Relying on daring raids and sound battlefield judgment, General Walter Krueger reclaimed Luzon from the Japanese with minimal casualties.
General Walter Krueger was the oldest of the fourteen men commanding U.S. field armies during World War II. He was neither colorful nor charming, but rather plodding and colorless. He probably would not have succeeded in a higher-level command. He showed no aptitude for grand strategy, no knack for handling the press, no skill in the political realm: all the talents employed by the better theater commanders such as Chester Nimitz and Dwight D. Eisenhower. Though Krueger was once featured on Time magazine’s cover, modesty and aversion to the limelight nearly ensured his obscurity in the years to come.
Yet Krueger was arguably the best of those fourteen American field army combat commanders.
In battling the Japanese in the Philippines, he had an unequaled record for preserving the lives of his men while inflicting maximum damage on the enemy. He succeeded because he refused to comply with his superior’s unwarranted, risky desires; he had a gift for gaining the confidence and loyalty of his men; he outmaneuvered his enemy; and he had an almost limitless capacity for successful battle command in sustained operations. Additionally, no other U.S. commander created and employed special operations forces with such skill and imagination.
After the war, Krueger’s commanding officer, General Douglas MacArthur, generously allowed that “no army in military history ever had a greater leader than General Krueger.”
Walter Krueger was born in Germany in 1881, the son of a Prussian officer. He emigrated and first donned the uniform of the U.S. Army in 1898, when he served in the Spanish-American War, rising from the rank of private to sergeant. He performed so well during the Philippine Insurrection that he was commissioned as a second lieutenant in 1901. On his second tour in the Philippines, he had the fortuitous experience of mapping what would be his most challenging future battlefield, northern Luzon.
A regimental commander on the Mexican border in 1916, he became the operations officer of the 26th Infantry Division in France during World War I, and later, chief of staff of the fledgling American tank corps. After the war, he graduated from the army air corps’ Primary Flying School, the Command and Staff College, and the Army War College. Steadily promoted, he became a general officer and reached the top echelon of army leadership on the eve of World War II.
On January 11, 1943, Lieutenant General Krueger was named one of two army field commanders in the Southwest Pacific theater, and he arrived in Australia on February 7. His task was to plan, coordinate, and command tactical operations under the strategic direction of the theater commander, General MacArthur. By May, Krueger had whipped his staff into a capable body to devise and coordinate offensive operations against the Japanese.
On June 30, the Sixth Army conducted its first amphibious landing at Nassau Bay, New Guinea, forty miles from the Japanese air base at Lae. In the next eighteen months, before its landing in the Philippines, the Sixth conducted twenty successful amphibious operations over a forty-five-hundred-mile stretch of the Southwest Pacific. In those 1943 and early 1944 operations, its soldiers killed or captured 33,553 Japanese soldiers while only 2,459 U.S. troops were killed or missing— an impressive fourteen-to-one ratio.
An important part of Krueger’s success was his early recognition of the crucial need for ground reconnaissance against a zealous foe, Japanese soldiers who were masters of camouflage and routinely defended their positions to the death. In November 1943, Krueger established a training center to produce an unusual field army scout unit. Candidates were carefully selected from volunteers and put through a tough six-week course. Dubbed the Alamo Scouts, these soldiers were taught to infiltrate enemy territory in small teams, conduct reconnaissance operations, and report on Japanese dispositions, armament, and strengths.
The Alamo Scouts ultimately fielded twelve operational teams. Scout teams normally comprised two officers and five enlisted men. In combat, patrols lasted a few days, though eventually the teams sometimes stayed behind Japanese lines for a few weeks, reporting by radio.
At the same time that the U.S. Marines were dismantling their raider units and the army in Europe was deactivating three U.S. Ranger battalions, Krueger created a new Sixth Army Ranger organization. Volunteers were put through a rugged, stressful course. Graduates formed the 6th Ranger Battalion, which was ready for action by September 1944. Its initial combat mission was to seize three small islands guarding the entrance to Leyte Gulf.
Unlike his counterparts in Europe, Krueger would not deploy his special operations units in line infantry operations. They came to specialize in making brilliant raids and reconnaissance missions, and in rescuing prisoners.
