One of my favorite things to do when I’m bored is to read Wikipedia’s entry on Wendell Fertig.
Wendell Fertig was a civil engineer working for the Corps of Engineers in the Philippines when the Second World War broke out. Wendell Fertig was both very, very, very, fucking batshit crazy and very, very, very fucking awesome.
Below is his Wikipedia entry. I’ve bolded all of the text with batshit craziness (spoilers: there’s a lot of bold text)
Early war experiences
On 20 December 1941, Japanese troops invaded the Philippines. Among Fertig’s duties during the retreat to Bataan and Corregidor was the destruction of supplies left behind by retreating American forces. His attention to detail was such that he even drove his new Dodge car off a pier and into Manila Bay.
Promoted twice by April 1942, Fertig—by then a lieutenant colonel—was sent from Bataan (on Luzon) to Mindanao by General Edward P. King (Luzon Force Commander) to assist General William F. Sharp (Mindanao Force Commander) in the construction of airfields. In They Fought Alone, the author states that Lt. Colonel Fertig was ordered off Corregidor to join General Douglas MacArthur’s headquarters in Australia. However, since he was not known to members of MacArthur’s headquarters in Australia, it is probably correct that he was ordered to Mindanao to assist American forces there. Fertig arrived on Mindanao on 30 April 1942, and was assigned to supervise the demolition of main roads and bridges to prevent their use by the Japanese.
After the U.S. forces in and around the island of Luzon surrendered in May 1942, Fertig decided not to give himself up to the Japanese. When another fleeing officer accompanying him asked what they were going to do, Fertig replied, “Any damn thing but surrender.” During his movement from Corregidor to Mindanao, Fertig survived or avoided a number of airplane crashes. As a result, he felt that he was destined for something special. Later, after organizing the guerrilla forces on Mindanao, he wrote in this diary,
I am called on to lead a resistance movement against an implacable enemy under conditions that make victory barely possible even under the best circumstances. But I feel that I am indeed a Man of Destiny, that my course is charted and that only success lies at the end of the trail. I do not envision failure; it is obvious that the odds are against us and we will not consistently win, but if we are to win only part of the time and gain a little each time, in the end we will be successful.
Upon learning of the surrender of the American forces under General Wainwright, Fertig spent weeks crossing the mountains and jungles in an attempt to contact General Sharp. Upon learning that Sharp had surrendered his forces to the Japanese on 10 May 1942, Fertig then spent more weeks considering his options. Realizing that to gain face and authority, he had to wait until guerrillas contacted him. Fertig monitored the military and political situation in Mindanao, by means of the “jungle telegraph.” Fertig also grew a red goatee, believing that it would make him look older and wiser among a people who believed that age brought wisdom. To the Filipinos, Fertig would become known simply as “Tatay” (Father).
Many of the emerging guerrilla forces at that time were simply bandit groups pretending to fight the Japanese, but really using the collapse of the American-supported government to set themselves up as rulers of local areas. These groups competed with each other for territory and authority. On 12 September 1942, the leader of one strong group approached Fertig, hoping to use him as a front (i.e. representing American military forces) to assume authority over the entire island. Fertig consented, but then used his knowledge of the Filipino people and the current situation in Mindanao to eventually take over the command of that group and then others. Recognizing that he needed a higher rank, so he would be taken seriously by potential recruits to his struggle, including the leaders of other existing guerrilla bands, Fertig promoted himself to brigadier general. This self-promotion to “brigadier general” did not endear him to General MacArthur or his staff, but MacArthur did send logistical support to Fertig throughout 1943 and 1944.
Organizing the resistance
Japanese bombings, destruction by retreating American troops, deprivations by bandit “guerrilla” bands, and hoarding by civilians had significantly reduced available war supplies, as well as those items necessary to run an effective government. Fertig used his engineering skills and the skills of other escaped Americans and resisting Filipinos to create many supplies from scratch. For example, tuba was brewed from coconut palms to provide alcohol to fuel gasoline vehicles, batteries were recharged by soaking them in tuba, soda bottles and fence wire were used to create a telegraph to enhance communications, curtain rods were cut into pieces and shaped to provide ammunition for .30 caliber rifles, steel was shaved from automobile springs and curled to make recoiling springs for rifles, money was printed in both English and the local language using wooden blocks, and fisherman towed Japanese mines ashore to secure the explosive amatol so it could be used to make gunpowder. Soap was made from coconut oil and wood ashes. Then the soap was traded for sugar which was then used to make alcohol for fuel.
