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HTD MacArthur’s Red Ball Express

by Major James B. Deerin, Q.M.C.
Quartermaster Review January-February 1946

It wasn’t until MacArthur’s forces reached Luzon and were pushing rapidly down the Central Valley toward Manila that the need arose in the Pacific for long-distance, overland hauling facilities. After the liberation of the City, our forces fanned out into the rugged mountain provinces, hard on the heels of Yamashita’s ragged, but rugged, army. Then our supply lines were extended south, east, and northeast of Manila. The Japanese had left the Philippine Railway in ruin. Rolling stock, what little there was, was either destroyed by our bombing and strafing or scuttled by the retreating enemy. Bridges were blown up and roadbeds wrecked. It was a job for Quartermaster truck companies.

Foreseeing the situation as it would be following the Lingayen invasion, the War Department, several months prior to the operation, had authorized the activation – of a Highway Transportation Division and its assignment for duty to the Luzon Base Section. To command the new outfit the WD (War Department) assigned Colonel (then Lt. Col.) Ralph H. Seivers, former Armored Force Quartermaster and an officer with many years’ experience in Army motor transportation. Seivers came to Luzon from a tour of duty as motor officer in the CBI.

After the organization of a staff and the drawing up of plans for immediate operations, HTD was assigned a number of Quartermaster truck companies; In an area just south of MacArthur’s main supply base at San Fabian on Lingayen Gulf, HTD set up headquarters and bivouacked its assigned units. The outfit’s first job was to put into operation a high-speed, “Red Ball” express from San Fabian to recently liberated Manila. At that time Manila Harbor had not been opened to shipping, and troops in and around the city had to be supported by an overland supply route from the Lingayen bases 120 miles to the north. In addition to troop supplies, vast amounts of food and emergency medical supplies were urgently needed for liberated internees at Santo Tomas and New Bilibid Prison, and for the starving civilians in the city. These supplies were hauled from the northern bases by truck, a good part of them by HTD’s Red Ball express.

For smoother long-distance operations HTD organized for fleet control, with each company turning into a central pool all its vehicles and maintenance equipment. Most of the vehicles of the Quartermaster truck companies had been through one or more amphibious operations and had been used extensively in beach operations: This made for an extremely heavy maintenance load. To handle this a number of large shops were constructed at the main terminal. Initially work was hampered by a lack of tools and spare parts. To keep second echelon work as low as possible, driver maintenance was stressed, and frequent inspections were made at check stations, some or which were set up along HTD routes. On return to the main terminal after a long run the vehicles were given thorough inspections, and all necessary repairs, no matter how minor, were made before the vehicle was again put on the road. This close check of its vehicles cut down on second and third echelon repairs and enabled HTD’s maintenance section to cut down an initially large deadline.

The assignment of Quartermaster truck companies to HTD was an emergency measure taken to speed up its activation to meet requirements of the rapidly advancing Luzon forces. The WD had made available four anti-aircraft battalions, which were later to be activated as Quartermaster battalions and companies. The units arrived In Luzon from New Guinea in April, and gradually the originally assigned truck companies reverted to base commands for port operations.

The WD project setting up HTD for Luzon operations authorized the organization of the following equipment: 400 truck tractors, 4- to 5-ton; 630 semi-trailers, 10-ton; and 510 two-and-a-half-ton cargo trucks. A good part of this equipment arrived in Luzon in April, when HTD was expanding its operations. Besides operating the “Red Ball” from Lingayen south, it was now hauling to Army supply points established for the support of troops engaged in the fierce fighting in the hills around Bagujo. With the opening of a base at Batangas, ninety miles south of Manila, HTD’s big semi-trailers started rolling in that direction.

Later on, still other routes were opened, and this required further expansion of the organization. Besides its main base at San Fabian, there was now a large station at Manila from which vehicles operated north to support troops fighting in the hills, and south to Batangas. There were other stations at Bauang and Rosano. Control points were in operation at Tarlac, the halfway mark between Lingayen and Manila, and at Batangas. HTD vehicles moved over the highways in convoy serials of eight or ten. Traffic control was maintained through a communications net of radio and teletype, covering all but the most remote routes. Officers in jeeps patrolled the roads constantly.