Presented with MacArthur’s ambitious proposal to land a large force on Leyte in October 1944, the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff discarded a navy plan to attack Formosa (now Taiwan) in September. The decision for the United States to reclaim the Philippines in the fall of 1944 was controversial. Seizing Formosa would have provided a nearby base from which to launch the planned U.S. invasion of Japan’s Home Islands; the Philippines were much more distant from Japan.
MacArthur passionately argued that it was a moral duty to free America’s colonial subjects and the thousands of U.S. internees and prisoners languishing in unspeakable conditions in the Philippines as soon as possible. From the war’s beginning, he held the firm belief that “The Philippine theater of operations is the locus of victory or defeat.”
In the end, timing may have been the most important factor. The Central Pacific theater commander, Admiral Chester Nimitz, estimated that a landing on Formosa could not take place until February 1945.
When MacArthur got the green light, Krueger’s army was fighting in New Guinea and several islands in and around the Bismarck Sea. His staff and most of his combat units were quite accustomed to rapid changes and fast-paced operations, but the impending struggle in the Philippines would severely test the sixty-three-year-old general’s physical and mental stamina and would demand every bit of his forty-six years of professional military experience.
Krueger was given only thirty-five days to plan and coordinate a two-corps, four-division amphibious invasion of Leyte, the largest such operation to date throughout the Pacific. He and his staff drew up a quick plan, and in a short time, troops boarded transports. Unknown to Krueger and his men, their landing in the Philippines was about to provoke the war’s largest Japanese sea, air, and land retaliation against American forces.
As a commander, Krueger was confident in his own abilities, extremely demanding of his officers, insistent on causing the maximum damage to his enemy at the least cost to the forces he led, and unfailingly focused on improving the condition and morale of his soldiers. Bill Mauldin, a one-time infantryman and Pulitzer Prize–winning cartoonist who served as a foot soldier under Krueger, had this to say about his commander: “Twice in the same month, I encountered him while my company was doing field exercises…a man with three stars on each shoulder steps out of the bushes and demands to see your bare feet….When Krueger found an infantryman with untreated blisters, athlete’s foot, or leaky socks, the soldier’s noncoms lost their stripes and his officers got official reprimands. We in the lower echelons sort of loved the crusty old boy, were delighted to learn that he had enlisted as a private…and were not surprised when later he turned out to be one of the most distinguished generals in the Pacific.”
Krueger was not without critics. From a polar opposite perspective, General George Marshall, the army’s chief of staff, in giving some praise to Krueger, also pointed out some personal flaws: “…you are very sensitive to criticism, to suggestions and to anything that you think might not reflect to the best advantage for you personally. You are a man of decided opinions…you have a hard time hearing other people’s views and adapting them to your own use….”
Krueger assured Marshall his behavior would give no further cause for concern.
While the Sixth Army was sailing toward Leyte, the Japanese were reinforcing the Philippines, bringing in a new commander, and building up a massive air arm. In early October, Tokyo had rushed Lieutenant General Tomoyuki Yamashita to the Philippines. At the time, U.S. Army intelligence officers counted seven Japanese divisions, some 225,000 troops, in the Philippines, including one division of sixteen thousand on Leyte. Even as Krueger’s assault force approached the Philippines, U.S. intelligence revised enemy strength upward, to 242,000 troops and ten divisions.
Perhaps more disturbing, American radio intercept stations gradually identified an ominous number of Japanese army and navy air units coming into the Philippines. As the Americans crossed the beaches on Leyte, there would be about seven hundred enemy aircraft in the Philippines, with more on the way. Tokyo was stripping Manchuria, China, Malaya, and the Home Islands of air and ground units to achieve this rapid, massive buildup.
The October 20, 1944, landing and subsequent vicious fighting on and around Leyte was drastically different from combat operations Krueger had commanded before. Leyte had been chosen in part because, being in the center of the archipelago, it could serve as a base to support subsequent operations to the south or north. The opening assault from the sea by three veteran and one green American infantry divisions put 39,800 troops on the island while a reserve of forty-four thousand more soldiers waited in ships just off the beach.
The landing surprised the Japanese, who were expecting the target to be Mindanao, a hundred miles to the south. Compared with other Pacific battlegrounds, Leyte was quite large, about one hundred miles long and fifty miles across at the widest point. It was larger than Guadalcanal and six times the size of Okinawa.