Often, seemingly impossible problems were overcome simply through perseverance. For example, Gerardo Almendres, a Filipino high school student had sent away for an International Correspondence Schools course on radios shortly before the war started. Fertig assigned him the task of building a radio even though Almendres had never handled one. Almendres was assisted by a Filipino traveling salesman who had sold radios and by another Filipino who once had listened to a radio. Radio parts (vacuum tubes and other electrical parts) were scrounged from old radio receivers and sound equipment from an old movie projector and other electrical devices. Their makeshift radio eventually worked and they began to receive transmissions from other radios, including those of Roy Bell on Negros, who traveled to Fertig’s camp and devised a new aerial. However, they had no way of knowing if their own transmissions were successful until, on 31 January 1943, the U.S. Navy radio monitoring station in San Francisco answered their call sign. Robert C. Ball, William F. Konko, and Stewart Willever, Jr., became Fertig’s “signal corps.”
This was an extremely important accomplishment as American military commands in the Pacific had no idea that there was any effective armed resistance on Mindanao or even in the Philippines. General Charles Willoughby, MacArthur’s intelligence chief, had assured him that there was no possibility of such. The American command in the Pacific first heard of Fertig when the Japanese announced that a bombing mission had killed “Major General Fertig,” but the Americans simply dismissed it as propaganda. It took weeks before American intelligence was able to confirm who Fertig was, and that he was alive and not operating as an agent of the Japanese. Part of this investigative process involved Mary Fertig who was contacted for personal information on her husband’s life. Mrs. Fertig was actually in receipt of a letter that her husband had sent on the last American plane leaving Mindanao. A phrase in the letter, “Pineapples for Breakfast”, let Mrs. Fertig know that her husband was alive and well on Mindanao, as that is where they spent short vacations and, while there, he enjoyed having pineapples for breakfast. The latest American intelligence had placed Fertig on Corregidor at the time of the surrender, and so the U.S. Army assumed that he was either dead or a prisoner of the Japanese. In February 1943, with tenuous communication established, General MacArthur appointed Fertig as Commanding Officer of the 10th Military District on Mindanao. During the initial exchange of messages, MacArthur disallowed any promotion of American armed forces personnel in the Philippines to general rank. As a result, Fertig “reduced” himself in rank to colonel, but continued wearing the brigadier general stars fashioned for him by a Filipino metalsmith.
Due to the difficulty in communicating with Fertig and his command, because of the makeshift radio Almendres had built, a submarine, loaded with military and medical supplies, was eventually sent to Mindanao, arriving on 5 March 1943. It also carried two Americans who had known Fertig in the Philippines. One was Charles Smith, who on 4 December 1942, had escaped with two other Americans and two Filipinos by sailing a small boat to Australia, perhaps, at that time, the longest open-boat voyage since Captain Bligh’s. Smith was now a captain in U.S. Army Intelligence. The other was Charles Parsons, formerly a businessman but now serving as a lieutenant commander in U.S. Navy Intelligence. In addition to his other pre-war business interests in Manila, Parsons had represented Panama as its resident counsel. When the Japanese occupied Manila, Parsons was careful to speak only Spanish and convinced the Japanese he was a citizen of Panama. As a result, the Japanese eventually sent Parsons and his family on a long journey “back to Panama,” but when the Swedish ship carrying them docked in New York, and before he could report to U.S. intelligence, FBI agents came aboard the ship and quietly asked Parsons who he was and quickly hustled him and his family ashore. However, another source states that Parsons reported to U.S. intelligence in the Canal Zone after the ship docked in Panama. It was simply a matter of diplomatic honor that no one in either the German, Italian or other legations, who knew Parsons’ true citizenship status, exposed his masquerade to the Japanese. Their role, as Smith and Parsons immediately explained to Fertig, was to verify that he was actually leading a resistance movement and, if so, was it worth the risk of men and supplies to support him.
