{WE PREPARED THE WAY}

The squat PBY "Black Cat" flying boat dropped down from the sunlit and taxied to a halt just off the beaches near the town of Tacloban on the western shore of the Leyte Gulf. It was a risky business. Leyte
was held by the Japanese, and the lumbering aircraft was a sitting duck or enemy artillery. A door swung open and out hopped the peripatetic Commander Charles Parsons, the American master spy. With him was a U.S. Army colonel, Frank Rouelle. It was October 10, ten days before 'MacArthur was to hit Leyte.

This was Parsons eleventh mission in the Philippines, and one of the most crucial. His task was to scout the landing beaches, inform guerrilla leaders nearby of the impending invasion, and to gather intelligence for MacArthur's headquarters.
Chick Parsons had been a resident of Manila when war broke out, and posing as an honorary consul to Panama he had managed to remain there when the Japanese invaded. In 1942 he had slipped out of the country, eventually reached New York, and was given' a commander's rank by the Navy. Sent to Australia, Parsons had promptly become one of General Whitney's most successful agents.

Now, clad in soiled cotton shirt and trousers and a straw hat, Parsons headed for the small port of Tacloban, the only community on the large island of Leyte that could lay claim to any modernity. It was at Tacloban, with a population of some 25,000, that General MacArthur planned to establish his headquarters.

But Tacloban first would have to be heavily bombed and shelled ¬without prior warning. The Allied command was sure it was an impor¬tant center of Japanese resistance or a major headquarters and supply base. Slipping into the town, the barefoot Parsons wandered up one street and down the other, soaking up everything he saw. After three hours of snooping, he stole back to his hiding place in the jungle.

"Q-10," as he was listed at the Allied Intelligence Bureau, sent an urgent message to headquarters at Hollandia: No enemy soldiers or facilities in Tacloban. The town was thereby spared destruction and the lives of many civilians were saved. Over the next week Parson's radio signals informed MacArthur's headquarters of the absence of underwa¬ter obstacles to the landing beaches, of enemy strong points on the heights at Carmon and other hills inland, of mines in waters around Leyte Gulf, as well as the disposition of Japanese units. Commander Parsons also contacted Colonel Ruperto K. Kangleon, one of the ablest guerrilla leaders, and found that the Filipino had already deployed his forces to knock off the Japanese as they pulled back in the face of MacArthur's amphibious assault.

Alerted by the lookout on Suluan, and by air reconnaissance, that an American armada of over seven hundred ships, stretching out for a hundred miles, was heading for the entrance to Leyte Gulf, Lieutenant General Sosaku Suzuki was confidant that MacArthur's highly adver¬tised return to the Philippines would meet with disaster. Suzuki, com¬mander of the Thirty-fifth Army in the central islands, was almost euphoric as he told his staff: "My only worry is that the American leader [MacArthur] might attempt to surrender only the troops in this opera¬tion. We must demand the capitulation of MacArthur's entire forces, those in New Guinea and other places as well as on Leyte.".

When General Douglas MacArthur was ordered from his command clinging to a tenuous foothold on the island of Corregidor and the Bataan peninsula in 1942, he uttered the famous promise that he would return to the Philippines to rid that nation of the Japanese invaders. At the end of 1944 the American forces were poised to land on the island of Leyte. US forces landed between Dulag and Tacloban, Leyte, on 19 October 1944. Although `for political reasons, GHQ had adopted the principle of not allowing foreign forces to play a part in the liberation of the Philippine Islands' there was one notable exception. On 1 November 3ACS received notification from 6th Army Headquarters to load four LSTs and proceed to Leyte prior to participating in the invasion of Mindoro. Arrangements were made for a liaison party from 61(AC) Wing to maintain contact between the Wing, General Sverdrup and the Western Visayan Task Force Engineer, Lieutenant Colonel Ellison. This group was comprised of Squadron Leader Overland, Flight Lieutenants Endean and Belcher, Flying Officer Williams, Pilot Officer Beavis, two public relations officers and nine other ranks.

The completion of tasks formerly undertaken by 3ACS was devolved to 14ACS. Overland returned to Morotai on 16 November in time to embark with 3ACS aboard LSTs 457, 465, 471 and 697 for Biak to join the fleet bound for Leyte. Except for an enemy torpedo bomber attack on the convoy on 23 November the voyage to Leyte was uneventful.

On 24 November 3ACS landed near Dulag. The LSTs dropped their ramps in a metre of water and vehicles stalled due to the depth through which they had to pass. A heavy swell made the dozing of approach ramps difficult. Heavy rain was falling making the beach road hard to negotiate, and items of plant bogged down on the beach or the road to the campsite at Vigia Beach, 11 kilometres away. The squadron camp was established on a well-drained sandy site, with the sea on one side and a river on the other. Sanitary arrangements were unsatisfactory and those of the villages in the area extremely primitive   merely a hole under the house. Water was drawn from a water point about five kilometres distance from the camp, and the combination of site, sanitation and provision of water was to have a dramatic effect on the health of the unit. The first sign of a health problem occurred on 29th November when 30 per cent of the unit was affected with ptomaine poisoning for two days. Worse was to come. Pilot Officer McGlashan and 100 men were detailed to load LSTs 734, 911 and 1018 at White Beach, Tacloban, on 1st December. On 4th December the squadron commenced work on the Tanuan strip and assisting with the preparation of a hospital site. Members of the unit also maintained the Tacloban to Dulag access, a single lane macadam road built through coconut groves and on a one and a half metre high embankment through sago palm and rice paddies. This activity was hampered by enemy air activity, the weather, and the requirement to prepare equipment for the Mindoro operation. On 9th December the three LSTs loaded by McGlashan and his party proceeded to Catmen Beach, where they were loaded with the remaining unit equipment. Coconut log ramps were constructed to ease the loading of equipment over'a`bad' beach. A fourth, LST 460, reversed from the beach with only half of its planned consignment of aviation fuel aboard, due to an enormous fire developing in the fuel dump.

The Australians on their LSTs were aware of at least 87 LSTs, Landing Ships Medium (LCM), destroyers, and cruisers in the invasion convoy.