This expanse did not permit linear coverage across the entire mountainous, heavily forested island, and it forced both sides to constantly maneuver to attack or defend a flank. In another unique experience for the Sixth Army, this was its first major action without the initial support of U.S. Army Air Forces land-based fighters and bombers. Until they could improve (or build) airfields on Leyte, Krueger’s soldiers would have to depend on carrier-based air support, available only briefly.
In a reversal of his previous experience with amphibious operations, Krueger found the Japanese navy the biggest threat to his invading soldiers. After the war, Allied interrogators asked the commander of the Japanese Combined Fleet why Tokyo had risked the bulk of its navy in a huge and desperate sortie to defeat Krueger’s invasion of the Philippines. With impeccable strategic logic, Admiral Soemu Toyoda answered: “…should we lose in the Philippines operations, even though the fleet should be left, the shipping lane to the south would be completely cut off so that the fleet, if it should come back to Japanese waters, could not obtain its fuel supply.”
Toyoda went on to reveal the all-or-nothing nature of this huge endeavor and how the intent of his order did not include the destruction of the American battle fleet. The aim was to destroy the U.S. amphibious armada landing and supplying the Sixth Army. He described the mission he gave to the battle commander, Vice Admiral Takeo Kurita: “Admiral Kurita’s mission was complete destruction of the transports in Leyte Bay. In the orders, there was no restriction as to damage that he might take….The meaning of that order was…that damage could not be limited or reduced by turning back, so advance, even though the fleet should be completely lost.”
The Japanese fleet was dispatched to Leyte on October 22, and promptly ran into the U.S. Third and Seventh fleets. Kurita, within sight of his prey, was rebuffed in what has been described as the world’s greatest naval battle; he turned around and abandoned his mission. By October 25, the Japanese fleet was largely destroyed.
The U.S. Third Fleet with its large carriers left the Leyte area of operations searching for the remnants of Kurita’s fleet. Only the battered remains of the Seventh Fleet’s escort carriers were left to support Krueger as his forces struggled to push the Japanese back and build airfields. Nevertheless, the escort carriers’ aircraft were mostly deployed to fend off kamikaze attacks, not to support troops ashore. In addition, the Seventh Fleet’s battlewagons had almost exhausted their ammunition, and so could provide little aid to Krueger’s ground forces.
For the Sixth Army, an unfortunate consequence of the Battle of Leyte Gulf was being pummeled and strafed daily by Japanese land-based aircraft. With little air cover, Krueger’s troops were almost totally reliant on anti-aircraft artillery. Additionally, they came under something of a novelty in the Pacific—accurate and effective enemy artillery bombardments. The Japanese had matched America’s strong suit, firepower.
At this perilous juncture, three successive typhoons struck Leyte. The Japanese took the opportunity to begin funneling combat troops to the island from elsewhere in the Philippines, with near impunity. Planning for the invasion, the Sixth Army staff had warned MacArthur’s headquarters of the great risk involved in an October landing—a period just before the rainy season. MacArthur would not hear of delaying his return to the Philippines.
As his four divisions began attacking westward across the island, they met torrential downpours, beginning on November 17. Their supply lines dissolved into a sea of mud. In the muck of the roadways, moving trucks was sometimes impossible. From the beach to combat forces, the Sixth Army relied on three main routes, along distances of up to thirty miles, to transport vital artillery ammunition and other critical supplies needed to counter growing Japanese firepower.
Each rain steadily reduced the ability of these roads to bear traffic. The solution was to get crushed rock or coral on the roadways. But Krueger also had to build facilities and runways for more than eight hundred aircraft, and constructing six airfields was a higher priority than making roads serviceable to support ground troops. Krueger resorted to the pathetic expedient of using his tiny, light spotting aircraft to drop supplies and ammunition to forward units.
Despite Japanese reinforcements, constant enemy air attacks, and lack of adequate firepower, supplies, or friendly air support, the Sixth Army drove the Japanese westward. Japan’s 16th Division on Leyte was joined by elements of the 1st, 26th, 40th, and 102nd divisions and a field army headquarters. Almost daily during the fight, Radio Tokyo reaffirmed the government’s resolve that the battle for the Philippines was the battle for Japan itself. The Japanese carried out raids involving a hundred or more aircraft almost daily from October 25 until December 7.
