Seventy-one years ago today, on the evening of February 3, 1945, a Sherman tank barreled its way through the front gates of the University of Santo Tomas, in Manila, Philippines. The tank, a composite hull M4 Sherman named the “Battlin Basic” by its crew, belonged to Company B of the U.S. 44th Tank Battalion and was the first glimpse of liberation for over 4,000 civilians – mostly Americans and British citizens, including Australians and Canadians – interned at the university from January 1942 to February 1945. Santo Tomas was the largest of several internment camps established by the Japanese throughout the Philippines and liberated in February 1945.
Here’s a photo of the “Battlin Basic” from Steven Zaloga’s Tank Battles of the Pacific.
The Battle of Manila, which raged throughout the month of February 1945, cost the lives of over 100,000 Filipinos and completely destroyed Manila, considered one of the most beautiful cities in the world at the time and commonly referred to as the Pearl of the Orient. According to General MacArthur, next to Warsaw, Manila was the most devastated city in WWII. It is ironic that whereas Hitler’s order to burn Paris went unheeded, thereby saving Paris, General Yamashita’s command to leave Manila without defending it, which would have saved the city, was also disobeyed, but with contrasting and devastating consequences. Yamashita was later tried at the U.S. High Commissioner’s Residence – now the U.S. Embassy in Manila – and later hanged for war crimes. (During my years of service in the Philippines, I sat many times at the very table where Yamashita was tried in Manila. I also spent several nights in Yamashita’s room in the U.S. High Commissioner’s Summer House in the mountains of Baguio in the northern region of the Philippines.)
These sobering photos of internees at Santo Tomas and of the devastation of Manila need no caption.
This story – an oversimplification, to be sure – is personal to me. While serving in the Philippines years ago, I made friends with an American who had been interned at Santo Tomas. As with many others who gathered every year on this date to commemorate the liberation of Santo Tomas, the striking image of the “Battlin Basic” followed by five other Sherman tanks coming to their rescue was emblazoned in his memory. A member of the crew of the “Battlin Basic,” Corporal Hencke, wrote that “when the internees realized we were Americans there to free them, they went wild and were all over us.”
A Sherman crew listens attentively as a survivor of Santo Tomas relates his years of internment.
My dear friend passed away three years ago and as I read that another member of the Doolittle Raid had passed in 2015 and only two remained, I wondered how many Santo Tomas survivors were left. At any rate, on this 71th Anniversary of the Liberation of Santo Tomas, I want to remember those 100,000 Filipinos who gave their lives during the Battle of Manila, many not understanding why. And I want to remember the many Filipinos, Americans, British, Australians, Canadians, and others who perished in Japanese internment camps as well as those who survived, some to witness the beautiful sight of a Sherman tank coming to end their misery.
Finally, here’s a painting of the “Battlin Basic” by Yoshiyuki Takani. The artist clearly understood the importance of this tank.
For those wondering why this article appears in a 1/72 scale site, the answer is simple. I intend to build the “Battlin Basic” in 1/72 scale in the near future.