At the same time, Parsons and Smith brought Fertig some unpleasant orders from MacArthur’s headquarters. The American Army was willing to provide radios and other equipment for Fertig’s command, but these were only to be used for passing information on Japanese activities, from coastwatchers and other sources, to Australia. The guerrillas were ordered not to engage in offensive activities against the Japanese. Fertig admitted that gathering intelligence was an important mission that he would support. However, due to the numerous atrocities that the Japanese were committing against the Philippine population, the only way that Fertig could continue to recruit and maintain a guerrilla force was to aggressively attack the Japanese when and where the guerrillas had a chance of winning, so as to provide the Filipinos an outlet for revenge against the Japanese. Fertig stated that if he ordered his men to stop killing the Japanese, then his men would follow other leaders who would probably not be willing to cooperate with MacArthur’s headquarters and its directives. In addition, General Charles A. Willoughby, MacArthur’s Chief of Intelligence, was convinced that providing the guerrillas with arms and ammunition was a waste of resources. If a regular U.S. Army had been defeated by the Japanese in the Philippines, then no irregular force could do better. The guerrillas’ only purpose was to provide intelligence and later, if fully equipped prior to the return of American forces to the Philippines, to fight as regular forces under the command of American officers.
The almost total lack of supplies was a serious problem, but it was not the most pressing problem Fertig faced. At the time of the Japanese invasion, most Philippine army units were of low quality. They were not only poorly trained, enough time not having passed to do so, but they were under-equipped and did not have the firepower to resist better armed Japanese troops, tanks and planes. Most of the soldiers were barefoot, and many of their World War I era weapons lacked replacement parts and did not operate properly. As a result, many Filipino units fled when attacked by the Japanese. This was symptomatic of Fertig’s most pressing need—experienced leaders. He knew that eventually numerous leaders would emerge from the Filipinos, some ‘guerrilla’ bands already had strong leaders, but he needed them now. His best resource for this leadership cadre was American servicemen who had either not surrendered or had escaped from prisoner-of-war camps. Many were already fighting as guerrilla leaders or eager to so, others joined him after he explained the need for their services, but many others were not willing and demanded they be sent to Australia where they could rejoin regular units. Fertig’s reaction was not always one of understanding. He told many that they would be returned when a means was found, but that they would never be allowed to return. Others he removed from duty when it was apparent they did not have the leadership skills required. Eventually, they were also returned to Australia by submarine, many with negative reports on their behavior. Some regular Army personnel resented being commanded by a ‘civilian turned soldier,’ even if he had been in the Philippines more years than they had. Many of the younger Americans had disobeyed the orders to surrender due to their individualism. Others had used their cunning to evade the Japanese or escape from the POW camps. These traits sometimes led to clashes with the older men who had lived in the Philippines for years and were now in command positions due to their reserve commissions or promotion by Fertig. As a result, those who departed did not always report favorably on Fertig once they reached MacArthur’s headquarters in Australia. Those who stayed and fought received immediate commissions, or were promoted if they already were officers, in the U.S. Army, although they might be sailors, Marines, or even civilians. MacArthur eventually approved all of Fertig’s promotions, even though advised not to do so by Lt. Colonel Courtney Whitney, his staff officer for Filipino civilian affairs.
Fighting the Japanese
Colonel Fertig slowly assumed control over more of the existing, rival ‘guerrilla’ units on Mindanao and turned them to harassing the Japanese. Over the next two and a half years, Fertig created and commanded the Mindanao segment of the “United States Forces in the Philippines” (USFIP), recruiting escaped prisoners-of-war, and soldiers and American civilians who had refused to surrender. However, his real strength came from the thousands of patriotic Filipinos, many of whom were enraged by Japanese atrocities, who now joined existing or formed new organizations under his command. The Japanese were not unaware of these activities, especially as they began to suffer losses in men and equipment and lose control of large areas.