Krueger directed the X Corps north toward Carigara Bay and along the coastline to strike Japanese forces in and around Limon. He ordered the XXIV Corps south and then west to the shores of the Ca – motes Sea and Ormoc Bay. Having put the Japanese inside a giant, fifty-mile-long pincers, he then waged a four-week battle on the enemy’s flanks, and on December 7, suddenly struck his opponent in the rear from the sea with the newly arrived 77th Infantry Division.
By late December, the end of the Leyte campaign was in sight. Recovering air supremacy as units of Lieutenant General George C. Kenney’s Far East Air Forces began operating from the air bases, the Americans could successfully block Japanese reinforcement and supply convoys from coming to the island. On December 11, the FEAF’s Fifth Air Force destroyed the last significant Japanese attempt to get men and materiel to Leyte. Three days later, Yamashita diverted Japanese reinforcements bound for Leyte to Luzon instead.
The Alamo Scouts greatly aided Krueger’s campaign. Scouts conducted thirteen team missions (averaging seventeen days apiece) behind enemy lines. Not only were the lengths of their perilous missions during the Leyte campaign five times what they had been before, but the missions also involved new tasks. In addition to reconnaissance, the Scouts contacted friendly guerrilla units, provided them with supplies, and trained them in reconnaissance techniques, thereby expanding the Sixth Army’s ground surveillance of enemy dispositions, armament, and strengths. The Scouts also were able to assess and report on the effectiveness of the guerrilla units, finding some unreliable or even counterproductive, while others proved valuable additions to Sixth Army combat capabilities.
Tokyo’s desperate attempt to defeat Krueger’s forces had lasted two months. These operations had been costly to the Sixth Army, but they were ruinous to Japan’s air arm. General Kenney, coordinating the Fifth and Thirteenth air forces over Leyte, claimed the destruction of 623 enemy aircraft during the fight for the island.
When the butcher’s bill was totaled, Japan’s military lost 56,665 men killed and captured. The Sixth Army’s losses were 3,049 killed and missing. The kill ratio was nineteen to one. Krueger had improved on his record of taking a much heavier toll from his enemy than he yielded.
On Christmas Day, General MacArthur declared the end of organized resistance on Leyte and turned mopping up operations over to Lieutenant General Robert Eichelberger’s Eighth Army (see “MacArthur’s Ace of Spades,” Spring 2006 MHQ). Yet MacArthur expressed dissatisfaction with the Sixth Army commander. In early December during a meeting with Eichelberger, MacArthur had declared that he might have to relieve Krueger, who he described as an overage officer who failed to drive his troops hard enough and made too many excuses.
This criticism came at a time when the ill-supplied Sixth Army had run into vicious jungle fighting along a rugged terrain feature called “Breakneck Ridge.” Krueger had halted some of his forces for seventy-two hours to prepare for the defense of Carigara Bay to his rear. The Japanese were still landing troops on Leyte then, and Krueger believed they might land forces behind his own lines. Still, this pause allowed the Japanese to improve their already formidable defenses on Breakneck Ridge. Many of Krueger’s critics have blamed the general for unnecessarily preparing for a contingency too remote to consider.
After the war, the Allies learned that Yamashita had been planning to land troops in Carigara Bay, precisely as Krueger had suspected. General Yamashita decided to cancel the operation only after an Allied convoy came into the area.
Another postwar revelation confirmed MacArthur’s unflinching belief that the fight for the Philippines was crucial to the war’s outcome. Losing Leyte caused profound changes at the highest echelons of Japanese leadership. On December 20, Premier Kuniaki Koiso was stunned to learn that the Supreme Command no longer considered Leyte the war’s decisive battle. Instead, its priority shifted to Luzon.
The month before, the premier had been quoted in newspapers as saying, “If Japan wins on Leyte, she wins the war.” Emperor Hirohito, who also had been surprised by the change in priorities, asked Koiso what the government was going to do about the adverse impact the news of Leyte’s loss would have on the public. Koiso had no answer.
