate supplies simply did not exist. But, at the same time, it is a story of stark heroism, not so much against enemy bullets and bombs as against overwhelming problems of supply. It is a story of which the QMC may well be proud.

As observed from my position as a junior officer, I shall here attempt to relate, in chronological sequence, the operations of these two ill-fated organizations from December 8, 1941, until the black day of April 9, 1942 – the date of the beginning of hell and torture for the American forces on Bataan.

When the bombs fell on Pearl Harbor, the Philippine Quartermaster Depot was located in the Army Port Area of Manila, near Pier No. 1. Lt. Col. (later Colonel) A. E. McConnell (deceased) was commanding, and had as his executive officer Major Frank Ignasewski, Q.M.C. (deceased). Captain (later Lt. Col A. B. Carlton, Q.M.C. (deceased) was the purchasing and contracting officer, and I was assistant P & C officer under Captain Carlton. The moment hostilities began, the primary objective of the Depot was to obtain and transport to the troops all available supplies of all classes. In this endeavor local sources were exploited to the maximum. Particular emphasis was placed upon obtaining Class I supplies, as the higher echelons of command apparently realized from the outset that food would quickly become our most critical item.

Large stocks of food supplies from the United States had previously been placed in war reserve at various strategic points on Luzon and Corregidor. The job given to the QMC was to augment these stocks, as well as those of all other classes of supply, with locally obtained items.

Our first action was to make a quick survey of all food stocks in Manila and determine their availability, for Army use. All of the local food dealers were contacted, and within a few hours a report was submitted to the depot commander. Every dealer contacted by the writer agreed to, turn over to the Army, on demand all of his stocks of food at the November 30th inventory price. A written memorandum of this agreement was obtained in every case. This arrangement seemed fair, as prices in Manila since December 8th had sky-rocketed, and the civilian populace had made great runs on all stores and were accumulating all possible stocks of food. This resulted in great inroads being made on the food stocks in the warehouses in Manila; however, vast quantities still remained untouched. At the time this survey was completed the Army was not yet ready to commandeer foods, and we continued to procure and contract only on requisition.

In the ” Tondo District” of Manila were stored large supplies of rice, owned mostly by Chinese merchants. By operating fleets of trucks and labor gangs, much of this rice was obtained for Army use, and was delivered to the Port Area for distribution to units in the field. This work was made very difficult because of the frequent, almost continuous, air-raid alarms. These air-raid alarms served to excite the native laborers and made it quite difficult to work with them. It was not uncommon to have an entire convoy of vehicles stranded in the middle of Manila because all the drivers and other workers had fled. The only way, then, to get the convoy “back on the road” was to round up enough new drivers from stray persons in the vicinity to operate the convoy. Despite these difficulties with laborers and with broken-down, dilapidated, civilian trucks, thousands and thousands of cabanas (125-lb. sacks) of polished rice were delivered to the Port Area.

The Depot at this time became quite concerned with supplies of all sorts which were aboard ships of many nationalities in Manila harbor. Soon after the war began, a large-scale Japanese bombing raid was made on the shipping in Manila Bay. Fortunately, only one vessel was appreciably damaged. These ships were then brought into the piers and unloaded as quickly as possible. The supplies were stored in great heaps in the area surrounding the piers, and it was our job to supervise the loading, the handling’ and the delivery to the Port Area, for disposition, of those supplies required by the Army. Attempt was made to classify, describe, evaluate and issue purchase orders, and obtain delivery receipts for all items, but due to the great confusion prevailing, no accurate record was actually made of the supplies taken by the Army.

In this connection it should be noted that there are probably now many claims being presented to the Army for payment, which claims in fact are neither true, just nor fair, as many of these supplies were taken by commercial concerns and by individual civilians. It might be well to say here that an agreement had been entered into by MacArthur’s headquarters with the Commonwealth Government of the Philippines that the Army would receipt for only those supplies needed for its use.

