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Pacific War Book Review


Guerrilla Submarines by Edward Dissette and Hans Christian Adamson

During his stay at the American fortress on Corregidor as the futile defense of the Philippine Islands began to collapse, General Douglas MacArthur began to develop two ideas that would ultimately pave the way for the return of Allied forces to the occupied islands three years later.

The first idea was born from the inability to repel the vastly superior Japanese forces.  There was no immediate hope of outside help or reinforcement of sufficient size.  However, a militarily strong and well organized guerrilla force in the Islands could cause a lot of trouble for the enemy, rally popular support and hopes, and provide vital intelligence of enemy activities.  Yet any such guerrilla force would require outside support.  A steady stream of supplies - ammunition, guns, explosives, food, medicines, teleradios - would be needed.  How could this be accomplished?

The second idea had its seed in actions of American submarines he witnessed while he was on Corregidor.  Despite Japanese air supremacy and abundant IJN surface patrols, he watched American submarines creep into the wharfs at Corregidor, undetected by the enemy, and deftly unload ammunition, food, medicines, and other supplies for besieged American forces.  Could the use of American submarines on special missions be the answer for waging clandestine warfare in the Philippines?

On orders from the President, MacArthur moved to Australia in late March 1942, and established his headquarters at Brisbane.  This location propitiously had a good submarine harbor.  By the end of that year, he had organized his headquarters bureaucracy and field commands, and began to formulate his strategy for waging guerrilla warfare in the Islands he loved so much.  In this regard, one of the first people he summoned to meet with him at GHQ-Brisbane was Lieutenant Commander Charles Parsons.

MacArthur and Parsons had a history.  Their friendship began in 1936, when the General came to Manila as Chief of Staff, Philippine Armed Forces.  The American-born Parsons had lived in the Philippines since 1902.  He was a successful businessman who was fluent in several native dialects and knew the Islands and their people like a book.  In 1932, Parsons joined the U. S. Navy Reserves.  In December 1941, he was called to active duty in Manila as a lieutenant in Naval Intelligence.  In his successful business career, he served as Honorary Panamanian Consul in Manila.  The Japanese did not discover his Naval Intelligence connection.  After a period of internment at Santo Tomas, they permitted him to leave with his family in June 1942 because of his Panamanian diplomatic status.  After a journey from Manila to Takao to Shanghai to Mozambique to Africa, the Parsons reached New York City on August 12, 1942.  In short order, Parsons reported to the Navy Department Headquarters in Washington, D.C., where his presence came as a surprise because he had been listed as "missing in action."  He presented a lengthy written report to officials there covering in great detail Japanese activities in the Islands since their fall.  It is during this period that General MacArthur's request appeared for Parsons's presence at Brisbane.  Naval Intelligence, Army Intelligence, and the FBI were loath to let this valuable source of information go, but after some negotiations, the General got his way.

Parsons reported to Brisbane in early January 1943 and was assigned to the Allied Intelligence Bureau (AIB). He was put in charge of a project to establish teleradio units in guerrilla forces across the Islands and to strengthen and unify guerrilla leadership so they met standards established by General MacArthur and became cohesive warfare units. To accomplish this project, Parsons would have to return clandestinely to the Islands, a requirement he welcomed. He would become MacArthur's "Man in Manila."

Guerrilla Submarines by Edward Dissette and Hans Christian Adamson tells the story of how Lieutenant Commander Parsons created a clandestine radio network in the Philippine Islands, and how this network helped to make a proud fighting force out of a poorly equipped group of Filipinos.  This would not have been possible without the assistance of Fremantle-based submarines of the United States Navy.  The book covers these special missions in an interesting and insightful manner.  According to the authors' tabulation, from February 1, 1943 to January 23, 1945, 19 submarines conducted 41 special missions in support of Filipino guerrilla operations.  These missions mostly entailed the delivery of supplies to guerrilla units throughout the Philippine Islands and Sulu Archipelago.  Some of the supplies the submarines embarked included ammunition, firearms, explosives, medicines, food, clothing, radio equipment, counterfeit Japanese yen, cigarettes, matches, sewing kits, and ship recognition manuals.  In some instances the submarines had to pick up key personnel or classified documents.  Often the submarines had to infiltrate shallow harbors, avoid enemy patrols and merchant shipping, or approach unchartered reefs and river deltas.  The story of these special missions is a tribute to the skill and bravery of the submarine skippers and their crews.  If you are a Silent Hunter enthusiast, once you read this book an insertion mission will never be the same.

Also of great interest in this book is the content of Parsons's report to the Navy Department.  The authors include most of it, and it presents a fascinating account of failed Japanese attempts to "fix" the Philippine economy after they "broke" it during their invasion.  A more emotional part details the horrible atrocities they inflicted on the people who remained on the Islands.

Originally published in 1972 by Ballantine Books, its last printing was in 1976.  I found a copy in good condition on AbeBooks.com for under $5.  You can find it on Amazon.com as well.  At 238 pages it is a fast read because it is interesting, thus making it hard to put down.  It also has a very useful bibliography.

As a side note, I first read about Charles "Chick" Parsons in Vice Admiral Charles A. Lockwood's memoir Sink 'Em All.  The following is what Lockwood had to say about him and his operation.

I found out that the guerrillas in the Philippines had two radio stations, which guarded two different frequencies, and talked to Australian stations whenever necessary to arrange supplies or rendezvous with Seventh Fleet's "guerrilla line" submarines, "Spyron," as they were unofficially labeled.  I believed it would be valuable for our Subpac boats to be able to talk to those stations, and I contacted the lad who handled all the guerrilla details, Commander Chick Parsons.

I had heard practically unbelievable tales of Parson's adventures, hence I welcomed a chance for a conference.  He was in Brisbane momentarily, between trips to the Islands.  Seemingly there was no place in the Philippines that he did not visit when occasion demanded, even though the Japs had put a price of 100,000 yen on his head.  Chick said he felt flattered by the amount.

Commander Parsons had organized the Spyron activity early in 1943 and had been placed by General MacArthur in charge of contacting, organizing and supplying the American and Filipino guerrillas.  At first his operations were handled by means of special operations assigned to various submarines.  Then, as business grew, our two largest submarines, Narwhal and Nautilus, were detailed to Spyron and made more or less regular trips.  Other submarines were added until, at the end of the war, statistics showed that 19 different U.S. submarines had undertaken 42 missions in Spyron, only one of which failed - when Seawolf was lost.

Hundreds of tons of supplies were delivered and hundreds of persons exchanged by submarines between Australia and the Philippines.  About 120 radio sets were furnished to coast watchers and others.  It was one of his coast watchers at San Bernardino Strait who sent a warning, paralleling that of Flying Fish, advising of the sortie of the northern Japanese task force just prior to the Battle of the Philippine Sea.

Aside from arms and ammunition, the Spyron cargoes consisted of medicines, sewing kits, cigarettes (with the box bearing the promise, "I shall return"), shoes and hundreds of thousands of counterfeit Japanese yen.  Submarines made landings in practically all parts of the Islands and even occasionally came alongside a dock in Mindanao to the music of "Anchors Aweigh," by a bamboo band. 1


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Updated Friday, 22-Mar-2013 11:31:28 EDT

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1.  Lockwood, Charles A., Sink 'Em All, p. 179-180.