The 11th Airborne Campaign On Aparri
Northern Luzon is bounded on the north and east by the Pacific Ocean and on the west by Lingayen Gulf and the South China Sea. The Cagayan Valley, averaging 40 miles in width, stretches from Aparri on the north coast to Bambang in the south, a distance of 200 miles. This fertile valley, resting between the Cordillera Mountain Range on the west and the Sierra Madre Range on the east coast, provided much of the food for northern Luzon. Except for the beaches at Aparri, only tortuous trails over narrow mountain passes allowed access into the boxed valley in 1945. This was the natural stronghold selected by General Yamashita and his Shobo Group of 152,000 men, determined to defend Northern Luzon by concentrating his Japanese detachments at various approaches to the Cagayan Valley with his headquarters at Baguio, 20 miles northeast of Rosario.
In June 1945, the 37th Division was attacking up the Cagayan Valley, to block the Japanese escape by sea, General Swing (the CG of the 11th Airborne Division) formed Task Force Gypsy. It was composed of the 1st Battalion of the 511th PIR, as the major element with "G" and "I" companies, from the 3rd Bn. attached. Supporting units attached were, Battery "C" of the 457th, a platoon from the 127th Airborne Engineer Bn., and teams from the 221st Medics, 511th Signal Company, the Language Detachment, the CIC, and the 11th Parachute Maintenance Company. Colonel Henry Burgess, the XO of the 511th PIR was placed in command.
Lipa Airstrip, built by the Japanese in 1943 was selected as the staging area. It had a concrete runaway, and it made its name when it was used by the Japanese in December 1944 when they made a parachute assault on the 11th Airborne on the San Pablo airstrips on Leyte. For the assault, the 317th Troop Carrier Group, under the command of Colonel John Lackey assembled 54 C-47s, 13 C-46s, seven CG-4A and one CG-13 gliders at Lipa Airstrip. This was the first and only use of gliders in the Pacific Theatre, in WWII. On June 21, 1945 the Pathfinders from the 11th contacted Colonel Volckmann and his guerrillas. On the night before the drop, they slipped across the Cagayan River and prepared to mark the drop zone at Camalaniugan.
The Task Force began loading at 0430 on the 23 of June for a 0600 take off. As the force was heading toward Aparri, it was shielded by the mountains to the south and by smoke laid down by supporting fighter aircraft. The pathfinders popped the green smoke for Burgess's Task Force at 0900. The winds over the drop zone area were 20 to 25 knots, and the terrain on the drop zone was flooded with rice paddies, caribou wallows, bomb craters and tall kunai grass. Jump casualties were high (two men killed and 70 injured), a rate of about seven percent. Burgess assembled his men and started the march south against relatively little enemy opposition.
On June 26, Task Force gypsy's point men ran into the lead elements of the 37th Division near the Paret River, about 35 miles south of the Camalaniugan drop zone.
Written by MAJ James Lorio, Co. G, 511th
Typing and editing by Leo Kocher - 511
Courtesy of "WINDS ALOFT" quarterly publication of the 511th Parachute Association