The supplies in the freighters and on the docks had not passed through the customs; checks of supplies were made by McConnell from ships’ manifests only, delivered by ships’ captains on demand. The supplies unloaded from these ships were of all types. To mention a few, there were large quantities of foods; there were automobile tires of all sizes; there was ladies’ wearing apparel; there were medicines and drugs; and there were even some British armored reconnaissance cars. In my opinion, the only accurate accounting of these supplies can be had from the ships’ manifests, but even they will not reflect with accuracy the amount of goods taken by the Army. However it appears that, despite bombing raids and the confusion prevailing, all the ships were unloaded.

During the time when all the piers were full of ships and were busily unloading, the Japanese made their first vicious bombing attack on the Port Area. Many persons were wounded, many were killed, and a great deal of damage was done to the supplies lying in the open near Pier 7 because of the flooding of the area by a broken water-main. This one water-main caused more damage than a dozen direct hits would have inflicted.

In this welter of activity all installations headquartered in the Port Area were moved, because of the extreme vulnerability of the area to bombing attacks and to fire. This included the Quartermaster Depot. All civilian employees were moved to San Beta College, Tondo District, Manila, together with the office equipment and official records, because it was thought that operations could be conducted from there in comparative safety. The wisdom of this precaution was well borne out after the previously-mentioned raid of mid-December on the Port Area.

I do not know the exact amount of supplies obtained, sorted, and transported by the QMC from the time the war began until Manila was declared an open city, but have reason to believe that the following amounts of Class I supplies were delivered to the following advance depots in Luzon: to Tarlac (North Central), 17 train-loads; to Los Banos (South Central), 11 train-loads; to Gaugau (Central), 7 trainloads. These supplies consisted principally of American-type food-stuffs.

Large reserves of palay (unhusked rice) were located at Cabanatuan, a Government rice central. I do not know how effectively distribution of this rice was made, but have reason to believe that the bulk of it was abandoned and was taken by the local population and by the enemy.

Late on the night of December 24, 1941, the QM Depot moved to the Bataan peninsula. By this time the enemy had complete control of the air over Luzon and was rapidly advancing with his ground forces to converge upon Manila. Movement of all sorts on the highways and railroads was then difficult and hazardous. However, due to the brilliant leadership of General MacArthur, General Wainwright, and General Jones, evacuation of the American-Filipino forces into Bataan was satisfactorily accomplished. But this sudden change in the tactical situation created an insurmountable problem of supply: the large stocks of foods still in Manila and those previously sent to Los Banos and Tarlac, and the millions of pounds of palay at Cabanatuan, were perforce abandoned by the Army and lost, leaving the beleaguered Bataan force to fall back upon the meager supplies at Gaugau, those hastily shipped by water and highway from Manila when MacArthur suddenly decided to shift his supply base to Bataan in the latter part of December, supplies which had been brought in by various units in their own vehicles, and the very limited local resources of Bataan.

Immediately upon arrival at Bataan, on Christmas Day, 1941, the QMCP was set up at Km Post 163.3, near the barrio of Limay. Dumps and distribution points for Quartermaster supplies were immediately established to service the various fighting and service units.

Rather chaotic conditions existed at first on Bataan, as the units from all over Luzon came streaming in and established their positions and headquarters. However, due to the skillful management, hard work, and common sense of the top-ranking QM officers, commanded by Brig. Gen. C. C. Drake, supply was maintained, and few people went hungry or unclothed, despite the difficult situation.

After the first large-scale Japanese assault was thrown back at Abucay and the Hacienda, it became apparent that our position would be relatively static until relief arrived, and that we would be in for a long siege.

By the first part of January it was possible to inventory the supplies on hand and determine the requirements of the using units. To our dismay it was found that, with the American Army, Philippine Scouts, I Philippine Army, and Filipino civilians, we had to feed, and clothe over 100,000 people. The answer was obvious – drastically reduce the food ration. This was a very serious step, but it was the only thing which could be done under existing circumstances if we were to maintain ourselves for a period long enough for help to arrive. Accordingly, on January 6, 1942, the ration was reduced to one-half of a ration per man per day; even then, many basic ingredients of this reduced ration were not to be had.