Between 1942 and 1944, USFIP conducted numerous raids against the Japanese Occupation Forces on Mindanao in order to both sustain Fertig’s operation with captured supplies and to carry on harassing operations against the Japanese. This caused discord between Fertig and MacArthur’s headquarters. The American South West Pacific Area command wanted Fertig to man coastwatcher units to report on Japanese movements, especially shipping, as its main effort. However, to retain the loyalty of his forces in the wake of Japanese atrocities, Fertig also had to wage an active campaign to kill Japanese and their collaborators, as well as disrupt activities aimed at civilians. Attacks against the Japanese often initiated terrible reprisals by the Japanese against local civilians, so Fertig issued orders that the guerrillas on Mindanao were to avoid situations that would result in such reprisals. However, due to the Japanese callousness toward the local populations, reprisals often still occurred.
Initially, Fertig’s forces were able to repel Japanese attempts to recapture territory held by the guerrillas. The Japanese could not take any major actions against USFIP on Mindanao as, not only were they dealing with other resistance movements in the Philippines, but most of their combat troops had been deployed to other areas of the Pacific. However, in late Spring 1943, the Japanese began military actions on a large scale on Mindanao. In those areas affected, USFIP forces had to retreat and give up land, established camps and government infrastructure to the stronger Japanese forces.
As the guerrilla units and government infrastructure fled before the Japanese forces, something occurred which Fertig had hoped for. He called it the “pillow effect.” By providing no resistance to a stronger force, the guerrillas survived the Japanese blow. When the Japanese withdrew, the pillow expanded to its original shape. As the company-sized guerrilla units dissolved, the Japanese began breaking up their units into smaller groups—eventually into squads—to track down these smaller units. Then, without any orders from above, first two or three guerrillas, then 10 or more, then platoon and then company-sized units reorganized and struck back at the smaller Japanese units, causing the Japanese heavy casualties in hundreds of small fire fights. The Japanese responded by reforming into battalion-sized units that needed large towns to support them. Eventually, the Japanese, using 15,000 to 18,000 troops on Mindanao, held the large towns on the sea coast while the USFIP held the rest of the countryside, or approximately 95% of the island of Mindanao. The guerrillas were so effective in some areas that local Japanese commanders made separate truces with them. In exchange for the guerrillas not attacking Japanese troops, the Japanese agreed to stay out of those areas.
In August 1943, based upon favorable reports to MacArthur by Parsons and Smith, Fertig was promoted to full Colonel by MacArthur and received the Distinguished Service Cross for his efforts. On 23 August, Fertig received the following message:
In recognition of your meritorious services as District Commander and extraordinary heroism in action during the period of 8 May 42 to 6 August 43, I have awarded you the Distinguished Service Cross, Announcement of your award is published in GO Hqs. USAFFE dtd 18 August. I congratulate you on the distinguished service to your country and to the Filipino people that has so well earned for you such recognition and hope that in it you will find inspiration for even greater future service. Quezon congratulates you on promotion.
Fertig even created a “navy” by arming several small merchant vessels which he used to protect convoys of small vessels that helped distribute supplies brought in by submarine. These vessels also attacked Japanese shipping, primarily small inter-coastal vessels and patrol boats. The USFIP navy was armed with various machine guns salvaged off downed bombers, home-made cannons and even mortars. Later some used 20 mm cannons supplied by the U.S. Navy. One vessel was even “armored” using large, circular forestry saws taken from abandoned plantations. Some of the actions these vessels participated in were heroic to the extreme, as when one small vessel deliberately engaged in a running battle with a large Japanese steamer, and another, a sailing ship armed with 20 mm cannon, fought off Japanese aircraft and actually shot one down, perhaps establishing a record for being the only sailing ship to shoot down an airplane—a Japanese Mitsubishi medium bomber. More importantly, the crew salvaged a new Japanese bomb sight from the wreckage and sent it out on the next submarine to Australia. One of Fertig’s most audacious ship captains was Waldo Neveling, a German civilian, soldier of fortune and an ‘enemy alien’ that Fertig had commissioned into the U.S. Army. Another ship, called The Bastard, was actually a 26-foot whaleboat captained by Australian Robert “Jock” McLaren, an escaped prisoner-of-war from the Sandakan POW camp on Borneo. McLaren would sail his boat into Japanese controlled ports in broad daylight, shoot up the supply vessels and piers with machine guns and a mortar, then turn tail and run.
