This is the story of an antiaircraft regiment which made few
statistical records but which fought, bled and died doing
everything from shooting down Japanese planes to stopping
Japanese Infantry assaults. This is the story of the 200th
Coast Artillery, designated (AA), but actually Inf., FA, and
For this regiment there was none of the fanfare and
enthusiasm which accompanied units in victorious drives.
There was only sweat, hunger and illness. The regiment
developed no new techniques for the use of the M9 Director
or the guns which fired themselves. At the time the regiment
went through its siege the historian will recall that the M4
Director was the latest in antiaircraft fire control
In its spare time, the regiment learned to forge for food,
as its ration was limited to one-half pound of rice per man
per day. For "recreation," the regiment went on scouting
expeditions, hunting down Japanese snipers who proved an
excellent source of tailor-made cigarettes.
It all started when the 200th CA (AA), New Mexico National
Guard, under command of Colonel Charles G. Sage, was called
into Federal Service on 6 January 1941. The regiment trained
at Fort Bliss until 31 August 1941, when the press of events
in the Far East and the lack of antiaircraft units in the
area resulted of secret orders for the 200th to proceed
In the rush to get in shape for action, little time was
available for training, and the regiment sailed for the
Philippines without having had target practice with any of
its weapons. Arriving in the Philippines, it had the
doubtful honor of being the only antiaircraft unit of any
type in the Philippines (with the exception of the
Corregidor garrison). Still in the antiaircraft tradition of
undertaking overwhelming tasks, the Regiment assumed the
defense of Clark Field, the only heavy bomber base on Luzon.
(illegible...) such an installation required at least
(illegible...) times as much antiaircraft for its
proper protection, fazed very few people, least of all the
200th. Placed under operational control of the Far East Air
Force at Clark Field, the 200th was virtually on its own
from that time on.
During the ten weeks of bedding down at Clark Field before
the bombs began to drop, the 200th was able to unpack its
equipment, get set in position, and had even planned for
some target practice. Headquarters USAFFE, established in
July 1941, was frantically trying the mobilize, equip and
train an Army with which to stop the inevitable invasion. Of
necessity, it could furnish the 200th with little direction
and even less guidance. From the USAFFE point of view, any
organization which had its quota of officers, men and
equipment, was so far ahead of the Army being organized,
that it could well shift for itself until more important
problems were solved.
At about 0500 hours on 8 December, Manila time (about 1000
on 7 December, Hawaii time), the Regiment was alerted.
Previously prepared gun positions were manned, and a period
of waiting ensued. After several hours of waiting, with
reports that enemy planes were over the Island of Luzon, the
all clear was given about 1130 hours. About 1230 hours,
Japanese bombers and strafing planes made their appearance,
and the war for the 200th was on.
The 200th was no match for the 300 Japanese planes which
flew in from Formosa. The high altitude bombing attack was
well synchronized with the low flying strafers. The men
dished out whatever they could but they took a lot more.
When the smoke blew away from the muzzles, five confirmed
planes had been shot down but quite a bit of the
antiaircraft equipment had been punctured by bullet holes.
That was just the beginning. That night, it was realized
that the City of Manila had no antiaircraft protection (an
antiaircraft machine-gun platoon had been sent from
Corregidor to Manila to protect the dock area). The regiment
sent 500 officers and men to Manila to uncrate some
antiaircraft equipment which had just arrived, and to
establish an antiaircraft defense of the Manila area.
Colonel Harry M. Peck, Executive Officer of the 200th, was
in command of this group.
Getting into Manila at 2100 on 8 December, the detachment
began to uncrate and assemble the antiaircraft equipment
found in the dock area. The strange blacked out city, with
nervous sentries shooting at every vehicle that moved at
night, added to the difficulties. Filipinos were hastily
recruited, guns were dug in and in twenty-four hours were
ready to shoot. On the morning of 10 December when 54
two-motored Japanese bombers flew over Manila, they were met
with a pattern of antiaircraft puffs that was more
spectacular than effective, as it was not immediately
apparent that the planes were flying ABOVE the ceiling of
the powder train fuses.
