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Filipinos’ Australian comrade-in-arms during WWII

Filipinos’ Australian comrade-in-arms during WWII   BY IGNACIO BUNYE –

Seventy-four years ago today  (September 2) Japan formally signed  the Instrument of Surrender. The following day, General Yamashita emerged from his hideout in Kiangan, ifugao signaling the end of formal hostilities in the Philippines.

We often  celebrate the bravery and heroism of  the Filipino and American soldiers who fought and died side by side  in  Bataan and Corregidor, in Leyte, Manila, Bessang Pass and other fields of battle.

Regrettably, we have little or no recollection of  our other allies  who also  paid with their lives trying to liberate the Philippines.

Comrades from Down Under

Approximately  4,000 Australians saw action in the Philippines commencing October 1944.

The Royal Australian Navy played  key roles first in Leyte Gulf and  later at  Lingayen Gulf, providing crucial support during the amphibious landings.

Australian army bombardment liaison teams helped to ensure the accuracy of naval fire in support of the landings while the Royal Australian Air Force provided aerial photo reconnaissance and helped in aerial mine-laying.


92 Australians died during the Philippine campaign. Among them were the 9-men crew of a Royal Australian Air Force Catalina that crashed over Manila Bay.

The Aztec Eagles

The next biggest group of non-American allies who fought in the Philippines were the Mexicans. They belonged to the Fuerza Aerea Mexicana (FAM) –  the Mexican Air Force.

During the early stages of the war,  the Mexicans remained within their border  but in 1943 President Roosevelt  managed to convince Mexican President Avila Camacho to join  the allied offensive.

Camacho had the option of  sending the Mexican expeditionary force to Italy to fight alongside a Brazilian contingent. But Camacho chose to  send his troops to the Philippines.

There,  Camacho said, the unit could aid “the liberation of a people for whom Mexico  felt a continuity of idiom, history and traditions.”

The Mexican expeditionary force, spearheaded by the the 201st Squadron,  consisted of 300 officers and enlisted men, including 38 pilots. The force was commanded by Colonel Antonio Cardenas Rodriguez.

Before leaving for the Philippines, the 201st Squadron trained in Victoria, Texas and later in Pocatello, Idaho where they transitioned  to Curtis P-40 Warhawks and P-47D Thunderbolts, respectively.

On arriving in the Philippines  on May 1, 1945,  the Mexican expeditionary force was assigned to an air field in  Porac, Pampanga where they were attached to the US Air Force 58th Fighter Group.

From Porac, the Mexicans (who have nicknamed themselves Aztec Eagles),  flew combat sorties to aid ground troops fighting in the Marikina watershed and later, in Bessang Pass.

In and around Bessang Pass, close air support proved crucial. It was especially difficult for the Aztec Eagles as they had to bomb and strafe hard-to-see Japanese positions which were very close to friendly forces.

Five of the pilots later became FAM generals. After the war, others  worked in aviation, business and the academe until their retirement.

The Czech Volunteers

Again, not very many know about the 14 Gallant Czechs.

The Czechs were the only other nationals who volunteered as a group  and fought alongside US and Filipino troops in Bataan.

Karel Aster was one of the Gallant 14. Aster was then an employee of a Czech shoemaking facility in Manila  called Bata Co.

Without any hesitation, Aster and 13 compatriots signed up for Bataan. 7 of them died either in combat or during the Death March.

Aster was confined initially in Cabanatuan. In a move to decongest the POW camp, white prisoners were eventually shipped to either Japan or Formosa. Aster was transferred to  a coal mine in Japan where he did forced labor until  he was released at the end of the war.