In addition to its regular “Red Ball” runs, HTD was being called on for close-up support of combat troops in Northern Luzon. In support of the 6th and 37th Divisions in the Cagayan Valley campaign, HTD operated out of a terminal established at San Jose–a railhead served by the rebuilt Philippine Railway, now operating as the Luzon Military Railway. Supplies were hauled from Manila by rail and there transferred to HTD trucks for the long pull up the Cagayan Valley.

Here HTD ran its toughest convoy routes over rough, narrow roads frequently threatened by Japanese snipers and raiding parties. Washouts were not an unusual occurrence, and many a truck was winched through a low stretch of road. Where bridges were out, streams were forded. Where Japs were holding a roadblock, convoys stood by while the barricade was knocked out by infantry. From San Jose, HTD’s trucks carried beans and bullets to guns in action and frontline kitchens. Yamashita’s line was blasted with explosives the HTD boys hauled up the Valley. They were there “the firstust with the mostust.”

In addition to the support of the divisions in the Cagayan campaign and its support of troops in the Baguio fight, HTD supported a number of smaller operations, many of these carried on by Filipino guerrilla units. They hauled guerrillas and their supplies to Dingalan Bay on the east coast of Luzon. Last June they hauled the Connolly Task Force, which moved along the northwest tip of Luzon to attack the important town of Aparri on the extreme north tip of Luzon.

Mission of the Task Force, composed of a company of 6th Army Rangers, an artillery battery, and a company of infantry, was to proceed to Aparri, and secure the town. The transport job was assigned to the 3750th Quartermaster Truck Company. Starting at San Fabian, the force began its long push through the wild country of northern Luzon. It was preceded by a detachment of engineers who were strengthening and rebuilding bridges that may have been blasted by the enemy. Making a slow, difficult thirty miles a day, the force was in position to attack eight days after leaving San Fabian.

After deploying the units the 3750th stood by for emergency evacuation. However, the river-crossing was unopposed, and the town was taken without a skirmish. The force set about setting up defensive positions, and the truck company hauled supplies from Lubbon, where small craft had arrived. Several days later elements of the 11th Airborne Division were dropped at Aparri. Thus enlarged, the force started down the Cagayan Valley to make contact with the Gypsy Task Force, also an element of the 37th Division. American forces were now in full control of the Cagayan Valley, and the Yamashita line ceased to exist.

Meanwhile the rapid advance of the two divisions coming north up the Valley taxed the facilities of HTD ‘s terminal at the San Jose railhead. From the railhead to frontline units was now a three-day trip, running 200 miles to Tuguegarao. Several truck companies were brought from the base at Batangas to help carry the load.

In July, HTD was reorganized and set up according to WD T/O 55A02T, dated 7 May 1945 (Hq. and Hq. Co. Highway Transportation Service). At the same time the anti-aircraft battalions and batteries were activated as Quartermaster battalions (mobile) and Quartermaster truck companies.

With the Japanese surrender things moved fast on Luzon. First order from GHQ was to move the 11th Airborne Division to Okinawa-fast. The division at the time was bivouacked at Lipa, south of Manila. It was to be lifted by Troop Carrier Command from Nichols Field, Manila, and Clark Field, fifty miles north of Manila. This required moving the division overland from Lipa to the airfields. HTD was given the assignment—ordinarily a good five-day job. It was completed in less than half that time. On the heels of that came orders to haul air-drop supplies from depots to Clark Field–another rush job.

HTD did a lot of important transport jobs on Luzon. Its work in the Cagayan Valley contributed much to the defeat of Yamashita’s army. And it still found time to help out with port operations in Manila. The spirit of doing the job and doing it well-prevailed in the outfit and was typical of the man who commanded it.

A graduate of West Point, Colonel Seivers has been associated with motor transport all through his Army career. He is a graduate of Holabird Motor Transport School, received graduate training in mechanical engineering at the University of Michigan, and is a graduate of the Army-Navy Staff College.