The fighting at the front soon became stalemated, so that for many weeks the primary concern of many of our troops was not enemy bombs nor bullets but food. As food supplies got shorter, the men became hungrier and weaker, and a great deal of pilfering of supplies occurred. Due to this situation, and the need for very strict control of all issue of food, a considerable amount, including most of the type. C ration, was shipped to Corregidor, where it was believed that it could be stored more safely, and from which point it could be distributed more fairly.

Early in January a large main QM dump- was established near Little Baguio, at Km. Post 169 on the Marivales Road. From this dump supplies were moved daily to the various ration distributing points, and from these there was daily automatic supply to the consuming units. As the campaign wore on into February and March, fewer and fewer supplies were kept on Bataan. As a matter of fact, it was a policy to keep only a two-day supply of Class I supplies on hand at the main dump. This supply was replenished nightly with a one-day issue brought by barge from Corregidor. It is to the great credit of the Water Transport Service of the QMC that every delivery from Corregidor was safely made, even though the enemy had complete control of the air and operated light naval craft in Manila Bay.

One of the first acts of the QMC on Bataan was to establish a bakery. By the early part of January, under the able management of Major Harry H. Hull, Q.M.C., this bakery was operating, and so long as the flour supply lasted, turned out sufficient bread, of good quality, to supply all the troops. The flour supply, however, failed to last as long as the siege, and during the last few weeks of the campaign the bakery was forced to close down.

With so many Filipinos to feed, rice, of course, was a very critical item. Soon after the first of the year our rice stocks reached a critical point, and it looked for a time as though we would be forced to surrender simply because we did not have enough rice. At one time – about the first of February – the rice issue got as low as two ounces per man per day. This is a very, very small ration and is not sufficient to maintain life, let alone maintain a fighting man in top condition. However, just at the point where things looked the darkest, some inter-island boats from Cebu managed to break the Japanese blockade and reach Corregidor. These boats carried considerable stocks of rice, and enabled us to increase the ration.

Every effort was made to exploit local resources to the maximum. Bataan is a very poor province and consists mostly of mountains and forests. However there, is a small segment of the peninsula, near Manila Bay, on which rice is grown. At the time the war began, the rice in this area had been cut and piled in stacks, but had not been threshed. The QMC made every attempt to thresh this rice in the fields. This operation was very difficult, as much of the area was under enemy artillery fire, and all of it was subject to repeated Japanese bombings and strafing attacks. For this reason, Filipino civilians were loath to work in the fields, and only by the greatest persuasion could they be induced to harvest their rice.

However, some of it was gathered in, and I had the pleasure of collecting over 10,000 cabanas of palay from the fields of Bataan. Had the Filipinos not been so frightened, or had we had even as much as a single American-type threshing machine, at least ten times this amount of palsy could have been recovered. However, imagine yourself working with a group of twenty-five or thirty people out in open fields where the nearest tree is a mile or so away; here there is no adequate cover close at hand; where enemy planes drowse lazily overhead at k altitudes ranging from 50 to 25,000 feet, without opposition of any sort; where these planes frequently bomb or strafe your group – then perhaps you can understand why the Filipinos, and Americans too, were frightened, and why tie operation was difficult. Great credit is due those few loyal and brave native souls who willingly risked their lives to garner in these few thousand bushels of palay.

At Orion and Balanga were rice mills. As the front contracted and these towns became a part of “No Man’s Land,” the mills were dismantled by the Corps of Engineers and taken t6 an area near the main QM ration dump, where they were reassembled. The palsy taken from the fields was then brought to these mills for final milling and polishing.

This rice-gathering operation (perhaps in modern military jargon it would be known as “Operation Rice”) was the responsibility of the Purchasing and Contracting Section of the QM Depot. This was perhaps a unique employment of P & C personnel. To us it meant that, rather than stay with the rear echelons, we went forward with trucks and men, and by display of leadership and initiative induced others, would not otherwise have obtained. The straw from these threshing operations was baled by primitive hand methods, and the bales were turned over to the pack trains for feed. The laborers who threshed this palay were not only fed by the Army but were paid on-the-spot wages for their work. As soon as all the palay was threshed and the straw baled, the camps were turned over to GHQ and removed from QM control.

