The Raid on Cabanatuan

Posted: January 31, 2017

Most Relevant Facts and Assumptions

In preparing for the raid on the Cabanatuan POW camp, facts needed to be gathered and assumptions made.

The American troops knew that the Japanese had already evacuated many of the POWs and that they planned to eliminate the remaining POWs either by taking them to the mountains or by murdering them (King 56). They also knew that many of the POWs being held by the Japanese were the survivors of the Bataan death march. It was assumed that they would be sick, crippled, and weak and that many of them were dying of disease, overwork, or starvation.

It was also a fact that the camp was behind enemy lines and that it was located in a place that had a mainstream of Japanese movements. As well, the troops knew that the rapid advancements of the American forces from the southwest were making the Japanese withdraw toward the east and north along Cabanatuan-City-Cebu-Rizal and Cabanatuan City-Baloc-San Jose highways (King 56).

It was known that the Japanese troops moved at night to avoid detection by American aircraft and that they rested during the day in transit camps and areas that were concealed. Another fact was that the Pangatian POW compound served both as a camp for the POWs and as a transit camp for the Japanese troops. The American troops also knew that the Japanese tanks regularly used the Pangatian roads and that there was a dense concentration of Japanese troops in Cabu and Cabanatuan City.

The American troops were also able to gather information about the POW camp and the surrounding areas. They were able to determine that Cabanatuan-Cabu City highway measured 600 by 800 yards and was enclosed by three barbed wire fences about four feet apart and six to eight feet high (King 61). They also determined that other barbed wire fences further divided the camp into a number of departments. It was also known among the American troops that that an 8-foot-high gate barred the main entrance and that it was “secured with a heavy lock” (King 61), with one guard who stood in a shelter that was well protected. As well, it was a fact that 3 12-foot high towers were occupied and that 1 pillbox was occupied by 4 men who were heavily armed. It was assumed that there were 2 trucks and 4 tanks within the compound (King 61). Furthermore, they knew that only 73 Japanese soldiers were guarding the stockade but that 150 additional troops entered the compound at 1100 to rest. Moreover, the nearest Japanese troops outside the camp numbered ATC 800 in Cabu who had trucks and tanks. The prisoners were being held captive in the compound’s northwest corner (King 61).

Measurable Evaluations Criteria

The success of the mission can be evaluated by whether the POWs can be successfully rescued, specifically by how many POWs will survive and reach friendly lines safely. Another criterion is the number of casualties and injuries that the American troops would sustain.

In this regard, the Priority Intelligence Requirements are the following:

  • Will the American troops be able to position themselves without detection by the Japanese troops?
  • Will the Japanese troops be resting and caught when the American troops attack?
  • Will the prisoners be strong enough to aid in the rescue?

The Friendly Forces Information Requirements are the following:

  • Will the local forces provide assistance to the American troops?
  • Will the civilians cover the American troops?
  •  Will they provide food and carabao carts to the American troops?

In this regard, the essential elements of friendly information include which side of the war the locals supported; their willingness to fight with the troops; the locals’ cooperation in providing security for the American troops; and the locals’ capability in providing the troops with food, shelter, and carabao carts.

Comparison and Contrast of the Different COAs

COA #1

If the American troops continued to move toward Guimbao despite their slow movement, they would have come across the large number of Japanese troops who were then coming into the area. This may have led to more casualties among the American troops. This may have also alerted the Japanese guards in the POW camp, which may have prevented the American troops from rescuing all of the POWs. It was possible for many POWs to have died or suffered injuries.

COA #2

If the American troops stayed in the camp and defended while the 6th Army sent a regimental combat team to link up with them, then they are within the direct fire of the Japanese troops. They are not able to use the element of surprise because staying inside the camp increases their risk of detection by the Japanese troops. It also deprives them of the chance of further planning their moves. Moreover, by increasing their proximity with the Japanese troops, they expose themselves to harm. Conversely, they would be safer if they put a significant amount of distance between them and the Japanese troops.
COA #3

If the American troops move outside the camp to the first concealed location and establish a defensive perimeter while the 6th army sends a regimental team to link up with them, then they are able to better plan for the attack. They can take advantage of the element of surprise because they would likely be undetected by the Japanese troops in the camp. This would also allow them to be secure.

They would have the advantage of observing the Japanese troops from afar so that they could better plan what to do, that is, how they would attack, when they would attack, and where they would attack. They can then start attacking from afar and move into the camp once the Japanese troops have fallen so that they can safely go into the camp to retrieve the POWs. By moving outside the camp and establishing a defensive perimeter, the other American and Filipino troops or guerillas are also better able to provide security for them. In turn, these would lead to more POWs being rescued and fewer American troops being hurt.


King (73) stressed the importance of surprise and security in war. As such, it is recommended that the American troops take more time to gather information about the enemies, the premises, and the locals.

By obtaining more information about the enemies, they would be able to determine when the enemies are at their most vulnerable and when the best time to attack is; thus, enabling the troops to use the element of surprise. By learning more about the premises, they would be able to determine the best routes for the attack and for the exit; thus, ensuring their security.

By receiving more information about the locals, particularly on where their sympathies lie, the American troops would be able to determine whether they can rely on the locals before, during, and after the attack; hence, ensuring their security during all of these times and ensuring that they safely reach friendly lines. That said, delaying the attack by one day is the right decision as it would allow the American troops and the local allies to plan their attacks more thoroughly.

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