To help prepare for the eventual invasion of American forces, Fertig even had airstrips prepared and disguised, one as long as 7,000 feet which took over a year to build. The airstrips were built and then covered with topsoil and planted with crops. All that was needed was a bulldozer to scrape off the topsoil and the airstrip would then be ready for planes. Some of these airstrips were later used by U.S. Marine Corps squadrons to provide close-air support during the invasion.
Early in 1945, the Japanese army once again launched a major effort in an attempt to destroy the guerrillas on Mindanao. Although essentially a repeat of their previous failed efforts, they came close to destroying the guerrillas, not by eliminating them, but by cutting off their sources of supplies. This effort came to an abrupt end when the American army and navy launched their long-awaited offensive against the Philippines, with a landing, first on Leyte, and then, on 18 April 1945, on Mindanao. As the Japanese army pulled its troops out of Mindanao to defend other portions of the Philippines, American air and naval forces extracted a terrible toll on Japanese shipping, killing untold thousands of Japanese troops. When many of the survivors of the sinking ships swam ashore, they found Filipino guerrillas and civilians waiting for them on the beaches, armed with bolos. Exhausted from the swim, the Japanese were unable to fight back against the terrible retribution the Filipinos then extracted for the atrocities the Japanese had perpetrated against them during the years of occupation.
The USFIP also contributed heavily to coastwatching activities as requested by MacArthur’s headquarters. Fertig’s coastwatchers provided information leading to the victories in the first Battle of the Philippine Sea (the “Great Marianas Turkey Shoot”) and the Battle of Leyte Gulf. Other intelligence gathered by Fertig’s guerrillas was so accurate that aerial reconnaissance flights before attacks were often canceled so as not to warn the Japanese. The guerrillas often went to great risks to secure accurate information. For example, they would make pencil-and-paper rubbings of the serial numbers on enemy artillery to prove the accuracy of their information. However, estimates of enemy strength in an area were sometimes unreliable, as, with the American forces now in the Philippines, the Japanese were constantly moving their forces around to meet the threat. Lieutenant General Robert Eichelberger, commanding the U.S. Eighth Army, often downplayed guerrilla intelligence, but this was throughout the Philippines as a whole. For the 10th Military District, commanded by Fertig, he had this to say:
We did have considerable information about dispositions of enemy troop, since guerrilla forces on Mindanao were the most effective and best organized in the Philippines.
But probably the best estimate of the value of guerrilla intelligence came from the Japanese, when they released an official communique stating that the Americans had “perfected a new aerial bomb which was attracted by concentrations of ammunition and fuel.” The ‘bomb’ was simply accurate information on Japanese installations supplied by the guerrillas.
As first American carrier planes, then long-distance land-based planes began raids on the Philippines, the guerrillas became important for yet another reason. As American pilots bailed out when their planes were hit by Japanese anti-aircraft fire, they often found Filipino guerrillas waiting for them even before they hit the ground. Pilots who landed in the water were picked up quickly by Filipinos in small, swift boats. Often the pilots would be expressing their appreciation of the guerrillas to their ships’ debriefing officers within a day or two. Fertig soon issued orders that pilots were not allowed to go on patrol with the guerrillas, as some of the more enthusiastic pilots were doing. He knew they were more important flying missions against Japanese targets. Besides, Col. Fertig now had a good supply of experienced, battle-hardened American and Filipino leaders for his combat patrols.
From its humble beginnings, USFIP became one of the best equipped and most effective irregular units operating in World War II. When the submarine USS Narwhal arrived at Mindanao in Nov. 1943 to deliver supplies, the crew was met by a uniformed band playing “Stars and Stripes Forever.” Although submarines had already delivered supplies to Fertig and other guerrilla leaders, the Narwhal’s large size enabled it to deliver 100 tons of supplies at a time, whereas other submarines could only deliver four tons or less. This greatly increased the ability of the guerrilla forces not only to inflict damage to the enemy, but also provide the necessary supplies to care for the medical health and well-being of the guerrilla forces and their civilian supporters. In addition, USS Narwhal had the room to evacuate guerrillas needing critical medical care, as well as American civilians, primarily women and children, who had been hiding out in the Philippines and were suffering from malnutrition and diseases. According to U.S. Navy records, 16 of 41 resupply missions to the Philippines were directed to Mindanao between 14 January 1943 and 1 January 1945. For all of the Philippines, a total of 1,325 tons of supplies were landed, with 331 people landed and another 472 evacuated.