Another operation undertaken by the QMC, working in conjunction with the Veterinary Corps, was the procuring and slaughtering of water carabao. Many hundreds of carabao had been abandoned by their owners in the face of the Japanese advance, and were running wild over all parts of Bataan. Accordingly a project was organized to obtain as many of these animals as possible for our use. A stock pen was set up, to which were taken all carabao obtained. Whenever a carabao was commandeered for the Army, every effort was made to ascertain the identity of the owner and reimburse him, either in cash or by voucher, for his animal. Many of the owners, of course, could not be identified, as they had abandoned their property.

These carabao were slaughtered at the stock pen, and their carcasses were shipped to Correuidor, where they were placed in the cold storage plant for freezing and storage. Nightly delivery of the frozen carcasses was made from Corregidor to Bataan. As this supply of meat, however, was entirely inadequate to supply the forces, great difficulty was experienced in making fair and equitable distribution of such supply. As the food situation grew worse it became necessary to slaughter all the Army’s horses and mules, except those of the pack-train. Every effort was likewise made to make fair distribution of this meat, but “leaks” along the line of supply from the QMDP to the using units were difficult problems.

We had very few cigarettes and cigars, and very little pipe tobacco with us on Bataan, and it was found, much to our dismay, that many men would go hungry to get a “fag.” The theoretical issue of tobacco throughout most of the campaign was one cigarette per man per day. With such meager issue it is not difficult to visualize the great leakage which existed along the lines of distribution. The problem of distributing cigarettes became so acute, even in the early stages of the campaign, that Colonel McConnell, Commanding Officer of the QM Depot, was forced to establish what he called a “special-issue counter,” from which he personally issued all tobaccos. The number of items on this special-issue counter grew and grew as things became scarce, until Colonel McConnell was personally issuing at least two dozen items besides cigarettes.

As supplies became increasingly short, many complaints were made by receiving units. In order to protect himself the Quartermaster was forced to obtain receipts from every requisitioning unit as to the amount of each item actually received. Scarcely a day went by in the latter part of the campaign when one or more general officers failed to make personal inspections of QM activities. Thanks, however, to this system of receipts, and to a vigorous and honest QM administration, a minimum of complaint was seriously leveled at the Quartermaster. The leakages in supply apparently occurred, in most instances, lower down in the line of distribution. It should be noted that the ration was determined by GHQ, and not by the operating QM. The QM function was merely to provide the ration to the requisitioning units in their pro-rata share.

As March drew to an end our situation on Bataan looked hopeless indeed. However, rumors were rife that help would soon arrive, and as a matter of fact, Seseman Cove, across the North Channel from Corregidor, actually had been put in readiness by the Engineers to receive supplies. The QM was organizing labor gangs to unload these supplies and disburse them to the various dumps. It was at this moment that the Japanese chose to launch their all-out attack on Bataan. Our men were weak from lack of food and sick from lack of quinine. The situation was simply untenable, and in a few short days our lines gave way before the vicious Japanese attacks and we were forced to capitulate to the enemy.

Heartbreaking it was indeed to learn, some years later, that those supplies which we were preparing to receive, and for which we had hoped and prayed so fervently, were actually aboard ship and at Cebu, waiting to come to Bataan under promised air and naval support, on the day of the surrender.

This, then, is a short story of the Quartermaster Depot activities in Manila and on Bataan. It is a story of an attempt to do something with nothing. It is primarily a story of supply, or, rather, the lack of it. It is a story from which surely we can all learn a lesson – a lesson of preparedness. Had we been adequately supplied in the Philippines, had we even bad our required war reserves safely stored away on Bataan, the story would likely have been very different. Blame for the inadequacy of supplies in this campaign definitely cannot be laid on the doorstep of any of those in the Philippines – they did their best. They fought with what they had. It wasn’t much. For their pains, their trouble, and their anguish, most are now dead. From General Drake on down, every man did his part; it was the best we could do. But was it the best that the greatest nation on earth could do?

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