The trials and tribulations involved in trying to train
Filipinos as searchlight crew members will be appreciated by
anyone who has ever had a similar task. The Filipino's
sublime disregard for a machine's limited servicing needs
caused many a gray hair. However, to the Manila group of the
200th, this was merely preliminary training for the real
test to come.
For the Clark Field element, there was another personnel cut
in the offing. About 50 self-propelled three-inch guns had
been unloaded in Manila about one week before the war
started. (The personnel to man the guns eventually arrived
in Australia.) On 9 December, the 200th was ordered to send
100 trucks and 200 men to man the self-propelled guns. The
original 200th was now down to 1100 men, with its mission to
protect Clark Field still unchanged.
For the next two weeks, the 200th and the Manila
“Provisional Regiment of the 200th” were very much harassed.
The organic regimental transportation had been reduced by
100 trucks, and the balance had to serve two regiments
instead of one. The personnel for one antiaircraft regiment
had been reduced by 200, and now had to man the equipment of
At Clark Field, the Japs were making doubly sure that the
Far East Air Force remain ineffective. Daily bombing and
strafing met with only antiaircraft resistance. While there
was satisfaction in shooting down Japanese planes, it was
disheartening to watch the planes concentrating on gun
positions and to know that no friendly planes were available
to challenge the Japs. In addition, it seemed pointless to
continue the defense of a field which had no operating
installation. However, there was always the chance that
plane reinforcements would arrive, and Clark Field was an
excellent air base.
The confusion in the Manila area was further confounded by a
desire on the part of every Filipino to become a member of
the antiaircraft unit. At the approach of enemy planes,
every resident of Manila who had a weapon promptly began to
shoot. That the planes were flying at altitudes in excess of
20,000 feet did not, apparently, discourage the volunteer
enthusiasts. This type of firing forced antiaircraft gun
crews into foxholes more often than did Jap bombs.
Two weeks after the war began, the Japs started to make
landings on Luzon, and their air effort over Clark Field and
the Manila area was intensified. Soon the main Jap landing
was made at Lingayen Gulf, and the decision was made to
withdraw our forces into Bataan.
The parent 200th assumed the mission of covering the retreat
of the Northern Luzon Force into Bataan, while the
Provisional Manila Group, newly christened on 19 December
1941 as the 515th Coast Artillery (AA), assumed a similar
mission for the South Luzon Force.
The successive withdrawals and deployments, to keep pace
with the retreating forces, was a nightmare. The
skeletonized 200th, covering the retreat of three Infantry
Divisions, stretched Napoleon's maxim on "Economy of Force"
to its elastic limit. No greater Economy of Force could have
been made. By judicious use of the 24 hours in each day, and
by dispensing with eating and sleeping, the 200th safely
convoyed its three divisions into Bataan. “The impossible
was accomplished yesterday!”
The 515th had a similar problem, though a bit more critical.
The key to the successful withdrawal of the South Luzon
Force lay in the cluster of bridges at Calumpit. If those
bridges remained intact, the Force would get through safely,
as the Japs in the south and cast were still some distance
away. Without the bridges however, a long detour of about
100 miles was in prospect; the alternate choice being to
cross a 20-mile swamp.
The 515th arrived at the Calumpit bridge area to find that
the Japs too, realized the importance of the bridges in the
strategy of the withdrawal. For about five days there was a
bitter contest between Jap planes and the 515th. Due to its
accurate shooting and the confused situation facing Jap
pilots in the large cluster of bridge targets available for
bombing, two key bridges were left unharmed, and our troops
With the Infantry Divisions bedded down in Bataan, the 200th
and 515th turned to the defense of the Cabcaben and Bataan
airfields. While our available air force of six P-40's was
inconsequential by present standards, it was most versatile.