As an indicator of USFIP strength on Mindanao, during January and February 1945, in preparation for the return of regular American forces, the guerrillas seized the Dipolog airstrip in northern Zamboanga and held it while surrounded by the Japanese. With the arrival of regular American forces in March 1945, Fertig’s guerrilla forces participated in the Battle of Mindanao that effectively ended organized Japanese resistance on that island. They then disbanded. On 15 September 1945, the 6th Infantry Division of the Philippine Commonwealth Army was reactivated, and its ranks were heavily seeded with Filipino veterans of the USFIP at all levels of command.
By late 1944, Fertig commanded a force estimated at between 25,000 and 40,000 effectives, with most sources agreeing on 36,000—the equivalent of an Army Corps—with 16,500 of them armed. Officers with responsibility for corps command usually hold the rank of major general. In addition, Fertig created and help administer the civilian government of Mindanao while at the same time conducting the guerrilla war against the Japanese. The USFIP killed at least 7,000 Japanese soldiers and, while a constant drain on Japanese resources, they also prevented the Japanese from fully utilizing Mindanao’s resources in support of its war efforts. At one time, the Japanese committed approximately 60,000 troops in an attempt to crush guerrilla resistance on Mindanao, troops that were desperately needed elsewhere. Throughout the entire Philippines, the guerrillas managed to tie down a Japanese army of 288,000 troops, of which approximately 43,000–60,000 were on Mindanao, depending on the time period.
After the war, examination of Japanese records indicated that the Japanese high command felt that 24 battalions of troops would be needed to guard rear areas against guerrillas once the American invasion of the Philippines began. Since seven divisions were slated to resist the invasion, this resulted in a ratio of one rear-area soldier to every three front-line troops. Ultimately, the Japanese concluded that, “It is impossible to fight the enemy and at the same time suppress the activities of the guerrillas.”
While summarizing Colonel Wendell Fertig’s contributions to the American war effort and his leadership of the USFIP on Mindanao, Keats (1990) states:
...apart from his insistence on honesty and justice, and the idea that the guerrilla army be a process of a responsible civil government, his fundamental contribution to Mindanao was his concern that the reward for performance should always be increased responsibility. In his command, demonstrated competence was the sole means to promotion, and no man was denied an opportunity to prove himself. This concept built a nation in North America, and it built another on Mindanao... It was Fertig, more than any other man, who gave the Filipinos of Mindanao increasing reason to believe in themselves. This, rather than a military victory, was Fertig’s triumph.
The Moro Muslim Datu Pino sliced the ears off Japanese and cashed them in with Colonel Fertig at the exchange rate of a pair of ears for one bullet and 20 centavos.
Due to his wartime experiences and post-war work, Fertig is one of three men who “used their wartime experience to formulate the doctrine of unconventional warfare that became the cornerstone of SF [Special Forces],” and is considered one of the founding fathers of the U.S. Army Special Forces.
Colonel Fertig was released from active duty in the mid-1950s.
Fertig was widely regarded as a hero by the people of Mindanao. In June 1958, Wendell Fertig and his wife returned to Mindanao on a business trip. As the inter-island freighter pulled into Cagayan, the ship’s captain approached Ferting and said, “Sir, I think friends await you.” As numerous small craft full of shouting men surrounded the ship, Wendell and Mary Fertig saw:
...thousands of Filipinos waiting at the waterfront at Cagayan... They had come from every corner of Mindanao... There were masses of women in the white uniforms of the Women’s Auxiliary Service, and men wearing caps of the Philippine Veterans Legion, and the red fezzes of the Moros... The men were shouting and the women were singing...
They then saw a huge banner over the pier:
Welcome the Indomitable Patriot Who Have Lessened Human Suffering on Mindanao
Wendell Fertig ran a successful mining company in Colorado until he died on 24 March 1975.