The Luzon campaign plan worked out between MacArthur’s and Krueger’s staff directed the Sixth Army to land in the Lingayen region, attack south for a hundred-plus miles, then seize the Central Luzon Plain and Manila. The planners expected the Japanese to vigorously defend the plains between Lingayen and Manila, especially in the Clark Field area with its extensive military facilities and several airstrips. They also expected defenders to block the northern approaches to the Bataan Peninsula, the key terrain and defensive bastion protecting one of the world’s greatest deep-water anchorages, the priceless strategic prize of Manila Bay.
MacArthur’s headquarters estimated the enemy strength on Luzon at 137,000. As it had in the matter of overly favorable weather predictions before the landing at Leyte, Krueger’s staff adamantly disagreed. Using the same evidence, the staff counted 234,000 Japanese troops on Luzon.
Both estimates were short. Yamashita actually had 267,000 troops on the island. Moreover, the Japanese commander was not going to deploy his forces in the way MacArthur and Krueger envisioned.
Yamashita was planning to win by not losing. He would keep his army fighting as long as possible, refusing to be drawn into a decisive battle. The Japanese commander chose to place his forces in three easily defended, widely separated mountainous jungle strongholds to battle the Americans in a prohibitively costly struggle of attrition that would force a negotiated settlement.
Krueger faced a huge Japanese ground force, all the while having to refuse MacArthur’s insistent, repeated urgings to ignore his exposed flanks and quickly seize Manila by January 26 (MacArthur’s birthday). The Lingayen landing topped the size of the Leyte opera – tion and involved more troops than the United States had employed in any of the landings at North Africa, Italy, or Southern France. Yet once ashore, the Sixth Army would be badly outnumbered for the first eighteen days.
The dramatic brawl began six days before the invasion with a blizzard of kamikaze attacks on the approaching American fleet. The Japanese sank three ships from the seven-hundred-ship armada, while fourteen others suffered major damage. That damage cost the Japanese 156 kamikaze pilots and planes. Tokyo, in desperation, employed a new wrinkle. Thirty explosives-laden Japanese suicide boat crews sank one landing craft and damaged eight others.
On January 9, 1945, the invasion forces, numbering 175,000 men and including two corps of two divisions each, landed as planned, with little Japanese opposition. They established a twenty-milewide beachhead. Two days later, the reserve division was landed as well and immediately sent to I Corps on the Sixth Army’s left flank, against growing resistance. On January 12, Krueger met with MacArthur, who cheerfully told him that enemy resistance and friendly casualties were light, the Japanese would not defend Manila, and the Sixth Army should vigorously press its attack southward to occupy the capital city.
Krueger disagreed, pointing out that while XIV Corps was making good progress on the right in its drive south, I Corps was increasingly forced to swing eastward as it confronted gathering Japanese forces. The farther south I Corps extended, the less able it was to protect airfield construction and the Sixth Army’s only source of supply—the Lingayen beachhead. Every advance toward Manila made his vital logistical base more vulnerable to Japanese ground attack.
Krueger’s solution was to proceed slowly southward until January 27, when he was scheduled to land two additional divisions and a regimental combat team. Then he could begin his plunge to Manila in earnest. MacArthur did not agree, and an intense argument broke out, but MacArthur did not countermand Krueger’s determination to protect his logistical base and exposed left flank.
Postwar analysis again confirms the wisdom of Krueger’s tenacious and successful stand against his strong-willed superior. Opposing Krueger’s left flank were more than 157,000 Japanese troops, numbers well above the total men of the Sixth Army’s combat-ready units between January 9 and 26. Moreover, despite the Japanese intention to draw U.S. forces into the mountains, at least one of Yamashita’s commanders did plan to launch such an attack on Krueger’s left flank.
Together with the enormous underestimation of Japanese strength on Luzon, MacArthur was also wrong in thinking that the Japanese would likely abandon Manila. Yamashita did not want to defend the capital, but strong and determined elements of the Japanese navy did. Krueger’s forces would receive a hot reception there.
For two weeks, I Corps continued its slow advance southward, constantly encountering and battling Japanese forces. On the American right, XIV Corps found less armed resistance, but considerable impediments in the form of barricades, destroyed bridges, and road cuts. When an airfield at Lingayen became operational on January 17, the naval air support departed.