It performed bombing, photo, transport and pursuit missions,
depending on the task to be done. As such, it needed and got
all the protection it deserved. To the everlasting credit of
the alert air force personnel (with help from the 200th and
515th), not one of the six P-40's was even damaged by the
numerous Jap raids on the two fields!
As the war progressed on the Bataan front, a “friendly”
reconnaissance plane named “Photo Joe” began paying visits
over the front lines. Photo Joe rarely dropped visiting
cards but always after his visit, Jap artillery shells would
blanket the areas which he had visited. To discourage Photo
Joe's visits, two batteries from each of the regiments were
ordered to the forward areas to greet the plane on its
It would be gratifying, but not accurate, to say the upon
the arrival of these batteries, Photo Joe's visits became
less frequent. Napoleon's maxim of Economy of Force to the
contrary notwithstanding. 37,000 yards of front was too much
for four antiaircraft artillery batteries to cover with 100%
effectiveness. However, the fire did force Photo Joe to be
more cautious in his approach, and kept him at much high
altitudes than he cared to be. As for the Infantry units,
the morale effect of an antiaircraft battery taking positive
action to discourage enemy planes from coming to close was
tremendous. In the war on Bataan, virtually all planes were
enemy, and an antiaircraft unit was worth its weight in
The next three months saw the situation deteriorate from bad
to worse. While the Japanese air actions were sporadic in
nature, the menace of malaria and dysentery was always
present. The limited amount of quinine was soon consumed,
and the malaria rate continued to climb. Case in some units
averaged 70% and there was no hope of replacements. Finally,
malarial patients stopped going to the hospital as they
preferred to stay with their units since the hospital had no
medicine with which to work. The occasional shipment of
quinine which came in via a private civilian plane which
could fly to Cebu, was never enough for distribution to a
Food likewise became a serious problem. By February, the
ration was limited to one-half a pound of rice per man per
day, with a can of sardines split two ways for desert. Soon,
even the sardines ran out. Hunting for monkeys, iguanas and
carabao became a necessity rather than a sport. In a short
time, these edible animals became scarce, and snake hunting
next became popular. Rice fields, abandoned by the natives
at the outbreak of war, were taken over by the units and
harvested. The areas were combed for edible fruits and
The combination of hunger and malaria reduced the units to a
state of apathy. There was little enthusiasm for the
expeditions into the jungle which marked the unit's arrival
into Bataan. The complete lack of mail from home was a
strong factor in lowering morale. There were no movies,
magazines or post exchanges; boredom, illness and hunger
made this period a trying one. The front-line units were in
even worse shape. They had no time for hunting, foraging or
harvesting rice fields. In addition they had the ever
present hazard of an aggressive enemy constantly probing our
lines. The sole source of commercial cigarettes was the
infrequent Jap casualty caught behind our lines.
About 3 April 1942, the Jap had apparently received
sufficient reinforcements with which to begin his drive down
the peninsula. An intense concentration of Jap air and
artillery fire was placed on our front line and the rear
areas were under constant strafing and bombing attacks. To
complicate the problem, we were at the end of the dry season
and Jap incendiary bombs literally burned out whole units.
After two day of preparatory fire, the Japs commenced their
infantry and tank attacks. On 7 April the combined infantry
and tank effort broke through our lines. Human beings could
just stand so much and no more.
On the same day, the administrative machinery of USFIP
finally formalized a situation which had existed for months
— it organized the 200th and 515th into an antiaircraft
brigade. Colonel Sage was given the command of the Brigade,
while Colonel Memory H. Cain, the Executive Officer of the
200th, assumed command of the 200th. The life of the Brigade
as an antiaircraft unit was short-lived. Within 24 hours, it
was forced to destroy its antiaircraft equipment and to
organize as an infantry unit with the mission of defending
the line south of Cabcaben airfield!