The next day, lead elements of I Corps were fifteen miles south of the logistical base and began to be hit by Japanese artillery fire. MacArthur continued to press Krueger to speed up the move south, and on the 19th visited him. Returning to his own headquarters, MacArthur told an aide: “Walter’s pretty stubborn. Maybe I’ll have to try something else.”
By the 20th, I Corps’ spearhead was twenty-five miles from Lingayen, while XIV Corps had advanced forty miles away from the logistical base. The latter had a badly stretched right flank defense that was becoming thinner and less capable with each move south. At this point, XIV Corps was steadily wading into the proximity of forty thousand Japanese troops to the south and west. The Sixth Army’s combat forces were thus on a rapidly expanding front of seventy-five miles. On the 23rd, XIV Corps began a weeklong tough struggle for the airdrome complex surrounding Clark Field.
On January 25, MacArthur used another ploy to get Krueger moving faster on Manila. He established his own headquarters well in front of the Sixth Army headquarters, attempting to shame Krueger. This sophomoric scheme also failed. As Krueger had told MacArthur, he would await the oncoming reinforcements before unleashing the drive for Manila. Later MacArthur berated the Sixth Army commander in a message deploring Krueger’s “noticeable lack of drive and aggressive initiative.”
It wasn’t apparent from his routine. During this period, Krueger rose at 6:45 A.M., had coffee and orange juice, received a briefing on overnight events, met with his staff, received reports, and made decisions. Then he and a staff officer climbed into his jeep and, escorted front and rear by two military police jeeps, visited combat units. The trips were made at breakneck speeds so the general could see as much of the battlefield and as many troops and commanders as possible.
Krueger’s battlefield visits could be hazardous. Lieutenant Robert Sumner described one such trip: “The 158th Regimental Combat Team was having a pretty tough go and the general wanted to see for himself….Krueger walked into the line of riflemen and paced along with them…it began to get a little hairy. I could hear rifle rounds—machinegun fire clipping leaves and branches in the tree line. The general continued to walk along asking questions….”
With the arrival of the new forces he had been awaiting, Krueger altered his plan for a gradual move south. In late January, he hurled attacks, raids, amphibious assaults, and airborne operations against the Japanese, from different directions. On January 29, XI Corps landed at San Antonio, behind the forty-thousand-man Japanese force on its sparsely defended right flank, and began taking the approaches to the Bataan Peninsula.
The next night, Krueger’s 6th Ranger Battalion and Alamo Scouts with supporting guerrillas struck twenty-five miles behind Japanese lines, fighting their way into the Cabanatuan prison camp and killing more than two hundred guards. This daring, near-flawless raid freed 511 American and Allied prisoners at the cost of two Rangers killed and one wounded.
On January 31, two regiments of the 11th Airborne Division under the temporary control of the Eighth Army opened up a new front, coming ashore south of Manila. Three days later, the division’s remaining regiment made an airborne assault nearby on a ridge overlooking the southern route to the capital city. Having focused Japanese attention both south and west of Manila, Krueger launched both I Corps and XIV Corps in full-throated thrusts from the north. The newly arrived 1st Cavalry Division employed a motorized “flying column” that was flung at the city, bypassing or overrunning Japanese units with speeds that reached fifty miles per hour. Arriving on the outskirts of the city on February 3, the cavalrymen freed thirty-five hundred Allied and American internees and thirteen hundred prisoners of war. On the same day, the 37th Division freed an additional thirteen hundred POWs and internees.
Twenty days later, perhaps the most dramatic and complex rescue raid in modern history was launched by elements of the 11th Airborne Division and other units at Los Baños. On February 23, on the shore of Laguna de Bay, a stunningly successful combined and simultaneous parachute, amphibious, and ground assault was made on an internee camp holding 2,147 men, women, and children. The raiders killed 243 Japanese guards and liberated all the internees while suffering two dead and three wounded.
In Manila, the Japanese put up a suicidal, month-long resistance—the largest urban combat action of the Pacific War. In the city’s central section, many buildings were of reinforced concrete construction. There were also massive stone walls of the ancient Spanish for – tress works. The fighting was a desperate, block-by-block and building-by-building battle. American forces used tanks and artillery to batter down barricades. U.S. Army infantrymen knocked down doors, tossing in grenades and constantly probing to discover hidden lairs of enemy defenders.