The 24-hour life span of the converted Brigade saw chaos.
Japanese infantry units, paced by their tanks, were pushing
through the break in the line like water through a hole in a
dam. Disorganized Filipino units were clogging the single
road leading to Marivales, while Japanese planes added to
the confusion by spraying the road with machine-gun fire.
Human being, weakened by hunger and disease, had but one
thought — to get away from the slaughter.
The Brigade stayed anchored to its infantry position south
of Cabcaben airfield while the Jap tanks ploughed through
the line, interested only in exploiting the break through.
As the Japanese Infantry arrived, the Brigade firmed up
forcing the Jap attackers to deploy. Over the noise of the
planes and artillery came the sound of our ammunition dumps
being blown up. It was the end! Within a few hours, orders
were received from the Force Commander to surrender to the
nearest Japanese unit.
After the surrender, the infamous “Death March” was followed
by three and one half years of incarceration in Japanese
Prisoner of War Camps.
It is difficult to asses the contribution of such a unit as
the original 200th without becoming sentimental. In terms of
86 Jap planes shot down, or so many Japs killed, there is a
small degree of cold statistical comfort.
I met many men of the unit, during the war and in Japanese
prison camps. Few men on Bataan will ever forget the
unfailing good humor of the boys from New Mexico, their
willingness to help out, and their cheerful acceptance of
Members of the 200th
released from Japanese prison camp enjoy a
luncheon during a stopover on Oahu en route
to the United States in September 1945. [LtCOL
Father Albert Braun of Mescalero, New
Mexico, 45th Inf 91st CA, is the 2nd man
from the right, at the table at the right,
facing away from the camera and smiling.]
Colonel, now Brigadier General Sage, who took 1800 New
Mexico men to the Philippines, and brought back but 1000,
can look back with pride on the performance of the 200th at
Clark Field and Bataan. His was the original responsibility
for the formation and training of the units; to him should
go the credit for its performance.
Colonel Peck can also look back with pride, and perhaps now
with some amusement, at the difficult days in Manila when he
had two weeks in which to organize an antiaircraft regiment
with untrained Filipinos. Yet the efforts of his unit
prevented the Japs from making a shambles of Manila in those
early days of the war.
To Colonel Cain, whom I knew best, I take off my hat in
tribute. With him will go the prayers of the men of the
200th who were with him at Camp O'Donnell, Cabanatuan and
Davao. Colonel Cain, giving his can of sardines (the first
can he had in months) to a dying member of the 200th, is
something none of us will ever forget. The prayer meetings
he held at a time when all hope seemed lost is another
memory which will stay with all those who know him.
Let us not ever forget the 800 men of the 200th who lie
buried on Luzon, Bataan and the various Japanese Prisoner of
War camps. To those who came through alive; those who had
the good fortune to know the 200th, will always remember
their patience under adverse conditions, their uncomplaining
care of each other, and the inevitable guilt which played a
requiem to those who died.
General Wainwright, in paying his tribute to the 200th. said
in December 1945:
“On December 7,1941, when the Japanese unexpectedly attacked
the Philippine Islands the first point bombed was Fort
Stotsenberg. The 200th Coast Artillery (AA) assigned to
defend this Fort, was the first unit in the Philippines
under General of the Army Douglas MacArthur to go into
action and fire at the enemy, also the first one to go into
action defending our flag in the Pacific.”
The quotation is a masterpiece of understatement.
The old 200th died at Bataan but its memory and deeds live
on, and from these recollections, a new 200th will
undoubtedly be born. It is hoped that those men now in
hospitals and others since released will recover
sufficiently to form a nucleus for this new unit to keep
alive and foster the traditions they established.
It is expected that it will be designated the 200th AAA
Group and it is hoped that the members will wear with pride
and distinction the Distinguished Unit Citation with two
clusters which were so gallantly earned by the old 200th.
COAST ARTILLERY JOURNAL