The Japanese commander in the city, Rear Admiral Sanji Iwabuchi, controlled three army battalions and sixteen thousand navy troops. Before the Americans arrived, the defenders had driven metal stakes into the pavement, interspersed with mines and burned out truck wreckage, obstacles that impeded and delayed both U.S. foot soldiers and combat vehicles. It wasn’t until March 4 that the shattered city was finally secured.
In the interim, Krueger had been directing the seizure of the Bataan Peninsula and the island of Corregidor, the prime land defenses of Manila Bay. XI Corps had moved south from San Antonio and, with cooperation from friendly guerrilla forces, took possession of the peninsula by February 8 after killing about twenty-four hundred Japanese troops. The U.S. Army’s 503rd Parachute Infantry Regiment assaulted Corregidor from the skies on February 16, coordinating its attack with an amphibious assault by a battalion of the 34th Infantry. Once more, the Japanese had been taken by surprise. The island fortress fell to the Americans on February 26.
By March 5, Krueger had control of Manila Bay, the central road and rail hub of Luzon, the capital of the Philippines, a plethora of airfields, and a robust, sheltered deep-water port with docks and warehouses. Nevertheless, he had not defeated the bulk of the Japanese forces on the island. These forces were deployed along a 480-mile stretch of eastern Luzon’s mountainous jungles, occupying heavily camouflaged, dug in defenses.
From March through May, Krueger supported the discovery, isolation, and systematic annihilation of the remaining Japanese units on Luzon, battles largely orchestrated by about one hundred American infantry battalion commanders. From the beginning, Yamashita had poor communications and only marginal control of his poorly supplied troops, who gradually began to starve. The largest concentration was scattered in isolated strongpoints—clusters of camouflaged caves and bunkers throughout a 150-mile stretch of northern Luzon’s mountainous jungles. Krueger assigned sectors to his commanders, who in turn assigned sectors to their divisions, regiments, and battalions.
The infantry battalion commanders conducted widely separated battles, whenever they located pockets of Japanese defenders. American infantrymen fought in deadly struggles, flushing out and killing their fanatical opponents. For Krueger, the days of directing corps-size envelopments, parachute operations, rescues, and amphibious landings had ended. He concentrated on his logistical responsibilities, ensuring his commanders had the supplies, ammunition, and fire support they needed to wage these nasty small-unit actions. By May 31, southern Luzon was cleared of organized Japanese resistance, and Sixth Army soldiers (together with Filipino forces) were making good if gradual progress in the north against the five battered and famished enemy divisions.
Krueger had achieved the theater commander’s strategic goal, severing Tokyo’s line of communication with the vital resources to the south. In doing so, he thoroughly defeated the largest single body of Japanese ground troops American soldiers faced in World War II. On Luzon, Krueger had again improved on his record of selling his soldiers’ lives dearly. There, the ratio of Japanese to Americans killed in action was twenty-one to one.
MacArthur’s next strategic task was to be the invasion and conquest of the Japanese Home Islands. Although the Sixth Army began to prepare for the coming invasion, that mission was made unnecessary by Tokyo’s August 1945 decision to surrender.
Ironically, though MacArthur was Krueger’s greatest critic, he also turned out to be his greatest champion. When the time had come to name the ground commander for the invasion of Japan, MacArthur, having the pick of fourteen proven field army commanders, chose his old warhorse, Walter Krueger. It is likely that MacArthur, aware of his own dangerous proclivity for overconfidence, knew he needed a counterpoise. Together the two made a contentious but dramatically successful duo.
Indeed, it is interesting to consider what could have happened in the fall of 1950 in Korea when MacArthur’s reckless race to the Yalu River ended in tragedy. If the cautious Krueger had been the field army commander, that war might have ended differently.
However, Walter Krueger had retired, a full general, in 1946. In August 1967, at the age of eighty-six, he died in Valley Forge, Pennsylvania, where 190 years earlier another Prussian, Baron Wilhelm von Steuben, had also served his adopted country with distinction.
Originally published in the Summer 2008 issue of Military History Quarterly. To subscribe, click here.